I'm Learning to Be OK With the Birth Story I Didn't Get
by Risa Kerslake
Photograph by Twenty20
As I lay on the operating table under the lights, preparing to get my belly sliced open, I thought: Well, this wasn’t how it was supposed to go. In all fairness, my daughter had been breech for quite some time, and it was my decision not to try an attempt to turn her toward the end of my pregnancy.
But that birth plan? The one where I wrote down requests such as lowering the drape so I could see her come out, immediate skin-to-skin contact and a delayed cutting of the umbilical cord? Oh, that’s right. I left it on my kitchen table in my haste to get to the hospital because of contractions coming closer and closer together at an alarming rate. And then, my attempts at making my plans known verbally fell on the deaf ears of the nurses and on-call OB-GYN.
They almost forgot to show me my baby when they pulled her out and then they whisked her away to the warmer after briskly cutting that umbilical cord. My entire life had been transformed in that moment, while the staff were discussing the ins and outs of the surgical tech’s wisdom tooth extraction the other week.
But then my little girl was finally brought to me and placed on my chest and I got to say a tearful hello. My husband captured the most mesmerizing photos of her first moments.
They wheeled me back to my room where I was promptly hooked up to no fewer than seven machines and surrounded by a flurry of nurses as they said things like “preeclampsia” and “seizure precautions” and “magnesium drip.”
Thus began a six-day hospital stay where doctors from all specialties came to speak to me as I tried to get the hang of breastfeeding, nurses placed bedpans under me because I wasn’t allowed to get up for the first few days and visitors were sent away due to my blood pressure that had a tendency to shoot up to dangerously high levels when I stood up or, you know, spoke above a whisper.
When my parents met their granddaughter for the first time, I was so dizzy I could barely see them. I would try to fall asleep at night only for my body to betray me by jerking so intensely it left me in tears, wondering if I would ever sleep again.
On the third night, after being awake for 62 hours straight, I started hallucinating my crying baby who was in the nursery so I could sleep. This led to talks with the nurse and on-call doctor during an emotional breakdown, and the hormonal new-mom side of me was panicked that I would be sent up to psych because I was going crazy.
After five nights, my blood pressure started to finally come under control after having to strongly advocate for myself and we were finally allowed to go home. But the stay haunted me for a long time after.
Most of all, my daughter’s birth was still miraculous.
Three months ago, at my second therapy appointment, I unloaded on my therapist, realizing very quickly that two years wasn’t enough to diminish the trauma and that I never really healed from what happened. She asked me to write down something for a homework assignment the following week.
“I want you to think about all the beautiful things that came from your hospital stay and write them down,” she gently encouraged.
Initially, I couldn’t come up with much more than the fact that my daughter came into the world healthy after six years of infertility hell. I realized that I had a hard time seeing the good things because they had been so overshadowed by the bad. They were there. I just had to dig them out and blow off the dust.
My daughter didn’t need any NICU time. She was slightly premature and had problems maintaining her body temperature and blood sugars, but she could stabilize by laying skin to skin on my chest, which we did—a lot.
I found a humility inside me that I didn’t know I had when the nurses cared for the most intimate parts of me. After all those years I spent as a nurse myself, I finally learned what it was like to be the one in a hospital bed.
I am 100 percent positive that if I lived a 100 years ago, I would have died giving birth, because there was no cure for preeclampsia besides delivery of the baby. And that’s a sobering thing to understand.
I was touched by kindness from a staff of complete strangers, from the night-shift nurse who spent most of her shift sitting on my bed and listening to me sob about my infertility and how the very thought of my daughter separated from me in the nursery was more than I could stand, to the nurse’s aide, who stood by me as I showered in front of her and I didn’t even care because I was able to clean myself for the first time in days.
From the nurse who told off the doctor in the middle of the night because the medication he was insisting on giving me wasn’t having any effect on my blood pressure, to the nurse who said a few simple words and changed the course of my breastfeeding relationship, I will forever be grateful to those who were on my side during one of the most stressful events of my life.
Most of all, my daughter’s birth was still miraculous. Even when nothing was going my way, laying eyes on her for the first time was still the single best moment of my life.
I didn’t get the birth story I wanted or envisioned or thought I deserved. But I can teach myself to be OK with it.