Yesterday, my oldest son turned 9. It’s now a thing for some moms to post play-by-plays of what their labors and their child’s births were like on their birthdays as a way of honoring the work that they did, the transformation they undergone, and celebrating their child entering their life. I love reading them. Especially one a former client posts one. It’s fun to revisit the births I have supported as a doula.
I felt a little bitter yesterday. I can’t write a post like that for my oldest child. At least not one that would be socially acceptable. It wouldn’t be nice, or exciting or funny. It wouldn’t be precious or beautiful. But, you know what? I feel like I need to share that story. Not just for my own heart, but because I believe it may be encouraging for other moms to know they’re not alone. It may bring hope to some moms to see what we have overcome and how we are doing 9yrs later now. And I hope that it would bring awareness to moms, obstetricians, midwives, doulas, nurses, and other birth pros of the reality of a cesarean and of the repercussions of our high rate of unnecessary cesareans. I’ve shared the story of the day my son was born on my blog before for CAM 2015 (Cesarean Awareness Month). Today, I want to share the story of the day after my son was born with you.
I was awoken at 7:00am by my night nurse and my new day nurse as the shift changed. My son was born at 5:38pm the day before by cesarean for a breech presentation. There was no labor. I had been 36 weeks, 5 days pregnant. He was a tiny 6 lbs 1 oz and was losing weight quickly due to all the fluids that had built up in him from my receiving IV fluids for so long before his birth (I sat in the hospital receiving IV fluids and being told I wasn’t allowed to eat for 6 hours before he was born). He had what is now known as “inflated birth weight,” but it was not something that was known or recognized then, at least not where I was. Sometime in the middle of the night, around 4:30am I think, a couple nurses had come in and helped me out of bed for the first time in 12 hours so that I could brush my teeth. There was a sink just a couple feet from the bed and it took two nurses to help me take those wobbly couple of steps and support me while I stood at the sink for a minute. I had to get the taste of vomit out of my mouth. The pain medication made me terribly nauseous and I had spent much of the first 14 hours of my son’s life vomiting. They asked if I’d like to try and go to the bathroom to pee. I wanted to, but I was unable to walk that far so had to return to bed and was catharized instead. My son and my husband weren’t there. My husband had slept in the room with us during the night some, but he quickly realized that I was unable to do anything for the baby needed to just “sleep it off.” (“It” meaning all the medication that had been pumped into my body….terbutaline to relax my uterus, spinal anesthesia, morphine for pain, antacid, pitocin, antibiotics to avoid post-op infection). My body hurt. I quickly realized that I had to keep track of when I could have another dose of pain medication (now oral pills) and ask the nurse to bring them to me every 8 hrs. If I didn’t “stay on top of the pain,” I was unable to function. My husband brought my son in to see if I was awake. I tried to nurse him again. It was not going well and I desperately needed help. It was so hard to nurse him. The pain in my incision made it hard to hold him correctly. I was secretly grateful that it was Friday and nobody would be coming to see us until that evening at the earliest. As the day went on, I got more and more help nursing (some of it I now know was actually bad advice and perpetuated the problems) and was able to make it to the bathroom. It was really hard for me to stand up all the way as the staples in my incision pulled on my skin and it felt like a really sharp pinch. I felt no connection to the baby. I *knew* he was my baby because his ID band matched mine and the pain of my body being cut open and organs removed and then put all back together now replaced the kicks and rolls I had felt just 24 hours before. But I didn’t feel the instinctual desire to protect and mother and nurture the baby like he was the child we had spent the past 3 years praying for and seeing fertility specialists to receive. I now know that the reason for that is because neither of us received the benefit of the hormone oxytocin that comes with labor and is responsible for mother-baby bonding. I ended up having a 4 day hospital stay as my son had lost “too much” weight and they wanted me to receive an extra day of lactation support. So we didn’t go home until mid-morning Tuesday. My hospital room was full of family and friends all day, all weekend. I appreciate them wanting to see and celebrate our long-awaited and hoped for baby so much. But, I also know now that what we really needed was quiet and privacy and a chance to rest and bond with our baby. So we went home on a cold, snowy day in December. We bundled our little bundle up in his carseat and nerbously drove the 10 minutes home. I was still in a great deal of pain and had no idea what I was doing, especially when missing all the motherly instincts that we are meant to have. They came, though. Slowly but surely, they came. Breastfeeding was rough for the first two months, but we made it and he nursed until he was 16mo old. My incision healed without any complications, thankfully. My pain decreased. I wore him in a wrap almost all day every day. And today I contribute breastfeeding and babywearing to saving our relationship. We are connected now, 9yrs later and when I looked at him on his birthday, I wish so much that he had had a better start. I wish so much that I knew then what I know now. And I don’t want other moms to feel that way on their child’s 9th birthday. That’s why I do what I do. That’s why I’m so passionate about evidence-based care; decreasing fear surrounding birth; empowering, encouraging, and educating families.
December 2007. I was pregnant with my first child. (Who is about to turn NINE!) We had endured three years of heartbreaking infertility and were ecstatic to be so close to having our baby in our arms. I truly thought I was doing everything I could and should to ensure a healthy pregnancy, healthy birth, and healthy baby. I really had no idea, though. I knew I loved this baby beyond measure and couldn’t wait to look into his eyes and count his tiny toes. I also knew that after all we went through to get pregnant, I wanted a natural birth. I wanted to feel every contraction. I wanted to fully experience giving birth. At the time, I had no idea, absolutely no clue just how much the experience of his birth would impact me. Wow. It has left an imprint on my heart that is hard to describe. And it was hard. It still is hard sometimes, even nine years later. I needed a guide, a research assistant, a cheerleader, a resource, another woman to support me. But I didn’t know that I needed it until after he was born. I needed someone to look me in the eye and tell me that I should not ignore the nagging little warning signs I had seen from my OB that she wasn’t actually supportive of the birth that I wanted. I needed someone to point me in the right direction of finding factual information about my options and teach me about evidence-based care. And when my baby turned breech at 36 weeks, I needed someone to tell me that I had more options than what were given to me by my OB.
I was not just pregnant with my first son. I was pregnant with anticipation of the incredible joy that birth holds within it as a woman transforms into a mother. And that joy was stolen from me. The imprint that was made on my heart was a painful one. We had a rough start, my son and I. But we overcame. And that experience is why I do what I do today.
Friends, a doula is not just a luxury. It is something you deserve. It doesn’t have to be me (although I would love for it to be!), but please do everything you can to receive the support of a doula and ensure that the imprint left on your heart after your birth is a good one.
Give yourself the gift of a doula this holiday season.
Amber Piller - Professional Birth Doula and owner of Agape Birth Services. Serving Northwest Houston including Jersey Village, Cypress, Tomball, Spring, and Katy Texas.