Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Love's Labours Lost

I thought, after becoming a Mother, that I was cured of my eating disorder.

Breastfeeding and the general wear and tear of motherhood meant that I had to eat properly. Nature has built in her own survival instincts for the sake of the baby.

We would go for long walks, my daughter in her pram and me pushing, chatting to her, laughing with her and watching her sleep.

The birth had been a long and difficult affair and there were feelings of isolation. I didn't immediately feel the 'bond' because of all the drugs but I came to love her dearly.

She was my comfort blanket and I didn't want to be away from her. The same thing happened when she was joined by her brother. An easier, although still assisted, birth. I was awake and handed my manchild, whereas I had to be woken up to groggily become aware of my daughter at the second attempt.

I still laugh because I remember thinking I was lying on a beach, the bright lights of the operating theatre constituted the hot Mediterranean sun. I could hear the waves lapping at the shore. Someone showed me a baby. A child with a fabulous ski-slope nose that I had always craved. I said 'What a sweet baby! But what has that child got to do with me?' and drifted back off to sleep. They woke me again and I think I became aware that this child was mine.

The next thing I knew, it was very early morning and the sun was pouring into the room in which I was sleeping. A baby was crying but I didn't know why. And I couldn't get out of bed. I couldn't move. That's what happens when you have an emergency caesarean and your stomach muscles have all been cut.

I felt a bit useless after the birth. I had knitted spaghetti with the NCT and vowed not to have any drugs. I had wanted a natural childbirth in all its agony. In the end, I was begging for the epidural but it didn't work properly so I had almost a whole day of 'therapeutic' pain before the spiralling descent to an emergency general anaesthetic-controlled caesarean was a huge disappointment to me. The dimensions of my body had meant that my baby was unable to get out through the natural route.

I was a failure.

But, worse, the man I loved, the man who was my life partner had not been there for me. He does not do pain or emotion well and, I believe, was very uncomfortable that events unfolded in a way that meant I could not be the cool, calm, confident earth mother who popped her baby out in the shelter of a bush, strapped it to her breast and carried on with the farming.

His way of dealing with a situation that was beyond his control was to be detached. Totally separate from me. Throughout the labour, he sat on the other side of the room with the nurses, joking and drinking coffee and eating cake. Instead of staying to comfort me the following evening when I was distressed, he went out with our relatives to wet the baby's head and couldn't understand why I became even more upset. He just couldn't comprehend the massive anti-climax that I felt. Couldn't come to terms with my reaction to the drugs, the situation, the emotional turmoil that assailed me. And yet, all I wanted was for him to hold me and hug me and make it better as I fought the drug-induced fug that seemed to have overtaken me.

I felt isolated, disconnected and unsupported. Everything that I had planned in terms of the perfect birth had disintegrated. In retrospect, perhaps I had more than I ever knew invested in that one event. I wasn't aware of thinking it at the time but, perhaps, I had built it up to be 'my moment'. The one where I came out of the shadows and proved that I was worthy. Being a good mother was a critical point for me.

I don't totally blame him for running away because I was like a madwoman, talking at hyperspeed, unable to eat the disgusting hospital food for almost a week and ghostly white, with a dangerously low blood pressure as a result. They tried to give me a transfusion but it just made matters worse when, for whatever medical reason, the whole thing went at a snail's pace and was abandoned. It was after visiting hours and so he went home, leaving me there trying to deal with my split personality, severed stomach muscles and a baby who desperately needed milk that wouldn't come into my breasts because of my emotionally and physically debilitated state.

I failed as a woman, as a mother and as a wife on so many levels in that week.

But he did bring in a casserole on the seventh day and I finally was able to eat. That's what I clung onto. He did care and his way of showing it had always been to provide food. And, for once, it was very welcome.

I can remember that, in the early days at home with my daughter, I still expected someone to knock on the door and demand to have their baby back. There were so many drugs in my system that I was like a spotty zombie for six weeks.

But my daughter and I did bond. We did everything together. If there was an arranged activity, we would be there. And everything else we did at home. Music, cooking, playdough, painting, dressing up, colouring, dancing, singing, reading, watching her favourite television programmes and videos and, above all, laughing.

And, although I didn't want to ever have sex again as a result of the trauma I had experienced (and indeed would not for over a year), her father and I were intimate through our love for our child. Heads close together, we cuddled our offspring as she lapped up the attention.

From the outside, we must have been like the perfect family and for a year we lived that dream.


BenefitScroungingScum said...

This has brought tears to my eyes. Thinking of you and sending lots of love, BG x

Anonymous said...

At one of the most important moment of your life, that he did what he did, your description of it... I'm speechless.

I know, my wife too had the dream of natural childbirth, only for it to be squished by the induced, long and exhausting labor, which ended with a Cesarean section. I was with her every step of the way though, so I'm entitled to find your husband's behavior unbelievable.

It is also unbelievable to see how certain things, in retrospect, should be red flags but on the spot we choose to overlook them.

Ro said...

It's so often the case that what's visible from outside is no more than a facade.

I've a lot of respect for much that the NCT do, but I don't like the emphasis they put upon "giving birth properly". It's setting new mothers up to fail, as if there isn't enough social pressure on women in that position.

I'm pleased to say that I was there throughout the long (and difficult) birth of my son, though I did get sent home that evening. I was keen to get back to the hospital the following morning, though I will confess that I did detour on the way to cast my vote in the general election. Hey, I was looking after my child's future! ;-)

Nolens Volens said...

Oh wow. At least I never left my wife's side during 2 births, even when I had what I thought was food poisoning (turned out to be a bad case of flu) during 1st birth. At first I started throwing up and I thought the birth was overwhelming me but when I kept going and going, I thought I had food poisoning. What a way to usher in my 1st daughter. LOL

Joanna Cake said...

BG - Thank you x

Guys - In his defence, can I just say that he was in the same room with me until they wheeled me up to the operating theatre and that was about 17 hours after we arrived at the hospital. My objection was that I needed to be coached and coaxed and cossetted through what was a pretty traumatic confrontation with more pain and drugs than I had ever experienced and he was completely unable to deal with that amount of emotional need, hence his detachment to chat with the midwives on the other side of the room once I had been immobilised by the epidural.

Not excuses... just trying to see it from his point of view. To stop apportioning blame and try to understand without my own emotional slant clouding things as I think it did when I originally wrote the piece :)

Walker said...

"He does not do pain or emotion well" That's a sorry excuse for his behavior.
He should have been there and always be there.
If he can't be there for their birth how can he protect his family.
Paying the bills is not enough.
Paying with your emotions is what makes it worth while.
My first was a difficult birth for my ex and when it was all over we were all covered in blood and other birth fluids and my daughter rushed off to get her breathing again.
We waited together for the news, good or bad

Everyone man's place is by his wife when she is giving birth barring any other complications making it not possible.

Rachel Noy said...

You were not a failure in any way, shape or form, that must all have really tough to go through.

All this natural only birth crap is bollocks, the mother and baby's needs should come before keeping a place on a high horse.