CW: pregnancy loss; traumatic birth
When they cut you open to take the baby out—her heart rate arrested, your cervix permanently stalled out at five centimeters, a pitstop of doctors and nurses and anesthesiologists converge, your body is no longer your body but rather a race car engulfed in flames, and it feels as if they are here to save the driver, not the spent thing with four wrecked wheels and a blown engine—your breasts don’t leak with milk as you always imagined.
There is no skin-to-skin contact with your newborn daughter. Instead, you float above the OR, watching your Plan B enacted because you are about to crash into the median. You see the wreck before it happens and the only control you can exert is what you say before they wheeled you in here. You lock eyes with your tired, stoned husband and command him—there is no time for asking—to hold her to his bare chest. To avert his eyes from you; to focus on her. To hold her close, no matter what.
Years later, when you re-read the birth plan, you ache for this sweet, deluded woman. The person who thought if she wrote an unmedicated birth down, then it would be so. You want to hold her from behind, link your arms under her breasts, to gently squeeze her ribs and the soft stomach that will never be the same.
All the times your mother told you how she would take hot showers to relieve her rock-hard breasts. You thought now that I am finally pregnant—a miscarriage, all the failed inseminations, the one hail-Mary cycle of IVF—I can coast. As the pain of this journey retreats, I will glow like a receding taillight on a dark summer evening, into a peaceful distance.
After the trauma of an emergency C-section, the milk still does not come to you or your baby because your body is in shock, it is still bleeding, so much so when the nurse helps you rock your hips from side to side to replace the bloody sheets beneath you, the look of panic on her face is evident to everyone but you.
But you are stubborn, and you keep bringing this baby to your breast. You keep telling her who you are, what you hope for her. You supplement with formula until she can latch. You rub soothing ointments on your nipples as if you are a well-oiled machine. And in a way, you are.
You nurse this child not because you have to, but because you are hell bent to show your body what it can do despite its hardships. You will never produce fountains of milk or stash a deep freeze full of “liquid gold.” You will produce just enough for your child during the three long years you nursed her.
You will set the pace. You won’t win any races but you won’t lose any either. You will not go down in flames.