It’s true that I didn’t write much about my pregnancy this time around, save for the last few weeks. I did so much of that while Charlie was gestating, and frankly it’s a little tougher to blog that often once the inside baby moves to the outside. This pregnancy was no less of an incredible journey, though. I sit here at almost one week postpartum and offer to you the story of the last nine months.
2010 rolls in. After a simply wonderful holiday season, which includes an affirming trip to Texas to see my family, we settle into the new year. I expect things to be better than they were in the summer and fall. Roy and I are both still recovering from the trauma surrounding Charlie’s birth, but I feel that we’ve got it mostly under control. I am wrong, very wrong, about this. In time, I will realize this. But at this time, I pick my word for the year: complete. There are many reasons why I pick it, but the most important one is because I am not deficient and it really is time that I believe that.
The magic of the holiday season wears off, and once again every day feels like a struggle to survive. I love Charlie and don’t know what I would do without him, but I don’t feel like a very good mom most of the time. There are many days when I call Roy crying, and several times he has to come home from work early. I feel absolutely 100% lost.
In February, I hit rock bottom. I still feel so destroyed by the way Charlie’s birth played out. I don’t understand why I can’t follow everyone’s (well-meaning but horribly invalidating) advice to “just be grateful for a healthy baby.” It feels so much more complicated than that. I know I am a lesser mother for not enjoying my son as much as I know I should. It is so difficult because he is the best thing that ever happened to us, and yet I am haunted by his birth. I think about it every day. I begin to wonder if I have postpartum depression.
February 13 & 14, 2010. Roy, Charlie, and I hit the road for a Valentine’s Day trip to San Diego. It is exactly what we need at this point. We have a wonderful time, and I feel light and painless and happy. I love my family and I am a wonderful mom and I know everything is going to be okay. It is during this trip that, quite unexpectedly, our second child is conceived, and we bring home with us the most precious souvenir we could have ever wished for.
Okay, so if we’re being technical, there’s pretty much no way that our baby was actually conceived during that trip since it takes a few days for conception to occur. But let’s suspend our disbelief for a second and just say “awwww” when I tell you that there are actually four of us in this picture:
We return home after that amazing weekend out of our element, and soon things are back to normal. I’m back to crying every day. The feelings of sadness and loss are overwhelming. After a particularly awful day, I decide to see my doctor. It is February 18. My appointment is March 2. I have no idea how I will make it until then.
But I do make it. In the meantime, I start sneezing. I get really congested. Kleenex is my best friend. I visit the bathroom much more regularly than I used to. And then on the morning of March 1, I am lying in bed and I realize that my last period was January 28. I am a little late. I don’t think about this much because of how stress-ridden February was.
I see my doctor’s nurse practitioner on March 2. She is not wanting to give me anti-depressants just yet, which turns out to be exactly the right thing to do, so she gives me a referral to a local therapist. I have an appointment for the next day.
I decide to take a pregnancy test that evening, just in case my new therapist wants to prescribe anti-depressants. I am both shocked and not-shocked to see the test turn up positive. We are happy. We are cautious. We begin to try to wrap our minds around being the parents of two small children.
I am 4 weeks and 5 days pregnant. There is a new person growing inside me. It blows my mind. Roy and I decide that this is our secret for awhile. We need time to process.
I begin therapy and avoid anti-depressants. I hold on tight to my sanity as the first trimester threatens to swallow me whole. I feel physically awful, and that doesn’t help with how emotionally unstable I’ve been feeling. I already know that I want to attempt a VBAC with a midwife outside of a hospital. We decide on a local birth center that I have already toured and whose staff I am familiar with. In no way do I feel prepared to even think about actually having a VBAC, but I know that there is no way I can go back to my OB’s office - or any OB at all. Not at this point.
So we give ourselves over to a whole new way of approaching birth. It feels good, but early on I tell the student midwife, Lynn, that I am afraid. She responds, “There’s no room for fear here.” I don’t really understand what she means. I don’t know how I can not be afraid after what happened the first time. I wonder if women really do approach birth completely without fear.
Our first ultrasound is on April 1. I am 9 weeks pregnant. It is confirmed that there is indeed a tiny little person nestled into my uterus. I tear up when I see the little flickering of the baby’s heartbeat. I am so happy.
I have a follow-up appointment with my general physician for my depression. We discuss my pregnancy and she asks who my OB is. I tell her I don’t have an OB and that I am using a midwife. She says, "Well, we really need to get you set up with an OB. Did you deliver naturally the first time?" I tell her I had a c-section and that I am going for a VBAC this time around. She gasps a little and says, "That's dangerous! You know that, right?"
I respond very calmly, "I know that people think it's dangerous." She is shocked into silence. I am so proud of myself for saying that and so angry at her for being such a fearmonger. I find it completely irresponsible that a medical doctor’s knee-jerk response is to say that VBAC is dangerous. And yet all my research has prepared me to be unsurprised about this.
Even though I know that VBAC is a safe alternative to repeat c-section, I leave the doctor's office feeling incredibly discouraged. So discouraged, in fact, that I am almost ready to cave and go see my OB for the rest of my pregnancy so we can schedule a repeat c-section. But then I realize that my doctor has no idea what is really best for me. Her fearmongering comes from a place entirely different than being supportive of me.
I don’t realize it at the time, but this exchange between me and my doctor is the beginning of something huge. I dare to stand up for myself. I dare to do this because I know what is right for me and my baby. I do not care how many people in white lab coats I have to stare down. I will not put myself or my baby in harm’s way just because it is more convenient for them. I will not be cut open again unless it’s necessary for my or my baby’s health and well-being. I will not let them make me feel broken.
When I have my next appointment at the birth center, I tell the student midwives Lynn and Angela about this exchange between my doctor and me. I tell them how afraid I am about not being brave enough to go through with having a VBAC. Lynn looks at me and then says, "It's not like you'll have the VBAC and then be empowered. Your pregnancy is a journey that will empower you to have the VBAC. You just need the right people on your side, people who will believe in you. Of course, everyone else can believe in you, but it doesn't matter if you don't believe in yourself."
I visit another local birth center because I am curious about how things are done there. It is not a good experience for me, as the birth center does not allow VBACs outside of the hospital and uses really awful fear tactics to discourage me against attempting one. They don’t even have their statistics right. I leave and never look back. Again, I feel very discouraged, but more angry than anything. But I get over it. I feel extremely grateful for the birth center and the midwife I’ve chosen.
I hang onto Lynn’s ideas about empowerment throughout my pregnancy, and as it progresses, as I slowly find my way out of the darkness, I begin to understand what she means. By the time I have fully entered the light of my new self and my new life, I am completely confident in my birth choices. My voice is strong. I am strong. I am a person I have never been before, and in many ways I am the person I’ve always wanted to be. It has taken a journey to hell and back, but it is a journey I would not change.
My tummy grows rounder. I dream of having another little boy. I eat well and rest often and read birth books and online articles. I share my findings with others. I am using my voice because so many women don’t have that option. In the most natural of ways, I become a passionate advocate for empowered childbirth. I have always wanted to do something to make a difference in the world. Maybe this is my way.
Charlie turns one year old. On his birthday, I feel the baby kicking for the first time. As I reflect on both Charlie’s growth from babyhood to toddlerhood and the new life inside me, love overwhelms me. I am the mother of two perfect little souls. I am the wife of the best man I have ever known. In the space of a year, I have touched the very bottom of darkness and then slowly climbed back towards the light. I am so lucky. I am myself.
Later in June we discover that indeed another little boy is on the way, and we are thrilled. We sit down at a table in the Nordstrom Cafe afterwards and discuss names. We narrow it down to two. Later we are driving around and Roy says, out of the blue, “Hey, little Burt Reynolds!” We crack up. It becomes our baby’s first nickname.
The summer hits us hard. We have two very sick family members. Being on one income leads us into extreme financial difficulties. Our landlord is selling our house and we don’t know where we will end up living. Our insurance company begins giving us the runaround for coverage for our out-of-hospital birth. We hang tight in the face of these challenges. We have made it through a year of darkness, and we know we’ll be fine as long as we’re together.
Our brush with near-bankruptcy causes us to reevaluate what we have and what we need. We begin going through our house and getting rid of things that we aren’t using. We begin thinking of things as tiny ways to weigh us down and keep us from living the life we want. We have realized that the best way to lead a remarkable life is to strip away all the extraneous to find the raw and the real lying underneath. Everything begins to come together in a way it never has before. Even when it makes absolutely no sense, life makes sense.
In July we begin our Bradley classes, a 12-week intensive course in childbirth preparation. I pay close attention to what I eat while exercising every day. I practice the recommended relaxation techniques and am able to beat the insomnia that has crippled me for the last three months. With each class, I learn more and more. I feel stronger and more powerful than I’ve ever felt. The most important thing I learn is that we as patients have the right to refuse any procedure. I realize that the medical community only has as much power as we give them.
I begin to understand more about fear and how it can make or break a birth experience. I now understand why Lynn told me at the very beginning of my pregnancy that there’s no room for fear in childbirth. I realize that the fear will probably always be there but it doesn’t have to run the show. I realize just how much it *is* running the show for so many people, and not just in regards to birth. We decide that our life will be different, that we will always listen to our instincts, and that we will approach life unafraid.
I also begin to understand a thing or two about empowerment. Lynn was right. By the time I am very far along in my pregnancy, I am in a completely different spot than I was when this journey began. I am still me, with my moments of crippling doubt and insecurity, but I am also a version of myself that I have never known. I let go easily of negative influences in my life, and I surround myself with the positive. I am happy. I am empowered. I love my baby, and I am ready to birth him with courage and strength. There is no room for fear here.
Towards the end the fear does begin to creep in here and there. I worry about not going into labor soon enough, about all the horror stories circulating out in the world, about failing at my VBAC. There are so many unknowns at this point. It is driving me crazy not having the answers. I am anxious sometimes. Even after I reach my due date, I have contractions that are erratic, but nothing else seems to be happening. I often wonder if my body just doesn't work right. But I force myself to dismiss those thoughts. They do me absolutely no good.
Mostly I am just fine with waiting. I have more patience than I’ve ever given myself credit for. I don’t waste a bunch of time trying to make the baby come. I continue to live my life and I know that he will join the world when he’s ready. He’s healthy, I’m healthy, and we’re going to give him a healthy birth.
And that's exactly what happens. We have a healthy birth, the birth our baby needs to have. It doesn't look or feel at all like the way I imagined. I remind myself that nothing in life ever does. And then I hold my baby boy close and I know that birth is about so much more than squeezing a baby out of one's vagina. It's about giving life to a new and perfect person the best way a mother possibly can. I understand in so many ways now that as fractured as I am, I am also complete. I am myself. My birth experiences have made me whole.