Almost every time I have found myself in the company of both my mom and daughter, my mother will ask, "Do you get it now?" The question will arise when she catches me smothering Luna in kisses, or watching her sleep. When she sees us laughing together, or observes some manifestation of unconditional love that must remind her of how she felt when my brother and I were born. For 27 years, I've known that my mom's love for us is something immeasurable: something so big that it can quickly become smothering, if not entirely infantilizing at times. What I recently realized I didn't know was exactly how my brother and I came to be, or at least, what my mother's birth stories were.
Even though we, as millennials, feel comfortable talking about birth trauma, I didn't have a sense of how important it was that we ask our mothers about their birth experiences until I had my own baby.
My mother had my older brother Jesús in Medellin, Colombia, circa 1980. I suppose a part of me must have always assumed that her experiences, particularly during round one, must have differed vastly to my own — but I never stopped to think about the ways in which this was true.
Colombia was, and still remains, a predominently Catholic country. Ideas of what is virtuous, what is sinful, what is appropriate, or what is not permeate the culture — just as they have, and continue to do, in much of the world.
When it came to giving birth in the '80s and earlier, this meant that male partners didn't make it to the delivery room. Like extended relatives, they bid their time in the waiting areas. They weren't there for their wives because birth was not considered their territory. It was not something for their fragile eyes. It was, instead, something private, meaning women usually went through it all alone.
Once again, she needed a C-section. Once again, her partner was not there.
Although my mom hoped to have a vaginal delivery, she had only dilated three centimeters after three days, and the doctors began to worry about my brother's safety. She eventually had an epidural and Caesarean section, and my big bro was born. Throughout pregnancy, my mom had been under the care of doctors rather than midwives (midwives only tended to practice in rural, impoverished areas), and delivery was no different. This suited my madre, though, who would always rather be under the care of someone she considers "more qualified."
When I came into the picture 10 years later, my mom's life looked vastly different. She'd moved to the U.S. after going through a divorce, and remarried my father. After five miscarriages, I was conceived and carried to term. At this point, history more or less repeated itself. Once again, she needed a C-section. Once again, her partner was not there. Although men were slowly making their way into the delivery room by the '90s, my dad was at work when I decided to make an appearance. My mom went through it all alone for a second time.
Compared to many pre-1980s birth stories, many might call my mom's tales tame. Unlike so many women of the '60s, she wasn't forcibly "put under," only to wake up with a baby in hand hours or days later. There was no "twilight sleep," one particularly frightening means of anesthetizing popularized in the early 1900s. With a combination of morphine and scopolamine, women could essentially walk away from birth with no memory of the preceding events whatsoever. According to Australian parenting site Belly Belly, not only would the drugs cause many women to "thrash around, bang their heads on walls, claw at themselves or staff, and scream constantly," but babies were also at risk of having difficulty breathing once born.
Her births may not have been as traumatic as all of that (although she did learn that she was born with only half of her reproductive organs after giving birth to my brother, which was scary in a different way), but hearing my mother's labor tales still made me immensely thankful for my own experiences.
In the days leading up to my second Mother's Day as an actual mom, I have found myself thinking deeply about my next child: The one due to arrive in only 10 weeks. Having been through labor and delivery once before, I have a much clearer idea of what to expect.
My mom and I seem to share not only the bond between a mother and child, but that of two women, who can identify mother to mother.
Though I've been told that every time is different, a greater sense of tranquility and empowerment has still caught up with me. Not only do I feel certain that my partner will be my rock — no, my boulder — through every moment (as he was when we had Luna), I am also confident that I will be a better advocate for myself come baby number two. I will ask for what I need. I will demand better when relevant. I will let myself speak up.
In the days leading up to this Mother's Day, however, I've also found myself thinking deeply about my own mom, and how her experiences 27 and 37 years ago may have differed to my own. These days, my mom and I seem to share not only the bond between a mother and child, but that of two women, who can identify mother to mother. Mother's Day made for the perfect excuse to ask her about giving birth.
The truth is, I have the freedom of having my husband by my side. I'm lucky to be married to a man who doesn't consider birth something "the little lady has to go through alone," but who actively wants to be there for me through every moment. I have the freedom to choose which medications I want to take, or don't want to take, throughout the entire process. I have the luxury of going through labor with midwives or doctors, as per my preferences (which favor the former). I have choices — and that, in and of itself, makes getting ready to go through it all again a hell of a lot less terrifying.