“You’re still only 4 cm. You haven’t progressed since I checked you this morning but you continue to have long, hard contractions. It’s time to talk about a C-section.”
It’s time to talk about a what now?
I’m sorry - you’re obviously in the wrong room. I think you have me mistaken for the screaming, hysterical woman down the hall who’s been begging you to shoot her for the past two hours.
I started to cry. I was relieved and terrified. I was exhausted, broken and traumatized. I felt like I was throwing in the towel and in a gearing up for battle all at the same time. I was overwhelmed and disoriented.
I was in labour.
It did not go the way I thought it would.
It did not go the way anyone thought it would.
Two months prior to my induction – my second induction (I’ll leave that for another post) – I sat on my OBGYN’s examination table; reading the same breastfeeding support poster over and over and over, tapping my fingers relentlessly against my knees, chewing my lip and trying to keep my anxiety at bay. She slipped the blood pressure cuff off my arm and asked me about my birth plan. There it was. the pop quiz I was dreading. The question I didn’t have the answer to because it’s the one test you don’t get to prepare for.
I had a reasonable idea of what I wanted and planned to go over it in a frank, realistic and well-articulated dialogue with my doctor. After all, I had just watched a woman literally give birth in river on YouTube without screaming once. So, like, how hard could this be?
Instead, I cried.
In that moment she wasn’t my OBGYN. She was my psychologist, mom and best friend. Through heavy tears and short gasps for breath I asked if I had to type up and submit a birth plan. I wiped back snot, and my pride, as I explained that I don’t know what to plan for because I don’t know what to expect. I’ve never had a baby before so how could I possibly plan for this. She stopped typing my chart notes, slid her chair over and rubbed my knee.
“I went to medical school for 10 years to learn how to deliver your baby safely. Leave the planning to me. You just show up, ok?”
Looking back I was deep in the trenches of undiagnosed Pre-Natal Anxiety. I assumed it was the last seven months of severe nausea, sciatica, pelvic girdle pain, exhaustion and insomnia taking its toll. But really it was my own mind betraying me and setting a precedent for the bushwhacking that awaited me just two and a half months later.
It was an omen for the realities of motherhood.
Finn was born at 10:15 pm on October 5th, 2017 by emergency C-section. I didn’t get to hold him until almost two hours later. When I did, it wasn’t surreal. It wasn’t magical. It wasn’t earth shattering. It was the next logical step in a series of sequential steps. You have a baby. You hold him. You Nurse. A + B = C.
The next three months were a cold, harsh lesson in reality versus expectation.
This beautiful boy with my blue eyes, blonde hair and his father’s dimple, felt like an alien in my arms. From the moment I fell pregnant nothing had gone the way I had imagined, or hoped. It robbed me of the joy of expecting our first baby, of growing our family. And here I was, again, engulfed by the flood waters of fear, self-doubt and disappointment.
My three day labour and emergency C-section left my body an empty shell and my mind in shell shock. I was induced on a Tuesday morning and laboured, hard, until Thursday night. I had not slept at all since the night before my induction. I had every invasive, painful and humiliating intervention possible. I finally crashed from the trauma to my mind and body. On the operating table I cried and puked while two surgeons were elbows deep in my abdominal cavity.
Post-surgery, it took every ounce of bravery to sit up in bed, lift my legs to get dressed and brush my teeth. Going to the bathroom left me biting my fist and practicing my Lamaze breathing just to pee. If you aren’t exactly sure what activities require the use of your abdominal muscles… have a C-section. You’ll be amazed how buttering toast or passing gas can bring you to your knees.
My milk took almost two weeks to come in, making breastfeeding a Mount Everest sized hurdle. And the only way I could get the baby to latch properly was to lay him crosswise over my abdomen, directly on top of my belly full of fresh stitches. I hated breastfeeding. It was painful and wrought with anxiety. It hurt, and not just in the obvious way. It put pressure on my incision, the uterine contractions pulled hard on my stitches, my back throbbed and I felt detained against my will. I sat on the couch in the wee hours of the morning nursing and expecting a knock at the door to inform me the newborn suckling peacefully in my arms wasn’t mine. There was a mix up at the hospital and they needed to return him to his rightful parents. No word yet on where my actual baby was.
I was numb, detached and just going through the motions trying to keep myself and this stranger in my life alive.
For three months I climbed an uphill battle of sleep deprivation, bone weary exhaustion and guilt. Such deep, pervasive guilt about not feeling the “overwhelming joy” I had been told about by every single woman who caught a glimpse of my growing bump. And I felt angry. Angry and betrayed that no one told me how hard, ugly and primal this all would be. That instead of gazing in loving adoration at this precious baby that was half me and half the man I love more than life itself… I would be grieving the loss of what I thought new motherhood would be like. That I would be railing against the psychological fallout of a traumatic birth experience. That I would shut down as “Heidi” and flip over to auto-pilot. That I would go into full on survival mode.
It took three months, an attentive husband, a supportive and encouraging mother and sister, two honest best friends and many, many tears to accept that I wasn’t a bad mom. I wasn’t a failure. What I was feeling was a common experience shared by so many women whom I loved dearly and respected deeply. Women whom I had no idea had been bruised and bloodied in these very same trenches long before me. Women who went toe-to-toe with their own unmet expectations. Women who had it far, far worse than I. And women who had it not quite so bad.
Three months into motherhood, rocking my not-so-newborn back to sleep from his third waking that night, he nestled himself deep into my neck. His hair tickled my nose and all I could smell was the soft hint of No Tears shampoo and baby powder. My world fell perfectly and blissfully silent. The earth slowed down her rotation and time tempered his pace long enough for me to be fully present in that moment. I felt a warm, soothing wave from the top of my head to the soles of my feet followed by a deep yet satisfying ache in my chest. I tightened my arms around his tiny body and pressed him closer to mine. With my nose buried in his wispy blonde hair, the tears rolled down my cheeks and soaked the top of his head. He didn’t wake up. But something in me did.
Three months into motherhood and in the wee, unsuspecting hours of the night that all-encompassing, overwhelming, earth shattering motherly love stormed the gates of my frailty. I cried softly, and prayed. I thanked the Lord for this blessing in my life. I thanked him for this happy, healthy, beautiful boy. The one I prayed for and tried for three years to conceive. I thanked him for answering my prayers by giving me what my heart needed at the exact moment he knew my heart needed it the most.
The thing about God’s timing is that it almost never aligns with yours. When I fell pregnant I thought it was the worst timing possible. I already felt broken. I already felt emotionally bankrupt. I already felt like a failure – a total loser. What I couldn’t see at the time was just how strong I really was. And what I needed to learn was just how far I could bend without breaking. I needed a proverbial mirror held up in front of my face to show me just how worthy I was. Despite all the insecurity, devastation, grief and uncertainty I needed to be reminded that I never gave up. I never stopped trying. I didn’t give up when I sobbed, overwhelmed, in the showers that only came every three to four days. I never stopped trying even when I collapsed on the floor of the nursery from exhaustion. I didn’t break even when the lactation supplements needed for my milk supply triggered debilitating migraines. I never stopped trying to be a good mother to a baby boy who didn’t even feel like mine.
At three o’clock in the morning, when I fell in love with my baby for the first time, I finally understood how much I was loved too. And it was finally the permission I needed to forgive myself of the guilt and shame that had already robbed me of so much. It was the reflection I needed to understand that motherhood is complicated and messy and I’m going to make mistakes. We all do. And we all will. Just don’t give up. Don’t stop trying. Do the best you can with what you have and the rest will follow. Love that boy deeply. Love him fiercely. And the rest will follow.