I’ve been feeling nervous since this afternoon, when I found out that one of my best friends from my childhood went into labor. Her due date is in three days, and there’s no reason to believe that she will experience any complications during labor and delivery. But I’m still nervous. Giving birth is one of the most dangerous endeavors a woman will ever undertake. Right now, the only thing I can think of that is more dangerous than giving birth is being born.
Natalie is my first good friend to give have a baby. A couple women on the MIT Ballroom Dance Team had babies while I was on the team, but I was only a casual observer of their expanding bellies. Although I haven’t seen Natalie in years, I somehow feel emotionally invested in her pregnancy and in her baby.
I pray that Natalie and her son will have a safe delivery tonight.
I couldn’t bring myself to hope that Natalie would go into labor before her due date. Every baby deserves a long, healthy gestation of 39 to 41 weeks. Every baby deserves a third trimester.
I can’t bring myself to hope that she’ll have a fast labor. I had a fast labor, and it was a shocking and emotionally traumatic experience. To hear that you’re fully dilated when you were expecting to hold off delivery for at least another month…
I can’t bring myself to hope that Natalie will carry through with a natural childbirth. I had a natural childbirth. Mothers often treat natural childbirth like a badge of honor, but my experience with natural childbirth overwhelmed me shame. I couldn’t help but feel relieved when the pain of delivery subsided; meanwhile, a NICU team struggled to bring up my newborn son’s low Apgar scores. And the neonatologists prayed that Peter’s precipitous vaginal breech delivery would not result in a severe intraventricular hemorrhage.
“This is not the way it’s supposed to happen.” Those words are ringing in my ears again. I don’t really know how it’s supposed to happen – how a mother is supposed to give birth – but I hope that Natalie gives birth that way. I hope that her birth experience will be the amazing, romantic event that so many expecting first-time-moms imagine. But as for me, I’m nervous. Because I have only sad memories to associate with childbirth. I wish that Peter’s birthday could have been a joyous day, but honestly, it wasn’t.
I received the book, Preemies: The Essential Guide for Parents of Premature Babies, from our insurance company following Peter’s birth. The first two chapters of the book are titled, “In the womb: Why premature birth happens and what can be done to prevent it” and “Welcome to the world: Your baby’s delivery.” I’ve read every other chapter of this 500-page book, but I could never bring myself to read those first chapters. It’s too painful for me to immerse myself in the memories of July 12th and 13th, 2010.
Last November, in an effort to emotionally cope with Peter’s birth story, I shared it with a group of women at the local parenthood education and support center, Mothers and Company. I knew I couldn’t sit in front of a group of strangers and recount my birth story from memory – I was sure to have an emotional breakdown. So I wrote out the story and read it aloud. I think that the other woman at the “Birth Circle” understood after hearing my story why I needed a cheat sheet in order to talk about my experience. And I’m glad I went, because it allowed me to get to a point where I could at least think about Peter’s birth without undue anxiety.
However, I still can’t talk about the experience without an impressive spike in my blood pressure. When I went for my pre-conception consultation with an MFM specialist last month, a nurse casually asked me why Peter was born early just before taking my blood pressure. I gave a quick summary, and the nurse found that my blood pressure had spiked to 180/80. She was worried about this reading, but I was not. I knew that my heart was pounding fiercely only because Peter’s birth story was still an extremely stressful subject to talk about. I tried to calm myself down, but it was difficult. Even the flyers on the wall about cord blood banking were a reminder that Peter didn’t have any spare cord blood to save because his umbilical cord was short because his movement was restricted because of my uterine anomaly that caused my preterm labor… and so on.
But anyhow, I pray that little Mikko will arrive safe and sound tonight. And I pray that I will eventually be able to stop projecting my experiences onto other pregnant women. Not every woman experiences miscarriage. Not every woman with a baby bump is at risk for preterm labor. Not every newborn needs to be resuscitated. And this is a good thing because it gives me hope that I, too, will someday experience a “normal” pregnancy.