I am a perfectionist and hate giving up control, so I thought that nine months of pregnancy was going to be the worst! But to my surprise, when we were lucky enough to get pregnant I ended up loving it. With every vomit session I knew it was all working - my body was growing a baby and it was magic.
At first I wanted to be zen and didn’t want to know anything about birth. However my anxiety led me to read everything about birth. I broke up with the gynecologist that I had steadily seen for the last twelve years because she didn’t deliver at the hospital I wanted. We hired a doula. I signed up for a childbirth education class and took meticulous notes. I read so many birth stories and surprised myself by realizing that I didn’t want to be numb - I wanted to be present with my baby when he made his way earth side and to feel that natural high that mothers talk about.
One night I woke up sobbing with anxiety – I don’t want a c-section, I don’t want a c-section - it was a mantra I called out to the universe. Are we doing the wrong thing by going to a hospital where that outcome is statistically more probable? Am I doing my best to ensure birth goes according to my plan? My husband soothed me – we’re not even there yet, but whatever the story is, it will be ours. I wanted to believe him and let go of the “plan” but... I thrive on plans.
I had three weeks to go until my due date so naturally I had planned to create a vision board when instead I woke up with terrible vertigo. The dizziness was so bad I couldn’t go to the bathroom by myself or even open my eyes. We found out it was benign, a condition called vestibular neuritis not related to pregnancy. It would resolve itself - faster with drugs I couldn’t take. So bound to the couch, I spent two weeks meditating. The universe had sent me a lesson about control and I survived it. I paid my karmic price, I thought, and now I’m ready to have the perfect birth. I couldn’t have planned it better.
At exactly 39 weeks and five days, I went into labor. We timed contractions through the night, we walked around our neighborhood in a state of wonder, I bounced on the ball, we sway danced in our living room. This is what I had prepared for. The pain is manageable and I’m feeling strong and excited. I’m a zen goddess experiencing the mystical feminine energies of the universe - or whatever, I thought to myself.
At the hospital, my doula hung stars in our room and set up flameless candles. Our lavender diffuser is dulled that hospital smell . It’s not so bad here in here after all. They broke my water to speed things up and contractions got more intense, but I was doing it and soon was at nine centimeters! We were almost ready to meet our baby! As I was sitting on the toilet breathing through the surge of pain, the nurse turned to me and said, "Whatever you do, don’t bare down if you feel the need. You’re still not fully dilated and it will make the cervix swell." Wait what? In all the reading, no one mentioned this.
I immediately feel fear. I didn’t prep for this. I’m going to fuck this up. Of course I feel my body baring down. Is my body reacting to my anxiety? I’m trying to breathe through it and relax but the bearing down is involuntary. The pain and anxiety are escalating. What if this halts my labor? My nurse went on her lunch break…“try the laughing gas to help.” Great. New nurse hooked it up but I couldn't breathe it in. “You’re in transition,” my doula whispers to me, which is shorthand for , "this is when the contractions get monster." My nurse came back to discover that the nitrous tank was empty.
Nope, still at nine, and there’s this cervical lip. I was trying to surrender, desperately trying, but my brain was overwhelmed by my thoughts and my body was overwhelmed by the pressure of baring down. I couldn't control it, and I was losing my composure. At this point, my doula tells me “You’ve done amazing, you’re a warrior, but this is the point in time where an epidural is an amazing tool.” "Okay" I say." Let’s do it."
The epidural was wonderful. Truly. But I had given away another bit of control. But okay, I will be sad about it later, maybe my inflamed cervix can relax now and let me deliver this baby. I woke after a nap chatty and excited. They checked me again, the nurse says to the doctor “Do you feel that cervical lip?” Ugh that word again, I wanted to scream.
Then the monitors went off everyone rushed in and someone gave me a shot to stop contractions. Now there are two doctors in the room with all the nurses. “So… we’ve tried everything, but baby is not tolerating labor.” All of the air is sucked out of the room and despite the oxygen mask on my face it felt like I couldn't breathe. The monitor was projecting my failure and I knew what they were going to say.
The room cleared and my doula and husband’s faces popped up above me with sweet smiles and love in their eyes. “I was a c-section baby… I was a c-section baby, too." See… all good people born via c-section.”
The birth I wanted feels really far away. The birth I wanted is warm and primal – with low lights and stars. But the birth I was having is a clinical one on a freezing cold operating table with bright lights and the dim hum of chit-chat from a bunch of strangers. I was being cut open, yet this is just a regular day of work for them.
The next thing we knew, my baby screamed at the top of his lungs and peed on our doctor. I burst into tears – I saw him above the screen. It felt like forever until they finally put him on my chest and my husband had to help me hold him because my hands trembled. Dorian Theodore Silverman, born at 9:59am, exactly on his due date - we stared into each other’s eyes. We’d both been through a lot!
At home, I kept going over all of the decisions I had made in my head. I had to steel myself in order to pick my baby up from his bassinet and I was constantly crying. Why did the doctor decide to break my water? If we were at home would we have done that? I’m watching him breathe at night overcome with love but still crying. It was my fault we decided on a hospital birth. Maybe if I’d made that damn vision board…
“You’re a warrior, you had back labor,” my doula says, yet I couldn’t keep my cervix from swelling. “You have a healthy baby, stop torturing yourself with regrets,” my friends say. But I thought all that work meant I could control my body and my thoughts. At the six-week visit, I cried through the exam when the doctor says to me that there are support groups for people who have traumatic births… I felt a deep sense of shame. Traumatic? Does it deserve the term traumatic or a support group? I hear the words, "Your baby is healthy so forget the rest" but I hold on to it.
Over the years, I’ve been mad at my body for so many different things and this birth feels like the ultimate betrayal. I feel robbed of my chance to experience the power of what the female body can do. I feel violated by the surgery. I fear that my baby is somehow affected. These thoughts are irrational, but they keep me up at night. One day, my husband says to me… “No matter what kind of birth you would have had, you would have been disappointed with something.“ He was right.
My internal cheerleader that makes me strive for excellence turns into the merciless inquisitor when I don’t achieve my goals.
Shortly thereafter, our childbirth educator called me to follow up. She is a no nonsense former nurse. As I cry through the story, she says this offhand thing… “Since your contractions were irregular from the start, he was probably in a weird position the whole time. You see, he wanted to come out head extended back.” No one else had offered any sort of explanation and weirdly those words “from the start” make me feel relief. My doula had been gently reminding me that baring down was involuntary. Just like all the vomit! There was nothing I could do. She had also taught me about the “and”, that I could exist in a space of more than one emotion at the same time. Every time I think about the doctors cutting my flesh leaving a stupid scar that still hurts, my skin crawls and I also feel relief that I had the option. I was devastated that I got so close – nine centimeters – and I was insanely grateful that I had that day of swaying and laboring. It was a betrayal of my hopes and it was also a gift - and not just the gift of my baby, but also a lesson about motherhood.
I will probably never be in control again - certainly not of his story. From his first steps to his first loves, my baby will do as he will in this world. I can only do so much. I am not fully cured of my desire for control and perfection, but every day I practice letting go a little bit more. We are only just starting to write the story of us and I can’t wait to see how it turns out