I knew exactly how labor and delivery were going to go. Just like all the women in my family it would be intense, quick, and natural. Besides, my pregnancy was nine months of cruel nausea so surely the universe owed me one. I read all the right books and learned how to breathe my way through the pain – I was going to push my baby into the world in a feat of feminine strength.
Then labor came.
It crept in slowly and dragged me for hours. At the peak of my exhaustion and in a bleary state of dehydration, labor stalled. My vision of a natural empowering birth experience finally wavered, as I melted into the epidural’s numbing embrace. Sleep was calling to me but the heartbeat on the monitor became dangerously low. The room filled with bodies and I could tell from their faces that something had changed. Please God let this baby come out alive.
The c-section was necessary. They wrestled my baby boy into the world as I lay shaking on the table. He screamed at his harsh entrance while I sobbed in sweet relief.
He made it. We made it.
The euphoria carried me through that first day. He was beautiful and I was in love.
But that night the reality of what had happened caught up to me. My nurse entered the room around 2 in the morning and could surely sense I was unraveling.
“Honey, what’s wrong?”
Her simple question broke me open, and as the tears began falling I managed to whisper “just, how it all happened.” She covered me with a warm blanket, ordered my husband to climb into the tiny hospital bed with me and said she would have our baby at the nursing station for the next few hours. “You need to let this come out.”
And I did. I grieved the loss of the birth experience I had so desperately wanted. I cried over the intensity of hearing a heartbeat slow down, and the fear that he wouldn’t come out alive. I felt defeated. Lying on an operating table shaking uncontrollably while my baby was handed to a team of doctors instead of me seemed horribly wrong.
I needed that cry. It needed to come out so that I could return to my baby a little more whole.
In those early days amidst the happy visitors, the Facebook ‘likes’, and the emails of congratulations came two text messages that felt different. They came from friends who knew the vulnerability of a difficult birth experience.
How are you?
Those words carried weight. Even though they lived far away, their empathy and gentle check-ins over the following weeks carried me through the rawness of it all.
At a time when all eyes were on the baby (including my own), I’m thankful for those that were looking at me.
My son is now almost two and there have been many more moments of unraveling since that night in the hospital. I have texted friends in desperation and sobbed into my pillow more times than I care to admit. Becoming a mother has been jarring. It’s a journey that constantly demands more from me than I think I’m able to give.
But there is a little boy asleep in the next room that loves me to the moon. I now smile when I catch a glimpse of that crescent scar low on my belly. My son’s arrival into this world was nothing like I thought it would be. To be honest, neither was anything that followed. But woven into the struggle is a love that keeps me going.
When you arrive at your friend’s doorstep to drop off a casserole and coo over the precious new baby, please pay close attention to the look in her eye. She may have endured a traumatic birth experience. Her exhaustion may have reached new depths after endless nights of colic. She might be questioning why she decided to become a mother in the first place.
And if that’s the case… cover her with a blanket, take her screaming baby away for a short while, and give her permission to cry.
Guest post written by Susan S. Susan lives in Ontario, Canada with her husband, a busy toddler, and a lovable but needy boxer. She credits her survival of early motherhood to the empathy of friends who made sure she knew she wasn't alone in the struggle.
Photo by Sarah Thornhill.