Growing up I had always known I wanted to have children. I started babysitting in high school and became a nanny for a few families when I moved to college. I loved working with kids, especially as babies. I considered myself a “baby expert”, knowing how to swaddle as well as any baby nurse or mother by the time I was eighteen, and I could rock any colicky baby to sleep.
I had a surprise pregnancy in my early twenties, and I believed that although having a baby is hard, that I would really blossom in my role as a mom. I read all the books, prepared for a “natural” intervention free birth, took classes about breastfeeding, and felt completely prepared and excited to have my baby. Once I went into labor with “N” though, it was clear I was not going to have the pink aura, back to nature birth I had hoped for.
N was breech, so it was an emergency C-section, and instead of having my midwife I got the on-call OB whom I had never met. I did not tolerate pain medication well, so during the entire surgery I was vomiting, and I didn't really even get to hold my son until the next day. My husband tried to be supportive, however he was so nervous and had a constant “deer in the headlights” look that really wasn't much support at all. I felt almost violated by the way my OB treated me, speaking condescendingly about any of my concerns, almost rolling his eyes at me when I told him the Pitocin was hurting my arm when they put in my IV.
The day after surgery my nurse tracked him down to remove the drain he had put inside my incision; it pulled my stitches every time I moved and made taking a shower, getting dressed, or even holding N very uncomfortable. I begged him to take it out and he was extremely annoyed at me for asking to have it removed, so he roughly yanked the tube out so hard I almost came off the bed. I remember crying out in pain, watched him throw the bloody tube and bulb away, and without saying a word he left my room. That was the last time I saw him until eight weeks postpartum, he was too busy to discharge me from the hospital, so a nurse did.
When I got home I felt incredibly overwhelmed by having a new baby. I had no family or friends nearby to help me with laundry, or to tell me “this is normal”. My husband was unable to take any time off work, so my mom came and stayed a few days, but after that I was completely alone. During pregnancy I had dreamed so many times of being home with my baby. I had thought it would be this magical time where I would nurse him, and go to moms groups, and make scrapbooks. But it was hell.
A few days after being home I started vomiting and spiking a fever, so I called the OB. He said it was probably a UTI and gave me a Rx over the phone. The fever would go down for a few days and I would feel okay, but then it would return along with the vomiting. I continued to nurse my baby, but was unable to do much else.
Hours I would spend stuck in the bathroom vomiting in complete agony, both from the pain of my stitches being pulled every time I wretched, and from having to listen to my baby screaming for me. I couldn't move and I felt like a complete failure; my baby didn't deserve this. I wanted to die. I would go between sobbing for hours in my bed to trying to pretend everything was fine when my husband came home. He was working long hours and I didn't want to overwhelm him. I wanted to be the perfect mother, the perfect wife. I had prepared so well, why did I feel so inadequate?
Finally at eight weeks postpartum I waited in the grungy, overcrowded OB's office for five hours begging him to take just a look; pleading with him that something was not right. I was able to convince him to give me an ultrasound.
“There's something in there,” he said nonchalantly. “Sometimes cancer can appear after having a baby, we'll do a DNC tomorrow morning.” He said this in the same tone as if ordering his morning Starbucks. I was shocked. Terrified. CANCER? I'm only 22!
I have an eight week old baby! But I'm breastfeeding! I sobbed to the OB. “You will have to pump and dump for 24 hours,” he responded coldly. I called my mom sobbing and told her to come help with N since my husband was working, and I didn't have enough time to pump so we had to buy some formula.
After the procedure I woke to my baby screaming. He hated formula, his body couldn't tolerate it. He vomited, broke out in a rash, and became so constipated that he didn't have a bowel movement for almost a week. I went home the same day, went to the bathroom, and started bleeding heavily. It was as if someone turned on a faucet. I couldn't move. My mom called the OB, she threatened to take me to the ER. He called in a Rx for meds that would stop the bleeding. It finally stopped. I waited two weeks for the biopsy results. Two weeks of not knowing. All I wanted to do was sleep and cry, I would sleep the day away. I was filled with anxiety and guilt over not being a good mother, being so distant from my partner.
Finally after calling every day, several times a day, I got an answer. Placenta. It was retained placenta. My OB offered no explanation, no apology for the two months of suffering. The weeks of not knowing and torment. Just that it was placenta.
I finally started to feel better. My body started to physically heal but inside I still felt broken. I was overwhelmed with feelings of isolation and guilt. I kept hoping “today I will feel better”, but it took many months, and even after that I would slip back into the sadness. I was so ashamed to feel this way, whenever I saw friends I would pretend to be happy, that everything was so perfect, too embarrassed to admit the way I really felt.
I still feel guilty that every my son's birthday is not a completely happy day. I am so grateful to have a happy, healthy, active little boy, but the other side of me is grieving for the peaceful birth I didn't have. For those weeks and months that I wasn't fully present in his life.
Alex is a Birth Assistant/Lactation Consultant living in Williston, Florida
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