** Trigger warning – if you’re pregnant and wishing to avoid birth stories that you may find distressing, you may wish to save this to read for later. **
I emotionally disconnected from what was happening. There were people rushing around me like lemmings in their scrubs in that room, the bright lights were confronting and everyone seemed to be moving with purpose to prepare me for a fate I never wanted to experience.
I felt like a failure.
I was supported to sit up, and still, so the anaesthetic spinal block could be done. Again, came another huge surge. There was a lot of pressure in my pelvis, but I knew I had to sit as still as possible. I braced my whole body against the surge and concentrated on being as still as concrete.
Suddenly, I couldn’t feel my lower half, my torso continued to shake uncontrollably. My arms were pinned down as though I was jesus on a cross. I recall apologising for shaking. All the muscles in my body felt tired and throbbed from pain from the uncontrollable shaking. I had a lump in my throat. If I could have, I may have cried. But I disconnected from my body and my emotions. It was as though I was floating in the corner watching what was happening.
The surgeon, a man, probably introduced himself, and said he was going to examine me. It didn’t matter, by this stage, I was a dead weight. A lump of human flesh that was near totally incapacitated. My legs were foisted into stirrups, which I could sense the feeling of and see, but couldn’t move. The pain in my back had ceased and I could no longer feel the surges. This was worse than feeling them. The sensation of numbness in my entire lower half was disassociating and surreal.
The surgeon said that he would need to do a trial with forceps as my baby was too far down. He announced in a manner that he might have intended to be complimentary, but just came across as jovial and patronising, “you could have done this yourself!”
Unbelievably, I said to Tom, I don’t want forceps, I want the caesearen. Tom gently explained, no you really don’t, and you probably can’t, it’s too late, this is definitely a better option, he reasoned with me. I was plain angry at this point, but didn’t have the energy to express it. I was not getting what I asked for. I agreed reluctantly. The surgeon went ahead. In my mind, I knew this meant he would also do an episiotomy, but specific consent was not gained for that procedure. It unfortunately seems to be an assumption that if a woman gives consent for a trial with forceps, that she implies consent to be cut too.
The surgeon asked me to help him with the delivery by pushing, even though I couldn’t feel a thing. I tried my best to simulate a couple of pushes with no feeling whatsoever.
A few minutes later, my baby boy was born. Tom excitedly told me he was a boy through misty eyes. My beautiful crying boy was passed to me immediately for skin to skin contact. The cord was left in-tact for the delayed cord clamping, as I requested.
I apologised to my gorgeous boy for him having to be born this way. What I meant was, I NEVER wanted to welcome you in a theatre room, with you being pulled out by metal prongs on your head, surrounded by doctors, flat on my back, unable to move, feeling disconnected and defeated, powerless, shocked and sad, with your dad feeling helpless and vulnerable too.
I felt flat. I could see the joy in Tom’s eyes and face. I didn’t feel it. I just felt like shit and like a failure as a mum, already.
Several hours after the spinal block had worn off, and it was just my baby and I cuddling together, alone, we shared that defining intimate moment of impenetrable, primal bonding.
We were skin to skin, he was lying across my left chest, no doubt soothed by the sound of my heart beat. I could not stop staring at this perfect little being, who I had co-created. The return gaze from him was equally as intense, curious and loving. Hot tears pricked my eyes and my throat became tight. The overwhelming love and protection seared my soul and imprinted my heart. It was as though everything was communicated between our souls in an unspoken language at that moment. Utter recognition of the dance of life our souls had contracted to make in this lifetime together.
I will never forget that moment, it’s almost like I can transport myself back to it when I recall it. My senses and my emotions remember it vividly. Time stopped. For those moments it was just my baby and I in a state of deep devotion and connection.
This was unexpectedly hard. Even though the hospital was horrible, my mood actually felt so flat that even the depressiveness of being in a public hospital ward, in a shared space, with drilling happening in the wall behind my head most of the day (they were renovating) wasn’t registering as particularly negative. I must have been really numb.
It might not have helped that I arrived home on day 3, which most women seem to say is a tough day, and emotions are running high. Hormones are going crazy, milk is coming in, and the reality of everything is sharp.
Walking up onto our deck the first sight I laid eyes on was the deflated birth pool. A metaphor for the journey that my birth traversed. Taunting me. Tears pricked my eyes, but I held them back so no-one knew. Tom and Leila were with me. I felt angry that Tom had left it there for me to see.
Inside, the house seemed foreign. It didn’t feel like home. I felt like a stranger. Perhaps it was because my energy was so disconnected and ungrounded. Sadness flooded my cells. I didn’t know to discern whether this was hormonal and ‘normal’ or whether I was having an adverse emotional reaction to coming home. I didn’t understand it. If I was home, shouldn’t I be happy now? I could see how happy Tom was to have us home. I just couldn’t reflect that back to him.
We named our gorgeous little babe not long after I arrived home, Louis.
For the next couple of nights, I’d wake up in a lather of sweat having the most horrible nightmarish dreams imaginable. I don’t even know what they depicted. It felt like aftershocks.
My milk flooded in and our bedroom became a festival of bodily fluids.
After a few days my emotions did begin to stabilise. I decided sometime around day 8 or 9 that I needed to sage the house to clear it.
Louis was sleepy and in his ‘quiet’ newborn phase for around 3 weeks, then a shift happened. He became more alert, and he suddenly became an intense, upset little baby. He would scream, epically, and loud, for long hours, sometimes during the days (when I was home, alone) and always in the afternoons and evenings.
The journey of the fourth trimester, with Louis being unsettled, intense, upset, distressed, fussy, and “colicky” was stressful and seemed neverending. Fortunately, around week 14 it began to improve. This tale deserves it’s own post, so that is what I intend to do. I will do my best to document our experience as it may help another family feel as though they are not alone, in what can be a very isolating experience at times.
Circling back to the birth of Louis, in all honesty, it ultimately was traumatic. And, I did feel disempowered when my options were removed and I became a risk to be managed at the hospital, subjected to intimidation and coercion. However, I also have many cherished moments that I will treasure. Being at home for the first 12 hours, and moving with my body and my breathing with my beautifully supportive best friend, partner and doula. I felt safe and in control of my circumstances during that time. I don’t recall pain, only discomfort. The chemistry our bodies make to support us in birth is so powerful.
My time in the water at the birth centre was just heavenly and relieving of my discomfort and tiredness. At home and the birth centre, I received lots of loving and welcomed touch and firm massages on my back, hips and sacrum, hot water bottles, food and water, and encouragement. My people held the space for me beautifully, they honoured my process and where I was at, and I felt that.
Thanks to my amazing doula, Leisa of Earthside Babe in Darwin, I was well informed and aware of my choices and options, and this was reflected in the way I was able to make decisions when I arrived at the birth centre and the hospital. I ultimately made choices that I can own, I may reflect back and wonder if things would have been different if I had declined my waters being broken and having the antibiotics I was urged to have. But overall, I can mostly say that I was an active participant in my birth.
Reflecting on my birth with the passage of time, there were ways that it was empowered, but I got a large serve of disempowerment too. I believe this is why I’m able to walk the path of supporting women to embody empowerment in their own birth journey, however that looks for them. I experienced the spectrum of empowered to disempowered. I acknowledge the importance of a woman feeling empowered during her birth as a beautiful foundation for the transition to motherhood and the delicate postpartum period.