My son is sleeping with the window open tonight, and I'm terrified that someone will pull out the screen and kidnap him. Last night when I stretched my 38-weeks-pregnant belly over the side of the bed to grab my cell phone charger, something below my ribs felt like it tore... and I'm sure it was my placenta. When I boiled two ears of corn on the stove tonight, I wondered whether the heavy stoneware pot could handle that much boiling water. Would it crack and explode, sending burning water all over the kitchen? Did I remember to lock my car doors and set the alarm? Did my water just break, or do I really need to pee? Did I really close the pool cover after Max swam tonight, or should I double-check?
I have always been filled with fear.
"Do you have your car keys?" I yell out the door, as my husband leaves for work. "Make sure to hold Max's hand really tightly when you walk to the park... he could dart into someone's driveway as they're backing up," I text our Nanny, from the coffee shop that I have just arrived at.
I can't shake the gnawing anxiety that consumes me. It's been my constant companion since I was a child, crying rivers of tears in the back seat of my mom's car. I was paralyzed each day, as she tried to drop me off at school. I refused to get out of the car. Refused to go to class. I was afraid of everything, and there were very few places where I felt safe. Tonight, I'm wishing that I was nestled back into the worn leather seats of our old Volvo... because when the world spins out of control, I sometimes forget to breathe.
There is a 38-week baby bouncing painfully around in my stomach, and today the doctor looked at me with alarm and declared "This is a BIG one. I would not recommend a VBAC. Let's schedule a C-section for Friday."
My son Max sat next to me as the ultrasound tech moved a goopy wand across my enormous belly. "Hey! Doctor!" he yelled. "What that button do? Can I touch it? Can I see? Can I hold the wand?" Finally, he slipped his little hand in mine and asked "Mommy, can I sit up there with you?" Of course honey, come snuggle right here. He tucked his head in the tiny valley that curves between my belly and the bottom of my breasts, and sighed. The ultrasound tech looked wide-eyed at my other baby, the one who was floating across the computer screen, and announced "He has a really big head" and "Wow, that is quite a large tummy" as she turned away from us and punched in more numbers for her report.
"We'll need you to stay to speak with the doctor," she said cheerfully, as she ushered us back into the waiting room.
The doctor let Max staple the hospital orders together as I tried not to throw up. My repeat C-section is scheduled for 12 noon this Friday. "Max, do you have to go potty?" I whispered, as we walked out of the office. I was trying to distract myself, because I knew that when the doctor's words finally sunk in, I would be hysterical. "You can't have a VBAC. I don't feel good about it. Safety... skin-to-skin... I'm going on vacation this Saturday... we'll talk to the anesthesiologist."
I said OK. I listened to her call the hospital and give them my name. I called my husband and told him ten thousand thoughts in one rush of breath. My potentially 12-pound baby (with the enormous head) kick-boxed my intestines as my body tensed up. I stood up to go the bathroom and was sure that my water was breaking. Every kick to my bladder felt like a contraction. I imagined going into labor tonight, at the dinner table, with no doctor who I could trust, and no definite plan.
And then I called our doula. I told her about the measurements, and the looks of grave concern that I got as I was spread out on the table at the doctor's office. I told her that I was afraid of another C-section, and afraid that I was being coerced into something that was more convenient for the doctors and more risky for me.
What I didn't tell her, was that I am afraid of everything.
She talked me down from the ledge anyway.
"Your body knows how to do this," she said.
"Women birth big, sunny-side-up babies all the time," she gently whispered.
"It's your body, your baby, your choice," she said slowly. "You can always get a second opinion from a different doctor."
The tightness in my chest became more like a friendly hug, and less like a death grip. The world was still spinning, but more slowly. The bellowing monologue that had been playing on repeat mode all afternoon became a tiny bit quieter. Your baby will get stuck and his head will never move down and his heart rate will decel and you'll have labored for hours for no reason and you'll need a C-section anyway and you'll be awake while they cut you open and take your insides out and maybe this time they'll give you a Xanax first but not too many pain meds because last time it made you forget everything and then you couldn't breastfeed and then you got post-partum depression and then your marriage had to carry the burden of you being afraid of everything and your sweet Max just cried and cried and cried and oh my god how much I love him and what if I die on the operating table and never get the chance to hold him again. Last time was my fault, this was my fault, how could I ever forgive myself if I didn't at least try or what if I do try and something happens and I tear all to hell or have to have a C-section anyway or... oh my god. Oh my god, oh my god, I am so so scared.
Melissa, my doula, was still talking softly to me. And as I forced myself to tune back in to her words, I heard her say "There was a reason why you had a C-section with Max. He was breech. You had to. But it wasn't because your body couldn't birth your baby. You don't know that yet. You can still give your body a chance."
A chance. The world is spinning out of control, and I am terrified, but I still have a chance. I have a chance to birth this baby through a strong, capable, familiar body that knows how to free my tiny (or enormous) son from the darkness that he is enveloped in. I have a chance to trust my instincts. To trust that I am strong enough to make a knowledgeable decision. I have a chance to do this differently. To say no to an intervention that I am doubting. I have a chance to be guided by a birth teacher, a birth healer, a birth advocate -- and I know that she will help me to turn inward to find the courage that I have lost track of.
I am terrified, but I have had enough of being scared. I am sick of needing to feel the hot, sticky leather of the old Volvo against my legs as I try to disappear into the backseat. I am done with feeling the panic rise up in my throat and taking the "easy way out" just because I believe terror will beat down my door. Bad things happen. You can't prepare yourself for the shit in life by constantly running scared. If it's going to happen, it will. The rape, the cancer, the death and the pain, the divorce, the unfairness of it all. I can't stop it from happening by letting myself be paralyzed by fear.
This is my chance to change things. I will imagine that my baby is six slippery pounds. I will envision him slipping from my insides as I free him into the beauty of this world. I will not give up my right to try for a VBAC, and I will not be terrified about what my doctor will think of me. I will focus on the way that my husband's hair curls slightly at his neckline, as I am bowled over by a contraction. I will feel my 4-year-old's little hand in mine as his baby brother elbows his way into the world. I will lie back against the scuffed leather of that old Volvo, and actually listen to the voices that gently call me out of the car.
"You'll be ok, Kim," they'll say. "You can do this, Kim," they'll whisper. "You are not alone, and you don't need to be afraid," they'll remind me. And the fear will wash away.
When fear is gone, it leaves a huge hole for the courage to fill. It's a space that's almost as big as my baby, I think.