Sometimes, criticism of a traumatic birth story leaves you ashamed, small, and very alone.
In a world connected through social media, mama-shaming seems to run wild. Mothers who have very different stances on parenting choices can be vocal enough that they leave some mothers feeling ashamed of their own choices.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I was ecstatic. We’d suffered infertility for twelve years, and after a successful IVF cycle, we felt like we’d finally overcome the big hurdle in the road to parenthood. I was already a natural-minded person and wanted my pregnancy and the raising of my child to be as natural as it could. Only the best for my baby!
I was also afraid because my mother had lost a baby in labor due to an undetected cord accident. Even though I considered non-medicated birth and even hypnobirth, the truth was I wanted to have a cesarean section. I had waited so long to become a mother, I feared that without a c-section, my son would be injured because I was so small, or he’d die from a true knot like my sister.
However, my tribe of friends was also ‘crunchy,’ and repeatedly told me about what was best for the baby. In fact, most encouraged home births, and for a very small time, I considered it. My fear of something going wrong got the best of me, though, so my ‘compromise’ with them was a natural, vaginal delivery with as little medicine as possible.
At 41 weeks and five days, my doctors believed I needed to be induced, though. My swelling was out of control, and again, as a small woman, I’d gained an excessive amount of weight. Guilt already began to creep in because the baby didn’t seem to want to come, I could barely move, and then there I went agreeing to induction because I could barely walk because the swelling in my legs was so bad. (I’d developed and was diagnosed with pre-e the day after my son was born.)
But in the end, I knew I’d get over the guilt about how my son came to be in the world because he’d be here, healthy and I’d make sure the rest of his life had only the cleanest, purest, most organic, safest choices and options for him. The medicine I agreed to for induction would be just a small blip on the natural and organic radar his life would be from that point on.
The induction was a failure. A day of labor led to barely anything and heart decels led my doctors to tell me they felt a cesarean was necessary after all. Again, guilt came, and I subconsciously felt like I’d jinxed the better birth for my baby by agreeing to the induction in the first place. My doctor decided to break my water just to give me one last try at vaginal delivery, and all hell broke loose.
The short version of the hardest day of my life is that I had a condition called vasa previa, and no one knew.
All of the blood vessels from my son’s cord were not contained, and when my water broke, the vessel not contained in the cord also broke, and he and I both began bleeding excessively. A six-minute emergency section brought my son into the world, not breathing, and me wondering what in the world had just happened.
He was whisked away, and my doctor continued to work furiously on me as I continued to bleed. The whole delivery is as vivid in my memory as if it happened yesterday, and a complete blur all at the same time. A blessing and a curse, actually, as a day later, my son died.
Eight-and-a-half years later, I still suffer PTSD from bringing him into the world.
And as if losing him and the residual PTSD from his birth wasn’t hard enough, may I tell you how guilty and ashamed I’ve felt through the years? While the reality is that had I attempted a homebirth, both he and I would have most likely died. Right there in my home with my husband and midwife watching horrifically.
Had I not been inducted, I may have gone into labor naturally, in the middle of Target or some other random place, and he and I both would have bled to death — right there, wherever we were, for all to see. While I did not want to have an induction, it most likely saved my life, and gave us at least a few hours with my son living.
Now, very few, if any friends have said anything to me about any choices I made. I mean, who chastises a woman whose baby died? (The answer to that might be surprising, actually, but that’s another story.)
But they don’t have to. I see it everywhere. I see it in Mothering forums, and social media posts and online groups and even in my own circles, as my tribe is as crunchy as I am. As a military spouse, that tribe often changes, so there are very few, if any, anymore, who actually know how traumatic Matthew’s birth was, and how much guilt I have over several choices I made. They don’t even realize they’re piercing my heart with every, “What was she thinking having an induction?” and “C-sections are unnecessary, period.”
They don’t know that if I’d just followed my gut, a C-section would have saved his life.
Instead, I keep quiet. I carry the guilt, knowing my story is truly an anomaly, and that given the same information that I had then, I’d still choose what I did because I too believe a vaginal delivery is better for baby and mama.
But I also carry the shame, because anomaly that it is, my story is full of choices that many of my friends would criticize if they were judging a stranger (as so often happens on social media) and the guilt is always there.