Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Grieving the birth I didn’t have

I have been putting off posting. I had imagined my next post would be a description of a wonderful straightforward homebirth and writing about what actually happened means letting go of the birth I dreamed of and hoped for and didn’t get. 

What happened was a placental abruption and my second emergency caesarean, followed by a heart-wrenching 36 hours largely separated from my baby who was slow to breathe and had to spend his first day and a half in an incubator on the neonatal unit. 

There is so much around having an unplanned caesarean that isn’t talked about, so while it is still fresh in my mind it may be helpful to someone (even just to me) to get some of it out in the open. Bear in mind this is my experience and others may feel differently. 

1. Sympathy just after the birth may not be particularly welcome or helpful. Initially, I was flooded with happy hormones and actually quite prickly about comments about the birth not being what I wanted. To anyone who was on the receiving end of this, I apologise! It was several weeks later that the reality of the experience hit and I started grieving for the birth I couldn’t have, by which time everyone assumed that things had settled down. I am quite proud of myself for managing to tell a few close people that I was struggling so I could talk about it and get the support I needed to process those feelings. 

2. Saying “Healthy baby and mother, that’s the important thing” .... don’t. Just don’t. Although meant kindly, the subliminal message is that it somehow doesn’t matter that things didn’t go to plan. 

Firstly, what is the definition of ‘healthy’? The mother is left scarred, at risk of complications in future pregnancies, and will almost certainly be faced with all kinds of negativity and unwanted intervention from health care professionals if she has another child in the future. In our case, our baby was on his own in a plastic box with tubes and wires everywhere (he had to have three canulas because he pulled out the first two), needed oxygen, had antibiotics over the first two days (for an infection he didn’t have and possibly causing damage to his gut) and was largely deprived of the human touch that newborns need. The first time I got to hold him he was 10 and a half hours old, which seemed like an eternity. He and I were both biologically programmed to be together and the thought of him all on his own for all that time breaks my heart. Who knows what effect that early separation will have had on his development, or on my own mental health?

3. The recovery from the surgery is brutal and especially hard when you have other children to care for. Two weeks paternity leave isn’t much help at 4 weeks when you still can’t lift your toddler onto the changing table or pick him up when he is hurt/tired/upset. Everyone gets cabin fever, the house is a mess, and when you still can’t drive (it was 5 or 6 weeks before I felt ready) you are largely trapped at home, since if you are not able to drive a car you are certainly not ready to pack everything you need into a bag and shlep that and three small children on the bus. 

Yes, we are both alive and reasonably healthy. I have now healed and he seems to be fine. Yes, many other mothers and babies have far worse experiences and outcomes. Yes, I could have been rushed down the corridor and chemically clubbed over the head for a Category 1 c-section to save both our lives, rather than having a bit of warning and time to discuss the options before making the only decision we could under the circumstances. Yes, this was one of those times when modern medicine is a life-saver. 

But I am still sad. Part of me is still waiting for the birth I had been preparing for for so many months. Like any loss, the grieving process takes time and there is no way to speed it up or make it hurt less. No amount of ‘look on the bright side’ will help at 1am when you are still awake, putting off going to bed so you can stay on the sofa holding your baby close because you desperately want to fill that horrible dark hole of his first few hours when your arms were empty. 

And it’s ok to feel like that. Those feelings do not take anything away from those whose experiences were worse than mine. It’s ok not to be ok. 

So if you know someone who has had an unplanned caesarean, know that you don’t have try to make it better. Remember that the feelings will be all muddled up and one minute they will be laughing that their huge baby was three times bigger than every other child in NNU and the next their heart will be breaking in two. Just listen. And bring tea and cake. 


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