January 26, 2015

What Not to Say to Cesarean Mothers

After my first cesarean, I had to know what went wrong. I looked to every avenue as to why I did not have a vaginal delivery. My baby wasn't too big, I'm not ridiculously out of shape, I was generally in good health. WHAT HAPPENED?

In tears, I'm begging my doctor for an explanation. All she could say was, "You have a healthy baby, and you are healthy, too. If we had let you labor any longer that may not have been the case. Healthy mama, healthy baby. That is what I am happy about." I tearfully nodded as I left my postpartum visit with my husband and newborn. I tried to put on a brave face for all the soon mommies-to-be in the lobby. Big smiles! I have a health baby! I should be happy.

I would talk to my mom, my friends, my hairdresser, anyone who would listen and just cry about my cesarean. They all had the same thing to say:

"You have a beautiful baby, all that matters is that you are healthy, and the baby's healthy. Who cares how he got here?!"

My mother was also a little upset by me. "You were a c-section baby and it was SOOOO EASY!""I'd have a baby every time by c-section!" As if my disappoint was an affront to her delivery choice. She's the same way about formula, too, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

I quietly accepted this, and stifled my grief as best I could. It's true. We are lucky. In other parts of the world, we both might have been dead. In another era, not too long ago in fact, we might be dead. I needed to suck it up and be thankful. After all, I have two friends that can't even GET pregnant. Surely I'm luckier than them. I had one friend miscarry; definitely luckier than her, right? I remember sitting in the speech therapist's office, waiting for our weekly oral motor appointment to help with X-man's nursing issues. I'd look around out the small children, so disabled from a genetic disorder or some other unknown circumstance. I cried and hugged my healthy baby. Surely, I was luckier than these mothers, right? How can my sadness even be justified by comparison to these other women? I felt guilty even feeling sad. I was disgusted with myself.

After Lollipop came around and my VBAC failed, I came to my postpartum visit seeking out answers. The OB that attended be in the hospital had mentioned that I had surgical adhesions from my previous c-section. Had this somehow caused a problem with Lollipop's position? I went in determined to get clearer answers this time around. Again, I was disappointed. "I know you were hoping for a vaginal delivery, but it didn't work out. As your doctor, I am just thrilled that we have a healthy mama and healthy baby! That's all I care about!" There is was. The number one sentence I loathed to hear.

We have to stop telling c-section mothers, "Who cares how the baby got here."

We hate it. Full Stop. Do Not Pass Go.

It makes us hate ourselves (We are selfish and ungrateful.)
It makes us hate our bodies. (We were too fat, too petite, too weak, too unprepared.)
It makes us resent our babies (They were too big, in a bad position, too weak, breech, multiples, had poor heart tones, broken waters, meconium in the fluid.)

While our rational sides can understand the facts of our birth, our emotional sides cannot.

Saying "Who Cares!?" completely undermines our grieving and healing processes. It marginalizes the loss of the birth story that we had written for ourselves from the moment we learned a life was growing inside of us. There are those who marginalize the importance of a birth story, but why is it that every mother whether 19 or 90 can so vividly describe her own? A birth puts a mark on your soul, and anything so momentous is worth value.

So to answer, "Who cares?"….Well, WE DO.

WE care that are babies were cut, wrestled, and separated from our womb.
WE care that we can no longer feel sensation in parts of our body.
WE care that we have a nagging sense of doubt.
WE care that we feel assaulted.
WE care that we are disfigured.

Most importantly…

We care that me missed out on a fundamental Rite of Passage. That's what hurts the most.

© Amy Swagman 2011

January 23, 2015

The Labyrinth of Birth, An Unexpected Journey

After plowing through my last reading assignment, I wanted to jump right into "Labyrinth of Birth" by Pam England. I was lucky to find Cut, Stapled, & Mended (CSM) in our public library, but was not so lucky with the Labyrinth. Before spending money on a book I wasn't sure I'd derive any value from, I confess, I read all the reviews on Amazon. Most seemed pretty crunchy with five stars praising its worth. Then there was the glaring single star review that said that the book was ok in the way of being arts fartsy, but was essentially a waste of money when it came to childbirth, spend your money elsewhere. Hmmmmm…I decided to try to keep an open mind, while quieting my inner cynic.

The mailman was knocking on my door the day I finished CSM, and I didn't want to lose any steam. I tore open the envelope and began reading what I expected was a mediative book on delivery; something to help me relax, go with the flow. The subtitle of the book says, "Creating a Map, Meditations and Rituals for Your Childbearing Year." I guess I thought it would be easy, if anything, easier than Cut, Stapled, & Mended. No graphic depictions of surgery or emotionally charged chapters. Just flowers and humming, swaying, and pretty pictures.

Boy, was I wrong. This book is hard. Not hard in terms of the words on the page, or the concepts put out. Hard as in real work. It is a book that is not meant to just be read, it is meant to be experienced.

Early in the book, you are asked to draw your own labyrinth, including foot prints, a threshold, and symbolic entry decor. Well…I decided I'd skip that part and do it later. I wanted to finish the book. Period. After that, I'd go back, do the drawings or dance naked in the backyard banging a tambourine or whatever.

Nope. Doesn't work that way.

WTF am I doing?!

Of course you can read on skipping the drawings part, which I did for a half a chapter. However, I felt like I was missing a connection I was supposed to be making. What Pam was talking about in the following chapters REALLY required you to not skip any steps. I soon realized if I tried to skip steps, tried to skip the work required to truly experience this book, I was missing the entire point.

Reboot to tonight, I did my first drawing and BOY WAS IT EYE OPENING. I actually started one and then scrapped it because I was pressing so hard when I drew that I snapped my crayon clean in half. Oops.

So here it is (don't laugh, I'm a crummy artist):

So many symbols, so many realizations
Okay let's talk about this. First things first, Pam recommends that you use a sheet of paper you can fold in your pocket to take with you and hang near where your birth journey will take place. I personally grasp concepts better when they are written large. I did my drawing on a giant post-it board, the kind that you use in meetings or to play Pictionary. She also recommends using pastels in case you make a mistake you can buff it out. Well, I hate pastels, they are messy and I had tons of other art supplies. Plus, I didn't want to spend more money. I am cheap. In hindsight, however, they were probably purposefully suggested. Looking at the illustrations in the book, the examples drawn by her students have this organic feeling; this smoothness and flow. I, on the other hand, used a Sharpie marker. While I was initially satisfied with it's clean, crisp look, I now feel that it looks very ridged and unforgiving. Hmmm….

(Inner thought to meditate on: The rigidity of the walls of my labyrinth. Is this symbolic of my anxiety and search to maintain control? Perhaps symbolic of my cesarean cuts, the tight line of the scar?)

This is a 7 circuit labyrinth, which is referred to as the "classic". It is the one that the book instructs you how to draw for your first. It is round which indicates it is feminine; a square is considered masculine.

Labyrinths can be left-handed or right-handed. The "handedness" refers to the first turn you make as you enter the "mouth" or entrance of the labyrinth. An initial right turn is associated with "Great-Feminine", while a left turn is associated with "Divine-Masculine".

I struggled with this initially, trying to decided if I wanted a masculine or feminine labyrinth. It seems like a person woman on a birth journey would naturally chose a the feminine. Honestly, I have never really associated with women, so I thought masculine might be a better option for me.

Then, I thought back to the times when I wanted women around me and how there were few, if any, present. I struggled to find women to be my bridesmaids, come to bridal and baby showers, and other traditionally female times. In a way, my journey mirrored Roanna Rosewoods from CSM, as she had the same difficulty of connecting with women. I feel really alone when I look back and realize that I essentially had good number of acquaintances standing with me up on by the alter when I should've been surrounded by my best friends. Roanna must have felt the same way at her blessing-way.

I didn't want this journey to be like that one. So, in the end I chose the feminine. Thankfully so, because that is the one the book teaches you step by step to draw.

Let's go, Ladies.
I tried to just draw and let it happen. You might ask why I chose the color blue for my lab when I was intent on trying to be more feminine. Truth be told, it's because I am hoping our next baby will be a boy. So, in honor of this symbolic journey to meet him, I chose blue. I also chose blue because I wanted the labyrinth color to be soothing like water.

The paths are supposed to be wide enough so you can trace them with your fingers while saying your mediations. Check. Before I added the other parts like the feet and vines, I thought my lab looked somewhat like a placenta. HARK! Am I on the right path?

Next you are supposed to add the feet at the entrance of your lab, about 2 inches from the entrance. I chose to make the feet red for multiple reasons. First, red symbolized the blood of the surgeries I have endured, and the hundreds of shots of blood thinners I had to take while pregnant. Red is also a powerful color, and I wanted my walk to be powerful and with purpose. After I drew them I noticed they were not square with the entrance to the labyrinth:

Which way are we going?
This WAS NOT done on purpose. I don't know what else to say other than my subconscious played its hand here. Shit is getting deep.

(Inner thought to mediate on: Does my feet not being square with the entrance symbolize that I am unsure I want to continue on the road of a VBA2C or to continue on the route of a scheduled cesarean?)

Next you are to draw a threshold, a symbol of transition and transcendence. I decided to draw a tangled vine of flowers. Firstly, because I feel I can draw a half decent flower. More importantly, I wanted the mess of vines to represent the complexity and convolutedness of this journey. The analogy of following a vine from root to flower rings very very true to me. One can easily be led astray by following the wrong curly-cue, and get tangled in a web of thorns, fear, and doubt. You're tempted to hack through to find the answers you want quickly, but that kills the vine. Your birth journey is both tangled and intertwined with other women and your care providers, whether they are doctors, midwives, or lay support. Sometimes your vine takes a divergent path than that which you or your provider wants. Are they going to force you to grow their way, pruning and securing you to the "trusted" path. Or are you going to curl off in a different direction, finding your own sun and soil? Yes, I feel a vine is apt.

Lastly, you are supposed to decorate the entrance of your lab with an image that holds symbolic meaning. I chose to draw an old-fashioned key. I chose an old-fashioned key because I feel like it symbolizes the wisdom of women who have already completed this journey, who can help us younglings to find the tools we need to be successful. I chose a draw a red ribbon on the key to again, emphasize the femininity of a beautiful ribbon and power in the color red.

Women are the key to finding the answers needed on this birth journey.

Once the lab is completed, you are supposed to trace it, slowly and purposefully. Again, in a rush to get an item checked off my list, I tried to race through to make sure I didn't make any mistakes. I got lost, the lines ran together. I started again. I moved too fast. I got lost again…and again…and again…………….and again. That's when I went back to the book to see what I was doing wrong. You are supposed to go SLOWLY with your non-dominant hand, while saying a mediation. I decided to reserve the mediation for later, but I proceeded with an eye roll and a sigh to use my non-dominant hand to slowly trace the labyrinth. "This is stupid," I was thinking. "What difference does it make what speed I go, it's all going to just run together anyway.""In, to the center, turn around back out again, right?"

Well, not exactly. What I found really interesting (and perhaps personally symbolic) is that I not only did NOT get lost when I went slow, but the path went differently than I thought it would. I mean intuitively, I thought I would enter, then sharply go to the outer most circuit, working its way to the innermost circuits and back out. What really happened is that you are almost tricked into thinking you are taking this shortcut to the center before you are swung back out into the outer circuit. This realization was probably the most symbolic discovery of this whole exercise. It was teaching me that I was looking for a quick answer to the middle, to the birth I wanted. But that is not how this journey works.

No shortcuts on a spiritual journey.

I truly have many things to think about.

January 18, 2015

Sadness: A Stream of Consciousness

(This post is a stream of consciousness, which will be rambling and, at times, possibly incoherent.)

Tonight, I am filled with sadness.
My house feels empty, despite being full of loved ones.
Someone is missing, my beloved cat, Mercutio.
It has been days since I have said his name. For 14 years he has been in my life.
After falling desperately ill over the holidays, we laid him to rest this week…a cold and rainy day in January.
My home is empty.

My home is empty without his presence to fill the space. He's not on his cushion, his food bowl is missing.
My home feels empty, he's not waiting by the door, not sneaking into bed with me or cuddling in my lap.

I look for him everyday, in his lounging spots, in his hidey holes. I swear I hear his claws on the floor at night as he stalks around the house. I think I see him laying on the rug, no just an old dress shoe someone forgot to put away.

I miss him and my life feels empty. Everything has stopped. No more reading, no more working. My first baby, my fur baby is gone. He lays in a little cardboard coffin, with his mouse and a flower, buried in our yard. Every time I open the door, I expect to see him dash into the fresh air, roll on the porch, bask in the sun. But he never comes. My house feels empty.

My heart is so empty, he was always there for me. The first night I had him, I was missing someone and cried. He licked the tears from my face. He's been with me through so many trials. My heart feels so empty.

This sadness begets sadness. It reminds me of the past. Things I try to forgot, as I sit here crying, he's not in my lap to lick the tears away. 

I'm reminded of how alone I feel, and how trapped I feel. I don't want to come home because there is an palatable emptiness here.

I hurt, I'm in pain. His purr is not there to comfort me. I feel guilt about not being a better owner. About not spending more time with him the last day he was here. I knew we were going to have to put him down, but I couldn't face sitting with him all day and crying. I miss him so much.

I am not okay. I have not been okay for a very long time. 
I'm lost.
I'm lost and alone.
I'm drowning.

January 16, 2015

Cut, Stapled, on the Mend?

I was approximately six weeks postpartum when I finally broke down and asked my doula to come for her postpartum visit. She had been asking me since week two to come, and I just couldn't bear it. I had been delaying this visit as long as rationally possible. I anticipated a judgmental tone, a "you let us all down" undertone to the whole meeting. I just couldn't face her.

When it finally became embarrassingly far out from my delivery date, I couldn't stall any longer. She had other clients to see, loose ends to tie up. She stopped by on a hot summer day, quiet and thoughtful.  She asked me how I was feeling, but she didn't need glasses to see through the pleasantries I was offering. I was in bad shape and she knew it. There was nowhere to hide.

She started off delicately, sticking to the "factual" type details of the visit: "How's the baby feeding?" "Are you feeling any pain?""Any concerns?"I tossed her a bone: "the baby spits up a lot, it's kind of worrisome." After that exchange, she stepped up to the plate, boldly stepping into the fire:

"How are you doing?"

"I'm okay."


"You know, kind of having a hard time." I said nonchalantly with a shrug. I couldn't look into her eyes. She knew. She knew I was a total mess. She looked at me expectantly, waiting…the silence was cacophonous.

Before I knew it, words were tumbling out faster than I string them together. The tears flooded my face. I cried that pitiful cry; the one where you're gasping for air as you try to talk. And she let me. She let me fill the space with my sadness, anger, and shame. Then, I was holding back something. Things that I'm not sure I am even ready to write.

I worried she secretly resented me as a client, no matter gentle and attentive she was coming across. At the time, I can say that this silent presentness upset me very much. It was like a friendly tabby, quietly sitting in the corner watching, listening, an occasional flick of the tail. The eyes are watching thoughtfully, the ears listening attentively, but what does that tail flick mean?

I didn't want a quiet, thoughtful response. I didn't want space. I needed someone to catch me. I was drowning, but I couldn't ask for a life preserver. I should have told her, but I didn't. I couldn't be any more pitiful than what she was already witnessing. So, I just shut it down. Numbness, information seeking, compartmentalizing.

Self preservation.

One of the first things she recommended was reading "Cut, Stapled, and Mended", which she confessed would be a difficult read. I dutifully wrote down the title and scrawled "difficult to read" next to it on a scrap of paper from an old spiral notebook.

This scrap of paper has been beckoning from the junk drawer for 7 months. Every time I picked it up, my hastily scribbled note scared me away. The scrap went back into the drawer, back into the dark. Another time, another day perhaps.

After my previous post, putting it out there for the world to see, I very well couldn't back down. To the drawer, out comes the paper. The search was on, the book ordered. This was Monday.

Today is Friday, and guess what folks:

Truth be told, I liked it. It was a quick, candid read. It felt authentic, real. Half of the words were the very same that I had shared with others about my own negative birth experiences. All I could do was nod along as Roanna chronicled her sadness, her desperation for answers, her trials and failures. She went to extreme measures, even beyond what I think most would consider Eastern or homeopathic measures to achieve her goal. Without giving too much away, she knew what she had done did not work the first or second time, but undeterred she kept trying. Kept growing.

A question formed in my head: "Why did my doula have me read this?" Was she trying to tell me I needed to resort to the extremes that Roanna did? (drinking frog extract, seeing a psychic, boiling a root for 30 days and drinking the tea it produced, taping magnets to my body) Or was it simpler?

Well I asked her today over coffee. Her simple answer was: "I wanted you to know it could be done."
Simple as that. Did I have to go through all Roanna's extremes. No. But it is important to know what my personal limits are, and then take it to that level. That way, I can tell myself, as Roanna did, "I did everything I could."

I'm frustrated that I didn't do this sooner. The book was not the big, bad, scary beast I thought it was. Although, it might have been the day, the week, the month after my doula's visit. She told me she could see a change in me, one that I cannot yet see. Maybe this is a sign, a sign to keep on going. To try the next hardest step.

Maybe it's time to talk about Lollipop's birth…well, at least try to talk about it while I tackle, "The Labyrinth of Birth." It serendipitously arrived on my front porch this very afternoon.

January 12, 2015

The Seemingly Insurmountable Goals, The Mountain Before Me

Lai Tzu once said, "The journey of of 1000 miles begins with one step." Creighton Abrams famously stated that in order to eat an elephant, you must take one bite at a time. Why is that first step so hard? I've been procrastinating over an hour trying to even figure out how to start this very post.

Everyone seems to make New Year's resolutions that are tossed aside almost as quickly as they are formed. "This year I am going to eat better, exercise more, save more money…" they all say. By February 1, we are back to our old habits: eating ice cream in front of re-runs, paying for gym memberships we will never use.

When I got pregnant with Lollipop, I vowed to do better, to try harder. But somewhere in the middle of managing a very active one year old while feeling constantly exhausted during my pregnancy, I mostly gave up. I did some things better, but for the most part, I failed.

I FAILED. Full Stop.

I let my daughter, Lollipop, down. I let my husband down. I let my doula down. I let myself down. I gave up.

Now here from the ashes, we are brought to believe we can rise, be reborn. Be a phoenix. I'm no phoenix. I have the willpower and patience of most my generation, which is nil. At best I'm a one eyed, single eared, three-legged dog named "Lucky". Good things that happen to me, well they happen to me by good luck. Bad things that happen, well those things happen because I am lazy, slovenly. I want miraculous changes without miraculous effort.

For seven months I have had a list of things to achieve to attempt optimal conditions for my VBA2C. And what have I done…pissed away seven months.

Oh, now don't be gentle with me and make excuses:
"Oh you were recovering from surgery, you needed 2 months at least to get over that!"
"You have two children under two years old, you're doing great if you shower everyday."
"Once the kids are a little older and more independent you'll get on track fast."


I'm so paralyzed by fear that I can't even write what my goals are. I'm sitting here quibbling over word usage and grammar. Sigh

Deep breath.

If you write a goal, it's out there for the world to see. If you write a goal, there's accountability. Just another thing to disappoint myself with if when I give up.

Deep breath.

After my VBAC failed, my doula came to visit me. She spelled out some things I should try if I were to attempt another VBAC. They are as follows:

  1. Join my local ICAN support group and attend the meetings.
    • To date I have liked their Facebook page and attended ZERO meetings.
  2. Read the following books: "Cut, Stapled, and Mended" by Roanna Rosewood and "Labyrinth of Birth" by Pam England.
    • To date I have successfully NOT lost the scrap of paper these titles have been written on.
  3. Contact a local midwife that specializes in assessing pelvimetry to see if what my OBGYN said to me after my births is true: (that I likely had a small pelvis inlet, which is why my babies didn't "could not" descend into the birth canal.)
    • To date I have followed the woman's Facebook page and checked out her website. Before I see this lady, I must obtain my surgical reports from my doctor. So this is a double demand.
  4. Attend a Red Tent event hosted by our local midwives and doulas. A red tent is "a space where women gather to rest, renew, and often share deep and powerful stories about their lives." The Red Tent movement is changing the way that women interact and support each other by providing a place that honors and celebrates women, and by enabling open conversations about the things that women don’t want to talk about in other venues
    • To date I RSVP'd for 2. Bailed out on the first one, the second one is happening soon.
  5. Contact our local "Curandera". If this sounds like hippy dippy bullshit to you, allow me elaborate. Our curandera specializes in scar mobilization, Maya Abdominal Therapy, and postpartum support in the way of standard massage techniques, herbalism, spiritual support, and down right badassery. The goal being to help my scar to heal flatter, and promote internal relaxation of the pelvic organs by reducing surgical adhesions
    • Arguably my most tackled step. To date I have listened to her give two talks. Liked her business page on Facebook, "friended" her on Facebook, spoken with her via private message and email briefly, purchased a massage certificate to redeem, asked her to meet for coffee. (unfortunately she was too busy :-/ ) AAAnnnnnddd, I told her about this blog when she checked up on me. She knows my PPD (postpartum depression has be by the throat.)
  6. Find a new birth provider that supports me in having a VBA2C.
    • This requires me to find a new doctor and a new hospital. To my knowledge, the only hospital that openly supports VBA2C in our city is the dreaded county hospital, Ben Taub. (more on this eventually, I'm sure.)
That's a tall order for an anxious, lazy ass like myself. These items are on top of my personal goals:
  1. Loss weight to the tune of 20 pounds. *groan*
  2. Exercise twice weekly. *Louder groan*
  3. Talk to current OBGYN to assess my pelvic floor damage *Loud, painful groan with a bowl full of embarrassment*
  4. Learn to relax, stop being hyper-vigilant ALL THE TIME. 
    • This is arguably the toughest goal. I am high strung by nature, and probably should be getting some kind of treatment for my anxiety. I had my first panic attack in 3rd grade. How do you change something so ingrained in your personality? I used to take medication, but I didn't like the way it made me feel. I have a master's degree in clinical psychology, so I have the knowledge necessary to continue to skill build in this area. I work regularly to check in with myself to see how I am holding my body. I catch myself locked up at the shoulders and jaw almost every time I check. I am even tense while sitting on the toilet. I'm so locked up tight. My poor husband; my lady parts are essentially closed for business. It's just too painful.
  5. Correct my separated Diastatsis recti. Which look something like this:

"Yea, a picture!"
I'm currently at a 2" separation (This is not me by the way)
I have been assessed, and have located a trainer. I have not joined the program.

As you can see, I have quite a list in front of me. Some of these steps are hindered by fear of failing. Will I invest all this time and energy only to end up on the operating table a third time?  Other hindrances come in the form of logistics (how on earth am I going have a pelvic exam with 2 little ones), and financial barriers (skills cost money, and they ain't cheap.) Is their such a thing as vagina scholarships?

In the coming weeks, I hope to explain to you why these goals are important for a VBAC journey. This post has already gotten out of hand in length. So I better call it quits for tonight.

January 10, 2015

The Dark Cloud Descends & Lingers

Tonight is a rough night. I read a birth story about a botched home birth that triggered my own trauma. Despite our completely opposite birth scenarios, we were both left feeling an overwhelming sense of grief and brokenness.

The cloud that descended nearly immediately after X-man's birth rarely leaves me. Even in happy times, it finds me...almost always at night when I'm alone with my thoughts.

I relive what happened; question the choices I made or didn't make. I curse myself for the things I should've said but didn't. I get angry with myself for letting the cloud rob me of the joy and presentness I could've experienced if I would just let it go. I hold onto the dark cloud, as it spirals darkly over me.

I'm consumed by sadness, anger, and even jealousy. There are times when my anger is irrationally out of control. Rage flares so bad I have images flash before me of hurting my son. I immediately call my husband home from work. I pace anxiously in the driveway until he arrives. I get in my car the second he arrives without a word. I drive for hours in silence. I cry with guilt about the dangerous thoughts I just danced with. I drive until past the kids' bedtime. I've calmed down, they'll be asleep so I won't trigger...but they're not. They're still awake, hubby watching tv. There's lightening in my eyes, fire in my hands. A flash, the rage is back. I couldn't escape it after all. The cloud followed me home.

I hate the person my cloud has made me. I cannot be happy for other mothers. I'm so overcome with jealousy when I hear they have had an uncomplicated delivery. How is that fair!? She didn't prepare AT ALL. She got an epidural the second she THOUGHT she was in labor. She was obese with total disregard, while I was meticulously mindful of appropriate weight gain! I find myself secretly hoping they have to get cesareans, too. I'm happy in a grinch-like way when I hear they too failed. Ha!  Now you're broken, just like me.

I am a horrible human being.

I'm surrounded, engulfed in misery by my big, dark cloud.

January 7, 2015

The Birth of X-man: Unplanned Cesarean #1

X-man was my first pregnancy and I couldn't be more excited. I did everything most moms-to-be do. I read a million books, signed up for those ridiculous "your baby is the size of a lemon this week" newsletters, read all the safety product websites.

I had read a number of natural child birth books and knew I wanted a drug free birth. I had read that epidurals slow down labor, and can often make breastfeeding more difficult after the delivery. So, like many mom's to be, I wrote a detailed birth plan and made multiple copies so the nurses attending the birth would know my wishes.

Some might ask why I opted for a hospital birth if I wanted a natural, drug free birth. The answer is a complicated one. First of all, prior to getting pregnant, I really didn't think about having a baby anywhere else. I live a stone's throw from one of the country's largest medical centers. Houston is supposed to have the best hospitals in the country: MD Anderson Cancer Center, Texas Children's Hospital, Shriners Burns Hospital, TIRR. I can go on and on. I had done a little reading about home births, and at that time, they just didn't feel safe enough for me, even though their safety is on par with many hospitals, if not better. I had never really considered giving birth any place but a hospital. That's just what "you do". (I know now there are more options but let's not get ahead of ourselves).

Another reason I opted for a hospital birth was because I was considered "high risk". This to me, has been the biggest setback. About 8 years ago, I had a simple knee surgery. Later that week, I had a blood clot form in my leg, break off and go into my lungs. The ER doctor said he didn't know how I was up and talking to him, I was in critical condition. I spent a week in the ICU on clot busters. I was told "once a clotter, always a clotter."They warned me when I was pregnant, that the estrogen in my blood would cause it to thicken and possibly clot. The clot could kill me, kill the baby, kill us both. I would need to take Lovenox injections throughout my pregnancy, and at least 6 weeks postpartum. I met with a high risk OBGYN at the Baylor College of Medicine and started getting twice daily Lovenox shots to the stomach as soon as my pregnancy was deemed viable. They burned like fire, and my husband had to give them to me because I could not bring myself to. I was covered in bruises from them, but it was a small price to pay for my sweet boy.

X-man caused me other problems, mainly I was sick sick sick. I vomited so much for the first 5 months that I lost 10 pounds. Looking back, I'm surprised I wasn't diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum. I couldn't smell anything without vomiting. My poor husband had to eat half his meals on the front porch because the smell made me so violently ill. I vomited at home, I vomited at work, I vomited in the car, I vomited in the shower, I.vomited.everywhere. A shampoo, a perfume, all food, even my husband's breath would set me off. Even the sound of someone burping or making fake vomiting noises would set me off. It was awful. I was prescribed an anti-vomiting medication that was typically given to patients getting chemotherapy. I was scared to take it, I used it sparingly not only because I was afraid of the side effects to little X, but also because each fill of the prescription cost about $100. I was laid off at 5 months pregnant, on COBRA, and simply couldn't afford it.

At month 6 I was feeling better, I finally had "the glow". I was actually glad I was not working at the time so I could rest a little bit and recover from all the puke. We took our Lamaze classes and got an A+, same with breastfeeding and newborn care. We were prepared! We were going to do this!

The rest of my pregnancy was uneventful until about week 36. I started itching on my legs uncontrollably. I had had so many minor "pregnancy related" rashes, aches, and pains that I blew it off as just another normal pregnancy symptom. Since I was hitting the OB weekly at this point, I kept meaning to bring it up, but it slipped my mind until the week 38 appointment. My OB was literally walking out the door for her next appointment when I said, "Oh yea, my legs have been itching so bad! Pregnancy! Am I right?!" She almost literally threw down her clipboard and ran back into the room. She looked at my legs, saw no rash and immediately sent me upstairs for an emergent blood work collection. She feared I had a condition know as intrahepatic cholestasis , which can cause stillbirth in otherwise healthy fetuses. I was terrified. The blood test takes a week or so to come back and my due date was approaching fast, so my doctor told me to contact her immediately if the itching got worse or if any new symptoms came up. She also advised me to stop taking my blood thinners, in case we had to do emergency surgery.

Week 39 rolls around and I am still on edge. My doctor is still waiting on the test results but sends me for a for a biophysical profile to check how X-man was doing given that I might have this liver issue. During this profile he had to take so many " practice breaths" in a time frame or I would be whisked off for an emergency c-section. That turd held his breath until the last minute of the test and got his numbers in just in time. He appeared fine, so they sent me home with the same instructions: Any changes, worse itching, call immediately. The ride home was hard, so much worry, apprehension. When was he coming? Where they going to have to take him? Little did I know that I was already having contractions.

Later that day I was sitting at home and my hands just started to itch and burn. Burn like they were on fire. I told my husband, called my mother, and she told me to call the doctor. I left a message with the answering service and got a call from my doctor to come in immediately to be induced. She was not taking any chances.

We checked into the hospital at around 11 p.m. I was 2cm and 50 percent effaced. My contractions were mild and regular. They decided to augment with Pitocin, which I agreed to out of fear of what the cholestasis was doing to my baby. I labored an entire 24 hours without much progress. I was hooked up to so many monitors, including a balloon-like catheter inserted into my cervix to help open it, that moving around was difficult. I wish I would have moved more in hindsight, although doing anything with a giant tube jutting out your vagina is damn near impossible. That tube insertion was more painful than any of the labor I had had up to that point. At about hour 32, I had gotten to about 5 cm and the doctors thought that an epideral might help my cervix relax. I was exhausted. I had not been allowed to eat for over 24 hours, finally I was allowed a popsicle and some jello. Labor was starting to get much harder at that point, so I told the doctor I would think it over. Then the vomiting started. I vomited my jello and everything I had eaten prior to going to the hospital. The pain was getting pretty intense, so we flagged our nurse to check the status of the anesthesiologist, as we had agreed to move forward with the epidural. He came by, saw that I had a history of clotting, and put everything on full stop. He would not do the procedure because he read that I had been taking blood thinners. We advised him that it had been over 4 days since my last dose (this drug has a half life of 12 hours). He would not take our word for it, and demanded a blood test to be sure. So we had to wait over an hour for someone to get the blood and then get the test results back because we were on a weekend night shift. Talk about adding insult to injury. The contractions were very bad at this point, the old man was grumpy about being on call I suppose, so he fussed at me continuously to hold still and stop jumping. I don't know about him, but having a giant needle shoved in your spine while simultaneously having souped up Pitocin contractions, all without the support of your loved ones was not the easiest thing to have happen to you. The man was a total jackass. During this time, they had to insert a catheter into my bladder to help me pee since I would lose all sensation to go. They also tried multiple times, unsuccessfully to attach a monitor to X-man's scalp to watch him more closely. It kept coming out, and caused unreliable readings on the computers.

After the epidural I was finally able to get some sleep. Unfortunately, the epidural slowed down my labor, so they cranked up the Pitocin to the max dose. I was numb from the chest down. I hated it, I felt out of control, but what could I do? I was in a half doze when I rolled myself from my side to my back to get more comfortable when a team of medical people came crashing through my door. People were yelling out orders, checking monitors, grabbing my tubes. What was going on!?! Apparently, when I rolled over, he had had a massive deceleration in his heartbeat. It had come back up when they all came crashing in. No one was happy. My doctor came in and told me I had fought the hard fight, I had been in labor 40 hours with no real progress, and they needed to take him. I was devastated. My husband talked and I talked it over for about 5 minutes, called our families to let them know, and started to prepare for surgery.

The room was cold, I shivered so much. I was so exhausted, so ready to meet my baby. My husband was at my head so nervous; tears in his eyes after all that he had witnessed me go through for our son. The surgery was quick, they told me, "he was out." The doctor lifted X-man over the sheet, or at least tried to, I couldn't see him and I cried. Then I started asking, why wasn't X-man crying? I knew something wasn't right because babies always cry at birth to clear their lungs. When I said it twice more and nobody said anything, I started to panic. They had moved him over to a side incubator, and got him crying finally. Hubby was joyful, I was so happy I could finally see him, even if it was across the room.  I continued to shiver quite violently, despite having heaps of warmed blankets on me.

We were informed that X-man had to go to the NICU because he was having difficulty breathing despite being a good 8+ pounds. My husband was torn between leaving me alone, and going with our sick little boy. Our plan had been that he was never to leave me, but that all went out the door when I saw that little baby. I was able to give X the quickest of kisses and send him on his way with Daddy. I cried and cried.

They moved me into recovery and my mom was there waiting. I continued to cry for my baby, but I wasn't able to see him. My recovery nurse told me I had been through a lot and I should just rest. I was adamant, I wanted to see my baby. She very rudely told me that hospital rules said that I had to be 12 hours out of surgery before I could go to the NICU. For the first time in this whole ordeal, I stood up for myself. I ordered her to get my doctor on the phone to release me to my baby, or I was going to climb out the bed and cause all kinds of problems for her. She came back a few minutes later and said my doctor said I could go see him for 1 hour. The nurse went and got a wheelchair and said that I could go if I could get myself into the wheelchair. In hindsight, I can't even believe I am writing this. I just had major abdominal surgery and you are asking me to get out of bed on my own to climb into a wheelchair?! She was furious that I had put her out! At the time, it didn't sink in that this was a ridiculous request. I had mommy bear blinders on. I would have crawled through broken glass all the way to the NICU to see my baby. I guess she thought I'd give in and say I couldn't get up. Instead, I threw my legs out of bed and made an attempt to stand. She couldn't just let me fall, so she helped me get in the chair while exclaiming "Wow, you're strong!" I just glared at her. It had been 4 hours, I still had not seen my baby, and I had cried the entire time.

I met my baby in the NICU that evening. He had an IV in, and a little cast on to hold it in place. He had a heart monitor and a cute little crocheted hat. The NICU nurses said they had to really search for him a hat because they weren't used to having such a big baby. We finally got our skin to skin and I cried and cried. Everyone had met him before me. My inlaws were in the room, my best friend, everyone. I was so jealous they got to be with him before me. I tried to nurse him, and my husband tried to help by giving me my boppy pillow. When he shoved it in place, it hit my incision and doubled me over. I didn't care. I was holding my baby and he was hurt and scared. He needed me. I held him the entire hour until they took him from my arms. I cried all the way back to my room, like a broken human being.

X-man was supposed to spend 24 hours in the NICU but was able to leave after spending a good part of the night there. Our hospital had a policy of keeping baby with mama, so he was wheeled into my room. I was so relieved.

In the following days, he rarely left my arms. However, a dark cloud started to descend over me. What had gone wrong? Why did my body fail me? I had maintained a healthy weight. I had read all the books. I had a plan.

What was wrong with me...

January 4, 2015

The Beginning of a New Birth Journey

If you are reading this, I am happy you found me. I am a woman, struggling to have a natural birth in a medically crazed society. A place where an intimate event that used to take place in the safety and quiet of our own homes has turned into an impersonal, fearful…and almost mechanistic act. As birth has moved out of the home and into the hospital, we have lost some of our rights to our own bodies. While one can argue that we can always have the "right to refuse any procedure", in reality women are coerced, lied to, acted upon without consent, threatened, and scared into accepting procedures that they otherwise would have, and arguably could have, done without. How do I know? It happened to me, and countless other women I have read about.

That being said, my two darlings, X-Man and Lollipop, wouldn't be alive today without cesareans. I developed cholestasis with X-man, a liver disfunction that can cause stillbirth in otherwise healthy fetuses. My doctor let me labor for 40 hours before he became distressed and was taken. He spent 4 hours in the NICU with respiratory distress before being returned to me. Lollipop's water broke and after 48 hours of trying to jump start labor with Pitocin, I would not dilate and she went into distress. My VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) had failed.

I'm not here to be a martyr for natural birth. If you had a cesarean, loved it, and would schedule another one for every future baby, that is your prerogative. This blog is not intended to shame, defile, or otherwise persecute c-section mothers. C-sections have and do save many, many lives. What bothers me is that c-section rates around the country have been on the rise for decades. In Texas, we are at 35% of births being via c-sections (according to ICAN network). Some hospitals have a 100% cesarean rate.

What are we telling women in this country when one third or more of us don't have a normal, uncomplicated vaginal delivery? We are telling women that their bodies don't work and not to trust their instincts. We are telling women that they need expensive, invasive procedures to insure that they do not kill their infants by entertaining the idea that they know what is best for their bodies and babies.

This is where I am…

Even though my c-sections were medically justifiable, I cry every time I think about them. I can't look at my scar. I can't touch it. My husband can't touch it. I get nauseous when I put the slightest pressure on it.

I feel broken. Lost. Physically in pain. My body is not my own…

This is what brought me here.

In one year, I would like to start trying to conceive (TTC) our next baby. I have a huge, what feels like insurmountable, obstacle in front of me. I started writing to help process my feelings about what has happened, and to hold myself accountable for the changes I feel need to happen to get me to my goal of a successful VBA2C (Vaginal Birth After 2 Cesareans).

If you are reading this, you are reading a part of my journey. You may be a mother or mother-to-be yourself, looking for answers. I don't have all of them. All I know is that I am in a vulnerable place, as are many other women in similar situations. I may write about things that trigger uncomfortable emotions. You may feel anger or sadness, shame or frustration. Do not take those feelings out on me. Trolling the wounded does nothing. I welcome your comments and questions. They may serve as inspiration for me to open, learn, and share more. To relax more, to trust myself more. However, under no circumstances will I tolerate shaming, cruelty, rudeness, or fear mongering. Perspectives are different, we are allowed to disagree, respectfully.

So…I guess let's get started with the backstory: X-man's birth.