~Why my less than perfect birth story matters.
I am a recovering helicopter Mom.
Whomp. Whomp. Whomp.
You recognize us by the closeness in which we stand to our children at the park, by the flood of tears we shed on their first day of school, by the agility we show in dialing the pediatrician?s office at the first sign of illness, and you might even find us scrubbing down the dorm room prior to our children spending their first night there. I am willing to admit this because I know that I will do it sometimes still, probably many, many more times. The road to recovery is never easy after all.
Other mothers think I don’t see it, the cringing, the scrutiny, the judgment about the decisions I make, but I do. I beat myself up for my choices more than they ever will. Once my infraction is over, they get to forget; I remember. I remember the road that brought me to this moment, while they just think I hover.
My journey to motherhood didn’t include a warm pool, at home, with a midwife. It was paved with lots of hopes and high expectations none the less. I am still forgiving myself for not fulfilling those intentions seven years later. The natural birth, so many dream of, wasn’t natural at all for me. My story has most pregnant and non-pregnant women alike, walking away with consternation or overconfidence. One or the other, but rarely is there a look of understanding, of warmth, of sisterhood. I have begun to think twice before even telling it.
I was at work on a Monday when my contractions started. It was eleven o’clock in the morning, and I wasn’t due for six and a half weeks. I didn’t even know what those cramps in my lower back were. By nine that night they were an alarm not to be ignored, flushing my face and taking my breath away. By the time I got home, after a half hour drive, I was in tears. I knew something was wrong.
At one in the morning my husband and I awoke the on-call doctor at the hospital. I still remember him coming into triage to check on me with the wrinkle line of his pillow indented on his sleepy face. I was jealous that he could sleep so soundly while I was wide awake and terrified.
The only experience I had with a premature baby was my nephew who was born in the twenty seventh week at two pounds thirteen ounces. I was nineteen then; impressionable. The first time I saw him was through a little hole in a wall from fifteen feet away. He was in an incubator and his legs were the size of my fingers. I certainly wasn’t allowed to hold or even touch him.
That was the image I held the entire week of my labor. In my mind, that’s what a preemie was. It didn’t matter that the reality was my son was seven weeks farther along and six pounds two ounces already. At the time, I couldn’t comprehend what a difference that would make.
That first night I got steroid shots to help my son’s lungs develop, an IV bag in case I was dehydrated, and some sort of pills to swallow in an effort to stop the labor. My husband slept on the hard white tile floor next to me, as I gripped the rail of the bed staring at the fluorescent lights overhead.
They later moved me into a room which I stayed in for two days. My water never broke, I never dilated a centimeter, but I continued to have contractions. They gave me another steroid shot and sent me home.
The contractions never ceased. I didn’t sleep for the rest of the week, at least for more than five or ten minutes at a time. I was on strict bed rest, allowed only to get up to use the restroom or make some food, both of which just made the contractions worse. I quickly learned to avoid such activities.
By Friday afternoon I was worried because the OBGYN’s office would be closing for the weekend, and the contractions were still wracking my body. I called the nurse and she had me time them. I called her back and said I had nine in fifteen minutes.
We went back to the hospital.
As I walked down the hallway to the doctor’s office keeling over every few feet, the nurse chirped “She certainly looks like someone who is going to have a baby!”
No, no, no. I did not want to have this baby. Not yet.
My water broke at six am on Saturday morning as I lay under observation wide awake. I was physically and mentally exhausted, confused, and frightened. I had never felt so alone in my life. I was surrounded by medical personnel coming in whenever they wanted but neglecting to give me any useful information, and a husband who was as shell- shocked and ill-prepared for what was happening as I was.
After a day full of all the drugs they could give me, some to let me sleep, an epidural to give me some relief; my son was born vaginally by vacuum. After two hours of pushing, and six days of contractions, I had not an ounce of energy to give and I barely moved him.
This was not the birth I had fantasized about all those nights in my birthing class. This was not the delivery I was expecting when I read Spiritual Midwifery. This was not the birth I had hoped for as I stood before the other pregnant Moms in my birthing class three days later, not pregnant anymore, explaining what had happened. No, no, no.
Our darling teacher then asked me if I had any words of wisdom for the eager faces before me, and all I could muster was, “Be flexible.”
Because I never factored in the need for flexibility; that my labor would go any other way than I had imagined it. I paid for that ideal, and pay for it still, in a whirlwind of emotions full of guilt, and blame, and disappointment.
The information was out there about what might possibly go wrong, but I didn’t remember hearing or reading about it at all. I was overconfident and had envisioned the whole experience with unbelievable idealism.
I spent the next twenty-one days living in the hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit with my son and a slew of around-the-clock nurses. I felt mediocre, completely unprepared, and incapable. They fed him through tubes and bottles. It took three months, after he was born, for him to begin to nurse at my breast.
I didn’t even know I should be pumping, if I wanted to breastfeed, until I inadvertently told one of the nurses, two days after the delivery, that my breasts felt strange and tingly. She informed me that my milk had come in and that I needed to get with the lactation consultant to get all of the information. Before my son’s birth, I didn’t ever think that I would use a pump. After his birth, I was hooked up to it nine times a day for ninety days. After that, the adept nurses returned every two hours with precision, hunting for any available colostrum; liquid gold for a preemie.
I would walk around the hospital with the overwhelming sense that I had let my son down on some deep level that I couldn’t put into words. I resented all of the pregnant women I saw headed to their doctor’s appointments and birthing classes. They still had their babies in their bellies safe; mine was upstairs attached to oxygen. The hours spent skin to skin in kangaroo care didn’t seem to lift the haze I felt. I was haunted by the chimes too. That wicked song would sing each time another mother was leaving the maternity ward with her healthy child snuggled in her arms. I began to despise that melody, as I was constantly saddened that it didn’t chime for me.
We never did get the chimes of course, because we left from a different door.
It was a rough start, my son’s life, such discomfort for him, such anguish for me. The twenty one days in the NICU were followed by RSV vaccines every month through the winter and recurring blood in his stool for the first year.
My worry and aching need to protect him began the moment I had that first contraction; six days before he took his first breath of air.
That apprehension has followed him ever since, yet now he shares it with his sister too. She was born four weeks early, not spending any time in the NICU, but hooked up to oxygen that I carried over my shoulder everywhere we went for the first few months of her life.
Can you blame me?
I can’t even begin to convey my appreciation to doctors and nurses who guided my son into this world and tended to him with such care those first few weeks of his life. I am ever so grateful, but I was scared. I continue to be scared. I am afraid that somehow I will be unable to protect and provide for them in their moment of need. I don’t want to let them down yet again.
So instead of rolling your eyes when I decide to get one vaccine and not another, or I take my child out of school one day at the height of the H1N1 epidemic instead of sending him, or I don’t feel safe with them playing outside by themselves; hug me. Share with me a quiet moment of recognition on how motherhood can be so gut wrenchingly painful some moments. Tell me how you understand, and that your heart feels like it is being ripped from your chest cavity some days too.
Whomp. Whomp. Whomp.
Forgive me for my hovering moments; I just need some mother nurture. Smile, don?t judge, and let us come together in an instant of celebration instead. I know I am not alone; there is room in this helicopter for you to share your story too. Let us confer that as women and as mothers, we share a deep sacred history with millions of other powerful and wise souls. Women, who like us, were also often afraid on their journey of creating and nurturing precious, precarious life.
Jennifer Parsons is a homeschooling, “Mama Bear” who blogs at www.theevolvinghomemaker.com about urban homesteading, crafting, sewing, cooking, her mothering ups and downs, mindfulness, and all other areas that are included in an evolving life. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org