I love my unborn daughter. I love her so much it hurts sometimes. I have a bracelet with her initials marked on it, and every time I see a rainbow I feel a pang of love and loss.
But sometimes - and this is the bit that I think a lot of people feel, but nobody talks about - I also fucking resent her. She took a lot from me. She took away my wife's health. She took away 6, hell, 12 months of my life. And for what? She didn't even make it into the world to say hello. She's made permanent scars on all of us, a trail of destruction and hurt in her wake, and left us with nothing good.
I remember during the early stages of both our pregnancies, Annamarie would talk about how she felt terrible, because she couldn't find it in her to love this little thing that was living inside her. It felt like a parasite, sucking her life force, reducing her to a vomiting, crying, snivelling mess - robbing her of humanity, and (as yet) giving nothing back. How can you love something like that? Pregnancy is supposedly a "special time" where you connect with your inner earth parent and your wondrous ability to bring life into the world. But what if, to use that ability, you have to suffer pain that you've never known before? What if your super-power is also a curse? She's like Wolverine, my wife - she's completely unstoppable, but when she gets hit by that train it still fucking hurts.
Having a second baby was a choice we made. We wanted our son to have a sibling, and I guess we wanted a second chance in some sense. Not that the first round was a failure - we love our little man, and we're incredibly proud of the person he's becoming. But we didn't get to experience a lot of the "magic" of pregancy and birth. Annamarie suffered through 5 months of constant vomiting, and she told me the rest of the time she "just felt like vomiting, but didn't". Ahh, what a special time. Fuck off.
Then the birth. It started promisingly enough. I remember cycling home from work, jumping off the bike, and Annamarie casually leaning out the window. "Hi. Welcome home. When you're ready, have a shower and then we should probably head to the hospital. My water just broke."
So we go to the hospital, they tell us that Annamarie hasn't gone into labour, but she should soon. If she hasn't in the next 24 hours, they'll induce her, since now that her water has broken there is a risk of infection (we have since learned that this is not entirely true, and that many women will in fact wait through this rather than be induced, but things were happening so fast and our heads were spinning, we never thought to question it). So we go home, get Chinese for a late dinner. I suck down a beer and contemplate how my life is about to completely flip. We have a restless sleep.
The baby doesn't arrive that night, or in the morning. We go back to the hospital the next day to kick things off. If you've never been through it, there are several things they'll do to induce labour, but I think the main ingredient is to pump you (you being the pregnant woman, not you the reader - you might be a pregnant woman, but you might equally be a sausage dog. If you are a sausage dog and reading this - congratulations, and please email me, I have many questions) full of Oxytocin.
As you may know, Oxytocin is a hormone which humans naturally produce at certain times. It's commonly known as the "love drug", since it's produced in small quantities when, say, you hug someone and much larger quantities during birth. The mother produces loads of it, as does the baby, and even Dad gets a dose. Supposedly it's the most Oxytocin you'll ever produce in one burst in your whole life - a "peak experience" if you like. It's one explanation for the bond that mothers and babies feel especially - at the first moment of life, you've shared a massive experience like this with another human, and that can never be taken away.
The Oxytocin they use to induce labour is a little different. This is synthetic Oxytocin, administered (for us at least) in a drug called Syntocinon (Pitocin in the US). It's not produced by a human body. It's produced in a lab. We've since learned there is research / theory out there about synthetic Oxytocin, and what it does to mothers and babies who had it used as part of their birth experience. You've got to ask - what does it do to a person if their first experience of "love", before they're even born, comes from a lab?. That's a question I think about sometimes, but maybe it's a topic for another day.
So, back to hospital. IV hooked up. Love drug injection incoming. I won't "labour" over the story (oh yes, I went there), but the short version is that it was 26 hours of awfulness. It didn't take a long time for Annamarie to start experiencing contractions and once she did, they were very painful - halfway through the night, she had an epidural because the on call OB told her that these were "unnatural contractions", so way more painful "and she had a long way to go" and he wasn't sure her body could cope. The baby moved around, dropped down, at one stage seemed to get crushed when Annamarie moved a particular way. Eventually it became clear that this was not a happening thing & that the baby wasn't enjoying his experience, so we were strongly recommended to opt for a c-section. We took the option.
The birth was emotional, amazing, life-changing. But it wasn't pretty. I was in the room with Annamarie, holding her hand. They had a sheet up so we couldn't see the "business end". After what seemed like only a couple of minutes, they were pulling out our son. I saw him being raised up, and to be honest, my first impression was that he looked like an alien. His head was the shape of a rugby ball (sideways, like Arnold), he was all purple and a little bit gross. But I knew this was my child. I felt a tightness in my chest, a loosening at the edges of my eyes and mouth. They briefly showed me his face, and then I was motioned to come over to a table at the side of the room with the doctor. I watched him check over my son - five fingers, five toes, waving them around, crying. I looked up, and saw my mother-in-law through a small window at the far end of the room. She was crying, and now I was too. I gulped air, refocused - something didn't seem right. My son was making some strange grunting noises. The doctor seemed unusually focused, efficient. He offered me some funny-shaped scissors to cut the umbilical cord. I did. Thick, red blood oozed out.
Quickly, the doctor wrapped up our son in some blankets and put him in one of those open plastic hospital cots. We had to go. I didn't know where, but they needed the father to come along. I felt concerned for Annamarie, she must be worried - but I couldn't leave our son. I followed the doctor down the hall. My mother-in-law met us and followed too. They took us to another ward, where a swarm of doctors descended and attached all sorts of wires to our new baby. They put stuff in his nose. They put a hat on him that made him look like a comedy war casualty in M*A*S*H. They put him in a different cot - it was closed in at the top, but had sort of round "port holes" in the side where you could put your arms in. I tried to take in what was wrong, I kept getting confused about whether the doctors were talking to me or themselves.
Eventually I got the basic gist. Because of the C-section, our son hadn't experienced the "squeezing" of his little body that comes during natural childbirth. As a result he had some fluid still on the lungs (hence the grunting), which would go away, but for now he needed some help breathing (hence the tubes). it's called TTN and apparently quite common with C-Section births. We also learned he had a large hematoma on his head (hence the nifty baby beanie), which was probably due to that moment when he was "crushed" during labour because his head was enormous and Annamarie's body wasn't ready to deliver 3 weeks early despite the early water breakage. This would probably be OK, but he would need to be monitored to make sure he could "flush" the bruising.
Once he was settled into the new ward (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) I was asked if I wanted to go and see Annamarie in recovery. I went and explained to her as best I could what happened. She was pretty drowsy, and still a bit worried. They wheeled her bed into the NICU and let her put her hand on him. She was then moved into a separate ward for her recovery. We would be kept in hospital for the next 10 days, and kept apart from our son for the first 5 days of his life, since they needed to keep him in a sterile environment for his initial recovery, at least until he could breath unassisted.
Sam bounced back from all of this remarkably well. Apart from a few initial feeding issues (which we've learned is incredibly common) he's grown like a weed. The point of all this. which as usual I am circling around painfully slowly, is that our birth experience was NOT magical. It was, instead, extremely difficult, painful, and utterly non-transformative. Yes, seeing my son for the first time was amazing - but I feel like I would have got that same feeling if it were the 1950's and they just brought him out to me in the smoking room while I enjoyed a nice whiskey. Seeing my wife suffer for two days (without mentioning the recovery - that's another story), and then worrying about whether the machine keeping my son alive was beeping right - this was not supposed to be part of the deal.
So when we became pregnant for the second time, we saw it as an opportunity to maybe capture some of the birth experience we wanted to have. We wanted get us some of that sweet, sweet childbirth magic. Well, fucking boo-ey to that. Instead we got the fucking worst year of our lives. We got more pain. We got death. We got deep wounds, some of which are still open and stinging. And I'm supposed to sit here and say I'm glad my unborn baby existed, that I'm happy she's "part of our story"? Like fuck.
I've been doing a lot of learning about mindfulness and meditation. I guess it goes with the territory of grief and recovery that you experiment with this sort of thing. Buddhist practice has a core teaching that all life is suffering, and we shouldn't fight it. It's necessary, apparently, for balance. We can't know the light without the dark. That might be the case, but it doesn't mean I can't be well and truly fucked off about it.
I think that's the issue I have with a lot of methods and techniques that are often encouraged for those affected by grief. It doesn't leave room for feeling like shit. Which, honestly, is most of what you do. You're doing this meditation, or this yoga, or this exercise - and you still feel crap. And you feel more crap because now on top of how shit you were feeling before, you're failing to get the good feeling this healthy habit is supposed to give you. The rope to climb out of the hole with becomes a whip to punish yourself with. Pain may be transient, temporary, just another state of being. It also feels like shit.
I'm not saying you shouldn't try these things - or that they are inherently bad. I've tried a lot of them myself, and some have stuck - exercise was a big one for me, but more on that in another post. I suppose what I'm trying to get at is that it's OK to feel paralyzed. It's OK to feel like nothing is working. It's OK to sometimes feel like you hate your spouse, or your child, or even the person you lost. As we've discussed before, "getting better" can be a horrible concept, because it suggests that if things aren't improving for you, you're somehow failing. That's not fair. When did things ever consistently feel like they were "getting better" in your daily life? You always had shit days. And you always will. And that sucks. But it's also OK. And so are you. Even when you're not.
We are a family of 3. This blog is the story of how we almost became 4, why we didn’t, and what we are doing to recover from that experience.