Withstand initial contractions at home, then when it’s time, have my husband grab our bags and rush us to the hospital. Labor without an epidural and handle it like a champ. Vaginally deliver a healthy, vibrant baby who immediately gets skin-to-skin with me and stays in the private room with my husband and me until we are discharged 24 hours later.
But that’s not how my birth story went.
You see, four days prior to my daughter’s birth date, I began to have a little “trickle,” and when it didn’t stop after a few days, I decided that I better get checked at the hospital. My just-in-case check showed that the leak was actually my water breaking. Over the next 27 hours, I endured an induction that caused very hard labor; hours of pushing that resulted in my epidural being turned off to try to progress delivery; and eventually, an emergency C-section that had to happen so quickly that there wasn’t time to let the epidural kick back in. Once my baby’s umbilical cord was cut, I was given medicine to knock me unconscious so that, in the words of the anesthesiologist, I wouldn’t “remember any more of the pain.” And when I finally woke up, my husband and I were told that our brand new daughter would be admitted into the NICU for three days because she had contracted an infection from my uterus due to my water breaking so many days prior.
My birth story went horribly wrong. And I’m allowed to be triggered by it.
I don’t know why I was so naïve to believe that birth plans were supposed to happen exactly as they were laid out. I told people that I was prepared to go with the flow in case something needed to change, but the truth is that I never actually thought anything would go wrong. I truly believed that I could just tell my family and my doctors how I wanted to deliver, and that it would actually happen that way.
Now, my story didn’t end in quite a grim way. My daughter responded well to the antibiotics, and we were lucky enough that the NICU pediatrician allowed her to stay in our room with us except when they needed to take her every few hours to give her treatment. She was deemed fully recovered from the infection after the three days, and we are so grateful to have a healthy, happy little girl sleeping cozily in bed with us right this minute. But our happy ending doesn’t cancel out the emotional and physical trauma that took place to get to this point.
My birthing experience has resulted in symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder related to my delivery, along with severe postpartum depression and anxiety, a combination of stressors that I would never wish upon my worst enemy. But here is what I do wish: I wish that we lived in a world where women could freely talk about their traumatic birth stories or their emotional struggles afterward, because the status quo right now is to sweep such things under the rug for fear of being judged, misunderstood, or not validated.
Sure, my delivery was not as hard as what some women go through. I know that. And yes, there are many, many other babies who have much longer and more difficult stays in the NICU than mine did. I know that, too. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not allowed to grieve the raw, awful experiences that we did have. Because here’s the thing: I don’t fully remember meeting my baby for the first time. I don’t remember giving her a kiss when they held her up to me, like the pictures show me doing, and I don’t remember holding her as they rolled me from the post-op room after I awoke from anesthesia. But I do remember the feeling I had when they brought her back from the NICU with an IV in her head, and I remember exactly what her screams sounded like when they would come in to draw her blood multiple times a day. And if someone thinks I’m selfish or unreasonable for being upset about any of those things, then that’s really sad.
I am still on the road to fully realizing this myself, but mommas, it is okay to not be okay with your birth experience. It is perfectly okay to cry and feel angry and wish that things had been different. And it is so unbelievably okay to talk about your botched story with others, even if it triggers you to do so. Because even if your story is far from how you envisioned it to be, it still happened, and there is nothing wrong with how you feel about it.