For weeks I've been fixating on who will care for Melby, when I give birth. In the 20 months of her life, I've never spent a night away from her.
I don't wear that as a badge of honor.
I don't think the moms, who went on work trips 3 months postpartum or who enjoyed a weekend long bachelorette party at some other early juncture are lesser somehow. It just simply happened that we arrived at this point, that by circumstance, really, rather than choice, Melby and I have never truly been away from each other.
Like prolonged virginity, it seems magnified in importance somehow at this point-- like I missed the initial window to check that box and now the box is luminous with some sort of rare importance. Leaving my daughter for the first time for an extended period of time and then arriving home with a whole other person just seems so much. So last week, I cried at the dinner table and made an emotional scene when Nic didn't have an immediate answer for me about what on earth we would do.
I mourned, yet again, being so far away from my family. I could, in an instant, call my mother at any hour of the day and know that she would come be with Melby, love and care for her better than I have likely ever done a day in my life, and I would have not a single worry... were she not living 2185 miles from my doorstep. There are, of course, many people we can ask, but they're all people with jobs and kids and responsibilities of their own that don't really lend themselves to being on call day and night for basically an entire month.
And last time we were in the hospital for FOUR almost full days. That's a long time for everyone.
In my panicking, I realized, what I am really worried about is both so many looming unknowns, which include the reality than an actual person is going to exit my body in the next two months-ish and remain in my life forever. That all feels terribly overwhelming so focusing my fear into this one small element of the whole equation makes it feel almost manageable, like if I could fix that problem then birth and postpartum and two babies and everything else will definitely be fine. Definitely.
And in the microcosm of that worry is a sincere terror about giving birth again. I only realized this fully when I read a line tonight about one woman's quest to help other women "integrate the birthing experience."
Reading those words, I acknowledged immediately that I did not integrate mine at all. I feel like Nic and I were shell-shocked for weeks, maybe months, and then we just set it aside, resigned to our experience, but readily, still, shuddering at its mention.
In retrospect, I feel angry about the whole experience. I birthed with a very reputable, highly-regarded practice in a lovely facility. And almost every part of it felt awful to me.
Whether or not it actually was, I realized recently, doesn't matter. Because it felt that way, and so it was. It was a kind of trauma, because it felt like trauma.
Early on in the week I delivered, my ankles were swollen for the first time. My due date was still two weeks away, but it felt significant somehow, as if my body were announcing its settling in, its preparation. A change was coming. That Friday evening, I woke up early on in the night to just a pop of moisture in my underwear. I knew I hadn't peed myself, but it also seemed so distinctly not the experience of water breaking that I had heard and read about in every context. I called my midwife and she, semi-irritated, I assume, from the late night call, assured me that if my water had broken, I would know.
I half-slept that night, flushed with excitement, worry, anticipation. I kept waiting to know. Surely soon I would know.
By the next morning, nothing had happened. We continued with life as usual, which looked much like, replacing a tire on the car, Nic, shirtless, trying on vests at Target, and attending a 2nd birthday party for our tiny friend, Aurora. I cradled Aurora's stuffed flamingo throughout most of the party, trying to envision myself holding an actual baby, my baby. Her parents, both acupuncturists and close friends, assured me my real baby was coming soon. Nic cancelled his trip. And we waited.
That night, the same thing happened again as the night before. Some unfamiliar release of liquid, except this time, multiple times. But still no deluge. It's so hard to shake that image of the woman in a mall, a sudden splat of water on her fancy shoes, before the next frame of her being rushed to the hospital. I felt sure that, even though I'd never experienced birth before, I should know. Even the midwife seemingly suggested that I would know.
I didn't know. I just didn't. I feel like so much of how both birth and motherhood are talked about leads you to believe you’re just supposed to know what’s going on. Like somehow you are failing at the whole thing if you don’t have an immediate connection to and understanding of your experience. I’m here to say: Fuck that.
I called the midwife again. She told me to check in in the morning. And I spent a sleepless night, again, waiting.
My sweet doula, Erica, came over after my frantic early morning text about being unsure if I was in labor. We got bagels. Took a walk. Surely I could shake this baby out. By 10 am, the midwife insisted I come in to check.
Erica and I went to the hospital for them to test whether it was actually amniotic fluid, in which case I'd be admitted. Nic stayed home and mowed the lawn-- a gesture, I realize now, that is both his preferred method of distraction but also a great intimation of love. He arrived at the hospital just shortly enough after us, dressed is khakis and a button down, to receive the information that, yes, it was amniotic fluid. Our baby was coming.
The first hours were wonderful, bordering on hilarious. I wasn't experiencing any contractions yet, except lazy, erratic ones I didn't feel. We only knew they were happening because both the baby and I were being monitored since, technically, my water had broken almost 36 hours prior. Karen came and gave me acupuncture. We did silly walks in the hallway, trying to encourage my uterus to begin contractions. We watched TV, ate popsicles, joked.
At some hour I don't quite remember, the midwife came in to ask me what I wanted to do. In most other hospitals, at this point, I would have had a C-section, because a broken amniotic sac that preemptive to the actual delivery puts both baby and mama at risk for infection and other issues. But we were being monitored consistently and everyone looked fine, so they allowed us to wait.
I wanted so badly to give birth with no interventions. In retrospect, I don't know exactly what the drive is: some knowledge that birth is truly not a medical condition, but a natural process, or just some desire for the ability to say, I gave birth with no interventions. Pride.
I asked for the midwife's opinion. I remember her leaning against the wall at the foot of the bed. She said something like, "I'm not good at deciding what to do; I'm good at catching babies." I don't know if I decided then, or way, way earlier that I did not love her, but at this point, I definitely knew. Or at least in retrospect, I can admit that I knew. While it wasn't necessarily her job to make decisions for me, her attitude was thick with apathy. I felt like a genuine bother to her.
We decided, as a mom/ dad/ doula/ acupuncturist team that I should try a breast pump and a cervical balloon to encourage contractions. The breast pump did actually nothing. The cervical balloon was a different story. A balloon is inserted onto either side of your cervix and then inflated. It puts pressure on the cervix, encouraging it to soften. Best case scenario, they said, within 12 hours it helps you dilate naturally. Often, it does nothing.
The midwife came in to put it in, maybe somewhere around 6 pm, and, I kid you not, fisted me. I can't imagine a scenario in which inserting a BALLOON into your cervix is pleasant, but she was incredibly physically rough, so much so that I immediately cried, spontaneous fear and pain tears. All I kept thinking was, if I couldn't handle this, I surely couldn't handle delivering a baby. The mood in the room changed tangibly. We all became quiet.
After inserting it, she realized she had done it wrong, so removed it and then did it again.
If I could go back in time, at this point, I might decide not to have a baby altogether. I was mortified and in pain. I asked for some time alone, and within 45 minutes, I had gotten up to pee and the balloon fell out. I was initially horrified, thinking we'd have to reinsert it, but after a cervical check, to everyone's surprise, I'd dilated to 6 cm. Evidently I had scar tissue on my cervix that had kept me from dilating, which was then broken up manually by hand.
That is as fun as it sounds. But surely now we were rolling.
In fact, we were not.
The time after this was just more waiting. By 2 am, still nothing had really happened. And it dawned on me that, if we were to continue to wait, another night would pass, amounting to basically 3 now, in which I hadn't really slept.
I have never been good at not sleeping. Even in my wildest party days, I always went to bed eventually. I didn't wait to watch the sun come up. I always cherished my rest.
Several of the nurses suggested what they called "a whiff of Pitocin." Just enough to kickstart things. I called Kim, finally, my other doula, who had been waiting in the sidelines, because, really, not much was happening. She reassured me that this was okay and set out on her way to the hospital herself.
I got the Pitocin. I insisted everyone sleep. And, in fact, they did, while Kim sat with me through the beginning of my contractions. It wasn't awful. I think it some ways, the pain felt like the greatest relief. My body was finally going through the motions to birth our baby girl.
By morning, the Pitocin was not a whiff, but fully flowing. And in this span of time, it all becomes grey. I remember, only, feeling totally out of my mind.
My plan had been to labor in the tub as much as possible, but because my water had broken more than 24 hours prior, I was only allowed to use the showerhead, not to soak, because of the risk of infection. I just remember moving and not moving. Wanting to be touched and wanting not to be touched. I would get under the water and then not be able to stand the water and get out. I would lay down but not be able to stand laying down and get up. I would get up and need to lay down. Everything felt searing, like even having skin was impossibly uncomfortable. I was connected to an IV, because I was GBS positive, plus the Pitocin, so every time I moved, I rolled along with my needy sidekick.
The one part of our birthing class I'd really taken with me was this promise that even though contractions are extremely intense, there is a break between them. Even if it's a short break, it's a moment in which your body is actually experiencing no pain. Plenty of women psyche themselves out in anticipation in those moments, but the reality is that there is no physical sensation happening. I clung to that promise. To the break.
But the break never happened. Melby's head was pushing on my back. Later we learned, she was just ever so slightly at the wrong angle, her head tilted into my spine, which made it both difficult to push out her head, but also to experience contractions themselves.
They came in to check me, and after literal hours and hours of what felt like my body was being destroyed from the inside out, I had dilated only one more centimeter. I have never felt more defeated in my entire life.
And so, I screamed for drugs. Nic tried to talk calmly to me. We took a moment alone together in the room. He tried to help ground me, to bring me back from whatever place I was reeling.
But I was too far gone. I would have had a voluntary C-section at that moment. I would have taken any drug. I did not care. I just needed the baby out of me so I could stop feeling the way I felt.
We agreed that nitrous was a good place to start. And, I think, this was the only thing that got me through. I still felt all the pain, I just felt suddenly more able to handle it. Lying down was awkward, holding that mask over my mouth was awkward, but I felt like I would make it through alive.
I kept asking when I would push, and, they'd say, again and again, you'll know.
Unlike my water breaking, this time, I did know. In 2 subsequent hours, my body had relaxed enough to be ready to birth a baby. In retrospect, I think things didn't progress because I was just so incredibly tense. I was pumping adrenaline, petrified, excited, anxious beyond all anxiety, just ready to do the damn thing people spend so much time working up. There was no way my body was going to relax enough to have a baby in those conditions. But the nitrous helped magnificently and, suddenly, I knew.
The midwife came. So many people came. And I pushed like a motherfucker. I pushed and I screamed bloody murder screams, not necessarily even because it felt so awful, but because I finally got to do something after all those hours of waiting and suffering. And one hour later, Melby was born.
The truth is, I don't remember feeling anything. I didn't look at her with wonder, I didn't feel amazed. I was just so fucking glad to be done. I only distinctly remember the feeling of relief in my ribs, my guts, my whole body, to no longer have a baby inside me. They laid her on my chest. We had a baby.
The part that came next is maybe what I am most angry about, the part after it felt like it was all finally over, but it was not.
Instead of allowing my placenta to come out entirely on its own, the midwife basically pulled it out. And then didn't get it out in its entirety, so after 10 hours of physical torture, she exacerbated it by having to fish around inside my body to make sure she got the last bits of shredded placenta. Just thinking about it, I am furious. My birth felt like an inconvenience to her-- something unworthy of her energy or attention, something that just needed to get done.
All I say, again and again, is that, while she maybe birthed hundred and hundreds of babies, this was my first one. And I will not forgive her for creating the feeling that it was just another taxing day on the job for her.
I bled and bled. I layed with Melby on my chest a long time. I was in a haze.
I think that haze lasted the better part of 6 months. During my brother's wedding weekend, 6 weeks postpartum, I was in Anthropologie, finally surrounded by my family, and I sobbed audibly by the sweaters. I have never felt so tremendously lost, depleted, and blankly sad in my entire life. I can't say how much of it was physical, or how much of it was the total loss of identity I experienced, or how much of it was not quite having the time or resources to recover from that whole experience, but it was intensely real.
I went to my 6 week check up, where they always have women fill out a form to assess whether they're experiencing postpartum depression. Mine, I guess, clearly indicated that I did. The midwife said "You definitely have something going on." And that was that. No suggestions, no directives to seek help or offering of resources.
I have never felt less cared for in my life. I only realize it now.
Maybe I brought it on myself. Maybe I should have known earlier it wasn't right. Maybe I should have been stauncher in asserting my needs. But I didn't know until I knew and now I know I'm mad.
I'm mostly mad because I'm about to experience birth again. And all I feel is fear. And residual trauma.
We are seeing a different midwife this time. I have been explicit with her about what I want, what I did not love from my last experience.
But how do I feel anything but scared? I feel afraid my body can't handle it. I feel afraid it will be awful again. I feel most petrified of afterwards, the recoiling, of how I felt so hollowed out and lonely in such a nameless way. I feel like I was robbed of something by not having a different kind of experience the first time. Not that the timeline should have looked any different somewhere else, but maybe the attitude surrounding it would have.
All that being said, I am so so so grateful for Nic and Erica and Kim. They were the only part of it that kept me afloat. I know that is a lot of afloat, mind you. I just needed more. I needed the person who had agreed to help bring my first daughter into the world to give two shits about us. And she did.
So I'm angry. And I'm scared. And I'm crying about babysitters for Melby, largely because I need someone to babysit me. Because I don't know where else to put this petrified energy. Because nothing makes me feel like I need a mom more than becoming a mom all over again.
It is a huge experience. One I know many women love and fall naturally into. I did not. My immediate postpartum experience mirrored my birth experience in many ways. I was unprepared, despite being so prepared. I felt alone. I didn’t integrate my experiences, I merely soldiered through them.
I want to bring this baby into the world with joy and power and resilience. But this is my admission that, at this point, I really don't know how.