There is one thing I know about mothers. When we get talking about our birth stories, we can talk all day. Part of that is the intensely pivotal aspect of the experience. It is responsible for introducing us to the love(s) of our life. But there is another side to it. It is often a highly traumatizing experience. It is invasive in every way. Our boundaries and rights fly out the window as soon as we enter that hospital. It too often becomes a medical procedure with little respect for anything the mother may be experiencing. So talking about our birth stories becomes a way of healing the trauma of it. Since we weren’t heard during our experience, we need to be heard afterwards. That’s why I never interrupt a mother talking about her birth story.
Interestingly, I have never written about mine on my blog. Initially I thought that was weird, but maybe it felt too vulnerable. Maybe I never processed it. Maybe I didn’t want to be judged about it (but that has rarely stopped me). I have come to understand my birth story as a retraumatization in so many ways. But while I was experiencing it, I didn’t know it. I was completely shut down. And unfortunately, I think that has been the case for many survivors of complex trauma. We don’t know we are being retraumatized, so we think everything is okay. But it’s not okay. So I’ll share my story with you today.
My sexual trauma was severe. It started at a very young age. It may be obvious that I had many difficult fertility issues standing in the way of getting pregnant. Even though my anxiety and depression were a problem, I saw these physical issues as much more debilitating because they were a constant reminder that something was wrong with me. And that was always the message when I was growing up. My vulvodynia made sexual intimacy and doctor’s visits extremely painful. And my amennorhea was so severe, I could not get a period without medicine. There would be no way to get pregnant without medical assistance. But I got lucky. My ovaries went crazy in the first month of fertility treatments. They went so crazy, I was in pain. I suffered with ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome which made me look 4 months pregnant. But as long as my uterus cooperated, pregnancy was highly likely, maybe a bit too likely. After some miscommunication between the doctor’s, I was given the green light to try. To everyone’s shock and dismay, I became pregnant with seven embryos. There was panic all around me. But I felt nothing.
I was referred to a perinatologist. We sat in his office planning what to do next. He showed me pictures of a cat’s uterus and compared it with a human’s uterus. He explained why humans can’t have “litters”. He explained I didn’t really have the “body constitution to support extreme multiples”. We spent most of our time examining the risks in having triplets versus twins. I was shocked to learn there was a HUGE difference. We waited until I was 14 weeks. Honestly, we were hoping a few might pass on their own, especially the little one. But no. I was inundated with hyperemesis gravidarum. I couldn’t hold down much food. But nobody left. They all hung in there. And at 14 weeks, I underwent a reduction to twins. The doctor said I was a “stellar” patient. He had never worked with someone so calm about the whole thing. A few weeks later, we found out we were having a boy and a girl. Everyone was ecstatic. But I felt nothing.
I was high-risk with twins at 34 years old. I went in for my ultrasounds every month (and eventually every week). I did all the things I was supposed to do. I struggled with the calorie intake and anemia. But the twins were growing. My obstetrician and I planned a C-section for 38 weeks because even before my memories came back, I knew something was severely wrong with my vulva. She knew it too. She was good that way. She was from east Germany and was matter of fact about these things. I liked her for her frank truth-telling. When my mother asked why I picked such an “opinionated” doctor, I asked who else she would want protecting her interests during a medical procedure. That shut her up. And the twins kept growing. I started having contractions at 32 weeks and wound up on house arrest. Everyone was a bit panicked. But I felt nothing.
At 37 weeks, my daughter was done. My water broke and we rushed to the hospital. She was coming so fast, we almost missed the window for the epidural. I had a horrible anesthesiologist who questioned our birth plan in a very disrespectful tone, but just like I planned, my doctor shut him down. Unfortunately he jacked up the drugs too high, so right after I saw the twins, I passed out and woke up vomiting in the post delivery room. When I finally recovered enough to be coherent, they told me the twins were smaller than was expected. My son was 4 pounds, 9 ounces and my daughter was 3 pounds, 14 ounces. A version of my worst nightmare was happening. My daughter was sent to the PCN and my son was sent home with me. For ten days, I tried to visit one newborn in the hospital while I had another newborn at home. It was exhausting and painful. Everyone asked me how I was handling it so well. But I felt nothing.
After all the chaos, my wake-up call finally happened. I was sitting at home with my son a few days after coming home from the hospital and we were looking at each other. Even then, he was trying to tell me something. I could see it. He had a story to tell from the moment he was born. I looked at that adorable face and he look at me for a long time. BUT I FELT NOTHING! That wasn’t how it was supposed to be! This wasn’t what I had been sold! There was nothing! And in that moment, I knew something was drastically wrong. Twelve weeks later, I made my first therapy appointment. And I now know why I felt nothing. There was so much pain behind that wall. But I have learned to sit with my emotions. I no longer feel nothing. My children taught me to feel. And for that, I am forever grateful.
Their birth story became my birth story.