Warning: The following is frank, graphic, and extremely long. You may want to stop reading now. Light-hearted martini and pedicure blogging will return soon.
It’s been just over 13 months since I gave birth to Cakes. Her birth, and the months immediately after, were the hardest days of my life. I haven’t discussed her birth much with friends or family. I never really told the whole story to anyone because I didn’t want to be a whiner, gross anyone out, or remind myself of what happened. However, since her one-year birthday, it’s been on my mind. I need to get it off my chest.
Timothy Findley says, “memory is the means by which most of us retain our sanity. The act of remembrance is good for people”.
I hope that writing this will be cathartic and the act of remembering will be good for me.
Throughout my pregnancy, I never really worried about giving birth. I thought it would be incredibly painful, but I would quickly request an epidural and enjoy a pain-free, uneventful delivery after which I would put the baby to my breast and we would bond instantly.
It was nothing like that.
I finished work on a Friday in May and planned to have three blissful weeks of reading novels before my baby was due. I had appointments for a pedicure and a haircut. I planned to stock the freezer with meals. Three days later, on May 17, I went for a routine check-up where my doctor found my blood pressure was high. He sent me straight to the hospital where they decided to induce me because of the possibility of hypertension.
I was apprehensive, but also elated. I was going to see my baby in a few hours. I wouldn’t be spending the next three weeks in nervous anticipation. (I was very naïve—I purposely didn’t read a lot about birth complications because I didn’t want to scare myself. I knew nothing about induction).
I excitedly called several people to tell them I would soon have good news to report. They put a gel inside me to start dilating my cervix. Hours later, nothing had happened so they put me on oxytocin to start contractions. This had the effect of giving me what felt like the most horrible menstrual cramps ever. 12 sleepless hours later, there was still nothing, so they increased the oxytocin. By Wednesday afternoon (still sleepless), nothing had happened so my doctor decided to break my water.
He broke my water at 4 pm. It was unbelievably painful. Nothing happened at first, then pain that I cannot describe. I am usually a stoic person. I was screaming, and begging and pleading for drugs. Because of my high blood pressure, the anaesthesiologist refused to give me an epidural until he received some test results.
This went on for two excruciating hours. Finally, at 6:00 I received the epidural. Ah, bliss. I calmed down and prepared myself for my storybook birth.
Six hours later, I finally delivered Cakes. I had an episiotomy, but that was OK since I was still under the effects of the epidural. Big Papa cut the cord. I was exhausted and elated and didn’t notice BP’s anxiety (I found out later Cakes was breathing weakly when she was born. BP, having a lot of medical training, noticed Cakes was white as a ghost and that there was an extra doctor called to the room). She ended up being fine. They put her on my breast and she didn’t feed, but they told me we could try again soon). We were soon transferred to the mother and baby unit.
I finally slept, for the first time since Monday, for a couple of hours. I woke up, at around 4 in the morning, bleary and confused, to a soaked bed. The bed was covered in blood. I had haemorrhaged. They put me on pitocin. The next couple of days are a blur. The effects of the pitocin were extremely painful, plus it left me with no control over my bodily functions. I spend the next two days having my triple-layered maxi-pads and diapers changed. I was on a catheter. I received three units of blood.
Needless to say, breastfeeding did not go well.
They brought me an electric breast pump which I dutifully used. They told us not to introduce a bottle, so Big Papa (who also hadn’t slept in days) spent hours finger-feeding Cakes.
We were finally sent home, five days later.
The next six weeks were extremely difficult. I won’t go into it all here (it’s another post) but we struggled with breast-feeding and finger feeding and finally resigned ourselves to feeding her a combination of formula and pumped breast milk. I was really weak at first, but steadily improved. Big Papa was a superstar.
Six weeks after Cakes birth, I was going to the bathroom one day when blood started gushing out of me. I had been bleeding the whole time (we’ve all been through that), but this was like a faucet. The toilet was filled with blood. We called an ambulance and they took us to the hospital closest to our home (not the same one where I gave birth). It was Friday of Canada Day weekend. They put me on Pitocin again (even more agonizing this time). Big Papa and Cakes spent hours in emerg with me. No one knew what was wrong. Later that night, a crack-head who had been hit by a car was admitted and put in the bed next to us. He wouldn’t stop screaming and cursing, and he carried on for hours with just a curtain separating us.
They finally told us they would be keeping me in emerg overnight so I sent BP and Cakes home. The night was terrifying. They kept me on the Pitocin. They put a bedpan underneath me to catch the blood that continued to flow. They wouldn’t answer questions to my satisfaction.
I know this sounds melodramatic (and there was probably no real possibility) but I honestly feared I was going to die. What I remember most is a profound feeling of loss and regret that Cakes may not have a mother. What would happen to BP? I was completely and absolutely terrified.
The next day they did a D&C and they inserted a balloon inside my uterus to staunch the bleeding. It worked. If it hadn’t, the next step they were going to take was a hysterectomy.
I received another two units of blood and was discharged on Monday (one year ago today).
I found out (much) later that I had a condition called placenta accreta, where part of the placenta becomes embedded in the uterine wall. It’s a rare condition (1 in 2500) and is very unlikely to happen again.
We are doing great now, but this whole experience has had a lasting impact. Firstly, I feel cheated for not having the type of birth I envisioned. I am so envious of those whose first memories of their baby are pleasant ones. I can hardly read those happy birth stories. I know many other women have also had difficult births but it doesn’t change the fact that I’m bitter.
Secondly, I am terrified at the thought of giving birth again. This fear is affecting my decision whether or not to have another child. Big Papa says it’s a huge factor for him as well. I feel so badly for him for all he went through.
Writing this wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I’ve wanted to write it for a long time, but was afraid it would be too painful. It wasn’t that bad. I even had trouble remembering some of the details.
Findley also says, “memory is a form of hope. If the memory is a bad one, say of pain or of a death—then it’s clouded. The sharpness is blunted. We remember that we were in pain. But the pain itself cannot be recalled exactly. Not as it was. Because, if we could recall it, then we’d have to be in pain again—and that, except where there’s psychological disorder, is a physical and mental impossibility. If you’ve ever had a bad accident, then you’ll remember that you can’t remember what happened. But you can recall joy. You can make yourself laugh again and feel again something joyous that happened before. Of course, you can make yourself cry again, too. But the tears aren’t as valid as the laughter, because the tears you conjure have as much to do with the passage of time as with the sadness you remember. Still, a sad memory is better than none. It reminds you of survival”.
A wise man.
Labels: on motherhood