I am terrified of childbirth.
This may sound like a silly declaration to make. I mean, what woman isn’t a bit nervous about giving birth to another human being — about the pain and stretching and tearing and possibility of major abdominal surgery?
But my fear isn’t just relegated to butterflies in the stomach. My fear is debilitating. My fear keeps me up at night, ignites full-on panic attacks, and overtakes my body, inducing vomiting, shaking, and delirium.
That’s because my fear is based on prior birth trauma, the results of which my child and I will carry with us for the rest of our lives.
My first child’s birth was fairly routine. Yes, I wound up needing a C-section because he couldn’t fit through my pelvis, but everything went about as smoothly as it could. I had an amazing doctor who was reassuring, efficient, and an expert at what she does. From the moment I was admitted to the hospital to the moment they wheeled me back to my room post-op, everything was textbook. My baby was fine, I was fine, and our new, perfect little family was just fine.
But my second child’s birth? That couldn’t have been more different.
We had moved to another state, which meant I had found a different practice to oversee my care. From the start, things just didn’t seem right. And as it turns out, they most certainly weren’t.
The doctors and medical staff at this new practice ignored my repeated concerns and visits to their office and the hospital — my complaints about excruciating pelvic pain and unusual cramping, my worries about my elevated blood pressure, and my premature labor — dismissing them as “normal” and administering intravenous medication to stop labor without so much as an ultrasound to check on my baby’s welfare.
Perhaps worst of all?
When I went for my regularly scheduled visit the afternoon before I once again went into labor overnight, my pain having morphed from grating to downright insufferable, I was told what I was enduring was nothing. This baby wouldn’t be coming anytime soon. I should “go home, drink some water, and rest.” That would take care of everything.
So when those labor pains again commenced, this time increasing in frequency and strength, I hesitated to call the doctor or head to the hospital. After all, every concern I had brought to their attention had been brushed off as inconsequential. But at the insistence of my husband and mother, I went anyway, and what would happen from there on out would shape my perspective of childbirth for an eternity.
Not only did the resident responsible for my care in triage inform me that my attitude was solely responsible for what I was experiencing and the success of my son’s impending delivery, but also the doctor from my practice who was on call that day — the doctor who had only been at the practice for a few short weeks and who had told me the afternoon before that everything was in my head — would be the one to perform my emergency C-section.
I looked at my mother and declared through fearful, teary eyes, “I don’t want her to perform the surgery. I don’t trust her.” My mother, her gaze full of desperation and helplessness, told me she didn’t think I had a choice. And with that, I underwent the most horrific surgical nightmares I could have imagined.
In addition to being promised pain medication only to be denied it over and over again, I was administered a spinal block that didn’t work — something it took every ounce of persuasion I could muster to convince the surgical team to do before they sliced into me. My blood pressure dropped during surgery to life-threateningly low levels, and I could not fill my lungs with more than a straw’s worth of air because of all the pushing and pressure they were putting on my midsection to get the baby out, something I would later learn was likely a result of this doctor’s inexperience when it came to whisking a baby out of the uterus quickly enough after making the incision before the muscle contracts with Herculean power to keep the baby in it.
When they finally did deliver the baby with the aid of a vacuum, he was blue and listless. We would later learn after he quit breathing altogether that this was the result of a stroke he had suffered anytime between the three weeks leading up to his birth and the actual delivery itself. And when I complained about the excruciating pain that no amount of the medicine they were giving me post-surgery would abate, they ignored me and my prior medical history detailing that most traditional pain relief doesn’t work with my body.
I was bruised, broken, and quite literally dying from both physical and emotional pain, my baby barely clinging to life in the NICU. And these, combined with the disabilities and lifetime of therapies and medical care my son must endure, are the horror scenes that continue to play in my mind on a loop — scenes that when I unexpectedly became pregnant a third time sent me into emotional and physical imbalance.
So, yes, I am terrified of childbirth. I am terrified of being ignored, of dying on the operating table, of my baby suffering at the hands of unqualified and unsympathetic medical staff.
And I know I’m not alone.
My story is unique and the outcome rare. Most deliveries go off without a hitch. Even my third son’s delivery, the one I spent nine months dreading in an anxiety-fueled hysteria, was incident-free. But this doesn’t make the fear of childbirth any less real for many women, including me.
To other women suffering from this same fear, I offer this advice: Listen to your heart. Mother’s intuition is anything but bullshit. Confide in your friends and family members, even a mental health professional if necessary. Find a medical team with whom you are comfortable. Remember to think positively. The chances of your fears coming to fruition are extremely low, but this doesn’t mean your fears aren’t valid or meaningful.
Most importantly, never forget that you matter. Your baby matters. And your feelings, whatever they may be, most certainly matter.
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