Learning from Laughter and the Trees: Power, Pain, and Extraction

first family of 4 picBy Lydia Wylie-Kellermann

I don’t like pregnancy. I am not one of those people that walks around glowing, rubbing my tummy, and delighting in the attention. I am not proud of this. In the midst of pregnancy, I feel like I am losing my body, my strength, my sleep, my social abilities, and even my mind, all for something that I cannot yet touch or know. But birth on the other hand, I was ready for! I had learned the first time round that I could trust my body and the wisdom it held. My body was made to deliver these children. All I had to do was let my body work and to breathe.

I back labored with Isaac for multiple days and nights. We did most of the work at home arriving at the hospital already 9 cm. He was born with no medical or pain interventions. As Isaac leapt from me on that final push, he was caught by the same hands that caught me three decades earlier. We probably would not have been in a hospital setting, if it were not for choosing those hands. She is the doctor who holds the history of my own body and pain. She carries with her a deep sense of calm and sharp attention. You know she will fight like hell to advocate on your behalf.

So, with Cedar we found ourselves arriving at this hospital again. This time the story was different, as they always are. My water broke in the night and despite almost eighteen hours of trying to get contractions started, they weren’t picking up to where they needed to be. As we drove to the hospital, Erinn and I prepared ourselves for the likilihood of being induced. Petocin. We gave ourselves the freedom to be ok with that and prayed that one intervention wouldn’t spiral into a great many.

The moment we met the Resident we knew we were in trouble. “What pain management would like?” “Um…none.” She looked at me like I lived on another planet. “Why did you wait 18 hours to come in?” Right away, we had lost any respect this doctor might have granted.

The petocin started dripping and the dosage was being increased every half an hour. Tubes and wires kept multiplying out of every part of my body. We asked questions which apparently there was no time and regardless of our concerns, it seemed clear they had a plan and we were not to be a part of it. The message quickly became clear- “Shut up. Lie there. We got this.” It was one nightmare after another until I lay on the bed with insanely intense contractions every three minutes. The minute in between my body seemed to have lost control…I was convulsing on the table unable to communicate, relax, or think. I watched the fear in Erinn’s eyes as she looked at me. We both knew it, we had lost control. The pain was excruciating. I realized then, that I had learned to trust that whatever pain my body gave me, I could handle. But no longer was this pain decided by my body and therefore, I could not trust the pain. I needed morphine.

Erinn was amazing. There is no doubt in my mind that I do not birth alone. She talked me through my breathing with each contraction. She was the voice in my ear and the hand on my skin. She held together the great tensions around us- creating calm space for me to breathe in the midst of the chaos, advocating with strength when they wanted our voices silenced, and bearing her own grief and anger at the spiraling madness.

When the Resident came in again, I told her the contraction were really intense and painful. She looked at me and said with an edge of judgement “Not to dismiss what you are feeling, but these are not intense contractions!” And she pushed the button to raise the dosage. In that moment, I realized that to them, this had nothing to do with me or my body or my power, but rather I was an object that they were going to extract a baby from. They wanted “me” out of the way. And through it all, I was a ticking clock, getting closer and closer to their 24 hour mark since my water broke.

The Resident didn’t listen to me or my body. Yet, in less than an hour, I had dilated 6cm and told them I needed to push. Because they didn’t trust me, our doctor never made it. They didn’t call her. By the time they called, I was pushing and it was too late for her.

Twenty-three hours after my water broke, I pushed out a beautiful child. I breathed. I remember that first breath after Isaac was born. It was filled with such relief and awe at my own power and strength. But this time, there was also relief that the unstoppable nightmare was over.

It was hard to tell our birthing story after. Yet, when I tell it, I often think- this doesn’t sound so crazy. “My contractions didn’t start. I was given petocin and a few hours later I had a baby. Everyone was healthy.” It all sounds quite ‘normal’ really. But it didn’t feel normal. While I had always hoped to avoid petocin and pain meds, I could live with that. It was the dehumanization in the midst of one of the greatest and most ordinary of human acts.

I write this now, a few words at a time, as a crying and smiling baby tries to draw me out of my head and back into this moment. I am so grateful that he is here, that pregnancy and birth are mere memories and stories now, and we have two joyful, loving boys. While I grieve the powerlessness of those hours, I also know that that power does live in me. I have witnessed that power in Erinn and I delight in the knowing of its life in these children. I trust that our lives will continue to yield that power despite the moments when it has been stripped from us.

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