Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Dealing with traumatic childbirth

My BFF is going to be a grandma. Soon. Maybe even this instant. Her lovely daughter-in-law is having a Cesarean today. It's been a long haul - she was admitted yesterday and has been in labor almost 24 hours, even got past 5 cm too but for medical reasons, they're calling it.

This could be my story, in fact it has a lot of similarities to my first birth 21 years ago - almost 24 hours of labor, breaking the bag of waters, epidural, fetal distress, C-section. A very rough ride. And every time I would get a report from my friend about how the labor was going I just ached inside for what this new young mom was going through. It is a hard way to start motherhood.

I did meet this young lady about a month or so ago. We hit it off just fine. Her pregnant belly was full and beautiful. I resisted the urge to touch. I resisted the urge to tell her, "watch out for this," and "don't do that." It's not my place.

Nonetheless I do have some tidbits of experience that might be helpful to situations that she and I have both found ourselves in and maybe others will find it helpful.


When I first managed to make it into the bathroom after my childbirth ordeal, I looked at myself and cried. I could literally see all the pain (physical and psychological) etched in my eyes. I was hurt and hurting. Every time someone asked about me and I heard Mr. Pete or someone say, "Oh she's fine" I started screaming in my mind, "I'm not fine! I'm not fine! What the hell happened to me! I went in to have a baby and I ended up as a post surgical patient. I had no control over anything. I can't even walk to the bathroom or hold my baby. I'm not fine."

So I guess that would be my first tidbit to caregivers. When someone asks how the mom is say she's recovering and don't belabor the point, but don't say she's "fine."

I got hold of my medical records. It was very helpful for me to see what happened when and why decisions were made. It helped me to make my timeline and to think straighter about the whole experience.

But most importantly I think, for a new mom going home expected to take care of herself and her baby is an abdominal binder.  I didn't get one for my first birth, but with my second Cesarean at age 40 I thought, how stupid it was for me to be guarding my stomach with my arm - surely there could e some sort of wrap or something that could do it for me so that I could use both arms! And when I mentioned it to a nurse she came back with an abdominal binder, God bless her. Why they don't automatically give them to C-section moms is beyond me.

I know the birth of a baby is a wonderful and joyous thing. But for a mom to go through a hard labor and then end up with a C-section it's a trauma too.  I think it even interfered somewhat with the bonding experience. I remember feeling a bit angry and even annoyed at my baby, until it occurred to me that it was his trauma too. I think it's important to let the new mom talk about her experiences and feelings. Mr. Pete was GREAT at listening to me about this even when other friends and family members had had their fill.  I'd have totally lost it if I hadn't had his support. Now that I think back on that experience, it was very similar to grief only in some ways harder because other people won't view it as grief. After all you had a baby and everyone is "fine!"  And that's unfortunate. I think it's important to acknowledge for the new mom that this was hard and it was a trauma and it was a loss in away and at the same time affirming how strong she was to get through it and how over the weeks to come she will find a way to incorporate all of that into her new motherhood.

And if I might add something for priests here - my first confession after a difficult childbirth was to ask the priest who if I was open to new life, why would God allow me to suffer so much?  Didn't he ever want me to do this again?  The priest went on to give me a litany of saints who had suffered and died to for the faith which, while very true, was not helpful to me at that time, on that day. Maybe something about grief or loss would have been more helpful if it could be tailored somewhat for a woman after a difficult childbirth.

But new moms need to be reassured that this birth is this birth; the next birth will be that birth. No two babies and no two births are ever the same.  Even the mothers are different as we women  learn and grow and experience. I found that reassurance to be very helpful and soothing too.
Gabe 002
Gabe and I on the cover of the Clarion- the newsletter for ICAN.
Gabe was born 6 years after my C-section, 2 years after a hospital VBAC.
Almost 11 pounds, at home.
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