Have you ever asked your mother about your birth? No, I didn't think of that question either. Until recently that is when it was prompted by an assignment during my pregnancy teacher training. It now seems such an obvious and important question to ask. As the midwife Suzanne Arms said, "this is where our deepest patterns are set. From these roots grow fear and alienation -- or love and trust." Yet there seems to be very little talk out there on the subject (do a quick google search and see for yourself!).
In our post-modern societies, there still seems to be an overwhelming tendency to smooth things over, to cover up the symptoms rather than treat the root cause. Both physically and emotionally. We kill pain with pills. We laugh things off and self-medicate with alcohol and recreational drugs. We set ourselves ever more ridiculous challenges to keep us occupied. Climb the Mount Everest, swim across the Atlantic in a cage, run across the Sahara desert for days on end... you get the idea. Or maybe we go crazy for self help, believe we are in some way flawed and need to be fixed. We search and search and never seem to find the magic solution. But maybe, just maybe, understanding how we came into the world may give us an answer or two. And, more importantly, kickstart a much needed healing process.
Without going into much detail, let's just say that I've always had an interesting relationship with my mother. Challenging at best. When the assignment came and I was forced to start the birth conversation, I wasn't too pleased. But hey, I did it anyway. And she was open to it!
When I first asked my mum about my birth and got her matter-of-factly answer, I felt like somehow the dots connected. I couldn’t really put a finger on it but, suddenly, all sorts of things about our complicated relationship started to make sense. My next reaction was a slight upset about the fact that, in her account of my birth, she failed to mention anything along the lines of being happy to finally meet her firstborn. However, once I got over that, I proceeded with further questions (which she invited me to do). Only then things really started to make sense.
I was born in Czechoslovakia in 1978, a very strong year for babies there. The 1970s, otherwise known as the decade of ‘normalisation’ (a bolshevik crackdown that followed the Soviet Invasion that put an end to the Prague Spring of 1968), couldn’t have been the easiest time to be around in a little country within the Soviet block. Personal choice on many subjects was rather limited to say the least. Turns out there were strict rules even on how to give birth to your own child.
My mum arrived at the hospital late in the evening and (strong year = serious lack of available beds) ended up together with nine other women at different stages of labour in what was then called the ‘moaning room’. According to the rules, neither my dad, nor any other family members were allowed to be present during labour and birth. She was on her own: 24 years old, in pain and more than slightly bewildered.
It was not customary at the time to induce women, or offer medical pain relief. The procedure was simple: the nurse would administer enema and the waiting would begin. During this time, (as is still common in hospitals these days) the women were confined to beds and would eventually give birth laying on their backs.
As my mum waited for the labour to progress, another woman in bed directly opposite hers had given birth. Mum could see every little detail first hand and found the whole thing pretty terrifying -- this is what was coming her way! Her turn finally came in the afternoon the next day and I was born. The nurses showed me to her briefly. Then I was swiftly taken away to be cleaned, swaddled and placed in a room with all the other newborns whilst mum went to sleep. I was brought back to her later for feeding. We had 10 minutes or so. My mum unwrapped me (which was also against the rules) to check that I had all my fingers and all my toes. Then I was again taken away.
All newborns were kept in a separate room. Their mothers could go and look at them but only through a glass wall. A feed every few hours was their only contact with their new baby whilst staying at the hospital. Rules were rules.
The whole situation doesn't look great from today's comfortable and pampered perspective. But that's how things were done then and there. Our parents are only human and they do the best they can. It is not our place to judge because we don't know their whole story.
This was not a conversation I would have chosen to have without prompting, but it was very clearly one that we needed to have. I have since developed a lot more compassion for my mother and a lot more tolerance for her parenting ‘quirks’. And for the first time in a long time I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel -- maybe, just maybe, our relationship needs not be flawed forever!
Staggering amount of people live their whole lives without ever knowing anything about one of the most important events of their lives. If you have the opportunity, I urge you to find out about your own birth. You may be surprised about the effect it'll have on your life. Pleasantly surprised.