Read part 1 here.
Before I get to the real nitty gritty of the delivery, I have realized I can’t describe Caroline’s birth story without acknowledging my state of mind of going into it, because I have realized that it is inherently part of the story. Although it had every medical intervention possible short of a C-section, Sam’s birth went well. Due to an undiagnosed case of von willebrands (plus I suspect, some bad luck), the post-birth part did not go well. Aside from brief outbursts of emotion, this was something I realize now that I chose not to fully process.
In part, I think it is hard to process something that you are unconscious, or heavily medicated, for. In larger part, it is frankly easier, if more cowardly, to go into something that nearly killed you last time pretending that it didn’t nearly kill you last time. The first sign that I might in some sort of denial may be that I refused to believe I had von willebrands for a while. OK, I still don’t really believe it, but I do accept my smart hematologist’s edict that we have to treat me as if I have it, given my “history”. But as mild von willebrands essentially needs no treatment in day to day life, that issue didn’t rear its head too often.
Another sign might have been that if someone brought up how close the call had come, I was genuinely shocked and surprised, and little awkward. I remember my friend Taylor saying on Sam’s birthday “Hey – it’s the anniversary of you surviving!” and I just kind of stared open mouthed like a guppy at feeding time, and then scowled and changed the subject. And when I transferred to my new OB (Dr. Dryden) the nurses muttered to each other “Dryden saved her” – and I just scowled again and labelled them as “over dramatic”. But again, this was not something that often came up – people don’t generally like to bring up nasty medical experiences (at least, not if they want to keep their friends…).
Things started to change when (1) expert people telling me how serious the situation really had been; and (2) having to prepare to give birth again. When I saw my OB at my first trimester appointment she brought up my chart and started stutter as she read the history saying “I can see you had a massive transfusion“. I did. Massive transfusions are not good (well.. they are good, it’s just the situations requiring them is not good), and when I initially told people about my birth experience I would say “As I went to OR I just remember the words ‘massive transfusion protocol'”. But then I decided that I probably dreamed that, or made it up for dramatic effect. So I was kind of shocked to hear the surgeon in charge of the birth state it. And see it there in my notes for all to see.
During that visit, my OB said to me “You’re lucky to be able to have another child!” and I said “well… it’s due to YOU” and she looked confused and I reminded her “You were the one who delivered my son… you saved me and my uterus by using a new procedure… you sewed the balloon into my cervix which hadn’t been done before.. right?” and the light dawned, and her eyes went wide with recognition and then a kind of fear and I’ll never forget her saying “Oh my God… it’s you… you’re you… You came back!” [aside: of course I came back – she was the most awesome surgeon ever! And my kiddo is the greatest kiddo ever]. I nodded and my OB – my extremely experienced OB who seems to specialize in high risk cases – said “I will never forget your birth”. Seeing how seriously she took the situation was not something my “it was no big deal” mindset was ready for. I looked her straight in the eyes and said “It’s fine… you did great last time with no warning, I have no worries about this time with plenty of warning… I trust you completely”. Then I pretty much packed up my things and left. Which was nice for my OB, but essentially what I was saying was “I don’t want to think about this, or deal with it, so I am shutting the whole conversation down”.
The I vowed not to think about birth until I hit the second trimester and the highest risk of miscarriage passed. And then, at that point, I would start to think things like “do I want an epidural?” and never really get very far with my answers. And suddenly I was 35 weeks and it was my beautiful baby shower and I was telling people that ‘yes, I was totally ready for everything” but when they got to specifics ‘no, I had not bought diapers yet…’ and ‘no I had not packed my hospital bags..’ and ‘no, I had not sorted the nursery’ and ‘no, no, no’. And that triggered something in me… some deep seated awareness that holy crap, I was actually going to have to do this again. And suddenly the darkest recesses of my mind took over and would pipe up at inopportune times. Like when I was reading Sam a book, something deep in my mind would say “I hope that if you die someone will tell Sam that his Mum used to read him books and do all he silly voices with him..”. I would squash the thought but later on the voice would say “If you die, hopefully people will tell your children ‘she loved you so much, she risked everything to bring you into this world'”. It wa startling to me how strong these thoughts were.
The next day I was in Starbucks and I had to walk past my hospital and while standing in line waiting for ‘the usual’ [tall decaff PSL, no whip, just one pump of syrup] I began to shake and cry and it is very awkward when heavily pregnant women start silently bawling in public because no one thinks they can ignore them and everyone thinks it is about the baby and tries to help . And when strangers asked if I was OK, it’s not like I could regale them with the whole birth history that I was trying to deny….
It’s funny, looking back, I don’t think I truly accepted what happened after Sam’s birth until after Caroline’s birth. I was taken up to a postpartum recovery room, and the nurse in the room said “Have you given birth here before?” and I said “Yes! Almost three years to the day I delivered my son here” and she said “OK, I am going to be honest… I knew that… I remember you… No one will ever forget your birth” and I thought “Geez… even nurses not involved in the situation are freaked out about this”. And my OB came by to visit me, and everything was perfect (and as you’ll find out in part 3 she has been utterly amazing in the birth) and I was holding my sweet Caroline and fully recovered within about an hour and my OB could finally say “I’ll just never forget your first birth… it’s just emblazoned in my memory and I can’t shift it”. And I thought ‘crap.. it really was that bad’.
So I didn’t finalize the process before Caroline came along, but I did begin to accept that I was utterly freaked out about giving birth again – not necessarily because I thought the same thing would happen, but because I realized that anything could happen. So I began to accept that I was scared, and angry. I was angry at my body for letting me down. My strong, half marathon and tough mudder running body builders body. And I was angry at the ‘natural birth’ community. I was angry at their message that ‘women were made to do this and should just trust their bodies’ (because where would that have got me? Let’s say it: dead is where) and even more angry at my treatment after birth. Basically, from all the natural birth communities I engaged with while pregnant, suddenly not one of them wanted to share my birth story, which left me feeling excluded and shunned. And then angry that by purposefully denying these stories, some parts of the natural birth community are lying to their followers: they simply discount the very real, and very rare, dangers rather than acknowledge them and allow women and their partners to make informed choices.
It was a tough few weeks and probably contributed to a lot of the depression I suffered with at the end of Caroline’s pregnancy (not something I have admitted before). I was scared and felt trapped – trapped into having to do something I was scared of. But, the reason that this is so part of Caroline’s birth is that I eschewed all thinking about actual birth before going into labor (in fact, possibly while in labor, which is why I didn’t accept I was until I was fully in transition. Although sleeping through labor definitely has some up sides…). Consequently, I didn’t have any kind of plan for what I would do in labor. At all. I just ticked the ‘no epidural’ box on my hospital pre-addmission forms and that was it.
So, I went into the delivery room really quite unprepared…
I’m glad I have written this down now. I am still 28% hippie and believe in things like the damages of repressed emotions, so I am glad to have written it down and am now able to really move onwards an upwards.