My Traumatic Birth Experience Changed My Daughter's Life
Words and images by Chelsey Herrera
After closely monitoring the past several weeks of my pregnancy, at my 39 week check up my physician discovered I was already four centimeters dilated. He explained that we could do this today, or we can wait until Wednesday. That the decision was up to me. His calming voice brought me such ease; I felt it was my decision. Being the biggest I had ever been in my life, I of course opted to get this baby out of me as soon as humanly possible. I submitted, and without hesitation, he went inside me and stripped my membranes. I resigned to being a convoy at that point, naturally and anxiously awaiting the minute I’d meet this girl I had spent months talking to through the screen of my skin.
Her left arm was completely and totally limp when that minute finally came. She had one droopy left eye, a wrung out chubby hand, and baby fingers that felt like jelly, rolled up like a waiter's tip. I could pick up her arm, let it go, and it would instantly drop to her side. Her nerves were severed from her spinal cord. She definitely would not bounce back from this. Newborns are already fragile when there’s nothing wrong with them, but I quickly picked up that my newborn was super extra fragile. This injury is called Brachial Plexus Palsy (BP), or Erb’s palsy. It can happen with big babies. She has one of the worst documented BP injuries in an infant.
Does anyone ever really explain the birth situation and the million ways it can possibly go? I mean, what a disservice by our medical community for moms. Just having to trust your gut. Since that dreadful act of gut-trusting, I’ve tightened up my reactions and now employ an examination of feelings. I edit the dialogue in my brain when I think back to this time, maybe to change my mind about him, maybe to feel like there’s something I can change in myself.
Why do I trust this man (physician), because he is talking in a calm voice? Why does a calm voice assuage me? Does a calm voice indicate a seasoned, well-versed knowledgeable doctor or does it just mean I can trust him with my long list of first-time-mom concerns? Does a calm voice mean he knows what he’s doing? Or that he’s really good at reeling in young, unsuspecting moms? Hold on, am I unsuspecting?
Sadly, my gut was that I could trust this man. But the following string of events proved otherwise. Stripping my membranes, going through with the induction, and the delivery; my figurative gut took a turn for the worse. I knew then I had made the worst decision yet. I believed in someone because their voice was calm (maybe because in my own life it was lacking). In true first-time-mom fashion, I trusted a stranger with my daughter. Shame on me, right? I had been in a hospital bed for more than 12 hours, pushing for 6, when I finally saw him for the first time since he’d stripped my membranes. He calmly and gently affirmed he’d get her out, though I begged the restless room throughout the night for a c-section. He put his fingers inside me, filling himself up to his elbows while her head crowned between my legs. Within milliseconds, he twisted her head about, yanked her neck out, and paralyzed her. Just like that. I roared a long-winded murderous scream, so loud and full, that I know a part of myself died in those seconds.
This was an experience that you absolutely don’t want to happen. But you know it needs to happen in order for you to move on. So you get on board with this person who’s earned your trust, only to get fucked and lose yourself. I imagine you can see where that story is going-- but for some of us like myself, I didn’t even know that what happened to us that morning actually happened to me, too.
I learned he had been deceivingly striking, in all ways imaginable. Beginning with his voice and ending with his handling. I became a wraith, addicted to misery and feeling sorry for myself, and for her. I wanted so badly to be a light for her because she was for me, and what was ahead of me was, and is not, for the faint of heart. So much time I had spent saying something like “okay this is actually happening, but I don’t really feel like it’s going to happen yet, but okay, let’s go with it [because I trust you.]”
The indecision, lack of research, the going with any name on the list of providers because they’re free to you sort of thing, another great fail. That was one of my earliest regrets: not educating myself enough because I was in this big gray area of life. Also, it’s hard asking for help, or simply for more ears to hear you out. I probably have some sink or swim mentality that I could blame on my parents. I have to take it all on, bare my whole soul to the violent unknown. I should’ve just fucking asked for help.
Now, at a whopping magical 4 ½ years old, her course of care is best described as an outdated van with various mechanical issues, full of lively people, going uphill. This van has young, vivacious, smart, passionate people who are hopeful at the beginning of their trek but as the years go by waiting to get to the top, their spirits lose edge and become dull. At some point, the level of understanding ends, and we’re expected to move on and live a normal life even though we’re changed by it, and everything is obviously different. Except that everything is different but also nothing is different, because this is a different kind of trauma, I think. This is the emotional collateral damage.
I hope that in years to come, she won’t feel compromised because of me. She’ll feel loved for all that I put in to making her closer to the way she was originally created. We don’t get to pick what wrecks us. So at least she’ll see that I bear this scar with her, and be at peace knowing I never put her in harm’s way, the way he had.
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Chelsey is a Phoenix native, recording photos and notes of mostly intimate moments in life.