Monday, August 10, 2009

Birth Story: The Ugly

When I prepared for my childbirth, I "knew" that labor was unpredictable, but I did as much work as I could to ensure that Corey and I were educated and well armed to avoid the one major thing that was a bottom-line, unacceptable birth choice for me: a C-section. It was my greatest fear. The very sort of birth I could not allow myself to have. The thought of having my body splayed open, my organs removed from my insides and placed on my chest, my baby extracted by a doctor I had never met...these thoughts horrified me.

The moment MW's heart rate dropped to 40 (infant heart rates average 120...they typically do emergency c-sections at 90), I knew somewhere inside that my greatest nightmares were about to be realized. Luckily, I guess, I was too drugged up at that point to sufficiently panic. In the span of an instant, a surgical team, a slew of residents, and a pediatric team were in my peaceful labor room. The dim lights and calming Snatam CD were erased by blinding white lights, by screaming, frantic residents who forgot to unplug one of my IVs before yanking my bed down the hall.

In the pandemonium to get Miles out of my womb, people forgot to inform Corey about what was happening. They sort of left him wandering around, wondering what would happen to his baby.

I remember the 24 minutes leading up to Miles' birth in small spurts. I remember when they lashed my arms to the table, crucifixion-style, and ran a blade up my chest to see where the spinal stopped numbing me--my stigmata.

I remember pleading with the room at large to not take my organs out of my body and the anesthesiologist having an awkward silence, not wanting to tell me it was already happening. Then I remember being handed a form, someone apologizing that I had to sign with my left hand. We all then discussed our left-handedness. At least four people in the room, none of whom revealed their names to me or ever addressed me by my name, were left handed. I remember hoping the OB was not one of them, returning to a memory I had where left handed surgeons needed to stay in med school an extra year to master the right-handed surgical equipment standard in all ORs.

At some point, I started pleading for Corey to be there and someone said, "Who's that???" in an angry voice, as if I were asking for my stylist or my yoga teacher or someone insignificant. They slammed an oxygen mask on my face, yanked a hair net angrily onto my head, and someone complained that I had pubic hair, which was in the way. The terror I felt bubbled deep from inside me, so intense that even the pounds of anesthesia couldn't numb it. The only body part where I had feeling was my hands, and they began to twitch uncontrollably, to express my fear. They ramped up my meds until I couldn't move or feel anything, and when Corey came to hold my hand, I was barely aware of it.

Someone asked me the name of my baby as I began to feel a great shoving, a pushing and yanking and pressure as they wrangled him out from my 5-inch incision. It was the first time I said his name. Miles. I remember it felt almost sinful to say it there, in that space. And then I heard him cry, but I wasn't allowed to see him. Corey caught a glimpse of him, but I was in agony, strapped down and violated and unable to even set eyes on the baby I carried for almost 42 weeks, for 289 days. I sobbed uncontrollably.

Because I couldn't see him, because I never saw him come out of my body, I felt a strange disassociation with him, as if he wasn't really the baby inside me. I started begging them to show me my placenta, needing to glimpse at the thing that nourished my screaming baby I couldn't see. But they threw it in the trash and wouldn't show it to me. They were busy counting sponges to make sure they didn't leave any inside of me. I saw the cart of gore, the rack of sponges mottled with my insides. But they threw away my afterbirth.

And then they brought Miles over to Corey, caked in shit from head to toe, silent and staring at us, and I couldn't hold him. I couldn't move my parts to even touch him. Corey had to place Miles near my lips so I could kiss him, had to get him near my hand so I could extend one numb finger to touch his cheek while they put my insides back inside me.

When it was all done, when I was closed again, they told me I would carry Miles back to the room. They had to wrap my numb arms around his body as they wheeled me down the hall. I have no memory of this, of holding him. I have an image, though. Not the picture of a woman rapturous from having delivered her baby, but a picture of a body ravaged and filled with drugs, and a baby about to fall off the gurney because his mother can't feel her arms:

For two straight weeks afterward, I spent hours each day crying, mourning the birth I couldn't have and weeping for the wound in my body, crying because I was so damaged I couldn't even sit up to change his diaper for 3 days. A lot of people told me I needed to be grateful that I had my healthy baby, to focus on him. But that's not what I needed to do. I needed to mourn. I needed to talk about what happened to me, the tragic loss of control and how it was particularly hard for me, queen anal extraordinaire, to handle. I needed to come to terms with the fact that I had not failed at birthing, that the circumstances of Miles' arrival didn't indicate a failure of my body so much as a cry from Miles for a different entry. I wept for what could not be and for the physical pain and debilitating results (for me) of what did.

I spent hours in the hospital each day rehashing the whole thing with my mom, with the midwives, filling in the gaps of what happened. Talking over and over again about vomiting rainbow Jello on Corey or wanting to remember how I began breastfeeding with my arms still numb. How I itched myself raw after reacting poorly to the Demerol. It wasn't until I found a website where other women discussed their traumatic births that I began to feel better, to feel validated in having these feelings.

My love for my son remains unchanged. But that is a completely separate thing from the birth I prepared for, for the natural childbirth I wanted to gift him but didn't/couldn't. From the rite of passage of womanhood I feel anguish over missing. I wanted to deliver him, to pass him from my body through my birth canal, to feel the agonizing splendor of birthing my baby.

Each day, I am a tiny bit more at peace with what happened. But I have a long way to go and I still have nightmares and wake up sweating, remembering the faceless voices talking about his heart rate. Miles is here with us now, and he is great (if screamy).

But I am a long shot from being healed, physically or mentally, and I need time to grieve and cope.


Laura V said...

oh, katy. it sounds so awful. i am sorry you had to go through that.

Jane said...

You are the best kind of woman.

east side girl said...

Katy, I read this several times, and cried the whole way through it each time. So sorry you had to go through, so sorry.

Also so sorry that Miles is screamy. I had similar screamy issues with Alice (but it doesn't hit home with people until they have a screamy baby of their own).

I'm back in Pgh now. I know we don't know each other, save for our blogs. But please, if you need anything at all--a shoulder to cry on, someone to change a diaper, someone to talk to, please don't hesitate to get in touch. This is the time when moms need other moms more than ever.

Much love and good wishes,

East Side Girl

Kelly said...

I'm so sorry that that happened to you. You have every right to feel the way you do. With time comes healing. I hope being able to get these words down gives you the freedom to heal.