I posted this article on my personal Facebook yesterday, with this statement, "Such a healing article. I have a difficult time in allowing myself any credit, but this was so validating to read. The mere minutes I had to make the decision, I was the bravest I have ever been. Since then, I have had to become the strongest I have ever been. And I can also say that I am now the most blessed I have ever been. Happy 10 months, Bean!"
A distant friend, who is/was a nurse (and who I don't think knows my story), responded with this, "It doesn't matter how a baby is born. My rule is always healthy mom healthy baby. I love birth plan mamas. They just have to remember I'm not the enemy!"
At first, it hurt and I jumped on the defensive. Of course it matters! I was absolutely not healthy! I was in excruciating pain and drugged so hard I barely remember the first week of my son's life! I have PTSD and post-partum anxiety!
But then, I thought... She has a point. I can see her side. Her job is to make sure that both mom and baby stay alive. Her, and the other nurses and doctors, have that responsibility to the mothers and babies. The issue that I am trying to work against is when their convenience becomes a hindrance to birthing mothers, such has restricted movement, birthing on the back, unnecessarily scheduled inductions/cesareans etc. But OBs and nurses are not automatically evil. In fact, I’ve met the OB that I plan to have a hospital birth with once I’m pregnant with #2. She is incredibly supportive of VBaCs (vaginal birth after cesarean), and even gave me statistics supporting VBACs at our initial meeting! Several of my mama friends have or are planning to birth with her, and have given her the highest praise. I feel comfortable with the thought of her providing my prenatal care and assisting me in the birth of my next child.
To me, it did matter how Bean was born. Imagine telling a girl who has planned her dream wedding all her life, has all the vendors paid for, and is getting ready to walk down the aisle, that she has to go to the courthouse and give up everything she has dreamed of, planned on, and paid for. In the end, she is still marrying the love of her life, but what was planned to be a pivotal day in her life has been reduced to almost nothing, comparatively, with none of the memories that she hoped for. For anyone who has not had a similar experience, this is the closest analogy I was able to come up with. In the end, though, we did both come out alive, and for that I am eternally grateful for.
Her statement, “I love birth plan mamas,” got me thinking a lot, though. I was a birth plan mama. Most of my friends are birth plan mamas. In fact, I sat on a pretty high horse with my birth plan. I was literally so set in my birth plan that I scoffed and rolled my eyes while filling out the paperwork required in case of a transfer. I whined to Bear about having to fill it out, and put it off as long as possible. I had a healthy pregnancy, why shouldn’t I have a healthy, normal, natural birth, like women have been having for eons? Isn’t that what the natural birth community preaches, that we were made for this? My mantra, like so many others, was, “I grew this baby, I can birth this baby.” Until I couldn’t.
Coming off of my high horse, the fall was hard. It left me breathless, bruised, and sore. I am grateful, in a way, though, because it opened my eyes. Namely, if I had not been so set on having a home birth, if my mind and heart had been more open to the possibility of something ending up differently, maybe I wouldn’t have suffered so much when plans did change. Perhaps my PTSD/anxiety would have been less, or even non-existent. If the Natural Birthing Community was more open to necessary medical interventions (as my midwife was), perhaps my friends who have had to have them in order to birth vaginally would not be so ashamed to admit so. Is there a chance that the natural birth community and modern medicine could live in harmony, rather than pitted against each other? Working together, maybe an outcome of “healthy mama, healthy baby” would become more often a reality, rather than a distant dream, as it is for so many. To the doctors and nurses and midwives and doulas who really do care about that, thank you. I appreciate you beyond what words can express.
On Facebook, my response was that I was not healthy, I had PTSD and anxiety due to my birth experience, which was met kindly by my nurse friend, but spurred another response which nearly broke my heart and has left me crying all morning.
A distant family member, who I doubt knows the story of Bean’s birth, made the joke that knowing birth could bring on “the same PTSD that soldiers come home from war with” was good birth control.
Oh. My. Heart.
I have PTSD, not because of birth, and, I think, even very little has to do with it ending in a c-section over a vaginal birth. It is from the situation surrounding Bean’s birth. To quote a previous blog post,
"In a matter of minutes, we went from our midwife telling Bear to get ready to catch his baby to our baby being born in a room full of strangers, with the only person in the room who loved him out cold on the table. If that is not traumatic, I don't know what is.”
My experience is rare, and shared in the hopes of 1) finding and offering solidarity with and to other women who have been through similar experiences and 2) to educate people who have not been. The last thing I want is for my experience to be used as something to scare women away from having children. Even though it was said in jest, I have been in tears over that statement since I logged into Facebook this morning. I will be honest and say that statements like these are what make me not want to share anything about my experience, but also spur me to do it. I would not change what I have been through for the world, and I am grateful every day that such a great blessing as Bean came out of what occurred. Despite this “joke”, I will continue to share and be vulnerable, even if I only reach one other person for the good with my experience.
Last week, I with dealing with almost constant anxiety, as several women I knew were being induced or having c-sections scheduled to get babies here before Christmas, and I was reminded every time I logged onto Facebook. This article was the catalyst for a very serious thinking session. Then I realized something very important for myself.
It was my choice to have a cesarean.
Absolutely my choice. Just like it was my choice to labor at home, to limit the number of tests run, to limit the number of ultrasounds done. Just like it is my choice (and Bear’s) to have Bean on a selective/delayed vaccination schedule, to take him everywhere with us instead of having a babysitter, to use homeopathic and natural remedies for ourselves and Bean unless we need something more, to cloth diaper.
I had (and have) complete faith and trust in our midwife, but I could have told her, “no,” when she told her assistant to call 9-1-1. I could have refused to allow the paramedics to take me into the ambulance. I could have denied consent to the operation by not signing the papers presented to me at the hospital. I could have said, “no,” until the very moment the anesthesiologist injected the stuff to knock me out.
I am one of the very lucky women in this country to have an emergency cesarean section without being bullied or forced into it. I agreed to this decision because it was the best choice for my baby and me. I made the choice based on the sound advice of my trusted practitioner, who actually had nearly the same exact thing happen to her.
While the whole experience was very surreal and seemed to happen in both an instant and an eternity, I was still completely aware of what was going on. Even though I wasn’t in control of how my baby acted during the birthing process, I was in control of my reaction to his actions.
I have known this, to an extent, since it happened. I guess the PTSD is blinding in a way, and that this is another step in my healing process. I still hate that I had to have a c-section, but I’m hating it less. My scar is less of a painful reminder and more of a source of amazement (my kid came out of that?!). I even managed a trip the other day to the maternity ward we lived on for a week after his birth, to bring cookies to a friend who just had her baby, and left without a panic attack.
I’m still dealing with a lot of “what-if”s and anxiety, panic attacks, hard feelings against the OB who performed the c-section for threatening me afterwards, and frustration at memory loss from moments I was hoping to cherish forever. I still have a long way to go, but I’m so grateful to have gotten this far.
“They” say a lot of things about breastfeeding. “Breast is best,” and “You won’t get your period as long as you breastfeed!” I’ll be honest, the one that made me the happiest was, “You’ll lose so much weight breastfeeding!”
See, I’ve had this thing since I was young. It’s not a very nice thing. But it’s a thing that has made me obsess about my body, specifically my weight. This is a thing that has sent me to the hospital. A thing that has turned me to skin and bones, and at other times a blimp. A thing that, after years of therapy, still creeps into the back of my mind and whispers terrible things in my ear. A thing that I’ll never conquer, and can barely control. A thing that made me hate myself and how I look. A thing that can make me cry or rage when I look in a mirror or see a picture of myself.
This thing? Eating disorders. Anorexia and Bulimia and Body Dysmorphic Disorder, all wrapped up together in a Monster I seem to have caged most of the time, but manages to escape on occasion. My own mental bully that has grown up with me from age 10, when my thyroid (unbeknownst to myself or my doctors) stopped working like it was supposed to.
I’ve been “overweight” most of my life, “obese” according to the BMI charts, which I try to tell myself is bull shit because my mom says I have an “athletic build” and I don’t look good at what they consider a “healthy weight.” Sheesh, that’s a lot of quotation marks.
Last summer, I finally figured out everything that was wrong with me. I found an exercise routine that worked, ate healthy, cut out gluten, and finally got on the right thyroid medication. In just over a month, I dropped 25 lbs, and was only 25 lbs away from my goal weight. I would have kept going, but I found out that I was pregnant with Bean.
Pregnancy has been the only time I have been truly happy with my body. I managed to continue eating healthy for the most part, and it didn’t bother me to gain the 35 or so lbs I did. I did not keep a vigorous exercise routine, but Bear and I took walks all the time. I loved watching my baby bump grow in the mirror. I was grateful that I didn’t seem to gain much anywhere else. I didn’t always feel great, but I felt great about my body. I would have walked around without a shirt on at all times, if it were socially acceptable.
I did miss exercising like I used to, though. I was looking forward to Bean being born and getting back into it a few weeks later, as soon as I had the go-ahead from my midwife. I imagined hitting it hard with Jillian Michael’s while Bean watched from his swing or bouncer. I wanted to be at my previous goal weight by Christmas of this year, and I just knew between breastfeeding and exercising, I’d get there.
So much for that. I’m currently 4 ½ months postpartum and I still can’t even walk for too long. And I’m not talking fast-paced, supercharged power walking. I’m talking about an evening stroll through town like Bear and I used to do while I was pregnant. It hurts too much to walk for long, much less even thinking about real exercise. I can’t even do yoga for more than a few minutes. I look in the mirror and all I can see is that c-section shelf, something that I will probably always have, a flab of skin to hang over the top of my mom jeans (jk, I’ll NEVER wear mom jeans…). And the numbers on the scale, they haven’t gone down since a week after Bean’s birth.
The pain, the physical pain, is still excruciating some days. Some days, it’s all I can do to cart Bean around. Chunker. It’s also frustrating. This isn’t the way it was supposed to be. It’s another thing that didn’t go according to plan. And the physical pain is a constant reminder, something that I carry with my constantly, making it feel like nothing went right. It translates into emotional pain, which is excruciating, too.
So, on top of the postpartum anxiety and PTSD that I am working through, the Monster comes back. Taunts me. Makes me obsessed with the numbers on the scale. Makes me justify when Bean doesn’t want to be put down so that I don’t have to make something for myself to eat. Makes me angry when I look in the mirror. Makes me avoid having my picture taken (we still don’t have a real family picture).
I know I can’t live like this. I can’t keep stepping on the scale multiple times a day. I can’t keep skipping meals. I cannot obsess about my now-matronly body. And I need your help.
I’m sharing this to make myself accountable to you, my reader. I’m putting away the scale. I am making an effort to plan my meals and have healthy snacks available for myself. I will tell myself, out loud, affirmations any time I look in the mirror. I will do my best to live a healthy lifestyle without obsessing about my weight or shape.
This is hard. This is very, very hard. But I know that I am not the only one out there who feels like this. If you feel the same in any way, I would like to invite you to join me. Let’s take this journey together, to learn to love our bodies, stretch marks and scars and all.
Preface: I understand that these comments are well-meant and designed to bring comfort. I hear the heart of the speaker. And I am thankful for their love and caring. This post is meant to inform, not to make anyone feel bad for anything they may or may not have said.
Mama Bear of one Baby Bear, Bean, who both love Papa Bear, and live in a crafty, gluten-free cozy den.