Dear Lily June,
If you’re old enough to read this, you probably know the unfortunate truth about your mother: She is easily rattled. She panics at the whisper of a problem. She is not good with unexpected and immediate changes to “the plan” (whatever the plan du jour might be). That, my darling dear, is typical of OCPD (though I hope to be far more than my disorder to you by the time you really know me).
Because things progressed so quickly with the diagnosis of preeclampsia, I was too thrown off to be anxious initially. I had calmly gone to work the day after the hospital testing, thinking surely I would have been called if there were an emergency. I was used to my particular OB/GYN practice not being good about delivering results, so I calmly called an hour after they’d opened to ask how the testing had gone. I waited patiently on the phone while my nurse retrieved my records, and I was the picture of zen with what happened next. Namely, I didn’t reach through the phone wires to strangle anyone when the nurse said, “You’ve been scheduled for an emergency induction tonight. Didn’t anyone tell you?”
No, they hadn’t told me. It was 8:00am on a Monday. I was scheduled to be induced at 8:00pm that evening. I had gone from a little under a 4 week countdown until your “planned” due date–thinking I had plenty of time to prepare things for work before my six-week leave, thinking I still had time to “ready the nest” (or at the very least, wash the nest’s dishes), thinking I would have the joyous anticipation of going into spontaneous labor in the wee hours of the morning and waking your daddy with trepidatious glee–to having a 12 hour countdown.
Twelve hours is simultaneously not enough time to get everything done, and just enough time to have a total meltdown. Already, a tiny sign lit up in me that read “This is not the plan.”
It’s funny, because I’d been taking birthing classes to prepare for the endgame, and they didn’t cover anything about this possibility (emergency inductions for preeclamptic mothers, anyone?). For us expectant students, there was a standard soon-to-be-mama panic in knowing we’d heading to what would be an excruciatingly painful procedure, but we still anticipated an (albeit blood-dripping, amniotic sac-oozing) Hallmark card of a moment. At one point in the class, to lighten this projected tension, the instructor played a video of a mother crowning set to the tune of Johnny Cash’s “Burning Ring of Fire.” I kid you not. But, overall, there was an underlying revelry to our jitterness, and the instructor reminded us to approach the process with this mindset and mantra: “You’re not sick. You’re pregnant. You’re not sick. You’re pregnant.”
Despite my tendencies to micromanage everything, I had actually scoffed when we’d covered “birthing plans.” After all, didn’t John Lennon say life was what happens when you try to make other plans? Doesn’t God laugh when man plans? I looked over the smorgasbord of decisions to make: pain meds or “natural birth,” birthing on a bed or birthing in a tub, to IV or not to IV–that is the question. And to know, Lily June, that each of the answers to these questions could impact your immediate and long-term health? That was crippling.
For an experience I’d never gone through, I was expected to be able to make complex medical decisions based on little more than guesstimates about how hardy and healthy I might be in the moment. That’s like asking someone raised in a secluded Amish community whose only transportation for a lifetime has been a horse and buggy to select from a customized options list on a Ferrari. Voice-activated, hands-free, Wifi-based navigational system, you say? Sounds like the devil’s work to me.
I was smug enough to have the following as my Facebook status during birth plan week.
Here is my birth plan: You be the doctor; I’ll be the patient. In the event of an emergency where we’ll be asked to swap roles, I reserve the right to freak out and panic.
Yours, The Patient Unqualified to Make Major Medical Decisions Based on Google Searches
I wish now that I’d done more Google Searches. That I’d listened to the hardcore homebirth crunchy mamas when they called for more maternal involvement in a process that’s become increasingly more focused on the almighty profit than on the mightily frightened patient. I was a wounded surfer navigating my first waves, and the shark in the water smelled the blood on my calves from a mile away. Only, where it says “surfer,” read “mom;” where it says “navigating waves,” read “having a baby;” and where it says blood-thirsty apex predator of the ocean, read “OB/GYN.”
Okay, so it wasn’t quite as “villain twisting his facial hair while a damsel in distress lays bound to the tracks” as I’m describing. But when I got to the hospital–and I had to wait for hours while they prepared my room because they knew I was going to be there (and be sick) for a while, and I had to sign forms that were thrust in front of me without quite understanding their medical and legal terminology, and I had to start questioning how much I didn’t know about how very much I didn’t know about what I was heading for–what I learned, ultimately, is that there is a plan even when you think you don’t have a plan.
There’s a built-in, cliched narrative from our culture that Good mamas don’t get sick, and Good doctors don’t need scalpels. There’s a narrative that the birthing mama is the warrior mama and that even her scars are a beautiful testament to nature–what a woman’s body is “built to do,” the pain she’s “made to withstand,” etcetera, ad naseum.
And when things don’t go according to that plan (Natural Trumps Medical), and you’re surrounded by teams of nurses and doctors and med students and hospital administrators and each of them has a new form and a new treatment they want your approval on, what would have already been scary by nature becomes preternaturally terrifying, and you start to feel very alone in the universe with each box you check and choice you make.
Only I wasn’t alone because I had you, Lily June, inside of me. And I had to do whatever it took to get to see you on the outside of me. And that meant, given that my blood pressure kept threatening to lead to seizures which would have been decidedly bad for your body, accepting a whole lot of medical intervention and medication that I might otherwise have run screaming from.
The doctors’ plan became mine. And the only part of the plan I still understood was a longing for you to be okay.