In this week's Loudspeaker Letter, Rachel gives her younger self a preview of what her birth will actually look like. Far from the unmedicated vaginal birth of her choosing, she explains what it's like to have an unplanned c-section and how simply existing through something scary can be the most heroic thing you can do.
Artwork: Seated Female Nude, Carl Newman, Smithsonian American Art Museum and its Renwick Gallery
To my younger self,
You wanted a vaginal birth, grounded in meditative breathing, love, and trust, without any medical intervention or medication—you desperately wanted the pain, all of the pain, the piercing explosive experience that your body was made for, afraid of, but willing to undergo. You expected to hold your baby, wet and bloody in your hot, sweaty arms, umbilical cord throbbing across your stomach down to the placenta now out of place on a metal tray just near enough. You wanted that cord to keep him safe, to stay connected to the only thing he’s ever known.
Instead, you got the opposite.
Instead, you were told hours ahead of time you’d be having a c-section. You were told your baby may not survive another day and that now was the safest time to get him out of your body alive. You shook with fear. The tears poured out of your eyes. You were terrified, but you were strong. You swallowed the panic, listened to that doctor, and held your heart forward through the pain. You, my love, were braver than you ever could imagine. I am astounded by you. If I could zoom back through the months to hug you while you shivered on that operating table I would instantly appear. You see, delivery rarely goes the way you anticipate. And even when there are changes; there are more you can’t begin to fathom—and they very often do occur. And you’re right: they are scary, but you are stronger than you know. You just keep going one breath at a time. One minute will seem too long; 30 seconds will last forever, just be in the second. One second, then the next one, then the next one. When you sit down on that cold operating table, you will shake so hard the anesthesiologist will have to delay the epidural insertion. You’ll see a clock up ahead on the wall with a silly sticker near the 6: stare at that, it will get you through.
It’s okay you are scared, it’s okay you are sweating. You tell those nurses what you need. I am so proud of you for doing that. For saying you need a cold washcloth, for saying it’s not wet enough, for saying no when someone said you can say yes. You were a real-life rockstar. And while you didn’t get to see or hold your baby after their birth, you made it through the surgery. Your body was sewed back up—all seven layers—and you’re back on your gurney to recover before you are allowed to head to the NICU. You pretend to be able to walk in order to get permission to leave the room. You faked it and you were cleared to be wheeled to meet your son. Your pregnancy and delivery will be scarier than you ever could have predicted. But you will make it. You will get through this. And eventually one day you will look back and be stunned.
So often, it's hard to know what to say when someone we care about is navigating a challenging time related to physical and emotional health. We created this series for two reasons: to help foster empathy and communication (because by hearing words of comfort, you may be inspired to share some or all of them with people in your own life) and to create a well of communal knowledge on resiliency. Through this resource, we are able to acknowledge how far we’ve come as individuals and weave a thread of lived experience through one another. These are the words of wisdom we’d send our past selves—long before we knew what was coming.
If you would like to submit your own Loudspeaker Letter for consideration, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and we will send you a short brief. Thank you for sharing your stories with our lovely community.