Postmortem Confessions: A (training) Midwife's Homebirth C-Section
August 27th, 2018: I share these thoughts with you now with hesitance and apprehension. You see, it has not been an easy road. Its been pretty fucking mind-blowing actually. It has brought me to my knees and has challenged everything I have known and believed. It has challenged me as a woman and it has challenged me in my profession as a future practitioner. I have shed so many tears...SO.MANY.TEARS. I have felt every wave of emotion that comes from trauma and grief. I have picked myself up and felt sane and clear about my birth story, only to find myself completely picking it apart again piece by piece, hour by hour. The what if's can eat you alive if you let them. I've cried heavy tears, enough to fill the ocean. I've looked at the photos and watched the videos, read my chart, asked my friends and talked to Ryan about our experience countless times. He is a good man, a man who listens to me, hears me, loves on me, and speaks truth into me. He lets me be right where I am, he lets me cry, he lets me mourn, he lets me grieve. Truth be told...it is still so painful. I suppose the bright side of time is that the intensity and closeness of a situation can dull as your memory fades a little, but any time I think that i'm outside of the grief, it comes back again. Trauma does that.
I wrote the note below on my phone at 7 weeks postpartum. I had been feeling completely stuck emotionally in regards to my writing. I hadn't been able to find a moment alone, or the mental space, to let the emotions pour onto the page. Writing is how I process, it is how I reconnect with myself and get my mental clear. So to experience writers block in the time I am needing to express the most, can get frustrating and messy in my mind. At this point in my postpartum, I found myself with a moment of alone time, when everyone had fallen asleep. I used a roller blend of Young Living essential oils my friend made especially for me and got into the bath. I did not realize that the oils would be so powerful and help to release my emotions, but they did, and they continue to do so again and again. For that I am grateful (i'll share a post about emotional release and oils someday).
Exposing myself in this way feels extremely raw and vulnerable. Raw and vulnerable is hard. I like whole and composed, I like the other side of hard, I like redemption and strength and wisdom, who doesn't? But my dear friend said to me in the early days of postpartum... "Ash, you are a phoenix, you have never had it easy, you've always had to rise from the ashes of your life. You will rise again." So here I am...showing up...choosing to give words to my experience. I have been hesitant in sharing, because its still an ongoing process for me. What if I share something and then regret it? I might not always feel these things, and then here they are out in the open for everyone to see. But as I have begun to read (and sob while reading) Homebirth Cesarean, I have found affirmation in my feelings and that it is ok to write them out, even at the chance that I won't feel the same way in the future. Maybe that is how I will work through my healing? By letting them out and not judging them, by letting them be exactly as they are, in the moment that they are, and not withholding. My hope and my heart in sharing myself in this way is that someone will read this and find solace and comfort in the words, that they will find peace and feel known. Because that is what has saved me. To the mama's who have shared their grief with me over their own birth stories and who have loved me as I process my own grief...I dedicate these honest moments to you.
June 28, 2018
I had a csection. And to say that it hasn’t been devastating would be a disservice to myself and to my spirit. It would be a disservice to my practice as a future midwife. It would be a disservice to my practice as a student, and a disservice to the women I serve now or will meet one day. To the clients who will be in this same place I was and the place that I am; searching for peace and in desperate need of the words “I’ve been here. I hurt too. I struggle(d) too. I see you. I feel you. I promise, you will heal.” My greatest source of healing has been from the stories of my friends and clients who have been here and can speak my language, coming to the table completely judgement free. Because I speak a new language now and i'm learning how to use it, and because the self judgement can be heavy. The incision was not just made in my skin, or in the muscles of my abdomen and sacred uterus. That incision cut through to the core of my spirit, to who I am as a woman and to who I am as a birth worker. It’s not just major abdominal surgery, which mind you hurts like hell, it was major trauma to my heart. This pregnancy was so divinely conceived. I heard the call from my spirit babies, and said yes. I prepared my heart and soul, connected deeply with my partner in preparation and invited the sacred into my body. I carried the sacred in my body through sickness and judgement, aches and pains. I leaned into the sacredness of pregnancy. I believed in the sacredness that would be my birth...with everything in me. Now here is the part that leaves me so completely shattered. How can I feel that my birth was not sacred?! When the most beautiful and beloved daughter came from our journey together? I battle in my heart how I will one day share her birth story with her. What words will I use? Where will I be in my healing when that time comes? I want her to know how deeply she is loved, how intentional we were about everything surrounding her entry into this world. That I do not think of her as a part of my pain, but as the joy that makes it all worth something. I suppose If I can trust anything, it is the timing of precious moments like that. They always come when they are aligned and meant to be. Often I return to the vortex of my mind. How can I say I trusted birth? I truly thought I trusted the timing of my birth, but here I am... one of the few who goes to 42 weeks in the medical model of care...and i was fucked by the “certified rules”. Or did I bring it upon myself for not being more trusting of my body’s timing and demanding it be listened to? Did I bring this birth sentence upon myself for choosing to take control at this arbitrary line of gestation? Did I bring it upon myself for not stepping away from the medical model when it had no room for something outside of its parameters? The rare and the sacred of post dates gestation. Would our story be different? Or, in another frame of thinking, would I have waited and waited and chosen the type of birth I wanted, over the life of my baby? Would she have come safely or been stillborn? Would we be one of the women and babies who died in childbirth if we lived in the days before modern medicine? I've always hated that question before, because i've seen the medical model make women distrust their bodies so many times in my years of work and it really is usually a crock of shit. Birth is physiologic and pure and meant to flow without disturbance. But in my circumstance, I really do wonder...would we have been one of those colonial women and babies who didn't make it? And if not, then what the fuck happened? There are SO MANY questions and what if’s and thoughts that come in this place I now stand. These thoughts come every day, sometimes every hour. At times you forget and feel normal for a moment, but suddenly it comes back to knock the wind out of you, leaving you standing on unsteady ground. The homebirth csection mother is a rare and unique mother. In our practice, it is 3%. I am the 3%. And it is my assumption that a homebirth csection mother who is also a training midwife is an even smaller percentage, I am that percentage.
(The irony of this photo, far before my labor and birth came, is not lost on me. I have even had to process the thought that maybe this jinxed me. But no. Its just random, or a foreshadowing, or fate. Who knows...it just is what it is)
Yes, nearly 33% of women in the United States has had a csection. So those of you who do not live in my world of birth work might think i'm being melodramatic or that I should simply be grateful that my baby is healthy. And believe me, I am. I am so deeply grateful for her life. She is beyond precious to me and the thought of not having her can take me to a dark and haunting place. But there is more to a pregnancy and birth journey than a healthy baby. Women matter. I matter. My body matters. My heart matters. Mothers matter. Some choose this path by electing for csection and that is their dream birth. Some also choose the hospital for a vaginal birth and know that this is a possible outcome for them. But see, I did not choose this path, I did not envision or foresee this path. I did not prepare for this path. I prepared and hoped and looked forward to my birth for my 8 years of birth work, trusting birth wholeheartedly. I have helped hundreds and hundreds of women during their sacred time. Held their hands, looked into their eyes, wiped their brows. I believed in them. I believed for them when they were in the trenches and could not believe for themselves. I have seen impossible labors turn into victorious births. Did I know the 3% existed in our practice? of course! But did I ever anticipate me being in it? Nope. Because why would that happen to me? I knew birth intimately and I trusted my body. So who am I now? I very seriously have that thought. Who am I? Who am I as a woman? Who am I as a future midwife? Who am I to give advice or to offer anything of substance to the homebirth community? I am usually a pillar of strength, truth and healing. But in this moment of time I feel so vulnerable and open, so raw, my field has been leveled. "This is going to make you such an incredible midwife!” Has been the running statement. It’s like a broken record. And in those first early weeks, all I could do was cry and return it with a “blah, blah, blah...fuck that.” Because my heart was/is broken, my thoughts are broken. I am working through each of them daily at this point, so that I can allow this to shape me and not kill my spirit or derail me from what I know is my calling. Now, 7 weeks outside of it, outside of the immediate and acute pain of my surgery, I can see glimpses of how it may be a beautiful redemptive thing. How I might be able to bring comfort to someone who is also heartbroken about their story. Did I have to go through all of it to be a better midwife? No. But would I have this deep and profound level of empathy and serious knowing if I had the perfect birth and postpartum? No. So there’s that...I guess. And I’m certain that it will only continue to deepen as I continue to allow myself to heal rather than turning away from it or shutting myself off from it. There has been a disconnect between me and Spirit. God. The Universe. My sense of spirituality has been been dimmed. Because my light was put out for a minute there. But also because let’s be real (as if I’m not already knee deep in real) postpartum with a csection is INTENSE. In moments I thought maybe I should just die. Because I was “failing” or had “failed” in everything I lived and breathed on a daily basis for 8 years. In that moment there was some major despair, but immediately after those words had been spoken out loud and those tears had been wept, there came a deep reckoning within myself. I was forced to look at where I placed my identity. Because yes I am a training midwife. Yes I’ve dreamed of being a mother, of birthing my babies vaginally at home. Yes breast is best (although all judgement in that department has completely left me now. Fed is best. Mental health of a mama is vital...and yes, the breast gives us pure liquid gold for our babies and I want for all babies to have it and for all mothers to have support to give it). But I am not those things. Those things may come with me, but they are not me. I’m still working on what that all means, but man did that realization sober me up. Those are just things. Titles, roles, badges. I am more than the sum of all those things. So face forward, I keep trudging along in my healing. Doing my best to face the gut punches each new moment of realization brings. Home birth stories, free birth stories, the amazing pictures of birth I so looked forward to having and sharing, loving on pregnant mamas as they begin their journey with fresh hope and joy in their growing bellies. All of these things bring with them a flinch of “ouch” and a sense of loss in how to be or what to say. I had to unfollow Instagram accounts I loved so that I could give myself space to not be faced with birth so frequently, sometimes it is just too triggering.
I am facing the fact that my body, mind and heart will never be the same, as is made outwardly visible by my scar and the aches and pains that require me to slow down regularly. Facing the fact that the dream I had for so long has become a reality that I do not like, with no untainted daydreaming left to be had. Instead, in its place there is a wreckage of what it turned out to be and figuring out what that all means. I still love birth. I still believe in it, but now I struggle with how to reconcile the old me and the new me. Who I once was as a birth worker, as a woman, as a hopeful one day birthing mama, and who I am now. A woman who had her vision unfulfilled, her heart wounded, and her trust in birth broken. So I’ll use the lyrics of a John Mayer song (quiet all you haters) “I’m in repair. I’m not together but I’m getting there.” Now that I’ve laid all that mess on the table, I will share with you the story of our long, hard and beautiful journey to meeting my precious Juniper Joy.
I should note that it took me many months to be able to write my birth story. So if you're reading this...and you're feeling this...know that the words will come in the time that they are meant to, if they are meant to. Just be right where you are. Feel all the feelings. Don't judge it. You are loved. You matter.