I have three kids. So I get asked a lot, “What is giving birth like?” The procedure in theory was similar, but none of the births were the same.
It’s sort of like what Forrest Gump said. It’s a painful, scary-ass box of chocolates. So you just buckle up and see what happens.
It’s not like the movies and the magazines. None of it.
Jack is my oldest. He’s 3 now. He was a large baby, and to complicate matters, he was backward and the wrong way up, which is called a frank breech. Essentially, I wasn’t even given an option of delivering vaginally. The doctors said, “There’s no way we’re gonna be able to flip him.”
Because I had the equivalent of a C-section a decade earlier to remove fibroids, Jack’s birth was my second strike.
After you’ve had two C-sections, doctors don’t encourage you to try and push to deliver, so every delivery since then has had to be a cesarean.
After we were discharged, I began having seizures as a side effect of the anesthesia. My husband was a medical resident, so I would be home by myself all the time, terrified I was going to have a seizure while I was holding my baby.
All of that threw me into severe postpartum anxiety and depression, the extent to which I didn’t even realize until maybe four or five months in.
With my second son, Jules, who is now 1, it took three hours and two surgical teams to get in there and get him out. I had so much scar tissue built up from the first two procedures. A C-section is supposed to take 20 to 45 minutes tops.
While I was on the table, I heard the surgeon say, “Uh oh.”
Even my husband, who is the epitome of grace under pressure, his demeanor changed. Things just felt more serious. Nobody was telling me why.
When you’re laying there strapped down — because they don’t want you moving — but you can still hear people talking about you, but nobody’s talking to you, that may be the most vulnerable and simultaneously traumatized I’ve ever been.
My husband kept saying, “Everything’s fine, everything’s fine,” but you know when you look at his eyes that it’s not going the way it should be.
Later in the recovery room, the two lead surgeons asked if we were done having children.
My husband and I said, “Yeah, we think so, why?”
They said, “Because it would be in your best interest healthwise if you not ever, ever get pregnant again.”
At that point, my uterus had been cut open so many times that they were concerned that if I were to conceive again it would rupture.
We were actively preventing when we found out we were pregnant for the third time. Jules was 4 months old, and I was still breastfeeding. We were using two forms of birth control.
One day I felt like my appendix was bursting. We threw all four of us into the car — the 4 month old, the 2 year old, and the two of us — and went to the hospital.
They started with the normal protocol, peeing in a cup so they can make sure you’re not pregnant. They drew blood and came back an hour later with, “You’re pregnant.”
At that point, I started fearing for my life. I was only five weeks along.
The risk of rupture in combination with thoughts that I may not even make it through this one completely overwhelmed me.
When the day arrived, and I was headed into the operating room, I felt like the nurses were just moving me around like a piece of meat.
I stopped everyone and blurted out what I needed to say: “I need you to look at me. I am a human being and I am terrified. I have spent the last nine months afraid of this exact moment… Somebody needs to stand right there and look at me and talk to me about whatever I want to talk about right now.”
And they did it. That was really hard to do, though.
They told me they were going to be making a different kind of incision. Instead of going horizontal, they were going vertical.
There’s a reason that they stopped doing that incision. It’s more painful. They’re cutting your abs in half. It’s a longer recovery process.
But when a surgeon looks at you and says, “I strongly recommend…” and they don’t break eye contact with you, it’s pretty convincing. I wanted them to have the best odds. I wanted them to be the most confident they could be even if I couldn’t, so I said, “OK.”
The irony was that I healed faster with this incision. It was less painful for me, and if you look at my stomach, you cannot actually tell that I was cut there. That’s how great of a job the surgeons did.
When I drive by the hospital where I gave birth, I can’t help but notice that I’m having a visceral reaction to that building.
I feel tense. My breathing is shallow. Every muscle contracts. It’s like I’m bearing down waiting for someone to punch me in the gut.
I’ve badly wanted to get therapy to address this.
I know the mom’s support group I’m in isn’t technically therapy, but it goes a long way.
I don’t know how I would have gotten through my last two pregnancies without that group of moms sharing and listening to others’ stories.
I guess my advice to any other moms who have experienced traumatic childbirth or challenges as a new mother would be not to hold it all in. You need to talk about it, even if you’re not the kind of person who talks about things. There’s something very cathartic about recognizing what happened to you, feeling it, going through those feelings, talking about it and letting it go to a certain extent.
It’s through talking about it that I’ve been able to heal, and, you never know, sharing your story and challenges could even help another struggling woman new to motherhood.
Danielle Sibley is a wife and mother of three who lives in Ross Township. She works as a freelance wardrobe and home stylist with JJ&Co.