CW: birth story and Covid-19 mention
Everyone experiences pain in life. It’s inevitable that life brings us stubbed toes, broken bones, break-ups, and loss peppered among the birthdays, desserts, weddings, and victories. The inspiration for this post comes from a recent experience of mine – the birth of my baby boy. While I have been over the moon getting to know him this past month and love holding him and caring for him, the way he came into this world was an example of ‘when things don’t go right’. So, this is a portion of my birth story, and how I plan to use that experience in the future as a writer.
My original plan was to try to have a natural birth. This isn’t particularly due to any principles or notion that it’s better than any other method of giving birth, but mainly because I have a severe phobia of needles and the idea of an epidural (a needle stabbing through my spine) was enough to send me into a cold sweat. I was also adamant that I did not want a C-section if it could be helped. If needles scared me, the idea of having major surgery while I was awake was terrifying, even if I would be numb for it.
That all said, like many who’ve gone into labor before me, I was absolutely not prepared for the intense physical pain of contractions. It also didn’t help that they became far too close together too early, only a minute apart or less when I was only dilated 1 centimeter, giving me very short breaks or even no breaks. This convinced me to get an epidural and, due to the distress the lack of breaks caused my son, ended up leading to a C-section. But these things were not the worst part, and were in fact far more manageable than I’d anticipated.
The worst part was being alone for two hours at the hospital. The first hour they made me wait alone while monitoring me to make sure I was really in labor – though my water breaking in their bed from how hard I was vomiting from the pain probably should have been an indication. The second hour was to wait for a Covid-19 test to come back negative. My husband was not allowed in the building until they had the negative test, leaving me to experience the worst physical pain of my life with no one permitted to hold my hand, adding a fresh layer of emotional and mental pain.
So, other than my baby, what good can come out of an experience so awful? The answer for me is my writing. It’s always been easy for me to write a tough character making it through a painful experience because I’ve always liked a badass and thought that would make them seem tougher. But, with this to draw on, I’ll be more inclined in the future to make a tough character genuinely unprepared for something they thought they could be prepared for, channeling the pain I experienced to bring my characters from 2D paper descriptions into 3D flesh and blood beings with human responses. With my human response. I can give a first hand account from a third-person perspective of how it feels to be truly alone and afraid of the pain, which is great when writing with a touch of horror.
I’m a believer in ‘write what you know’. This isn’t to say you should write only what you have experienced – what you know can easily be something that you’ve thoroughly researched because you want to know it for the purpose of writing it. But, in my opinion, personal experiences are king to make your characters real, and I’m sure my experience will make its way in one form or other into my public fiction writing one day. For that day, I’ve written out a timeline and descriptions of my labor while it’s still fresh in my mind, and will be saving it to use when I have the need or opportunity.
Additionally, there’s an added benefit to using my painful experiences in my writing – catharsis and therapy. I’ve had unpleasant flashbacks to those tortuous two hours. They replay unbidden in my mind and bring me to tears. But writing about it, giving it to someone else (a character), helps clear my head. It gives me focus through the memories, letting me accept it and get on with my day.
If you think it isn’t for you, I am not at all suggesting you uncover your worst memories for the purpose of art. Everyone deals with pain and trauma in their own way, and leaving it in the past so you can move on is completely valid. That said, there are those of us for which this is helpful. And if we can get some great realistic writing out of it, all the better.
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