I was filling out my grad school applications the day I found out I was pregnant. I was surprised, and put my education on hold. But even more surprising than the pregnancy was the shocking way my military hospital treated me during labor and delivery.
Without going into too many traumatic details, I wound up giving birth in a janitor's closet, and that was about the best thing to happen to me that night. It all went downhill from there. I came away from that hospital with a beautiful son, but also a torn, broken body and an even more deeply-scarred psyche.
For the next year I didn't recognize myself. A cheerleader, classical pianist and scholarship winner, I have always had a happy disposition and a determined attitude. Yet suddenly, even sleep eluded me, let alone the ability to be a good mother or wife. On the rare night I did fall asleep for five minutes, I woke up screaming from nightmares of knife-wielding, camo-clad doctors. During the day, I had random flashbacks of the birth that left me paralyzed. I purposefully avoided the hospital at all costs. I could barely walk across a room, let alone run a marathon like I was used to. I told no one of what happened that night, not even my journal or mother. I cried for no reason, felt no love for my son -- just pure, numbing fear when my Air Force husband deployed when our boy was six months old.
Yet the worst part was the people. "At least you got a healthy baby!" they would chirp when they sensed I wasn't loving life. And when I tentatively told my OB what was happening, she actually laughed in my face. "Welcome to being a mom!" That was it, I decided. My firstborn would be an only; if this was motherhood, I wanted no part in it.
Then we moved, thankfully to an assignment far away from the nearest military facility. I had to go to midwives for standard care, and after one look at that area, she goes, "So, do you want to tell me what happened to you?" The whole story came spilling out, three years later. I almost made her cry. "It can be different, you know," she told me. She was right.
Bolstered by stories of women-centered healthcare, I worked up the courage to become pregnant again. I hired a doula who listened in shock to my story ("Um, I'm pretty sure what they did to you was illegal") and promised to support me in my wishes throughout the pregnancy, labor, delivery and recovery. And so she did. Referred to a women's physical therapist, I spent months in the pool getting to know my body in ways I had never dreamed. She promised me that this birth would be an empowering physical experience, a chance to watch what my body could do. And so it was.
Today, I am a mother of three who is passionate about a previously unknown and uncared-for subject. I am in an awesome marriage of a decade. And I am forever grateful to a birth team of professionals who gave me my body, motherhood, mental health and marriage back. They cared not only about birthing a baby but guiding a woman with both scientific facts and empathy-based guidance and support. That, to me, is the ultimate expression of pro-life values.
|Above: the author with her doula and newborn son|