My precious girls. I love each of them beyond words to describe. It seems like just yesterday they were this little and now they're all running around playing together.
My twins are not that far from two and I've never written about their births. I could tell you it's because life has been beyond crazy—which is true- but, if I were being completely honest it's also because deep down inside my heart, there is a part of me that is still processing all that happened that day.
It wasn't until tonight, when I was looking through old pictures of Brian's and I came across this picture that I didn't know he took and realized, it's time. I'm ready. I'm ready to share what that day was like.
Every birth, no matter how it happens, is transformative. For me, what I realized the day that the twins were born was that, no matter how much I lie to myself sometimes...
I am not superwoman.
While it looks silly on paper, I realize, for me, this acknowledgement is huge. Granted, in some ways I will always defend that every mother and woman who is striving to do what's right, is, in some way, superwoman. But, we are all of us, broken and dependent on each other as well. We can't survive outside of our communities, our families (chosen or blood) and our chosen society (for all its ills). As humans, we are, by necessity, creatures of dependence.
I can tell you honestly, that if it weren't for the help and support from our community Brian and I received after the twins were born, I don't think we would have made it. I don't know that our marriage would have made it. Those first few months were brutal. I am forever grateful to my tribe. Both near, far, virtual and in-person. Without your support, I do not know where I would be.
But, as I said, this is my time to finally put into words my experience with giving birth to my twins. When my eldest was born I felt on top of the world, like I could take on anything, my good friend Diana even said that after I pushed Athena out I looked at her and said “This is great! You've got to try it!”
Well, let's just say that I wasn't anywhere ready to say that after my day of giving birth to my twins.
In some ways, when I reflect on their births I have to silence that voice that tells me “you're a failure because you didn't carry them to full term, didn't deliver both of them vaginally, had to have a cesarean, and because you and Helen might not be here without the help of medical intervention”... and myriad other things that horrid voice tries to tell me.
I think part of the reason why I struggle with these feelings of guilt and failure is because before giving birth the first time through with Athena I read so much to prepare myself for a natural, unmedicated birth. I felt that, despite all odds, that was possible for every woman. Even though I could articulate to myself that I knew logically that wasn't the case, somewhere, deep down, I felt that.
So, when I had to have a cesarean I wasn't prepared. I wasn't prepared mentally, physically, but most importantly I wasn't prepared emotionally for what the aftermath of coming to terms with that would look like.
I think there is so much of value in the natural birthing community. There are so many strong advocates for women, for babies, for letting go of unnecessary medication interventions, for doing away with awful medical practices. But, I think sometimes, what gets lost in wanting to get rid of unnecessary cesarean sections is the recognition, that despite everyone doing everything they can, sometimes, giving birth “naturally”, is not always the safe option.
This is in no way, either, a critique of my midwife. I love and adore her. I would recommend her to anyone. And, in fact, I feel like she did a good job preparing me for whatever my birth would look like. It was my own self I had to face, my own self as an enemy I had to stand against. That voice inside my head telling me I what I wasn't worth, or that I somehow gave in.
It's humbling to recognize that the unnatural scar across your abdomen forever marks you as someone who is lucky to be alive. A cesarean is a major surgery and that is intense trauma that the body experiences no matter the circumstances, no matter the incredible support. It's humbling to lie on my bed, rub my scar, and realize, that if it weren't for that mark on my body which will forever be there no matter how much frankincense oil I apply to it, means that I am here and alive to care for my three, beautiful children.
Sometimes, a natural birth, just isn’t possible.
Sometimes, a natural birth, isn’t a safe option.
That's what I tell myself. And, despite all the voices in my head telling me, but you could have done this, or she could have done this, or they could have done XYZ differently... I know that this is true.
So, what happened that day? As best as possible I'll start at the beginning....
June 2, 2015
I felt huge. I didn't feel like I looked huge. But, I felt huge. I hadn't felt that before. I remember feeling this intense pressure on my pelvic floor (probably Cassandra's head) that made it difficult to walk. I woke up, Brian was at work and I was with Athena at home.
My due date was still a month away.
It was the beginning of the week I was planning on stocking our freezer with all those awesome freezer meals I'd pinned. But, I didn't feel like doing anything. I just wanted to sit on the couch. So that's what I did. I turned the Ipad on for Athena and sat on the couch. And started to feel like my period was coming. It was that same achey, icky feeling I get right before bleeding. I remember thinking, this probably is something I should tell my midwife about. So I got off the couch and called her and left a voicemail. She called me right back which I felt was a sign that something was about to happen. She sounded very focused on the phone. I'm pretty sure she recognized long before I did what was happening.
Well, the achy crampy feeling soon turned into contractions. I called Brian and told him I think he needed to come home. I called my midwife again and told her I was feeling contractions and she told me to drive into town so she could give me an exam and see what was going on. I think she strongly suspected I was in labor, but couldn't confirm over the phone.
When Brian came home, I remember telling him “I can't do this, I'm not ready” and he sat down next to me, put his hand on my chin gently and said, “Yes, you can do this, you are doing this, whatever happens it's going to be fine.” (For the record, that's a really good man I have.)
So Brian, Athena and I got into the car. I remember as we we're driving into town Brian asked me something like “Is this pre-labor?” and I said “No, this is labor”. I recognized it then. It's weird revisiting such an intense state you've experienced before. That first time giving birth there is nothing to compare it to, but when you experience it a second time, it's almost an “Oh yes... there you are... I remember you... why did I think this was a good idea to do again? (?!)”
When we got to my parents house (where originally... two weeks later... we had planned to give birth because it was in town closer to a hospital than our country abode.) I quickly said hello to my parents but all I wanted to do was run into the bathroom and sit under a hot shower. I remember I was naked and slowly moaning on the bathtub floor when my midwife came in and said very slowly “Hi Jackie... what are you doing?” Maybe she didn't know I was in labor over the phone. I think we had both hoped it wasn't the real thing. But we both knew. It was. I think I muttered something like “Giving birth” to her question.
She called Brian in because this meant we needed to talk. This was too early, not even legal to give birth at home. She would be outside protocol. And unless we insisted on staying home (she couldn't force us) she said we needed to go to the hospital. I wasn't even 35 weeks yet. (I think I was 34 weeks and 6 days.)
Honestly, it's a bit of a blur after this. I remember getting out of the shower carefully but still feeling intense contractions. I knew there was no way I was putting on clothes. And, in my mind, though I didn't tell anyone else, there was no way I was going to the hospital. I didn't want to go to the hospital.
I remember when my midwife saw how intensely I was feeling the contractions she wanted to see how dilated my cervix was. So I laid down on the bed and she announced that it wasn't even a 2 yet. It had only been probably an hour since the first time I had called her. To me, at this point, labor felt like it was going fast, but if my cervix was at a 2 only, I thought, maybe something is wrong. Maybe I do need to go to the hospital. I, of course, wanted above all, for my babies to be safe.
I remember I stood up hoping to get the courage to go to the hospital. And then, as Brian loves to tell everyone, I interrupted all conversation between my midwife, Brian and myself and announced very loudly “I NEED TO POOP!” and waddled over to the toilet. Where, a mere few minutes later, amidst my best Ariel-on-a-rock singing impression (I sing very loudly when I'm in labor), Cassandra was born. Into the toilet. Thankfully, my midwife had figured out quickly enough what was happening and Cassandra only briefly touched her porcelain welcoming dish.
And that was it. How I went from not even 2 centimeters to my baby girl being born in only a few minutes, I have no idea. It was so fast that I barely even knew what was happening. And my midwife barely even knew.
Now, when I say that was it, obviously, it wasn't. I had another baby inside me. But I felt amazing! I cuddled with Cassandra a bit, and then my midwives handed her to Brian who held her for a while and then handed her to grandma. But, I was hungry.
So, I walked into my parents kitchen to get something to eat.
All I felt was lighter. And super high on oxytocin. I was chatting with my friend Diana, with my mom, and eating snacks. Just with a placenta cord hanging between my legs. Ya know, normal every day affair...
In hindsight, I realize how freaked out my midwife must have been. She was trying not to panic me but she ushered me back into the room and wanted to hear a heart beat on Helen. But she couldn't hear her heartbeat anywhere. This was the first time I had ever seen my midwife truly concerned. I remember everything going into a bit of a blur.
Someone needed to call an ambulance.
I heard my midwife say that, but it didn't make sense to me. I didn't understand, I felt fine, everything seemed fine. I felt great, even. I wasn't feeling concerned. I knew Helen was fine inside me still. Or, at least, I thought I knew. But, when my midwife started to seem so concerned I realized that maybe there was a part to this that I wasn't understanding.
Helen wasn't only breach. She was sideways. The way she was positioned it was impossible for her to come out. So, after finally getting a normal heartbeat reading from Helen, and calling off the ambulance, my midwife suggested we transfer to the hospital in her car. I told her I didn't really want to do that. She told me she couldn't force me, but that the only thing she could do would be to try to turn Helen. One way or another. If she could just get one end or another to come out, she would be willing to give it a try.
I've never experienced pain like that before in my life.
If you've ever experienced labor pains, you know how intense and unbearable they can feel. Well, imagine someone pushing knives on either side of your belly when you're already experiencing the greatest pain you've ever experienced in your life. But, I didn't want to go to the hospital.
So I allowed the pain to continue.
My midwife tried and tried to turn Helen. Her assistant tried and tried to turn Helen. And I experienced a level of pain I didn't know was possible. Over and over again. I didn't want to go to the hospital.
But, Helen wouldn't budge. They'd get her down and as soon as their hands came off she would--- bloop-- go right back to her cozy transverse position-- lying right across my belly. It wasn't until after they were both born that my midwife explained that probably what had happened is that Cassandra's placenta prevented Helen from turning-- that Cassandra's placenta made it so that Helen actually could not move.
So, there was no other option. We had to transfer to the hospital.
It wasn't safe to stay at home. I knew that much. My midwife was insisting that we go to the hospital. I still didn't understand, I felt fine. It wasn't until after that my midwife explained that quite possibly what would have happened if we had stayed at my parents is that Cassandra's placenta would have started to detach and because Helen was still inside, my cervix would not have been able to cramp down. Meaning, I could have potentially bled to death with Helen still inside. Thankfully, she didn't explain that in the moment to either Brian or I...
But, we transferred to the hospital. I got dressed, went in the car, and walked into the hospital like it was any other day and I was going to the store. (Again, with an umbilical cord hanging between my legs with a metal clamp on it... but no one could see that...) I remember getting up to the desk and the lady asked “So where's the woman in labor” and when my midwife pointed to me the receptionist muttered something along the lines of “Wait. What? Oh.” Because, I didn't look like what was going on. It didn't feel like an emergency. I wasn't panicked. Of course, I didn't fully grasp the scope of what was happening at the time. And I think I was very high on oxytocin...
So, they took me into the hospital system. Complete with the stylish gown, several different people asking you the exact same questions a million times, needles going different places, pubic hair being shaved, feeling that you're not cared for by anyone in the room wearing a uniform. It was not fun. This was why I didn't want to be in a hospital. But, here we were, and I was going to to make the best of it.
The doctor came in. She was a woman and immediately I didn't like her. I felt like she was judging me for wanting to have a home-birth with twins and felt like she was rude to my midwife. But, she wanted me to have the vaginal birth I wanted. But, she also knew that time was of the essence. If Helen's heart rate dropped we needed to be able to get her out fast.
So, they wheeled me into the operating room. I remember feeling this sense of panic set in. I don't want to be here, I don't want to be here, I thought. I remember asking myself a million questions. Did I really need to be in there? My midwife who I trusted wholeheartedly said it was the best option, so I trusted that even though I knew I didn't fully understand. Maybe, hopefully, she was right.
And then the pain.
Oh the pain. When the doctor said she wanted to try and give me a vaginal birth, what she meant, was the only thing she could mean. That they would try to turn Helen. And they tried. And they tried. I experienced that unbearable pain over and over again. For a second time. And, again, Helen would turn and then as soon as the pressure from the hands were gone, she would go right back to laying across my belly.
This was it. I was getting a cesarean section.
My worst nightmare-- having one twin vaginally and one twin by cesarean-- was actually coming true. I faced my worst fear. And I'm still here. And, while, I know that I'm not superwoman, I think that makes me pretty badass.
The surgery itself was such a strange experience. Surgery is such a contradiction in experiences for the mind versus the body. Your body has never experienced anything so intense, but your mind isn’t allowed to register it in the moment because of the drugs and the numbing. All I remember feeling was the most intense tremors I'd ever experienced. Brian was holding my hand, and my midwife was holding Cassandra next to my cheek as the doctors surgically birthed Helen.
I remember the first time I heard her cry I had this huge sense of relief. It was done. They were both out. The rest of our lives together could begin.
But, it wasn't that simple.
Helen had been born into a system with rules. Cassandra was free from those rules. But, Helen was at the mercy of the hospital protocol. So, my weaker, smaller twin was free to be with me while Helen the bigger, stronger twin had to go to the NICU.
She was fine. But she was in the system.
In hindsight I chastised the doctor who was responsible for this choice. He said she had low blood sugar and was under full term so by hospital protocol needed to go to the NICU. I said, of course she had low blood sugar. I hadn't even seen her. She hadn't had a chance to nurse. He said he didn't know that. I said unlikely because he was in the room the whole time.
But it didn't matter. She was in the system.
And, so we had to wait until she could be allowed out of the NICU. I was in the mother baby unit (where I finally had some wonderful nurses taking true care of me) recovering from a major surgery. I was holding and nursing Cassandra and the whole time just wanting my babies to both be with me. They would wake me up ever hour or so (not that I could actually sleep) to take my major-surgery recovering body in a wheel chair slowly to see Helen and Brian in the NICU.
As Brian describes it, it felt like we were in some sort of Kafka novel. Nothing made sense. All the cords, machines beeping, printers buzzing, nurses ignoring you whirling by. Nothing made sense. I wanted to just unplug Helen from everything and bring her to nurse with me in the mother baby unit. But, I had to wait. And wait. Once a baby is on blood sugar, like a drug addict, you can't take them cold turkey off or it shocks their system. So we had to wait for her to get slowly weaned off. And then we had to wait, and wait, and wait, for a doctor who was busy with other babies with actual serious conditions, to check her out. It felt like an eternity.
But, finally, both my babies were in my hospital bed with me. I felt so exhausted, but so in love. Of course, I had no idea what was coming with trying to figure out nursing both of them. (I'll have to save that part of the story for another time.)
As I said, I'm no superwoman. But, I did look my greatest fear straight in the face and say, “I'm bigger than you and I'm not afraid. I don't understand, but I'm not afraid.”
It took a lot of processing with my midwife afterwards to work out what happened that day. I relived that days events so many times in my head wondering if we could have done anything differently. But, my midwife is confident, that if we had not gone to the hospital for a cesarean it could have ended really badly for both Helen and I. It's possible one or both of us would not have made it. My midwife said that the only way she could see a natural birth working in a situation like mine would have been to have a very skilled midwife reach up inside me immediately after Cassandra had come out and turn Helen and pull her out. But, there is no midwife in this area who is trained for that, and even that in and of itself could have been very dangerous. My midwife says that the only decision she truly regrets about my birth was not having Cassandra with me for more of my labor with Helen. Which, in all honesty, I don't regret, because I was so busy concentrating on what was happening with Helen that I couldn't focus on anything else. She was bonding with grandma and her big sister and for me that is beautiful thing.
I don't have any regrets. When it comes down to it, all I can feel is that I am grateful. Grateful to be here with my three beautiful girls. With a supportive husband, midwife and tribe. And even despite how much I don't like hospitals, grateful for my cesarean section. As much as the negative voices in my head want to tell me I could have made different choices, things could have been different, etc... I know that, really, the way things turned out, is pretty great. <3