Letting Go: One Story of Many

DenaMay 4, 2022

Shortly after the twins were born, I began writing their birth story. I wanted to write it out while it was all still fresh in my mind. I got most of it written out but I could not bring myself to finish it or to share it. Something was wrong.

Now that some 8 months have passed since then, I am just beginning to unravel the reasons why I was unable to share it and why it is, even now, difficult to share. In short, it was too painful. Even now, it is too painful but in order to start healing, I need to share this.

Their birth story is traumatic for me. Gratefully it “went well” and by God’s grace the babies were born healthy. However, in hindsight, I am devastated by how it all transpired. It is a trauma that I’m only just beginning to understand. The following is the story that I am beginning to unravel in my heart.

Early on in my pregnancy I spoke with my medical team about what it meant to be pregnant with twins and what my birthing options would be. Most people who know me know that I am an advocate for natural, intervention-free birthing. My first two babies were born vaginally and intervention-free, meaning I took no medication and I did not allow my medical team to intervene in my delivery. I had what are commonly called, “unmedicated deliveries.”

From the beginning of this pregnancy, I was told by my medical team that as long as Baby A (meaning the baby on the bottom) was in a head down position and not breech, I could attempt a vaginal delivery. When I was given that information, I just accepted it. I told myself that I would leave it in God’s hands and depending on how Baby A was positioned at the time of my delivery, I would try for a vaginal delivery or I would have a c-section.

At that early point in my pregnancy, there was still some part of me that wanted to have a natural birth with the twins but I was also scared by the information that I was receiving from my medical team. For example, I was told that even if one baby is delivered vaginally, there was a good chance that the second baby may get stuck and still need to be removed via c-section. The thought of going through the pain of a vaginal delivery and then having to rush into an emergency c-section terrified me.

I was already struggling with all of this and then when I was 32 weeks along, I got food poisoning and went into pre-term labor. I had to spend over a week in the hospital on bed rest. The experience frightened me in a way that I can’t accurately put into words. At first, I didn’t know that I was in labor but then I had a very strong contraction on the ride to the emergency room. In that moment I was overcome with terror. I thought my babies were going to be born early and I didn’t know what that would mean for them. Premature babies come with so many unknowns.

From that moment forward, I became afraid and dis-empowered in my pregnancy. I allowed my fear to overcome me and I became accepting of whatever the doctors recommended because I just desperately wanted the babies to be okay. I stopped listening to my instincts and I became complacent.

Gratefully, I was treated at the hospital and the preterm labor stopped. Whether it would have stopped on its own, I will never know. Either way, I spent the time in the hospital and then came home and continued modified bed rest. I moved through my pregnancy all the way up until July 26th. I was nearing the end. My c-section was scheduled for the 28th, but on the evening of the 26th, as we were putting the kids to bed, my water broke. Since Baby A was still breech at that point, it was well-established by my medical team that I would have a c-section.

At that point I was so uncomfortable and so disconnected from my true wishes that I didn’t even think twice about it. I also had a lot going on at home that I believe took the fight out of me. I just accepted what the doctors said without question. I was okay with it. I was going to have a c-section.

It wasn’t until I was actually on the operating table when everything came apart. Leading up to that point, I was clearly in labor and my labor was progressing the way both of my other pregnancies had. Honestly, everything felt exactly as I remembered it with my previous two. The pain, the contractions, the pressure. We were waiting for a long time because my doctor was delivering another baby ahead of me. So we were waiting for her to be done before they would take me into the operating room. Finally, I felt like I needed to push, so they brought me into the operating room and began the process of administering the anesthesia. And this is when it all truly began to unravel.

It’s hard for me to even write about this. Just writing this, my eyes fill with tears of regret, sadness, and disappointment in myself.

It’s hard to explain what happened on the operating table. The only thing that I can guess is that my body just went into shock. My body was ready to deliver these babies, the way that it knew how to, and then suddenly I was numbed and splayed open on an operating table. It was horrifying. I felt helpless. I was helpless. I was removed from the process of bringing my babies into the world. I became a lifeless vessel.

My entire body shook uncontrollably through the entire procedure. My heart rate was out of control. They gave me oxygen to steady me. I disassociated. I was having a full-blown panic attack. I went in and out of presence in my body. I could hear the doctors speaking to one another and they spoke as if I weren’t there at all. It made me wonder if I was even there. The only person that spoke to me was the anesthesiologist and he was trying to keep me calm so that I would not need to be fully sedated.

There was some type of a mirror on the ceiling over my head. I could see my body being mutilated. I said something out loud that I didn’t want to see it and someone told me coldly, “Then just look away or close your eyes.”

Thinking back on it, it feels like a nightmare, a bad dream. What can I say other than that my body went into shock? My body was prepared to do one thing, but something else entirely took place.

It brings me to the question that I will never know the answer to. What would have happened if I could have just tried?

Everything that came next is just as hard to write about. Worse than the c-section was the postpartum experience where I could not breastfeed my babies. As a result of the experience–perhaps the shock, the trauma, the anesthesia, the pain?–my milk never came in the way that it should have.

I was prepared and so looking forward to breastfeeding the twins the way that I had breastfed my other two babies. But my milk never came in. This is unfortunately very common for women who have c-sections.

The first couple of days in the hospital were excruciating. The babies were terribly hungry. I kept trying to breastfeed them. My medical team was wonderful. The babies pediatrician and my lactation consultant were so hopeful and helpful. We waited and waited and waited for my milk to come in. I was certain that it would! My first two babies were exclusively breastfed, they never once had a bottle in their lives, either of them! I thought for sure that eventually it would happen! But it never did.

Finally after 2 days of true suffering and anguish, on the third day it was determined that the babies had lost too much weight and we would need to give them formula. My lactation consultant, the same one who taught me to breastfeed my first two babies all of those years earlier, was suddenly showing me how to give my tiny babies little bottles of formula. I tried so hard to be stoic and to keep on the bravest face, but at one point I just broke down in tears.

This is the exact moment. I took the photograph with tears streaming down my face because I didn’t want to forget it.

If I am completely honest, it was one of the most defeated moments of my life. Even now, the words, What if? What if? What if? pound in my ears.

My body made a little bit of milk. I breastfed the twins for as long as I could. I know that my body made milk for them for 7 months, but not nearly enough. Many people tried to encourage and console me, telling me that every little bit of breast milk that the babies got was good. But nothing made me feel less than a failure. In my heart, I felt that it was all my fault because I did not try harder (or at all?) to deliver them naturally.

I tried everything that I knew how to get my supply up and hoped that eventually I might phase out the formula. But that didn’t happen. The babies always needed formula and around 7 months, my body stopped making milk for them altogether.

Ah, this is a dismal story! How it pains me to write it. But this is the story, for better or for worse. And it needs telling. And, there is redemption still–beauty and redemption abounding! I promise.

If you’ve been reading this story of mine here through the years, you know that each year, I pick a word or phrase for the year. Well, my phrase for 2021 was, “Letting go.” I never got to make my annual post about that because life was, well life, but I am ready to start sharing about it now.

When it came to me, late in 2020, I had absolutely no idea just how much 2021 would be my year of letting go. Never could I have fathomed it in my wildest dreams. From the surprise twin pregnancy, to the delivery I’ve just described, and then finally to the postpartum experience. I had to “let go,” over and over and over again.

I didn’t end up letting go in the way that I wanted to, in the way that I thought I would, when I chose those words. I ended up having a surprise twin pregnancy that, from start to finish, forced me to let go of everything. It changed me, shaped me, tested me, humbled me and strengthened me into a version of myself that I never saw coming. I let go of everything, everything!, that I thought that my life was becoming. And in that letting go, in that act of releasing it all, my God, what I gained.

But that my friends is a story for another day. Today, I’ll close here. My introduction to letting go… letting go of two of the things that I thought defined me–natural childbirth and breastfeeding. Honestly, it will never stop hurting! But in the end, it has taught me so much and for that I am grateful.

All of this and so much more. Until next time…

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