After the birth of my first child, my son, I probably developed a slight case of postpartum depression. I was stunned by how I had been treated in the hospital and I couldn't believe that I ended up with a Cesarean section when no one else in my immediate family ever did. However, despite all of these negative feelings that I developed after the birth I did not question that my surgery was "necessary." I never doubted that everything that was done for me was the standard of care and absolutely correct. And because I believed that everything was correct and proper, I further determined in my own mind that I never wanted to go through it again.
I remember going to a LaLeche meeting with my baby and meeting another young mom there whose childbirth experience seemed very similar to mine with the same result. She too had made up her mind never to have another baby because she hated her deliver so much. I started wondering if this was normal.
By this time in my marriage, Mr. Pete and I had also started to question our Catholic faith. We had been luke warm Catholics for years, but for some reason we never disobeyed the church's ban on artificial birth control. We had practiced NFP but most definitely with a contraceptive mentality. After this first horrible birth experience we aggressively pursued NFP and I would say almost to the point of avoiding sex altogether because I was terrified of another pregnancy and birth.
Something simple turned the tide and started to reshape my thoughts on birth and the way I viewed my birth experience. I was at the grocery store with Baby Calvin in the grocery cart and I saw a paperback book in the book section called, "A Good Birth, A Safe Birth : Choosing and Having the Childbirth Experience You Want", . I started to glance through it and it quickly grabbed my interest.
There on the pages in black and white, was my birth experience almost to the second: early admission, strapped to the table on my back, multiple vaginal exams by just about everyone who wandered by the room, artificial breaking membranes, epidural, pitocin, distress, long labor, and then C-section. The book explained how each intervention cascaded into needing more invasive interventions until the ultimate intervention of surgical birth.
I think I read the entire book cover to cover. Then I ordered a copy of my medical records. What I read there astounded me. My delivery wasn't considered an emergency at all but for maternal exhaustion, a baby face forward instead of face backward, cephalopelvic disproportion and desired by mother.
All of those things and other options that could have been tried before the Cesarean, but none of them were. Additionally there were risks to the Cesarean that I was totally unaware of. With my dying breath I will always contend that any consent given on my part was not even in the vicinity of INFORMED CONSENT.
The more I read the more I discovered that my birth experience could have been avoidable if I had put more time and effort into doing my research when I was pregnant and asking my caregiver more questions. My body didn't fail me and it wasn't my baby's fault for being in the wrong position. I learned that I could take control of my body and be proactive before the next birth. The first step in all of this was to get my body back in shape and I worked on that aggressively. By Calvin's first birthday I was back to my prepregnancy, dancing days, weight and measurements only with new and improved upper body strength!
As I read and questioned the poor medical decisions and actions that were taken on my behalf, I started to question other "institutional" things that I had been lead to believe and accept. Eventually that lead to our decision to homeschool. But it also caused me to ask questions of my Catholic faith. While the questions and answers about the medical procedures and protocols regarding birth caused me to change my whole perspective on them, the questions and answers that I found while studying Catholicism brought me back into the arms of the Catholic Church. My questions found answers and the answers were reasonable, logical, spiritual and biblical. My faith caught fire through this experience and Mr. Pete caught the flame.
It was because we were studying the church and the scriptures that we determined that although we had been following the church's teaching on natural family planning, we never really understood it in its entirety. The more we learned the more beautiful the teaching became until we eventually decided that we did not even want periodic continence. We wanted the beautiful children God had planned for us. I can just say that during that time I really felt covered in God's grace. I felt like he had given me the gift of my body back and my ability to be a strong reproductive woman. He was sharpening my mind and deepening my faith. We went from being a couple full of fear and doubt to a couple just open to God's next plan for us and prayerful that he would get us through.
That's the journey we went on to overcome a difficult childbirth experience and being open to new life. It took investigation, determination and prayer. We went on to have six more pregnancies.
As my daughters get older, and if my daughter's in law ever ask for my advice, this is what I will tell them. God designed your body. He designed your body to give birth to children. Take care of your body when you are young and it will take care of you and serve you well during this life. But it's never too late to start eating right and pushing yourself through physical fitness. Find a caregiver who also has confidence in your body and your ability to birth. Understand that a medical caregiver who mentions the possibility of a C-section at your first couple of prenatal visits is covering his/her own liability. If they say you'll probably need a C-section after the first exam, get up and leave. You don't need seeds of doubt about your ability to do birth planted in your mind. Giving birth is as much a mental experience as it is a physical one. Get a second opinion. Preferably find a good homebirth midwife, or a midwife who will work with you on having a natural, gentle labor and delivery. Hire a doula!
If any of my daughters had a bad experience though, I would really encourage them to look into what happened and why. I would encourage them to ask questions and get answers the way I did.
But most of all I'd try to encourage them to stay focused on God's plan for their lives and to remember "I can do all things through Christ who Strengthens me."
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