Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Different kind of Pro-Life

Here I am laboring with Aoife. Greg is laughing because I sound exactly, EXACTLY, like one of the spirits in the Christmas story with Scrooge..."I am the ghost of Christmas past.." Moaning so low and loud, and loving every minute of it. My mantra: Let the soft animal of your body love what it loves (Mary Oliver) Please note the super (man) woman shirt, which is my traditional birthing shirt.

The other thing about me, regarding birth, which would have been different in a different life is that I know I would have been a more active normal birth advocate in another life. I am pretty outraged by the state of birth in this country (as a focal point, although I could extend this to the entire developed world). It is unfair to the mothers and it is unfair to the babies. I feel passionate and could really pour myself into working towards helping to change the ways our system pushes women through birth and creates different outcomes than would have happened if patience and respect for the birth process were at all near the top of the priority list for OB nurses and doctors.

Oh, this is huge.
Except that one of my babies died, and I just can't get past this. I can't get past this because I held my baby, my first born, beautiful, perfectly created baby in my arms, and then the nurse walked out of the room and I never, ever saw her again. I looked at her tiny little eyelashes and toenails and the softness of her shoulders and her hair and her nostrils and the perfection of her entire body and wept at the injustice that so much beauty and time and energy had gone into creating and sculpting this beautiful ball of glowing potential, who might have grown to be a nuclear physicist or a beet farmer or just a regular mom and was now just lying in my arms, lifeless, and we would never know. That happened to me.

So now only one thing really, really matters to me. Life.

It was a coincidence that I went back to one of my older posts, where I wrote about the birth of Liam. Somewhere in January, maybe near the beginning. There was a comment there, one which I hadn't seen before. It was a lovely comment from Leigh, who had been a homebirth transport because of a breech presentation and had delivered her first daughter by c-section. Leigh wrote beautifully to me about how emotionally difficult this birth had been for her, and how reading my perspective made her feel grateful and consider the alternatives.
Before I go on, I have to say that while I did not experience the regret over my own cesarean birth that many women do, I am very sympathetic because I know that had I delivered by cesarean under other circumstances, I would have had a very difficult time with it. When Liam was born by cesearean, my best friend from childhood said, "But you are not the type of person who gets a c-section!" We giggled together about that, but it's true. I am a drug-free squatter with long hair who bounces on a ball and moans, right? Right. So if my first had been born alive by c-section? I would have questioned it over and over, and mourned my loss of my vaginal birth. Admitted wholeheartedly.

So back to my story about Leigh, and I hope that Leigh (if she still reads this blog) won't take this as a criticism, which it is NOT. It is simply a perfect example of how where I sit is different, and so sorry, Leigh, I get to pick on your story as my comparison point. At the end of Leigh's post, she P.S.'s that her second daughter, also a frank breech, was born at home. She giggles that her babies like to be born upside down.

I scream inside, and here is why. I'll divide my scream into two categories and address them separately. One, I am jealous. Two, I am afraid.

I am jealous of Leigh because she still lives in the world where babies don't die. Leigh trusts that her second baby will be born alive. She knows that breech babies can be safely delivered and she trusts that hers will do just that. She is innocent and alive and vigorous. She believes in her body, and she believes in her baby.
It makes me feel so GUILTY to think that I wouldn't be able to have that trust in my baby! In my own body! I seethe with envy that she can live in that world of beauty where a birth cry follows every delivery, where her trauma of her c-section can be soothed by a beautiful homebirth of daughter number two. I want this for myself.

But more than my envy, I am afraid for her, because I can see the other side of the coin, the side that thankfully landed face down on the pavement for Leigh. This is the flip side where she makes the decision to have this baby at home, even though she is breech, and she trusts in her baby and her body, and something goes wrong, and her baby dies. Her baby dies. She dies, and Leigh knows that perhaps it was her choice to refuse the c-section and go forward with the home birth after cesarean that has caused her baby to die. I am so grateful that this is not what happened. But what if it had happened?
I can tell you that if I had been in that situation, where a conscious choice I had made had killed Charlotte, I would have killed myself. As it was, with no cause whatsoever being linked even remotely with my decision making, I could barely peel myself off of the nursery floor my grief was so heavy. My responsibilty for my baby's life weighed so heavily on me, and despite anything my midwife, or my husband, or anyone said to me, I knew this one thing inside: she was my child, she was my responsibility, I was supposed to keep her alive. Now what would that have been like if I knew that I could have made a choice to save her, but didn't? It would be suicide, plain and simple.

The other thing on the flip side of the coin is that I also know a mom who bled out and died last year three days after the birth of her son, her first child. So having a VBAC at home? Also something I scream about, because it means you are also lucky enough to live in a world where moms don't die. (I am sure that I have written before about this strange obsession all us moms whose babies have died have with our own mortality.) When I had my VBAC I did even question this decision, even though it was going to be in hospital, because I imagined that if there was a heaven somewhere I would kill myself in heaven if my dreams of having a beautiful birth that also included a crying newborn got in the way of the life with the child that would ensue. But I found solace in the thought that if I started to bleed out, maybe they could save me if I was already right there in the hospital, IV port in my hand (they did put this in for my VBAC just in case)
I guess I am all about the just in case, when it comes down to it. Nothing trumps my own desire to see my baby live. Nothing will ever stand in my way of that end goal, and I want to make sure I have all my bases covered along the way.
P.S. Thanks, Leigh. I am sorry I picked on your story. It was the only concrete example I had. The truth? I think you are badass, and you know I'm just jealous. But I'll still do things my way (and if you'd ask me I'd tell you to do your things my way, too).


sweetsalty kate said...

I understand. So much tangled up with birth. Jealousy, envy, the perception of arrogance, the illusion of control. And joy, and good, clean hard work, and ordinary indignities, and power.

Losing a child just changes everything.

I've often wondered, what would I do, if I was ever brave enough to have a third (fourth) child? Would that one day, that one birth, be important enough for me to attempt a VBAC? Would achieving a "normal" birth heal me, redeem me somehow? (God, the pressure.) Or, to spare myself the agony of having everything go wrong again, would I simply schedule a calm, joyful, blessedly predictable c-section?

I don't know. After what happened to me and my babies, I know without a doubt that the mechanics of birth do not matter. Only the babies matter. And I also know without a doubt that birth does matter, that it has the power to screw us up and lift us up in the same breath.

So, I just wanted to thank you for feeling a little bit of everything, the same as I do. I appreciate this post, that you sound conflicted, confused, because I feel the same way.

Leigh's a friend of mine, and we've gone over this ground many, many times. She is a doula, as well. I think she'd understand where you're coming from. Hearing about her VBAC, I was completely gobsmacked. Equal parts admiration and shock. But that's just me after running a gauntlet that, bless her, Leigh has had the good fortune to avoid. She is indeed a badass, you're right. I could not do what she did.

Rixa said...

I appreciate your honesty and willingness to share this. I come from a vastly different set of experiences in birth, and it's good for me, for all of us, to remain open to all of the facets of this experience. I want to write more but I am just having a hard time expressing what I want to thing, though, about birth advocacy is in the end, I want women to be able to make choices in true autonomy. That means that for some women, having all of the technology right there will be something they embrace and that is inherently right for them, and for others that will mean staying at home and having only their family members present. Or a multitude of other approaches somewhere in between those two. What really saddens me is how so many women are forced/pressured/talked into doing things they don't want, or don't feel is in their or their baby's best interests. Does that make sense?

Amanda said...

Beautifully written Carol. Everything I wish I could have said in the Gazette. Your posts truly speak to me--thank you!

charmedgirl said...

i think one of the things that kills me most (besides the obvious) is my lost perspective on homebirth and trusting the process.

my baby died, but that doesn't mean everything i believed for so long isn't true. but you're so exactly's NOT, for ME, any longer. and that hurts.

i still think about possibly getting pregnant again and maybe finding an ob who would let me attempt vbac in a hospital. i think about it, and then break out into a cold sweat thinking about waiting to go into labor (which is when she died; i never went into labor). then i think about how early they might do the c-section.

it can never be the same for me again, ever. i am trapped between what i know in my own experience, and the intellectual knowledge i have about birth. can it ever be reconciled?

Birdie said...

Oh Carol....oh how you so beautifully speak about the choices. This is a lovely post.

I grieve the loss of my trust in birth, and my body.

All that I had once believed about birth and birth at home specifically have completely disappeared from my being.

as charmedgirl commented:

"It can never be the same for me again, ever."

Its true it can't, it just can't.