October 19, 2009

I think ICAN, I think ICAN.

Around the beginning of the month, I emailed the leader of my local ICAN chapter to find out if there are any support meetings available to women who are dealing with birth trauma/C-section emotional recovery. When I didn't hear anything back, I emailed The Feminist Breeder (from whose blog I originally heard about ICAN) to see if she had any ideas about how to get in touch with someone local. She put a call for help out on the ICAN listserv, and then I got blasted with emails linking me to tons of resources, as well as some emails from people offering me their ears. I was invited to attend a free webinar about VBAC. And so I plugged into the webinar. I was unable to participate by speaking, but I sent in my birth story, and it was read out loud. Other women shared their stories, too, about both C-section births and VBACs.

I know that I've griped a lot about Charlie's birth on this blog. I know that it's got to get old to hear someone complaining about something as minor as a birth experience gone wrong when there are real problems in the world, especially when said complainer has a healthy, happy baby. I used to be one of those people who just didn't get it when a woman got upset if her birth experience went wrong. Like so many other people, I equated a successful birth with a living, healthy baby. And don't get me wrong. The best thing really is getting the baby at the end.

But the baby and the birth experience are separate. And I think that's what a lot of people just don't understand. I love Charlie with everything I am. There is not a day that goes by when I don't think about how lucky I am to have such a wonderful little guy. But you know what? I hate the way he was born. I hate what I had to go through to get him out. It totally sucks, and when people offer me their platitudes of "at least you've got a healthy baby," I want to throat punch them. I know they mean well, but it's condescending and invalidating and dismissive to say things like that. It's like saying "It was his time" when someone dies or "at least your baby is living" when someone is dealing with having their baby in the NICU. Saying things like that completely sidesteps the issue at hand.

Our culture is obsessed with looking on the bright side. People don't want to hear about other people's problems. They just want people to think positive. It's ridiculous to deny yourself the right to feel, no matter what those feelings may be. But our culture almost requires it.

I'm here to say that I'm pissed. And I'm sad. I feel like I'm broken, that my body failed me, that my doctors failed me, that the hospital failed me. But most of all, I feel like I failed myself. I didn't put much thought into what I wanted Charlie's birth to be like. I just knew that I wanted the baby. So I went for a "normal" birth, with an epidural in the hospital and all the other BS that came with it. I okayed the induction even though I knew it was perfectly normal for me to be "overdue" with a first pregnancy. I didn't research pain management techniques. I trusted my doctor. I trusted my body. I let my birth experience happen to me. And dammit, I'm not a person who just lets things happen. Not me. I research. I prepare. I go into situations armed with knowledge. For Charlie's birth, I did the minimal amount of research and preparation. And look where it got me. I've got a nice incision scar on my lower abdomen and a much deeper one on my psyche. I remain, unfortunately, traumatized, saddened, and angered by my birth experience.

There is absolutely nothing I can do about any of this now besides accept it for what it is and try something different next time. When all this was very fresh and new, I swore I would never go through the pain of labor again. No way in hell would I do that to myself after all I went through. But the further I get from Charlie's birth, the more I think about the possibility of having a VBAC. The thought of actually having a vaginal birth both thrills and terrifies me. Since we aren't even trying for another baby yet, and who knows when we will, I have a lot of time to prepare for next time, whenever that may be. To face my fears and all that cliched stuff. Who knows, maybe I'll end up scheduling another C-section after all. It'd be the easiest thing to do. It'd take the guesswork out of everything. There would be no fear that I'd end up with another C-section after laboring forever.

I'm not completely down on C-sections. I can't see myself becoming one of those women who goes around saying shit like "your body was meant to give birth," because let's face it, for some women that is just not the case. Some people have very valid reasons for needing a C-section. I think my beef is with the need to rush women into giving birth before their bodies are ready and with how much doctors feel the need to intervene. I'm also sick of the fear-mongering, a lot of which comes from freakin' doctors. It's disgusting and manipulative.

I am definitely down on the way that my entire birth experience unfolded. It was so cold and scary and painful, and I spent hours truly believing that I wouldn't make it out alive. I never expected birth to be a walk in the park. But I never expected to miss Charlie's entrance to the world. I never expected to be pushed through some baby factory and to have my son cut out of me. I never expected to feel so alienated.

I give myself pep talks when I am feeling down about all this. I remind myself that none of this really matters in the long run and what really is important is that I am a good and loving mother to Charlie. But then I have to call bullshit on myself. Because, dammit, it does matter. Giving birth is a transformative experience. To act like it isn't is naive.

I refuse to live my life in denial. I refuse to ignore the places that hurt. This is a place that really, really hurts. I talk about it with the hopes that giving it a voice will help me to heal. It doesn't mean that I'm negative. It means that I'm going through something that really affected me. It means that sometimes I have to repeat everything I've said before because for whatever reason I am revisiting this painful place. So if you're reading this and rolling your eyes, as my inner critic always does when I write again about how badly things went when Charlie was born, have patience with me and with this place that's all bruised and battered. It will never be the same again, but I'm not entirely convinced that's a bad thing.


inflammatory writ said...

My mom had C-sections with both of us. Mine was not planned, and only happened after my poor mother had pushed for 6 hours straight, after 16 grueling and painful hours of labor.

My brother was a planned c-section. By then, they had discovered her scoliosis and she had to go under general because the epidural wouldn't take (sounds familiar, huh?). My brother was born perfectly healthy, however, the anethesiologist messed up and pulled the tube out of her throat too fast. My mom gagged and vomited, which caused her to aspirate. She nearly died and was in ICU for four days on a respirator. My brother's birth experience profoundly impacted both my mom and my dad, and the one who ultimately suffered their bitterness was my brother. I am sure they didn't mean for that to happen, but that's what happened.

My point is that while it's totally healthy and normal to grieve your birth experience (and that's what it is - grief - a word this society doesn't like to hear), there will come a point where you have gone through the process. Twenty five years later, my brother's birth continues to affect my family, because they never dealt with it and never grieved. You owe it to yourself and to Charlie to grieve this properly and eventually, in time, let it go. Writing about it can only help that process. You're doing the right thing.

Angie Eats Peace said...

Your feelings and hurt are completely validated. So is your healing process, write/vent/process away.

khairun said...

Youve managed to singlehandedly put into words, the feelings that I have been grappling with since I had my baby on the 24th. Up until now, I havent been able to really talk about it, especially when it seems to make people uncomfortable.As happy as I am to have my baby, it feels as though I need some kind of social permission to feel sad. So I can totally relate to what youre experiencing.

Erika said...


Grieve away my friend.....it only gets better when you let it allllll out.

I do it too....talk about it with hubby, my mom, my friends it feels so much better letting it out.

Now, I thought about going to a group about grieving.....but I'm scared too....at least you researched some places to go.

amber said...