Wednesday, April 27, 2011
The Emotional Side of the Traumatic Birth
I attended my third ICAN (International Cesarean Awareness Network) meeting today. "The International Cesarean Awareness Network is a non-profit advocacy and support group whose mission is to improve maternal and child health by preventing unnecessary cesareans through education, provide support for cesarean recovery, and promote vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC)." It's a really lovely bunch of women who are there to be totally supportive and non-judgmental, to educate about unnecessary interventions leading to unnecessary cesareans, to provide information about VBAC and HBAC (home birth after cesarean), and to offer general support to those who have had c-sections, including recovery help. Today a few of us discussed how we feel there isn't a way to talk about a birth trauma, or how we felt about a less-than-ideal birth scenario, or how we felt if we weren't able to nurse successfully, or other feelings like that, because for most people, "Isn't having a healthy baby the most important thing?" is the only response that is allowed.
That, plus doing my day job, brought back memories of how I was feeling when my first son was about 4 or 5 months old. I didn't know how to process those emotions, because on the one hand, yes, my son was healthy and thriving and I was healing physically, and I should be fine with all that. On the other hand, was it "okay" to be feeling down, or discouraged, or (gasp!) like a failure because the birth and breastfeeding didn't go as I expected or planned? Was that "selfish" of me? Shouldn't it be about the baby, not about me?
My day job is transcription. I spend several hours a day at the computer typing various dictated reports, letters, etc., from doctors, psychiatrists, lawyers, and so on. A large percentage of my work is psychiatric reports, especially intake evaluations from pediatric psychiatrists. In their evaluations, they discuss the child's birth (as much as is known), and the language is usually something like, "John was born via a natural, spontaneous, vaginal birth. There were no complications." Sometimes, it was "John was born via a cesarean section due to failure to progress," or "...due to previous c-section," or whatnot. But the majority are of the first type.
When I first started doing this job, and I was just barely physically recovered from my son's birth, typing these phrases sometimes would make me cry. I felt like, if these women could do it, why couldn't I? Most of the clients were lower class, on Medi-Cal (state medical insurance), parents unemployed, some of them teenagers when their kids were born. And yet, they were able to accomplish what I could not. Why?
Obviously, education, income and employment status, and even age, have very little to do with whether you are "capable" of giving birth vaginally. Having a college degree does not automatically guarantee you the birth you desire. Indeed, it's entirely possible that most of these mothers had no particular "birth plan" in mind at all. Maybe in some ways it's better that way, because then there's nothing to be "disappointed" about. And yet.
Here I was, in my nice middle class life, with my nice relatively privileged family, with my $120,000 diploma on the wall, and I couldn't even manage to pop a baby out the way nature intended! What was wrong with me? I'm a healthy adult female in my prime. I did all my prenatal care. I did everything you're "supposed" to do, didn't do anything you're not "supposed" to do. So why couldn't my body do what it was "supposed" to, and all these other women, some of whom were doing drugs while pregnant, some of whom had their babies taken away at birth, some of whom probably never even thought about epidurals and episiotomies before the minute they walked into the hospital, got what I so desperately wanted? So I cried because I'm not the type of person who fails at things that I decide to do.
I realize I sound elitist and that I'm somehow implying that intelligence or class situation has anything at all to do with birth. But I'm really trying to make the opposite point. My point is that all the education in the world, all the book-learning, all the money has nothing to do with birth! Nothing at all! And I think that's what I didn't realize. It's not about how smart you are, or how little caffeine you ingested, or how many pounds you gained, or how many prenatal appointments you attended. It's about letting birth happen, instead of trying to control it.
I also think that knowing that almost any woman can give birth, that I wasn't personally anything special that I could do it, put things in perspective. Yes, most women can give birth vaginally. Even with interventions. Even without attending a single prenatal appointment. Even with health problems. Even malnourished. Even without reading a single book or magazine article about it. Even without knowing anyone else who has given birth. But many do not. Many allow their doctors to make poor decisions that do cause complications or less-than-ideal birth scenarios. And that meant I hadn't "failed" somehow, but that I had been failed. That I had been convinced that if I did what I was told and stopped eating sushi and drinking wine, that that somehow that guaranteed me the birth I wanted. I followed directions, did what the doctors and nurses said, and here I was, four months later, just barely healed from a very traumatic birth that I never in a million years wanted.
Learning what I've learned in the last 4-1/2 years has helped. Knowing that I can take control, that I don't always have to blindly follow directions, that my body can do what all those other women's bodies have done has helped me heal. Having the successful VBAC really helped! And writing this blog is helping. Getting it out, sharing, commiserating, and, most of all, helping other women who have been through it has helped the most. And time, as they say, is the best healer. I have distance and perspective now, that I didn't have in those early months.
I'm still angry, but it's a positive anger. I don't cry about it anymore. I get angry on behalf of other women who are mislead down the same path I was. I butt in (gently, if asked) and share. You can't go back and change what has already been. But you can look at your healthy son or daughter and your healing body and healing soul and know that going through this experience means that maybe you can help other women not go through it, and help other women heal who have gone through it. And that's the ultimate kind of power. That is the opposite of failure.