Birth Trauma Survivor and Maternal Health Advocate

"We have a secret in our culture, and it's not that birth is painful. It's that women are strong." -Laura Stavoe Harm

It was a long night.

Bobby and I passed the time reading, watching tv and pacing the halls of the hospital. I leaned on Bobby as we dragged my oxygen tank and iv fluids around the maternity wing countless times. I could hear the faint cries of newborns throughout the night. I was curious to know what was on the other side. I would peek through open door cracks to other patient’s rooms to see the aftermath of birth. The scene was usually the same. An exhausted mother with damp looking skin and hair, finally getting some sleep. A new father texting away or whispering quietly into a phone. Weight, length, time of birth. A new life in the room.

I passed a morbid looking room with the lights dimmed and three bodies on beds with huge, dark blue canopies covering them. I would not have known that people were under there, but I saw their legs sticking out. Their bodies were so still.

“Are they dead?” I wondered. Why do they have three dead bodies just hanging out in a room like this?  I went to the nurse’s desk and asked them what happened to those women. They had C-sections (Birth by Cesarean). They were resting after surgery. A c-section is a major surgery, but they are so common in our society that many people forget how serious they are.

Until then, I had never thought the possibility that I might have to have a c-section and I had never thought about death during childbirth. I knew that every woman has to brace herself for the possibility of getting a c-section, provided that a vaginal delivery was not possible. I felt sad for those women. I wanted to know their stories. Were their c-sections scheduled? Did they plan for a vaginal birth but something went wrong? What went wrong? While other women were enjoying holding, feeding, kissing and smelling their newborns, these women lay here missing the first moments of their newborns lives. Everyone’s recovery is different but in general when most women who have had a c-section wake up, they will be told that they will have trouble walking, They won’t be able to lift anything over ten pounds. Some will not be able to walk a flight of stairs, run or exercise for six months. They will also be advised to wait at least eighteen months before trying to conceive again. I was so sad for those women. I had friends who had c-sections and now I was sad for them too. They never mentioned any of this. Maybe they were the lucky ones, and had an easier recovery. Or maybe, they kept all of their emotions inside. The joy of having a healthy baby and the demands of being a new mother takes precedence over any personal pain you experience.

 My contractions had gotten stronger during the night, but I still did not want to take any pain medication. I was saving myself for the epidural at five centimeters of dilation. Not too early, not too late. I tried to distract myself by reading, but the sound of Miss J’s heartbeat pounded through the air like deep bass from a boom box. I would stare at the fetal heart monitor to see how fast it was beating. Our hearts were in sync. Always beating as one.

I was uncomfortable and restless. I tried stretching, inhaling and exhaling deeply and crunching the ice chips between my teeth. Nothing helped.We had taken a childbirth education class two months prior, but my mind was now blank. The only thing that registered was the amount of discomfort I felt. All I could focus on was the pain. Bobby took out the massage oils and tried to massage my legs and back, but that was annoying. I bent over on all fours on the bed, rolled my body upwards and tried to stretch my back, which made me want to vomit. I rolled from side to side, I elevated my legs, I used a cold compress. Nothing eased my pain. We forgot the damn birth ball I had spent two months squatting on at home.

A doctor and a nurse came in to check on me. Almost thirteen hours had gone by and I was still only one centimeter dilated. The nurse asked me if I wanted something for the pain.  I wasn’t ready to give in yet.

At the suggestion of my nurse, I took a warm shower.  I sat on a stool in the shower and let the water run all over my face and body. I had my hair blown out two days before so I made sure to protect my hair with a shower cap and a towel. I love taking very hot, steamy showers. I was told that I couldn’t make the water too warm. It wasn’t safe for the baby. The shower was soothing and alleviated some of the pain pulsing through my body from the contractions. Finally, a little relief. I sat there, naked and humbled by this overwhelming experience.

I could feel a lump in my throat and a surge of tears welling up behind my eye sockets. I wanted to break down and cry, but I didn’t. I was pissed that  I was in so much agony. My water had broken hours ago and my cervix missed the memo that it was time to dilate! One centimeter? And I have to get to ten? How much more of this could I endure? Every part of my body hurt. The pain trickled through my body from the roots of my hair down to my toenails. The contractions surged though my body like tsunami waves. As soon as one ended, I would immediately brace for another.

I took several deep breaths and relaxed my body. “I can do this,” I thought, but this was going to be the longest day of my life.

 


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