When I was pregnant with my first son, I had a birth plan.
It was a beautiful birth plan.
And, I was a fool.
No, I wasn’t a fool for having a plan, for envisioning what would feel consonant to me, or for imagining that moment when I pushed out this little bundle of joy and my husband looked at me with that mix of adoration and awe as they do in the movies.
I was a fool for not allowing myself the grace to relinquish control and have it any other way. You know, the other, terrible, unexpected, frightening way. The way that it all went down in reality.
We got pregnant the day we tried. I ate well, napped regularly, took my vitamins. I was never sick even once. I did high impact aerobics until the day my water broke. Don’t get your hate on, the story is about to turn dark.
My water broke at 38 weeks. I thought I was good to go. Fully cooked, but out early. Score! I got to the hospital and I was already three centimeters dilated. Score again!
Fast forward 24 hours and I’m lollygagging around seven centimeters and stalled out. A steady stream of interns came into my room throughout the night. Fingers in, check, check, nope. Still seven. Howdy doody, boys. Glad to meet you.
Catheter in, catheter out. (If you’ve never had the joy… don’t.). Pitocin flowing. Something’s got to work right?
Special on “nope” on Aisle Me.
At 6:00 AM, the OB-GYN walks into my room and says, “Well, we’ve got two options. We could either section you now, or we could wait a couple more hours, let you labor on, and section you then.”
Here’s everything you need to know about me in one reaction: I turned to the doctor and said, “You can’t give me a c-section, because I wasn’t expecting a c-section, so I didn’t read the chapter on c-sections. So, no, you can’t give me a c-section.”
Yes, really. I looked her dead in the eye and diagnosed myself, staring the entire canon of Western Medicine down and said, “No. I didn’t read that chapter.” To be fair, I hadn’t slept in 24 hours, all the while terrified about this thing called an “episiotomy.”
To her undying credit, she gracefully replied, “Well, the good news is that you won’t be performing the c-section, I will be.” And then followed up with the closer, “And the better news is that I did read that chapter.”
So, a c-section is what the medical protocol required, and a c-section is what I got. Fine, cool, I’ll handle it. The only thing that matters is a healthy baby and a healthy mommy… mantra, mantra, mantra. I’ll get a VBAC next time, for sure.
Then the breastfeeding nightmare began. Or, should I say, the inability to breastfeed nightmare.
Long story short: I couldn’t. Apparently, 5% of women don’t make breast milk and, lucky me, I’m exceptional. At one point, a lactation consultant told me to give up. “You can’t get blood from a stone,” were her exact words. Ouch. Still, after fourteen days of crying and bleeding and cracking and pumping and herb-taking and massaging and sleeplessness and anxiety and all the who-the-fuck-am-I-to-be-a-parent self-doubt, it was like getting a papal dispensation.
But, still, none of it sat right with me. None of it was according to plan. None of it made me feel remotely like I had succeeded. Since the dawn of time, women have been crouching in fields and popping out babies, nourishing them from their own bosoms. And even with all the medical help in the medical hub in the universe, I couldn’t do either. I had no control of this outcome, and yet a feeling of failure haunted me.
The fact that 100 years ago me — and possibly also my baby — would have died in the process did nothing to stave off the onslaught of disappointment.
(Sidebar: I say disappointment and not depression because I wasn’t depressed. And, I make that clear because I don’t want to diminish post-partum depression. Had I been prone to depression, or had the family history or chemical makeup for it, I’m fairly certain I’d have needed serious counseling, and if you do, I’d encourage you to do so right the hell now. You matter, and I see you.)
Why am I telling you all of this?
Yet another young woman I know is in the self-flagellation roller coaster of the Natural Birth Industrial Complex, and it toasts my oats. I’m all for natural births, I’m all for pain medicine births, I’m all for home births, and water births, and hospital births. I’m even all for c-sections. It’s the stories we tell ourselves that often create a destiny of uncontrolled failure.
When my baby was about three months old, I had another mother over to the house, a friend of an out of town friend who said out of town friend thought I’d like. (She was wrong.) This mother, too, had a c-section. We did the usual small talk and chit-chat and would you like some cheese (yes) and wine (no… I should have known). Then she popped out her breast, and I popped out a bottle.
Her, aghast: “You’re, you’re, you’re not breastfeeding?!?”
Me, resigned: “No, I couldn’t. I tried everything. I drank the tea, I ate the herbs, I pumped the pumps… I did it all. Finally, I had to give up.”
Her, sitting up ever so taller in her chair as if a string of more-mother-than-thou-arrogance was tied to the top of her invisible crown: “Well, I had trouble at first too. But it meant a lot to me, so I stuck with it.”
My experience clearly didn’t measure up to her expectations.
I let her suck from me the personal power I should have had to allow myself the grace to live in my own experience. I had a plan. It would have been seventeen kinds of lovely had I been in control and that plan worked out in the way I envisioned. It didn’t. It was out of my control.
What was in my control was who I decided to allow color comment on my experience. We punish ourselves enough when the mirror is cracked. We don’t need to do that to others too, especially when their defenses are brought low by the unholy combination of hormones, sleep deprivation, self-doubt, and haters innocent and guilty. So, I apologized for my existence and the future serial killer that I was clearly raising, poured myself another glass of wine, and made a mental note never to invite her over again.
P.S. I had a planned c-section with my second, woke up the next morning with tits that would make Dolly Parton jealous, chose this time not to breastfeed and cabbage-leafed the hell out of them, and still have two sons that both love me and still like me, and are taller and smarter and more multi-faceted than me.
It’s all going to be okay, I promise. Embrace what you can control and let go of what you can’t. After all, sometimes you can’t get blood from a stone.