I had goose bumps all over the day that my little girl retold part of her birth experience.
We got out of the car after shopping, this is the conversation that followed:
Miss 3: “Mum…babies don’t come out of your throat.”
Me: “That’s right.”
Miss 3: “I came out of your tummy”
She has always talked fondly of being in my belly.
Me: “Did you like being in my belly?”
Miss 3: “Yes, I loved it!”
Me: “Were you ready to come out when you did?”
A couple of weeks before she was due we asked if our baby if they wanted to come out on the date after the estimated due date because it is a public holiday in Australia and we jokingly thought it would be great to always have a birthday on a public holiday. She had arrived on that day.
Miss 3: “Yes, I was ready Mum.’’
I’m glad. I am glad she was ready and hadn’t felt pressured by any outside forces.
I kept unpacking the car and then momentarily paused. For some reason I felt like going further…this was the longest conversation we had ever had about her birth.
I knew she could remember a lot about her birth. The day before her baby brother had arrived she had taken a baby doll, stood in the exact spot she was born at home, facing the right direction and had motioned through all of my positional changes whilst manoeuvring the baby as we had both done together in the end stages of her birth. Once the baby was born she sat on the couch just as I had done, and put her baby on her belly and then crawled to her breast, exactly as she had done, making her way to have her first breast feed.
At that time she was just 20 months old. I watched in awe, speechless. I knew what I had just witnessed. I almost wanted to watch it in slow motion again.
I looked at her and asked if she remembered her birth and wide eyed, she had replied ‘Yes!’ I felt the most amazingly deep connection with her. We had done it together. With me working on the outside and her working on the inside, we had done our own little birth dance. Getting to meet her had been a team effort. What amazed me watching this was that from the inside in my womb she knew exactly all the positions and moves I was doing down right to the finest detail. Seeing that level of awareness and recollection really blew me away.
So, now feeling REALLY curious about what else she remembered, I continued the conversation.
Me: “Do you remember much from your birth?”
Miss 3: “Yes” she said, with her quaver in her voice, full of emotion she looked up and me and said, “I had trouble coming out.”
Phew…I wasn’t expecting that…I was taken aback just a little. Yes, she did have trouble coming out. I had a massively protracted pushing phase with lots of ineffective contractions after powering away for the first part up 10cm dilation in no time.
Me: “Well that’s true. You did have trouble getting out, how did it feel for you?”
Miss 3: “I felt stuck. Those people were talking too much” she said, really full of emotion and quavering.
She looked frightened recalling it all.
Me: “Were you scared?”
She looked at me, welling up with tears.
Miss 3: “Yes, I was scared. I didn’t want to come out. I wanted them to stop talking. I couldn’t come out with them talking. They were too loud.’
This took my breath away. She remembered. She remembered the detail.
I felt my heart beat faster, my tummy tense just a little, my eyes widened. She has always had heightened sensory awareness since birth, particularly to auditory stimuli.
I had experienced a prolonged second stage of labour. She had indeed had trouble coming out. Just at an important point in the labour, a really annoying second midwife arrived in a chaotic state after which things went a little pear shaped. She chatted incessantly, shouted at me to “Stop wasting contractions” as I tried to breathe my baby down instead of forcing things. Right at the end she had shouted at me to “Get that baby out. YOU HAVE TO GET THAT BABY OUT”. It wasn’t what I would call professional birth support conducive to a baby’s peaceful arrival! It was as if she didn’t realise that she could actually have an impact on birth outcomes.
My son then interrupted us and the conversation stopped. Wow Wow Wow! Only a couple of weeks prior to this conversation, our daughter had experienced a massive resurfacing of traumatic memories from her time in neonatal care part way through her first week of being earthside. After hearing about some other memories, a friend observed ‘This [3 years old] is a key age when they can often remember things clearly’.
Later in the evening she started chatting about her womb time again as she curled up in my arms.
Miss 3: “I used to kick you in your belly” she said, demonstrating her best double kick out while cooing.
It is a sound I have heard her do many times when she pretends she is being a baby.
Me: “I know. You used to have fun playing a game with us kicking our hands on my tummy.”
She then became serious again.
Me: “I know sweetie.” I said, hugging her close. “I didn’t like it either. I wanted them to stop too. Did you realise that I asked them to stop?”
Miss 3: “I know you did Mum.”
At the time I was in that phase in end labour where you lose your ability to talk. I had silenced them with a powerful and directed STOP hand signal which finally did the trick in the middle of an intense contraction. WILL YOU PLEASE SHUT UP my body shouted! I actually felt relieved that she realised I had tried to help to reconnect and get things going again. It had been as if I had lost contact with her while the second midwife was carrying on and there were so many distractions. I knew I had done my best but it was important for me to tell my daughter to know that I had tried to do my best.
By this stage I was now super curious about how much more she could tell me. We were on a birth recollection roll!
Me: “Do you remember hearing any other voices that were different from Daddy’s and mine?”
Miss 3: “There were two. One was the lady from the appointments.”
Oh my! Yes, she was right. The first midwife at the birth had done all my pre natal appointments at our house from 28 weeks as soon as we decided to home birth with hospital support.
Me: “Did both lady’s voices bother you?’’
Miss 3: “Only one Mum. Not the lady from the appointments. The other lady’s.”
Wow!! I hadn’t expected her to be able to differentiate this level of detail. I knew it had bothered me but I didn’t know how much of what had gone on had registered with her besides in terms of a hormonal or sensory effect with the changing contractions.
Me: “Yes I know. She annoyed me too. You know you were very brave coming out…and we got there in the end. I know it felt hard though. You were amazing!”
My baby girl had done a amazing job coming earthside. I didn’t know it until she was on my belly but she had a very short cord and worked carefully to safely negotiate her exit.
What mind blowing conversations to have with your 3 ½ year old! Retelling the story to you still gives me goose bumps.
Research suggests that all babies register their experiences in the womb and during birth, however not all toddlers or young children have the opportunity to demonstrate or tell their story. Some children seem to retain this level of awareness and memory and are able to recount it. For so many people these early memories get repressed. Both Thomas Verny’s classic book The Life of the Unborn Child, and Dr David Chamberlain’s recent book Windows to the Womb, document the amazing awareness of babies and countless similar stories.
It has been quite amazing having our little girl start to share her early experiences using her own words. It is powerfully and deeply connecting for both of us.
Hearing her talk about the birth has made me look at pregnancy and birth with fresh eyes. It has really highlighted for me that even with seemingly calm and peaceful births (mine progressed really well up until that point with pushing at the end), that babies can still have a completely different perception of how it felt hard for them to make their way out. We may be making assumptions about their experience with our bias.
What my daughter’s story reminds me is that what we say and do to babies and their Mums during pregnancy and birth is SO incredibly powerful. It all gets taken in. It all gets stored. Every interaction is the opportunity for creating a positive experience and creating a positive loving imprint.
For those of you who have been wondering how to start the conversation with your little ones I suggest creating lots of opportunities to lovingly connect with your little ones. Put your toe in the water! Become curious about how it was for them. Ask open questions about their experience and see what they tell you. You might be surprised!
Meanwhile it will be interesting over the next few days, months or weeks to see what else resurfaces from our little girl’s memories of her womb time, birth and beyond. I will keep you posted…
(c) 2013 Wendy Langshaw
Watch this Kindred interview with Kate White on Pre and Perinatal Psychology.
Read More on Pre and Perinatal Psychology, And What Parents Can Do, Here