When I was about 30 weeks pregnant with Benjamin, Justin and I attended a childbirth class. The instructor gave us like 10 cards, reading things like, "induction," and "epidural," and of course, the dreaded "c-section." We were asked to flip over the cards in the order of things we would accept in our birth. For us, c-section was last. As we walked out that day, Justin said, "I really hope we don't have a c-section." I laughed, because "we" would never have a c-section, just like "we" weren't pregnant. But I wasn't worried, I was 31, healthy, and having a fairly easy pregnancy. I wouldn't need to have a c-section.
But so much for getting contractions and timing them and all those things we discussed in my childbirth class. Instead, I reported to the hospital 6 days after my due date to be induced. It seemed so anti-climatic to report to the hospital, but I was ready for that babe to come out. (Now that I know that chances of stillbirth increase dramatically after 40 weeks, I wonder how doctors rationally let any woman go past her due date.) My sister was induced with both of her kids, and I had a sneaking suspicion my whole pregnancy that I would also be induced.
I didn't have a detailed birth plan. My birth plan was somewhat along the lines of "I want my mom and my husband in the room. I would like to be as active as I can for as long as I can. I am going to see how it goes before deciding to have an epidural. I want the cord to pulsate for a moment after delivery and my husband to cut the cord." I had read a lot that the more detailed your birth plan, the more likely you were to be disappointed, and I trusted that my doctor was going to make the best decisions for us.
So hour and hours into my labor, there I am, bouncing on a birthing ball, doing my active labor thing, when the nurse comes in and casually mentions that my heart rate monitor must have slipped off the baby, because the heart rate is so low. Then she realizes that the heart rate monitor is actually accurate, and a slew of nurses and doctors rush in, and who throw me on the bed and toss me around like a rag doll as they try to find a position to stabilize Ben's heart rate. After a very scary couple of minutes, they find that position. A doctor with the biggest hands I've ever seen, comes in to place an internal monitor on Ben. My anxiety has sky-rocketed, so I decide to go ahead and have the epidural to try to relax a bit (and I wasn't allowed to be active anyway). Fast forward a few hours later, when Ben's heart rate dives again, and the slew of doctors and nurses rushes in again. They throw me around again, but this time they don't manage to stabilize Ben's heart rate and the next thing I know, I'm thrown on a stretcher as the doctors RUN down the hallway to the operating room. And then, I'm being cut open. My husband still isn't in the room, and I'm throwing up all over myself.
It was traumatic, to say the least.
And although I wasn't allowed to hold him for quite a while because I couldn't stop shaking, Benjamin was okay.
Later, in the recovery room, a nurse must have heard me talking and she snapped at me, "At least you have a healthy baby!"
I was really pissed that she didn't recognize the trauma, that the fact that my baby survived seemed to negate the horrors of the 22 hours in the hospital before he was born. Like I wasn't allowed to process what had just happened, because my baby was okay.
I now wonder if she had delivered a stillborn baby that day.
Because at least we had a healthy baby.
And I know now that there are babies in that very same situation, where the baby's cord gets compressed every time the mother has a contraction, that do not survive. Where that sprint to the operating room is not quite quick enough. I know we got lucky with Ben.
So from the beginning with Lydie, we knew I'd have another c-section. My doctor doesn't perform vaginal births after c-section, and although she told me she could refer me to a new doctor, we knew the catastrophic risks to the baby. We read about uturine rupture, and even though the chances were small, we didn't want to take that chance. We also knew that attempting a VBAC would be more likely to result in another emergency c-section, and we didn't want any more risk, we didn't want to have any more trauma.
The whole pregnancy, I mourned the fact that I would never have a vaginal delivery. "It is what it is," I told myself. "A healthy baby is what matters," I reminded myself. But still, I was scared. I was in so much pain after my c-section, and it's hard to mentally psyche yourself up for that level of pain a second time.
This fall, a pregnant coworker and I discovered that we saw the same doctor. She asked me the story of Ben's birth and I recounted it to her, hoping it didn't terrify her. "I guess the point is," I told her, "Dr. B is going to do everything she can do to make sure both you and the baby are safe and healthy. You have to take away too many other expectations."
I ran into her at the doctor's office two weeks later, when I had my full-round Lydia belly, and she had her son in his carrier. She told me how she did in fact, have to have a c-section. How her son had to be rushed to NICU, and how he still wouldn't breastfeed, so she pumped and bottle-fed him. It was traumatic but she remembered how I said, "healthy baby, healthy mom." And ultimately, whether or not she had to do some extra pumping, that's what she got. But it was really hard. I thought, "well, that sounds just awful." And I gave Lydia a couple more love-pats.
Two weeks after that, she was in the waiting room, when Justin and I walked out, eyes on the ground, after seeing our still daughter on the ultrasound. She told me later she instantly knew something was wrong. She told me later that our daughter's death helped her put her struggles with her son in perspective.
That's the thing, right?
At the time of Ben's birth, I thought it was unfair that someone minimized our trauma.
Now, I think: Ben's birth? The child was living, for God's sake.
Who cares what amount of trauma or pain I had to go through to get him here.
The PTSD I was diagnosed with after Ben's birth? It's nothing compared to the PTSD I have now.
Now, I put things into perspective for every other new mother. (Which I loathe, by the way).
I'm the worst-case scenario.
Actually, they say fetal demise is the the second-worst outcome in a pregnancy.
The very worst? Maternal demise.
As someone who would gladly give up my life for my child, I'd disagree with that.
(Although my husband would like to point out here that he's very grateful that I lived through this experience).
Ben's birth was our worst-case scenario in our childbirth cards. It was even worse than that, because it was 16 hours of labor, and a few scares along the way, resulting in that emergency c-section.
But Lydie's birth? The childbirth cards didn't even mention that. They led us to believe that a c-section is the worst thing that could happen. They didn't have a "fetal demise" card. They didn't mention that sometimes babies die in the womb for seemingly no reason at all.
If we're able to try again, do this again? And we were given cards? The only two we aren't okay with are "fetal demise" and "maternal demise." All we want is a living child, it doesn't matter how we get there.
That's perspective for you.