by A. Jones
Content warning: mention of traumatic birth, attempted suicide, postpartum mood disorders, unplanned cesarean, and failure to thrive in a newborn.
My baby was born in the hospital that was across the street from my apartment. My OB was the first one that came up on my insurance’s website. They were convenient, and I trusted their credentials completely. They knew what they were doing, so I didn’t have to. I didn’t take a childbirth class because my doctor reassured me they only help women who are trying to suffer through without an epidural. I didn’t hire a doula because my doctor promised me they would start an epidural as soon as I had contractions and I would sleep through labor. I came in for an induction on my due date. I never went past 2cm dilation. I had a cesarean for failure to progress. After, a nurse reassured me that I would never have to go through labor again. Any other births would be scheduled surgeries. I had never wanted an intervention free birth, but I felt heartbroken. It all felt wrong.
I developed postpartum depression, but didn’t know what was going on. I felt like a failure as a mother as all of my expectations went bust. I tried to kill myself. While I was hospitalized, my husband filed for divorce. I didn’t care. I felt like he and our son were better off without me. The fact that they were apparently doing okay without me cemented the thought. I had every intention of trying again once I was released.
While I was still in inpatient care, my incision was not healing well. The nurse who came to help with wound care talked to me while she worked. She told me about her own cesarean, and how traumatic it was for her. She told me about the VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) she eventually had and the support she got from other VBAC parents. No one had talked to me before about how traumatic an unplanned cesarean can be. Everything before had been “but you have a healthy baby”. After a few talks, I broke down crying and released everything that I’d had bottled up since my son’s birth. She taught me that you can love your baby and hate their birth at the same time. She also put a flier for a VBAC support group in my discharge paperwork. She saved my life.
I didn’t see my son from two weeks old to three months. At that time, I found out he and his father had not been great. He hadn’t gained much weight after I went away and had been diagnosed with failure to thrive. I had joined a VBAC support group on Facebook after I got out of the hospital, and a few members of that group suggested that I try to relactate. After a lot of Googling and uncomfortable conversations with my now ex, we hired an IBCLC to help and I moved back into what had been our apartment to feed our son. Milk came back much faster than anyone expected. We used a supplementary nursing system (SNS) to give him formula at the breast for the first two weeks. After that, I could pump plenty. By one month, we didn’t need the SNS and he was gaining weight fast.
Now I was starting to feel like a leaky, but mostly normal human again. My son spent time with his father most evenings, but the rest of the time we got to make up for lost bonding time. I never wanted to be apart long because he needed to nurse really often, but it felt awkward being home with his dad while we went through a divorce. I started going to VBAC and postpartum mood disorder support group meetings in the evenings.
These meetings unraveled everything I believed about birth in America. I had no idea that your doctor and hospital determine your chance of a cesarean more than your own health does. I didn’t know that the OB I went to has an over 60% cesarean rate, or that I could ask about it. I had never heard of evidence based care. I thought I lived in one of the best places on earth to give birth, and then found out the maternal mortality rate is really bad. The thing that wrecked me was finding out that at 2cm dilated, I was cut for failure to progress when I wasn’t technically even in labor.
My son is in school now. He’s a fast runner who loves Batman and swinging really high. He continued to thrive after we got back to breastfeeding, and nursed until he was 18 months. Nursing him was the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.
This is the hardest story I could tell. I am much better educated about birth now. I wanted to be a birth doula, but after training and attending a few births I have realized that I still have a lot of healing left to do. I hate that I had to learn the hard way, and am still looking for the right path to help others avoid doing the same. Until I find it, I can at least help set up an SNS for any friend that needs one.