By Sara Farrell Baker of No Purple Walls
Candor is a tricky thing, especially for parents and for us “moms.” Of course, I’ve written a lot about motherhood, but just like all my cringe-worthy livejournal entries from high school, the posts I publish are going to be internet things forever. (Forever!) I wouldn’t want to write anything that would upset my kids during a Google search down the road, and that’s why I haven’t written a single word since I found out.
Since I learned I was pregnant.
I want to say, right off the bat, clear as day, that I could not be happier that there is going to be a new baby in our home. Adam and I are so excited to add to our family. Our son isn’t that excited because he’s too young to really get it, but he will probably be just the right amount of pissed when he realizes this baby is going to play with all of his toys. Can’t please everyone.
It was hard to sit down and write this out, and I quit writing for a few months because I did not want to be pregnant. Yes, I 100% want this baby. Adam and I planned on having him or her, and we cannot wait to meet him or he — and give them a ton of love. But after my first birth experience, doing it again is terrifying.
Baby? Hell yes. Birth? Nope, thanks.
You see, after my first pregnancy, I underwent a very traumatic c-section. I was not even able to process it or really think about it until I was six-months postpartum, and at that point the very thought of giving birth again one day was triggering. (It triggered over a month of very deep postpartum depression.) I saw two counsellors to try to work through my birth trauma with no improvements. My PPD went away as I pushed myself to work through it on my own, but what I truly ended up doing was shoving it aside without dealing with the underlying issues.
Before I get ahead of myself, I want to point out that I’m careful to refer to the experience as my birth. My birth was horrible. It was terrifying and dehumanizing and for completely unnecessary reasons. However, my son being born was one of the best things to ever happen to me. His birth gave me the brightest spot in the entire universe and I get to spend every day experiencing an absurd amount of love because his birth made me a mom. For the rest of my life, I am a mom. I could not be more grateful for that role, or for the amazing little boy that I have the privilege of calling my son.
My birth experience? The worst. My son’s birth? The best.
This has been so difficult to write, and I’ve thought about how I could do it so many times, because of the conflict in being so thrilled that you are having a baby, and completely terrified of what has to happen to bring that baby into the world. The night that my postpartum depression was triggered, I had been thinking about how my next birth would go and I stayed up the entire night, frantically researching VBACs and statistics and birth trauma and trying to see into my future. I didn’t feel like I could sleep until I had a mathematic probability in my favor. I am also terrible at math, so you can imagine how well that went.
So when it came time to start planning the next phase of our family, I put off getting pregnant for months. I made excuses because, as much as I wanted another baby, I did not want to go through another trauma, and that felt like the only possible outcome. Because trauma was all I knew.
I gave birth more than two years ago, and I still cannot talk about it without crying, my heart racing, and losing control of my breath.
The strange thing is that it is not even a repeat c-section that I am afraid of. I spent my entire first pregnancy telling my doctor that I wasn’t big on birth plans, I just didn’t want a c-section. That was my only plan in birth; pushing that sucker out. I made it clear over and over, and was reassured over and over by my doctor that she would never perform an unnecessary c-section and that she wanted me to have a vaginal birth. And then she made decision after decision, giving me little consent or information as she went, that ended in her telling me that I was having a Cesarean in 30 minutes, at the end of the day of my induction.
None of the consent I gave that day was informed. There were mistakes made by the hospital that she glossed over — and then used as ammunition to perform major abdominal surgery — and the surgery itself was scary, upsetting, and abrupt, but it was not what caused my trauma.
I was very upset during surgery, even asking to be put under because I was so afraid about being awake for it, and my anesthesiologist told me I would not want to be asleep for the birth of my son. He gave me drugs to calm me down, and then he and Adam were able to distract me while our son was being born.
I know that I saw our baby for a moment. I remember Adam saying he had so much black hair, but I don’t actually remember seeing him.
I became upset again once I was being stitched up, because I could feel it happening (not pain, but a lot of pressure and movement) and that was hugely unsettling. I begged to be knocked out. This time, the anesthesiologist listened, and I was unconscious for the first hour of my baby’s life.
Now, you may be saying that I asked for it. I did. I literally asked for it. Over and over. But I asked for a lot of things in labor. I asked to be allowed to walk to the bathroom so I wouldn’t have to sit in my amniotic fluid in the hospital bed. I asked to not have a c-section. I asked for a Cinnabon. I asked to be knocked out while my doctor cut me open on the other side of a small curtain. But now they decided to listen to me? Being unconscious for a critical bonding period was more acceptable than being unconscious during surgery? They were tired of listening to me cry and wail, and decided to finally give a distraught woman what she asked for.
I may have asked for it, but the anesthesiologist and my doctor were trained medical professionals. They made a choice in their interests, not mine.
When I woke up in the recovery room, I wasn’t allowed to hold my son because I wasn’t stable from the drugs. The nurse finally laid him on my chest because of the importance of skin-to-skin contact. I couldn’t try to breastfeed him for hours after he was born because my arms weren’t really working, and I had no memory of him being born besides the fear I felt on my side of the curtain. I couldn’t remember what he looked like in his first moments, and today, those first memories of him remain fuzzy — at best.
As for this beautiful baby in my arms? I felt like I woke up, and someone handed me a baby. There was a baby in my belly before my surgery. When I woke up, there wasn’t. I didn’t feel like I had just given birth. I didn’t feel like I was holding my baby that I carried for nine months. I felt unattached, withdrawn, and incredibly guilty. What kind of mother was I, already?
While in the hospital, I sent him to the nursery whenever I could. I told myself it was because I was exhausted, and that I needed sleep. (I was and I did.) But I also didn’t know what to do with this baby. I liked him. He was cute and sweet and I mean… he was a baby. I love babies. But it took weeks for me to feel like his. For him to feel like mine.
It was fierce when it happened, and it’s only gotten stronger. But those first weeks? I was detached and afraid and so, so guilty. This little boy was perfect. He didn’t do anything wrong. He deserved a real mother, and I felt like the furthest thing from it. That detachment, and the complete lack of control that preceded it, are the roots of my trauma.
Which brings us to what happened after I got pregnant. We hired a wonderful doula early on, because I want to have a VBAC and I know I need an advocate and extra support in a hospital setting. After sharing my birth story with her, she felt strongly that all of my fear is going to hurt me when it comes time to labor. She pointed me in the direction of an art therapist that deals with birth trauma. I felt like talk therapy hadn’t worked, and decided to try art therapy because what could it hurt?
It did not take long for my new therapist to diagnose me with post-traumatic stress disorder. That’s a difficult thing to share, and I haven’t shared it with many people I know. It feels dramatic to wave a big PTSD flag around, and it absolutely feels like I’m appropriating this thing I have no business claiming as my own. PTSD is something I associate with combat veterans who have seen death and unspeakable danger. Me? I had a shitty birth.
It’s a weird thing to think about, and an uncomfortable thing to write about. But I want other women to know this happened to me. And if they’re looking to relate, I want to be someone other women in this position can relate to. I want them to be able to better advocate for themselves and for other women they care about, so that fewer women come out of birth being able to relate to me. But mostly, I want to be able to write again, and I haven’t felt capable of that for months because I haven’t been able to be honest. So there is all my honesty. Poured out of my brain at 1 A.M. on a Tuesday.