Birth Matters

Where I am These Days

As I write, I do so with selfish motives, this is about me.  But I also do it to share -- what I've found for me, and where I've come from, in the hopes that it might speak to someone about her journey, though never as a blueprint for "how it should be done".  And mostly, that there might be some hope, although I'm not anywhere done with my journey, as anyone who makes it through this will see.  Itís really just my story.

 

As I start this, itís been 4 years, 2 months, 24 days and about 7 1/2 hours since my cesarean.  And in the last few days, I've had opportunity to look back and look forward at who I was then and who I am becoming.  And some of it has surprised me.  I feel such an incredible resonance with some of the recent posts [on the ICAN email list], the feelings (as angry and hurt as they are) are so comfortable and familiar to me.  And yet, as I thought about it, I realized that somehow, sometime, some things changed.  And are still changing.  And I didn't really notice until now.

 

For those who don't know, I had an "elective" cesarean, at 39w4d because I was carrying twins and they were both breech.  I knew a lot about how to avoid a cesarean; I believed I had a handle on how to control things so that I wouldn't have a cesarean.  In some ways, the fact that I had no control over the reason that brought me to the OR was the crowning lesson in a series of lessons about control.  I believed that I could control my life. I needed to learn differently.  It wasn't just about the cesarean.  My husband and I dealt with some potentially marriage ending issues for several years.  I struggled with unemployment (after graduating with a huge debt), and then an incredibly abusive job (which I believe God specifically told me to take).  I suffered through 2 years of infertility with multiple miscarriages, after God planted the desire for a baby in me (I wasn't particularly eager to start our family for much of our marriage).  I'd already fought long and hard with God about "why me".  I was vocal and adamant that I would not have twins and I would not have a cesarean. Somehow, I thought it was up to me.

 

My cesarean was "good".  It certainly wasn't abusive and I didn't suffer separation from my babies or my husband during the process.  My recovery was typical, physically uncomplicated on the whole.  But for all its neatly scheduled nature, my cesarean caught me off guard.  I was sexually assaulted by a house-mate when I was 19.  It was basically "date rape" -- I was drunk/high and unable to defend myself, he took advantage of the situation. While I don't condone his behavior in the slightest, I also allow that I had some responsibility for it, because of foolish (and dangerous) choices on my part.  Somehow, even though that incident was far in my past, the cesarean brought it alive in the present -- there I was lying, naked and numb, on that surgery table.  There I was, unable to defend myself, because of decisions I'd made (which perhaps seemed foolish?) undergoing a procedure that ended up being a lot more sexual than I ever expected.  Not at all the feelings I expected to be having as I transitioned from pregnant with twins to mother of twins.

 

I had post-partum depression.  No surprise, I was recovering from major surgery and trying to mother 2 moderately needy infants.  The lack of a normal transition from "pregnant" to "mother of babies" hit me hard.  I suppose the "good thing" about being depressed was that while I was not emotionally healthy, I also was spared the wrenching process that was before me, while my babies were so young.  I don't know how it would have been if I had awakened earlier, I suspect that there might be a purpose to why I didn't find ICAN right away, though I grieve for that very sad, very lonely woman who struggled to pretend everything was ok for so many months.  

 

Then I got angry.  The word is so inadequate.  I burned with white hot rage. I danced with being angry with my son Alek, the presenting twin.  He was my more difficult baby and it was easy to slip into blaming him for being breech -- his stubbornness, his desire to hurt me, to make me miserable.  But that just didn't stick.  I tried to blame "the system" for not knowing how to deliver breech babies anymore.  But the more I learned, the more I came to understand that maybe, just maybe, the cesarean really was "the best choice".  I knew it was God's doing.  God became the focus of that rage because it was all his fault.  If he'd wanted my boys to be vertex, they would have been.  Double breech presentation happens less than 10% of the time.  Of course, twin conceptions with clomid (the medication I took) runs about 10% too.  Why did I have to be in that 10%?  twice?  Why did I have to have a cesarean?  So many women didn't care but I did.  After all the struggles to even carry a pregnancy to term, why this? It was not fair, I'd had more than my share of troubles already.  Even worse, I was getting no answer to "why".  And if he wasn't going to answer why, then why the hell did he create me to ask the question?  My cesarean set off the pivotal crisis of faith in my adult life.  I was faced with the realization that God was not anywhere close to who I expected him to be.  And I had to deal with what I was going to do with that realization.

 

I struggled to find a way where it was my mistake -- because if I just missed something I should have done, I could still claim the ability to control the outcome -- if I'd just been strong enough to wait for labor to start, maybe they would have turned.  If I'd pursued other opinions, maybe someone would have attended me.  If I'd learned more about how to turn breech babies (all I knew about was the slant board and external version -- and no one would touch a version of twins), maybe I would have learned about moxibustion or chiropracty.  Somehow this had to be a situation where I'd just screwed up, not something that I couldn't change.  But that isn't my truth about what happened to me and I had to face the unpleasant fact that I'd made a commitment to a God who was willing to allow me to get hurt in the most profound ways, for reasons that he refused to explain.

 

The thing about anger is that it propels you to do things.  And if you are wise or maybe just lucky, it can propel you to do good things.  I think that my anger did (and does) do that -- I was motivated to learn more about birth than I ever guessed existed.  I was motivated to make ICAN an important part of my life.  I was motivated to plan a better birth for any subsequent children, with my eyes completely open this time.  I was motivated to start writing -- my essay "You Should Be Grateful" came directly out of my rage. I like my anger, to be honest.  I didn't realize how much until recently.

 

Because you see, for some reason, I'm not angry the same way anymore.  And part of me is sad about that.  Part of me sees the loss of that rage as compromise -- an indication that somehow, my cesarean is becoming not such a big deal.  To this day, I detest the exercise that goes "name 10 good things that came from your cesarean, and your baby is number 11" (especially since for many months I wasn't at all sure that my babies were something good), as much as I acknowledge that it is very freeing for many women.  I don't want to find anything good about my cesarean, even though objectively, I know that "good" did come from it.  Somehow, there's surrender implicit in admitting a positive affect as a result of my cesarean that is proving very difficult for me to make.  As I write, I wonder if itís because I fear a slippery slope -- today I admit that "good" came from my cesarean and tomorrow I admit that it was all worth it.  The next day I decide to be happy about it.  And in doing so, I forsake that woman who suffered so much.

 

It still comes down to control.  Do I control the effects of time on my journey?  Do I control my healing?  No, not really.   I've come to the belief that God has to be good, or else there's no reason for me to be. However, the definition of good isn't what I thought it would be, or even something that I can truly comprehend.  There is a purpose to asking "why", even if that purpose often isn't to get an answer I understand.  It probably is the process that's important, not the event that starts it all.  I suppose being a parent for 4 years has taught me that -- there are times when my sons ask me "why" and I know that I've made my decision in their best interests but they are simply incapable of understanding the only explanation I can give them.  Itís at those moments that I have to trust that my overwhelming love for them will be enough in the end.   And so I think it is with God and me.  But it isn't easy.  I think (hope) I've learned the first set of lessons about control -- I have few illusions about how much control I really have over my life.  When I conceived my daughter without drugs, and birthed her in the privacy of my own home, I realized that it isn't all about learning things the hard way, either.  But of course, the lessons are never really over and now I'm learning about how I need to be peaceful, need to have a measure of contentment or even joy as I purposefully surrender my continuing desire to control my life.  It is proving to be incredibly hard and I'll admit to being afraid of how he'll bring this newest set of lessons home to me as its already taking its toll on my sense of who I am.  But I am at peace with the notion that this is the theme of my life, because it is how I'm made and if my God is good, then he didn't make any mistakes making me this way, no matter how much "work" there remains to be done.

 

I can now join with the voices who say that they are thankful for the women they've become as a result of their cesareans.  But that's a recent admission for me, and it still doesn't come easy.  I can't get away from the sense that somehow, in admitting that, I'm condoning what happened to me. But I do know, for me, that the lessons I'm learning are important and I know that I don't learn them easily.  How I hate that!  Acceptance is too much like surrender and yet surrender is sometimes what's required.  I liked the woman I was before the cesarean and I did not like the woman I was afterwards.  Not for a long time.  But I have to say, I like and respect (as strange as that is) the woman I've grown to be more than I ever thought I would.  Could it have happened otherwise?  Probably.  But I also believe the most profound growth happens out of pain, as unfair as that seems, and so at least I can say I haven't completely "wasted" my pain.  Though that may be taking much more credit for controlling the process than I really should I will say this -- none of the conclusions I've made about the "whys" of all of this came easily or early -- it continues to be a long, hard process, one that I haven't been particularly graceful about and one that I haven't enjoyed.  I don't know how to say something like "itís worth it".  I can't really imagine saying it.  I just know what happened, and I'm learning about who I am now.  Somehow, in that, there are some answers of a sort.

 

Gretchen

September 9, 2002