Friday, February 5, 2010

And then there's the birth story...

My baby is 11 months old today.

It's hard to believe that much time has gone by already. He's still not crawling or walking. He's not clapping, saying words, or waving. Sometimes I'm afraid that I've already failed him as a parent.

But no. My baby is happy and healthy. He laughs and smiles. Gets frustrated and intrigued. Communicates through facial expression, tone, and posture. Eats like a horse and nurses like a champ. He may be a bit behind all of the milestones, but for now I'm still OK with that.

I'm not crying tonight because of my perceived inadequacies as a parent. Instead, I'm remembering where I was 11 months ago. How I felt. There was some joy. There was a lot of love. But it was mostly horror. Pain. Sorrow. Frustration. Helplessness. Failure.

"From his mother's womb untimely ripped." 

I had a cesarean section.

It is really, really hard for me to write about this. Especially in a format that lays bare so many other personal details. I hate to seem like less. I don't think I will finish this story tonight. I'm not even sure how far I'll get. But I will finish it eventually, and expose all of my ignorance, arrogance, shame and enlightenment.

A real birth story never begins with the first contraction, or even the first prenatal appointment. It begins, sometimes, even before conception.

I've always wanted a big family. I have a lot of reasons for this that I won't go into now, but I've known for a long time that I wanted to start young(ish) so I wouldn't still be having kids well into my 40s (not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just not in my life plan-yet).

Three years ago a friend invited me on a girls' trip to Hawaii. I obliged (of course!) and decided to make that my last Hurrah! The final trip before relegating myself to the eternal office of parenthood. The timing was perfect. Being ever practical, I didn't want to be huge and pregnant during the Summer. So a Spring baby was on the menu. Our trip was in May, and when I arrived back to the east coast I set out on some furious babymaking.

Apparently my DH says he was not aware of my plans. I thought I'd told everyone. Oops!

Either way, it worked like a charm. Having sat through the rigors of NFP and being familiar with my body's cycle, I knew to the day that I conceived. He was scared shitless. I was elated. Baby #1 would be born on schedule. I would be a mommy. It couldn't get any better.

Going into this, I had no knowledge of birth. Bodily fluids have always grossed me out. I'd never seen an actual childbirth. My reaction to it was "ick." DH thought that was hilarious (he used to be a CNA in a nursing home) and kept telling me I would need to watch some births. Of course, I informed him haughtily, just because I was having a baby didn't mean I needed to watch it happen!

At that point, I didn't have an OB/GYN. I had no idea what midwives were, but due to a historic distrust of doctors on my part, I knew I wanted one. I used Google search. The first place I called was the local birth center (though I had no idea that's what it was). Their first available appointment was October. Since it was June, that was too far away for my comfort. The next place I called was a practice of midwives and doctors. Their website was impressive. They could fit me in the next week. I was thrilled.

There's so much I could say about my experiences there. The red flags were practically beating me over the head and I ignored them. My ignorance was honestly staggering. Not only about birth itself, but about my rights as a patient and a human being. I never asked the questions that needed to be asked because I never knew what to ask. I allowed them to turn me into a name on a chart, to forget who I was and why I was there, to make assumptions that left me in tears - and I did nothing.

Honestly, I believed naturally what so many women don't, and what OBs abhor. I trusted birth. Women had been doing it for centuries. I didn't need to read books, or take classes, or ask questions because my body was created to give birth. I wasn't afraid or even anxious. I'd seen it on TV and heard women talk about it. Contractions would start, my water would break, I would go to the hospital, I would have a baby.

What's so funny is that I was never under any illusion that it would be easy. I knew it would hurt like hell. I knew it would be hours, maybe even days, of labor. But I also knew I could do it. Having been an athlete for 16 years and pushed through all sorts of pain, I was never, ever afraid of  my own ability to make it through the birth of my child. It is to my everlasting sorrow that I'm the only one who felt that way, and that I allowed others to completely erode my confidence.

In many ways, my biggest mistake was not my overconfidence. It was trusting in others rather than trusting in myself. If I had trusted in myself, I would never have stepped foot in a hospital, and I would not have a permanent, disfiguring scar stretched across my abdomen. A reminder.

When I was laying on the operating table having my entrails rearranged, I felt as though someone had cut open my heart. And since then, knowledge and a close-knit community of women have opened my mind and rearranged my thoughts -- they've also helped heal my heart. Maybe everything really does happen for a reason. Maybe I wouldn't have fought so hard to breastfeed (and succeeded) if I hadn't been denied a natural birth. Maybe I wouldn't have found a cause to rally around and a support group to lean on. Maybe my cesarean was necessary to make me a better person, even if it wasn't necessary to bring my baby into this world.

NB: I began working on this post at 9 PM EST, but multiple nursing breaks later the day has turned. I will return to this story at a later date, but not tonight.

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