n. a mental condition that occurs when a person perceives themselves to have done wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not.
Yes, Survivor Guilt. I have it. No, I don't feel guilty about experiencing two natural births, nor do I believe there was anything for me to "survive" in those experiences. My guilt comes from my medicated births and my perception and vocalization to other moms that induction, epidurals and episiotomies would leave you (basically) unscathed.
The birth of my first child, a beautiful baby girl, was great - or so it seemed at the time. I read zero books and my only research was what I read via weekly pregnancy updates from a website. The website explained how things should progress each week and gave me some information about what I might expect at a hospital. However, it did not go in depth or explain risks or options that I truly needed to consider.
My birth decisions were ultimately made through conversations with a family member who told me how awful the pain was and that I would "need" an epidural. Oh, and that I could get myself induced QUITE easily when I was sick of being pregnant. All I had to do was go to the hospital, get hooked up to some monitors and tighten my belly as much as I could every five minutes. The monitor would *think* I was in labor, but when I didn't progress, I would be given a wonderful dose of Pitocin to get my labor going. (Note - Yes, I am smacking my head on the table as I admit to following this advice. I DO NOT recommend that anyone try this!).
Six days before my due date, I went for it. Five hours of Pitocin labor, an epidural, and an episiotomy later, my baby was born and I was completely happy with the outcome. I had survived my Self/Medical Induction. My nether-regions hurt pretty bad, but I thought it was normal. My baby was healthy and I was no longer walking around being miserably pregnant.
This is where my Survivor Guilt story begins. I became the family member who preached FOR everything that I'm against today. When my sweet cousin, Courtney, became pregnant, I shouted from the rooftops how easy it was to get induced and how wonderful that epidural was. Unfortunately, her experience didn't turn out quite like mine. She has given me permission to share her birth experience:
"Well I am not sure my brain will ever recover from the loss of brain cells it has endured through the birth of my four sons. BUT I will try to get it jump started and remember all of the gory details I can.....
December 22, 2003...a long night of NOTHING. We (I mean my parents and I) were in Lubbock, we ate at Logan's Roadhouse, and ran through the mall. I was certain my water was 'leaking' so I went to the hospital to be checked out (since it was an hour drive home and back if that became necessary). I walked into the hospital at 9:30 pm feeling NO PAIN. The nurses hooked me up to monitors and a Dr. came to check me out. I was having contractions and dilated to 4 cm. At 4 cm. they keep you (they did me anyway) regardless of your hope to go home and wait it out.Because it was almost Christmas and the Dr. did not want to come back the next day, they decided to start pitocin and break my water to speed up the whole process.
The pain kicks in now and it is serious. They would not let me eat, drink, walk, go to the bathroom, or move for that matter. I was FLAT on my back in a bed with and IV and MISERABLE. At 7 cm I gave in and begged for the epidural (approx. 1:30 am). I was given the epidural and could not feel one side of my body from the waist down but I could still feel the other. I let them know but it did not seem important. Eventually the other side went numb and I couldn't move anything. I rested about 30 minutes and then the nurse checked me and said ok time to push.
I had no clue what to do or how to do it and I couldn't feel anything. I tried and tried to do what I was told but nothing happened. The nurse finally called the Dr. in and told her we were ready. She kept trying to get me to push but nothing happened. After about an hour, she sent a nurse for the vaccuum saying we needed to get the baby out. I asked if that was a good idea or dangerous with no response. She used it 'successfully' and Logan was born at 3:40 am on the 23rd.
The Dr. went to work repairing the mess that was left behind. I had a fourth degree tear from one end to the other that took about 10 stitches. It was bad enough that the Dr. sent the nurses to get a 'bigger thread'. After the birth I could not move. I had to be wheeled to my new room and was unable to get in and out of the bed for half the day. One of the new shift nurses realized how bad my tear was and dug an old heat lamp out of a closet saying it might help.
When I finally could feel something I attempted to go to the bathroom where I was in immense pain, began vomiting, and passed out. I could not move for another couple hours and was on serious pain meds so breastfeeding was really not an option for the first day. Even sitting up made me ill. The effects of the epidural. I was required to show proof of a bowel movement (which was killer) and then I was released with sitz bath stuff (a way to clean myself that did not require wiping) and a pain med prescription.
At my 2 week follow up the Dr. had to put two stitches in because of them ripping out. At 6 weeks they were still not healed and gone (dissolvable). I managed to breastfeed some but because of pain meds he was not able to get much and it made that process very hard."
This makes me sick :(
Reading it, I feel the sting of guilt. No, not a sting. A stabbing sensation of guilt - for having survived my own kids' births without being debilitated by a 4th degree tear.
I know, I know. The story would have likely played out this way with or without my boasting of the epidural - it's the nature of today's American birth culture - a sad reality. I hate to say this, but I STILL went on to have two more highly medicalized births. What changed my perspective on birth was that Courtney went on to have THREE natural births. Positive experiences across the board, besides a small tear with her second child due to the scar tissue and inadequate healing time after the first birth. She went on to say,
"My natural births were so easy and I did not need time to recover so to speak...I already was...the baby was out...LOL! With Logan the medication robbed me of the entire joy and experience of having a new baby. I could not do anything but focus on my recovery. It was like having a surgery and I needed 6 weeks of bed rest before doing anything - even lifting my own child.
The epidural was not for me. I would have a natural child birth 1,000 times over before I would ever have wisdom teeth removed. That was by far more painful of an experience in my book. And yes if I had another baby I would do it natural all over again!"
I still feel guilt and regret. Why was I spared?? Luckily, her experiences inspired me to do more research. Of course, more guilt ensued when the research clearly showed that I had given BAD BAD BAD advice! Then I was insipred even MORE! And when I became pregnant with my 4th child, I prepared myself to face hospital policy. I prepared myself for the actual birth and armed myself with a doula to help me achieve the goal of natural birth. And when it was amazing, I realized that I was a freaking birth-junkie-warrior-goddess who was going to hire a midwife and have my 5th baby at home!
~Whew~ Sorry, I got a little worked up there.
Let me take a step back to explain how exactly my recovery experiences changed just by going the natural birth route:
1st Baby - pitocin, epidural, episiotomy, a week-ish of moderate sensitivity to my perineum;
2nd Baby - same as 1st
3rd Baby - (my smallest at birth, BTW) pitocin, epidural, and a natural tear from pushing baby out at rocket speed - 3rd degree tear - extremely painful for about 2 weeks;
4th Baby - unmedicated, slight tear, no stitches, easy recovery;
5th Baby - unmedicated, breech baby, tiny tear, no stitches, easy recovery
The truth is, with the right information and preparation, pretty much any woman can be a warrior-goddess when they give birth. What women (and even men) need is education. Research based information, folks!! I want women to know that birth injury is generally avoidable! It's what got me motivated to become a Birth Boot Camp Instructor! I still feel guilt over surviving my medicated births, but I have peace knowing that I can help other women to avoid the circumstance of birth injury through natural child birth.
And Courtney, thank you for inspiring me. I love you!