Monday, April 25, 2016

Trauma, Guilt, and Time: How I Finally Came To Terms with My C-Section

If it weren't for emergency C-sections, my fifth child and I wouldn't be here today.

Over the past year and a half, I've written and re-written this post more times than I can count. I've put down thousands of words telling my C-section story, then erased every single one of them and cried because the whole experience was still too raw to write about.

I simply needed time.

Trauma, Guilt, and Time: How I Finally Came To Terms with My C-Section -- The last thing I ever wanted was to leave the hospital scarred, both physically and emotionally. How was I ever going to get over a birth that went so horribly wrong?  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}

I think it's a failing of our culture that when a woman has a difficult birth and recovery, our knee-jerk reaction is to say "well, at least you have a healthy baby."

While that's obviously the most important thing, (and the reason I'd do it all again if I had to,) it doesn't erase a woman's need for time to process the hard parts, the painful parts, and the scary parts.

My C-section and recovery was all of the above: hard, painful, and scary.

Since I had a condition called placenta previa where my placenta was completely blocking the baby's way out, we'd already scheduled a C-section.

But there were complications in the pregnancy that led to bed rest and an emergency Cesarean even earlier than we'd expected.

I was already emotionally tapped out from weeks of being hospitalized, and I felt like a rag doll as they wheeled me into the operating room and prepped me as fast as they could. I was being poked, prodded, swabbed, epiduraled, and cathetered all at once.

The surgery, which only lasted 8 minutes before my son arrived, was painful, despite everything I'd read assuring me I'd just feel "pressure and tugging." I felt like the chew toy in a game of tug-of-war rather than, in the words of some article on the Internet, "a handbag being rummaged through."

After that 8 long minutes I was relieved to hear the baby cry and so happy he was here, but when the nurse lay him awkwardly across my chest, wedged so high between my neck and the surgical curtain that I couldn't even look down at him, I was also heartbroken. I had so many IVs and devices attached to me that I couldn't even put my arms all the way around him.

After a few minutes they took him (and my husband) away to the nursery, and once I was alone there were complications: my heart rate dropped, and the medication they gave me to speed it back up had horrible side effects.

The anesthesiologist didn't tell me what was happening, or warn me that he was even giving me medication, so I didn't know what was going on when I started to feel warm, fuzzy, and dizzy.

My head hurt and it was hard to keep my eyes open. I felt like I was trying to breathe with a grand piano sitting on my chest. In all honesty, I thought I was dying.

By the time they finished stitching me up, my mouth felt like a desert and the room was spinning.

Phillip came to my recovery room with pictures of the baby, but I couldn't even look at them. He got me water for my parched mouth and I listened to him call our parents with the happy news.

I spent the next 6 hours drifting in and out of a groggy stupor before I could even see our baby again. He was stuck in the special care nursery, awaiting transfer to the NICU at another hospital.

He came home a few weeks later and things slowly returned to "normal," but months passed and I was still struggling with a body that felt battered and broken.

The nerves severed during the C-section hadn't healed right and I was left with a raw, tingling abdomen that made it seem like my body didn't even belong to me anymore.

Having had babies before, I was prepared to come home carrying a few dozen extra pounds and a little worse for wear, but nothing like this.

My older kids couldn't sit on my lap. I cringed when anyone touched me. Wearing clothes of any kind drove me crazy for months.

There was more than one night of tearful Googling at 2 AM wondering if I'd ever feel remotely like myself again. For many long months, I just wanted to scream, cry, or run away from myself.

Things are better now. More than two years have passed.

Some of the feeling has returned and I'm used to the numbness that's left. I can talk about my C-section without getting a lump in my throat. Most of the time.

While I used to feel guilt about taking so long to get over it (after all, how could I complain when I was holding a healthy baby in my arms?), I should have been easier on myself.

I should've known that eventually, the fact of a healthy baby at the end of a traumatic birth does win out over the trauma of that experience.

It just takes time.

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24 comments:

  1. I had an emergency c-section with Daniel and it was a long time before I could tell my story without crying. It *IS* major surgery, after all.

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    1. I've talked to so many women for whom a planned C-section was totally fine, but I imagine the emergency ones are in a whole other category. It's scary when they need to get the baby out as fast as humanly possible. Looking back now, I'm almost proud when I think that I could go that, but it took a while to get there.

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    2. Writing my speech for the Promise Walk two years ago was a tear-jerking experience, even five years later.

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  2. There is a blogger I read who had a similar experience. The Florkens is the name of the blog if you're interested. I can imagine this would take a while to come to terms with. Sounds very scary and obviously different from what you expected!

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    1. Thanks, I'll have to check out her blog. Reading other peoples' stories who were also having a hard time with their birth experiences really helped me, especially in the beginning.

      I think what made it worse is that I'd had vaginal births before which in my experience were approximately one million times easier, especially directly afterward and during the recovery period. Constantly comparing the two experiences didn't make sense because one was major surgery on top of having a baby, but it made it worse.

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  3. AuntSue
    That was horrible! Your doctors did a terrible job of taking care of you, and keeping you informed, of giving appropriate pain killers, of damaging your body. I had an emergency C section with my fourth baby, but the worst was having to remind the doctor to turn off the pitocin once it was decided that surgery was the only option. So glad you and baby are now healthy.

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    1. Glad everything turned out okay for you, too!

      To this day I still wonder why the anesthesiologist never said anything until I told him all these crazy side effects I was feeling. I'd told the OB beforehand that I didn't want to know surgical details about what she was doing on her side of the curtain, and maybe the anesthesiologist took that to mean I didn't want to know what he was doing, either.

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  4. Oh Jenny. I'm so sorry to hear that. I've heard more than a few stories of terrible c-sections (yours takes the cake by far), and your feelings are very valid. I was born via C-section, and my mom was actually telling me last night how horrible her experience was and how many months it took for her to feel somewhat normal again. She still gets a little upset to an extent when she talks about her experience.

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    1. In my experience, my C-section just took all the pain of labor and spread it out over 6 months instead of getting it done with in 6 hours. With my vaginal births I was back to normal by 4-6 weeks afterward; 6 weeks after my C-section I was still wincing in pain if I put my shoes on too fast. It was a hard recovery that took a long time. Now go give your mom a hug!

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  5. What a powerful post. I had no idea it could be that traumatic. It's nice to hear you're feeling a little better and I hope your recovery continues. Giving yourself time is essential, even as a parent when you need a break you really should take it. Great post hun. xx
    #thetruthabout

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  6. I teared up while reading this. What a scary experience. I'm so glad you and your son made it through.

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  7. My sister had triplets so she had to have a c-section. She also had a really hard time after surgery. I think it took her two weeks to leave the hospital herself and then a could of months for the babies to get to come home. It was really tough. My brother is in a medical residency right now and last time I talked to him, he explained what they do for a c section. And while I will do what I need to get my baby here safely, I never want to do that by choice. Yikes. You're awesome for being able to move on from that and have another one coming soon.

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    1. My doctors and hospital are very supportive of VBACs so we're trying that this time around. Every now and then I will admit that I worry about something going wrong and going through another emergency C-section (and by "worry," I mean completely freak out.) But it will be okay. Even if that does happen - at least I'll know to give myself more time to heal physically and emotionally.

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  8. Jenny, thank you for sharing this experience with all of us! I think there's so much pressure on women to bounce back immediately after childbirth, but it just doesn't work that way-especially with a major surgery like a c-section! I also think it's neat that you can honestly tell us about how hard your emergency c-section was; sometimes, I've seen people get all irritated when anyone dares to say anything less than complimentary about the c-section experience, but I think that each person's experience and wisdom has immense value. I'm glad that you made it through and that you've been able to heal!

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    1. In preparation for a C-section (I had one scheduled anyway before the emergency one) I talked to LOTS of women who'd had them, and the majority said theirs was fine and many chose to do it for their second child, as well. I wish (REALLY WISH) that I'd been one of the women with good experiences, but unfortunately I wasn't.

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  9. This was a powerful read and I think it will be so helpful to others going through a c-section, planned or not. Wishing you continued healing and peace!

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  10. Yes Jenny, the trauma of a complicated birth does nag at you. Like you, I had a planned section that turned into emergency due to placenta praevia at 37+1. Ultimately, the relief and love of having a healthy baby does win over the feelings of anger, annoyance, shock, bitterness... or it did for me anyway. Thanks for sharing this.

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  11. Oh Jenny! Goodness that is such a wrenching birth story (literally!). You have every right to be given time to get over it, it sounds horrendous! Were all your other births a completely different story? I have had two very different births but at no time did I feel scared or think either I or my babies might die. This really brings it home that giving birth is not as straightforward as we might assume in this day and age in the Western world. Thanks so much for linking up to #thetruthabout X

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    1. It's true, every time we have babies we do really put our life in God's hands. Even with all the modern medicine we have at our disposal. My other births were completely uncomplicated, so I was totally naive before this experience!

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  12. Such a brave and honest post Jenny. The birth sounds horribly traumatic. I'm always suspicious of the 'you have a healthy baby, that's all that matters' line that gets used all too often because trauma is trauma and can't just be swept under the carpet. I'm so glad you are feeling so much better about it now. #Thetruthabout

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  13. I'm so sorry you had such an awful experience. The people around you really do make all the difference. I had c-sections with both of my kids and while I was terrified with the first, I had doctors, nurses, and an anesthesiologist who were rock stars and kept me informed every step of the way. I'm glad that you're on the path to healing and I'm sure that letting it all out there must help.

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  14. Jenny, I love this post and I can relate on every level and then some. When I found out I was pregnant with my first baby, a son actually, I was elated. My husband and I went to the classes on birthing and prepared for all the excitement.

    As the time came closer I developed toxemia and other health problems related to the pregnancy so the doctor, rather callously and nonchalantly said I had to have a c-section. This was before the internet and I knew no one who had experienced on before; particularly with just a few hours notice to ask questions.

    The doctor gave me no details when I asked and acted put out. When we arrived at the hospital, I was 'prepped' for the surgery, meaning with my arms strapped down with iv's and monitors then a sheet put up in front of my face so I couldn't see anything at all.

    I was trying to do my best not to have a claustrophobic panic attack, allow my husband to enjoy the birth of our son, that I obviously wasn't going to and yes, the tugging and pulling was awful - not to mention the absolute fear that the anesthesia will wear off and you will feel all the cutting going on.

    I was told my son was born, they briefly showed him to me and off he and my hubby went. I was alone while they stitched me up. During the entire time, no one spoke to me or asked how I felt or was doing.

    The next 4 kids were the same pretty much. I had to have all c-sections. I would do it all again for the sake of having my family and count myself blessed beyond measure to have them in my life. However, when women talk about going into labor (I never did, nor any of the things related to it), and the excitement of having a baby, I don't feel it, only panic and it's over two decades since the last one was born.

    I appreciate your honesty so others can know that all births are different and we are all allowed to feel our own emotions. We can still be grateful for what we have in the end..we just get there in different ways.

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    1. Both of our experiences seemed to be so much worse because we felt alone. If they're going to take our husband and our baby and leave us on the operating table by ourselves, it's so important to make sure we don't feel alone. No one spoke to me the entire time either, even though there was a nurse on one side of my head and an anesthesiologist on the other, even when I was wheezing on the table like an asthmatic with tears rolling down my cheeks.

      I'm trying for a VBAC this time around but if something goes wrong and I end up with another C-section, we've already decided that unless there's a medical concern with the baby, Phillip isn't leaving my side until they wheel me out of the O.R!

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  15. Oh, I'm sorry that this happened. Reading this has brought back moments of my emergency C-section with my first son. It's all very hazy to be honest, and it was months before I realized that things weren't quite right, and it wasn't until I had my second son (by elective section) almost three years later that I understood that I had been traumatized by it. It does take time x

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