Posted by: emjb | January 10, 2006

I wish I knew how high the mountain was

Just got out of a meeting about upcoming issues for our department, which of course won’t affect me much, since I’m outta here. Still, it was disconcerting to have my boss not look at me the whole time, as though I were already gone.

Feeling sort of desolate today, anyway. Dammit, I’m just tired of being sad. I have to find a way to think about the hospital and Nathan’s first few days without crying or getting depressed and angry. I mean, it’s part of my life, and his, a big part, and always will be. I have to be able to deal with it when I’m looking at pictures or telling him about how he was born. Without crying. Goddammit. I’m tired of crying. Crying is supposed to heal, and in the past, I seem to remember being able to cry about something, feel better, and move on. Now I just cry about something and then feel sadder because I’m still crying about it. ugh.

I guess part of my trouble is I don’t know how to respond to people who ask about his birth, or how I’m doing. I don’t want to tell my whole traumatic story each time, and I don’t want to share whether my current level of depression is merely “OK But a Little Blue” or else “Crouched in the Corner Sobbing.” I just don’t want to talk it about it, a lot of the time. Not least because then people start wanting to tell me about antidepressants. Which I do not want to have to fuck with.

And then other times, I’m fine. I can talk about any of it perfectly calmly. Those times are increasing, at least, but there’s still too much of the other for my taste. Nothing makes you feel crazier than being swamped by an emotion for no particular reason while you’re just trying to go out for lunch. “Do I want a sandwich or Chinese? Hmm…Oh god, I’m so depressed, shit, here I go…”

I will say this for New York, though; most strangers on the sidewalk are self-absorbed enough not to notice you walking around with your eyes full of tears. Or if they notice, they don’t interfere. And right now, I appreciate that.

The thing is, it’s simpler to grieve for a person. You love them, they’re gone, it’s sad and it hurts for a long time, then you are able to accept it. Other people understand it. But it’s hard to explain when you’re grieving for…what? A process? A lost opportunity? An event? I don’t know you categorize it. I’m grieving for a birth I dreamed about and fantasized about, but didn’t have. And grieving because the one I did have was harsh and painful, and involved being treated like shit when I was at my most vulnerable, and left me with a permanent reminder in the form of a foot-long scar.

I hate that fucking scar.

I understand more now why I was a little obsessed with having another birth, trying again, a few weeks ago…it was the closest I could come to going back and making this bad birth not have happened. But maybe I’m grieving now because even a new, much better birth would not erase this one; it might help me heal, provided I could pull it off, but it can’t change what happened. Nothing can. That’s the bitch about grief, I remember, the anger and pain over the fact that there’s nothing you can do to change what happened. The person is gone, they can’t come back. The birth you envisioned never happened, and the one that did happen was exactly (in most ways) what you didn’t want.

I keep trying to come up with something good about Nathan’s birth, other than Nathan, but really? There ain’t much. That makes it harder to deal with. I can’t come up with a happy version of the story to tell people. I can’t be Happy New Mom. And nobody knows what to say to Saddened But Trying to Get Over It New Mom. And also, I’ve never been into the Drama Queen role. I do not like being the center of sympathetic attention. It makes me feel like a pathetic invalid.

Speaking of invalids, I think about the word “crippled” a lot. It’s a pretty good descriptor for me, emotionally. On bad days, I feel like I’m dragging a bum leg behind me while I try to climb a mountain. It’s slow, and it’s exhausting. The only thought that’s worse is the thought of giving up and letting it cripple me completely.



  1. I won’t preach about antidepressants — you can poke around in my archives IF you’re interested.
    But I thought childbirth kind of sucked rocks, and when people asked “How was it?!!” I would say “Bad!!!” in a slightly joking way, and they’d say “Really? Bad?” and I’d answer “Oh, yeah, BAD,” and then everybody would laugh ruefully and pretty much move on. I mean honestly, I know it’s considered a great experience by some people, but I don’t know too many women who wouldn’t mind skipping most of it. Also I hate that people lie about these things; it just perpetuates the myth of happy sunny new motherhood, which probably happens sometimes, but …
    I was forced to start lying about the baby’s sleep habits after awhile, because everyone seemed to be personally offended if I didn’t.

  2. Offended because he didn’t sleep or because he did?

    I haven’t made antidepressants verboten, I just don’t like the whole idea and can’t make myself be happy considering it yet. If I started feeling that I wasn’t really functioning, though, I would consider them.

    I liked Naomi Wolf’s take on birth, that women should be told what a struggle it is, like a war, and that it will leave scars on you. She doesn’t like the happy-fluffy stories either. Of course she kind of had a sucky hospital birth too, if I remember right…

  3. Offended because 1. he didn’t sleep through the night (and I wasn’t making him) and 2. he mostly slept in our bed. Turns out “How’s he sleeping?” is like saying “Hi how are you?” The expected response to either is “Great!”
    Funny, he’s now old enough that people almost never ask this anymore. But 1. and 2. are still true!

  4. I don’t know you, so you can take what I say and ignore it if it doesn’t help. 🙂 Found you through DoctorMama’s blog.

    First of all, I am sorry for your loss. Your birth experience wasn’t at all what you’d hoped and planned for; it’s your right to be disappointed, angry and sad. Grieving for your ideal birth experience is part of the recuperation, just like recuperating from surgery.

    Just like your physical recovery from surgery, there will be a recovery process emotionally–and you are correct–there are the same stages of grief for this experience that you would with the loss of a person.

    As a doula and childbirth educator I stress to my clients, their partner and those in my classes that it is important to know that there can be scars–not just the physical one you hate–that are unseen. The woman who had planned a home birth and had to transport to the hospital grieves even if her baby was born vaginally. When you compound that with trauma like ill baby, a Cesarean with the recovery necessary after major surgery, etc. it is just more difficult.

    People can be depressed after surgery. Then when that surgery wasn’t planned, and resulted in your beautiful birth turning into a “medical event”, a “trauma code” or an “operation”…those seem incongruous with birth. This is especially true if a homebirth or a midwifery birth or a “natural” birth was planned.

    I purposely choose to refer to “unmedicated” versus “medicated” births in my classes and to clients. We cannot get inside the body of the woman who decides she needs (or wants) pain medication or an epidural. So who is to say she did something “wrong”? And no one can be unmedicated for surgical birth–so did that mother do something “unnatural.” She did NOT.

    I especially stress to the partners that women can be “blue” after a birth (especially after surgery, but even after the “perfect”) and he/she thinks that woman should be “fine.” Now what if she’s really depressed and not just blue? You can’t say, “Hey, you have a healthy baby and everything is okay.” That’s not only counterproductive, but hurtful. It’s like telling someone “you can’t be sad” about anything else. It is how the person feels—you can’t regulate someone else’s emotions.

    Bad analogy: You are getting married. Perfect wedding planned. The Dress. Ideal. Then you are suddenly throwing up, in pain–and taken to the hospital and in for an appendectomy. You had no control. Your perfect plan was foiled. You may have gotten through the ceremony and be married. But the perfect wedding was marred. Multiply that for birth.

    For those of us who have the attitude that pregnancy and birth are NOT an illness–and that there is no reason to go the hospital–or at least if you do, it should and can be quiet and private and precious–and then you’re in surgery. It wasn’t a birth experience anymore but a surgery. It doesn’t feel like it can be about the baby, but instead it is about the way everything went upside down.

    Nothing I am saying changes your reality. But I honor you for your honesty. I want to offer my support. You may feel someday that you can find or feel “good” from what you have been through besides your sweet boy. Or not. But don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t have the right to wish things had been different, or that you weren’t robbed. I don’t know anything beyond what I’ve read in a few posts…so I don’t know the timeline or situation in detail. I do know that no one would tell you that you shouldn’t be disappointed if your wedding were ruined…so why can’t people understand the weight of the birth experience?

    And in terms of actual help: have you contacted ICAN in your area? The International Cesarean Awareness Network ( can help you with your recovery, and planning for future births. Good information. Great support.

    Have a couple of pat answers for those you must give them to who ask how you are doing. You may have to say “okay” to someone you can’t open a can of worms with, but be honest with those you can be honest with in that moment. Tell them sad, or disappointed or tired. You can heal faster by not pretending and not having to do it all on your own.

    As for your scar? Please don’t think that I am being snide when I say that you should wear that like a badge of motherhood. You earned it.

    Hang in there, baby.

  5. Hannah, I just now saw your post. Thank you. I have the feeling that I will not always hate my scar, and in the logical part of my brain, I know that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. But then the logical part of my brain mostly hasn’t been in charge for the last few months.

    I am on the ICAN mailing list…we’re in the middle of a cross country move (because, hey, I could always use some more stress!) so I haven’t looked into finding a local chapter. Some kind of c-section recovery group is on my list to hook up with once we’re moved, whether ICAN or another one.

    I appreciate your comments and all the other compassionate ones I’ve gotten about this. It keeps me sane, really, just to be taken seriously and understood.

  6. Oh, and I did want to say, my husband has been extremely supportive and involved, to the point that I worry about his depression over it too…he understands as much as anyone can who’s not been through it. Mostly, he’s angry and upset that he couldn’t protect me, though of course, nobody could have. And he’s never once told me to get over it or acted as if I was being unreasonable. That’s one battle I haven’t had to fight, at least.

    It’s harder with other family members; some understand, some don’t, some are just made uncomfortable by my pain–we’re not much on emotional closeness on my side.

  7. I will be reading you and thinking of you.

    I’m so glad hubby is so supportive–and I am sure he is dealing with his own “stuff” over what happened to you, the one he loves.


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