It’s taken me awhile to get to a place where I felt I could talk through my feelings about Cody’s birth on this blog. I’m still not sure I can definitely say one thing or another about it, except it changed everything. I look at the smiling, gentle, happy baby he is and I am utterly astonished at how happy being a mother has made me. Though I am extremely sleep deprived, still 20 pounds heavier than when I got pregnant, and trying to find a balance between work, baby, my husband, and myself, I am still – above all – happy.
I feel as though pregnancy did not in any way prepare me for my feelings here and now, or during labor, or really anywhere in between. My pregnancy felt surreal to me, and the fact that I would have a baby and be a mother at the end of it all was an abstraction I couldn’t fully comprehend. Even now, I’m not sure I fully comprehend the ramifications of motherhood, but what I do know is that an element of choice is gone from my life now. If Cody needs me, I will be there for him. It’s not an option to be anything but. Truly.
I hear about Mommy wars and these massive rifts over how best to raise a child and I sometimes wonder how anyone can so rigidly abide by any one parenting style. I think what it comes down to is more or less what feels right. And, more and more I’m learning that what feels right and is MY truth, is not always what I’d anticipated – right from the start.
When Rick and I decided to go off birth control and let nature take its course, we really anticipated it could take a while. In fact, I was so sure that I wasn’t really at all worried that our “trying” coincided with my job search. Well, neither the job search nor the trying took long to come to fruition. Before I knew it, I was pregnant and starting my first day at a new job. Scary! But, wonderful all the same.
My entire life prior to begin pregnant I predicted I’d be an absolutely horrible pregnant person. I’m a terror when I’m hormonal and when you couple that with feeling fat, there really was no way (I thought) that anyone would want anything to do with me while I was pregnant. In truth, whatever hormones that were coursing through my body made me mellower and sweeter than I normally am. I was calm, happy, and rarely moody. It was shocking – and wonderful. I’m not going to claim I loved being pregnant, because I did not. But, I was amazed at how comfortable and happy I was through the process.
I spent my time during my pregnancy preparing for birth. I read Ina May Gaskin constantly. I fully embraced the goal of having a natural childbirth without drugs. I immersed myself in my hypnosis scripts – intent on having a peaceful, drug-free hypnobirth. In truth, nothing about that plan went the way I anticipated. Eleven days after my due date I was still pregnant as can be. I tried everything to bring forth my baby – sex, pineapple, spicy food, evening primrose oil, black and blue cohosh, eggplant, tea from the apothecary, acupuncture, massage, yoga, stairs, dancing, and even the dreaded castor oil. They all failed me. I cleaned the house. I meditated to prepare myself for my baby’s arrival. When the time came to talk induction I pushed back on my doctor over and over again. But eventually, 12 days past my due date, I went in for an induction. It was very sad to me. I had attached such meaning to the act of birthing my baby and beginning the process with an induction felt like a failure from the start. Yet, on the flip side, failure or not, I was excited to see what the process would hold for me and eager to get it moving along. Our induction started off on the wrong foot when I requested the cervical softener cervidil in place of cytotec. The nurse on duty pushed back on me, essentially telling me I was uninformed. Then she told me about how she induced for both of her babies because she wanted their birth dates to fall on specific days. I wasn’t impressed. We were not of a similar mind (which appeared to hold true for all but one of my nurses (and I had about 6)). Cervidil is administered overnight, and in my case that meant that Rick and I spent the night in the hospital together, which is the least romantic place to spend the last night you’ll ever have with just your husband. Just sayin’.
Overnight, I began having contractions and by morning they were coming on semi-regularly. We asked my doctor if we could allow labor to progress naturally, and she said yes. We were thrilled. We also asked that she massage out some scar tissue on my cervix from a LEEP and colposcopy I’d had several years before which was inhibiting dilation for me. Once she massaged out the tissue, my cervix popped open to three centimeters after holding steady at a half centimeter for weeks. Internally, I cursed the doctors who never mentioned this side effect during my previous procedures. This is truly something that women and other doctors should be better informed about given how prevalent LEEPs and colposcopies are to treat unusual cell formations that show up on pap smears. But, moving forward, my contractions steadily increased in strength though their frequency continued to be irregular. Before long I opted to try laboring in the tub, where my sister and Rick alternated in reading me hypnosis scripts. We bounced between the tub and bed for a while, my doula came, and before long several hours had passed. By mid-afternoon they checked me again, but alas my dilation was stalled at 3 cm. My doctor gave me two choices – break the waters, or begin Pitocin. Because I was group B strep positive, breaking the waters posed more risk, but I REALLY didn’t want pitocin. We bargained for an hour to walk the halls. After the hour was up and nothing had changed my Doctor stated playing hardball. She spent about 10 minutes on the phone with Rick, mocking us for all the reading we’d done and our strong distaste for Pitocin and interventions. She threatened to send us home. She dripped condescension and rudeness. We all were left with a horrible taste in our mouths over the whole thing. And after weighing all the options, we decided to try Pitocin at half strength. I labored on Pitocin for 7 hours, during which time my contractions increased in severity tremendously. I needed all three of my helpers – Rick, Max, and my doula, to rotate giving me supportive hip squeezes to ease my back labor. I fell to the ground from pain during some of my contractions. I uttered these guttural noises I’d never though possible. I started vomiting from the pain. Finally, I passed my mucus plug, and then my water broke. It was such a relief to have at least one part of my labor happen without direct intervention! Finally, contractions were getting so severe I was sure I needed to use the bathroom. This, we all took to mean I was in transition – somewhere between 7-10 cm dilated and soon to start the pushing phase. So, we asked for a pelvic exam only to find out that I was only dilated to about 6 cm. After 7 hours of laboring on Pitocin, and about 14 hours of contractions before that, I was considering the epidural. Soon, I was hit with about 5 contractions that just about leveled me. I looked at Rick and told him that despite all my earlier wishes, I wanted the epidural. If I felt bad now, I didn’t think I could handle transition without it. So, off they went to line it up – only 30 minutes to wait! This of course, was the worst 30 minutes of my life. They could hardly get a window to insert the epidural as my contractions bore down hard and unrelentingly. But alas, soon the sweet epidural kicked in and though my heart rate dropped and they needed to administer me oxygen, I was the happiest lady around.
And thus began my epic saga of laboring with an epidural – which necessitates a catheter because you’re stuck in bed (even though I could move my legs and kneel, etc.). I slept for about 3 hours once the epidural took over, but then I was back awake. At this point I’d been in the hospital about 30 hours from the beginning of my induction. Rick and I were able to steal a few precious moments to ourselves in the middle of the night as everyone else slept. We lamented the turn of events, but were giddy to finally meet our baby. We continued to labor (slowly) for another 15 hours or so. I changed positions several times to see if that would help progression. It didn’t. Nurses came running in to make sure the baby’s heart rate was steady several times. It was. They packed me full of a gazillion saline IV bags until my whole body was swollen to twice its size. Then they pronounced me nearly complete. 9.5 cm dilated about 45 hours from the beginning of my induction. They warned that the worst was ahead and left us to think, reminding us that the baby could weigh 9 or 10 pounds based on our last ultrasound. I listened to hypnosis scripts for about an hour and prepared myself to begin pushing when they gave me the go. But, after an hour an armada of nurses entered my room with my doctor. My doctor explained that they were all very worried about me. My contractions were no longer regular, even on heavy Pitocin. If I forged ahead, I could be pushing for hours because they determined my baby was asynclitic (head cocked) and posterior. They said they’d ordered extra blood for fear I’d hemorrhage or need an emergency C-section. They left me to talk it over, but made sure the c-section consent form was within arm’s reach.
I looked at Rick and my doula and admitted I’d been bearing down for the last hour, hoping to speed things along. Rather , it left my cervix swollen and less dilated than before. I was ready to meet my baby, and to stop these interventions which were doing very little. I was also scared. I was ready for the C-section. We agreed to do it, sadly. I signed the forms.
About a half hour later, I was wheeled into surgery with Rick nervously at my side, discussing whether he would stay with me or the baby in the event something went wrong. I know the “right” answer should probably be that we both would say go with the baby, but I was relieved to hear him say that if anything went wrong he’d stay with me because “he hasn’t even met the baby.” I was touched and honestly agreed it was right. It’s funny looking back on this, because we care so much for Cody – it’s hard to believe that just a few months ago we would have sort of abandoned him in this way.
When they got me into the surgery room we went over the process of things, and I got some drugs, and they explained how everything would happen. Before I knew it, I could feel tugging and pulling in my abdomen, which was surreal feeling – but didn’t hurt. Then they warned me it would feel like an elephant was standing on my chest for a few moments, and it did! But, before long I could hear the commotion of the staff as they pulled Cody out. “He’s so big!” they exclaimed! And then, ” Oh my gosh, he’s peeing on everyone!” It was disconcerting hearing the joy in people’s voices as this baby was “born” while meanwhile I lay behind a blue curtain, unable to feel or experience this supposedly life-changing moment. I felt a few tears well up, more because my emotions were so mixed at this point. I felt confused and the process was so surreal – yet I was supposed to be joyful at the birth of my child. Instead, I was confused and, apparently, hemorrhaging. They held Cody over the curtain for me to see – this wriggling, slimy thing. He was so skinny and his head was so big! His eyes were wide and alert. I remember being shocked that this was the being I’d housed for nine months, but touched at his smallness and tenacity. They took him for a moment to weigh and measure him, and came back to put him on my chest – a difficult feat with a curtain blocking most of my chest. Instead, Rick held him near my head and we talked to him – which seemed to awaken a bit of recognition in him. He seemed to know that our voices were the ones he’d been hearing for so many months – and his wails softened and quieted. We all observed each other in awe.
As all this was happening, a small commotion was going on. I was bleeding a lot. And my blood pressure was dropping. To the credit of the staff, nobody acted as though this was scary, but they gave me a few meds to help stop the bleeding. These made me feel like I was freezing on the table, and soon I began to shiver and my teeth even began to chatter. They couldn’t give me anything but a paper cover to help me stay warm. It was so uncomfortable. And, they took the baby away briefly to clean him off and let the staff stitch me back up. Around here my memories get foggy – another thing nobody warned me about. The anesthesia they give you, though it allows you to be conscious during the birth, really messes with your memory. As a result, my first few hours with Cody were a hazy blur. Rick has filled in some of the blanks, but I don’t remember much. We were taken to a recovery room and the nurse there seemed more interested in the Cowboys game than me. I breastfed for the first time, and had NO idea what I was doing. Eventually someone – I think a pediatric nurse, came in and gave me some pointers – then things began to go more smoothly. Cody latched well, and immediately. None of the surgical staff or doctor’s came by to explain the procedure or see me. Nobody told me I hemorrhaged. It felt lonely and sterile. They also wouldn’t let my family in for almost an hour. So, that’s a cesarean birth for you. Nothing I intended or expected, and nothing I hope to experience again. I try not to think about it. In fact for the first several weeks I struggled to even say that Cody was “born” opting for the more accurate and significantly more awful, “Cody was cut out of me.” I’m still weighing whether to attend the ICAN cesarean birth support group meetings that happen once a month. Haven’t gone yet, and as it fades into the distance it seems less and less likely. But I definitely see the need. This surgery is overused, and in my opinion, done poorly and without regard for the feelings and experience of the mother and father. My incision healed badly and opened back up a few weeks after my birth. It was hell trying to handle a newborn after abdominal surgery. It just sucked a lot.
To this day I’m not sure whether the C-section was needed. I know he was posterior and asynclitic and those conditions often result in cesareans. But could it have been different? I still don’t know if things would have progressed better if I’d resisted the system more or if they had identified that he was posterior earlier. I wonder often whether my next deliveries will end the same way and whether I’ll ever know the experience of birthing my child the natural way. When I think hard about it, it makes me very upset. I try not to think about it too much. Which, is easy because having a newborn totally upends your life, especially if you’re also healing from a cesarean. There isn’t a lot of time, or mental capacity, to reflect.
It’s odd. I expected that labor to go smoothly and to be the one part of pregnancy that I would handle well. In reality, it was a disaster. But everything before and after has been smooth sailing. Cody and I have rocked at breastfeeding. He never even lost weight in the hospital they way most babies do. His pediatrician told me that some moms make milk, and some make cream. I am in the latter group. I know that sounds like I am bragging. I am. It is something I feel good about, when everything else about his delivery went totally off-plan and against my wishes. I am clinging to this one piece as evidence of success in carrying out this transition to motherhood. I thought I would suck at breastfeeding and that it would be really hard for me. It was hard, and incredibly painful in the first few weeks. I got a blocked duct, mastitis, and then it turned into an abscess. It’s been hard for me – but Cody has been packing on the pounds and we have both had such an incredible opportunity to bond. I love breastfeeding and hope we can continue for a long time.
Now, 11 weeks from his birth, I have this perfect baby. He laughs and smiles and babbles baby words at me all the time. I am so smitten with this little person who leaves me absolutely sleep-deprived, unable to fit into my clothes, covered in spit-up and poop, and exhausted. During the first few weeks it felt like the stress of a newborn could tear Rick and me apart – we were so tired and unable to come up for air, so to speak. Now, we have established a routine. We can balance our needs and make time for each other. We both feel blessed and have found a renewed sense of purpose in our lives. Cody has been a life-changer and made me totally re-evaluate all my assumptions, but yet here I am, happier than ever.