A Note From The Editor: On page 82 of Darling Issue No. 12, we announced a call for submissions that tell your story and spark the creative process through word. Over the next month we plan to feature several of these submissions here online. Today we’re excited to reveal our very first selection. It’s a piece that simultaneously invites you in while encouraging you to step out and into the stories of those around you. We hope you enjoy.
She went into labor at 41 weeks and 4 days. She was determined not to rush this child, even though the thick, sticky heat of July was wearing on her.
Upon arrival at the hospital, she slipped in to the tub, and her husband pulled out his guitar to strum and sing soft words of encouragement. Labor progressed slowly, but her water broke on its own, and contractions started to intensify. After 12 hours of labor, at 8 cm, she was in so much physical pain, and so mentally exhausted, she asked for an epidural. Every contraction was still strong, but the intensity lessened, so she could actually breathe again. The improved relaxation helped her get to 10 cm, and then her body moved to push. She was delighted, and stared in to her husband’s eyes, already feeling relief.
They were going to make this happen.
After 45 minutes of pushing, a doctor came in. Her doctor had been pulled in to a scheduled surgery, and he was taking her place in the interim. He introduced himself, and then delivered heart-breaking news. Each push was causing her baby’s heart rate to drastically drop, no matter the position she was in. He recommended a C-section. Now.
She broke in to heaving sobs, asking for time. Could we watch progress before making this call, she asked.
Minutes count, he said.
Resigned to this fate, she pressed her lips together tightly and nodded. The room burst in to a flurry of activity; nurses showed up in an instant, one asking her questions she can no longer remember, another tossing scrubs to her husband, yet another conferring quickly and quietly in the corner with the doctor. They rushed her to the operating room, where neonatal was already waiting.
When Audrey was born, she didn’t cry. Her mother was in an emotional and physical daze of anguish and blood loss, but clearly remembers the guttural panic in her husband’s voice when their baby was lifted out of her body. Why isn’t she crying, he pleaded, begging for mercy.
The sweet newborn wail sounded moments later, as the team unwrapped the umbilical cord from her neck. It had been wrapped three times around; she had been choking her daughter with each push to bring her to outside life
The operation seemed like an eternity as blood flowed from her body, and surgeons put the pieces of her back together.
In recovery, she found herself to be without feeling in her legs, and with limited arm movement. The need to medicate her quickly for surgery left its mark on her beat up body. As feeling returned, she gently pressed the soft, swollen flesh on her stomach. The unnatural exit point from her body left a crooked warrior scar. Her heart was battered.
She had to grieve her plan, her hope.
She had a very physical scar that caused walking to be painful, and laughter to make her clutch her wound. When she returned home, after too long a hospital stay, she had to gingerly walk sideways up the stairs. She was incapable of carrying her daughter in her car seat, unable to drive for weeks and needed help to sit up in bed.
Her other scar was not visible to her family. The grief was overwhelming in those first days and weeks. She had tried so hard; done everything she thought she was supposed to do. She had exercised throughout her pregnancy, rested her body when it showed signs of fatigue and eaten colorful, wholesome meals multiple times a day. Her one craving was beets, for goodness sake. She waited and waited for Audrey to come in her timing; she would not let her be rushed. And yet the very thing she desperately did not want, happened. A team of medical professionals cut her open and pulled her darling daughter out, robbing her of the intimate connection of cradling her against her chest in her first seconds on the outside world.
She was devastated. And like the trauma to her core, she had to heal. She had to care for her emotions, letting them bleed a sad song at times, spending time cleaning up the edges on other days. She had to make a conscious choice not to allow her circumstances to steal her joy, but to instead be present and intentional in the pain.
As she was attempting to be present in her pain, weeks after the birth, and as her body had begun to heal, she found herself weeping in the shower. She was angry with herself. She had this perfect, healthy daughter. Her husband was wildly supportive. Her friends dropped off vegetarian meals daily. Her body was slowly returning to a more familiar, healthy state. What more do I want, she asked herself.
She was exhausted. Sleep was broken nightly. Her daughter often needed food only she provided. When she desperately needed sunshine, it was pouring in the morning.
As the months passed, she found herself slipping away. She couldn’t sleep, dreaded the sound of a needy wail and didn’t have the energy to cook, which is her favorite activity. She walked around her house in circles, bouncing her teething baby, feeling alone and lost.
She was absolutely terrified she would mess it all up. A normally confident person, she was now hyper aware in social situations, constantly feeling awkward and criticizing herself later for something she had said. She felt uninteresting, unworthy and void of her usual positive energy. She knew someone would figure it out; behind the happy pictures, she was lost in postpartum depression.
Whether the wound is internal or external, a result of our actions or simply something that has happened to us, we must make efforts to return to a state of being whole. We cannot expect to mend without playing a part in the journey. Some days will require our heart, our mind and our body. Nearly every thought and action will remind us of our deep need to heal. Other days, many hours will pass before we remember we have a wound at all. Seemingly little effort will be required to rejuvenate our complex, human state. In either case though, we must put forth the effort to inhale, exhale and be present.
She crawled out. She made it to her daughter’s first birthday, and now her second, because she recognized the damage of her hidden scars, and because those around her listened to her cry, gave her hope when she couldn’t see the light and held her close in her darkest hours.
The woman is me. She might also be you, or your friend, your colleague, your neighbor. We all have scars. Sometimes you can see them, but more often than not, you can’t. Next time we move towards a sharp tone, a judgment, a frustrated sigh, let’s remember that we all need to be restored. The grace and kindness we choose to give might be what helps her get there.
Images via Gillian Stevens