the stuff that doesn’t change

Warning: I am so happy today, but this is not a happy post. Like everyone, I’m capable of having multiple ongoing conversations with myself, and I really want to get this one out before it fades. It’s a big part of these further records and I may lose my nerve or get distracted. This post is about the parallels between Natan’s and Jonah’s labor, so it may be really hard to read. Happy Jonah posts soon, I promise.

Thanks to all who commented on my last post. A dear friend said to me, upon hearing the story of my labor yesterday, that it must have been especially frightening for me given Natan’s delivery. That is so true. And that’s why I’m especially grateful that she also told me that her third delivery was somewhat similar. Several friends have told me that, here, personally, on Facebook, and I cannot tell you how much I needed to hear that.

Because, here’s the thing. Five and a half years later, my emotional response to yesterday, plus thoughts I try so hard to keep pushed to the side, tells me I’m not done blaming myself for his death. All rational thought aside, my deepest self believes I killed our first born son, and that I could easily do it again. I don’t believe I did it on purpose, but more rather that I was just too weak and narcissistic in the worse sense to have bothered stopping it.

The physical sensation of labor is hard to describe. Before yesterday, I had had two experiences. I have never understood why I couldn’t stop myself from delivering him. He didn’t “fall out” in the way sources describing incompetent cervix describe. It’s been clear to me since the moment I first mentioned “contractions” in the fall of 2006 that doctors were/are/have been divided as to whether I really had them, which came first. There came a point with Natan in those last hours where I felt like my body was pushing, shoving him out. The nurse on duty convinced me that perhaps I needed to have a bowel movement. The doctors had given me all the tocolytics my body would take–my blood pressure is normally 90/60, so rather low to start with. I can’t remember the numbers–I just remember feeling seriously weird and them telling Josh and me that my blood pressure was too low for me to be given anymore. They offered me pain medication, but I refused to take it. I was so committed to a perfect pregnancy. That promise ripped away, I wasn’t going to be forced to do anything “unnecessary.”

I regret that decision, by the way. My refusal of pain medication had no effect on Natan’s survival, but I often in my worst moments fear that pain took away my control of my self. I know that’s not true, but when I’m in my darkest moments, I can tell myself anything that will help me hate me.

So there I was, in hideously awful and scary pain, thinking I needed to have a bowel movement. Wham, suddenly my water broke, and although we didn’t know it then, it was all over within what felt like both minutes and a lifetime. Labor rocketed to an end. Natan was born and died.

Your muscles behave strangely in labor, and it feels very different without an epidural. I took an epidural with Samuel when the pain got to the uncontrollable level, because as I’ve said here before, I couldn’t stop thinking about Natan and I wanted to be there for Samuel’s birth. I felt so in control of my labor with Samuel. It slowed down at that point and I had a few hours to savor how well he was taking labor, and then was coached through pushing that I could feel–I negotiated with myself that I would not press the button to increase my epidural dose myself and they turned it down or off for pushing anyway.

I tried to make that same decision with Jonah, but either it being my third labor, or simply the way it was induced, I made it too late. I was left to have a very similar physical experience as I had with Natan, only in very different circumstances. I was the only one freaked out. I was the only terrified the baby was going to die. In both labors, I felt like I wasn’t choosing to push, but it was happening anyway. I did obviously have to consciously push Jonah out, he being full term, but Natan was so tiny. His feet shot into my vagina, his cord prolapsed under his bottom, while I was trying to get through the pain.

I thought yesterday, though, that something very similar was going to happen to Jonah. He was head first, he was term, I didn’t have complete thoughts about what would happen, but all I could think while the nurse was trying to get me to wait for the doctor was, “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I stop this? Do I WANT to shoot this baby out of me when it’s not safe, when it could hurt or kill him?” I felt an urge to push, but I didn’t want to, but it felt like it was happening anyway and like I OUGHT to be able to stop it if only my brain would command a little harder. It would not.

I am so angry with myself, even as my rational mind realizes I should not be. But I think that in addition to bringing me Jonah, yesterday brought me to the brink of an utter breakdown–one that might ultimately be good for me.

I certainly don’t think other women who deliver in taxi cabs or accidentally at home or while waiting for a doctor or midwife to get there to catch their babies simply think, “Oh, screw waiting, why not just do it right now?” So why would I think that of myself? Why would I think I simply didn’t stop it, when I could have? Am I that evil? That self possessed. That in no way matches the actual physical and emotional work I’ve put into getting my children here live.

On some level there was a desire to push. I didn’t want to, but pushing happened. I fought it as hard as I could, and a doctor arrived yesterday in time to release me from that battle. Jonah may very well have been okay even had he not because really most of the focus was on guiding him out in a way that would tear me and injure us less. Note I can say I fought as hard as I could. Thing is, I believe two contradictory things about myself, because I can’t seem to reconcile the physical urge, the willpower I expended to resist it, and the fact that it happened anyway. I think I tried not to push, and I think I ignored the fact that it was a bad idea and willfully did it anyway simply because I put my desire to be rid of the pain above the life or quality of life of my children. When I’m in control and fully sane, I know that’s not true. But in my lowest moments, I really think I wanted to not hurt more than I wanted to save my son.

That’s nuts. I need to work on that.

12 responses to “the stuff that doesn’t change

  1. I don’t think it’s nuts, Sara. And I thought of Natan when you described labor, and freaking out. Even though I was in and out of my labor, it is such an out of control thing, a visceral experience. Were you trying to save Natan as you gave birth to Jonah? Maybe that’s just psychobabble.

    You just wrote about how much work it took to get your children here live — and then at the critical moment, you were very much at the mercy of your body and your fear with Natan, and also with Jonah. With Natan, there was so much fear and panic and things going wrong and out of control. With Samuel, you were making conscious choices, experiencing the birth, and, it seems, working with your body. With Jonah, it seems, things were out of control again. Scary as hell, because your body was not listening to you: “I didn’t want to, but pushing happened.” Scary as hell anyway. I think it would be natural to be freaked out this time because with Natan, things SO out of control and it ended so horribly.
    From your last paragraph:
    “I believe two contradictory things about myself, because I can’t seem to reconcile the physical urge, the willpower I expended to resist it, and the fact that it happened anyway.”

    The will to save your baby, the will to save yourself by resisting what your body was doing. I can’t imagine not freaking out.

    [[BTW, I can relate to this somewhat, as the nurse told me it was time to push, and I said, I don’t know how, but I guess somehow I did. The mental memory is gone, but my body, apparently, knew what to do even if I wasn’t *there*.

    I’m sorry, again, to ramble. I can’t imagine you *not* having mixed-ish emotions give your experiences. Your last full paragraph is just so… I don’t know. Honest. I would imagine that there are others who have similar feelings. It really is so complicated.

    And, Sara, I can not tell you how relieved and happy I was and am that you and Jonah came through healthy, safe and sound.

  2. What a terrible burden to carry, Sara, In reading about your grief and Natan’s death, it never occurred to me that you might blame yourself in some way. From the outside, it’s so easy for me to see that you couldn’t have stopped what happened any more than you could stop yourself from taking a breath that you wanted to save for your child–our bodies do things involuntarily. But as a mother I can understand the guilt. So many times I’ve believed that if I was only stronger, more disciplined, more patient, I could have done something more for my children.

    Thanks for sharing such an intimate thought. Your way with words is beautiful and painful.

  3. I thought I didn’t quite know that that was what I was supposed to do. When the nurse came to examine me and saw his head, I started to cry, “I didn’t even feel it (I lied. As if I was trying to look good in front of the nurse!), I didn’t know what to do!” I guess my body, having been told he was dead, wanted to hang on to him longer? And not push him out when it was time? I have no idea. Anyway, he slipped right out. Still dead.

    My regrets, my guilt, came from times before delivery though. Why did I take my nesting instincts to extremes and insist on shopping for fabric and sewing curtains for my bedroom one night after working a full day? Was the whir of the sewing machine, the vibration of it, did it course all the way up to where he was and help to twist his velamentous cord so badly that he just couldn’t untwist it? Or was that one day when he was kicking and moving around for what seemed like the entire afternoon, was he trying to tell me that he wasn’t getting the blood and oxygen he needed? I was so intent on being ready for him, finishing up work, nesting, that I didn’t listen, I didn’t pay attention. I’ll always believe that to be true, crazy as it is.

    Now I have a healthy live daughter (I felt nothing but one contraction before the epidural kicked in and I’ll always regret not postponing it so I could have felt more. Despite the epidural, I still felt when it came time to push. It’s the strangest thing. Even in complete numbness, my body just told me: tell the nurse you want to push now. I couldn’t have not pushed. Can you not push? Is that even possible?) But mother’s guilt with her has just transferred to the times when I raise my voice or get impatient and model impatience. I leave the room to literally bang my head against the wall, scream into a pillow until it passes and I can be sane for her again. Who we are at our most intimate times, the dialogue we have with ourselves, our punishing ourselves, none of it ever goes away. But it can be silenced sometimes long enough for us to go on and enjoy what happiness there is. Thank you for sharing what in you could not remain silent.

    Congratulations on the birth of your son. I came here from “I Won’t Fear Love” and I’ll be added you to my feed now too.

    • Sorry, the top of my post cut off:

      Your words speak so much to the guilt that all mothers, the most confident of them, have deep inside them, that lingering question of “Am I doing/Have I done/Will I do enough for my child”. I think even mothers who haven’t gone through loss feel it, but it is of course especially keen for those of us who have lost.

      My boy was already dead when I delivered him. I was numb with epidural, but still felt his head coming out. But I didn’t push, because…

  4. Thinking of you, holding you in my prayers. Be easy on yourself. {{hugs}}

  5. Sara I’m glad you are able to express all of this. It makes sense that the labor parallels are hard to deal with. I have no real insights to offer, just support and the true belief that you are a wonderful mother to all three of your boys. I guess in our dark moments we all blame ourselves for our babies’ deaths no matter what the actual facts tell us.

  6. I feel so lucky that I was somehow relieved of the guilt that other baby loss mama’s carry — I can’t imagine grieving and carrying guilt simultaneously.

    I’m also a bit flustered because I see these stories all the time of women in labor telling their health care providers something and the providers outright telling them no, it can’t be. And lo, it is. And I’m just wondering when we get to a point where a woman says she has to push that the people around her take that seriously and act accordingly, because that’s a pretty strong and peculiar sensation that’s really a profound part of labor — it certainly couldn’t be confused for anything else. If anything, I’m a touch pissed at your care because I think that could’ve relieved you of much of the burden you now carry (and not just you, I feel like I’ve read this before numerous times).

    I will say that with my involuntary unmedicated super-fast birth of Ale that I was in such pain/panic that I really didn’t have a moment to consider what was going on big-picutre wise. And in retrospect that was for the best.

    I’m glad it’s in the rear-view mirror for you.

  7. I’ve been trying to write this comment for days, and something kept sidetracking me… Sorry about that.

    I knew Natan’s birth was traumatic, but I really had no idea you carried around this guilt. I am so sorry. It must be truly awful, and it must’ve made the pushing time in Jonah’s labor particularly unbearable. I hope you get a chance to process it anew and that Jonah’s birth in the end is helpful with getting the lens towards what we all know is the actual truth– there is nothing you could’ve done, nothing.

  8. I’ve never been in labor, so I’m the first to admit I’m not coming at this from any particular place of wisdom. But I’ve at least experienced other attempts to stop a particular physical act–throwing up, say, or having a panic attack–and not having one bit of control over it. So I have no doubt at all that you were powerless to stop your body from pushing. But you know that too, or at least the rational part of your brain does.

    We’re people who do a lot of our living in our heads anyway. I think that makes it hard to accept that we don’t have mental control over everything, that our minds are actually not always strong enough to prevent bad things from happening. And not to get too pop-psych here, but it can actually be easier to tell yourself that you could have stopped Natan from being born, and didn’t. Because in spite of the horrendous guilt that creates, it’s still more palatable than the alternative, which is that you were powerless to help him. That’s such a scary idea. On top of that, if there were some way you could have saved Natan, then in theory you’d have the power to save a future baby too, if you ever found yourself in the same situation. And then you were in what felt like exactly the same situation with Jonah, and you were just as helpless. Of course that would be terrifying, even apart from your perfectly understandable fear that Jonah wouldn’t be okay.

    But he was okay, and so were you, and you worked incredibly hard to bring both Jonah and Samuel through difficult pregnancies–and succeeded. Yes, there were elements of chance in that too. But in the parts where you DID have a choice, where you DID have control, you always chose the well-being of your children. And that made a huge difference. So much love to all of you.

  9. Thank you so much for writing about this and starting this string of responses – I had one of those accidental home-births with my third birth and second living child, because things just went so fast we never made it into the taxi. Everything went well because our neighbor and former la leche league activist was there to help deliver, but at the moment of pushing Vera out and before she started to cry, there was a terrible interval when I was certain she was dead and that was why she came out as quickly as her 21-week stillborn brother. If I had been alone at that moment and had had to figure out how to get the baby to breathe I don’t know what would have happened. So it’s the greatest blessing imaginable that our neighbor was there, and made the birth a much better experience than any hospital birth could have been. But I always thought I was alone with that moment of flashback to a first, sad birth. Thanks, and instead of feeling bad, feel happy that your body knew what to do and how to do things safely. I’m so happy to think of your table with two living children!

    • Sonja,
      Actually, Vera’s birth was one I thought about as I tried to assimilate the experience cognitively, and are one of the women I was talking about with “accidental home births.” I certainly knew you’d never do anything to risk your child’s health and safety, so your experience was emblematic for me of how now matter what we might think, birth is really a natural process over which we have little control. I had that same short interval with Jonah, I actually asked, “Is he alive?” which is a terrible thing to have be the first thing you say. I’m so, so glad your neighbor was there for you, and that you also have a table with two, sometimes three when your stepson is around, living children.

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