I think back to how unprepared I was for her birth despite best efforts. Oh, we had the nursery picked out, the crib together, clothes washed and hung up on little hangers, the car seat properly installed and inspected. We had her name chosen. I had a 'birth plan' all checked off and printed. My hospital papers were sent in early as they suggested. We took a few birth and baby classes. And yet when it came to it, neither my husband nor I were truly prepared for birth.
I thought my OB would deliver her for me. It sounds silly but that's the best way I can think to describe it. There was no real realization that I would be the one giving birth- that I would be the key player calling the shots. We had a fairly drama-free, healthy pregnancy and when our due date rolled around, I woke up that morning in what was finally understood to be real labor.
Despite the birth class and breathing practice, we put none of that to use and went in to the hospital too early. We sat in the triage room for a couple hours while they checked, tested and tried to determine whether or not to admit me. I could tell my water was leaking but they couldn't get 2 out of 3 tests to come back positive for amniotic fluid and I wasn't dilated very far(not even a 4?). Thankfully the triage nurse got me finally into a room. About 30 minutes after that, my water broke.
We were blessed to have my sister in law as a labor and delivery nurse. I'm sure she played a part in keeping things from escalating due to how slow I was progressing. At that point in my life I had no desire to attempt a drug-free birth(the crazy green mommy came long after the birth!) and requested an epidural. All in all, my labor was 12 hours to the minute. For a first baby, that's not too bad. The back-up OB waltzed in at the end in a foul mood, possibly because the on-call OB was stuck in another Cesarean. I remember him telling me sternly to stop pushing and me responding with something along the lines of, 'Is there an On/Off switch to this thing?' Because at that point my body was doing everything on it's own. I was not pushing. It was in fact, the first time I considered my body and this process might be amazing. That my body knew exactly what to do.
The first thing I thought when my daughter was born: 'Oh my gosh, I gave birth to my sister!' She looked so much like my little sister had as an infant. For 5 seconds I had her on my stomach, in total disbelief that this entire person had been inside me. Smiled, blinked. Then she was whisked away to the corner.
At some point she had inhaled some fluid. Thankfully not meconium, but they told me she had fluid in her lungs that they needed to suction out. For a half hour we watched them work on her in the corner. No one updated us. She screamed and cried, they laughed as she batted their hands away while keeping one eye open through the goop. After a half hour they called the NICU nurses in; those nurses worked on her for an hour more. The entire time she screamed and fought them. No one told us what was going on.
(We'll just leave out the part where the delivering OB cut me despite instructions otherwise and pulled my placenta out for no reason, losing the handle and having to retrieve it. It wasn't until much later I learned that could have killed me or left me unable to have more children. The stitch up job was done with the same grace and care he showed the rest of the process- none. Thank God that epidural was still working.)
Finally they stopped. The NICU nurse said they'd try leaving her with me rather than take her to the NICU. By the time she was handed back, she was exhausted and I was in shock. We tried to breastfeed but she wasn't interested and just wanted to sleep. I was starting to swell up from all of the IV fluids received during labor. When I walked, the tops of my feet jiggled.
Unfortunately, those weren't the only things that were over the top swollen. When she did wake, there was no getting her to latch. But we kept at it and finally, finally she was nursing when a lactation consultant walked in and unlatched her without asking me so she could put us in the football hold. Then later that day, one of the floor nurses threatened me if I didn't get her to nurse for 20 minutes straight, she would give her a bottle. This same nurse told me I couldn't use the nose-sucker to suction out my baby's nose(she said it was bad and would make things worse) despite the fact I thought her latching issues were aggravated by her nose being so stuffy she couldn't breathe while at the breast.
We did not make the 20 minute requirement. I was crushed.
Fast forward to going home and adjusting to life with baby. Before she was born I would have told you without a doubt, I wanted to be a stay at home mom. Most of my life I wanted to be a stay at home mom, save for sharing time at school when it was more 'exciting' to say a teacher or veterinarian. After my daughter's birth, wasn't so sure. In fact, I wasn't so sure I really liked her. When my husband was home he gave her all of the bottles (we were supplementing as latch was still a problem) and changed her diapers and clothes. I looked at her a lot. But I didn't really want to hold her.
Maybe in retrospect I was suffering from postpartum depression. Or even PTSD. I opted to return to work while my sister, mother and husband shared shifts caring for my daughter. For a whole month I went back. During my pregnancy, Thursdays were always Throw Up Thursdays. After returning to work, they were always Crying Thursdays. Because by Thursday, I had no idea what my daughter's schedule was like or what she needed. It only took a few of these to realize if it bothered me so much, I must like her and want to stay home. By this point my milk supply had dried up at the end of 3 months.
Things were not magically resolved when I made the choice to stay home. While I knew by then I loved her and cared for her well being, there was no attachment. For the first couple years, all I saw was how she preferred her dad or grandpa over me. So I busied myself in cleaning and organizing, eventually stumbling into craigslist, cloth diapers and a whole new world of 'green', handmade, frugal living.
Initially I didn't acknowledge what happened at her birth. It didn't occur to me to question what had taken place. Why would I? Like many others, I'd been taught to trust my doctor and any medical person. Eventually I did question it. And then got mad. The more I figured out what went on that shouldn't have, the angrier I got. After a poorly managed blighted ovum by the same OB office, I left their practice. Then midway through a third pregnancy(my son), I changed medical direction and went with a midwife group and natural birth program in an effort to avoid a repeat experience. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Sound familiar?
I grieved for my daughter's birth. It took me almost 4 year to realize it. Four years of carrying guilt for feeling unattached to my sweet, intelligent, beautiful, strong-willed daughter. I didn't even understand that was what was going on until after I had my son and felt what it was supposed to be like, how I could feel as a mom towards my child. One day while going over for the millionth time in my head what was wrong, why couldn't I feel attached to her the way I did my son, why was I such a bad mom, the words and emotions finally met:
'Five seconds into Motherhood, I failed my daughter.'
I should have told them to stop(the medical personnel that later reviewed her birth file stated they excessively suctioned her). Should have told that lactation consultant to get the hell away. Should have 'fired' that nurse and demanded a new one that would support my efforts to breastfeed. Should have, should have, should have. And I didn't.
And I know it was not my fault. I did the best with the information I had at the time.
I'm not sure why that's all it took. But at the very moment it was thought, the strings to the giant balloon I'd been dragging around were cut. My body felt physically lighter.
Even better than losing the weight of guilt- I have begun to feel attached to my daughter. It was almost instantaneous. I can look at her and smile with a joy no longer muddied by my own self-doubt or self-loathing. Oh yes, I hated myself for my failures. And every new perceived failure built on the last. Don't get me wrong, my Well O' Patience is not suddenly bottomless; she's not suddenly minding all the time. She is after all only (almost) 4!
Where I used to worry that some day she'd notice something wasn't quite right, that something important was missing, now I have hope. I hope maybe I won't screw up being a mom as bad as I thought. Or at least, she'll recognize despite the mistakes made, I love her wholly. So much so that I desperately want to ensure no one else within my sphere of influence goes through what we went through.
If I ever come off as a loon when it comes to being informed in birth and breastfeeding, please understand I don't mean to offend. Nor do I think I have all of the answers. You don't need to have a natural birth with hippies tossing flowers all around you while Matthew McConaughey beats a conga to avoid what I experienced. You just need to be informed and feel empowered to stand up for yourself and your child. I believe we have an obligation, as mothers, to share our experiences and information with others(gently as possible) so as to aid in making the best choices for ourselves and our families. Speak up, ladies! If we remain silent, we cannot support one another as sisters in what is arguably one of the most rewarding and challenging periods of our lives.
I see these pictures, and I have no memory of what she was like at that age.
I think, 'Oh, she was so cute!' And I want to remember. But I can't.
I don't want any other mother to experience the pain of detachment.