There’s a place for discussion about birth options for pregnancies that aren’t high risk, and this is not it. If you’re tempted to make this space or my loss a platform, don’t. You won’t be helping anyone, and you’ll only succeed in hurting people who are hurting enough already.
In addition to all the other reasons the home/hospital, assisted/unassisted birth debate often feels so ugly to me (hatefulness and blame being the primary problems), there’s an additional and selfish reason it all makes me so sad. It’s completely irrelevant for me. I most certainly did not and do not have a choice about where to give birth. All I want is to be totally aware during labor and I want to be okay enough to participate fully in the first few minutes of my child’s life. But I know there’s a very good chance I won’t even be able to do that.
As painful and terrifying as it was, I am grateful that I knew what was going on every moment during labor and Natan’s short little life; even during the hallucinatory phase I somehow knew what was happening in reality. And when it happened, no one had to tell me Natan had died. The fact that it was all in a cold hospital made no difference. With only a few exceptions, the doctors and nurses at the hospital were very kind and concerned about my comfort and mental well being. Thus, somehow, an exceptionally difficult labor, under clinical and painful circumstances, managed to be a very holistic one.
Regardless of the questionable circumstances that brought my last pregnancy to a crisis point, the hospitalization was not unpleasant for any reason beyond the obvious – I shouldn’t have needed to be there and who could possibly be happy to lie in a hospital bed for days on end? And I don’t doubt that the hospital staff prioritized and cared for my son and me.
My biggest concern in this next pregnancy is bringing the baby home alive, and I will honestly do whatever my doctors feel might help me do that. Not that I am complacent, taking a cue from Mary, I confessed to my doctor last week that I was not feeling up to dealing with the normal spotting that happens after a pap smear during pregnancy. She agreed, without argument, to use a different instrument and scrape only around the cervix. It didn’t hurt, I didn’t spot, and I felt really happy with myself for speaking up because it hadn’t occurred to me that I could. Obviously, I know I can refuse any procedure, but I worried about how it would go over. Dr. K, though, seemed to completely understand and didn’t lecture me about why women need pap smears. But when it comes to labor, and all of the unpleasant things I’ll go through if I make it beyond 12 weeks, I really only care about making sure the baby survives, however that needs to happen.
I’m not saying, by any measure, that that’s not what’s most important to any other mother. But as many of us have said, the idea that we would make it into the second trimester and not have a living baby to show for it never occurred to us. And the truth is, it’s not a likely possibility for any mother. Thus the debate about how and where to give birth now feels like an irrelevant luxury, because I am now part of that tiny statistical category of women for whom pregnancy is high risk. And I’m mourning my departure from the low-risk category.
I live among people who talk a lot about the over-medicalization of pregnancy and childbirth, and who lament the frequency of c-section and use of pain medication in labor. I can say – if I have a vaginal birth and if my doctor feels it’s safe – I will still do without the latter. I’ve already done it, and although Natan was still small, I was incredibly calm about being handled, cut, and probed when it was for a good cause. Pain that isn’t dangerous doesn’t concern me at all.
But the idea that I will even have that little choice seems so remote to me now. All that I care about, beyond bringing this baby home alive, is that I know every moment what is happening to my baby and that I be part of every step of his/her care. That’s my second goal in this pregnancy, and I’m scared that even if the first is possible, the second might prove out of my hands. I was about to write that I only desire not to have a c-section, but I think desire is too strong of a word. I just hope I don’t need one, and that’s really the only active thought I have about my choices.
Romantic stories about childbirth scare me – stories about babies being born in cars on highways or at home because mothers didn’t have time to get to the hospital. I thank goodness I live five minutes from a Level III hospital, because what if that had been me? I’d been in the hospital more than a week when Natan died, but what if I’d gotten stuck in traffic when labor started the first time, panicking and with no one to stop it?
The debate about childbirth feels like a luxury. The statement that our bodies know what to do, because it is usually true, makes me feel like a freak. Women who are so much less knowledgeable about their bodies, who took so much less care to have a safe and healthy pregnancy, manage to easily do what I failed at. And now, I feel like I could never engage in a discussion about pregnancy again that is colored by anything but trauma and fear. And part of me is really quite sad about that.