The Choice Illusion

Today was the first of five NCT antenatal classes. We were both a little apprehensive. Ben was in full dodgy-humour mode and I was my usual cantankerous-self.

In a way our fears (although neither of us were sure what exactly we were nervous about) were simultaneously realised and eased. Just being around and meeting other people in a similar situation to us was a breath of fresh air. Everyone was friendly, welcoming and impartial, the tutor was excellent.

As the weeks tick by and my mind is starting to wander to the birth, I was fascinated to learn about the different hormones that play a part in the birthing process. With a particular anxiety around birth (something I’ve had pushed from my mind of late) I’m developing a keen interest in the concepts of Hypnobirthing (I took great umbrage at Ben’s concern that it may just all be “mumbo jumbo”) and other meditative strategies to keep myself calm during birth and to keep the good hormones flowing.

At the course it all turned a bit for me when we split into groups to discuss the myriad of different birthing options available to us. Nothing makes me want to stick two fingers up at my pregnancy more and when people start discussing our choices. I spent the first half of the pregnancy completely unable to even consider the thought of my baby and unable to look past the apocalyptic event which I viewed the birth to be. This, coupled with existing anxiety, spiralled out of control into me being diagnosed with “pre-natal depression” (I’m completely sure that I’d be in a much stronger position now, despite everything, if I’d not started from an already shaky  foundation!). It was isolating and frightening and, at the time, I’d been unable to find anyone else who felt quite the same way as I did.

That all changed somewhere in the middle of the second trimester when my new midwife brought up the idea of giving birth in a midwife-led birthing centre or even having a home birth. I had absolutely no idea up until that point that I’d had a choice outside that of giving birth in a hospital. As simplistic an idea as it may sound, it completely transformed my life at the time. I had gone from feeling like I was trapped on a conveyor belt with no means of escape and that it would all end, one way or another, in a hospital to suddenly finding myself leaping out of the trap and being handed control of the whole birthing experience.

I was liberated and totally and utterly excited. I could, after all, have a “normal” birth. I could be in a place that didn’t send my heart rate rocketing and those chains tightening in my chest. For one idyllic month I was making plans to tour the local birthing centres with my midwife, something I’d shown absolutely no inclination to do with the hospital maternity wards. I was excited again about Baby’s arrival, I no longer saw birth as the end of the road, but as the beginning.

Then the 20-week scan happened and my luxurious choices were lost to me. If I was (as the consultant put it) insane, I could definitely give birth in a birthing centre. But that it was strongly, strongly advised that I gave birth in a hospital. This, despite my attempts to convince them otherwise, was confirmed by every other consultant, midwife and paediatrician we have since spoken to. Those choices felt like a distant dream, and an illusion.

This has led, over the past six weeks to me feeling that I simply don’t care about the birth any more. So long as baby is safe, it doesn’t exactly matter any more what I want. It’s turned into an intense apathy. I don’t want to tour the hospital maternity ward. I don’t want to read any books on birth. I don’t care even remotely if I have a water birth or not, something that people keep bringing up. What does it really matter any more?

Perhaps this sense of being robbed of the choices I’d been so utterly transformed by and relieved to receive is where a lot of my anger lies. It’s an anger that I’m not aware of most of the time. It’s an anger that seems to bubble up any time we do something officially baby-related; scans, hospital appointments and, apparently, NCT courses too.

It’s an anger that’s the driving reason behind refusing any further scans or check-ups from now on. It feels almost impossible to feel entirely normal about the whole pregnancy ‘thing’ when any expectations you might have had have been wildly different to the reality. From 24/7 sickness, to depression, to anomalies. It’s been one thing after another that tells me that reading “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” is an utterly pointless exercise. Unless of course, you’re able to expect the unexpected. Something I hope we’ll be a lot more adept at should we have a second child!

This is a good point to stress that it’s not all bad, of course. I am acutely aware how much worse things could be. How much worse so many others have to go through, over and over again. I feel privileged, lucky and blessed when I think of the alternatives. However, those little gremlins on your shoulder start nibbling at you as you’re surrounded by other, less complicated, pregnancies. It gnaws away at you as you realise that you still have two months to wait, two months more of this anxiety and this cheerful pretence. Two months more until we’ll receive the best gift we’ve ever been given. It’s like being a child again, watching the clock in apparent stasis on Christmas Eve, feeling that you can’t possibly survive the torment of the wait until the next morning, all the while knowing that you have no option and savouring the excitment.

I thought it was very telling about our current mental state when, at the end of the session, we were all asked to pick one word from a whole raft of words to describe how we were feeling. As everyone went around they shared their words: ‘hopeful’, ‘empowered’, ‘confident’, ‘excited’ and ‘informed’. ‘Tired’ was the most negative word to come up. We picked anxious: Anxious and hopeful (impatient wasn’t an option). I know which one was running stronger as I left.

 

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