Well, this story takes off where Part I ended. In Part I, I recounted the story of my daughter Margot’s birth – an intervention-free natural water birth, which was far and wide the most profound and empowering experience of my life. I had an iron will and a driven outlook on a woman’s body’s capability to rise to the challenge of childbirth; and after 14 hours of active labor, my sweet squirmy girl was born.
Shortly after her birth, I was moved from the birthing pool to a hospital bed in the room we were in; the hospital’s protocol was that the placenta must be delivered on land, so to speak, in order to accurately gauge the amount of blood loss. Fair enough, I thought, and waddled over to a bed. My midwife, Edie, who I can’t tell you for certain is not an angel walking among us, kneaded on my belly to engage my placenta; out it came, and I think the population of the greater Midwest heard me howl. Once that was over, though, Edie praised me for my hard work in getting Margot here, said that I had achieved my goal of a drug-free birth, but that I needed to know that I had sustained a severe laceration when Margot flew out of me, and as a surgical team was on its way down to perform the repair, she was offering me drugs to withstand the pain of surgery.
Well, I may be a hardcore advocate of natural childbirth, but please don’t paint me with the wrong brush – medication-free surgery is just not my jam. So bring on the drugs, I said, with the understanding that they wouldn’t interfere with my tiny nursing newborn, who happened to be clamped on to my breast at that moment.
It was less than a minute before everything went loopy. I remember being told that whatever it was they were giving me wasn’t going to knock me out, but that it’d numb the pain in spite of the fact that I’d still be conscious, and still able to hear and speak. Now, I haven’t spent a lot of time on the operating table – at that point, actually, it had been zero time whatsoever – but I can only liken the effects of those drugs to what it feels like to have consumed a bottle of wine or two (or four) on one’s own. My eyeballs were swimmy, my speech was slurred, and it felt a bit like everyone in the room was talking in low, slow-mo voices. (I can only assume I’m factually wrong about this.)
I distinctly remember a number of people shuffling in (how many, I can’t be sure – three? Four?), and only learned in retrospect that this was a small team of medical students being led by one proper surgeon. Why I was never asked permission before I was made into a hands-on guinea pig I’ll never know, but I will always be resentful of this.
The team assessed the situation, and I could hear them going back and forth over the final consensus of my laceration. “Fourth-degree, would you say?”
“No, third, I think.”
“Yes, third.” Said someone else. Okay; so they had agreed it was a third-degree tear; now to work on a plan of attack.
Everything that ensued is all wrapped up in my mind as vividly clear enveloped in a fuzzy outer shell. From the moment they started stitching – no; from the moment they injected me with some further layer of pain-numbing medication – I realized this wasn’t going to be pain-free at all. I felt every needle prick, every poke, every pull. I was, as I said in my earlier post, floating somewhere between the precipice of hell and snug within the heart of pure bliss. My focus was entirely on Margot nursing on my chest, and on my husband Daryl, standing bedside, holding my hand while I squeezed the very life out of his own. And yet I couldn’t shake this team of surgical workers who were stitching me up, and going over what I can say confidently was all too much back and forth about what needed to happen with regard to proper repair. They weren’t sure, and I was suffering immensely.
As it goes, though, it finally came to and end. I remember a doctor telling me that while I needn’t be alarmed, there was a piece of hymenal tissue that had torn during childbirth, that I was going to see if and when I looked at the …construction site, should I say. Since I was still looped up on drugs, I’m sure I managed nothing more than an, “Oh-kay…thahnkyou vurrymuch.” And it wasn’t until a few hours had passed that I understood the gravity of what he had said. A piece of live tissue – something that was meant to be snug and safe and sound up inside my body – was not in it at all.
Now, anybody who’s given birth can attest to what a horror scene a vagina is like immediately postpartum. I don’t need to write about it in order to convey just how terrified I was of my own body in the hours and days that followed childbirth. And to add insult to injury, I had a piece of tissue prolapsed and veritably snapping its jaws at me every time I looked down. I took what that doctor said to heart, though, and trusted that this tissue would retreat, and that my body would heal on its own time.
Suffice it to say, though, days and weeks and months passed and I was in chronic pain. The tissue eventually did retreat, but still remained visible, and it caused me pain in all areas; I couldn’t walk or sit comfortably, and don’t even mention sex. I’d burst into tears just thinking about it. Five months went by and I grew ever-weary that I’d ever have enjoyable sex again, let alone be able to conceive another baby when the time came. I slinked into a depression over this as well as a Molotov cocktail of other factors – namely sleep deprivation, an untimely end to my maternity leave, and a case of eczema that swallowed up one of my fingers on my left hand, leaving me without a fingerprint, even; it was a physical manifestation of the debilitating stress and anxiety I was feeling every day. So I decided I needed to address my situation, and I made an appointment to talk to my doctor about what I was going through. She confirmed what I’d been afraid of – that my body wasn’t likely to heal any further, so if I was experiencing pain, we were going to have to pursue some sort of reparative surgery.
Within minutes, I was scooped up under the wing of the surgeon who gave me my hope and my life back – Dr. Ruth Merid – she couldn’t have been much older than me, if at all, and exuded confidence and strength. And without a doubt, she was my saving grace. Within two weeks, I was lying on her operating table while she effectively undid the work of that surgical team five months prior, and put me back together again. It was a long road back from that surgery, though, since I was essentially recovering from childbirth for the second time in a five-month span; but recover I did, and even though it took a year from start to finish, the advent of Margot’s first birthday saw me finally dusting off my knees and seeing my future and my present with hope rather than fear.
The fact that Margot’s first birthday coincided with her forays into experimenting with temper tantrums and other such toddler behavior, though, was a different battle altogether. One, though, that at least followed afterward instead of crashing head-on into my broken body and spirit. Onward and upward I went, and in spite of newfound challenges being thrown at me from every direction, I was unspeakably blessed at my recovered ability to do something even as simple as put on a pair of shoes and walk to the end of my driveway.
Originally published on sandsmama.com