I'm several weeks out from the birth of my first daughter, and I'm having some trouble reconciling my joy in my little girl with the circumstances surrounding her birth. I'm not sure what I'm looking for on here… but I hope for some responses from people who have experienced something similar, or who might have some insights on how to get past it emotionally.
Long story short, I needed a C-Section: my baby was breech and, after twenty hours in labour, it was clear that she was not descending into my pelvis. The surgery did not go ideally. Baby was in distress soon after the spinal, and they were cutting me before the ice cube test was done, and even before my husband had been scrubbed in. The delivery was quick, terrifying, and I caught only a glimpse of my little one before she was whisked away for medical attention: there was meconium in the waters and she was having trouble breathing. I craned my neck to see her, but machinery, bodies and god knows what else were in the way; a nurse sat at my head and narrated what was being done to my baby. I don't remember if my panic ever reached my voice; I could have been yelling or whispering. My husband had arrived by then and was with her, but I couldn't see her, couldn't hear her. They were still a long way from done with me when she was wheeled away to the NICU.
My husband went with her, as we had previously agreed. When he hesitated I reminded him that our baby needed an advocate now more than she perhaps ever would; he went with her and prevented a slew of unwarranted "treatments," including one paediatrician's attempt to intubate my daughter in order to feed her formula. But he couldn't be with her all the time; he needed to go back and forth between us so that I could express colostrum for her. When we finally got to "room in" together 18 hours later, after she was released from the NICU and then from the nursery, I found bruises and punch holes all over her hands, arms and feet from where numerous tests had been done; some of these were warranted, most of them (I would soon find out) were absolutely not.
My time during the six hours between my surgery and when I was allowed to see my daughter was indescribable. I am disgusted with myself. With the woman who lay submissive to those hours in that bed, in that dingy hospital room, away from her baby and her husband. I blame her, and myself and everyone else in the equation and I want those hours back… they need to be filled. I don't remember all of what happened, but I do remember begging every person I saw to let me see my little girl. Those six hours are with me… I want to erase them… or better, to fill them. I’ve wanted to go back in time before, but never like this. There’s nothing I could have done differently, aside from… what? What could I have done? Drugged and numb and immovable in an equally drugged, numb and immovable setting… what could I have done? I begged. I demanded, cajoled, wept, pleaded, and raged to be brought to my daughter. I could not go to her with the useless trunks my legs had become. As I said, I'm haunted by those six hours. Even though they eventually passed in real time, even though I was reunited with my daughter, who was perfectly fine after all (thank God), and even though our hellish 72 hours at the hospital eventually lapsed, I'm haunted.
I know that my experience is nothing, nothing compared with the experiences of those mothers who have been separated from their little ones for days, weeks, perhaps even months. I cannot imagine the torment they must have gone through, and I hope that my story and difficulty are not seen in any way as a comparison or detraction on their experiences. But I want to reach out to anyone who might share some of the emotional difficulty I am facing: what has helped you get past it? How have you managed to fill those hours, days, weeks or months?
Ashtree, I'm so sorry for your experience, and for what you're feeling now. You sound like you are being incredibly harsh with yourself, and I want to beg you, as one of those moms whose daughter was in the NICU for a long stay, to see yourself better.
Here is what happened, from my point of view:
You labored long and hard to give birth to your daughter vaginally, because you believe in the benefits of a vaginal delivery. When it clearly wasn't working, you agreed to abdominal surgery because you believed in the importance of your child's health and well-being. That surgery meant you were unable to go with her immediately, so you sent the best person available - her father - away from your side, despite your own need, to take care of her. (Also, your surgery involved incomplete anesthesia, a situation that would have made me a quivering wreck.) You did heroic and unselfish things.
Pain and strong emotion, combined, are practically a recipe for PTSD. They've certainly been observed to be factors in PPD. Are you getting any help? Is there someone you could talk to?
I don't remember how many hours it was before I could go see my daughter. A bunch. It was another day before I could go to the NICU again, and another day after that before I could spend more then about five minutes there. My daughter will know this when she is old enough to know more of her birth story, but when she does know it, it will be as trivial as the freckle on her arm. What matters is: we love our children, we get them help, we do what's needed to bring them around safe. Sometimes temporary separation is a necessary trade for the lifetimes we hope to have with the people we love.
I'm sorry you are going through this. This sounds very difficult.
I come from a similar place as MeepyCat, with DD in the NICU for a (long) while. But a huge difference that I hear is that you feel like you failed in your job as a mother by not protecting and being with your child. I have feelings of failure on some points, but not like that.
I come from probably a less common perspective on Mothering in that I am pretty pro-healthcare, both working in the field and now having a DD who without question would have died without medical care. I also live in an area where doctors are overall pretty good. I read some horror stories on here and I realized not everyone is so blessed.
But it is so very possible that your child needed everything that was done in those 1st 6 hrs. And you were unable to be there. Just physically unable. MeepyCat's description of your incredible efforts is so right on- you made some really strong choices.
You were in a place that allowed you to attempt vaginal breech birth. It sounds like you just might be in one of those good places where good doctors strive to make good choices. And if that is the case, it is OK to trust that neonatologists know how to handle neonatal emergencies. And things that look totally unneeded in hindsite might be very reasonable choices when you have a crashing baby. So IMO, you have a right to have a review of what was done and why in those 6 hours. Your mama bear instincts are good, to protect your child. If what was done was not justified, you can have it brought before the medical review board of the hospital or the state licensing board. But I also wonder if your impression of what happened was accurate. Like, I am CERTAIN no one tried to intubate her to feed her formula. Maybe a feeding tube, maybe with a good reason (like a crashing blood sugar, unable to get IV access, too weak to suck, aspirating when attempting feedings) but you deserve to hear more about those details. So, maybe the healthcare system in generally deserves no trust whatsoever, but I disagree with that premise, and I think feeling generally defensive towards healthcare makes you feel like you are under attack when really they are just offering the standard of care (essentially, the care you requested when you went to a hospital). I realize that is sort of a controversial view on Mothering.
But also, hypervigilence and guilt is a component of postpartum depression. And if just knowing the facts of the situation isn't helping at all, there are a lot of good options out there for treatment. It is not fair for you to have a black cloud over your "baby moon." And if you aren't able to come to a good place with this now, it will only be able to be hidden until another birth or medical issue comes up.
I totally believe that birth matters. But IMO it matters a lot for how we view ourselves as mothers; babies on the other hand are so resilient- I love MeepyCat's "freckle on her arm." My DD's only residual marks from 4 months of, well, assorted torture is a tiny scar on her ankle from the PICC line, about a freckle worth of concern to her, but a big reminder for me.
MeepyCat, thank you so much for your kind reply. You offered me a completely different and, on the whole, a much wider perspective on what happened. Before you pointed it out, I hadn't even identified my own feelings of harshness toward myself, nor did I realize how unfair I was being; I've been working through my feelings of guilt ever since and, on your advice, I will ask my midwife to put me in touch with a support group. I'm sorry to hear about what happened after your own birth, and I want to thank you so much for sharing it with me; knowing that you have come through such a difficult situation and that you can now think of it as no more than a freckle on your daughter is incredibly encouraging. It is wonderful to hear from such an empowered woman.
Thank you very much as well, Ratchet, for your thoughtful words. I truly appreciate the more "pro-healthcare" point of view you bring to light; I'm deeply afraid of doctors (and healthcare professionals in general) due to several unfortunate but unrelated past events which I am obviously not quite finished working through, and which have perhaps caused me to view my situation unfairly. I was indeed in a "better" place in terms of birth practices, although the postpartum care was slightly inferior to the excellent support I received during labour (I was fortunate enough to have an OB who not only wanted me to give birth vaginally, but who supported my wishes to do so as naturally as possible, and who continually treated me with dignity and respect). And you are right - upon further review, most of what the neonatologists did was warranted, although (sadly) they did indeed try to intubate my daughter to feed her formula; both my midwife and my husband were present at that point, and both of them tell the same story. I think that was a poor example, however, of the overall care they gave us at the NICU, which was very good, and which might have warded off a serious infection. It was the later postpartum stuff that freaked me out more: the paediatrician in the nursery (where my daughter had to stay for observation) ordered very frequent checks of her blood sugar, not because my daughter was crashing, but because she happened to be over eight pounds and was therefore considered at risk for diabetes… even though I had no record of GD. This made no sense to me at the time, and I freaked out when I found out how often they had been pricking my daughter's feet, sometimes without even waking her up first, and never with our permission, even though we were present as frequently as we were allowed. I'm starting to understand, however, that none of this was done cruelly or without consideration. Rather, it was simply routine practice at a hospital that is known throughout Canada for its treatment of high risk pregnancy and birth. I was lucky to be there to attempt a vaginal breech birth and, being used to the midwifery model of care I'd had throughout pregnancy, I didn't quite expect or understand the medical culture at the hospital. Thanks, Ratchet, for bringing that to light for me - it helps me to understand that, no, I didn't fail to protect my daughter from medical malpractice; instead, my daughter and I were cared for in a high-risk environment that necessitated certain measures that made me uncomfortable. The difference between the two perspectives is huge, and understanding it has allowed me to shake off some of the fear that surrounds my experience.
Ashtree, I think the reason Ratchet's suspicious of the intubation for formula account is that intubation is the technical term for putting a tube through the airway to the lungs. That tripped my radar too, but I know that my recollection for the names of medical procedures I'm stressed about is lousy.
The NICU may have wanted to run a feeding tube - that's a pretty standard practice for babies with breathing problems, since nursing can be tough for them. They often want to run all the potentially needed tubes at once, when they've got the staff rounded up and all. If you were planning to feed formula, immediate formula would have made sense. It's great that you were able to pump colostrum and breast milk instead.
I thank both Ratchet and MeepyCat for their replies once more; I cannot tell either of you how much I have valued your responses, which have given me comfort over the course of the past year.
I wanted to give an update to this post, almost a year after I first put it up. You were right, MeepyCat, to suggest I find treatment for PTSD; I sank down into PPD and PTSD for quite a long time after the birth of my daughter. After a while, and after some insistence from my husband, I sought help, primarily through journaling, talk therapy, and alone-time with my daughter. It took a long time but I finally feel well and, I'm triumphant to say, I've reconciled with my daughter's birth and it's aftermath. I'm proud of how I handled my labour and delivery, of how my husband acquitted himself, and I believe that our decisions were the right ones. I cannot ever say that I'll be satisfied with the experience I had at the hospital, but I believe it was nearly all for the best, even the procedures that were performed on my daughter (which I now understand more fully after the hospital staff offered me further explanations).
More than anything, I've come to understand that neither my daughter nor myself are damaged from her birth. It was hard and horrifying for us both, but to risk continuing with a vaginal breech birth that clearly wasn't progressing was impossible. I will, of course, always wonder if I could have managed to give birth to her vaginally, but I refuse to dwell on it as a negative anymore. I know this now: I gave birth to my daughter, even if it was through an incision in my belly. I laboured hard with her for almost a full day, and I enjoyed every moment of it. I may not have seen her for six hours after her birth, but I have seen her every day and almost every waking moment ever since. We might have had a terrible start to breastfeeding, but we did get there, and we're still going strong. I'm no longer afraid of my scar nor what it represented during my recovery - it is the evidence of my love for my daughter, and of the strength it has taken me so long to harness. It is part of me; I may never love it, but I'll wear it with pride.
This forum was the starting point for my recovery. Thank you, thank you all so much.