Tuesday, March 8, 2016
A few months ago I read over the labor and delivery notes from a hot July day in 2014. I had my midwife print them out for me so I would never forget the details.
The notes are cryptic, medical, and to the point. It doesn’t mention the exhaustion on my face as I neared the end after five days of labor. It doesn’t note the wry smiles as Justin and I passed sarcasm and jokes between contractions. There is no mention of the deep place I went as each contraction came or of the limp relief when it left. It can’t hold more than the bare details; fetal heart rate, position of baby, what I ate and drank, where I was laboring. But it is enough to take me back and all those small details are there, hidden in the memories.
I don’t remember fear. I remember everything else so I know it wasn’t there
I don’t remember fear, that is, until I get to the very last few lines. Only 15 minutes, the notes declare.
There is more cryptic charting. The fetal heart rate suddenly doesn’t look good. There is mention of oxygen administered, more worrisome heart tones, and a slight urgency to the words. It is professional and you might not even notice anything too alarming as the casual reader. There are more memories there for me too, between those last few entries.
There is no pain here. There is only fierce determination and deliberate mental calm as I used every last ounce of energy I had, after so long, to help my baby. Under all that control though, I feel a clawing fear that I don’t even allow myself to acknowledge. After Merek is born I laugh, I cry, I celebrate, and I am so exhausted I can’t even lift his beautiful little screaming self. Over the next year I celebrate how much I accomplished in those endless 5 days. I remember all the beautiful, intimate moments and how laughter got us through.
I don’t look at those few, fleeting moments of buried terror until I am nearing 30 weeks with this pregnancy.
Suddenly, they are all I can think about.
Suddenly they are causing me to catch my breath as my heart pounds and my hands feel clammy.
“Oh, hello, did you think you could pretend I never existed?”, the fear asks.
I am an oldest child. I am an idealist. I have always believed I have what it takes.
That reality of knowing I was not able to control the health of my baby undid me. I controlled it so well in the moment, but underneath was my dread and debilitating powerlessness.
For the last few months I faced that wall of anxiety and stopped short. I could see no way around. I could not face that unpredictability of life vs death again. I. could. not.
I have talked to dozens of women who have multiple children, asking them, “Did ever you face this?”
Most of them clucked sympathetically and told me, “Yes”.
“Not every time”, they said, “but before ______ was born I struggled more”
Not everyone had the same reason though. For some it was pain, the magnitude of the process, the fear of complications, etc.
The unpredictability is what they all faced in some form or another.
“How do you deal with it?” I ask.
Here the answers get even more vague and varied. Every woman had a different journey through to peace and acceptance, I found. Like birth, it seems, this is every woman’s own unique journey and they all seemed to think that the suggestions they had were not as helpful as a simple, “You will get through this too, don’t worry”. I was annoyed they could not be more specific.
They were right, of course.
I moved forward because you have to. You have no option. Weeks are flying by and the time is being accomplished that you should be delivered, to use the biblical language.
I prayed. I re-read books I thought were just a first-pregnancy necessity. I prayed. I went over all the good and beautiful things about bring Merek into the world. I laughed at all our labor jokes and looked at pictures.
Then while I did dishes and folded laundry and took Merek for walks I listened to women tell their birth stories through my ear phones. Happy ones, sad ones, easy ones, hard ones, fast ones, slow ones, and even the sad, heartbreaking ones. It was here I broke through. I followed my own unique journey through the anxiety, as I realized that birth is unique for everybody and the big, constant thing about it is that it is always, always unpredictable. Always. That’s how it’s supposed to be. I can prepare and plan and do all the right things, but I still don’t get to choose, in the end, how my story goes. Life itself is exactly like this too, we just ignore it for most of our lives, burying the fragility and unpredictability underneath daily life, cliques, and denial.
I realized that what makes labor and birth beautiful by nature is that this is one rare place in life we cannot escape that reality. It’s not the physical experience that is always wonderful or I would be excluding many, many women who feel very differently.
I think I’ve come to accept that experiencing the overwhelming power and overwhelming fragility of life all in the same moment is why most women count, in the end, birth to be a miracle, no matter what the outcome.
As I read through those notes again today, I still caught my breath as I neared the end of the page, but I didn’t feel the panic. I still remember how powerless I was, but it doesn’t make me afraid like it did months ago. I feel only wonder and joy.
The last entry reads,
07/20/2014 16:59:08 Birth- Baby Crying
And I realized with overwhelming peace that the last entry was fully known by God before it was ever written and the next last entry, written under my name in two months’ time, is already known as well, so all I have to do is surrender.