Monday, May 10, 2010

Versions of My Birth Story

I’ve been trying to find the time to finish writing my birth story, but I sense that I will not be finished with it for a long time. So far, I’ve made a couple different attempts. The first one came in the form of a mass email I sent out about a week after Cedar’s birth, in which I spelled out the gist of what happened: my first contractions came around seven a.m. on March 24th; I was in active labor by around five p.m.; my water broke at nine; my contractions quickly escalated in frequency and intensity. Then, sometime around 1 a.m., I started to get an urge to push. But I was only dilated to six centimeters; it was too early to push. The baby’s head was positioned low and thus triggering the urge. It continued to grow, and I could not help but push at times. Eventually, my cervix got swollen. And after more than four hours of intense rapid breathing in order to repress the pushing reflex, I finally transferred to the hospital at seven a.m. for an epidural to hopefully allow me to rest and my cervix to unswell.

My cervix had since gone from six cm. now down to four and was still tightly swollen. At the hospital, I lay there for hours, poked and prodded at by the nurses, unable to sleep. Meanwhile, contractions had slowed, so in the afternoon, pitocin was started to try and get contractions closer together again, and the dosage was slowly increased over many more hours of waiting. But there was hardly any progress. And by seven p.m., 36 hours after I’d gone into early labor, I was advised to have a c-section. Told of all the potential increased risks of infection and stress to my baby if I waited. Plus, now there was meconium. And after 27 hours of active labor, I was exhausted, questioning how important a vaginal birth really was to me, and ready to meet my baby without worrying about putting him at greater risks. They had me prepped within minutes. Surgery took half an hour. Our baby came out crying and vigorous.

Cedar took to the breast right away, and the nurses who cared for me were wonderful, but after more than three days at the hospital, we were more than ready to come home. There were way too many people in and out of our room all day and night, and it was time for me to heal in my own space. I needed to sink into a nest with just my husband and my baby in order to begin to process what the hell just happened. This bare bones account I’ve just given you cannot do not do justice to the intensity, pain, gratitude, disappointment, resignation, relief, joy and awe that flooded through me during those days of labor and recovery. But there you have it, a two paragraph version of Cedar’s birth, in a nutshell.

About two weeks after I delivered, I was finally able to sit down and free-write a longer version of the story—eleven single-spaced pages of every last detail I could remember. The ‘spew out as much as you can while it’s fresh in two sittings while the baby is sleeping, and don’t worry about flow or grammar’ version. Inevitably, questions started to arise. Questions about what happened from hour to hour-- when I was checked, how far I was along, when I started to get the urge to push, why I was initially told it was okay to push by my midwife’s assistant, how low was my baby’s head in my cervix, how long did I breathe those rapid fire breaths, how much longer could I have afforded to put off the c-section, and what else might have been done to avoid it. I wanted to talk to, and get copies of my chart from, both my midwife who attended the home part of the birth, and the midwife who attended most of my labor at the hospital, in order to be able to see from a linear perspective how it all went down. During the labor, I was not aware of time and I could barely talk to others. But now, in trying to write about it, I needed to understand as much as possible and be able to relay the details with precision-- with a precision that could help me feel like I fully owned the experience. Like there were no questions remaining I had not asked, even if I already knew that many questions could never be answered.

During the first couple weeks following Cedar’s birth, any mention of the experience could bring tears to my eyes. And although that period already feels like a long time ago, the whole journey is still so intimate to me and not an easy one to convey. With the help of my midwife’s chart, and also through talking to my husband and to my friend, Amy, who attended the birth, I’ve started to write a more polished, concise and thorough version of what happened. I am writing this for myself, first and foremost, because I want to have a record before the details grow fuzzy and my motivation to record them less profound. I already largely feel at peace with what happened, but I know that just as my incision from my c-section may be healed on the outside, I am still healing in layers on the inside. And for me, writing out all these versions of my story, and beginning to share them with others, is an integral part of my healing process.

I showed the detailed, play-by-play, in-progress version of my birth story to my friend, Amy. What do you think? I wrote her in an email. I want to post my birth story on my blog, but I’m not sure I’m ready to yet, it’s still so intimate to me. She wrote back,

I feel like you got the story line, the this then this then this. It's all a bit fuzzy for me. Something’s missing though. Emotion? It was such a powerful experience Anne. You were a rockstar! There you were on the bed, Matthew at your side and me at your feet and the cat at my head for hours. And you were breathing through these powerful contractions (I like your train out your ass metaphor!) It was pure magic. The space was infused with magic because you and the baby and the universe were manifesting this baby to be born. It was the most amazing thing. I want to feel more of the power and enormity of the experience in your writing. The goddess incarnate breathing on the bed and in the tub while Matthew and I witnessed and supported and encouraged as the midwives slept… and how he said, as we all lay in bed: it's raining, cedars love the rain. and Miles meowed with you as you labored. And I felt the ancient traditions coursing through me as I poured teakettle and pot after teakettle and pot of boiling water in the tub (I know, that wasn't your experience and you do write about it but it was very ancient and maternal and remembered)…

I knew she was right. My version, so far, was lacking emotion. It was written, for the most part, out of my motivation to understand exactly what happened on the linear, physical plane-- how much, how long, when and where. It was about recording all the details, getting them out of the way, so that I could eventually arrive at the deeper questions and emotions—the mixture of disappointment and relief that I felt when I decided to have the c-section; what it really meant to me to want a home birth, an un-medicated birth, and a vaginal birth and what those meant to me now that I hadn’t been able to have them; and, of course, what it felt like to meet my son. I still need to explore these questions, to honor both the part of me that is disappointed and sad that it didn’t go “as planned,” and the part of me that had prepared myself for this possibility-- that nothing ever goes quite “as planned” and that it would be okay if I ended up at the hospital, and okay if I ended up with a c-section, even though I hoped I wouldn’t. People always say, “What’s important is that you have a healthy baby and healthy mama.” And although I ultimately agree and that’s how I felt in the moment of making the decision to go ahead with the c-section, that doesn’t mean that there still isn’t sadness and questions I need to process, and that these aren’t important.

So what about my friend Amy’s version? The one that honors the magic and power of the experience? Yes, perhaps I will in some other essay be able to tap into that too. But, of course, it can’t be the same version as the one Amy experienced. Because although I was aware of the things that she wrote of—our cat Miles on the bed with us, what Matthew said about cedars and the rain, the procession of kettles of hot water poured into the tub—and so very grateful that she was a witness and could remind me of them, those details were very much in the periphery of my experience. Everything besides concentrating on my breath in order to manage the pain and my urge to push was in the periphery.

My labor was such an ‘out of mind’ experience that I’m having trouble expressing all of its parts in one whole—the timed, chronological, charted part and the physical, painful, visceral part; the spiritual, magical, ancient part and the reflective, looking back on it, redemptive part. All I know is, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. And mostly I’m talking about the physical energy and effort it took. But even the pain I experienced was quickly forgotten once I moved into the next stage of the labor at the hospital, and the huge relief of the epidural. Then the long procession of I.V.s, catheters, monitors, heart beat scares, interventions and procedures. And finally, after so many hours, my son’s birth. Hearing, seeing, touching him, and bringing him to my breast for the first time. Sleeping with him close to my body those first few nights. The dreamlike fog of pain medication, sleep deprivation, and awe at this creature by my side. One life-changing experience on top of another without time or space to process each layer and shade of emotion on its own. No ‘time out’ after birth to pause and recoup before being launched into this huge responsibility and fierce instinctual drive called motherhood.

Maybe months, or years from now, I will be able to write one version of my birth story that supersedes all the others in grace, understanding, and scope, and thus puts all further attempts to tell the story anew to rest. But, for now, I won’t worry about trying to arrive there just yet. For now, I will just piece together whatever fragments I can while my sweet baby sleeps on my chest.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Infinite Patience and Love

A window to write. Don’t know how long it will be, so must begin right away and not dwell. Perhaps not even edit. I must learn new ways or working, of producing, of pounding out words on this keyboard and sharing them with the world without the long stretches of time I once had to ponder and shape. I must learn how to grab those small pockets, like now, as Cedar sleeps in a wrap on my chest. Sometimes he will sleep for hours like this; other times he will wake as soon as I stop moving my body. It seems he’s out right now though, which is great. I love my child like crazy, but I am always happy when he goes to sleep.

Where to begin? Perhaps I will begin every blog entry now with that question. It seems like so much happens every week, every day, that I haven’t had a chance to write about. But days disappear quickly, and usually I am happy if I manage to get in a walk, a shower, three meals, and some emails. Some days I also manage to do dishes or laundry, read a book, or write in my journal. This is more than I imagined I would get done, especially once Matthew went back to work, so I am pleased.

For now it’s all about appeasing Cedar in short doses and getting things done in between. For example, in the morning I get up and change him. Then, while he lies on the changing table entertained for a few minutes by its black and white pattern, I can put in my contacts, put on hot water to boil, and maybe even get dressed. Then, as he gets fidgety, I’ll move him to his chair by the window where he can sometimes be content for ten or fifteen minutes—enough time to make coffee, fry two eggs and butter some toast. Then, I transport these to the table next to him, pick him up, and nurse him on and off for the next two hours or so, managing to eat and read or surf Facebook at the same time. Then this baby nursing and mommy multi-tasking routine could, and sometimes does, go on all day, but often now I’ll put him in this cloth wrap and after walking around in the yard or jiggling a bit to some tunes, he usually falls asleep and then I can do other chores, make phone calls, pay bills, write emails, go on a longer walk, or-- on a rare day like today—actually attempt to write.

On good days, he will nap for three or more hours, before I finally take him out of the wrap, and then he’ll wake up pretty quickly. I’ll change his diaper, then feed him. And then the cycle of nursing/appeasing will begin again while I eventually try to prepare dinner or shower or fold laundry or nap or what have you in between. This is about as close to a schedule as we have come. Of course, other days we might have visitors or go to a drop-in parenting group, or go to a friend’s house who also has a baby, where we will sit, nurse, talk, eat, and change diapers together for hours—basically the same thing we do at home, without the pretense of trying to get anything else done, and with the benefit of being able to talk to others who are going through such similar experiences.

All in all, it’s not a bad life. And some days-- and many moments-- are pure joy. Especially the more that my little one starts to smile and look around and interact with me and the world. Especially now that my nipples aren’t so sore, and that Cedar’s started to sleep for longer stretches, and that this whole adventure is a bit more familiar and a little less overwhelming. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t little milestones to overcome all the time—all kinds of firsts, challenges, changes, anxieties, and plain old tiredness. So, as my energy and ambition grows, I try to remind myself that it’s okay if we end up getting nothing done today or if things don’t go as planned. My job right now, first and foremost, is to feed and to love this guy, plus take care of my basic needs. Sure, I would love to write more and slowly add back in other parts of my former life like yoga, exercise, submitting work for publication, and applying for teaching jobs, but I’ll take it as it comes. Right now, and maybe forever, my baby is here to teach me infinite patience and love. And any time I get frustrated when he might wake earlier than I’d hoped or feed insatiably for hours, I just need to remember this: patience and love.

Motherhood is the most amazing thing I’ve ever known. That’s why I keep feeling the need to write: where, oh where, to begin? But I should end this here or else it will become too unwieldy. I should print it out and see if it can’t be posted soon, with only a quick edit, before Cedar wakes and I put it aside and don’t get back to it for days, and then maybe by then I’ll decide it’s too sloppy or rambling and unfocused. But you know what? That may just be the way this blog needs to be now. Rambling and unfocused. Messy and “good enough.” A way to stay connected to my writing voice and identity, to the myriad of thoughts and emotions coursing through me each day I spend with my baby, and to my audience of friends, family, and strangers—whomever you are. You are important to me.

I love being a mother more than I can possibly express, and in a way that is very real to me, sometimes I think that nothing else in the world really matters now besides this baby and my love for him. But of course there is also my huge love for my friends and family. And then there is my writing, and all the ways in which I know and greet myself as a writer, which I also can not leave too far behind or else my breadth of awareness, community, and giving will grow too narrow.

So I offer you now these scraps, this stolen moment, this tiny window. I’m gonna try my best to sit down like this and ramble away as much as I can. Thanks for listening.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...