This week I got hit with a major case of the sads.
I realize that I am not a person who can learn from others' mistakes. I am exceedingly stubborn, have always been, about making my own (sometimes very grave) mistakes and not acknowledging when a better choice is literally right in front of my face. Seriously, right there, picking its nose, farting, and vomiting all at once, and yet I will be completely oblivious. I have a knack for it, it seems.
I started reading Husband Coached Childbirth yesterday in preparation for our Bradley classes. My bookmark was still in there from when I was reading it the first time, and I remember why I got it: a poster on The Bump that I respected very much recommended it, saying that it would change the way we viewed childbirth. I remember when I was about this far along in my pregnancy with Charlie, reading it in the waiting room while I was waiting on the results of my glucose tolerance test. I was amazed, absolutely stunned, reading about vaginal deliveries of breech babies - all of the breech babies I'd ever heard of became automatic C-sections. I made a note to ask the nurse who was teaching our childbirth classes (at the hospital) about it.
And I did ask in our next class. I asked why breech babies weren't delivered vaginally anymore, and she said because the uterus could clamp down on the baby's head after the rest of the body came out. Sounded serious to me. I took her word for it, no more questions asked. She was a nurse, after all, and who was I but some clueless pregnant woman?
It turns out the nurse's answer was actually moronic. So moronic that I kind of shudder to think that she's a health care professional. But no more moronic, I suppose, than the OB's reason for breaking my water while I was in labor: "We need to check for meconium." I guess even the slight possibility of the presence of meconium is worth doing a major intervention for?
When I was at the very beginning of my pregnancy with Charlie, I was talking with a couple of friends about homebirth. I have to say that my gut reaction to homebirth was like this: "Hey, you know, that sounds pretty good." But all it took was one of my friends saying, "But what if something bad were to happen?" and all those good feelings just slipped away and I was bound and determined to preserve the safety of myself and my baby by giving birth in a hospital. She was right! What if something went wrong? To me, even entertaining that thought was too scary so I took the whole option of homebirth off the table right away. Hospital birth all the way, baby. That's what The Girlfriend's Guide to Pregnancy recommended. Who was I to question the author? Between her and her friends, they'd had quite a few kids, and who was I but some clueless pregnant woman?
Towards the end of my pregnancy, when I was on the Third Trimester board on the Bump, I noticed an awful lot of the ladies going in to be induced because they were overdue. So many of them came back and told their birth stories about how they'd ended up with emergency C-sections because the baby's heartbeat kept dropping or because they had cephalopelvic disproportion (CPD). Almost all of them said, "Get the epidural! Get it in the parking lot if you can! And don't bother with a birth plan, because these things never go according to plan, so you might as well just go with the flow. And besides, labor and delivery nurses totally make fun of those with birth plans and make things a lot harder for them."
My OB had told me the same thing about birth plans. He said, "Everything that women want from their birth experience is something we already do, so there really is no need." I believed him. He was my OB, for Chrissake! And who was I but some clueless pregnant woman?
I knew that inductions had a greater chance of ending up in a C-section. I actually didn't want to be induced. But I showed up for the induction anyway, convinced that if I waited a day longer Charlie would be dead because the conditions inside my uterus were soooooo unfavorable. I showed up with no birth plan, with no way of dealing with labor. I showed up thinking, "Oh, this will all work out. I'll get the epidural and everything will be just fine." The worst that would happen, I thought, was that the induction would fail and that I'd be sent home.
I had no idea that the induction would fail, that my epidural would fail, that the IV meds would fail, and that I'd be sent to the OR for a C-section under general anesthesia. I really didn't think it would happen to me. But it did. And I have mostly reached a point where I can see all the good shining out from that shitty experience. But for some reason, this week I've been revisiting the sadness and the anger. I am still so heartbroken over what happened. I am so mad at myself for ignoring all those red flags, for never finishing the Bradley book, for not listening to what was going on around me, for ignoring my instincts and giving my birth experience over to some authority figure who I felt surely knew better. I am furious at myself for giving up my power.
Most of all, the sadness comes from missing Charlie's first moments, from not being there to hold him immediately, from not being able to bond right away, from not being able to breastfeed or babywear or do all the things I wanted. I was so fucking hurt. And it hurts even more to know that my baby might have been scared and lonely without either one of his parents to hold him for so long in the first moments of his life.
I don't think it will ever not hurt.
Through the pain, my world shifted, changed in a way that it never had before. I see almost everything differently now, not just things having to do with childbirth and parenting, but life in general: the importance of compassion and kindness, of letting go, of authenticity, of listening to the voice within. It's been a complete paradigm shift, and it was one I needed. So I am grateful.
Because my birth experience gave me my voice. And with that voice, I am imploring you, those of you out there who are pregnant or ever planning to become pregnant, to please consider your options, to please do lots of reading, research and preparation, and to please acknowledge what a mess our maternal health care system is. (I am obviously hugely in favor of out-of-hospital births but I know those aren't for everyone - nor should they be.) Think about what you want from your birth. Really think about it. Don't try to fool yourself into thinking that it doesn't matter, because it does. It's true that it's only one day out of your life and that a certain method of delivering won't make you a better (or worse) mother. But it's also true that birth matters; it is a hugely transformative experience; and just as your child's birth will be the best day of your life, it can also be the worst. And that dichotomy, my friends, is a hell I would not wish on anyone.
Listen to what your gut is telling you, and ask questions. If you don't get a good answer, don't stop asking. If you feel like your health care provider isn't doing a good job, make the switch. If you feel like you don't have a choice in what happens, remember that most of the time you absolutely do. There is a thing called informed consent, and you have the right to refuse any intervention.
Lastly, believe in yourself and in your body. As the great midwife Ina May Gaskin says, "You are not a lemon." Whether it's your first pregnancy or your fifteenth, you contain all the wisdom you need to make good choices for you and your baby. Only you know what those are, but you can only know if you listen.
I wish like hell I would have acknowledged my own wisdom the first time around. Live and learn, right? I've certainly done a lot of both. In some cases, like this one, it's led to a lot of heartbreak. So much heartbreak that I just might trade all I've learned from this to hold my baby right after he was born.
Somewhere in there, I've got to figure out how to forgive myself.