Saturday, January 1, 2011

my new year's resolution

I have started and stopped writing this post more times than I can count. Drafted it in my head over and over. Struggled to commit to actually typing the words out. Questioned my reasons for wanting to share this more difficult chapter of my adjustment to motherhood. But it's a new year, and that means resolving to do better, right?

So here I am. Using my little bit of interwebs real estate for some therapeutic release. If reading about my internal battle over coming to terms with Natalie's birth (which you can read up on here and here, if you are so inclined) is not your thing, I completely understand. Stop now and come back again to visit tomorrow, when I will leave the serious stuff behind in favor of cute Natifuss pictures.

If, however, you don't mind learning about the nitty-gritty details of my c-section, recovery, and convoluted thought process around coming to terms with it all, then stick with me.

My memory of the final hours-long chapter of Natalie's entrance into this world is fuzzy at best. All the feel-good hormones and feel-great drugs that were coursing through my body after my surgery did a pretty wonderful job of pushing all the unpleasant details into the dusty back corners of my mind, and kept them there through the first weeks of her life. Additionally, my incredible gratitude that she had arrived in one piece with fingers and toes and a tongue and hairy ears and no teeth pretty much took over any feelings of sadness that were lurking in my brain about the rather terrifying and unexpected turn my labor and delivery took in the early morning hours of Natalie's birthday. Mike's recollection of the night's chain of events has remained somewhat clearer, though he rarely likes to delve into all the minute emotional details. I think I often forget that the fear and trauma of the night were not mine alone--not only was Mike there beside me offering every bit of emotional and physical support a person could muster, but he was also experiencing the concerned looks and hushed whispers that turned into more frantic and serious monitoring, consultation, and intervention. Really, he has a much better sense of how quickly things went south, and how long they stayed that way. In those moments and hours, he was more aware of Natalie's slowed heartbeat, her lack of progress, and the increasing likelihood of surgical intervention than I was.

I, up until the moment I was transferred from my labor and delivery bed onto the operating table, was still pushing with all of my might and willing my body to do what I had believed it could do to deliver my child. It's not that I wasn't aware that it was difficult or painful, but because I had never gone through childbirth before I had no frame of reference to compare my experience to. I think I just assumed that, while things seemed complicated, everything was going to progress on its own time and would be fine. It wasn't until the very last second that I allowed myself to even kind of realize that there was no way a natural childbirth would result in a healthy, living, breathing baby.

The worst moments were the ones right before I was wheeled into the OR, when the contractions were still right on top of each other and Mike and I were separated so I could be prepped for surgery. For some reason there was a delay in wheeling me directly in, some unexpected traffic jam that probably lasted just a moment, but felt like an eternity of waiting. I remember being curled up on my hospital bed in the hallway, while a flurry of nurses and surgical staff swirled by and around me, and seeing another surgical emergency be wheeled by. I was trying my best not to scream and cry while I fought the urge to bear down with all of my might as Natalie and my uterus still worked to deliver naturally. It was the low point of, probably, my entire life. Staring at a blank wall and feeling alone and scared and in pain beyond my wildest imaginings.

That low point, of course, was soon thereafter juxtaposed with the most exhilarating moment of, probably, my entire life: when Natalie finally left my body and joined the outside world. Hearing her cry and feeling her soft little cheek against mine as Mike held her out for me to see and smell and admire made all of the bad stuff just fade into the background, and I kept pushing that "bad stuff" (the fear and disappointment and wondering and even shame) to the background because of the little person who became the most important part of my life. Don't get me wrong--I have not spent every minute of Natalie's life with crushing emotional disaster just looming on the periphery; truly, I have found myself consumed with the love, happiness, and awe (and exhaustion and frustration) of parenting this little girl. Her existence has brought immeasurable joy into my world, and I wouldn't trade anything for her safe arrival into it.

But that doesn't mean I don't wish that I could have had a delivery that followed the birth plan I so laboriously (no pun intended) articulated in print and in person for those who would be helping me give birth. And I have had to face my own judgmental side; the side of me that skipped over the c-section chapters of my pregnancy books and had internal scoffing sessions about women who (I assumed) gave into or were forced into c-sections unneccessarily. Even in the moments before I was admitted to my L & D room I was foolishly unprepared for what was about to happen--by some strange coincidence a couple from our hypnobirth class had been laboring for hours and was being rushed to the OR for an emergency c-section just as Mikey and I arrived at the hospital. While we paced the halls for an hour or so before I had to be hooked up to the fetal monitor, the two of us had the audacity to laugh off any possibility that we would be in that same boat just hours later. If I am being completely honest, I'm sure I assumed that an epidural had slowed things down for her, or the obstetric surgeon was jumping the gun. I thought that laboring woman had given in too soon. I felt more than duly chagrined during the following days as she and I both did the post-surgery shuffle in our johnnies to get a peek at each other's babies and exchange exhausted pleasantries.

The c-section itself and its immediate aftermath, though, have not been the hardest part of the whole ordeal. It has been the months since, in which I have allowed myself to process what happened, that have proven the most challenging. In Natalie's first months of existence, when she slept for about 80% of the day, I found myself using her naptime to watch childbirth programming like A Baby Story or read up on other women's perfectly natural and rosy birth stories, as if in an attempt to further torture myself and wallow in what could have been. I felt this overwhelming feeling of loss, that I had missed out on that magical moment when your baby is placed, wet and new, on your chest for you to see as she takes her first breaths. Despite sticking to my resolution not to use an epidural or other medical pain management intervention, I still felt cheated out of my natural birth. I had to come to terms with the fact that, in addition to my pregnancy culminating in a sweet, healthy, little baby, I had expected it to culminate in a certain type of birth.

I still have twinges of jealousy when I read or hear about women who were able to have the experience that I wanted. Their happiness and pride, which were once sources of inspiration to my pregnant self, can so quickly bring me down as I think back on the realities of my birth story. Hazy memories of the helpless confusion I felt as an oxygen mask became a permanent fixture on my face as I pushed for hours on end, and the mortification that accompanied the seemingly endless number of strange hands that were responsible for shaving and examining and medicating and transporting my body are still fresh in my mind, and are in such opposition to the way I wanted Natalie to be born.

I have, however, found comfort in reading the stories of other women who faced similar circumstances during labor. In particular, this post by Sarah at don't worry baby, was such a point of light for me. Finally, I thought, someone who has been able to write the things I would like to say. Knowing that I am not alone in sifting through this type of experience, and that there are other women who have that still-numb and tingling scar, a daily reminder of what was not supposed to happen, has been invaluable.

I don't know if my story will resonate with others as well, but imagining that it might has been a part of my decision to finally sit down and draft this post. The other reason is, as I said earlier, that it's a new year. I am resolving to move forward and be at peace with the way Natalie was born. It will always be a difficult thing for me to accept, but I finally feel ready to leave some of the baggage of my c-section behind.

If you have stuck it out through this lengthy post, thanks for bearing with me. This blog has been such a treasured part of my journey through motherhood, and I feel fortunate that it provides this forum for me to have some tangible release place for all of this.


  1. Thank you for this post. I am pregnant with my first child and the thought of a c-section absolutely scares me. It's touching to see your honesty about the disappointment surrounding the c-section. I always thought that I am designed to do this and I will not have any problems during my birth, but I am no psychic and I cannot predict what will happen. Plus, like you stated yourself, most women forget the majority of details surrounding their deliveries. Hearing your story reminds me to be open to the possibility of anything happening, and as long as my baby comes out healthy it doesn't really matter.

  2. Hilary - I am not sure if you remember me but I was in the freshman orientation group with you and Mike. The strange ability to view someone's life from afar through the internet has allowed me to read your stories, but I haven't commented until now. What I want to say is how incredibly strong and brave you are for writing this post. Natalie is so lucky to have a mother with such fearlessness and gumption really. I hope that you will find peace in knowing that what you've done with and for your daughter after she was born is so much more important than what may have happened during her birth. Happy new year, and enjoy that sweet and clever little family you've created. -Gillian

  3. I hope this post helps you get some emotional release. Your words were brave and beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

    I look at childbirth like a wedding. It's just one day, and that day becomes just a memory. But the child, like marriage, is a lifetime. A lifetime to exploration and discovery. That's what will stick with you.

    By the way, if you plan to have another kid, you can look into VBAC. More and more docs are allowing women to try that.

  4. She got here, and that's what counts. No one wants major surgery (well, some people do, but not you or I), and if you could have chosen any other way to get a Natalie here safely, you would have. But you couldn't. I think that's the bottom line - you couldn't have done anything differently, or better to get her into the world without a c-section. You did a great job - your best work - bringing that adorable baby into the world.

    What matters more than that is all that you and the Moo have put into her since she arrived, and the little person she's become. I'm so proud to know such wonderful parents and people.

    Thank you for writing this. I don't think you're at all alone in your feelings of sadness and regret around birth. I wish you luck and success with moving on.

    Thinking of you, Amelia

  5. xoxo to all of you. thanks for reading & commenting & reminding me that i'm not going through all of this alone.

  6. I am reading this months later but 16 months after my son was born via c-section (an elected one at that because after 2 days of being tied to machines and using bed pans and no baby I had reached my breaking point) I am still frustrated with my choice. And each time I go over it with my husband we come to the same conclusion- that it was for the best. It's still hard though listening to natural birth stories. It's that proud feeling I wanted to feel... but I have to keep reminding myself I still birthed a baby regardless of the way he entered this world. I hope in time I can fully believe myself when I say that I am past it.

    Thank you so much for sharing!!