Reply turned obscenely long post: heavy boots

I started this out as a response to a comment on my last post, but it was getting unruly, and I think it’s important to me to share this here, anyway. For the sake of discourse and all. Oh, and this is not particularly well written.

I’ve been thinking on what exactly to say to this, because I didn’t want to react–I want to respond. And, all I can keep coming back to is that I really just don’t agree with a lot of what you have said here. I can see where you are coming from, and I realize that you don’t intend to belittle my feelings. But, in a very real way, you have.

I don’t see mourning an idea as being less important than mourning something tangible. Even a baby is only an idea until it comes into being (whenever you believe that happens–I am not trying to go “there”), but for someone who is unable to become pregnant, mourning the idea of the baby she’ll never have is very real–by no means a meaningless delusion. It is our ability to have expectations and anticipate that makes us uniquely human. I do agree that, without Sadie, a home birth would have meant nothing. But you contradict yourself when you say that if I hadn’t attached myself to the idea of a home birth, I would never have felt bad about the c-section; because you start by mentioning that the hopes you never knew you had were crushed when you had a c-section, and you cried on the operating table. You hadn’t attached yourself to a nonsurgical birth, yet you hurt when it was no longer an option.

I also take issue with the idea that, just because my sadness is of my own making, it is less valid than another type of sadness. All sadness can be tied to the self, if you look at it from the right angle. And do you realize that you have called my feelings imaginary? I own my feelings, but I am careful not to let them own me. Yes, sometimes they can be overwhelming, but, because I am human, I have the capacity to recognize them for what they are, Name them–Sadness, Grief, Jealousy, Anger, Joy–and to set them aside when I am finished with them, even if they may resurface later.

As for what my c-section was…it was, indeed, an ugly thing that I had to suffer through. After over 24 hours of unmedicated labor–four hours of which was spent pushing at home, I arrived at the hospital. The doctor would not allow my midwives stay in the room with me while she assessed me, and she threatened not to allow my husband to stay. After determining that Sadie was posterior, she said that I had five minutes to decide if I was going to have the c-section there, or if I wanted to leave AMA and try another hospital. I was bullied into my c-section by a doctor who disrespected me the entire way. She would not even let Trevor and me be alone–forcing a nurse to stay in the room with us–while we figured out what to do. Some people would like to tell me that Sadie and I were in imminent danger. But we signed the consent forms for the c-section at 1:25 in the morning, and Sadie was not born until 3:59. That’s over two and a half hours between decision and delivery, and not the definition of emergent. The doctor never even told me when she was beginning surgery. I did not even know she’d started until the anesthesiologist told me they were pulling Sadie out. After Trevor left the room with Sadie–who had, by the way, Apgar scores of 8 and 10, the doctor, the anesthesiologist, and one of the nurses began to verbally abuse me about my decision to have a home birth. As in, using words like “stupid.” While I was still being operated on. And I’m not exaggerating here. One of the other nurses present informed someone on the Executive Committee about my treatment, and I was paid a visit by someone to assess, I’m assuming, the liability of the situation.

I don’t say all of this to make you feel bad for me, or to try to be impressive. I just want to make it clear that, yes, Sadie’s birth was a traumatic event for me. I understand that she is alive and well, and that I have to accept that the c-section was how it happened. But I was verbally abused by medical professionals while I was perhaps as vulnerable as a person can be. It was so much more than just not getting my crunchy granola home birth.

I never once expected to have a perfect delivery. In fact, I worked hard to keep my expectations vague. But they were realistic expectations. I had an impeccably healthy pregnancy. I had prepared for the home birth in so many ways–physically, emotionally, logistically. It was realistic of me to expect my body to deliver my baby in the safety and comfort of my home. Not easily, not perfectly, but realistically. My expectations matter, because they make me human. I think that, had I lucked into a better doctor who respects people as individuals, I would feel differently about the experience. Sure, I would be sad that I didn’t have the home birth I’d planned. But I wouldn’t have come home feeling shell-shocked. I wouldn’t have had such anguish over how Sadie came into the world.

And that brings me to another point–I think some people think it’s selfish to put so much value on having a home birth, or even a natural childbirth. Like it’s just some sort of goal I had so I could feel awesome about myself. And that’s a lot of crap. Yes, I was so looking forward to the visceral experience of pushing my baby out of my body. But so much of it also had to do with giving Sadie the birth she deserved. I wanted a nurturing, gentle birth for her. Instead, she had a violent one. Instead of being placed into her mother’s warm arms and allowed to breastfeed, she was suctioned and suctioned and suctioned by nurses. She had passed meconium, which I do realize is a sign that she was distressed during my labor, but had she been able to be pushed through the birth canal, I believe she might not have aspirated it, and she would not have had early breathing issues (which are common for c-section babies). She did not get to be held by her mother until she was six hours old. She did not get to breastfeed until she was more than 24 hours old. She spent her first few nights alive in an incubator having her breathing monitored and being watched for an infection she didn’t get. Am I thankful for medical technology? Yes. Do I sometimes worry that, had certain things gone differently during my labor, all of this could have been avoided? Yes. Is there any way of knowing for sure? No. Do I let myself dwell endlessly on these thoughts? No.

I appreciate your thoughts and your opinions and that you have been reading my blog. But I do hope that you do not often make it a habit of telling people that their feelings are unimportant. Because who are any of us to determine for another what is important? It is truly arrogant to think you can do so. Lying to convince yourself of something’s unimportance is not a healthy coping strategy.

18 thoughts on “Reply turned obscenely long post: heavy boots

  1. eve

    wow Brooke. I haven’t read the comments from your last post, but this post was great. thank you for sharing Sadie’s birth story. xoxo, eve

    Reply
  2. Bex

    First of all, let me just say that your response is extremely well-written, thoughtful, and more importantly, thought-provoking. It’s so difficult to try and formulate what’s going on in my own head. Here, alas, is the danger of blogs and Internet conversations. If I had been sitting with you, then when I said something that was wrong, or at the very least unhelpful, you would explain why right away, and I would listen and then say something else, and we would never end up in the place where I’ve said something hurtful, because I can tell that it was hurtful, or dismissive, because I can tell that it was dismissive, even though I tried so hard to be neither.

    I’ll start by responding to the apparent contradictions that you pointed out, and hopefully my thoughts will be clarified a bit more through that. You said “I don’t see mourning an idea as being less important than mourning something tangible.” And you’re absolutely right. The problem in my previous response is that word “important.” I realized I used a lot of loaded words, and I have to try here to explain why, and I fear I’m not a good enough writer for that.

    Explanatory tangent: I think it may help if you knew a little more about me. I’m a fairly obsessive person (it runs in my family; my little sister has had severe OCD from the time she was seven, and we all of us share the tendency), and I suffer, sometimes, from horrible anxiety. Most of the time I am fine, but under stress, I get a little nuts. And by “a little nuts” I mean that I stop eating and sleeping, throw up constantly, and can’t stop crying. I obsess over events that have occurred, over things I can’t change, over regrets and failures and unmet expectations, to the point where I become paralyzed. (I forget that this is not normal, that other people experience regret and sadness in a different way).

    So for me, ideas are obviously hugely important, considering how they can keep me up at night. And here is where language is failing me a little, so please excuse my groping through the dark. I didn’t want a c-section, as I said, and you’re right that what I wrote seems contradictory, since I mourned an idea and then turned around and said not to. But here I think is the crucial difference between you and me, and what made my response incorrect for you: You said that you own your feelings, and they don’t own you. That is normal, natural, and healthy. Unfortunately, in my life, that’s not always the case. My feelings own me far too much of the time. They can be so enormous, and so frightening, and if I let them they would absolutely control me.

    And they lie. In your last sentence you wrote, “Lying to convince yourself of something’s unimportance is not a healthy coping strategy.” But it’s one I have to employ all the time, because my feelings lie to me. An example: I was once traveling in Guatemala, and I was in a village with no electricity or phone service. I became convinced that my little sister, far away at home, was dead. She was dead. I knew it. I felt it. It took my three days to get back to civilization and call her, but in those three days, I lost several pounds and was inconsolable, because she was dead.

    Needless to say, I spend a lot of time separating “valid” feelings from “invalid” feelings, in an effort to cope. And often I have to lie to myself, or feel that I am, to get at the truth. I have several friends (and my sister) on retainer to speak truth to me when I get like that.

    But sometimes my feelings are perfectly valid and true and understandable, and I still have to lie to myself to make them go away, or I will not cope. For instance, my feelings of crushing disappointment with the c-section were not lies. They were very real. But if I had let them, they would have torn me to pieces. I just can’t get out from under them. So I learned a long time ago to recondition my brain in order to survive and be healthy. In this instance, I had to replace an unmet expectation with something better (Jack), or the unmet expectation would sit inside me, rotting, growing, and ultimately sending me into that awful, panicked place. So I refiled it under “unimportant.” I can only do this because I have something “important” to replace it with, if that makes sense. Of course it is still important, but not in comparison. And this I tell myself until I absorb it, and can make my peace with it. I have to be at peace, or I don’t function.

    I forget, I really do, that everybody doesn’t work this way. I read your post, and immediately I thought: She’s obsessing! I understand that! I can help her! Years of experience with obsession have taught me that I can help. Assuming, of course, that it is obsession we’re dealing with and not a natural, difficult, but ultimately manageable pain.

    I didn’t realize how awful it was for you. My c-section was disappointing, surely, but I was treated with respect and kindness the entire time. And I still cried! I cannot imagine being in that exhausted, vulnerable place and being treated so cruelly. I said you were not robbed of your perfect birth experience, but of course you were. I only meant that it didn’t matter next to Sadie, but I think you know that. For me, I had to get to a place where it didn’t matter, period. I had to work really hard to get there, or I would be consumed by feelings over which I had no control. I had to repeat “unimportant, unimportant” over and over again so that I could get past it. I had to enlist friends to say “unimportant, unimportant,” as well, which is what I was trying to do with you, mistakenly. But I have no idea how I would get out from under the trauma you went through. You didn’t need to hear “unimportant, unimportant;” you needed to express what you were feeling and be heard and comforted, if possible. I gave you what I needed, not what you needed, and I’m sorry if it added even a tiny bit to your hurt and frustration.

    This is very, very long and awkward, but I hope it clarifies things and maybe makes me sound like less of an asshole. I’m crazy, but I’m not an asshole. Most of the time, anyway (she writes, smiling).

    Reply
    1. citysteader Post author

      Huh. My reply I tried to email in didn’t post. Anyway, here’s what I wrote this morning:

      You’re right, you’re not an asshole. You’re also not crazy! But it is interesting–and this is one of the fascinating things about blogs–that we’re coming from such VERY different places to relatively similar experiences–and only about a month apart from each other. It does help a lot to understand that you have issues with obsession and to understand that you took my original post to mean that I, too, was struggling with obsessing over this situation.

      Thankfully, my pain is quite manageable. It’s almost never even there anymore, but it will probably always be there to a degree, and I’m okay with that. Somewhat interestingly, though, is the hindsight of realizing that I was undermedicated when I ran into my midwife and, also, when I wrote the original post. I’ve been on an SSRI since Sadie was two or three months old, and it’s helped a lot to manage how I cope with Sadie’s birth, among other things. I got sick the day I was supposed to get my prescription refilled, and had only had 25mg to take Friday night instead of 75. I don’t think it’s a total coincidence that I had such a strong reaction to seeing the midwife on Saturday.

      Don’t worry about having been hurtful. At first, I kind of was like, bitch, please! But then I realized it was a good opportunity to wrap my head a little further around all of this. And it has made for some super interesting conversation, both online and off. And now, knowing where you were really coming from, I’m not even bothered at all. In fact, I’m so sorry that it is such an effort for you to have to squash the negative emotions that come out of an unexpected turn of events like what we’ve been through.

      Reply
      1. Bex

        Thanks for replying, and for understanding. Obsession and anxiety are just two things that I live with from time to time–mostly, as with you, when I’m overstressed and undermedicated.

        I think I wrote this to you once before, but I was on Effexor for two years before getting pregnant, and it was nearly magical how effective it was for me almost immediately. For those two years I was at last the master of my emotions instead of vice versa. I discussed going on it again with my pediatrician at Jack’s six month appointment, but I had pretty much already decided I was going to. I start next week 🙂

        Reply
  3. kat

    that is a LONG time b/w signing consent forms and the surgery – jesus. i had no idea. it’s such a shame (to me) that this particular doctor (DO? MD?) treated you with SUCH disrespect. you were a laboring mother in pain and in need of help, sympathy, and kindness.

    Reply
    1. citysteader Post author

      Yeah, it was kind of absurd. I didn’t even realize it at the time. I mean, it felt like forever, but I wouldn’t have guessed that it really was that long. The worst was having to be still through contractions while they put in the epidural. I think I almost broke the nice nurse’s arm. Who/what are DO and MD?

      Reply
  4. tara

    yikes! i hate that you had that expereince. i had a scheduled c-section and was treatred so well the whole time. of course it does help that I had the babies where becca works so I got extra great treatment! i also have a great doctor who respects my opionions and decisions. she sadi I cold try a vaginal delivery if I wanted even though both babies were breach. i wish you had had a different hospital expereince. some medical professionals are not well educated on the home birth topic AND do not respect it. your next time will be better whether it is at home or the hospital!!

    Reply
    1. citysteader Post author

      Yeah, I knew going into the home birth that I was taking the risk that, if I did need to transfer to the hospital, I would go in unassigned and it would be luck of the draw for me. I just never considered the possibility that it could be THAT bad. The midwives called around to see who the on-call doctors were at my two transfer choices and were mistakenly told that a different doctor was on call than who actually was. They were kind of horrified when we got there and found out who was on call, but it was too late. There was no way, at the time, they could have convinced me to get back in the car and go somewhere else. If there is a next time, it’ll definitely start out at a hospital. I do plan on trying for VBAC if everything is healthy for it–I just hope I can find the right doctor to support me through it.

      Reply
  5. melissa

    DUDE. i got nothin’ for you in the way of baby-having shared feelings. but i totally empathize with the situation. and no matter what the issue is, when you have a plan and it doesn’t work out due to circumstances beyond your control, it DOES seem unfair and it IS hard to let go, no matter if we’re talking about something as small as this afternoon’s free time or something as big as how you plan to deliver a child.

    i loved reading this post. i wish i had a more eloquent way to tell you about it.

    Reply
  6. Debbie

    Of many friends (including you) who recently gave birth, quite a few ended up with C-sections. Some of these friends had planned a birth at home or at a birthing center and some had just hoped for a vaginal hospital delivery. In all, I don’t know a single one who wasn’t disappointed and I don’t think any of them had to endure what you went through. You are very strong Brooke and I think anyone would rightly feel similar to how you feel if they went through a similar experience. It gives me a lot to think about with my own labor story to be written in the near future. I really have no idea what to expect but I thank you for having the courage to share your story!

    Reply
    1. citysteader Post author

      Thanks, Debbie. With a national c-section rate over 30 percent (twice as high as the World Health Organization deems safe), it’s not surprising that you’ve been seeing so many of them. It is a lot to think about when you’re pregnant, and if you ever want to talk about the research I did while I was pregnant, send me your phone number, and we can have a chat. If there’s one thing I’m a major advocate for (over any one type of birth), it’s knowing your options. Because if you don’t, you don’t have any.

      I’m SUPER excited that you’re having a baby soon, by the way. And excited that now you’re a mere two and a half hours or so away!

      Reply
  7. Stephanie

    Ooh, Brooke.

    I’m not even sure where to being. Honestly, I’ve been waiting for a blog post of this nature since Sadie was born and you said something about needing to get the emotional aspect of the birth out, but when it never came I figured it would be there, somewhere–probably because I have my own that I’ve never fully expressed.

    I can understand what it is to have not only the opposite birth from what you planned, for your baby, and but to also endure harassment and rudeness from the people who are at your birth. To suffer through a birthing experience that is scary and one that you feel unprepared for, and to feel like any agency you have in the situation is being taken away.

    I completely, 100% agree with you that your feelings, even if they are negative, are valid. They are NOT made up. They are not false. They are more true than most things in the world, because they are YOUR reactions to YOUR experience, and I think that’s also why it’s easy for someone to say that they aren’t true, or real, or valid, or that you’re just making them up. It’s impossible to understand what you experienced completely, and you are truly the only person who ever will. Your feelings are valid.

    I think this part is my favorite:
    “My expectations matter, because they make me human. I think that, had I lucked into a better doctor who respects people as individuals, I would feel differently about the experience. Sure, I would be sad that I didn’t have the home birth I’d planned. But I wouldn’t have come home feeling shell-shocked. I wouldn’t have had such anguish over how Sadie came into the world.

    And that brings me to another point–I think some people think it’s selfish to put so much value on having a home birth, or even a natural childbirth. Like it’s just some sort of goal I had so I could feel awesome about myself. And that’s a lot of crap. Yes, I was so looking forward to the visceral experience of pushing my baby out of my body. But so much of it also had to do with giving Sadie the birth she deserved. I wanted a nurturing, gentle birth for her. ”

    It’s so powerful because it’s so…TRUE. I feel like I’m just repeating myself over and over, but you made the choices you did for Sadie, for what you believed, as her mother, would be best for her. One of the most poignant parts of Jasper’s birth was when they were pressuring me about getting pitocin, about letting them strip my membranes (and not explaining to me what that means–I STILL don’t really know), and an epidural, and we were freaking out, and then one of the midwives at our hospital told us as parents you make the decisions that you think are best, and you just hope that you’re right. And that’s what you, and Trevor, were doing. You were making the decisions you believe were best, and the fact that the doctors and nurses couldn’t even rally behind you, and instead had to insult you…ugh. Ugh. I would carry that with me for a long time.

    Your feeling are valid.

    SIDE NOTE: I can’t believe they threatened to not let Trevor in! And wouldn’t let your midwife in at all!

    Reply
  8. Bex

    I just feel the need to reiterate, reading through Stephanie’s comment particularly, that I honestly never meant to say that your feelings were invalid or imaginary. It’s language and rhetoric that trip me up, because what I go through is so hard to explain. I wasn’t referring to feelings, but again to obsession, the kind that robs me of the present by not letting me make peace with the past. And when I wrote it, I had no idea how awful your experience was; I was acting under the assumption that it was more like mine. What you went through was completely unacceptable, you were bullied and mistreated, and nothing is invalid about feeling pain when you remember that. Nothing.

    Forgive me for dwelling, but have I mentioned my obsessive personality? That makes me terribly afraid of being misunderstood? Oh, the neurosis.

    Reply
    1. citysteader Post author

      I know it’s absurd to tell a worrier not to worry. But don’t worry. We’re on the same page now.

      Reply
  9. ashley

    ooooh, brooke. i am imagining it now, and i know you said you didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for you, but i feel sorrier for you than anyone in the world! not only for the exhaustingly long labor AND the exhaustingly long pushing phase AND the inimaginable car ride from hell, BUT you had all that on top of horrible, inhumane treatment from medical professionals.

    do medical professionals not understand/remember what it’s like to be in labor (female ones, anyway)? probably not, because they were probably medicated the whole time. and male MP’s should be INFORMED somewhere in their medical training of the basic EMOTIONAL NEEDS of the laboring woman. i’m talking just basic: don’t be mean to a laboring woman; it’s pretty simple.

    laboring woman grab onto and attach to everything said around them, and take it very personally. it’s so important to be sensitive. for example, at a low moment in my second labor, i cried out for an epidural for want of being “done”. my doula said, “okay, but….you’re going to get a catheter…..” it hurt my feelings so excruciatingly that i never spoke to her again after the birth, and it’s been two years. i even sent my husband to pay her and return some of her materials that we went home with. now, looking back, all she said was, “okay but you’re going to get a catheter.” i mean, come on, that’s not that mean, right? well, it was to me at the time, because she wasn’t respecting the feelings i had at the moment. had she said something like, “ashley, i know you’re discouraged and wanting to give up, but you are doing so well, why not try two more contractions? in the mean time, we could get an anesthesiologist ready to go if you don’t change your mind,” maybe i would have felt differently about her and the birth, but as it is, i remember the birth as being a mostly negative experience. and that’s just on little, seemingly insignificant, side comment. to be treated that way is, there is no other word for it, inhumane. to be lectured, mid birth, about your choices is so so so soooo wrong. just plain WRONG. it’s the opposite of right.

    and for them to delay the surgery…ridiculous. proves that the baby wasn’t in danger and they knew it.

    interestingly, yesterday was my first “appointment” for this pregnancy. they would not allow me to see the doctor the first time, only the “nurse educator”. you should have seen her “educating” me on how “stupid” homebirths are as she made me sign a waver that i would not attempt one and how “dangerous” it is that i am still nursing while pregnant. she was so rude and unprofessional; i was amazed. she acted like i was a total idiot the whole time. didn’t really make me want to go back, let alone enjoy the experience. i wonder if they realize that this type of treatment is what part of what drives some of us to opt for homebirths? maybe we don’t need to be lectured and belittled and treated like second class citizens just because we know our options. i will tell you the whole story another time but right now i’m exhausted and this comment is getting on the lengthy side.

    Reply

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