Monday, April 24, 2006

Just My Allison

I went to see Dr. M., my new ob/gyn, this morning. The reason that I mention this is because I still rehash Allison's birth on a daily basis - especially at night. I fantasize about what it would have been like to have vaginally delivered Allison all the time or different scenarios that might have allowed for that to happen. What if I hadn’t let myself be induced? What if I did try using an ironing board to elevate my feet above my head to use gravity to try to get Allison in a better position (what the doula would have had me do had she known why I wasn’t dilating)? When I see women having babies on TV - especially those who want/wanted to go au natural - I get depressed and cry. Discovery Health channel is not my friend when Babies: Special Delivery or Birth Day are on. 18 months is far too long to be caught up in something like that. I know this. I talked with the doctor about this today. She agreed.

When I try to explain my feelings and thought about this it just seems that they don’t understand. For them it’s enough to know that one or both of us would have died had the surgery not happened. It’s not that simple for me. I wish that it was. There are two parts of this issue. The first is that I put a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself and care far too much what others – specifically my mother – think about me. Truth be told, I wanted an epidural from the beginning. What changed my mind? My mother chose not to use pain relief for her five deliveries. Although it’s not something I remember us discussing during my pregnancy, whenever she had ever talked about childbirth to me growing up she always talked about the natural way being the “best” way. If she ever mentioned a caveat about situations where childbirth went wrong, I don’t remember. I wanted to be a good mother and I wanted to look good in her eyes. I was worried that I would cave in and get pain relief without having someone there who would disapprove. That’s where the doula came in and I unknowingly threw myself into the hippy natural childbirth arena. Not using pain medication was my mother's bias, not mine. The whole truth is that I need to learn to live for myself and not worry about what others think, even my mother. At 34, I was worried about what my mother would say to me when she got to the hospital the morning after Allison was born. I remember making a point that she wouldn’t have been born on her own. The funny thing is that it was all for naught. She said that if a c-section is required for a 5 and a half pound baby to be born there must have been something wrong. There was no judgment there except my own.

The second part of the equation was hiring the doula and getting involved in the current wave of natural childbirth Nazis. K is very nice and I enjoyed working with her. She made me excited about giving birth to Allison. The labor preparation that she provided, though, was focused almost strictly on the ideal – how I wanted my vaginal delivery without the use of pain medication to go. Other than talking about ways to cope with back labor, there wasn’t much discussion at all about handling or preparing for situation outside of this “ideal.” At one point she asked Danny and me to draw pictures of how we envisioned Allison’s birth. My stick figure drawing was a picture of me smiling as I reach down to touch Allison’s head as she’s being born. K thought this was a wonderful picture. We simply didn’t discuss how I would feel or what I would do if this vision weren’t possible for whatever reason. When all you plan for is the “ideal” in any situation you are setting yourself up for heartache. Now, when I look at or think about that drawing I am reminded again of what I missed out on.

Another strong focus of our meetings was about me being in control of my labor and delivery – not the doctors and nurses at the hospital. We talked about the standard operating procedures at most hospitals and how “unnecessary” many of them are. They rob women of their dignity and control to convenience hospital staff. What difference does it make if I am allowed to eat and drink during labor or wear my own gown? Not that there aren’t egomaniac doctors in this world, but if I or any laboring woman makes a few changes to the standard hospital procedures, what have we really gained? We’re not really in control. Women who squat down and birth their children in the fields have no more control over it than Westerners do. No matter who you are, where you live or what you’re doing at the time, childbirth stops you in your tracks. It’s a 3 ton boulder rolling down a mountainside.

That being said, it wasn’t working with K as much as the reading she encouraged me to do that has helped mess me up. I read several of her books on childbirth and midwifery. There were two basic premises behind these books: 1) your body knows exactly what it’s doing and as long as you allow it to do its work through relaxation and maintaining a positive attitude (thinking positive thoughts, envisioning the opening of the cervix and the baby moving down the birth canal, etc.) you will be fine and 2) there were truly very few labor and delivery “complications” that require medical intervention. Most things considered a “complication” by the “medical establishment” can be overcome by time, patience, allowing the body to do its work. Those books glossed over the high rates of childbirth related fatalities and injuries prior to the “patientization” of laboring mothers. They often held up women in Africa as the gold standard. Many of these books spoke about the nearly pain-free deliveries experienced by those African women. Why did they get lucky and have pain-free deliveries? It was all in their attitude. Although it was not expressly written in any of these books or believed by any of these authors, I took from this the understanding that if I didn’t experience a drug-free vaginal delivery that it would be my fault. This even includes those things that could be “blamed” on the doctor. After all, I chose a hospital delivery attended by a member of the “medical establishment” instead of a home birth attended by a midwife.

So, after the surgery, I pretty much felt like a failure as a woman. Allison and I were kept healthy by it, but still I failed/missed out on this rite of passage. On top of flunking, I wasn’t as strong as my mother because I begged for an epidural and didn’t get to touch Allison’s goopy, yet unborn head. That’s failure on top of guilt on top of disappointment. [Have I mentioned how this entire thing also is just not fair?] No wonder I’ve been so depressed over the past 18 months.

During my appointment I gave Dr. M. the explanation Dr. G gave me after he delivered Allison – my uterus was clamped down on her and would not let go of her. He told me at the time that Allison would never have been born without the surgery and I had done the very best that I could. I believed him, but… [insert fantasy of how this could have been overcome through not allowing the induction to occur, etc.]. Dr. M listened to what I said and then told me something very valuable - something not mentioned in the books those midwives wrote: there are doctors in Africa right now whose only job is to rebuild and repair the bladders and rectums of women who labored for days, for the same reasons I needed a c-section, and the baby never came out. Knowing that what happened during my delivery happens to many women has made me feel much better. Women’s bodies may very well be equipped to deliver children, but they don’t always work the way they should. Nature is far from perfect and natural is not always the “best” for mother or baby. I didn’t fail any test. There wasn’t any amount of positions I could have used or exercises I could have done to change the ultimate outcome. I wonder how long I would have been allowed to labor unsuccessfully outside of a hospital? What a luxury it is to be able to obsess (Trista, you’ve just got your wish) about woulda, coulda, shoulda, blah, blah, blah. Now I just need to figure out how to let go of all this. I thought that I beat this dead horse to the curb for the last time after Allison’s first birthday, but I haven’t. No matter what happened to get her here, I should rejoice in it because she's alive, happy and healthy. When I told Dr. M that at least once a day when I look at Allison I revisit how she was born, she was taken aback. She asked me if I think about the adoption a lot when I look at Emma. I said, no. To me, she's just my Emma. I want that for me and Allison, too.


Melissa O. Markham said...


I had no idea that you were feeling this way. I went through the same sort of thing with Jack. I didn't hire a doula, but I was ready to go the whole way. Then I ended up on bedrest, couldn't take lamaze classes and had to be hospitalized due to high blood pressure. I took my bag of things to keep me occupied and my lemon drops to suck on. They had to induce for my sake and for Jack's, and I never had a labor pain. After laying in misery hooked up to iv drip that made me literally feel like molten lava was running through my veinsthey were giving me medicine to induce and medicine to keep my bp down), they said, we can try to induce again tomorrow or we can do a c-section. I had had enough misery and went for the c-section. Then, I was unable to nurse. I gave it my best. The brest feeding Nazis were in full force and assured me there was no reason I couldn't breast feed. I even had one girl come over and try to help me (talk about throwing modesty to the wind). But after a week of pumping and never getting more than 5 cc of milk, I gave it up. Later on, I learned that the medications may have interfered. When I had Katrina, my milk never came in. It appears that having nice sized mammary glands doesn't mean they will function as food sources.

So my first pregnancy was far far from what I wanted. But I never had the upset that you have had. I did get angry when one well meaning friend said after Jack was she still hasn't really experienced childbirth. HMPH! The agony and discomfort I went through...I say that I did! So there!

Seriously, you do need to let this go. Thank God that both of you are okay. And remember, most any woman has the ability to have a baby, not every woman has the ability to be a mother and in the long run, that is the true test of motherhood. I think you are doing a grand job!

Kary said...

Jennifer--I've been thinking more about this. One nice thing about a c-section is that our husbands got to spend the first couple hours with the babies all to themselves. I think that is pretty special in and of itself!

Trista said...

I don't have much personal experience to relate with this, but I will say that there is NOTHING that goes exactly according to our plans. God has a way of giving us experiences that we didn't ask for, and sometimes don't even want. It sucks, and it's not fair. I hope that something positive comes of all this, and you can forgive yourself for what is not your fault. I love you very much.

Jennifer said...

Thank you everyone for your kind comments. Blogging really works like therapy for me. Getting that all out feels much better. Now I just need to work on those parts of me that made this possible. I am so thankful that you are all my friends.

Jenny said...

I've been thinking long and hard on how to comment on your blog. Something that I could say that would make you feel better. Afterall, I do have a "less than ideal" birth story myself. However, I know you simply have to work through this in your own time (and it sounds like your well on your way.) Nothing I say, will "cure" you, but I can (and do) sympathize.

I will say, though, that I think being a mom is defined more by the moments that you have with your children....Those moments that your children remember (and I don't know anyone who remembers being born.)

Allison won't remember being born, but she will remember many, many wonderful moments with her wonderful mom!!

Jennifer said...


I can't wait until we meet! Thank you so much for giving so much of yourself to someone you've never met.