Birth Is A Trauma, Even When You Get What You Want
Romper's Trying project follows five women with very different stories through a year of trying to conceive. Where discussions about fertility often focus on the end goal, they'll document what it's like emotionally, physically, and spiritually before you get there — the anxiety, the hope, the ovulation kits, the tests. How do you function when getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term isn't a given? Read on for one woman's answer to that question.
Dese’Rae has been undergoing fertility treatments since 2017. In January 2018, she welcomed a son, carried by her wife. This is the twelfth installment of her Trying diary. You can read the previous entry here.
CW: This essay discusses suicidality.
I was nauseous well into my second trimester before I said anything to my midwife. I let myself believe that extreme nausea is “normal” and expected during a pregnancy. I was worried that I would seem weak if I asked for some relief, so I let myself suffer. Turns out, I’m one of the small percentage of pregnant folks to experience the joy of morning sickness for the duration of pregnancy; I had to take medication right up until I delivered.
I second-guess nearly everything I do, and I usually regret it.
I also chose the wrong care team in opting for midwives over an OB. I knew I would have a big baby and I knew which path to birth made the most sense to me, but I didn't feel like the midwives were on the same page. I allowed my care to be dictated by the conventional wisdom that vaginal birth is always better than the alternative. It’s not. Turns out, my baby’s ass was stuck so far up in my ribs that she had to be vacuumed out of me, and my placenta was huge, too. I can't imagine what an attempt at a vaginal birth would have looked like, given that information. After having my concerns invalidated over and over the way they were, I should have gone ahead and switched from the midwives to the OB, but I was convinced that, somehow, I must be wrong. Convinced.
If pregnancy taught me anything, it's that I should follow my gut instead of spinning my wheels.
As I reached the end of my pregnancy, and the end of this column, I felt compelled to sum up all I’d learned over the course of my journey with infertility and the difficulties I faced with pregnancy.
Pregnancy is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Harder, even, than experiencing suicidal depression. Pregnancy felt like this huge, all-consuming, painful, suffocating trap. In my experience, suicidality feels similar, except there’s usually a moment of relief to be found with the right distraction. Not so with pregnancy.
I put the other things I learned into a list:
- Pregnancy, and motherhood in general, have allowed me the clarity of better knowing where my priorities lie and cutting out the bullsh*t. I have no time for friendships, work, or experiences that don’t enhance my life. Time is a precious, finite resource.
- I already knew this, but it bears repeating: community is invaluable. I’m so grateful that I can ask questions and swap stories with my peers. It helps me to hear that I’m not alone in a situation, or to have pals to commiserate with when things start to feel a little shaky. Often, that “me too” is all I need to keep going.
- Gratitude for the ability to have an experience and misery about the difficulty of that experience are not mutually exclusive.
- I never cared more about my right (and the right of others) to terminate a pregnancy than when I was growing a very-much-wanted baby in my body. The only person who should be able to dictate the goings on in my uterus is me; it’s certainly not some old white guy who cannot possibly fathom the deep, heartrending responsibility of having to make these decisions at all.
- Emotionally, pregnancy made me feel healthier in a lot of ways. Anger used to be so easy for me to access. Pregnancy took much of the fire and rage out of me, made me softer, more patient. I still think anger is an important tool — especially in my advocacy work — though it’s exhausting.
But then it didn’t feel like the list was enough.
My deadline for this piece was two weeks before the baby was due. I promised my editor I’d have it filed the day before surgery, but then I thought, “There’s something on the other side of this for me, so I’m gonna wait and see what it is.”
I'm writing from that place.
Once I made the decision, once and for all, that I wanted a c-section, I had almost exactly the birth experience I wanted.
My baby was delivered by the surgeon I requested. It was clear that every person on my delivery and postpartum care teams had read my birth plan. They were kind and friendly, they were informative, they called me by my name instead of calling me Mommy, we solved problems together when they arose. They kept me comfortable, cared for, and feeling cared for. Even when they had to deviate from my birth plan, they only made changes that were absolutely necessary before returning to it.
My something came to me in the shower a couple days after surgery.
I was terrified of the epidural and requested that Fel be allowed into the operating room with me when it was placed. It wasn’t a request that could be accommodated, but the nurse and anesthesiologist walked me through the process to quell my anxiety, got the job done quickly and efficiently, and even brought Fel in earlier than most partners.
We joked through most of the surgery. Fel was able to see everything through the clear screen, and she documented it all. She stood at my shoulder squealing with excitement as the surgeon pulled the baby from my torso. She cut the umbilical cord. A nurse showed me the placenta because I asked. The anesthesia made me sick, but they put the baby on my chest as soon as they could safely do so.
The postpartum care was exceptional, too. I was told I could go home three days after surgery, but could stay an extra day if I wanted — I started calling it the five-star science hotel.
The experience of bringing children into the world is supposed to be beautiful and glowy and highly saturated.
My something came to me in the shower a couple days after delivery. The first shower after a physical trauma (usually a large tattoo, in my case) is always stressful for me — indeed, the tech came in to take my blood pressure immediately afterward, and my generally decent blood pressure was sky high.
As the hot water ran down my sore body, I remember thinking through the whole birth experience, and thinking about the nature of trauma — how we view it almost unilaterally through a negative lens. I thought about how gestational carriers don’t often openly talk about their bad experiences with pregnancy or birth or infertility or miscarriage (and non-gestational partners never have a voice) because the experience of bringing children into the world is supposed to be beautiful and glowy and highly saturated, like a technicolor dream.
Gus made me a mother, and Theo turned me inside out to make me a mother bodily.
My birth experience was The One I Wanted, and even so, it was still a trauma — a huge trauma. My body is wrecked. I'm healing a giant incision wound. I've got bruises all over my arms from being stuck so many times. My hormones are wonky. The baby blues are more like an entire spectrum of all kinds of overwhelming feelings, and my tear ducts are working overtime. Gus made me a mother, and Theo turned me inside out to make me a mother bodily.
No matter what, good or bad or in between, birth — and sometimes conception, and sometimes pregnancy — is a trauma. It’s a trauma we try for.
And if we’re lucky enough to get it, we’ve got to honor it.
If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or anxiety during pregnancy, or in the postpartum period, contact the Postpartum Health Alliance warmline at (888) 724-7240, or Postpartum Support International at (800) 944-4773. If you are thinking of harming yourself or your baby, get help right away by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or dialing 911. For more resources, you can visit Postpartum Support International.