I never thought that I would be robbed blind of something that was inside of my body. You know when you’re carrying something so precious and you put it in your safest coat pocket? You constantly graze your hand across it just to make sure it’s still safe? I didn’t have to do that with the baby growing inside of me. I couldn’t accidentally misplace him or lose him like every bobby pin I’ve ever owned; I was protecting him with all seven layers of my flesh and intricate network of veins and bones. The strongest home I could ever build in 40 weeks.
During the two years of my heart-wrenching PCOS-ridden ride to conception I concocted the perfect birth plan. I knew my rights, my wishes, and my fears of birth before I even saw those two pink lines. Throughout my fairly textbook pregnancy, I had focused intently on setting my mind and my body up for what I wanted my birth to look like. I had practiced all of the mental empowering techniques and had my birth plan laminated on the side of the gift basket I made for my delivery nurses. In bold red ink I had typed: “Avoid a cesarean” and even had my Plan B typed up on the back. Little did I know that even my Plan B was even going out the window.
Labor began the day after my due date. I felt empowered and strong and in a blissful state of control. I sat on my birth ball and labored intently at home. I breathed as I was taught, I cleansed my mind and felt the strength in my body as I made it through each and every contraction like a champ. We checked in to an aromatherapy filled dim lit hospital room and hours of labor passed.
There was a moment that I was laboring on my hands and knees on the hospital bed. The pain was so intense but I owned that pain. I owned my birth. My baby was safe inside of me and I was going to meet him at any moment. It was time to get off the bed and hooked up to the heart rate monitor and then I woke up without my baby hours later. Anticlimactic right? I had experienced a Grand Mal seizure, fell to the floor and hit my head so hard that I was knocked unconscious. I was rushed into the operating room and within three minutes my child was born while in my concussed mind I was still laboring on that bed.
The cause is still unknown. Doctors have warned me that my subsequent pregnancies should be overseen by a team of neurologists and that future cesareans would lessen the chance of suffering another seizure in the future.
A birth that I owned one moment was taken from me the next. Like a home invasion, I felt taken advantage of. It was as if my drawers and cupboards were turned inside out and the intruder knew everything about me. Our wedding photos were shattered, our family bible had been trampled on, the contents of my jewelry box were strewn across the room. Maybe it was the pain meds or the anti-seizure magnesium-high that made my mind go down the rabbit hole of doom and gloom but I felt like my bodily home was emptied – physically and mentally.
After making countless visits to neurologists in the days following birth, the cause of my seizure was undetermined. Seizures in pregnancy is typically linked to things like preeclampsia, however all serious pregnancy related causes were ruled out. I was told that it could have been from the level of intensity that labor had my body or the rate of ventilation of my breath, but the cause is still unknown. Doctors have warned me that my subsequent pregnancies should be overseen by a team of neurologists and that future cesareans would lessen the chance of suffering another seizure in the future. In those moments I had to process the fact that my future pregnancies were all going to share the same thread.
I never thought I would wish pain on myself while I was numb from the chest down. I felt nothing, I remembered nothing. I was robbed of the ability to try. It’s like starting a race that you’ve been training for and then tripping on the start line. I couldn’t even process that I was losing. I couldn’t even fail. I missed out on the outer body experience to watch myself grapple with the exchange between my mind and body. That transition of “I don’t think I can do this” to “I’m actually doing this!” I just was gone and woke up again.
Coming home from the hospital was like attending a party for yourself on the wrong day. The decorations were up but it was all wrong. Each time I went to the bathroom it was a reminder that my perfectly orchestrated plan had failed. Why wasn’t I bleeding more and why was I so heartbroken? The postpartum recovery kit that I had made up for myself sat covered in dust on the floor instead of being used to nurture my body in its recovery. I didn’t prepare to have to heal my heart and mind while trying to not snag my stapled stomach on my mesh undies. There is no numbing spray strong enough to freeze the mental tears of birth trauma.
Each day that I wake up I get to greet a baby that I wasn’t sure I would ever have the chance to bear. Birth aside we were healthy and I was a mother. I may have missed the first hello when they pressed his cheek against my unconscious face, but I promised myself in that hospital bed that I wouldn’t let myself miss another one. Like that robbed home, I deadbolt the place I call my motherhood daily and I guard each and every moment with my son. The privilege of being a healthy mother to a healthy child is not lost on me but I still have the right to grieve the loss of witnessing his first breath. It’s given me an insurmountable appreciation for health and life and how truly fragile and resilient we are at the same time.
I believe you can’t fully appreciate something until you’ve had it lost and returned to you. I’ve loosened control of my future and have learned that my fingerprints don’t have to be on every decision that I make, as long as we are safe and healthy and together.
Read the next piece from Not In The Plan, essays about the unforeseen elements of birth, and the ways people recover.