The Less Than Perfect Birth of My Perfect Baby, Thing 1 (and what I learned from my “emergency c-section”)
Still no baby here. My “due date” isn’t until April 5th so while I’m more than ready for his arrival and really uncomfortable I’m not worried. After all due dates are really just “guesstimates”. Babies come when they are ready not when they are “due”.
As I’m preparing for the birth of Thing 3, I decided I wanted to reminisce and reflect on my previous births. While my first birth was far from a tragedy, it was on some level traumatic and far from ideal. It left physical and mental scars that took time to heal. Perhaps in sharing my story someone else will feel less alone or less crazy or more hopeful or something. If anything it’s nice for me to look back and see how much I have learned and grown since the birth of Thing 1 and, of course, to remember falling in love with Thing 1 all over again.
The Prenatal Days – A Huge Bag of Mixed Emotions
I found out I was pregnant with Thing 1 about a month and a half after a trip to India where I had gotten really sick. I actually went to the doctor and asked for antibiotics because I thought I was still sick with a lingering stomach virus. The doctor advised me to wait over the weekend and if I didn’t feel better he would do some testing. A few days later, I took a pregnancy test and was surprised to find out out I was pregnant. It wasn’t particularly “good timing”. I was getting ready to move to a new town, finishing college, and on top of those things I was struggling with depression and had been recently diagnosed with a personality disorder (Borderline).
It was a long 9 months. We had recently moved to Ventura from Santa Barbara and I had very few friends. Most of my days were spent at home crying. If you have ever faced the true despair that real depression brings you’ll understand what I mean. It’s more than a “bad day”. The days were long, lonely, and empty. During this time, I started going to therapy 2-3 times a week. These were dark days, probably some of the darkest of my life, but even in the midst of the darkness God gave me a few candles to guide my steps as He always does. First and most important was Brent. He was and will always be my best friend and my rock. We clung to each other through that dark tunnel and came out the other side stronger than before. Second, was my therapist and my parents who made therapy possible. I really don’t know if we would have made it through the darkness without them. Thirdly, we started going to a new church and the pastor’s wife took me under her wing. She would pick me up and take me with her while she “toodled around town”, i.e., ran errands. She listening without judgement to my endless lists of fears and worries.
For reasons I won’t go into, I really wanted a boy. The thought of having a girl terrified me more than the thought of giving birth itself. I prayed constantly that I would have a boy. Seeing that my mental state was where it was at the time, we decided it was best to not find out the gender. A few days before I went into labor I went to the mall and bought a pink dress because I figured I’d better start accepting the fact that my baby had a 50/50 chance of being a girl.
Back in those days I didn’t know much about health and nutrition. Prior to getting pregnant, I had been an unhealthy vegetarian who lived off of cereal, pasta, and canned lima beans. Once my pregnancy cravings kicked in all I wanted was meat and I never looked back.
During those 9 months I took eating for two literally. I remember sitting in class one day and eating a packs of peanut M&Ms, Kit-Kats, and Twizzlers, one right after another, when I noticed a girl staring at me. This is how I ate my entire pregnancy. I ate a full pint of ice cream almost daily. I didn’t get full blown gestational diabetes but did have to take the the long 3 hour test because of the results of my first test. It was no surprise that I put nearly 70 pounds on my 118 pound body.
Before I was pregnant exercise consisted of an occasional run around the track at college. I thought if I could run a mile it meant I was “healthy”. Once I was pregnant forget about running. I didn’t do any exercise until we joined the YMCA late in my pregnancy and I took up swimming a few days a week because it felt good to be weightless even if it meant swimming in a plaid tent.
Although childbirth is an act of nature, it is so important to educate ourselves especially at this point in time when many (most?) doctors want to turn it into a medical condition. Not to to mention how the media falsely portrays childbirth conditioning most women to think it “has” to be awful and painful. Like most new mothers, I took a class but was so TERRIFIED that I zoned out every time I was there to cope with my fear. I fully embraced that birth was going to be excruciatingly painful. Not only did the thought of giving birth scare me but it disgusted me as well. Of course I read What to Expect When Expecting which is the WORST pregnancy book out there but at the time I didn’t know any better. Unfortunately, my lack of education showed when it came time to birth.
The Birth – Classic Path to a C-Section
I went into labor on my own on April 21, 2000. I can’t remember much except that it hurt. HURT! Of course, it did because that was what I was fully expecting to happen. If only I had listened and took the time to learn the pain management skills that were taught in my class. What would have been even more important would have been to take the time to work through my fears and preconceptions regarding birth. But I was where I was and that was at a place of fear.
What followed next was a classic path to a c-section. First, I went into the hospital too early at only a few centimeters dialated. Next, I asked for an epidural right away. I’m not 100% against epidurals (I do think it’s healthier for mama and baby to go without but so far I’ve never done that) but asking for one during early labor can slow it down which is exactly what happened. One intervention lead to the next. I was put on my back (not good) and since my labor slowed they gave me pitocin. Pitocin can make contractions unnaturally strong which can affect the baby’s heart rate. The pitocin, laying on my back, continuous fetal monitoring, and fear was a recipe for a c-section. After many hours of a slowed labor and a the baby’s heartrate going up and down, the doctor decided it was best to have a c-section.
I don’t blame my doctor’s decision. He is a great doctor and was wonderful during the c-section. They took me to the OR and upped my epidural. Brent came in and stayed at my head under the sheet looking at me with intense love and reassurance the entire time. I can’t imagine what it would have been like without him.
Before they cut me open, I remember asking my doctor if I was numb. He asked if I could feel him pinching my skin. I couldn’t so he proceeded with the surgery. The surgery didn’t hurt but I could feel pulling and tugging. Thing 1 came out and the doctor said, “It’s a boy.” For a moment, I forgot I was in the middle of surgery and was overcome with joy at having a boy! A BOY!!!!!! Our new little boy had a less than ideal apgar score and there was meconium staining so they took him to the NICU for observation.
I only got a glimpse of him, much less a chance to hold him, while they wheeled him by me in a cart. It would be 18 hours until I got to hold my baby. That was the worst part of the whole ordeal.
The next thing I knew I was given a shot and went out like a light. I woke up later in a recovery room and then later in the room I would stay in for 5 days. The only thing I can remember about the next few hours was being in the most pain I had ever been in in my life and pressing a button that gave me pain medicine. Oh and I was thirsty, so very thirsty, but they would only let me have ice chips.
The following day nurses came in to poke or prod me but I still had not seen my baby. Brent was going back and forth between me and the NICU. Finally, a midwife who owned the birth center where I had taken my childbirth class, was visiting someone in the hospital. She stopped to see me and found out I hadn’t seen my baby. Immediately, she went to the nurses and asked that I be able to see him. It wasn’t long before I was put into a wheelchair and taken to the NICU.
Thing 1 had his own room and was soooo big (Almost 10 pounds!) compared to all the other babies in the NICU. Although there was nothing wrong with him he was still under “observation”. It broke my heart that he had to lay there all alone when his mama was just down the hall. I didn’t know enough nor did I have the confidence at the time to question hospital protocol so I kept being wheeled down there every few hours to see him. Finally after a few days they released him to my room. Then a few days later I was released to go home.
For me, it had been a confusing, emotionally draining, and verging on traumatic five days.
Postpartum – Things Get Worse Before Better
Recovering from a c-section sucks. I don’t think I had ever or have since been so sore. It felt like someone had forced me to do 5 million sit-ups at gun point. But that was nothing compared to the emotional pain I felt at not being able to nurse my baby like I had planned.
Since Thing 1 had been immediately taken away from me, I had not got to nurse him much so my milk was sooo very slow to come in. When it did finally come in there wasn’t much. This isn’t uncommon for c-section moms. If you haven’t nursed a baby it’s hard to describe the desire to nourish them. It’s overwhelming and, for me, it defined the next few weeks of who I was. Since I wasn’t making enough milk I saw myself as a failure and became crazy obsessed with increasing my milk supply. After almost every feeding, I would pump for about an extra hour. This added up to 8-12 hours of pumping a day. It was painful physically but mentally excruciating. In hindsight, I was not well but we didn’t have much of a support system at the time nor did we know better. Brent and I were fumbling along together. I, desperate to nourish my baby, was feeling like a failure and fighting postpartum depression. He, desperate to provide love and support to me, was taking care of our home on very little sleep.
Those few weeks after birth were long, dark, and lonely but eventually, my milk supply caught up with the demand. Well mostly, I still had to supplement with formula a little bit. I walked in my college graduation with a forced smile. My c-section healed and we eventually found our new normal as a family of three. Day by day, I fell in love with our new son a little more. In the process, my depression and severe emotional struggles faded to what would eventually become a memory.
What I learned – God Heals and Babies and Birth Matter
First, I learned that God heals. Not to get all “religious” on you but this is the only way I can put it. He not only healed my physical wounds but the emotional ones as well. Having our first son was a huge step taken towards wholeness. It may not have been what I had planned for my life but it turned out to be what God knew I needed. Fourteen years later, I can’t even begin to imagine my life without Thing 1. He is an amazing child and one of the best “surprises” I have ever been given.
Secondly, I learned the importance of educating myself about childbirth and facing my fears surrounding it. For many women, including myself, it’s not enough to read What to Expect When Expecting or go to any birth class. There were fears that needed addressing and I should have taken the time to learn about the possible consquences of interventions. I’ll never know what the birth could have been like had I not chosen my first intervention, the epidural. Perhaps I could have had a natural birth and breastfeeding would have gone more smoothly and not become the mental nightmare it was those first few weeks. Or not. I’ll never know.
People often say to mothers who have had a less than ideal birth, “At least you have a healthy baby”, as if that’s all that matters. While I understand the sentiment, it’s not the full picture. A healthy baby is not all that matters. Healthy babies are important but so are healthy mamas and positive birth experiences.
I was determined that when the time came my second birth would not be a repeat of my first birth. In the meantime, I fell deeply in love my surprise baby, Thing 1.
Hugs and High Fives,
Keep up with my kettlebell workouts, real food recipes, and more in one of three ways! 1. Sign up to have posts emailed to your inbox. 2. Subscribe to the RSS Feed or 3. “like” Girl Heroes on Facebook. Simple dimple!
Journey with our family on the road at Newschool Nomads as we travel fulltime in RV through the United States.