On April 25th I gave birth to our son. He’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Being a new parent is a mind-blowing experience. I can’t believe the way the love I had for this unknown, unborn child transformed into loving this very real physical presence. If you’ve never experienced it yourself, I can’t really describe it. Our son is nothing like what I expected- and that’s a wonderful thing (even when he’s in inconsolable hysterics).
Nothing about this journey has gone how I thought it would. As I wrote about before, my pregnancy was unplanned. We were not remotely trying for a child- in fact, I was on birth control. But pregnant I became anyway. We took that to mean that this child truly was meant to be. My pregnancy, as uncomfortable and unpleasant as it could sometimes be was, thankfully, fairly textbook and our son was healthy at every step. There were no complications, for which I am immensely grateful.
But then came delivery. When I found out I was pregnant, one thing I knew I didn’t want to write about was “the birth story.” It’s become trendy to write about the nitty-gritty of birth in certain circles, but I’ve always thought a birth experience was personal and too often birth stories read with a level of smugness that I associate with the “mommy wars,” as a way for new moms to commemorate how they gave birth- and more importantly, how they gave birth the “right” way. For me that was never the point. I just wanted my child to get here safely.
But even without a detailed birth plan, and even without desiring anything but a routine hospital birth, things didn’t go the way I wanted them to. After laboring unproductively for almost a full day at home, I went to the hospital at about 2 AM on the 24th.
My body continued not to cooperate. My contractions were unproductive and painful. They gave me Pitocin. My blood pressure started dropping. The baby wouldn’t descend. My dilation plateaued after many hours of hard contractions. My doctor decided we should break my water. My blood pressure continued dancing up and down, and when it dipped, the baby’s heart rate did too.
I wound up hooked up to countless IVs and monitors, uncomfortable and exhausted, with wires streaming from me in every direction. I felt like a robot. I began to understand the appeal of unassisted labor, without the invasiveness of all of the cords and tubes. Hours continued passing as hopeful family members who’d stopped by to await the baby began to grow weary and leave. I felt like a failure. And I was exhausted. It’s true that the epidural numbed me to the pain of contractions, but I was still very aware of everything I was hooked up to, and the fact that I couldn’t roll over without assistance. I was still doing hard work and my body was worn out. 22 hours in, I looked at Edward and told him I couldn’t do this much longer.
Turns out I couldn’t. The nurses came in to check on my levels and in the midst of trying to make me more comfortable, their routine suddenly flew into a high flurry of activity. Suddenly everyone was rushing around and I was being unhooked from my monitors and my bed folded and ready to move. “We have to do a c-section right now!” I was informed by our suddenly anxious nurse. “The baby’s heart rate has dropped too low.”
I quickly signed a document for permission that was thrust at me and was rushed down the hall. I didn’t know where Edward was, I didn’t know where they were taking me. I was in tears, terrified for my baby. They wheeled me into a bright white operating room and hooked up the fetal monitor immediately. “He’s stabilized.” My nurse said, relieved. I saw my OBGYN, a friendly woman I’d seen so often throughout pregnancy. She was calm and comforting, even in her scrubs. “Karly,” she said. “The baby’s heart rate is stable now, but the baby isn’t tolerating labor very well. I think we still need to do the c-section.”
I was utterly terrified. But I’d rather have had the surgery than risk harm to my baby. They began prepping me. I felt alone and frightened as activity went on around me, as my anesthetic was upped and curtains were drawn so I couldn’t see my own belly. I tried to pray… but received only a violent wave of anxiety. I pushed it away and shook, with fear and anesthetic.
Finally Edward was led in and he sat next to me. “I’m scared,” I told him. “Pray for me.” I couldn’t do it for myself. “I’ve been praying this whole time,” Edward said.
Then the cut- I felt my skin tearing- I was numb to the pain, but there was a hideous ripping pressure… and then I heard the baby crying and the pain went out of my head. I began to cry with relief. The baby was fine.
Then the baby was taken away to the NICU- I got to glance at him, to find out he was a boy and that, to my surprise, he looked a lot like me. Edward followed him out of the operating room. I was alone for several awful minutes while I was stitched back up.
I was taken to recover and waited for what seemed an eternity to regain feeling enough that I could be taken to see my baby. I had longed to have him laid on my chest after birth, to breastfeed him and spend the “golden hour” bonding with him. That was all taken from me. It had been an hour and I still hadn’t really seen my baby.
We were finally taken to the NICU after an hour or so. We got to hold our baby. We didn’t know how long he’d have to stay there and our hearts ached to take him with us. He was tiny. His dark hair had a little curl to it. His tiny hands and feet were perfect. The worst part of the whole event, worse than the 24 hours I labored in vain, worse than the unexpected c-section, was leaving him there. We wept.
Our son was able to join us later that same day in our room, but we didn’t know it at the time.
I was in the hospital for five days. Recovering from surgery while trying to navigate taking care of a new human is a gargantuan task, one I felt unequal to, especially when I began to fever and could barely control my body when I first tried to walk to the bathroom. At times it felt like a nightmare, offset by the sweetness of holding our beautiful child and the love poured on us by our family and friends. I slept fitfully between nurse visits, my dreams anxious and frightening. I was shaken awake at least once by Edward because I’d been crying out in my sleep.
When we got home the anxiety actually worsened for a time. Our son wasn’t producing enough waste and the nurse advised I either pump (I did not have a pump) or supplement him with formula. Tearfully, knowing the good of breastfeeding, I opted to give him formula after every breastfeeding. He began to thrive, and by the time his one week pediatric appointment arrived, he was doing splendidly. I no longer felt as anxious, but I still caught myself on the verge of tears.
I wanted to stay by him constantly, watching him fearfully, and fell into sobbing once when he started to choke before spitting up. I kept replaying the moment before the c-section in my head, when they told me his heart rate was dropping, the terror I felt had taken root and I couldn’t shake it. I was terrified of losing him.My body was healing but it was slow and my physical being was exhausted. I needed rest.
But what I needed more than anything was to trust in God. I couldn’t let myself. I had prayed and prayed for the baby to be safe and healthy- which he was- but I felt betrayed for having to have the c-section. I felt like God had ignored and abandoned me to the most awful experience of my life. He had promised me that everything would be okay- and it was- but it wasn’t “okay” in the way that I would define it. I was hurt. I was hurting. The anxiety that made it impossible to pray before the surgery made it hard to let go of the trauma I was feeling, physically and mentally.
I didn’t get to have the golden hour after birth, or to cradle my son in my arms after he was born. I didn’t get to feed him only on the nourishment my body could provide. I was upset about it, feeling like a failure that my body hadn’t cooperated to give my son the experience that was best for him. Or rather, that I hadn’t had the experience that I wanted.
I was making about me. About my expectations and desires and fears. My son was- is- fine. He is healthy and beautiful and happy and everyone who has met him delights in him, none less than us. He’s fine.
But the truth is, I’m still not completely okay with everything. I still feel upset and traumatized by the delivery experience and frustrated that feeding hasn’t been idyllic. But it’s getting harder to stay that way. God keeps reminding me that He did come through for me, even if it wasn’t what I wanted. Even if in the 11th hour I was too anxious to pray.
Today I got to tickle my son and see him crack a half smile every time I did it. He’s too young to laugh, but I did it for him. Everything is okay. Just like God promised.