For the past four years, I've sort of avoided really thinking too much about Angelina's birth. I had a very difficult time and a lot of horrible stuff happened and I felt like I should just move on and forget about it. I left the hospital with many issues that were the result of the trauma I experienced and I have never really dealt with them. Anytime I thought too deeply about the event, my mind would automatically switch to "flight" response and block out any ability I had of recalling too much. I never even wrote much about my experience - afraid of truths I would discover about it. But in thinking about my past two births and anticipating the next one, I find myself once again frantically trying to block out the memories of the 48 hours that surrounded that first birth...
I remember my first thoughts about birthing a baby being filled with what I knew I wanted - a calm, natural labor and delivery as far away from any unnecessary medical intervention as I could get. My sister, Chris, was a Bradley Method Child Birth Educator and on top of the wealth of information I learned from her, I did my own research about my options. We picked out a birthing center and I started going to regular check-ups. I really liked the birthing center, for the most part. Along with the home-like atmosphere of the birthing rooms, I loved that the midwives didn't make me feel like they were scooting me out of the appointment within 10 minutes of their arrival. I was excited about the idea of laboring at a place that felt just like home, being able to eat whenever and as much as I wanted, having the freedom to pretty much do what I wanted - all without feeling like I was being timed or as though at any moment during my labor, drugs and weird instruments would be unnecessarily forced upon me.
Other feelings I had about what I wanted were more personal and emotional. I wanted to be able to imagine my baby, my body and myself all working together to bring her into her new life. I wanted to feel the waves I so often heard about when relating to labor - feel them and ride them and gulp in their depth without drowning. I wanted to move beyond the labor pains within myself and connect with my body so intensely that nothing else was on my mind but the miracle of birthing that tiny baby and then holding her in my arms. When the time came, for much of the labor, this is just about how it was.
But things weren't progressing and before I knew it, everything was out of my control. I was being transferred to the hospital because my cervix just wouldn't open up past 4 cm and I had been laboring for many hours. But when the news of the transfer sunk into my head, into my heart, I lost all control I had over the labor pain and I started to panic. Suddenly, those calm waves I had been floating on for such a long time fell out from underneath me and I was thrown into treacherous waves I couldn't stay on top of. They started crashing over me, more intense and angry; I couldn't stay afloat. By the time we got to the hospital, I was crying out in pain. There was chaos all around me. My husband's mother was screaming at everyone, telling them to get me an epidural. I wanted to say no but I couldn't speak. I wanted to try to get back on top of my waves on my own but they were too strong and I was so weak.
Papers were shoved in front of me. As I tried once again to get my labor under control, I couldn't even get past signing the first letter of my name but apparently that was good enough for them. I was given an epidural, pitocin. My water was broken. I was on the clock. As my body adjusted to the pain medication, I slipped in and out of consciousness, often unaware of who was around me, let alone what type of waves I was riding on at that point. I went through the night, never allowed to feel those waves, never allowed a second chance to get back on top of them and birth my baby the way I had imagined I would.
Already my dream of that birth was gone but that wasn't all that been taken from me. From the moment I got to that hospital, I was treated with absolute disregard to my dignity or feelings. I was denied my right to have my sister - who was also my doula - in the room with me when we first got there. I was forced to have things I didn't really want but I was unable to make my feelings known. The nurse on duty when I got there exposed me to anyone passing by, asking them if they wanted to see where a woman pees from. She was rude to me, my husband and my sister. They frequently checked my cervix to see if I was progressing, even when my midwife told them to leave me alone and that she would do it when she thought it needed to be done.
The clock quickly ticked the night away and by 11 am the next morning, I was told I would have to have a c-section. I was at 9.5 cm but was still so drugged up that I could not feel anything in order to try to push. I was devastated. This was exactly what I did not want. Around 1 PM they performed the c-section. My post-op nurse refused me anything to quench my indescribable thirst. I was yelled at for spilling my drink on my bed later in the day; the nurse thought I had thrown up.
As the days in recovery dragged on, I felt so detached from my baby. She was so needy and I didn't even know what to do for her. She was nursing pretty well and that was about all I could do. I felt no emotional connection toward her. The journey we had together was such a hard one and for the last half of it, I couldn't even feel her. I felt like something had been taken from me without my permission and I just couldn't identify her as it. I couldn't relate to her as a mother should relate to her desperate newborn baby. Recovering from the trauma I went through even before the c-section was performed was impossible at that point. I couldn't even think about it, let alone get past it.
In its entirety, my experience was horrific. I often felt violated, maybe even assaulted, though I know people scoff at these words. The process was very traumatic for me and even if it had not ended in a cesarean and everything else went the way it did, I know I would feel the same way. I have gotten over the bitterness from having not been given a chance to birth my baby naturally, but I am still recovering from the way I was treated in "the system." It's taken me over 4 years and 2 other births to come to a place where I can even realize and admit to this fact. I haven't even begun to heal.
And I am suddenly aware of the fact that I really do need to heal from my experience with Angelina's birth if I want this next one to go well. I remember my last birth was very difficult for me because I had allowed thoughts and memories from that first one to invade while labor was at its most intense, when I was at the crest of each wave frantically trying to figure out how to float down with it instead of letting it fall out from underneath me. Many times, I crashed down into murky waters, choking on the thick pain that invaded my body like fog. I remember holding my breath a lot, afraid of the sharpness of it catching in my throat. I wanted to push it all away and just have my baby in my arms. It was so different than the experience I had with my first VBAC attempt- completely worse, somehow.
I have been praying a lot lately that God will help me to heal and take away the fears I have which keep me from really allowing the natural ability of my body - how He made things to be - to work in full force. I have about 7 months to really prepare myself for my next VBAC at home. I know I've done it twice now but considering how my last one went, knowing I had suffered through it in ways I didn't need to, I know I need to really emotionally prepare and allow that healing to take place. It's been a long journey even getting to this place - where I can admit to my feelings about my first birth experience and work on healing from the trauma I feel I went through. I have to just take that experience and pull the good from it... Like the fact that I got a beautiful little girl as the end result, one who has changed my life in so many ways.