Before I was a blogger I was (and still am) an avid blog reader. I enjoy learning about other people’s lives through their stories and gaining a perspective on things that are unlike my own experiences. I try to be nonjudgmental when an opinion differs from my own and always keep any comments I might have respectful. There is only one blog topic (and I am not referring to politics) that gets me upset, sometimes too distraught to even continue reading. The topic to which I am referring is one I will call “A Birth Plan Gone Awry.”
I will sometimes see a post from a new mother who is distressed that the birth plan she had in mind did not come to pass. Perhaps she was unable to labor naturally and needed pain medications or perhaps, despite taking a Lamaze class and practicing her breathing and labor techniques, was unable to deliver vaginally and ended up with an emergency cesarean section. I get it; we all have an image in our heads of how our children will be born and when it doesn’t happen the way we had hoped, disappointment can ensue. Women have even expressed “feelings of failure” when their son or daughter’s birth did not follow their predetermined blueprint. But, and I cannot emphasize this strongly enough, the biggest disappointment is when your birth plan goes so wrong that there is no baby to bring home. Losing an infant is a sadness that remains tucked away in your soul even if you are blessed with more children. It is a disappointment you don’t get to write about while your baby naps in his or her crib.
When I was pregnant with my first son, more than 26 years ago, I was big as a house and four days past my due date, when my placenta tore away from my uterine wall. I began to bleed heavily and my husband rushed me to the hospital. Although I was terrified, I could still feel my baby moving inside me, and felt things would be okay. By the time I reached the hospital, my bleeding had ceased and my obstetrician thought a vaginal birth might still be possible. But after a few hours of little progress and resumed bleeding I had a cesarean section. My beautiful 8 pound 14 ounce son was born a little bit blue and did not cry much, most likely because of the difficult delivery and bleeding, or so the neonatologists first thought. I barely saw him before he was whisked away to intensive care while I got sewn up and sent to recovery.
Still weak from blood loss and the delivery, I had to endure news that worsened daily. My husband and I were told that our newborn son might have a heart defect that had gone undetected during my pregnancy. Further tests confirmed our fears and open-heart surgery was scheduled for his fourth day of life. We were told that if he survived, he would eventually need additional surgeries, could never play team sports, but might still be able to lead a relatively normal life. I would have taken him on any terms and told the doctors that chess would be his sport. I asked my husband not to tell me if our baby died during the surgery because I was having my first ever-panic attack that day and didn’t think I could survive the news. I was on a maternity floor, surrounded by healthy babies and moms, still recovering from my own surgery and about to enter one of the darkest periods of my life. My son did survive the open-heart surgery, but ultimately passed away in the hospital, having experienced nothing of life beyond pain.
Losing your baby while your breasts are still filled with milk and your hopes for his future are still fresh is one of the most painful experiences imaginable. After our son passed away I could barely leave our apartment for fear that, because of my still large stomach, someone would ask me when I was due and that I would just burst into tears, an occurrence which actually happened a few times. I was insanely jealous of people who were so naïve that they could still talk about about gender preference or a “birth plan” during their pregnancies.
With the help of a support group my husband and I joined, our love for each other, and the kindness of a few close friends, we healed and found the courage to try again. We were ultimately blessed with three more sons. Although we have never forgotten our first son, we feel incredibly lucky to have found happiness and joy again after the black hole that enveloped us for a time.
So, to all of you who may feel disappointed by the way your child entered the world, please keep in mind that, no matter what happened in that delivery room, if you got to bring your baby home, you are a winner. As a member of a club to which no one wants to belong, I know that I speak for myself and all the other moms who have suffered a stillbirth or infant death, when I say that our profoundest wish would be to have had an imperfect birth story, one that may not have been ideal but which had a happier ending.