I had a difficult pregnancy. We conceived easily, the month after we had decided we would “never be ready” for kids, so why not now? But after the first few weeks of excitement wore off, after we had told our parents and started to plan, I got sick. Not just physically sick, though I was nauseated every day. A thick, black darkness crept into my mind and set up camp. I was miserable. I was hopeless. My life was not worth living. I wanted to die.
For months, I wanted to die. Somehow I dragged myself out of bed each morning and muddled through molasses at work, and then collapsed on the couch at home, nothing left. I hated myself because of and for my depression. The only thing keeping me alive was some deep-seated sense of fairness, or rather, unfairness. I was hosting another living being that was a part of me, but also separate from me, and it deserved to live. Because of this I amended my wishes. I wished to be in a coma until the baby was born, and then I wanted to die. I knew even that was unfair to the baby, but I couldn’t deny that my life felt utterly desolate. Maybe the baby would be better off without me. Maybe everyone would be better off without me. It didn’t really matter if they would be or not, because I would be better off… dead.
I had been depressed before, though never with such a vehement wish for my unbearable life to end, so I knew the drill. I got help. Meds. Therapy. And it did help—slowly. In my second trimester my nausea went away. Soon I could feel the baby move. Eventually, I could even feel excited again. I wanted to meet this baby. I didn’t want to be dead.
In the middle of all this, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. I did my best (most of the time) to control it with diet (exercise, not so much), and to diligently prick my finger four times a day to monitor my blood sugar. It wasn’t much fun, but it could be worse. I knew, it could be much, much worse.
Because of the gestational diabetes, the doctor decided the baby had better come early, before it got too big and was at risk for complications. So I was scheduled to be induced at the end of week 38. I went into the hospital on a Tuesday night, and didn’t come home until Sunday.
That Tuesday night, giddy and nervous, my husband, Matt, my mom, and I arrived at the hospital and got comfy in the room. The next morning, contractions started (with help from Pitocin), and my water broke on its own. And by broke, I mean gushed. How much fluid was in there?! It just kept coming and coming. I was elated. The baby was coming! Some nagging feeling in the Eeyore part of my brain had told me all along that I would probably have a C-section. But now I was hopeful. My water had broken; maybe I would have a “normal” labor after all! Well, labor I did… all day and into the night. With no food since the night before, just in case of surgery, I breathed and groaned and vomited through contractions, tightly gripping proffered hands, until it was time to push. And push I did, with everything I had, for three long hours. Every push I thought, “This is it! They’ll see the head! Here comes the baby!” But nothing. No movement. The baby wasn’t moving down.
I always planned on having an epidural. My father is an anesthesiologist and I am not a fan of easily avoided pain. Early on the nurse anesthetist came and, after two tries, put in my epidural. And it worked. Sort of. One side of my lower half was completely numb. So numb, I couldn’t move my leg at all. The other side, not so much. The contractions were still very much there. Gradually, the numbness wore off, until nothing remained of the epidural—at least as far as I could tell. But no one seemed to notice until I had already been pushing for hours. Finally, the on-call nurse anesthetist (a different one from the first) gave me some more meds to try and mitigate the pain. But I was exhausted. And the baby wasn’t coming. “Do you want to keep pushing? Or do you want to do a C-section?” the doctor asked me. He had, at long last, figured out the baby was sunny-side up, and resisting any attempts to turn it. I couldn’t do any more. “C-Section,” I whispered. The baby wasn’t coming. I knew it. I needed help, and so did the baby.
They goosed my epidural and wheeled me down to the OR. Matt got suited up to accompany me, and my mom waited with murderous thoughts, unable to come along. My memory of the procedure is spotty. I felt like I was in and out of consciousness, or at least lucidity. They numbed my abdomen in addition to the failed epidural and told me to tell them if I felt any sharp pain. “Sharp pain! Sharp pain!” I cried. It felt like someone was cutting me with knives (they were). “Did they hear me?” I asked Matt, crouched by my head. “Yes,” he assured me. Finally, the pain was dulled into mostly pressure as they peeled back the layers of my abdomen and opened my uterus. I will always be thankful for Dave, the anesthetist, who tried to salvage the botched epidural of his predecessor and stood by my head and talked me through the C-section calmly and soothingly.
“It’s a boy!” I heard someone cry. “It’s a boy, Jess!” Matt said in my ear. He didn’t tell me that he was blue and that they were doing chest compressions. I have no idea how much time passed until he was swaddled and brought over for me to see. He was so bundled I could only see his forehead, and I reached out a finger to touch his newborn skin, before we were both whisked away: my son to the nursery, where my mom was waiting, and me to the recovery room.
Relieved that it was over, but still in a great deal of pain I pleaded for more meds. I am usually more stoic, but I had been as stoic as I could for hours and hours now. At long last I had given birth and I was done with the pain. I was given more meds and I slept. An hour and a half later? I don’t really know, I was ready to return to the L&D floor, ready to meet my son.
I am so sad that I did not get to be there for the first hour of my son’s life. That I did not get to hold him or have him placed on my chest. But I am grateful that he spent that time in the arms of his loving father and grandma. I first saw him through the glass as they wheeled me past the nursery. My mom was holding him. She pointed at his open mouth and rooting head and mouthed, “You! He wants you!” I could not hide my smile. In the hospital room, at long last I was handed my son. I ripped open my hospital gown to expose my breast and bring him to it. He was so small and precious, and he was alive, and I, I was alive, crying tears of joy that I got to meet him.
I lost a lot of blood in the surgery, and my hemoglobin count was dangerously low for days afterward. They kept me in the hospital three more days, and my mom was with me every minute. Matt had to leave the day after our son Luke was born for a class hours away in southern Minnesota. I don’t know what I would have done without my mom. I remember the first diaper of Luke’s that I changed, at night, with more black-green goo oozing out of his cute little bum as I did it. I remember the nurse sticking her finger in his mouth, frowning, and then deciding that no, he wasn’t tongue tied, just a little on the tight side. I remember sleeping and nursing and nursing and sleeping. When we drove home, I rode in the back next to the car seat. It had turned into fall while I had been in the hospital. Luke was born October 1st.
I was weak, and, unbeknownst to me, I was sick for weeks after my discharge. One week after Luke’s birth we were in an ENT’s office in Fargo for his frenulectomy. Turned out he was tongue tied, and lip tied, and despite his initial efforts in the hospital, nursing became increasingly challenging, frustrating, and painful, for both of us. After his procedure, I put him to my breast and I cried when he latched so effortlessly and sucked without pain. I was worn down by so much pain. I almost didn’t notice when I started feeling acutely ill one night. I was still bleeding, which was normal, but it was getting heavier instead of lighter, and it had started to smell. Two weeks after giving birth I was back in the hospital, this time in the emergency room. I had developed an infection, and had to have a D&C to take care of clots and placenta that was still in my uterus. I was so tired of being invaded by surgical instruments. It seemed like an unending procession of fingers, devices, and ultrasound wands. The only thing that hadn’t gone through my vagina was a baby!
Antibiotics cleared up the infection, but the bleeding continued as I neared the six-week mark. After my second visit to the emergency room I sought another doctor who had a different suggestion for stopping the bleeding. Thankfully, it worked and I was able to avoid another invasive procedure. Two months after the birth and I was finally on the mend. Slowly, very slowly, I started to feel like myself again. Myself without any sleep, of course. I wasn’t sick anymore, but what I was, was mad.
I was mad at husband, who didn’t seem to realize what an ordeal this had been. Who seemed to think moving our family to a small town far, from any sizable city or anyone we knew, with a newborn baby and a sick wife was an acceptable idea. Who was gone for two out of my three total emergency room visits because he persisted in taking a far-off class every few weekends. Who seemed to think that the stress of looking for a new job and taking a class and having your wife mad at you was somehow comparable or greater than recovering from giving birth while caring for a newborn. He still thinks that. I’m still mad.
I’m healthy now, and so is my baby boy. I still fear the specter of depression that lurks at the edges of my life, and I am still mentally recovering from the past 18 months. I no longer wish that I were dead, and though I’m not always real thrilled about being alive, I’m committed to sticking things out for my son. As much as I love him, things are still tough. I was right, I would “never be ready” for this.