"You have plenty of time to think about it. Whatever you decide, you will be just fine." His words were kind and gentle, but I hardly heard them. Sitting on the edge of the cold examination table, struggling to cover my body with the paper robe that seemed to fall apart the moment I unfolded it, I stared right through my doctor's sympathetic eyes.
My mind was spinning.
I fought back tears laced in fear as I focused on my breathing.
The truth is that my mind was made up the moment I saw blood that morning. Leaving things to chance simply wasn't an option for me.
I never did get the chance to experience a normal pregnancy. Years of infertility coupled with miscarriages left me feeling lost, anxious, and broken. From the moment I saw the coveted double blue lines on the stick and realized that I was finally pregnant (again), I was in a panic.
My life revolved around vaginal suppositories intended to keep me pregnant and rest for the first 13 weeks. My doctor, my husband and my mother all chanted the same refrain, "Take it easy. Rest often." It was my job to keep this one in there. We simply couldn't handle another loss. No pressure.
Every ache, every pain, every moment of indigestion sent me running for the phone. Better safe than sorry.
When I finally made it to 16 weeks, I relaxed just a little. I stopped over-thinking and tried to just enjoy each moment. For a little while, it worked.
Until week 27 -- when my early morning trip to the bathroom resulted in blood. The cramping started a few minutes later. Within an hour, I was face to face with my doctor taking in the words that, despite my history, left me stunned: Bed rest. For three months? "For one week. Then couch rest for the remainder. It's just too soon."
The words escaped my mouth before my brain had a chance to process the moment.
"I want a C-Section."
I was scared. Truth be told, I was petrified. My body had failed me time and time again. I didn't trust it to do its job. I couldn't rely on my uterus to wait until the right time and I was sure that something would go terribly wrong.
Friend after friend recounted labor and delivery horror stories. Emergency C-Sections, 36 hours of labor, trips to the NICU following the vacuum... I couldn't bear to listen to them. I smiled, nodded, and pretended to listen with interest. But each story sent my anxiety into overdrive. What if something terrible happens? What if I lose her? What if she loses me?
Night after night I worried about the possibilities. Until I made my decision. The moment the words left my lips, I felt relief. Control. I was in control of the situation. My doctor would bring her into this world at the right time with no drama. This, I could do.
Friends and family members reacted in shock (and sometimes anger). Their words, meant to help but covered in judgment, echoed through my anxious soul. You're just scared. Childbirth is the most natural process. Your body will know what to do when the time is right. Why would you choose major surgery? The recovery will be terrible. Your milk won't come in.
Eventually, I stopped talking. I provided a vague due date and nodded along when people told me to bring a body pillow, music and even a mirror (no thank you). People, as it turns out, have a lot of opinions about childbirth.
At times, I felt isolated in my choice. I was making the wrong choice, according to most. But they didn't experience my intense fear. They didn't lie awake at night fearing loss or death. They didn't know what it was like to have a body that doesn't follow the rules.
What I didn't know at the time is that there were others just like me, experiencing very similar fears. Tocophobia -- an intense anxiety or fear of pregnancy or giving birth, affects 6 to 10 percent of women. And yet, resources to cope with it are nearly impossible to find. Women need support. Women need maternity groups and therapists specialized in treating this very specific type of anxiety.
My daughter was born on December 4, 2006 by C-Section. She was the picture of health and looked right into my eyes the moment my husband placed her on my chest. My recovery was quick and my milk arrived two days later.
But that doesn't change the fact that the judgment and lack of support that I experienced along the way left me feeling isolated during the end of my pregnancy. It's time to talk more openly about infertility, pregnancy, and childbirth. It's time to stop judging and start supporting.
People love to reference the benefits of natural childbirth. Elective C-Sections, they say, are selfish and dangerous. But those people have never walked a day in my shoes. My choice might not be the right choice for everyone, but it was, without a doubt, the right choice for me.
Let's start talking about choices.