When I fell pregnant with my son, I had my sights set on a drug-free, vaginal birth. A normal birth. I was a woman, after all. Billions of women did it before me, and billions would do it after. Our bodies were made to do this, why should mine be any different?
Well things didn’t happen that way. It all started to go wrong as I approached my estimated due date and showed no signs of readiness for labour. After going through several “stretch and sweep” procedures, I was induced. First with cervidil, then a cervical balloon, and then after both of those failed to put me into labour, my waters were broken and I was put on a syntocin drip. I didn’t cope with the sudden onslaught of labour, and my son’s posterior position probably didn’t help. I accepted gas fairly quickly. The gas made me nauseous and vomit, but it also masked the fact that my body was involuntarily pushing. I was only 3cm dilated, so I was given an epidural. Sadly the uncontrollable pushing caused my cervix to swell shut, and 12 hours after my waters were broken, my son was pulled out of my via an emergency csection, 10 days after his due date.
When I was pregnant with my second baby 2.5 years later, I felt determined to do better. I did special exercises to try to keep my baby out of a posterior position. I walked and swam as much as I could to keep myself strong and make sure my stamina was good leading up to birth. And I rested more. I eliminated stress from my life. I made a point of informing myself better, and this time around, when I showed no signs of labour I politely refused the stretch and sweeps. I stonewalled conversations about induction because I was healthy and my baby was healthy and I didn’t want to submit my body to unnecessary procedures just so I could conform to the hospital’s preferred timeline of events.
Seven days after my due date I woke to contractions – I had gone into spontaneous labour and I could have been happier. But despite my best intentions, my labour followed the same route as my first – I began pushing involuntarily when I reached around 3cm dilation, resulting in cervix literally closing the door on any chance of a VBAC. I was eventually taken in for another emergency csection, except this time we had to deal with a torn cervix, bladder adhesions and serious damage to my uterus. I was told very seriously that if I ever decide to have another baby I will need to have a csection scheduled before 37 weeks, because it would be very dangerous for me to have even one single contraction. I will never have another chance to get the birth I wanted.
I am a successful breastfeeder and an advocate for it too. I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to not be able to breastfeed. To do so would feel disrespectful to those who have actually lived it and feel hurt over it. But I do know what it’s like for your body to fail at something that it should have been able to do. I know what it’s like to prepare for something and then find that it’s just not going to be possible. I really wanted vaginal births, and I thought I did everything I could to make them happen, but my efforts weren’t good enough. Is this what it’s like when someone wants to breastfeed but can’t?
When I think about my birth stories, I feel a lot of feelings. I have grieved for the birth that I wanted but didn’t get. Even though my daughter turned 2 last March, my grieving process doesn’t appear to be over yet (the tears in my eyes as I type this out are proof of that). I accept that my kids face some increased health risks because of their delivery and although I strive to learn more about them, I still sometimes feel indignant and defensive when someone else brings them up. I feel confused about what went wrong – did I do something wrong? Is my body built wrong? Did my care providers do something wrong? I feel frustrated because when I ask questions to piece together exactly what happened it seems everyone is more concerned with reassuring me that everything is OK and that I did my best, and that method of delivery doesn’t even really matter. They ignore the fact that I want factual, objective and honest information to help me move past this.
I am thankful that I don’t feel guilt or anger. Guilt and anger are toxic feelings because they revolve around blame, and the idea that something could still be done about my situation, and they can’t. Nothing can be done because it’s already happened and I can’t change the past. I think some people use guilt and anger to hide away from their feelings of sadness, without realising that this stops them from moving on and finding their closure. Talking about my story still makes me feel really sad, but each time I open up about it, I feel myself let it go a little bit more.
I guess the reason I’m talking about this today is because when talking to a pregnant friend about their breastfeeding goals, someone else chimed in that I shouldn’t get her hopes up so much because not everyone can breastfeed, and that I have no idea what it’s like to deal with the disappointment of being unable to do something I thought I could.
It may be true that not everyone can breastfeed and not everyone can have vaginal births. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hope we can. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
If you are struggling with your feelings about birth or breastfeeding, please talk to a trusted health care professional, or get in touch with PANDA – Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia
Have you ever felt like your body failed you?