My first delivery went textbook-smooth. From the time my water broke until the time I delivered my daughter was nine hours, which is under the average of 10 to 24 hours for a first labor. The one thing I hadn’t liked: To get me through the first part of labor, my doctor had ordered some Stadol, a narcotic that is supposed to “take the edge off the pain.” It made me alternately sleepy and groggy. It was only supposed to last an hour or two, but it lasted much longer, and I was totally out of it by the time my baby was born.
By the time my second child was ready to be born, I was determined to do it differently.
When I got to the hospital, I wasn’t in active labor. I was contracting now and then, but the contractions didn’t hurt. The only sign was the bloody show I’d experienced overnight. My obstetrician insisted that was enough–I’d gone so quickly last time, and I was five days overdue now, so it made a lot of sense to get me into the hospital sooner rather than later.
My doctor broke my water and the nurses quickly hooked me up to Pitocin. After two and a half hours of painful contractions, I asked for an epidural. My husband hit the call button.
No one came.
When my doctor eventually appeared, she checked me and said, “I feel a foot. You need a C-section. Now.”
I closed my eyes and screamed in horror, “Turn it!”
“I can’t. It’s too late.”
A nurse in the background feebly asked, “Shouldn’t we ultrasound first?”
“No, it’s a foot,” the doctor said, and hurried out of the room. Immediately, a bevy of people surrounded me and raced me down to the OR.
I vaguely remember the spinal shot the anesthesiologist gave me. “Can I cut? Can I cut?” my doctor kept asking.
But I kept feeling the pinches of the scissors. I was not numb. The anesthesiologist said there was no time, it was an emergency, and he was putting me out. I opened my eyes widely.
An hour later I woke up, vomiting a thin green liquid. A nurse I’d never seen before told me I’d had an 8 pound, 3 ounce healthy baby girl at 3:24 p.m. (Or was it 3:28 p.m.? I still have no idea.) She had not been breech. It wasn’t her foot my doctor had felt. Her hand had come down next to her head–a perfectly reasonable position (called complex) to deliver vaginally. It would have shown up on an ultrasound.
My recovery was long and painful. I could barely walk for over a week. I wasn’t able to drive for even longer. When I did start driving again, three weeks later, I could barely push the gas pedal. Physically, it took me a lot longer to feel like myself again–maybe months.
Emotionally, my recovery has taken even longer.
For years I had recurring thoughts about my younger daughter’s birth. I would come just to the part when the doctor announced I needed a C-section and change it to receiving my epidural. When I “fix” my birth story, my daughter is born–me conscious, smiling and happy. In my made-up scenarios, I’m not the last one to find out her gender; I hear it as she slips out of my body. I am the first to hear my daughter cry, something I still can’t believe I was robbed of. I’m the first to hold her, not the last, after my husband, mother, and sister. I’m the first to look into her eyes. I always thought this was the mother’s right.
A year after my daughter was born, I thought about having another child. I thought if I could get pregnant again, I could fix that whole delivery part. I’d hire a midwife instead of an obstetrician. I would not get frustrated if the baby was late. But neither my husband nor I wanted to parent another child. We couldn’t afford a third and had no space in our tiny home.
Then I thought about being a surrogate so I could fix my birth experience, but not actually parent a third child. I spent a lot of time searching surrogacy websites. But New Jersey, where I live, is one of the worst states, from a legal point of view, in which to become a surrogate.
Then I thought I would become a doula. I could participate in other peoples’ births and maybe that would heal me. But it didn’t seem practical. I had two young children who I would need to leave in the middle of the night.
In the end, I didn’t do any of the things I thought might help me get over the feelings. Instead, a therapist led me through my birth story–it took me many appointments until I could even tell the whole thing–and then concluded that I had PTSD.
Wasn’t PTSD just for people who’d been through war or raped, or something else like that? No, it turns out that women who wind up with emergency C-sections can and do sometimes get PTSD. We hate to tell our birth stories. We hate to look at the scar that crosses over our lower abdomens, making it impossible to forget. We don’t want you to tell us at least we have a healthy baby. Yes, a healthy baby is what matters in the end. I don’t say this lightly. I have friends who could not have children at all (had I not undergone fertility treatments, I would be one of them). I have friends who lost babies at or directly following birth. I have friends with sick children. I know these situations are much more horrible than mine.
But PTSD is not logical and doesn’t care at whom it rages, or why. It just does.
Sixteen years later, it is easier. I no longer find myself “fixing” the birth in my head. I no longer have nightmares about it. I still have trouble saying I did it, that I allowed them to do it, but I also think that I must be awfully strong to have gotten through it.
I don’t care so much anymore about my daughter’s birth. I care more about guiding her through her teenage years. I care more about helping her find her way. About the person she is right now. Time really can heal, maybe not all the way, but enough. Enough to go on and enjoy the things in life that really matter.