Someone from my breastfeeding support group brought my attention to this article titled “Grieving Over an Unnatural Childbirth.” The article received so much attention that I wanted to post about my feelings on the topic here. I know most of the people who read are my friends/family, but since the blog is public and can be found simply by googling, I thought it may have the chance to help other women out there.

While I was pregnant, I tried to do everything possible to prepare for our babies’ arrival. There’s all the obvious stuff:  set up the crib and diaper station, wash all the baby bottles and clothes, buy a stroller and car seats, etc. Then there’s the less obvious stuff – like mentally preparing for the arrival of two new babies.

You may remember that initially I would have liked to have a drug-free childbirth and had originally been going to a midwife group rather than an OBGYN. Finding out we were expecting twins changed everything. I had 12 weeks to mentally prepare myself for the big change (I found out about the twins at 20 weeks and delivered at 32). You would think that 3 months would be plenty of time to mentally prepare oneself for delivery. And in many ways, it was. I had time to extensively research all about Cesarian section deliveries and about having babies in the NICU. I had ample time for long conversations between my husband and I about my wishes for how things would go. I wouldn’t be able to hold the babies, so I wanted him to. I wouldn’t be able to do skin-to-skin, so he would need to do it. Above all, I wanted to touch my babies AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. I’d read (horror) stories of women who had their babies whisked away immediately and of them battling terrible post-partum depression. Being interested in biology, I knew the critical role of hormones in helping facilitate bonding and reducing the likelihood of having a difficult recovery, psychologically speaking. I knew I would not be allowed to hold my babies while still on the operating table…but if at all medically possible (i.e., if the babies were medically able), I wanted to at least touch them.

I got my way with these wishes. If you’ve read my birth story, then you know that Chris got to hold each baby briefly as soon as she was taken from my uterus. At that time, he brought each baby to my side and let me touch her before the NICU team took her away.

But as it turns out, this mental preparation wasn’t enough. Although I’m lucky not to have battled PPD, I still feel as though in many ways I’ve been grieving over the unnatural childbirth that I had prepared so diligently for.

I’m sure many (most?) women would be shocked to say that I feel somewhat cheated by never having experienced labor pains. I have two kids and yet I have no idea what labor feels like. In fact, if I’m really honest about it….I feel some grief over the entire pregnancy after that fateful 20-week ultrasound. I’d had this idea of what I wanted – everything as natural as possible. Instead, I had a very “medical” experience all around. From my biweekly stress test appointments to the unconventional rotating OBGYN practice (instead of having a single OB, I saw someone different at every appointment. The woman who ultimately delivered my babies was someone I just met 5 minutes before being wheeled into the OR), I feel like I missed out on forming any real “connection” with my health-care providers. The birth itself was just an extension of my already lackluster feelings about the entire “high risk” pregnancy experience.

Obviously I’m thankful that we live in a time with modern medicine so that I was able to be monitored and that the babies were able to receive the care that they needed (particularly since they both suffered respiratory distress after being born and had to receive oxygen!) But knowing this, and being mentally prepared for the C-section, do nothing to change the fact that I was unable to have the “natural” childbirth (and pregnancy!!) that I had hoped for.

For a long time I felt that if I admitted to being bummed out about my pregnancy and delivery that it in some way invalidated my love for the girls. Now I know that I can love them and be thankful that they’re here safe and healthy, and yet I can still have some residual sadness over the way everything worked out. It doesn’t mean I love them any less. And I think its important for people to know that they still may feel a little blue over their “unnatural” childbirth (to use the articles’ words) even when it was an anticipated thing.

And although I think it’s good to allow yourself to experience and work-through these emotions, I think its equally important not to wallow in them. And so, I’d like to end this overly-long post with a list of things that have really helped make a difference for me during these past few months, for which I am so grateful.

  • A loving family! My Mom has already come to visit twice since the babies were born! My sister has come once and has a plane ticket to come once more! They have bent over backwards to help me through this transition:  from helping with the middle-of-the-night feedings, to doing my dishes and laundry, they have been incredible! Even from afar, just being the ear to listen to my nonsensical rants after a sleepless night has made such a difference in my sanity-level!
  • A hands-on husband! One of my biggest fears about having children while living in a different state from our family was thinking that I would have to do it all alone. I have been so impressed with the amount that Chris has helped. Even though he works during the days, he hurries home to help with diapers and baths and feedings. Although we have a sleep-schedule (I take the 1am feeding and he does the 4am feeding), there have been times when the babies have cried from 10pm straight until 1am and I have been at my wits end, and Chris will wake up and help me with the girls instead of sleeping through the night, even though it means he’ll be exhausted at work. And he’s done it without complaint. An amazing thing if you know how much that man loves his sleep (and how cranky he USED to get if he was prematurely awoken).
  • Compassionate friends! I can’t believe how amazing all the people we know have been to us! This was so unexpected because, prior to getting pregnant, I really didn’t think of us as having many Arizona friends (really just the people from school!) But we’ve received such an outpouring of support its incredible! A short list of some of the support (and I have refrained from thanking people by name here just because I don’t want to forget anyone!!!) – people bringing us food, giving us hand-me-downs, offering babysitting services, helping relieve the burden of some work-related tasks, dropping by for a visit, and lending an ear when I just need to vent. You all have made this experience so much easier!
  • Understanding colleagues! We’re in this state for my graduate studies and I have thrown myself into all things work-related for the past 3 years – 110%! But since having the girls things have drastically changed. They are my #1 priority now and everything else falls way down my priority list. I was so worried how things would go with work after having the girls and what would be expected of me. But people have been so understanding it has blown my mind. It almost makes me worried… – is this for real? When is the shit going to hit the fan? And yet….everything has been remarkably copacetic.
  • A healthy mind and body! Even though the emergency c-section was caused because I was diagnosed with HELLP syndrome, my recovery has been quite seamless. I may not have the time or energy to exercise as much as I would like, but at least my body is physically capable of being exercised. Similarly, I am so grateful that I have only had minor “blues” associated with my “unnatural” childbirth, and that I haven’t had to battle the psychological demons that so many women have to face postpartum. I know from others how crippling PPD can be and am so glad I have managed to escape it even with so many medical interventions (e.g., C-section delivery, girls in the NICU for a month, etc.).

and of course….the #1 thing making it all worthwhile:

  • Those adorable baby girls! We sure did hit the jackpot with these angel-babies!