My kids love hearing all about how “when they were babies”. They often ask at bedtime for me to tell them the story of the day they were born. I snuggle up next to them and tell them each a beautiful story of how one day, after being in my tummy for a long time, they said “It’s time to come out!” and started kicking my belly. Mommy & daddy headed to the hospital and the doctor took them out and we all were so happy! They both were pink round chunky little turkeys and they giggled as soon as we saw them. Then, they cuddled up next to us for the rest of the day and cooed and smiled as all of our family came to meet them for the first time. They were perfect and the cutest little things I had ever seen. I tell them both that each day they were brought into this world were both the best day of my life. The thing is, the only good thing that actually happened on either of those days for me was that we added them to our family. Each time I tell this story, I’m telling them a long, concocted LIE. Truth be told, I love the fact that they were born, but I hate both of the days that they entered this world.
My youngest child turned three this week. At thirteen months apart, I’m now living with a full fledged three and four year old. They aren’t toddlers anymore, they aren’t babies. They’re preschoolers. I’m not sure how I feel about this.
Their birthdays are always a mix of emotions for me; happy to celebrate a milestone for them and yet both their births were both such terrifying experiences for me that I actually ended up having a panic attack the morning of my now three year old’s birthday. I started thinking what exactly was going on at this moment three years ago and as I then thought about my experience giving birth to my four year old (which was equally as chilling). I could feel my chest start to constrict and my body become clammy. My breathing became short little breaths and my eyes were getting blurry. Sobbing, I called my mother, who helped me calm down.
I’ve written about this before, but the long and short of it is that my first child was two weeks late. After 31 hours of labor, I ended up with a horrendous emergency c-section. My first act towards my sweet newborn baby was to push him away my because I was in the midst of the mother load of all panic attacks imaginable on the operating table. Instead of giving him a kiss, I literally pushed him away. My experience resulted in me being drugged up for the entire first day he was born. He ended up in the NICU 24 hours later, due to irregular breathing. In retrospect, I was so drugged up that first day that I realized I didn’t even attempt to feed him. I had no maternal instincts. I didn’t even want to hold him, out of fear I’d drop him. This fat 10 pound baby was probably starving, which caused him to hyperventilate. I failed him. I waived my right as a post- op patient and joined my first baby in the NICU; sleeping in a chair in his room while recovering from major surgery and an exhausting and harrowing few days.
My husband and I were inexperienced and it’s so easy now to say what we should have done. We should have asked the nurses to feed him some formula, we should have had me transported separately to the hospital where the NICU was so that I was being taken care of as well as he. We should have never let this happen. Hindsight is always 20/20.
With my second, the delivery went surprisingly well, but what followed did not. I couldn’t see over the sheet they put between mother and baby, but I could see my husband’s ashen face. My child was blue, the color of the summer sky before a torrential rainstorm begins. He was not healthy and he wasn’t crying. He wasn’t a chunky, pink fat baby. He was struggling to stay alive. Something was very, very wrong.
He was later diagnosed with a genetic issue: Respiratory Distress Disorder. Simply, if you can imagine blowing up a balloon, it’s tough at first, but then gets easier the bigger the balloon gets. He was born without the hormone that covers the lungs to help them expand. He was fighting to breathe, and we are lucky he didn’t end up with brain damage due to lack of oxygen. He was whisked out of the operating room before I could see him. Meanwhile, I was in the midst of massive hemorrhaging. I had five nurses attending to me in recovery and I didn’t care… all I could think about was my baby who I couldn’t see or even help.
I was questioned humiliating questions by the NICU rep for the hospital in front of my husband, mother and mother in law ( while still hemorrhaging and basically spread eagle in my hospital bed.
- Did I engage in illicit drugs during my pregnancy?
- Did I smoke cigarettes while pregnant?
- Did I drink alcohol while pregnant?
The answers were all NO, but I could read between the lines : What did I do to cause this? The weight of the guilt I felt was like holding up a 1,000lb rock above my head. I couldn’t help it. The first time I saw my sweet little baby, he was in a contraption that looked like a glass coffin to transfer him to the NICU. He was sedated and all I could do was reach my hand into a little hole in this glass coffin and tell him I loved him. It was four days before I was able to hold that precious peanut. These four days felt like four lifetimes.
Life is crazy. Life is hard. I am so thankful that they are both thriving, healthy children now, and I know that I am one of the lucky ones. I know people that may have had the perfect delivery but ended up with a child much more seriously sick than mine. I know people who have watched a child of theirs go through pediatric cancer treatments. In no way am I comparing my experience to anyone else’s, but mine is all I know. My story is all I can tell.
I selfishly can’t help but feel like I got handed the short stick both times. I was robbed of the first few weeks of my child’s life. I have no pictures of their first few moments. I have no happy pictures of us as a family on either day. I have very few happy memories of their birthdays. I wasn’t given the opportunity to create an immediate bond and connection with either child, and both experiences were so intense that four years later, I’m still suffering from PTSD. I’m angry because this has partly effected our plans for any future children. I’m angry that I missed out on so much. I’m angry that things were so much harder than I had ever planned on them being. I’m angry over the amount of helplessness I felt in both situations. I’m angry with myself for feeling any of this at all.
I’m hoping that one of these days, I’ll have told them each my fake version of the day they were born so many times that it will start to slowly sink into my brain; memories of the truth washed away, only to be replaced with my fairy tale that I have made up. I lie and tell myself time heals all wounds, and one day, this will all be a distant memory. I can only hope that this is true.