When we checked into the hospital back on June 8 (Charlie's birth day, and what feels like a lifetime ago), the nurse on duty asked me if I had a birth plan.
I told her that my birth plan was to get the baby out, hopefully without having to have a C-section.
Well, we all know how that went. I did end up with a C-section after all, and oddly enough, I'm not sad about it. It's what needed to happen in order to bring this little guy into the world:
But I'm not going to lie. I've been doing some serious grieving since Charlie was born. All that stuff about postpartum hormones turning the most sane woman into a complete and total crazy person?
It's the absolute truth.
In case you haven't figured this out yet, I have a lot of Type A characteristics. I always foresaw myself with a long birth plan, but I surprised myself by not writing one at all. I had heard from lots of moms that the birth experience rarely goes as planned and that one shouldn't cling too tightly to the dream of a perfect birth. I decided to take their advice and let things just happen.
I don't regret that decision at all. But I won't lie - as relaxed as I was about a birth plan, there were some things I wanted and expected to get from my own birth experience. I wanted to hold Charlie right after he was born. I wanted to watch Roy hold Charlie for the first time. I wanted to hear Charlie's first cry. I wanted to be a witness to my son's birth.
As it turned out, these very simple things I wanted were not things I got. Since I had to be put under general anesthesia for my C-section, I missed out on all those things - and since Roy wasn't allowed in the OR while they were working on me, he missed them, too.
I can't even begin to explain how heartbroken I am over missing Charlie's entrance to the world. I can't stress enough how cheated and robbed I feel to have missed out on such a huge event in my own life.
When I look at pictures of Charlie crying and being weighed after they brought him out to Roy, I can't help but cry. I missed all of it. I am not sure if I'll ever get over it. The circumstances were largely out of my control, but I can't help but feel that if I had been stronger and better equipped to deal with all the pain of labor, I could have spared myself this heartbreak of realizing that there are missing pieces that I will never be able to recover.
There is no way around it, no better way of putting it. I missed the birth of my son.
There was one night shortly after we came home from the hospital where Roy and I sat in Charlie's room and talked for a long time about everything that had happened. I was sobbing for some reason or another; I can't remember what set me off, exactly, as it takes very little to do so these days.
It was the first chance Roy and I had gotten to really discuss the whole birth experience and how it had impacted us. I was surprised to hear that Roy was every bit as traumatized by my birth experience as I was. He had to watch me for hours as I battled pain that I would not wish on my worst enemy. He could do nothing to stop it, even as I begged him. He was left behind as they took me away to the OR. He couldn't even watch the procedure as it was happening. He had to wait and wait and wait. He was left to wonder if he'd be leaving the hospital with or without his wife and child. When they brought Charlie out, he was again left to wonder if he'd be leaving the hospital with his child but without his wife.
To the hospital staff, it was business as usual. Another pregnant woman, another induction gone bad, another C-section.
I don't know how to move on from any of it.
So many things went wrong. Things were going wrong even before I checked into the hospital, from actually having to be induced (which I really didn't want) to not having my own OB on call the day of my induction. The drugs they put me on, especially the Pitocin, were just wrong, meaning they did horrible things to my body. The failed epidurals and the lack of pain management? Wrong, wrong, wrong. Being told beforehand that I could have an epidural at any time when that was not the case? Just plain wrong.
I knew that I would have to deal with a certain amount of pain while being in labor. But I didn't count on how much it would affect me emotionally, especially after the fact.
Knowing that both the OB and anesthesiologist on call went home while I was still in an enormous amount of pain just kills me. Kills me dead. I writhed around in bed all that time while we waited for them to get off their asses and come back to the hospital and do their jobs. Fuck.
I hate to say this, but I feel like a complete victim of the system, a textbook case of cascade of intervention. I knew that things could go terribly wrong because I was being induced, but really, what choice did I have? I could have waited longer to see if I would have gone into labor on my own, but my anxiety was already sky-high. My chances of delivering a stillborn baby were increasing daily. I did what I had to do.
I don't regret the decision to be induced, but damn, I find myself constantly wishing for a different outcome. The vulnerability, the humiliation, the pain, knowing the psychological implications for Roy, missing Charlie's actual birth - oh, man. It is too much to take sometimes.
It was the biggest day of our lives. It should have been the best day of our lives (and it was). But in many ways, it was also one of the most horrible. Don't get me wrong - Charlie was worth all the pain and trauma. (And yes - trauma is a good word to describe it.) But I also feel that Charlie himself and all the good he's brought into our lives is a completely separate issue from my birth experience.
Just because you are handed a beautiful tiny creature at the end of a horrific experience doesn't mean that the horrific experience magically melts away. It would be so much easier if the world worked like that.
No one told me how paranoid I'd be as a new mother. No one prepared me for how I'd hold my son while imagining dropping him on the floor. I can hear the crack of his soft tiny body as he dies on impact. I can see myself screaming in horror. This is the worst kind of living nightmare that plays over and over in my head throughout the day.
Driving on the freeway is an absolute nightmare. It's business as usual to everyone else, but to me there is a precious little life in the backseat who can't really hold his head up himself. Meanwhile the asshole who just can't be bothered to give a shit about anyone else on the road cuts me off, and I barely hit the brakes in time to avoid hitting him.
I knew that I'd be a worrier, but I didn't know how much of one I'd turn out to be. I have no idea how I'm going to make it as a parent without dying of a heart attack very, very soon. My anxiety is definitely on overload, and I have no idea how to make it go away.
Pregnancy was a walk in the park compared to the nightmare of having an outside baby. I sit around frozen with fear, trying to banish thoughts of Charlie's death from my mind.
During our second night in the hospital, mere hours after I had finally gotten out of bed and gone to the bathroom for the first time on my own post C-section, Charlie began crying. And crying. And crying. (Those of you who have never had abdominal surgery, I'd like you to know that trying to sit up and/or get out of bed hurts like hell and takes a hell of a long time.) Roy had been the one who had been getting up to take care of Charlie, but this time, he was sound asleep and didn't move a muscle even as Charlie's cries got louder and more desperate.
I started off by raising my voice a bit, trying to wake Roy up, but he still wouldn't budge. Soon, I was full on yelling at Roy to wake up, but he was still sound asleep. And then I started crying, too - I started doing what I could to wake Roy up, even throwing pillows at him. But he was still asleep.
At this point I was scared out of my mind; I was truly afraid that Roy had died and left me alone, and so I climbed out of bed and hobbled over to Roy and shook him gently, still crying. He woke up, completely startled. I don't think I'd ever been more relieved. It was then that I realized that I would be absolutely lost without him, that I could never have conjured up a more perfect husband.
But the guilt I felt at having to wake Roy up so that he could take care of Charlie - I couldn't shake it. I still can't shake my guilt at not being able to be Supermom. I don't know why I feel like I have to be a perfect mother. I just do.
One of the many things that I wanted to do for Charlie was nurse him.
I now understand why women who have C-sections have a more difficult time nursing their babies than those who deliver vaginally. The recovery is not exactly a walk in the park, and it definitely hurts to even move the first few days. It also can take longer for milk to come in.
Due to the trauma of the birth experience, I let the nurses take Charlie for the first night. Obviously, they couldn't nurse him, so he was given formula. The next day we did pretty good with nursing. I was able to get him latched on for every feeding. Late that night he started having regular meltdowns every time I would try to nurse him. We eventually got tired of him screaming at my boob and rang the nurse to bring us some formula. We figured the most important thing was to feed him when he was hungry. We kept giving him formula at every feeding, although we always tried to get him to nurse first.
We saw a couple of lactation consultants in the hospital, both of whom agreed that Charlie's high palate and impatient temperament signaled that there were going to be troubles ahead if we decided to keep on with the breast feeding. As they said, it was more of a baby issue than a mommy issue.
My milk came in the day after we were discharged from the hospital. I had already started pumping regularly with the hopes that I could get Charlie back to nursing. I contacted a La Leche League member to get some information about finding a lactation consultant I could work with. I explained to her what we'd been doing for Charlie and told her that I was hoping to get him to the point where he would breast feed.
La Leche League members tend to be pretty militant about breast feeding. Formula is apparently the devil and shouldn't be given under any circumstances (according to them). Still, I was shocked that this particular woman began to say things like "Giving your baby formula is like giving him medicine" and "Formula is for babies whose mothers can't nurse them. It's for babies whose mothers are dead."
I hung up from our conversation feeling beaten down and devastated. Do I need to tell you that I was sobbing? Yep, I sure was. I will never understand how anyone can think it's okay to tear down a woman for making a difficult choice, even if it means giving her baby "medicine."
It took me a couple of days to work up the courage to call up the lactation consultant that the LLL psycho had recommended to me. When I did, she urged me to come to the free breast feeding clinic at a nearby hospital.
I never went to the breast feeding clinic. I thought it would be great if I could get Charlie back to the boob, but I didn't have the energy to fight him on it (because it was a fight, believe me). I was more concerned with staying as emotionally balanced as possible, and it was really hard to stay that way when Charlie was melting down while trying to nurse. I also was dreadfully afraid of being judged. Normally, I could have given less than a shit, but I just was not interested in anyone's "breast is best" rhetoric. I already knew that breast is best. So I kept pumping for as long as I could so that Charlie could still get all the benefits of breast milk. Shortly after Roy went back to work, my supply dwindled down to almost nothing. And so I stopped pumping - very recently, actually. One of the last times I pumped I got less than an ounce out of both boobs together, and I had never felt more lonely or barren in my entire life as I did the moment I realized that I couldn't even provide breast milk for Charlie for one lousy month.
I could never understand why women would beat themselves up so badly for not being able to breast feed. It took becoming a mother for me to understand the heartbreak of not being able to feed your baby the most "natural" way possible. There is not a day that goes by where I don't wonder if I should have tried harder. Should I have suffered through a ton of frustration to get Charlie back on the boob? Am I banishing him to a life of obesity and idiocy by giving him formula? While I know that love is truly what matters most in parenting, these questions still plague me.
I think I look well put together on the outside, but on the inside, I am absolutely falling apart.
I don't know how I'm going to make it through this. I don't know why it is all so hard. I mean, come on - all newborns do is eat, poop, cry, and sleep! Easy, right?
No. It's not easy. This is the hardest thing I've ever done. It's the scariest thing I've undertaken. The nights and days are long. My loneliness is all-consuming at times. There is no part of the day that's easy. There's not a day that goes by when I don't cry, when I don't wonder why I ever wanted this. It's not that I don't love Charlie. I do - more than I ever could have imagined. But I don't know who this new me is or what she's about. I feel like I am a stranger in my own life. I feel like I will never sleep again, and that is disturbing in a way that I don't even know how to explain. I feel like I am just slipping away and I have nothing to hang onto but these words. I hardly eat (the C-section has really affected my appetite), I barely sleep, and I want to beg everyone I know to come over and keep me from going insane. Every day I have to fight the urge to beg Roy to stay home from work.
I just need to know that it gets easier.
Those words above are the words of a desperate woman. I'm not desperate all the time. But it would be dishonest of me to pretend that I am living a life that is full of rainbows and sunshine.
Charlie has changed me in a way that I never could have imagined. It's true when they say that having a child is like having your heart outside your body. I can barely breathe at times because I am so crushed by the weight of my love for my son. It is devastating and beautiful all at the same time.
There are times when I want to run away, when I want to get in the car and take a long road trip and leave everyone behind. There are days when I feel like I won't be able to go on without dissolving. And then there are days when people come over, and I hand Charlie over to them (gladly), and they hold him for a long time, and when they give him back to me, I find that I have missed him so much. My arms have missed holding him, my nose has missed his unique Charlie smell, I have missed kissing his sweet little face.
I don't know how I got so lucky, but I did. And I guess that's what I'm trying to reckon with here: the knowledge of how blessed I am combined with how fucking hard all this is.
I don't say this nearly enough, but thank you. Thank you for your comments and your feedback and your friendship. Thank you for taking the time to hear what I have to say, even though it is often long-winded and probably boring. Thank you for your emails and phone calls and texts and visits. Thank you for caring about me and my family. It means so much - I can never say thank you enough.