I was featured in my friend's, and amazing photographer's, postpartum project (see here. If you haven't checked out the other stories, do that, too!) I was asked to submit my birth story, and had a rough draft typed up. But, in true month-of-may-hem-fashion didn't get the right copy to her in time. So, while the original post has my story, it doesn't have the details. It is truly a rough draft. Here's the full story I typed up.
There’s a home video we have of me, probably around 5 years old, sitting on a bucket, stirring mud in another bucket, pretending to make food for my family. The person recording asks, “who are you making the food for” and I replied “my four kids”. My husband and were (and are) high school sweethearts. We started dating when I was 15. We got married young, and knew that we wanted a large family. A doctor I saw shortly after we got married informed me that, because of some issues I had, it may take us a while to get pregnant. After we graduated college, we moved to Alabama and started trying to have a baby immediately. We were able to conceive our oldest, Olivia, the first month. Easy peasy. Unfortunately, her delivery was not so easy peasy. After months of contractions and dilation (yes, months!) I decided to get induced. My induction ended in a cesarean birth. It was a very hard birth for me, emotionally, and I felt so alone. Alone during the surgery, after her birth. Alone when I was in recovery, shaking uncontrollably, while my husband was with the baby, the nurse doing her own thing, and her not in a mood to answer my crying or questions. Alone. Scared. Broken. But, her delivery was the start of something special. I figured that there must be some sort of support group for someone who had gone through what I had, so I went to the library to get on the internet (this was the dinosaur age, in 2005, when we didn’t have home internet- or cell phones capable of using the internet.) I found a local ICAN group and went to a meeting. It was that group that not only helped me find my desire for a VBAC, but that started nurturing my desire to help women not alone and scared. I walked into my third pregnancy’s first prenatal (we lost a baby between from a missed miscarriage), told my doctor I was going to VBAC, and that was that. My VBAC baby, Austin, was born 16 months later, in the summer of 2006. While it is rarely that easy for other woman, (something I’ve witnessed countless times as a doula) it was fairly uncomplicated for me. About a year later, we were pregnant again. My husband and I both were in complete shock. We were dazed for a few days, uncertain if we could handle a very spirited 2.5 year old, a busy and verbose 1.5 year old, and a new baby. The uncertainty leveled itself out and we started to get excited. We always planned to have a large family, and wanted our children fairly close in age. We lost the baby. While my husband was out of town on travel, I miscarried our baby. The guilt was overwhelming. Crushing. I felt, subconsciously, I had some how caused the miscarriage, or deserved the miscarriage, because I wasn’t immediately excited when we first found out. The ache from that baby’s loss was intense. It also created this strong desire to plan to have another. To actively try to have another baby, because we were now READY. We had made a space in our hearts for our third living child, and felt empty with out him/her. We went on to lose 4 more babies over the course of the next two years. We transferred to an RE, tried various protocols, took supplements, injections, and ever pregnancy held my breath the pink lines showed up and didn’t let the air out until we lost the baby and my breath turned to sobs. If I could sum up those years in one moment, it would be this one: It was nap time for Olivia and Austin. I was laying in my bed, facing to the right, towards my curtains. My stomach was in knots, then revolting all together in nausea, then knots again. I had blood drawn that morning to see if my HCG levels were rising or falling. The previous two draws were showing slow growth, which was not hopeful for our baby’s life. I was in this in-between place of dread and grief and hopefulness. I prayed. And prayed. And prayed. I remember begging God to save my baby’s life. I bargained. I pleaded. Then I got the call. My baby was dying. I felt alone. Scared. Broken. I curled up, in my bed, held onto myself, tried to disappear into my grief. I couldn’t breath. Couldn’t remember how. My sobs shook my entire body until I had no tears left, but then I somehow cried more. Throughout those years, I felt so broken. More broken than I had ever felt in my entire life. But, it was also in the middle of all of that yuck, muck, and suck that God spoke into my life more intensely about becoming a doula. (Which, if I’m honest, is so absurd that it could ONLY be a God thing.) It was hard. I was constantly faced with my grief over what I “didn’t have”. But, God is good and showed me that it was what He was asking for me to do, regardless if we had another live child or not. I took my doula training in April of 2009. Coincidently, or not, the same month we got pregnant with our keeper baby, Isaac. I slowly started taking clients. I can’t pretend that I got pregnant with him and everything was unicorns and butterflies. It wasn’t. It was a hard pregnancy for me. I was riddled with anxiety, all the way up until his birth, and beyond about his safety. If you’ve ever wondered how our emotional state affects labor, I would use Isaac’s labor as an example. My longest by far, longer than my first VBAC, and I was scared the entire time. I was so excited to have him here, after he was born, but so scared something was going to happen to him. I had nightmares about him dying. I had a ton of guilt of feeling so nervous when I had prayed so hard for a baby and God had given him to us. I started running as a way to deal with my anxiety. I had never been a runner before, but I loved how “measurable” fitness was for me when I first started. I could see my progress. It felt good to know that I could do hard things, even if it was a little bit at a time. I ran my first 5k, then quickly signed up for a 10k. Then I got pregnant with Eliza when Isaac was a year old. Unassisted. Zero complications. I actually ran through most of her pregnancy. (That girl came on her own time, quickly, furiously, wild and that’s pretty much how she’s been since birth.) I went on to run a 1/2 marathon, with an injured knee, and I am currently training to run a tough mudder this year. Somehow, somewhere, in the middle of my daily life, a husband, 4 kids, a new business, a new love of fitness, God was healing me. Healing my broken heart. Continuously mending my broken heart. I use my c/s scar as an example of how my grief has changed. If my grief was my scar- when it was first healing, every second, every breath hurt. It was a struggle to move without pain. To lean over, to climb stairs. As time went on, it got easier to move without intense pain, easier to do daily activities, but if I did a sit-up or a push up, it hurt, if I poked and prodded it, it hurt. Years passed, and the scar itself is still there. 11 years later, if I lean up against a counter too hard or something presses against it, there’s still pain. It will be with me as long as I live. (In fact, my bird tattoo is a memorial for our lost babies.) My business really took off after Eliza’s birth, as I was able to take more clients. I don’t know how to explain any of it, except to say it wasn’t me, and isn’t me. I pray that God uses me as His hands and feet to help women not feel alone, scared, or broken. Genesis 50:20: “You intended to harm me but God intended it for good.”
Tracy Abney is a certified birth and bereavement doula serving Huntsville, Madison and other parts of north Alabama.