It was almost 8 years ago.
I should be over it by now.
Less exactly 1 month from 8 years, as I write this, my twin boys were removed from my body through a surgical incision in my lower abdomen. The incision went through my skin, the tissues underneath, into my abdominal cavity and then through the lower part of my very pregnant uterus. My son Alek was pulled out first and his brother Daniel followed swiftly on his heels (well, actually on his head, since Alek was breech, as was Daniel).
I hated it.
The surgery was routine, anesthesia adequate, my health excellent. I wasnít in labor. There were no serious complications and my physical recovery was unremarkable. I was, for the most part, treated well by the hospital staff and did have some help when I got home, at least for a week or so. I was never once separated from my boys and my husband was able to stay in my hospital room with me the entire time. I had two very healthy, full-term twin boys, who nursed well and didnít have any complications, from being twins or from the surgery that brought them into the world.
I was devastated.
Mind you, I loved them. And I know enough about myself now to know that the fact that I didnít fall instantly ďin loveĒ with them is a lot about how I am when I first meet my babies, no matter how they get here. Iíd waited a lot longer than 9 months to meet them, since Iíd been in fertility treatments after multiple losses. These were very longed for babies. They grew well, did everything they were supposed to pretty much when they were supposed to (ok, we wonít talk about being almost 4 before potty training) and I love them more and more every single day. I have since had two more children (my daughters) both vaginal births, both born at home, just the way Iíd planned.
So how come just a couple of months or so ago I found myself sobbing, almost uncontrollably in my therapistís office about that cesarean almost 8 years ago? (Iím not seeing a therapist for ďbirth issuesĒ Ė rather about some marital issues that are thankfully resolving) To say I was caught off-guard would be mild. Shouldnít I be over this by now?
If you happen to know me in person or from my online work with women whoíve had cesareans, you know that I donít talk that much anymore about my own cesarean. If youíve read my essay ďYou Should Be GratefulĒ then you know how furious I was. Time has done its work in many ways, Iím not that woman anymore. I have distance, perspective, maturityÖright? When I read now what I wrote almost 6 years ago, I still believe the things I wrote. But, if I were to write about it now, it would read differently. So why was I crying not so long agoÖwhy do I find myself a bit teary even now as I type?
Because it still matters as much as it ever did. And it still hurts so much when people donít understand.
I havenít written anything about birth in a long time, for lots of reasons. I found myself needing to write today. I am part of a group of women and the thing we have in common is that we all have (or had) small children. You could call it a ďsupport groupĒ for moms with small kids. I have known some of these women for almost 8 years and I love them dearly and I know they love me. Today the topic of discussion was birth stories. As you can imagine, in a group of roughly a dozen women, the spectrum of experiences was wide. I didnít share about my cesarean, rather I shared about my first vaginal birth. A friend shared about her 2 cesareans (both desperately unwanted and in retrospect likely unnecessary). Other women shared about their experiences; inductions, spontaneous labors, long labors, short labors, cesareans, pregnancy losses. It was one of those things that women sometimes do when they are together. And then it came. ďWell, in the end, the important thing really is the baby.Ē And you know what? Itís true. The baby is the important thing. ButÖso is mom. Inside me, shame and grief rose up. I canít say I know any woman (and Iíve met probably several hundred or more at this point in my life, one way or another) who wouldnít sacrifice herself for her baby. Isnít that what we did when we agreed to things we really didnít want to do or have happen to us? Does being willing to sacrifice yourself in ways that you canít truly prepare for or imagine until after you make the sacrifice then negate any regret or sorrow that might follow? Is this grief forbidden or on a time limit? Or the anger if we discover that our sacrifice was fundamentally unnecessary?
At times, Iíve been accused of wanting to make women miserable. Sometimes just because I dared to say that no, a healthy baby wasnít the only important thing, not for me. That I wanted a healthy me too. I donít want any woman to be miserable. Iíve devoted the last 7 or so years of my life to standing with women who are miserable, hoping to help them find the way through their personal grief. Iíve wished many times that my healthy babies were enough to erase my own horror and sorrow over the circumstances surrounding their arrival Ė that I could go to my grave content that nothing else mattered. I donít want to make other women miserable. I just want those women who are hurting to be allowed their pain. Without being told over and over again that the baby is enough to erase it all. The thing that finally impelled me to write again is what some of my friends said about their cesareans today. Women Iíd talked with privately at other times. Women who were unhappy. Women who today said that theyíd do it all over again just exactly the same without a second thought. I wonder if they meant it. Or if they really just wanted to mean it. Or if they just didnít feel safe with how they did feel. I donít know. I try to not project my feelings onto other womenís experiences and I do hope they meant it with all their hearts. Because that means they have found something I donít have. How can I not want peace for them?
Except I canít really believe it. Not every time. Oh, I know there are women who are completely ok with their surgeries or their inductions or the vacuum extraction or whatever Ė I know there are women for whom these things truly are just the means to the only end that matters to them. Ok. Thatís not who Iím writing about. Iím writing about the women who go through life not talking about it. Women who are brave and silent in the face of their grief and pain. Women who are trying as hard as they can to believe the baby is the only thing that matters. Women whose lives took a turn they didnít expect and that they donít know what to do with. Women who put a bright face on something dark, something unacceptable. So they do nothing, they say nothing and they get on with the business of being mothers. With an ache that never quite goes away, with regrets that creep in every once in while, with an internal tremor every time birth stories get told.
And tears that come even 8 years later.
June 1, 2006