— Healing from My Unplanned Birth Experience
I bought myself some flowers today.
The thing is that today is my baby's birthday. So it's her day, not mine. When I thought about buying them, I felt this twinge of selfishness. You know what I'm talking about, right? The twinge you get when you're Christmas shopping for other people and then you come home with a new outfit for yourself. Yeah, that twinge.
I thought, "Jenn, you can't buy these for yourself today. It's Ramona's day. You get your day next week." Really—my birthday is next week.
I contemplated for a moment. A strong feeling washed over me, and I bought the flowers.
In that moment I had an epiphany.
When I thought about it, I acknowledged something deeply transformative occured within me since the birth of this little miracle baby.
The shift began to happen about three months after the day I discovered this little being was coming to join our family.
To make a really long story short; with my first baby, I had a very difficult pregnancy, delivery and first year, actually the first few years were really hard. I have diabetes, and I use insulin to treat my condition. So the short version of the story is that my diabetes makes getting through pregnancy really, really physically and emotionally difficult.
The words "Why me?" would often pop into my head during that time of endless specialist appointments, finger pricks, and injections.
I have always needed to put a lot of intentionally into taking care of my emotional/mental health, because I can easily sink into a depressive state. In my 20s, when things were particularly difficult, I felt like I had to hold in the bits of hope I had left with duct tape and crazy glue. So pregnancy, with hormones raging in my body, made it even more difficult to balance my emotions. Especially when I felt like the medical situation I was dealing with was inhibiting me from my being with "divine feminine strength."
I feel like there is a message out there that says pregnancy and birthing is the time of life that women are "supposed" to feel powerful, like a goddess, with a strong connection to beauty and eternal love.
I didn't feel that way.
I totally understand the female empowerment message we read about in regards to pregnancy. It is absolutely phenomenal what the human body has capacity for. It is a time of the divine working within. It is a very spiritual empowering time of life to feel a new life growing inside. It can be fill of hope and expectation....
But I didn't feel those things. I felt broken.
The truth is that my pregnancies were some of the hardest moments of my life. It used to make me viscerally angry when I would hear women speak of the beauty of birth, and especially the importance of a birth that is natural and intervention-free. Cue the Enya music. Gag.
The truth is that I was envious and angry that I missed out.
For several years after my first daughter was born I held onto a strong sense of sadness and anger about my experience.
I certainly had no desire to go through that experience again. No way! Our little girl would be an only child. That's it. End of story.
The years before little Ramona came were also really hard for us as a family. It's a very long story, and perhaps I can write a blog post about it sometime in the future, but for now, I'll keep it brief.
Basically, there was often a dark cloud that was following us around, and our amazing, sweet, and spicy girl was our silver lining.
I struggled with the direction I was going. I was really unsettled with where I was at, and I really believed that there was so much more I could be doing, but I felt really trapped. I felt like I didn't really have much choice. I just had to grin and bear it. My husband had lost his dream job in another city (after I had single parented for over a year waiting for him to get healthcare benefits). Our plans to move to Portland, Oregon, where he was working, were thwarted, because of the global recession. This devastated him; it sucked the life out of him. On top of all that he needed to go through the process of becoming a permanent resident to be able to work...(anyone who knows about bureaucratic paperwork, knows that this kind of thing is no small feat).
So a few years later when I got the news from my doctor that I was pregnant, my heart dropped into my stomach. "How can I do this again?" We were struggling to make ends meet on just my income with the three of us, how can we possibly add one more mouth to feed? I was 40 years old with diabetes. I was very aware of some of the stigma older women face when pregnant. I wasn't so keen to be in that demographic.
Lets say I was in a high, high-risk category.
My very thoughtful doctor was so worried about me after he saw my reaction to the news, he went out of his way to call me that afternoon and check in to see if I was OK.
My initial feeling was "here it goes again. I just can't go through all that medical shenanigans again." Early motherhood was so far from a cakewalk for me too...so. much. anxiety.
After the news sank in and I got more comfortable with the idea of having two kids, and I felt myself getting sort of excited. However, there was still a looming feeling of anxiety. You know those plaguing “what-ifs”. What if something goes wrong? What if I don’t have it in me to raise another baby?
I got through the pregnancy. I had a strong team supporting me. My OB (I wasn't able to have a midwife because of my health challenges, which grieved me) referred me to an endocrinologist (hormone doctor) who specialized in diabetes in pregnancy. This doctor totally dressed and talked like Larry King (which, oddly, helped me trust him more quickly) and was a no-nonsense doctor. The support of him and the amazing team of nurses and dieticians I saw regularly made me feel like I wasn't alone in this. People cared. A lot.
He whipped me into shape.
I believe this was one of the key the supports that changed everything for me. I felt empowered. In control. I realized that I had an important voice in the outcome of this situation. I didn't have to feel like a victim.
Controlling my diabetes during pregnancy was seriously like a full-time job. For those of you who haven't seen a woman with full-on diabetes go through pregnancy, it’s difficult. Gestational diabetes is a bit different. When a woman already has diabetes it is very important to have very tight blood sugar control even before pregnancy, and as the baby grows and hormones change, it gets harder and harder to control the levels. Blood sugar control (both pre-pregnancy and during pregnancy) is really important for the development of the spine and key organs. So if you mess around with blood sugars, the baby can be born with significant health problems or disabilities. No pressure...
The thing is, I did a damn good job of taking care of myself. I tested myself 10-20 times a day (I have the calluses to prove it), I calculated the carbs in every single thing I ate, so that I knew how much insulin to take. My insulin regime changed week-to-week, sometimes day-to-day, meal-to-meal.
Ramona was born exactly on her due date. Normally they induce diabetic women early because of the risk of the placenta breaking down and higher chances of a still birth, and the baby is at risk of having a high birth weight. (My first was born two weeks early. I was induced, laboured for three days, only to have a C-section. She was 9 lbs. 4 oz. Yes, she was big.)
Like I said, my OB let me go to term with Ramona, because I was so well controlled. I was really hoping for a natural birth, but it didn't happen.
The dreaded c-section again. I was heartbroken. Women out there who have had c-sections might understand what I mean by this...I felt like a failure as a woman. This was my first and last kick at the can of motherhood, and right out of the gate I failed–both times.
Then came the aha moment. The moment that changed everything. The moment that healed the past, and changed the course for the rest of my life, my family's life.
The nursing staff had read my very detailed birth plan. They assessed me as a risk for postpartum depression, so they sent a counselor to see me.
She was my angel that day. I don't know if she could possibly understand how her kindness and wisdom changed the direction of my life in that hour she spent with me.
She listened to me cry—well, it was more like weeping or wailing. She allowed me to let it all out and grieve my unmet expectation. The reality was that my sadness wasn't just about this birth, it was about the residual anger and defeat from my first birth experience, and ultimately the previous six difficult years that preceded this moment.
The tears washed over me, in a way cleansing me. It was an amazing healing moment.
Then she looked at me and said, "I'm going to encourage you to reframe your thinking."
She reminded me again that I wasn't induced early, because my blood sugar was so well controlled. My baby was born 8lb 12oz. That may sound big to some of you, but I assure you for the child of a diabetic, that is small. (Women with diabetes often have 10, or 11-pound babies.) She didn't have low blood sugar after her birth, which is usually the outcome when the mother's blood sugar has been consistently too high. So they didn't need to supplement with formula—also uncommon. She didn't need to go to the NICU, I got to hold her and nurse right after they stitched up my abdomen.
She looked at me and said, "Jenn, the things that you had control of, you did the absolute best you could have done. Things could have turned out different, but your baby is healthy. You should celebrate and be proud of what you have done."
Mind blown. Yes, that moment changed everything.
Not just about my birth stories, but my thoughts about life, about feeling stuck, dealing with difficulty, and my direction for the future. I felt liberated.
What I learned that day was that life is unpredictable, but I don't have to feel like life happens to me. I have control about how I process events, so really I have the power to change my life outcomes.
I now see that both my births were beautiful.
The first few months after the baby came weren't perfect, I still had some struggles, but despite those bumps I felt really good. My husband now has his Permanent Resident status and found a job he really liked. We started to build a new community around us. I started thinking about how I want to feel, thanks to a great book called the Desire Map.
The phrase "Go Big or Go Home" kept coming to me, so I decided to quit my job and start my own business.
Life shifted. I decided that I am not letting life happen to me anymore. I can be in the driver's seat of my own life. I know I will hit bumps along the way, but that's ok. Despite the regular trials anyone with a new business star-up faces, our family is doing very well.
This is my story of how I reframed my thinking after something really important to me didn't go as I planned. You all have your stories - job loss, relationship loss, unmet expectations, grief. It is my sincere wish that this story gives you a spark of hope.
We have power! When our perspective changes, everything changes.
Back to the flowers–after I felt that twinge of selfishness about buying myself flowers on my daughter's birthday, I realized that I deserved them.
I've worked really hard for this, and it's time to celebrate.
Buying flowers on June 3rd is a new tradition!
Happy Birthday to my sweet miracle baby. One of her middle names is Grace. (Yes, as some people have said to us, we are one of those people who gives their kids two middle names).
She came into our lives and transformed us with Grace.