They didn’t hold her up or place her on my chest or announce her arrival when she was born. They took her, immediately away and I was in too much shock to feel anything. There was no sweet relief, no sweeping sensation of love, or of victory, or of accomplishment. All that was left was the feeling that I had done something wrong.
I knew it because of the way nobody congratulated me. Nobody praised me “good job mama!” “you did it!” “she’s beautiful!” The nurses held my shaking hands as I was stitched up by a doctor who barked at me to “stay still” and glared at me over the top of his glasses or goggles or mask or whatever was covering his face – I don’t remember. Or would I rather do this in the operating room? They didn’t speak, really. I could feel they felt it too, that I failed, or something. There were so many people crowded into that room – most of whom I wouldn’t even recognize for a second if they were standing right in front of me. All witness to my failure. All witness to one of the most vulnerable moments of my life – and I don’t even know what color their hair was.
I’ve written about it a million times, if not on paper, in my head. Replaying over and over the feeling in the room, the look in his eyes, the pure, crystal clear contempt in his voice. I replay over and over the only interaction I ever had with him after he finished stitching me; of him walking into the room, me looking up hopefully at him, you could have probably felt my desperation for him to throw me some sort of compliment, some sort of consolation prize, some sort of comforting word. Instead he briskly patted my knee and said, “Well, you made that harder than it had to be.”
I don’t remember what I said back. If I remember correctly I didn’t say anything, just watched through blurry eyes as he turned and walked out of the room and I’ve never seen him since. But I remember that line, crystal clear, written over and over and over until it etched a space in my brain.
I meditated on that line, over and over and over.
I meditated on the deep feelings of failure. I meditated on the deep feelings of inadequacy, that there was something definitely wrong with me. I couldn’t birth a baby the right way and nothing was as effortless and lovey as I was promised.
I devoured birth stories and watched every birth documentary and birth TV show possible, aching to hear one like mine. I felt bitter, bitter anger and jealousy for the mamas with the one-push wonders, the mamas with the instant skin-to-skin, the instant tears of joy, the ones who did it by the book, like you are supposed to. The ones whose doctors exclaimed “congratulations!!” and smiled big and told them “good job, mama.”
All I wanted was that “good job, mama!” Had I gotten that, even after the condescending lectures, the glares, the barking of orders at me, the ignoring my pleas, ignoring my “no”, the neglecting to tell me anything at all that was happening with my baby and my body – if I had just gotten that “good job, mama!” it probably would have been enough.
I don’t think the way I was treated was acceptable – but that doctor changed my life.
At first he changed it for the worse – I believed I was inadequate, I truly believed that to my core. My failure at bringing my daughter into the world the “right way” quickly translated to so many other areas of life. My need for that doctor’s approval was consuming. I needed his approval. I needed his praise. I needed it desperately, because I didn’t know how to give it to myself. I let the reaction of one man, during one life event define me. I gave him that much power – this man I spent less than an hour of my life with.
And it lasted too long, my mourning over my birth. It lasted past the “acceptable” timeframe, which is essentially 15 minutes if you and your baby came out ok. No pity parties allowed for stories like that. I could feel the impatience of others wondering why I couldn’t just move on. I could physically feel their confusion, their annoyance, their exasperation. They didn’t get it. Why couldn’t I just move on? Why couldn’t I understand it could have been worse?
And I fought back against this – it WAS important, I had a right to feel this way. I definitely understood it wasn’t just about the birth itself, although I couldn’t quite verbalize that yet, couldn’t recognize how symbolic this event was for my whole life. I fought and fought until one night last March I sat in my bathroom alone and cried and cried because I knew that even though it was important and I did have a right to feel this way – I couldn’t keep doing this to myself. I couldn’t keep meditating on his words and assigning myself the victim role in this life story. I wanted out of this story, and I didn’t know how to do it, so I asked for help.
At any minute, any day now, my son will arrive. I do not know how his birth will go. I do not know the story it will end up being, but I do know some things about it.
I know I get to determine the moral of the story, my moral of my story. I know that no doctor, nurse, or observer is going to get to write that story for me. I am going to be awarding my own gold stars, not waiting around in hopes someone else will dole one out to me.
I have actively prepared for this moment for a year now. Yet I am not concerned anymore with the specifics. Somewhere along the line I let go of the specifics. I told my counselor last week I didn’t know what word to use to explain it – I’m sort of floating there, un-concerned. When the anxiety and fear come, and they do sometimes, I watch them in a detached way. I look at them hanging in the air and think “you aren’t going to help me” – I’m not going to fear myself into my perfect birth story – and watch them evaporate like mist.
And its not that I am indifferent now or that I endorse the sweeping generalization of “all that matters is that you have a healthy baby.” Fuck that. Birth stories matter. At the risk of sounding over-dramatic – my birth story caused me to change my life. To realize I gave far, far too much power to authority to determine how I should feel about myself, my life, my choices. That is fucking powerful. My life changed because of my birth story. It literally changed. Because of it my boundaries have become stronger, my vulnerability and honesty and genuine self-love has increased. I may never have started writing without it. I may never have stopped to question the million things that I just accepted as fact before – things about how a woman should act, how she should look, what she should care the most about.
Its been almost three years since my first birth story. It is a part of me. It has written itself in my DNA.
I’m ready for the sequel.
“The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.” Vladimir Nabokov