Birth of Sierha, 2002
I was 19 when I found out I was pregnant. I was not married, and afraid. I was afraid of how people would react. I was the one who was “never in trouble” the one who was “the good Christian”. I was afraid of the unknown. I had no idea what I was doing. Even though I’d been babysitting for 5 years, and “knew stuff” about taking care of kids. I knew enough to know that I knew nothing. But that was all I knew. I did everything my doctor said. I even drove 30 min back to the office to get prenatal vitamins because I thought it was so incredibly important for the safety of my baby. (I now roll my eyes at myself when I think about that).
People told me to give my baby up for adoption. People told me to never speak to her dad again. (we’ve now been married for almost 12 ½ years). Those who didn’t tell me to stop speaking to him, asked if we were getting married. Strange how it “had to be” one of the two, that being a single mom, with him still being in my daily life wasn’t an option they would choose, so clearly, I shouldn’t either. People judged me. Ignored me. Told me what I should do. How I should “fix” my life now that I had “screwed up”, told me that I just needed to pray, and read my Bible more and … whatever….. I really blocked most of it out because NONE of it was supportive.
I never for a single moment wanted anything other than my baby. I actually am very VERY glad that we didn’t get married then. I’d have spent YEARS wondering why he had married me. But since we waited 2 years, I didn’t have to wonder if he was marrying me for our child or for me.
So. I was 19 and pregnant. I was clueless. I really had zero idea how ovulation, fertility, conception, birth actually happened. I barely knew the WORDS vagina, uterus, ovaries, penis, sex – you know, the “regular” words. I mean, I wasn’t stupid, but was completely ignorant, I knew that sex=pregnancy. I knew not getting my period on time meant I needed to take a pregnancy test, but that was about it. I had zero clue as to what the heck my cervix was, or even what exactly dilation and effacement meant. I picked up that those things had to happen for baby to come out, but I had no idea how, when, or how they related to birthing. Literally all I knew about birth had come from TV and movies (and now, I cringe at those Hollywood births, portraying horrible, scary births, skewing what birth can look like…). I knew enough to freak out when I had bleeding at 13 weeks and practically ran straight to the ER – thinking I couldn’t even drive myself, I called my dad to take me, because David wasn’t answering his phone and I was really freaking out. (now I know that A-this is common and B-even in the event of a miscarriage there’s nothing that can be done and you’re best to let nature take its course anyway). I really lived in “Lalaland”. I didn’t even know what life was all about at this point, let alone how to have a baby, or worse, raise a baby. And yet, all I wanted was my baby. As if my life would magically be perfect – you know, like on Tv … yeah. I said I lived in “Lalaland”.
Part of me tried to hide my tiny tummy (although I didn’t even “start to show” until 6-7 months) from the judgmental glances. I was working as a Pharmacy Tech at the time, and this one day I was on the cash register, I think while someone was at lunch. This old lady came up to purchase her items. I saw the look of disgust that crossed her face as she noticed my belly, then my ring-less left hand, back to my belly.
I remember talking to my boss about my work schedule, him saying “adoption isn’t even AN OPTION?!?” with utter shock – as if my personal life was any of his business. I remember someone, who at the time was someone I looked up to – telling me I shouldn’t speak to David again. I remember never having felt so lonely in my entire life. Ever. Like … ever…. I hadn’t gone to college, but had chosen to stay in the same job and “adult” I guess, or whatever I thought I was doing. My friends were all either still in high school, or had went to college. I had one who had postponed going to college for a semester, but she was on her way. I knew nobody who offered real life advice. I had an abundant supply of people who thought they were helping, but really were only being nosy, judging or trying to manipulate my situation to fit their ideas. I knew I was on my own, but it did take me a few more months to acknowledge that what I was hearing was toxic, not helpful and to slowly back out of people’s lives to move towards what I needed to do for me and my baby.
My doctor did 4 ultrasounds while I was pregnant. She started doing vaginal exams quite early, though I can’t remember which week I was at. I thought it was “needed” – because I thought the doctor is always right, she must be, she’s the doctor after all, and I’d never done this before. I dutifully peed in the cup, never missed an appointment or a prenatal vitamin.
I took a childbirth education course offered at the hospital. I learned all the terrifying stuff that the hospital would have to do, but nothing about how birth WORKED.
When my doctor wanted to attempt to induce me at 39 weeks, because I lived so far away (45min ….) I complied, not because I was sick of being pregnant, but because I was excited to have a baby. I was actually still very comfortable, except that then, I didn’t realize that pelvic pressure was normal for me towards the end.
I went to the hospital to be induced, at 39 weeks. I had no idea what was going on. I had to – ehem – take off my underwear in a room full of nurses … so they could place this pill on my cervix (so I was told). She only used ¼ of a pill, instead of ½, since I was already dilated (can’t remember for sure, want to say 3cm or so). I had some contractions all night, they even moved me into the delivery room. But when they stopped by morning, I was sent home. I remember (thank God I had THIS doctor, otherwise I’d have had a cesarean!) the doctor telling me “I don’t think you’re a candidate for Pitocin, so we’re just going to send you home”. I mean – THANK GOD I had THIS doctor. (Yes, I’m repeating that!). I was disappointed to go home without a baby, but didn’t have too long to wait.
I went into labor the following week. I was in labor on my due date.
I worked that day. From 9-7 or something like that. I had been having contractions all day, but had had many all week, so wasn’t really paying any attention. I lived alone. As my contractions intensified, so did my fear and I called my mom. (who, I must add here, from what I know now, was fearful and didn’t know much at all about birth). I remember being mad at David, but I don’t remember why. Likely some childish thing, since I didn’t know what a real-life relationship was about. But I didn’t want to call him to tell him when we left for the hospital, “just in case it wasn’t real”. But really it’s cuz I was mad.
When my mom got there she suggested I call my doctor. My doctor had given me her personal number, so I didn’t have to go through a nurse – that was wonderful! She wanted me to come in “to be checked”. So me, being my compliant self, did as I was told. My mom fearfully grabbed an armful of towels, to which I asked why, don’t remember her answer, and off we went. I was instinctive enough to want to not sit and instead I was on my side in the back seat (good thing there was no car accident!!). I got to the hospital and walked – almost ran - through the halls, talking, feeling as if I was about to die and if I could just get in there, they could save me. I mean, I had no idea what I was doing, and they did this all the time - right? I thought if I could just get there.
I barely remember much of the next 4 hours. Total labor was 6 hours, not counting the contractions all day, or all week that didn’t really bother me. What I do remember is fear. Not knowing what to say or do. Repeating things I had heard laboring moms from movies talk about “oh, this hurts!” … and the nurses laughing at me because I said that. I remember after they checked me – I was a 6 – I swallowed hard, and said “ummm… mom, CALL DAVID!” He didn’t answer his phone, so my mom called his mom. And I remember asking again and a nurse saying “we just let him in”. I remember not wanting my mom there after he arrived, but not knowing how to tell her to leave, so I said nothing. They gave me a spinal block (said it wasn’t the same as an epidural, but I don’t know the difference), then a catheter, cuz apparently, I peed on the floor… no knowledge of that until they told me. David joked, cuz he had no idea what else to do or say. They put my feet in stirrups. They asked if I knew how to push – I was more terrified now, I had no idea how to push. Apparently, I was supposed to know how to push. But the nurse kindly explained that it’s similar to a bowel movement (uummm… no, not it’s not. It’s very different muscles and birthing women don’t need to know how to push, the body knows... but that’s off topic for now…). My mom was echoing the nurse, telling me to push, as the nurse then told me not to push, I remember the nurse telling my mom to not tell me to push right then. I couldn’t feel a thing.
I have no idea how long I pushed. I remember that at one point I looked down just enough to see the doctor pulling on my baby. (and later, David told me it was quite intense and looking back, I think I just had no idea what to do, again, with me not knowing anything). I remember thinking that they should switch places with me and tell me to not push. (I could finally feel as the spinal block had worn off). I don’t even remember if I held her first or if they took her away for a minute before handing her to me. There was a “oh, is it a girl? Yep, it is, that was right”. And my mom asking how many stitches I needed, the nurse saying they don’t really count cuz there’s internal and external stitches. David holding our baby, all bundled and hatted. Trying to breastfeed, having zero clue what I was doing. How weird that first latch felt. So many spotty memories. I wish someone had told me to journal every little detail, because in 14 years, when I look back at her birth, it will all be so blurry. So much of it was a blur anyway, because I had no idea what was going on.
Sitz baths. Best thing ever if you tear during delivery. Being the only mom/baby in a small hospital. Walking down the hall to get my baby when the nurses hadn’t brought her back and I wanted her. Being taught to bathe her. Being shown to use a breast pump. Cold, floors. Watching 100 (it seemed) videos on “how to _____”. Having people come to hold the new baby. (Why do people insist on visiting a new mom in the hospital? Let her rest!! Seriously people!! The baby will still be there later, and should always be in mamas arms, not yours). Everything I read/heard had told me that my body would still be about 6 months pregnant so pack clothes accordingly. Nobody said “it’s unique to each mom, so pack a few different sizes of comfortable pants” and I only had pants that were too big for my now significantly smaller belly.
Going home, finally alone. Finally, quiet. I slept with my baby, because I quickly learned that she slept better. I also quickly learned that when I let her sleep alone, she slept longer if I put her on her tummy. I felt rebellious. Why did it feel wrong doing what my mommy brain told me to do? Society. Society had been telling me how to care for my baby and I didn’t want to do it that way. I felt rebellious.
The first few weeks are also a small snippet of memories. A few friends coming to see us. Lots of movies. I couldn’t afford cable, but the Library had ROOTS on VHS and I watched the entire miniseries. I had to go back to work when she was 5 weeks old, as I had to pay my rent. I had saved up vacation pay, and was able to take off 3 weeks paid, from that. But. Bills. My mom watched my baby while I went back to work from 8-2, 4 days a week. My baby wouldn’t take a bottle at first, so she’d cry, waiting 6 hours for me to come. In hind sight – there’s absolutely no reason why my mom couldn’t have brought her to me to nurse, instead of having to pump.
Speaking of pumps. I had trouble getting one. I was on Medicaid, which would pay to rent one – and I kid you not – it was ugly. Huge. Blue. Huge. Ugly. Bulky. Did I mention huge? …. I had Vicki, LLL leader, IBCLC come to my rescue. She helped me to buy a hand held, single, battery powered pump, billing Medicaid for the cost of a rental every month, until the purchase price was paid. Everything went great breastfeeding wise, and that was the only help I needed. I only breastfed for 10 months. And my reason for weaning is the lamest (in my opinion now): I was going to be flying to Seattle to see my brother and I didn’t want to have to figure out how to breastfeed in public. …. (I seriously want to go back in time and smack myself for that one!!! It would’ve been so much easier than carting around bottles and formula). I didn’t give her formula for more than a couple weeks before she switched to cow’s milk. She was “old enough to be put on whole milk”. (it’s a wonder she doesn’t have gut issues now!). I pureed her baby food, from 6 months on, as I did as I was told, starting her on solids at 4 months. Rice cereal came on WIC, I later bought bigger cans of veggies and pureed. I was proud of myself for saving the money from buying baby food. I really wish I could go back in time to tell myself to not give her anything besides breastmilk until at least 6 months, and better if 9 months, and to then skip purees altogether.
Birth, breastfeeding, single parenting. To me, then, it was something that I had to survive. I wish I had had more life insight then. I do regret things, but I have to remind myself that I did what I knew to do. All any of us can do is what we know how to do. And now, after having had amazing homebirths, and having an uncontrollable urge to learn all I can about birth, I can see this as a necessary part of my journey. I do wish I had learned more before her birth. I hope she can learn from me talking about birth and have a better birth with her oldest child, hopefully another 10+ years away. In 5 ½ years, she’ll be as old as I was when she was born.