How My Body Betrayed Me For The First Time
My body was never perfect. But it was sufficient.
It wasn’t perfectly healthy but it didn’t get sick too often, at least after I grew out of the inevitable childhood colds and respiratory infections which, as I now read, build up the immunity that we enjoy as adults.
It wasn’t lean and long-legged as I’d have preferred, but at least it had small breasts (much more convenient than otherwise — or so I thought), small wrists and ankles which my husband really liked (he thought they looked more refined), and usually people seemed surprised when they found out my age, which I attributed to having a set of rather good genes. I also was exercising my whole life, so while not being a fitness geek by any means, I was always doing some kind of regular exercise — jogging, swimming, cycling, even horse riding for a couple of years. Mostly, however, it was running, which I sometimes took breaks from but always returned to.
The year I got pregnant I ran my first half-marathon, so I was in a pretty good shape by my standards. So when I did get pregnant, I wasn’t too worried, even though I was approaching the big forty. I was sure my body could handle it.
As the pregnancy progressed, I got bigger and started retaining water. It was summer and very hot, and my ankles were looking alarmingly big. Then my fingers and my wrists. I was also burping uncomfortably and for a long time after every meal, however small, and began waking up to pee three times per night. But all that was normal, or so I was told. I also started getting fake contractions which were coming more and more often. Good, I thought. My body is preparing. It’s been waiting for a long time, but now it wants to do its job.
When I was 38 weeks pregnant, fake contractions came so often and so hard, especially after swimming or cycling which I was still doing regularly, that I was afraid to induce a premature labour.
In retrospect, maybe I should have tried that.
When I was still only having Braxton Hicks contractions at 39 and finally at 40 weeks of gestation, I was told that if the labour were not to begin within 10 days, I would be advised to be induced. After 8 days overdue during another checkup I was given a choice — we could wait two more days and then induce, or we could induce right now. The day was hot, and I was very tired of coming to the hospital for checkups which took 3–4 hours of waiting (every second day by then) and was feeling huge and very uncomfortable. We decided that our wait was over, and I was given the drug Misoprostol while my husband went to the car to get my overnight bag.
The drug started to work pretty quickly and soon what I was having definitely didn’t feel like fake contractions anymore. Very soon I was asking for some pain relief and was given Ibuprofen. The nurse told me I was only allowed to have something stronger after three more hours, and I would be able to have an epidural when I was dilated enough.
In three hours, when I was doubling with pain and seeing black every three minutes, they gave me “something stronger”. I still don’t know what it was, though probably I was told and just forgot. What I knew however is that it didn’t dull the pain, instead making me very tired and sleepy. So the night slowly passed. I wasn’t able to really sleep because of the pain, but sometimes I got short intervals where I was losing myself for some time and then regained consciousness. Eventually I was moved to the delivery room and connected to the monitor which was tracking the fetal heartbeat and my contractions. At 5 am, I was told that I was dilated enough to get an epidural.
About 14 hours in, the anaesthesiologist was looking like God Almighty to me. I’m pretty sure he had a halo, too. Or maybe I was just seeing double.
When I finally got the injection, the situation seemed to improve dramatically. I was finally able to breathe normally and even fell asleep at some point, not minding the beeping of monitors and the cables around me.
In a few more hours, when I was almost fully dilated and the contractions were very strong, the situation changed again. By that time they already punctured the amniotic sack, because my waters haven’t been breaking. Also the baby had to be turned, as he was “star gazing” (face up) and the doctor thought it was preventing his descending into the birth canal.
She’s inside me up to her elbows, I vaguely thought looking at the doctor when she was making the turn. Pretty sure I wouldn’t want to experience that without an epidural.
But even after the turn, the baby wasn’t dropping.
We realized that something was wrong when the movement around us became more frantic. The nurse tried to get a blood sample from the baby but couldn’t reach his head; then when she finally took a sample, she returned from the lab saying the blood was too thick and couldn’t be tested. Then the doctor tried the same and seemingly succeeded, but as the hustle around me was becoming more chaotic, it looked like something still wasn’t right. Then the doctor was asking if we were firmly set on natural birth.
Oh for Christ’s sake, I thought. Who cares if it’s “natural”. Just tell me what’s best for the baby right now.
It turned out that the fetal heartbeat was already affected by the contractions, but the baby still wouldn’t cooperate and descend into the birth canal. So the doctor was telling me that the safest option was now a cesarian. Then go with the safest option, we said.
15 minutes later, my son was born via a c-section. And I, having just become a mother, was already feeling like a failure.
What was the point of my body going through all this if it couldn’t perform the most important function it was made for?
After I was wheeled into the recovery room and the baby was not yet brought in, a midwife came in to talk to me. I recognized her — she was in the delivery room with me.
I don’t know what went wrong, she said almost apologetically. Everything was going well. I don’t know why it didn’t end normally.
But it’s not you, I thought. It’s not your fault. It’s mine.
In retrospect, this way of thinking was definitely not beneficial. Perhaps it was one of the reasons I went into depression later. But that was just how I felt.
This was the first time my body had betrayed me. And it wouldn’t be the last.