Today, I logged onto Facebook to post my Saturday video and the first thing I saw on my news feed was a picture of a baby that was born last night (ironically to my first love and his wife).
Every woman has this picture in their minds of the way their life is supposed to go. We imagine we will meet that perfect man. We imagine that we will get married in a beautiful wedding ceremony where everyone is happy for us and everyone gets along. We imagine that we will easily end up pregnant shortly thereafter and that pregnancy will be a glowy, magical time of bonding. Most of us imagine that the birth will be painful, but that it will all be worth it when we hold that perfect little bundle of joy and that we and our husband will spend months basking in the bliss of having turned our love into an eternal bond by creating new life together. We have that picture in our minds of cooking dinner as our husband plays catch with our son or daughter; having just come home from a rewarding job that gives him a sense of purpose and that pays enough money that we feel secure and free. We imagine being together with the man of our dreams forever, basking in the ambiance of love and family bliss. Well… this dream may turn into reality for 0.1 percent of the population of women on planet earth, but for the rest of us, we are dealt a huge reality punch. For the rest of us, life is way messier and way more raw; it turns out to be nothing like we expected it to be.
None of us expect that we will end up getting crushed by our first love (the one we thought would be with us for the rest of our lives) only to spend the next ten years working our way through an endless chain of relationships that don’t ever quite work out. None of us expect that we will spend more than a year in infertility clinics wondering why we can’t do the one thing that a woman is supposed to be able to do. None of us expect that we will be so morning sick, uncomfortable and frightened during pregnancy that we will rarely get out of bed. We don’t expect the fatigue and the weight gain and the stretch marks and the mood swings. None of us expect that our labor will be induced and that no matter what we may have expected…labor is a thousand times more painful than we ever thought it could be. None of us expect that having a newborn is scary. We don’t expect that we will end up with no manual for how to take care of this tiny person while our nipples are cracked, we are exhausted and we are bleeding for over a month. None of us expect that we will no longer have time to bond with our husband because taking care of an infant is a full time job for more than one person. None of us expect that life will be so stressful that making dinner is a chore and that our job will pay just enough to get by and just enough to ensure that we will spend every day stressing out about not having enough money. None of us expect that our husband will be so stressed out as well that when he comes home from work, he won’t want to bond with us or play catch with our son or daughter… instead he will sit down in front of the television. None of us expect that the stress of life will come between us and that eventually, we will get a divorce. We do not expect that our family will eventually be broken, that we will be back on the dating market, this time with all kinds of awesomely unattractive baggage. The bottom line is, we all had our own dreams about what our future would look like and by now, we all have a collection of stories about how those dreams SO did not come true.
In truth, pictures rarely reflect the bad times, which is understandable. Who wants to display a picture on the living room mantle of themselves screaming while they were in labor or throwing something at their husband a week before the divorce?
But I can’t help but feel like we are all so busy trying to make our lives seem perfect to each other, while concealing the truth that our lives are so much less than perfect. I hate those Christmas cards that people send in the mail with an obnoxious never ending list of all their accomplishments and wonderful things that have happened to them and their children during the past year. I have often joked in the past that it would be much more efficient to just send a card that reads, “Merry Christmas, we just wanted you to know how awesome our lives are, so that you can realize what a mess you’ve made of your life… because we decided that the best gift we could give you this season is an excuse to feel even worse about yourself”.
This morning I was reminded about how much less than perfect my journey into motherhood was. I am envious of women who enjoyed their pregnancies and who felt like birth was a magical and transformative experience. More than anything, I am envious of the incredible bond that some men and women get to share when they “seal” themselves together by creating a new life. I didn’t get to feel this bond. I was one of those women who was too sick and too frightened and in too much pain to bond with my son's father when we had a child together. The entire experience was traumatizing. And so, in the name of open honesty, today is the day that I will tell you my 'birth story'.
When my son's father, Mark and I decided to have a child, I was ecstatic and desperate. I had figured that pregnancy would happen immediately. Well, it didn’t. We tried everything we possibly could before resorting to infertility treatments. When they tested Mark, it turned out that he could have populated half of China, so the problem wasn’t him…it was me. I cannot accurately describe how painful it is to experience infertility, the deep feeling of grief that strikes every single month when you start to bleed… again. I felt like a failure as a woman. Some days, I even felt like I wasn’t a woman. I felt like the abuse I suffered in childhood had taken everything from me, and now it was taking my future as well. I felt like I was letting Mark down. I would cry whenever I saw a woman who was pregnant or a woman carrying a child. Long story short, with the help of infertility treatments, I did end up conceiving a child. I sat in the bathroom looking at the positive pregnancy test in total shock. I woke up Mark to show him. He held me in bed for hours that morning. We could not believe our eyes. But the happiness stopped there.
Because we had gone through infertility, and because of my gynecological history (due to the abuse), my pregnancy was considered a high-risk pregnancy. This meant that no midwife would agree to oversee my care. The insurance that most of them have to carry does not cover them for high-risk pregnancies. This was a major tragedy for me because I am a natural birth freak. Having been obsessed with obstetrics since I was four years old, one of my career plans was to become an obstetrician. When other kids were playing their Gameboys or Nintendo’s, I spent my time in high school studying textbook after textbook on birth. And I already knew that opting for a hospital delivery was a disaster waiting to happen. I thought I knew what I was up against. But it turned out to be much worse than I thought. I ended up finding a group of midwifes who could oversee a delivery in the hospital under the supervision of an obstetrician. It was a fair compromise.
When I found out I was pregnant, because it was a “Clomid Pregnancy”, I was told to come in for a blood test. When they did the test, my HCG levels were off the charts, which indicated that I was pregnant with multiple babies. So they ordered an ultrasound. They only saw one gestational sac (one baby). Mark and I thought that would be a relief to the doctor. But it wasn’t. The doctor explained that it was worse. He explained that the high HCG levels suggested that my pregnancy was a molar pregnancy and he pointed out a spot on my uterine wall where he believed that cancer was growing. A molar pregnancy is a pregnancy that begins as a fetus, but turns into a cancerous growth that consumes the uterus and spreads into the rest of the mother’s body, potentially killing her. The doctor informed us that at any point over the next few months, they might be forced to terminate the pregnancy. I had a break down. There we were, happier than we’d ever been. We finally had a baby on the way and they were telling me that I could potentially have to go through a forced abortion.
Two weeks later, I started getting sick, really sick. My morning sickness was so bad that I couldn’t even keep down water. I couldn’t get out of bed. Moving would make me vomit. If I changed rooms, I had to bring my bowl with me. To get me to the doctor’s visits, which we had to go to twice a week, I’d have to bring the bowl and a bag with half of a lemon in it (so I could sniff it to subdue the nausea in the car). When they finally saw a heartbeat when I was eight weeks pregnant, we thought again that it would be a relief to the doctor, but it wasn’t. He became convinced that I still had a molar pregnancy. The kind that begins as a twin, but that turns cancerous and takes over the other developing twin.
Pregnancy is normally a time when mothers get to bond with the baby that is growing inside of them. It is a time to fall in love with the miracle that is happening. I spent my pregnancy feeling as if it was inevitable that I would loose my baby. After all, the doctors that were overseeing my case kept re-affirming that it was a high probability every time I went in for a visit. I would have rather lost the baby right then and there than have had to spend week after week waiting for the moment that the doctor would decide to take it from me. Those months were so painful that they are now a blur.
I was seven months pregnant when I went in for yet another ultra sound and they discovered that the spot that they were looking at on the wall of my uterus was NOT a cystic or cancerous molar formation. Instead, it was an improperly healed wound left over from the years of abuse. We were so relieved. They told us that they were going to “let me go to full term”. It was the first time that I let myself hope that I was going to have the baby after all. But not so fast, the doctor informed us that if the placenta were to grow over that patch of exposed arteries and veins, I could bleed out during delivery as the placenta detached itself from the uterine wall. He informed me that no matter what, I had to have a full team present at delivery. He wasn’t kidding. There were over fourteen people present at the birth of my son, including an obstetrician, an obstetric surgeon (completely suited up ready to do an emergency hysterectomy), nurses and a collection of medical students. The hospital (which was a research hospital) had never been able to oversee a case like mine, where they could observe a pregnancy and delivery with the presence of a severe inter-uterine wound. So they asked me if I would allow myself to be studied and seen by multiple doctors in the department. I agreed to it in the hopes that it may help another woman in the future with a similar condition. There were at least four to six doctors and medical students present for the rest of my doctor’s visits. Everyone in the department had seen my charts. I started to feel like a lab experiment instead of a woman.
I had my birth plan completely prepared. I knew that having the kind of birth that I wanted to have inside of an American hospital would be a fight. But that was worth it to me. I was not willing to loose my experience to western medical practice. I was one month to full term when they informed me that my baby had asymmetrical growth restriction. His head was developed to full term while his body had stopped growing because my placenta had apparently begun to die off. I fought the doctors for two weeks before they told me that if I didn’t let them induce me, I was risking a stillborn delivery. I could not handle the possibility of that. I was too afraid. So I consented to letting them induce my labor. Fifteen minutes later, I was admitted to the hospital and put on Cervidil to jump-start my labor.
I had contractions all through the night. But I only dilated to one centimeter. In the middle of the night, I got up to go to the bathroom and panicked as I listened to the woman in the room abutting mine, screaming guttural screams. At 7:00 am the next morning, they hooked me up to a Pitocin drip. Pitocin is the worst drug to ever be invented by mankind. Among numerous other things, it creates an unnatural clamp contraction and it prevents a crucial hormonal process from happening inside the mother’s body. If you are planning a pain-med free delivery on Pitocin, the likelihood of your success is very small. Woman who have had three and four natural deliveries and then a Pitocin induced one, say that it is the worst pain they have ever experienced in their life. Most opt for an epidural after the first hour. Seeing as how I was tortured for thirteen years, I have a very high pain tolerance. But Pitocin hit me like a mac truck. I walked through the hallways of the hospital with Mark, stopping to slow dance when I had a contraction. I tried to cope and breathe through them for nine hours. They got progressively stronger and harder to manage. The midwife stripped my membranes to progress the labor.
Fifteen minutes later, my water broke. Nothing could have prepared me for what would happen once my water broke. I was instantly in so much pain that I was crying and trying not to scream. I was already in the “transition” phase of labor and I was only 3 centimeters dilated. This means that the baby’s head was being pushed down against an unripe cervix by a Pitocin contraction (much stronger contraction than a natural contraction). It felt literally like a steak knife was being jammed up through my pelvis. And it didn’t let up. The birth turned into an emergency scene as I began to pass out because of the pain. It was so bad that I didn’t care if the baby died and I didn’t care if I died. I wanted to end it. I was literally weeping and screaming. I was crying to Mark to get me an epidural (I didn’t get an epidural consequently, my son was born too soon). Mark had never seen me like that. He was his usual solid self, but even he was scared. He didn’t know what to do. He could do nothing to console me. They turned the Pitocin drip off because the contractions began to come so close together that there was no break in between them. It was causing the baby's heartbeat to drop. I was writhing on top of the hospital bed. The pain had absorbed me into my own little personal torture chamber, where no one could touch me or talk to me. I was completely alone in a kind of hell. The nurse made the insanely huge mistake of telling me that the only reason I wanted drugs was because I knew that they were there and that I was only three centimeters dilated, so I had a long way to go. It is the opposite thing you want to tell a woman who is in the transition phase of labor. Not only was she cruel and discouraging, she was also wrong. It took me fifteen minutes to dilate from three centimeters to ten centimeters. I rolled onto my back and was hit by an intense pushing contraction. Now as some of you may know from personal experience, when you are hit by a pushing contraction, you cannot fight it. It takes over your body completely. So… I started pushing. My body was clamping down so hard that my diaphragm would not allow me to breathe. I cried while I pushed through the intense burning sensation of his head crowning. It hurt so bad that the room started spinning. It took me one contraction and four pushes to give birth to my son. It was an explosively fast delivery. The midwife barely had time to catch him as he came out. Fast deliveries are not the best deliveries. With a slow delivery, your tissues get the opportunity to stretch and open naturally. With a fast delivery, they don’t have time to stretch, so I tore laterally. There was a minute of silence in the room and then we finally heard him cry. I broke down. I was literally balling when they put him against my chest and I held him for the first time, so was Mark. I was in total shock. The trauma of the experience had consumed me.
From the minute my son was born, it was a non-stop fight with the doctors. They performed an unnecessary and painful test on my son because they switched my son’s medical charts with another baby’s charts (also with the last name Scott) who was in the hospital that day. They threatened to call the police on account of negligent parenting because we wouldn’t allow them to vaccinate or put bacitracin in his eyes.
My midwife came in to apologize for how everything had gone. She explained to me that what I had gone through was not a normal delivery and that I needed to know that I hadn’t experienced a natural delivery because a delivery on Pitocin, is much, much worse than a delivery that happens on it’s own. She told me that she hoped the delivery wouldn’t deter me from ever doing it again. The problem is, it has! I still feel traumatized by the entire experience. And the days and months that followed the birth were not much better. I was in heaven that I finally had a baby. But my experience with having a child was fear, fear and more fear.
For a long time, I thought that I was alone in my experience. But since I have been talking to other women, I’ve found that so many women feel powerless to their birth experience. Needless to say, I am a major advocate of the natural birth movement that is going on in the world right now. I am not sure that raising children is my cup of tea. Raising a child has proven to be much, much harder than I could have ever anticipated, especially seeing as how children can be so triggering to someone who has experienced child abuse. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that some part of me desperately wants to know first hand that the experience can be different. Part of me wants to experience what it is like to spontaneously conceive a child out of love. And part of me desperately wants to know what it feels like to have a beautiful, completely natural pregnancy and subsequent birth experience. If I had to do it all over again, I would do a lot of things differently. When people ask Mark what he would have done differently, he smiles and says “I wouldn’t have taken her to the first doctor’s visit”. And that about sums it up.
We have the tendency to feel as if we are failing unless the reality that we are creating for ourselves is perfect. We have the tendency to feel as if we are failing whenever our lives don’t play out according to our original fairy tale plan. And what’s worse, we have the tendency to think that everyone else is creating a perfect life for themselves whilst we are the only ones who can’t seem to get it right. But in reality, you have no way of knowing whether that is actually the case or not. And so, we should live our lives from wherever we are today, instead of comparing our lives to where we think our lives should be. We should stop trying to maintain the façade that our lives are perfect, and begin to tell the truth about where we really are. When I am able to look back objectively, I think that if my life had unfolded according to my plan, I wouldn’t like the person I turned into half as much.
Sooner or later we will all learn to stop looking for straight lines to follow through life, because life is never like that. Personal growth is not the by-product of straight lines… and neither is joy.