I am the mother of two boys under the age of two. Two boys with two very different birth stories.
As a textbook Type A Perfectionist, I planned and constantly dreamed of the “natural” delivery I would have with my first child. My essential oil diffuser would waft sweet orange and lavender throughout the alternative birthing room where the lights would be dimmed just enough to relax us but still bright enough to capture a few candid photos to be humble-brag posted on social media later. My perfectly curated playlist would provide the soundtrack to our (ha, “our”) contractions and birthing experience; a mix of upbeat classics and Hypno-Esque tracks I could now only describe as Orca whales buried in a jello mold calling out to one another. I’d labor comfortably in the bathtub with my husband behind me, magically knowing which pressure points to push and what thoughtful phrases to quote quietly at the exact right moment.
We arrived at my due date with my body exhibiting very few labor readiness signs, so we continued on, eight days on. I assumed that every woman delivered within 12 hours on either side of her due date. This is what we grew up seeing in the movies, no? These assumptions (and raging hormones) almost prompted me to send a strongly worded letter to RI DoT insisting that their highway signs read: “THE CHANCES OF DELIVERING ON YOUR DUE DATE ARE LESS THAN 5%, MOST WOMEN GO PAST THEIR DUE DATE” instead of whatever silly road closure or weather warning was currently advertised.
Finally, at 41 weeks, we went in for my routine visit to experience contractions while hooked up to the non-stress test. We found out our baby’s heart rate dropped with every contraction, something referred to as a Late Deceleration. We were instructed to head over to the hospital for to be induced as soon as possible.
I was hooked up to every monitor imaginable; the antithesis of my birthing plan which now lived crumpled at the bottom of my hospital bag. We moved through 12 hours of beeps and boops chirping from several machines, uncomfortable cervix checks, and barely progressing contractions until finally arriving at the conversation my midwives were hinting at for much of my labor – I was going to have to have a c-section, and soon.
My husband sat in the hallway as the nurse wheeled me into the OR. I was blinded by the bright lights that glared down on the sterile, impersonal room filled with a team prepping my body in such a deliberate manner it felt borderline invasive. This was so routine for them, but for me, it was a life-altering, cell-shifting event. Hearing about everyone’s weekend plans and talking about me like I was a medical practice dummy was terrible. As the doctor entered the room and sat on the other side of the hanging blue curtain, I heard someone yell, “UH, where is her husband?”
My husband was almost forgotten in the hallway.
Our son was lifted above the curtain in a Simba/Rafiki manner and was then put on my chest for me to briefly take him in before he was rushed off to a recovery room with my husband for skin-to-skin contact. I laid on the operating table to be sewn up, in and out of a Fentanyl haze, for almost an hour.
The whirlwind experience of recovering from major surgery, caring for a new baby, and losing my father unexpectedly (more on that another time) left me far from able to process my birth experience in a healthy manner. I found myself fighting back the tears anytime I told stories of my c-section. I’d cover the experience in half-jokes, much like this post, and move quickly on to how lucky I was to have a healthy baby boy in my arms before the listening party chirped in with the same sentiment.
Of course, I was lucky to have a healthy baby boy in my arms, but my heart was broken over my birthing experience. It was grieving in its purest form. I’d be angry one day about it, deny the severity of it the next. I felt as though my body had failed me.
Ten short months later, we were pregnant again, and the fears of my first experience came rushing in moments after seeing those two pink lines. I immediately discussed my desire to try for a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarian) with my husband to ensure we were on the same page. Thankfully I was cared for by a group of incredible midwives who supported my decision. Still, even as supportive as they were, we spent a shocking amounts of time discussing the risks of both delivery options due to how recent my c-section was.
I had moments of doubt throughout my pregnancy – would I be strong enough or capable of having a vaginal delivery? I am grateful that I always returned to a baseline of determined optimism.
I spent the last weeks of my pregnancy navigating labor-inducing old wives tales: eating fistfuls of dates, waddling for miles through my neighborhood, self-administered acupressure, and visits to the acupuncturist and chiropractor – rinse and repeat. As a control freak, it felt good to have that kind of regiment in place as I prepared for a situation I would ultimately have little control over.
At six days past due, I had been fighting off a voice in my head for the better part of a week – the voice convincing me my body couldn’t labor naturally.
Two days before my scheduled induction, my water broke.
Life has a funny way of kicking some sense into you after tragedy and trauma rock your world. Your feet seem to tread a bit firmer on the ground and your head dips a little lower out of the clouds. My initial desire for that natural, essential oil-infused birth was long gone.
The following evening, after hours of intense contractions, fighting off intrusive ‘what if’ thoughts, a glorious epidural, and a well-positioned mirror to view the event – my baby boy was here.
The anger and fear I associated with delivery lifted from my heart almost immediately.
I felt pieces of my soul heal that had been broken by my c-section and father’s death.
I felt confidence restored in my body that I had let drain out 20 months prior.
How could this one event rewire a year’s worth of questioning and doubt?
I still don’t really know.
I am proud of my fellow moms for however they brought their baby into the world. This is my experience and my healing process. This does not reflect a judgement on how other mothers choose to process their experiences or one’s decision to have an elective c-section. I feel as though there is not enough discussion around VBAC success stories and my decision to share is rooted in a desire to help those questioning if they could follow a similar path.
At the end of the day, when I hold my boys close to me, it’s simple to say all that really matters is that they are here in my arms and healthy. I am grateful for that every minute. But we do a disservice to a woman’s sense of self when we skim over her story to the conclusion, “well, hey, at least you have a healthy baby!”
When we neglect to discuss the emotional toll that delivery takes on one’s psyche, we hinder that woman’s ability to step into her motherhood journey with the confidence she deserves to feel.
Sharing my story helps to continue that healing process for me.
I hope you feel inclined to share yours to help heal as well.