Paper Cutting – By Zhang Xiaohng (2002-2003)
This is your fair warning. This post is a bit graphic, and it is not my usual lighthearted, feel good, funny stuff. This is a true story about my first pregnancy and birth. It is not pretty. If you are pregnant, it might bother you. But this experience made me who I am today and for that reason it needs to be shared.
Eighteen months ago I got pregnant for the second time in my life. My husband and I had “planned” it. I knew when I was ovulating, started taking prenatal vitamins (which I still think are a waste of money) and had even begun dreaming up baby names. I remember taking my older son, my Monkey Boy, to a friend’s birthday party and not feeling well. When we came home, my husband decided to go out and buy some beer, and I told him to pick up a pregnancy test. Odd purchase, I know. Before taking a sip of my Pacifico, I decided to take the test. Sure enough, a slender pink line showed up next to a much darker pink line signaling that my “eggo was prego,” to quote Juno. And just like that I was scared out of my mind; practically certain that I would end up dead as a punishment for tempting fate more than once.
Four years prior, I had been pregnant with my Monkey Boy. I was a stupid, stupid, pregnant girl back then. At the time, I thought pregnancy was going to be like a sitcom or reality show. I was so caught up in the mainstream pregnancy bullshit that bombards virtually every woman with an occupied womb that I was completely distracted from the reality of pregnancy. My list of priorities went something like this:
- Come up with cute baby names.
- Buy cute maternity clothes.
- Read silly book that tells you your baby is the size of a sweet potato.
- Watch a lot of TLC.
- Have a baby shower.
- Decorate nursery.
- Buy lots of cute baby clothes.
- Take maternity pictures.
- Start a scrapbook.
- Eat whatever the hell I want.
Yes, in the grand scheme of all that is pregnancy, I was about as deep as a kiddie pool. But it really isn’t all that surprising looking back. As I mentioned, there is tons of shallow pregnancy propaganda that begin sneaking their way into the hands of pregnant women at practically the point of conception. I remember going to my first doctor’s appointment and getting a goodie bag filled with crap from tons of name brand companies just waiting to get my address to send me free formula, diaper coupons and discounted photography offers. My view of pregnancy was skewed from being a sacred and monumental moment in my young life to instead becoming another excuse to have a credit card or indulge in personal vanity.
And boy was I vain. I remember seeing so many images of beautiful (and I mean beautiful by Hollywood’s standards) pregnant women with small protruding bellies, skinny arms, tight asses and polished hair. I wanted to be a pretty, pregnant girl. I didn’t want to think about the “gross” stuff that went along with pregnancy. I didn’t want to think about something enormous coming out of my well groomed hoo-ha. No, I was going to have a labor like Jennifer Aniston on Friends, or Salma Hayek in Fools Rush In or even Julianne Moore in 9 Months. Just a few quick pushes with a bit of “dew” on my brow, and I would have a beautiful baby to hold in my arms. There was no need to delve any further into my doctor’s policies, the hospital’s policies or the typical procedures that most women endure when giving birth in a hospital. Why would I look for anything more, anything of any real substance within an experience that I had unknowingly begun devaluing from the moment that I entered the doctor’s office?
The problem with stupid people is that they don’t know they are stupid. They think that they are normal. So when the nurse took my blood pressure at my 37 week appointment, and it was through the roof, I wasn’t smart enough to know that the fact that I had been crying about struggling to pay my doctor’s fee would have something to do with it. When my doctor told me that I would have to be induced that day due to the potential threat of preeclampsia, I was actually excited. He told me that babies are basically ready to come out at 37 weeks anyway. I was going to get to meet my baby three weeks early! Hooray! Idiot.
On the way to the hospital, my husband and I sat nervously chatting in the waiting room as I waited to be admitted. We didn’t know what to expect, as we had never done any research into the actual birthing process other than watching A Baby Story. You could say that we were a bit like teenagers preparing to watch an rated R movie for the first time. We had no idea what we were in for.
They started me on Cervadil. The nurse told me it would feel like a sharp tampon. It did. I had to lie in a hospital bed with monitors hooked up to me while I waited for my labor to begin. I was then given Pitocin after a nurse decided that my cervix was soft enough to begin inducing labor. By this time, my husband and I had called my mother to come up. For a moment, we had actually thought about not calling anyone and surprising everyone with a photo of the baby after he was born. Little did we know that in a matter of hours my mother would be holding my hand as I underwent an emergency c- section.
The trouble started after my epidural. I began vomiting and the nurse decided to check me before entering a catheter. The vomiting had caused me to pee all over the place since I could no longer control myself after the numbing effect of the epidural had taken place. The nurse checked me and said I was about seven centimeters dilated. Her face then sunk as she announced, “I can feel his balls.” Me being the stupid pregnant girl didn’t understand what the big deal was.
As a woman that I didn’t know began shaving my nether regions and another woman began forcing a clipboard in my face asking me for consent, I quickly realized that feeling a baby’s balls means that the baby is breech. A breech baby in that hospital meant having a baby via c-section. My husband became distraught. This never happened in the happy ending movies that we watched. My mother agreed to go into the surgery with me. Twenty minutes later, I had my baby boy.
Being wheeled back into my room, I thought everything was fine. I had simply pulled an Angelina Jolie, Gwen Stefani, Victoria Beckham or Britney Spears. I was too modern to push, I thought. As my Monkey Boy began to nurse for the first time, I began to feel very sleepy. I then felt a gush between my legs. I mentioned it to my mother, but she told me it was normal to have some bleeding. I continued to nurse. I suddenly felt very weak. I felt too weak to hold my baby. I told my mom that something felt wrong. At that moment, the nurse entered the room. She checked me and ran out of the room to tell the doctor I was hemorrhaging. I didn’t even know what that meant.
My husband told me that the room smelled like blood. He told me about the doctor reaching into me and pulling out large, thick bloody chunks from inside me. I remember feeling sleepy. I told my doctor that I was very tired. He told me to go to sleep, but I didn’t. Everyone knows that when a person in movie feels sleepy as they are bleeding uncontrollably that they are about to die. I decided right then and there that I would not go to sleep because I didn’t want to die. I had only held my baby once. I didn’t want to die and leave him motherless.
I asked my doctor if I was going to die. He told me if I stopped bleeding that I wouldn’t. What kind of a person says that to somebody? He took me into the operating room and a bunch of doctors and nurses stared at me. I felt people doing things to my body, but I am not exactly sure what was happening. I just know that I was alone and didn’t know where my baby was. Eventually, the bleeding stopped, but nobody would allow me to see my baby that night.
I spent that night in a hospital bed with my husband asleep on the couch next to me. I got two blood transfusions from a nurse with a cold. She didn’t heat up the blood before she gave me the transfusions, so my whole body shivered a lot that night. I didn’t sleep. The nurse gave me some medication, why I don’t know, but she told me it might make me lose control of my bowels. I stayed up all night determine to not let that happen. I felt I had already lost every ounce of dignity I had that day, and I wasn’t about to spend the night in my own waste.
That morning I couldn’t leave the room or see my baby until I proved that I could eat. The nurse brought me lime gelatin. Who the hell wants to eat lime gelatin that does not in some way contain some alcohol? I managed to keep it down. As they wheeled me down the hall, I saw my baby. I know this sounds silly, but when he looked at me, he knew who I was. He recognized me. I felt an instant calm. I felt at home and a little bit of peace.
I stayed in the hospital for five days. I remember looking in the mirror after I was able to walk for the first time and not recognizing myself. My skin looked like it belonged to a cadaver. My knees were the size of basketballs; thick and squishy with edema. Looking back, I guess it was the price I paid for being a stupid, pregnant girl.
When I explained this story to my doctor 18 months ago, he looked at me and said that what happened was not my fault. He told me that my doctor should have known to do an ultrasound to determine the positioning of the baby prior to inducing me. He told me that I should have been provided with options for my preeclampsia due to the circumstances in which my blood pressure was taken. He told me tons of reasons as to why the shit storm that was my first birth was not my fault, but in hindsight, he was only half right.
I should have been my own advocate. I should have done my research. It was my body, my baby and my life. Nobody else had as much invested in this as I did. I’m the type of girl who won’t get her hair cut or colored without knowing the amount of time that a stylist has been doing hair. But when it came to finding a person to handle my birth and pregnancy, I simply picked a name out of a phone book. How stupid is that? I let people put things into my body, make decisions about my health and cut into my body without knowing a damn thing about them. Isn’t that some form of insanity?
So 18 months ago, it is no surprise that finding out that I was pregnant, that I had actually done it again, was about as scary to me as finding out that I had an incurable disease. But 18 months ago, I decided to not become a stupid pregnant girl again. I became a very smart pregnant girl. I did my research and was lucky enough to have a pretty smooth VBAC experience. I learned my lesson, but the sad thing is that there are many women who never do. There are literally thousands of girls that walk into their first appointment as sponges just waiting to absorb information, but instead absorb a bunch of superficial shit and end up walking out misinformed and pregnant. Just like I did.
If I could go back in time and talk to that stupid pregnant girl that I once was, I would tell her this: Being pregnant and giving birth is the most important and personal experience of your life. It is defining and can be empowering. Pregnancy is so much greater than all the shallow shit that is used to make it into a commodity for women to buy into. Treat it with the respect it deserves. Research it. Know it. And choose the best path for you, not the path most travelled.