Scars on the Inside
At my forty-week appointment, my obstetrician told me that he’d never seen any of his patients work so hard to avoid a C-section. I wasn’t sure whether to feel pride at his statement, but I definitely felt defeated. I’d been aware since thirty four weeks that my baby girl was in breech position, her head bumping up against the top of my curved belly where I could reach down and cup it in the palm of my hand. I’d tried a laundry-list of things to get her to turn—weekly visits to a chiropractor and acupuncturist; “Spinning Babies” exercises and yoga poses; bouncing on a balance ball; taking warm, shallow baths to heat my lower belly and placing a cold compress on top; playing music and flashing lights at my abdomen. On the advice of my acupuncturist, I even tried moxibustion, which involves heating a stick of a particular Chinese herb near the pinky toes for a few minutes every night. I was obsessed; my whole being was dedicated to getting the baby to turn. My family thought I was going crazy, but I did not want a C-section.
“Is it because you’d have a scar?” people asked me. No, I couldn’t care less about the scar. I have two very visible scars snaking around my neck from the time I had thyroid cancer back in high school. A small line on my lower abdomen where no one would ever see it except my husband was not even worth thinking about.
“Is it because the recovery time is longer?” they asked. Well, sure, that was part of it. I had an active four-year-old boy to take care of as well as the baby. But I also had four healthy and willing grandparents close by who I knew would be happy to help me out once my husband had to go back to work. Lifting heavy things and being unable to drive for a short time weren’t going to be huge issues.
“You’ve done everything you could,” people told me. “C-sections are not so bad.”
But to me, they were the worst kind of failure. I wasn’t a C-section kind of mom. I was the natural mom—the attachment parenting, baby wearing, co-sleeping, breastfeed until toddlerhood kind of mom. I wanted to labor, do all the birth poses I’d practiced, and work to bring my daughter into the world. I wanted to actively participate in her birth, not have her taken from me as I lay in anesthetized helplessness on the table. I wanted her to be caught from my body and flipped onto my stomach, not pulled out from behind a sheet with me unable to hold her until I was stitched up.
On the day that my obstetrician told me that I’d done all I could and it was time to schedule a C-section, I sat in my car and cried. I’d worked so hard, spent time and money in order to preserve my identity as a warrior-earth mother. Why couldn’t I be the kind of mother I’d planned on being? Why couldn’t I keep being the kind of mother I already was?
And then I remembered the sleep training.
My firstborn was a terrible sleeper. I tried everything from swaddling to co-sleeping to the “No-Cry Sleep Solution,” but nothing worked to put him to sleep quickly and make him stay asleep. When he was nine months old, I finally gave in to “cry it out.” I hated myself for even trying it. It was the complete opposite of everything I believed as a mother. But… it worked. Within three days, my boy was going to sleep without tears and sleeping through the night. I learned the hard way that it didn’t matter what kind of parent I wanted to be. Ultimately, I had to be the kind of parent who gave her child what he needed, using any method that worked.
In the parking lot of my obstetrician’s office, I dried my tears. Sure, it wouldn’t be the birth I wanted. I wouldn’t get to actively participate in bringing my child into the world. But she’d be born, she’d be safe, and I knew it wouldn’t matter in the end how it had happened. I had to trust her. I had to trust that there was some reason why she wouldn’t turn out of breech position, something only she could know from within the womb. Maybe the umbilical cord was too short, or maybe there wasn’t enough room to move head-down. I’d given her every opportunity to turn, so I had to believe there was a reason she hadn’t done it. It was time for me to stop trying to be the mother I wanted to be and start being the one she needed me to be.
I picked up my phone to schedule the C-section. I knew I could be proud of my external scars. The internal ones were already dissolving.
Leanne Sowul has been published in Confrontation literary magazine and is a featured columnist for DIY MFA, named a 2016 ‘Best Website for Writers’ by Writer’s Digest. Her historical novel is currently represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary Agency. You can find her at www.leannesowul.com.