I recently read an article about a trend in women sharing traumatic birth stories.
And it got me thinking about my own.
With the impending birth of my second child, it’s something I find myself talking about more and more. But with ease. For the first time ever. Glossing over some of the more painful events with a light tone and half smile.
As women, we tend to do that. Whether it’s for the ease of others or the ease of ourselves, I’m not sure. But it ain’t easy.
And to all you mamas out there, I see you.
Darwin arrived almost six weeks early. I still hadn’t installed the car seat or packed my hospital bag when my water broke. At the time, I didn’t know what was going on. A gush of fluid leaking from between my legs.
I think something happened, I said to my husband over the phone.
As I waited for him to arrive home, I absentmindedly threw a few items in a bag. My heart racing and unable to focus on a thought. We drove to the hospital in a blur, my only request to stop and get a sandwich on the way in case this was my last meal for awhile. Even after I was admitted to the temporary hospital room, wires hanging from my arms. I was unsure of what would happen next.
So do I get to go home?
My mind consumed with of all the things I had yet to do.
The nurse looked at me amused, honey…you don’t get to go home.
I’m having the baby?
You’re having the baby.
Mentally, I was not prepared. Only thinking of the car seat and how we would get home from the hospital as the pain from the contractions began to increase. Trying my best to implement some of the methods I had read about to ease the pain.
Yoga moves. Slung on top of a giant ball. Propped up against the wall.
After sixteen hours, I was told that I was close. Given a dose of pitocin to speed things up because of the time that had lapsed since my water had broken to reduce the risk of infection. And the contractions that were already ripping my insides wider and wider began to intensify. A couple hours later, to hear I was nowhere near as dilated as I had hoped was devastating.
Crawling back to the hot shower with water running down my back. I was tired. Thirsty. Weak. In more pain than I had ever been in before. And faced with several more hours of more of the same, if not worse.
I’d like the epidural, I said. Or something to that effect. Maybe laden with a few colorful curse words.
Are you sure you don’t want to stick to the plan, my husband replied. Referencing a line he had read in a book about what to do in a situation like this when I veered from our initial intent to go without medication.
The minutes felt like hours as I waited for the doctor to arrive. A giant needle that would go into my spine looking like the sweetest relief I had ever seen. But it never came. Until finally, I pressed the call button. The first epidural hadn’t worked and I would need another one. Bring it on. Finally relaxing into a numbness that washed over me from the waist down. I slid into a much needed deep sleep for six or seven hours. Woke up, brushed my teeth and splashed some water on my face with the assistance of my husband. And was ready to push.
Even with the epidural, this part still hurts like hell. I’ve heard of women pushing for hours and I can’t imagine. For me, it was thankfully quick. Legs positioned in happy baby pose, I could finally feel some of that yoga coming in handy with an astuteness of my muscles and how they worked coming together to shimmy him through the canal despite heavy resistance from every angle. My doctor guiding me through the seconds of when to ease up and bear down.
And soon he was out.
Not like in the movies when a teary-eyed mom is handed her super clean baby wrapped up in a stark white swaddle.
But in a mess of blood that splattered every surface of the room. Walls painted red. Innards being shoved into a plastic garbage bag that was positioned beneath my body.
I was not done yet.
I had to push the placenta out. Which honestly hurt even more than the baby. And even then, more junk inside needed to be dug out. The doctor reaching her arm up to the elbow (or so my husband told me) and shoveling more into the bag. Pressing down hard on my belly to eject the last bits. A mess of red flying out from what I think used to be my vagina. But was really now just a huge gaping hole.
Dazed and confused, but not in that fun kind of stoner way. I caught a glimpse of my son for only a moment before they whisked him away to the NICU where he would stay for a week. Enclosed in a box and attached to monitoring devices that read his every breath. His lungs had not fully developed. Jaundice. Something something something.
This was not the plan, not even crossing my mind as the commotion around me continued.
THE FIRST THREE DAYS
It was weird. Giving birth but not having my baby. I was unable to even touch him for the first few days. Just watch his tiny body through plastic. I felt disconnected. Numb. As the nurses came and went bringing juice. Taking vitals. Squeezing my nipple to try and release colostrum and prepare my body for breastfeeding. And when I was finally able to hold my son, I waited for a rush of emotion that never came. Something I had seen in movies or read about in books that I was unable to feel. This was not how it was supposed to be. Him in there. Me out here. The fear that something bad might happen preventing me from feeling anything at all.
I was released two days later, while he remained. Going into work mode to prepare the house for his arrival. Scrubbing every surface from top to bottom. My husband worriedly suggesting I take it easy. Knowing full well I wouldn’t. We went to Target to pickup a few things where I casually mentioned to the cashier I had just given birth. A look of sheer surprise. But doing normal things felt good in a way, like it somehow made up for the not normal I was feeling.
We diligently headed to the hospital during visiting hours, as time went by attempting to nurse. Another feat that they don’t tell you is hard as shit. Forming my boob into a triangle and angling it up towards the roof of his tiny mouth in an attempt to get a latch. The disappointment in myself time and time again as an inconsolable baby screamed with a hunger that said, feed me now.
And after seven days, he was released. His last threshold to breath without assistance for 24 hours.
But what if he stops again? I ask. Being reassured by the nurses he would be okay not helping in the least. A panicked check on my part that would go on for months with a rapid intensity I tried to mask as best as possible. Creeping up to his crib silently to watch the fall and rise of his chest. A habit that still strikes occasionally even now that he is almost four. To know that he is breathing. To know that he is alive.
The memories come flooding back to me. My husband walking me over to the toilet and gently spraying and wiping my underside that would bleed for weeks. The first time I took a shit feeling like a legitimate accomplishment. A sign my body was returning to normal. Clogged milk ducts and when I got mastitis. My engorged boobs bursting with milk that refused to be expressed. Throbbing in pain that radiated up my neck and down the side of my body. Fever spiking and foggily trying some of google’s more tame suggestions. A warm compress. A bath. Finally coming up with the ingenious idea of sterilizing a safety pin and shoving it through the tip of my nipple. A practice that sickened my husband but efficiently and quickly solved the problem.
Leaking from every crevice. Sleepless nights. Throbbing soreness as the body heals. Slowly but surely finding it’s way back to you. But never really the same. Your midsection a mess of skin as the organs migrate back down to fill the space that once was your baby. It’s a process. One we’re expected to do with Instagram worthy grace and beauty while expending all our energy to sustain life by literally becoming a primary food source. Exhaustion and confusion amidst a mess of dirty diapers and piercing screams of a baby who has been blissfully floating in warm amniotic fluid and is now experiencing a world of sensations that can be downright freaky.
Welcome to the fourth trimester.
And guiding that soul through all the newness. Like gas pains and constipation. A cry full of so much raw pain you’d think they were dying. And the maternal instinct in you reacts like they are. Heartbeat elevating as you sling him over your shoulder and gently pat his back. Bounce him on your knee when that doesn’t work. Reach for the gripe water. A belly rub. Prune juice. Employing all the tricks. The ones that worked yesterday that suddenly don’t today.
SO AM I READY?
And I am not afraid. Because I know now what happens next making this pregnancy so different than the last. Not one filled with uncertainty or concern. Because what will happen will happen. You absolutely can’t plan for this shit. You just have to be ready to handle whatever life throws at you. And at the end of it, I will have a sweet baby who will become a child. Who will call me momma and who I will love like nothing else in the world. Unabashedly my complete and total reason for being. The meaning of my life. My purpose. To be a mother. And raise good humans. And love my family.
Because love is what it’s all about.
And I know that now without a doubt because of my son.
So as I slide into my third and final trimester. My belly growing everyday. A steady increase of kicks and movements. I allow myself to connect a little deeper to my daughter. Pick a favorite name. Push the worry away that something might go wrong. And give myself permission to let go of the past. While preparing myself all the same. Early or on time. NICU or not. Reflecting on the first time around. The absolute sheer craziness of it all and being thankful for that experience. Knowing that as challenging as it was, I would not be the same without it. And with that knowledge, confidence in myself the second time around that comes from something real. A life lived. Things done.
I can’t wait. It’s going to be awesome.