week 9 // peace
Peace is not just a sense of calm, but it a state of acceptance. For me, I have struggled with the birth of my son ending in a cesarean.
This is [an abridged version of] my birth story.
I had the most beautiful pregnancy, the kind you read about in fairy tales if they were about such things. From the moment I saw the faint line on the pregnancy test I was filled with a light. I glowed through my first trimester. I floated through my second as the life inside of me grew and started to flutter about. And when my belly swelled in my third, I was truly prepared for the little life I had grown from seed. I had embraced all the changes my body had gone through. I had taken all the classes, read and re-read all of the books, and written a birth plan. At 41 weeks and 4 days I lacked any pending labor signs – even the descending of my baby into my pelvis. I gave into my impatience and accepted an induction, throwing half of my birth plan out the window then and there. I was at peace with that though. I wanted my baby in my arms and not weighing on my hips.
It is in my nature to 1) be in charge of a situation, 2) be kind and polite, 3) avoid conflict, and 4) worry about things more than I should. During labor with my son I learned that some of these traits are stronger than the others. I thought that #1 was truly one of my strongest traits as it influenced my perception of my birth during my pregnancy. I had educated myself in the anatomical and spiritual senses in preparation for this day. As it turns out, #2, 3, and 4 were all much stronger that day. Really, who is polite during labor? I don’t know. But I was far too polite. I listened to the nurses and not my body. I also progressed much quicker than they could measure.
I doubted that I could make it past transition when I was in as much pain as I was only at 5 cm (though I had already gone through it) when I asked for an epidural. Again, throwing another line of my birth plan out the window. The idea of an end to the volcanic eruptions occurring ever closer within my uterus brought me peace. With pain medication I felt I would float on a cloud to 10 cm and push this baby out as if he were but a tiny marshmallow.
I had to wait to finish an IV bag full of fluids before I could get the epidural. Drip by drip the fluid entered my body, bringing me closer to the moment when those magical drugs would numb me from the waist down and ease me through the end of my labor into delivery. By the time I finished the bag I had dilated completely and really had to poo. Which, as it turns out is how it feels when you are ready to push. I was told not to since three nurses couldn’t tell if I was fully dilated. I did what I was told and fought the most primal urge I have ever felt in my entire life. The anesthesiologist had just arrived and was told to wait aside until the doctor arrived. Finally the doctor came in and “let” me push. This was supposed to be the moment my son was born. In the chaos that is the well-choreographed dance of medical staff turning on the infant warmer, the doctor pressing on my perineum and coaxing me to birth my baby, the nurses holding my legs and coaching me through my contractions to push, my husband was holding my hand with the excitement and anticipation of finally being able to hold his little boy.
Instead, I did not progress. I don’t remember how long I pushed for, but the doctor did not feel that I was going to deliver then and there. Not within some invisible timeframe I was unaware of. So he suggested that I labor down. I got an epidural at 10 cm. At the moment the anesthesiologist told me to stay absolutely still I managed to fight my convulsions, my contractions, my pushing urge… and the blood pressure cuff went off on my arm.
And then I floated away. I rested pain-free, covered in wires and probes and tubes. I was at peace with my decision. Unmedicated Pitocin labor is no joke. I had survived through all 10 cm of dilation so all I had left to do was push this little guy out after a little rest. I could do this, easy peasy.
I snuggled up under my blankets, curling up with my baby still in my womb. I talked to him and gave him pep talks on how he was going to descend and slip right out when I pushed. I ate (vegetarian!) jello and sipped ice water. When my hour was up I was thrilled to finally finish what my body had started. I scooted to the edge of the bed and began pushing. I pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed. For three hours I pushed. I pushed in every different position possible given the amount of drugs, wires, and tubes going into me. I felt that he was so close. My husband even got to peek in and see the top of his head. I tried to sit up in the bed to push but the nurse kept pushing me back down. She suggested that sit ups were better than gravity than pushing out a baby. I tried not to argue with her, so when she would leave the room (which she did quite often) I would adjust my bed back into a sitting position. But I still did not progress. My epidural faded, no matter how many times I pushed the button for more.
The doctor came back in and watched as I pushed. Nothing was happening except for the pain returning. I wanted to keep on pushing. I wanted a mirror. I wanted to hold my sweet baby in my arms. The doctor informed me that after 3 hours the baby was still too high for forceps or suction. He planted the seed of doubt that caused me to worry: even though his vitals were fine his little head was being squished. I don’t remember exactly what he said but the concept frightened me and my labor was no longer about me, it was about my baby boy. And ever so casually the doctor suggested a C-section. He didn’t even get a chance to finish his sentence when the tired and scared in me became overwhelmed and whimpered out, “I’ll take the C-section.” And like that, every item on my birth plan was nullified.
In the first days after my surgery I was in shock. Not that I had had surgery; I’d had abdominal surgery before. In a way I was actually a little fascinated by the aspect of being awake for my second abdominal surgery. But it was because something I had planned and prepared for could turn out so far from my vision. Understandably, anything can happen during labor and delivery. But I had not been strong or been my own advocate in the most intense and beautiful moment of my life. Looking back I question whether my C-section was not one of medical need but a shortcut, a means to an end, a decision ruled by impatience. Despite having a beautiful and healthy baby boy I couldn’t help but feel that my fairy tale pregnancy did not have the happy ending I had practiced for. I could not utter the words I “gave birth” or that “he was born.” I refused to. For the first three months I could only say “he was brought into this world.” I felt as if my birth experience was stolen from me. I lamented for the loss of the experience I never had.
And then I wrote. I have written and retold my birth story countless times. Each time I learned something about myself. Each time I recalled another part I had forgotten. Each time I became more accepting of my outcome because I cannot change the past, only the future.
But this does not have to be my only story about becoming a mother. I am not done having children. Next time I will have a toolbox stocked with experience and knowledge. I have educated myself about VBAC. I will have a doula by my side advocating for me and a peaceful beginning for my next little one. I know there is beauty in birth and in my future.
Above all, I am making peace with my “failure to progress” by looking into my little boy’s eyes and knowing that, no matter how he was born, he made it into this world healthy and so very loved.
My image is a dyptich representing the bookends of my pregnancy. The first is a picture of the ocean on the day I took my first positive pregnancy test and the second is my C-section scar at 6 months postpartum. Stretch marks, pulled up pooch, and all.