Today I was having a little facebook chat with one of my friends. We were commiserating about how weird it is to suddenly not be pregnant anymore– such as: when I sing in the shower I randomly discover that I am cradling my belly, and then have to remind myself– she’s not in there anymore. Or sometimes when I’m working on homework, I will discover that I am rocking back and forth, even though Maren is not in my arms.
My friend, Lindsay, was remarking how weird— bewildering, was the term she used– it was for her to give birth prematurely and never experience pregnancy past 32 weeks. When I read that, I looked down at Maren– who is now 8 weeks old– and thought how strange it would be if here I am, taking care of my 2 month old baby, when I should still be pregnant.
And I typed this, which felt a little bit like a tiny revolution in my head:
I am so blessed that everything went well with Maren’s birth, but I think that part of my depression was focused on letting myself ‘grieve’ not having the birth that I wanted. Instead of the empowering, beautiful experience I was expecting, it was three days of horrible pain, stress, and terrifying doctor-speak. And then– presto, chango– you’re a mom!
While I was pregnant, I talked to my friends (and my doctor) a lot about how freaked out I was about labor and delivery. Every time I watched a labor and delivery video it seemed more and more impossible. In Lamaze when they show you the little cartoon cross-section of the woman about to deliver, I looked at my husband, eyebrows raised and said, “Yeah FREAKING RIGHT.” I spent my entire third trimester trying to lodge a complaint with the Design Engineer. People kept telling me that natural birth was the way to go, and I kept wanting to shout, “Dude, have you SEEN how the Baby COMES OUT? THERE IS NOTHING NATURAL ABOUT THAT.”
And the response from everyone was the same: Women have been doing this for hundreds of years. You’ll be fine.
And it’s true. I was ‘fine.’
But here’s something else to think about. Maybe, as a society, we’ve become so blase about giving birth that it is considered silly and selfish for the Mom to hold up her hands and say, “WAIT JUST ONE HOT DAMN SECOND, SOMEONE PLEASE JUST GIVE ME ONE SECOND.”
And after I gave birth, and was holding my perfect, beautiful, unscathed little girl in my hands, even though I felt empty, raw, and robbed of an experience that I can never have back, I felt that if I expressed those feelings, it would be totally unfair. Some women in my exact same situation lose their babies. Some women who have absolutely no warning lose their babies. And here was me, holding my healthy little bundle, and feeling pissed off about the induction. Pretty selfish, right?
Yeah, I suppose it is. But then again… is it really fair to devalue someone’s feelings and just decide– okay, so, because everything turned out okay, you should just move along?
They induced Maren because I had some protein in my urine, my blood pressure was a little elevated, and we were ‘so close’ to my due date that it wouldn’t hurt her to come early. Three days before my due date, they started a pitocin drip, and I went through the next 24 hours feeling pain that is so excruciating that I haven’t even found words to describe it. What I can tell you is that the only other thing I have to compare it to is gallbladder attacks, of which I had five before Mitch finally forced me to go to the ER and they wanted to rip that gallbladder out of me immediately because it was so inflamed. Mama is no stranger to pain. But augmented labor? Has anyone else read that part in the Twilight books when Bella becomes a vampire?
And then on Friday morning, while I was lying on my side, clutching the side rail, wanting to set myself on fire just to distract from the pain in my belly, they finally talked me into an epidural. And then in a few hours when it was time to push it was wearing off, and when I started to push, I could feel every bit of strain and tear and awful as Maren’s head started to make its way out of my body.
But the pain isn’t really what this is about– even though it was intense and crazy and OH MY GOD WHY DO WE EVER HAVE MORE THAN ONE BABY???
No, even worse than the pain was the fear– the completely ridiculous and totally avoidable terror that the doctors put into my brain by doing all kinds of crazy things and saying all kinds of crazy things and then finishing it up with, “You’ll be fine. WOMEN HAVE BEEN DOING THIS FOREVER.”
They kept losing Maren’s heartbeat. Suddenly there would be no sound on the heart monitor, and everyone would flutter around me. Then they reached up inside me and put a heart monitor on my baby’s head, and then everyone in the room could see her heart rate spiking up into the RED zone, and no one would tell me what that meant, even though they kept telling EACH OTHER that it was bad. Then they put me on oxygen, and kept yelling at me to breathe through my nose and RELAX. Then all the monitors went crazy and no one could figure out what happened, and a million doctors filed into the room just so that they could all put their hands on my cervix and then LOOK at each other.
Then they brought in forceps and the doctor admitted she’d never used them.
Then we went in for a c-section.
HERE YOU GO!!! YOU WIN A BABY.
Giving birth is all ready probably the most exhausting and emotionally depleting thing you can ever go through in your life. If you couple that with the terror of having EVERYTHING go wrong and NOTHING go as you planned, and then to top it off, the doctors that you’ve trusted and relied on and gone to with all your fears and questions over the last year are all, “Well okay, nice to see you again, see you in about six weeks. Have fun recovering from major surgery while you figure out how to keep your newborn alive. Peace.”
I don’t really know a lot about postpartum depression. Now that I’m starting to feel like myself again, I was trying to avoid the term for awhile until I felt like I was 100% back in gear. But the more I do feel like myself, the more I feel really angry at the idea that WOMEN DO THIS ALL THE TIME. Maybe what they really meant to say is, “I AM A DOCTOR AND I DO THIS ALL THE TIME. NOTHING ABOUT WHAT IS HAPPENING TO YOU IS UNIQUE OR OUT OF THE ORDINARY.
Cuz you know what? First timer here, folks. One of us has never done this before, no matter how freaking long OTHER women have done it.
And yes, everything worked out fine and it is so good that I can look at my daughter and sigh a huge sigh of relief and smile because in a few years all that labor will just be something that I can hold over her head when she thinks she needs a later curfew. But does that mean that I wasn’t entitled to a good old-fashioned cry? A little bit of a melt down? Something to release the tension of being in MEDICALLY INDUCED TERROR for the last 3 days?
There are lots of things wrong with society. But I think a big one is the pressure that we put on people not to show their emotions and not to express when they are upset or scared or worried. Even though I TOTALLY understand that it’s a little selfish for me to feel let-down by my birth experience when there are other women who leave the hospital without their baby, the idea that it wasn’t okay for me to grieve a little bit is unfair.
I’ve been told that no birth really ever goes the way that its supposed to; nothing ever happens according to your plans. So all of you pregnant goddesses out there reading this– if something goes wrong and your plans start to disappear, I hope two things for you.
1) I hope that you will advocate for yourself. I feel like I shouted “What is going on?” or “What does that mean?” About a thousand times from the birthing bed, but I never once shut it down. I should have. I should have sat up– or as close to it as possible– and said, “That’s it. We are done here unless someone tells me what the hell is up.”
And I also feel like I said over and over again that I wanted a natural childbirth unless it was absolutely necessary for a c-section or induction. And those tricksy doctors– they’re tricksy. I totally felt like we needed to induce RIGHT AWAY OR ELSE– and my daughter was a perfectly normal, perfectly healthy 8 lb bouncing baby, who was born a whole six hours before her due date. Would it REALLY have been such a big deal to just WAIT those three days, rather than induce? PROBABLY NOT. But I didn’t say anything, because I’ve been trained that the doctors just know what is best and right– and admittedly, my doctor has probably forgotten more about childbirth than I will ever know– but I still think there should have been some discussion of options, rather than the fear.
2) I hope that you will give yourself some time to grieve, if things don’t go as you’d planned. Even though I was terrified of giving birth, I thought I was going to feel like a rockstar when it was over. I thought that it was going to be the most empowering moment of my life, that afterwards I was going to feel like I could leap over mountains in a single bound and stop speeding bullets and stuff like that. Instead, when it was over, I felt like I had played absolutely no part in the birth of my first child. I felt like I’d been dissected. Everyone was standing around congratulating each other, and holding up this baby that looked just like my husband, but I was so terrified from everything that had happened to me in the last three days that I was scared to even touch her. And you know? The only person who asked me how I was doing was my father-in-law. And my eyes welled up with tears and I choked them back and said, “Oh…. I’m doing great.” Because I felt like if I burst into tears it would make everyone else just so uncomfortable and that would be all my fault, and how awful.
Brides always get a bad rap for insisting that their wedding is THEIR DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY….. But I really wish that I’d been a Momzilla after Maren was born. I really wish that I’d kicked everyone out of the room and just smelled my baby and held on to my husband and let all that fear and doubt and awful feelings rush out of me. Even moreso than your wedding day, YOU OWN the day you give birth to your child. Take it. Use it. Don’t let them make you give it up.