How do we heal from birth trauma? Its hard when you can't even acknowledge that it exists. I came home from my sons birth with a brand new baby, scars no one could see and lots of people congratulating me. How do you say "I'm sad." when everyone else is so happy for you? How do you move on when its not ok to grieve your experience?
Its taken me a long time to be able to recognize and accept the trauma of my sons birth - to understand that it is OK to be sad, to grieve the experience.
This birth experience was long, hard, painful in more than one way and I am lucky to have come out of it with only emotional scars. My memories are blurry, colored by confusion, time and who knows what medications, but as they are I share them with you today.
I was 20 years old when I discovered I was expecting my first child. It wasn't planned, but neither was it terribly surprising. I believed that it would go well, because I simply assumed it would. I knew how birth occurred more or less - though I had never witnessed a birth. I spent exactly zero moments dwelling on the what-ifs. I was convinced that birth was a naturally occurring event and that it would happen naturally.
There weren't a lot of choices for OB's in my small midwest town, so I picked the only female OB. At the time that was pretty much the only thing that mattered to me in picking an OB. (as we go forward in this story I want to say right now that I don't blame my OB for the experiences I had. I do think her decisions led to the traumatic birth I experienced, but she was acting on the training she had received and I believe she made her decisions based on what she thought was my best interest. She remained present with me in labor and waited far longer than most OB's would have before making the decision to do surgery, and gave me the "one last push" I needed. I believe my OB (and most OBs) was as much a victim of societies views on birth as the women she serves. We ultimately have to take responsibility for our own births.)
My pregnancy was normal and un-eventful until 35 weeks when I went to a checkup and was found to have high blood pressure and low fluid. I was told to come back in two days and if there was no change they would be inducing. Reading back over my journal entry for that day I wasn't afraid or worried. I was excited that I may meet my baby soon, but I did say "I want everything to go right, I want Ian healthy!"
Reading over my next journal entry I see the fear society ingrains into our collective psyche. I was afraid Ian would be a "huge baby," I thought labor sounded "miserable" and I was afraid of working hard and still ending up with a c-section.
My BP remained high but steady and I stayed pregnant until 38 weeks when I went in for my regular appointment. My OB checked me and said I was still high and closed, that there was a very good chance I'd have a c-section and that I was "close enough" to 39 weeks. And she sent me to the hospital "to get things started."
To be honest I didn't even know what she meant. I walked across the parking lot to the hospital, checked in and was handed a hospital gown. "do I have to put this on?" I asked. "Yes." the nurse said. "When can I go home?" I asked. "After the baby comes of course!" she replied!
That was the first moment I realized I was actually there to have a baby.
They began with Cervadil, followed by a Foley catheter (a balloon blown up in your cervix if you were wondering....!). This process took all afternoon. I was dilated to about a 5 and totally miserable by nightfall.
Five AM saw me headed down the hall to the delivery room where they hooked me up to Pitocin and the ever present monitors. I labored on Pitocin all morning, stuck in a bed, with my pit being doubled every 15 minutes. Around noon the OB visited and broke my water. (I never remember being ASKED about any of these things...they simply were done to me.)
I labored all afternoon, remaining at a 6 most of this time.
Around 5PM my OB checked me and said I wasn't progressing. She recommended an epidural so my body could relax and progress. I hadn't wanted an epi, but after all day laboring on Pit, stuck in a bed and with the memory of the word C-section in my brain I agreed.
In less than an hour I was fully dilated.
I know now that he hadn't dropped, that my next three and half hours of pushing were probably mostly pointless. But when they first said I could push I was so excited. Everyone had told me this was the quick part, the good part, I knew I would see my baby soon!
But I pushed, and pushed, and pushed. Even with the epi it was painful, and I was so tired and so confused. "Your doing it WRONG." the nurse said with exasperation at one point. I wanted to cry - because I didn't now how to "do it right."
"We can see the head!" And I thought for sure this was it! But that little head just went back and forth again and again, stuck on my pelvis.
Eventually I lost track of time and space. The world became a blurry place of pain, people talking at me and the alarms on the monitors going off over and over again. "Shut those off!" my OB finally snapped. Suddenly I was on oxygen, the OB was yelling for different meds, my mother (a OB nurse herself) was blocking the monitors from me with her body. What seemed like a hundred people filled my room and my OB grabbed my foot and shook me. "This is your LAST PUSH, Crystal. You MUST get him out now!" she said urgently.
I have no idea how I did it.
But I did.
Immediately I began to shake uncontrollably. "I see six of you." I told Nathan.
They placed Ian on my chest for only a second before whisking him away out of my sight. He didn't cry, he whimpered. I didn't see him again for a while, as they worked on me and worked on him. And I didn't care. I wish I cared. But I was so disconnected from the whole experience.
When they finally gave him back to me we were both so exhausted, so confused. My eyes were nearly swollen shut from pushing and from my blood pressure, which had soared to crazy highs during that last hour. Ian's eyes were full of antibacterial goop he didn't need and his poor swollen, bruise, misshapen head was hidden under the silly little hat.
Everyone crowded into see him, to congratulate us. Everyone was overjoyed.
I don't know how I felt. Relieved, yes. Joyful, no. I wish I had felt amazing, empowered, overjoyed. But I felt lost, confused, and disconnected from the whole experience.
I later learned that my mom was literally scared for my life - that Ian's heart rate plummeted at the last moment, that their was a surgery team standing by. My blood pressure was dangerously high and the fuzziness of that last hour for me was because I was on the verge of stroking out. I've been told how lucky I am that I was in the hospital so they could "save me." I am grateful to be alive, grateful Ian is alive and grateful I avoided a C-section. But I believe that the interventions I received led to the life-threatening situation. I didn't know about the cascade of interventions, I fully trusted my OB to make the right choices.
It has taken me many years and two more births to come to terms with this experience and write the truth of it. I will forever feel a sense of sadness mixed with joy when I look at these pictures. They are some of my least favorite pictures of myself, and the saddest pictures of my poor little traumatized Ian. They represent a lost birth experience we didn't even know we were missing at the time, but also the first moments of life for my amazing, sensitive, sweet, imaginative, book loving, science driven little boy; my firstborn who will always hold my heart.
Ian Douglas Billington was 8lbs, 8oz, 21 inches long, with a "huge" 14cm head (the same size as his two easily birthed sisters...). He was born March 18th, 2009 at 9:30PM at 38 weeks - not ready to be earthside yet.
He's now 5 - happy, healthy and starting Kindergarten next week. <3