[Editor’s note: This essay contains graphic descriptions about birth complications that might be triggering to some.]
Like many first-time moms, I had envisioned a beautiful, life-affirming birth experience culminating with that special moment when the doctor places your baby in your arms.
In my vision, I spontaneously go into labor. While I experience pain, some deep breathing alleviates it. When it is time to push, I instinctively know how because a woman’s body is built for childbirth. After only a few pushes, my baby girl arrives. Time freezes for a moment when I first see my baby and tears stream down my face. With pride, we take our first family photo together, highlighting a new mom basking in the glow of having just had a baby. My daughter seamlessly latches on my breast for her first meal. The day is capped off by our families bursting into the room with flowers and balloons as they gleefully admire our new bundle of joy.
Cue my reality.
Due to late-stage hypertension, I was induced at 38 weeks pregnant, preventing any spontaneous labor. Induction was a slow process, and no amount of deep breathing, laughing gas, or sitting on a medicine ball could minimize the pain I experienced during my medicinally-induced contractions.
After two hours of pushing and feeling like there was no end to it, my daughter was born. She let out a roaring cry, but some skin-to-skin on my chest soothed her. While I was grateful my baby was healthy and safe, my face reflected relief, not joy. Relief that I survived.
Birth complications ensued
After giving birth, I pushed again to deliver the placenta—but something was wrong. My placenta didn’t expel from my body, so my midwife needed to go in after it. Her hand reached inside my uterus through my raw, torn vagina to detach it. As I clutched my baby girl tightly against my chest, I could feel my midwife’s hand searching for the placenta.
After almost three days of labor, a twice-failed epidural, multiple Pitocin doses, and two hours of pushing, my body had enough.
I knew things were serious when my midwife said, “I think you should have someone else hold your baby.” My husband held our daughter as the midwife put her hand in my uterus twice more—three tries, endless screams, and still no placenta.
The intense pain and sheer exhaustion didn’t allow me to process what was rapidly unfolding. Within minutes, a team of doctors rushed into the delivery room. I didn’t have time to react when one doctor calmly informed me, “We have to take you to the operating room now to perform a D&C, and we may have to do a hysterectomy.”
I held my daughter one last time in case things went wrong. They wheeled me away just as soon as I gave her back to my husband. We didn’t even have a chance to choose her name.
The operating room was just as I imagined: cold and sterile, with white walls and steel instruments everywhere. Despite the many doctors and nurses in the room, the process was orderly with each person understanding their role. My midwife held my hand and explained the procedure, but I was too weak to comprehend. My legs ached from being in stir-ups, and I was so weak from not having consumed food or water for hours.
Thankfully, the doctors saved my uterus. Because the procedure caused significant blood loss, I received a blood transfusion. Pale and dizzy, I began breastfeeding my daughter. My doula helped me by expressing colostrum from my other breast. I was so hungry—all I could think about was eating, but I was restricted to ice chips for two hours following the D&C.
It turns out my placenta complications were the result of an uncommon condition called placenta accreta, where the placenta grows too deeply into the uterine wall. This condition is very rare for a first-time mom like me with no history of previous pregnancies—though it could happen again in future pregnancies.
It may sound silly, but it made me feel less alone when I read that Kim Kardashian had this condition during both of her pregnancies. I soon found other mothers with similar stories on Facebook support groups. Because placenta accreta is hard to detect during pregnancy and my pregnancy had been normal, I didn’t find out until delivery.
Addressing my anger and finding acceptance
In the weeks and months that followed, I had a crushing belief that my broken body betrayed me. My body was supposed to be built for giving birth, but it failed me. I struggled with depression and anxiety from the birth trauma and the conditions I developed from having a vaginal birth. I was obsessed about whether I should risk repeated complications if I decided to have more children.
I was angry that the birth of my daughter was associated with trauma and that this was my introduction to motherhood.
My lingering depression and anxiety forced me to seek help from a maternal psychotherapist to process my feelings. I accepted that while I did everything right leading up to and during my pregnancy, things still went wrong—through no fault of mine.
My body didn’t betray me. It created this new amazing human being that I now couldn’t live without. I endured a bad experience, but I survived it.
And one bad experience doesn’t mean that the next birth would be traumatic. Over time and through therapy and support from family and friends, I accepted my birth story—the good and the bad—and believed I could be well again.
Birth wasn’t the magical experience I had envisioned. But childbirth, like life, is messy, unpredictable, scary, stressful and complicated. Through my trauma, I realized that I was stronger than I could ever have imagined. Rather than idealize childbirth, I wish I had surrendered to its unpredictability. While my birth experience did not meet my expectations, having my daughter introduced me to the purest form of love.
For that, I am grateful.