Two weeks ago today, right about now, I called the hospital.
I had felt well and strong pretty much my whole pregnancy. I had trusted my body to birth my baby, trusted so much that I let go and barely considered the alternative. This time, after two csections, I would birth. I would bring my baby into this world myself and lift her onto my chest, and I would gaze into her eyes and think “I did it.”
I imagined that moment so many times it was almost tangible, and whenever I thought of it I would well up with emotion from two births already lost.
But that night, with that phone call, I had to put it aside.
It was my second day of fever, and I was burning up. I was so unwell that I could barely make it to the bathroom and I shook from head to toe with cold then sweated until I was drenched. Everything was fine, my Ob had said without seeing me, but it wasn’t, I wasn’t, so I arranged to go into the hospital.
We know sometimes, but don’t want to admit it. We don’t want to say things out loud in case our words make them true… and that was the car ride. I knew, even as I rubbed my belly and my head throbbed with fever, both that I needed to be going to the hospital at that moment, and that I would not be birthing my baby. There would be no “I did it.”
We were barely on the monitors for fifteen minutes before they ran in with gowns and phoned the on call Ob. We were going to theatre, and the machines cried out in alarm at my pulse and her sky high heart rate that plummeted with each contraction.
They all say “how are you?” when you’re being rushed in to surgery. That never made much sense to me. I wonder if I’m the only one who answered honestly.
In a brightly lit theatre that night my beautiful baby girl was cut from my belly, just like her brothers had been, by a man wearing gumboots.
I shook from fever and the spinal in my back, and surrounded by strange faces I prayed for it to be over even as my blood stained the screen in front of my face.
I thought, when I had imagined my birth, that I would feel so strong bringing this baby into the world. I didn’t feel that at all. But as the weeks have passed I’ve realized that I was strong, perhaps stronger than if I had pushed her out myself.
I was so strong that I said no to gas, because I didn’t want to miss her for a moment, even though I was feeling pain of the cesarean from a spinal that hadn’t quite worked. I was so strong that I breathed through it and didn’t take my eyes off her even as she was whisked away.
Sometimes, I’ve realized, strong doesn’t feel like it at the time. It feels like scared. It feels like sad. But it also feels like digging your heels in and doing it regardless because there’s something bigger than you at stake. That’s birth, no matter how it happens. It’s being faced by something so overwhelming that you realize that you can, no matter what.
Just as fear and strength can be unlikely roommates, so can grief and celebration. Over the days that followed I grieved the birth I’d wanted, even as I celebrated the daughter I had.
I wondered why my body couldn’t do this natural, primal thing. Why not one of my three beautiful babies could have been born without theatre lights and gumboots and that awful needle in my hand. Why I had birth pictures that were best zoomed out, because if you looked too close you could see the cut.
I regretted hoping and trying and every moment of trust, as though the outcome could have been any different without the calm before the storm.
Then the storm eased… because I realized some things.
I’ll never know. I’ll never know what could have happened otherwise. I’ll never know “why”. That’s hard for me to accept, but I can do hard things, and just as I could spend those months trusting my body, I can still do that. I can trust that maybe that messily imperfect birth was the birth my body and baby needed. I can accept that I’ll never know, and that’s ok.
My body does things well – a lot of things. It grows beautiful healthy children, and nurtures them with milk and cuddles. It heals beautifully. It knows how to calm impossible meltdowns and turn bad dreams sweet.
And as I accept that I can’t control how birth happens for my babies, and let go of that “I did it” that I craved, I can plan some truly wonderful things that I can experience. Things I can look forward to with my family. Adventures in life after birth with gumboots.
Like exploring Las Ramblas in Barcelona one day, under the hot Spanish sun. Like buying my kids enormous ripe cherries from European fruit markets, the kind that pop up on street corners, and watching them giggle as the juice stains their chins and shirts.
Like laying in the back yard on a blanket in summer and pretending to find UFOs in amongst the impossibly infinite stars.
Like sipping a hot cup of tea after a long day with a happy heart.
Like high fiving my sons or daughter when they achieve a milestone and I have been blessed enough to witness it.
Like driving through Tuscany with my family, or walking over smooth stones of the pebbled beaches of the south of France.
Like watching my children hold hands as they explore rockpools in summer.
There are so many. So many exquisite moments to come. So many that will surprise me, delight me and make me laugh from the bottom of my soul. And whenever I miss that “I did it” moment that I’d dreamt of, I’m going to dream of them instead, and allow myself to imagine all the adventures ahead, that will be so much sweeter with my babies by my side.
So on that note, I’d like you to meet Aria. Isn’t she beautiful?
Copyright Nirvana Dawson 2014