(I started this post on Cho's 4 week birthday -- April 8 -- and I'm finishing it on her five week birthday.)
Today is Cho's 4 week birthday. Yesterday she went to the pediatrician and was declared healthy at 7 lbs, 4 oz. and 20 inches long.
But this post is about me, and the journey I've been on over the past four (now five) weeks. I mean that metaphorically, of course; thanks to the abdominal surgery and the breastfeeding, the vast majority of my time has been spent wearing a dent in the futon and watching Gol.den Gi.rls reruns. (Did you know it's on practically all night? And when it's not, La.w & O.rder is...) I've never had any type of surgery before, so I'm surprised and frustrated that I still have mild pain, and am not back to myself in terms of walking or lifting. I've always thought of myself as a couch potato (see: G.olden Gi.rls above) but I am surprisingly frustrated by my limitations. Earlier this week I walked ten blocks to meet a friend and it turned out to be overdoing it. I hate feeling that helpless.
In the hours immediately after the C-section, I felt like I didn't know who I was. I've always been a robustly healthy person and this was my first experience with the medical establishment around my own health. (My mental health is another story, but I've always been able to rely on my physical self.) I'd never been admitted to a hospital and I wasn't even born in one. Now here I was, post-surgery, a newly minted Cesarean statistic. I didn't recognize myself in that scenario. I had the powerful sense that I had let down the natural birth community that had supported me through my pregnancy, and prepared me so lovingly for a labor I never got to experience. I tried desperately to figure out what I could have done to cause the crisis with the placenta. The nurses told me that evening that I would be getting up and walking around the next day, and I felt that I never wanted to get out of bed again. Then the next day they started talking about how I had to take a shower, and I didn't want to do that either. I stayed in the same pair of socks from Thursday through Saturday, which horrifies me now, but at the time, I just didn't want to move.
At first I cried every time I had to talk about Cho's birth: in the hospital when a nurse asked if my delivery was "normal or Cesarean," when the pediatrician and the lactation consultant asked about the delivery, when I filled out my disability form, again with the "normal or Cesarean." I thought it was cruel that the hospital had maternity and labor and delivery on the same ward, because I had to see women in good old normal labor walking the hallways. I dreaded sharing the news of the birth, especially to people like our doula and childbirth educator, because I felt so strongly that I had failed, both myself and all of them.
Then one day when Cho was a week and a half old, someone asked me about her birth, and I just said, "Well, she's here." And I didn't cry.
Now, five weeks later, I feel some peace with Cho's birth. No, it's not what I planned. I will always feel some sadness that I never experienced labor or vaginal birth. But I've been able to integrate the event with the rest of who I am. At first I felt like the moment I started bleeding, I was jolted into a different world, even a different self. I felt like my body had let us down and so all of the loving, natural, holistic plans I had were for naught. But it turned out there was more continuity than not. Our midwife still came to the house -- she took out my staples on our futon -- and checked in with me by phone every day. Our childbirth educator has offered to meet with me to help heal some of the trauma of the birth. Our doula came over for the post-natal visit and did some post-partum hours.
My body comforted me by kicking back into recognizable gear. The nurses at the hospital were impressed with my mobility, as well as how quickly I was able to perform, um, some of the post-op requirements. The midwife is pleased with rapidly the incision is healing. My milk came in fast and prodigiously, and breastfeeding has been going well. Not flawlessly but well enough. And that feels good, too; at least this part of my plan is going the way I wanted it to. I know it doesn't for everyone, and that is a trauma and scar of its own, so I am grateful that at least my body is performing as expected in this way.
It has taken me a long time to be willing to look at my scar. It's not easy for me to see -- finally, a use for the fat roll! -- and for weeks I wouldn't look at it. I made Co check for signs of infection. I never saw it with the staples, which I found very painful, and the idea of which horrified me. A few days ago I finally took a peek. It's not so bad. Parts of it are still angry and red for now, but I can already see the edges where it fades into the rest of my skin.