My youngest son just turned 4. He’s a fiery spitball of a kid, smart as a whip, sweet as can be, and (sometimes) a real pest.
My pregnancy with him was miserable. And I don’t mean “Oh, I am really irritated that my ankles are swollen/my back hurts/I’m nauseate” miserable.
I mean my pelvis was literally coming apart.
At one point, I was crawling around my house picking up toys. When you’re a prisoner of the sofa, you do what you have to do—or something.
He was due March 24, which meant I was going to either plant the garden on my hands and knees or with a baby on my back. I had contractions every day beginning at 14 weeks, because my uterus is like a cranky toddler.
The last week of my pregnancy was essentially one really prolonged labor. Consistent contractions every eight to ten minutes, unrelenting, sometimes moving close enough together to seem like labor, most of the time just being a complete annoyance.
On the 26th of March, in the middle of a night of relentless contractions, my water broke. It wasn’t Niagara Falls or anything, but it was just enough to make me change clothes and sheets. I’d been having contractions for an eternity already, so the post-membrane rupture contractions were nothing new.
I woke up my husband Matt, told him I wet the bed and asked him to fill the birthing pool in the kitchen. I called my midwife—a 70-year-old gift to women, who wears her waist-length gray hair in a tight bun. She asked if things seemed to be moving quick; I said no, same old shit, just with fluid everywhere. She promised to arrive in the early morning hours.
I called my doula, who came right away. I called my oldest daughter, Kelsey, 17, to come sit with my youngest daughter, Ella, not yet 2. I also called my best friend and her daughter.
I put a chocolate cake in the oven (because that’s what I do) and whipped up some buttercream frosting (because buttercream frosting).
Nothing was really changing.
We let things putter along until the early afternoon when my midwife suggested I take some black and blue cohosh tinctures (yes, they are as foul as they sound). I used my pump and nursed my 17-month-old to coax contractions (yes, I am that hippie), and the midwife went to Costco. I guess maybe she needed 50 rolls of paper towels or something.
Still no baby.
Suddenly, there were a lot of people around. They’d been there all along, I guess, but the room shrank as my contractions strengthened and my pain increased.
Afternoon became evening and the birthing pool was surrounded by people eating the chicken noodle soup I had made and frozen a few weeks earlier.
And still, nothing.
But now some blood. More water. More blood. More contractions. And a baby whose head was just content to hang out way above my pelvis—it’s hard to come out if you won’t even come down.
Evening turned into night, and Matt put Ella to bed while the house buzzed with the chatter of a half-dozen people (including a guest midwife who did yoga on my floor and kept talking about her broken car, and not including my also buzzing immediate family).
Things still hadn’t changed much approaching the 24-hour mark since my water had broken. I was stuck at 7 to 8 centimeters with my baby hanging high, and I was so exhausted. I was also getting nervous, which wasn’t helped by the profound case of PTSD that a previous shoulder dystocia had so generously left me.
Matt and I took a shower. He rubbed my back while I did some kind of whale-sounding thing through contractions. We lay on our bed and slept off and on for about 45 minutes, taking time to think about what was going on and what our next move was.
That is when my contractions began to slow, my uterus no doubt exhausted from weeks of trying to get this kid out. When we woke up we looked at each other from our pillows and made the unspoken but no less agonizing decision to leave our home, our warm pool, our food, and our comfort—our family—behind and head to the hospital.
This is the point in the story where people will say things like, “Oh, thank god you transferred,” or “Well, all you wanted was a healthy baby, right?”
This is the point in the story where I will say, I sobbed putting on a dress. I sobbed through packing my bag. I sobbed through hugging my kids goodbye. I sobbed the entire 25-minute drive to the hospital. I got to the hospital and sobbed through intake, through the donning of a hospital gown, through the insertion of an IV.
I was lucky to have a group of care professionals who were fighting for me to have a natural birth, but I sobbed anyway. I was lucky to have a midwife who could have whisked me off to the OR, but instead sat at the side of my bed for seven more hours to help my stubborn, egg-headed son to get his act together—but I sobbed anyway.
I was lucky that my body responded to the small amount of pitocin I needed to convince my uterus that it was supposed to be getting a baby out. I sobbed anyway.
I was lucky I didn’t have a C-section. I was lucky he was born, healthy and huge at 10-plus pounds, from just two hefty pushes.
I was lucky.
I sobbed anyway.
This was not my birth plan.
His birth was supposed to be peaceful, swimming into the world in our kitchen, surrounded by his family, welcomed with cake and champagne. He was supposed to come out easily and heal me from the trauma of my previous labor and dystocia. His birth was supposed to be a lot of things that it was not.
I do not want to hear, “Well, you’re lucky he’s healthy,” ever.
Yes, he’s healthy. He’s 4 years old. He barely sleeps, never shuts his mouth, and knows things like how a car exhaust system works. He’s got his dad’s stunning blue eyes and curly, almost-blonde hair (whose origins I can’t figure out). He can ride his bike without training wheels, cries if we make him eat broccoli before he can have a cookie, and likes to listen to Mozart (specifically Eine kleine Nachtmusik) at bedtime.
That doesn’t devalue my sadness.
His health doesn’t negate my feeling of failure. His health doesn’t heal what I lost.
I don’t want to hear I’m lucky because I could have had a C-section, that he could have died, or that I could have died—because those things didn’t happen, and pain and loss are relative.
Is my loss comparable to the death of a child? No. But it is loss.
After his arrival, I watched friends give birth, peacefully, at home according to their birth plan, and I sobbed.
I don’t have to feign gratitude, because I lost something that was important to me. I don’t have to pretend that I’m lucky he’s healthy, because his health and my lack of an abdominal scar don’t mean I’ve forgotten laboring in a dingy hospital room.
I don’t have to be thankful just because things didn’t end tragically.
I’m allowed to grieve what I lost, even now, because it was important to me, and I lost it.