extreme reality

Posted by on September 18, 2006


Last night I stayed up late reading The Essential C-Section Guide. This book is telling me everything I need to know, but one fact that hit me hard was this: the rate of c-section births in the U.S. is over 25% of all births. I’ve seen another statistic that said it got up to as high as 29% last year. That’s more than one out of every four women. If you went around asking first-time pregnant women in their first or second trimester whether or not they expect to get a c-section, I doubt that one out of every four would say they expected it or were preparing for the possibility. I certainly was not. This makes for a huge chasm between expectation and reality, and women fall through this chasm emotionally and suffer from depression and anger after having the unexpected happen to them. I’m starting to suspect that a person’s expectations may be the most telling thing about what they really believe– the worldview they hold. I’m suspecting that to be a holy person is to continually try to align your expectations with the reality that we live in a wretchedly fallen, crappy world.

Another quote from the book which supports my suspicions: “Can having a c-section make you more prone to postpartum depression? Research from one study conducted at Alliant International University-California School of Professional Psychology in San Diego involving 107 women showed that those who had unexpected c-section [italics mine] were most likely to experience symptoms of depression when compared with women who had the planned c-sections or vaginal deliveries. Interestingly, among the three groups, the planned c-sections reported the fewest symptoms of depression.”

It sounds like women who know what to expect are better off, even if they’re going to have a more negative experience. This made me think: now that I know I’m having a c-section and have a chance to adjust to the idea, it will be hard, but it will be o.k.. The adjustment for me has been huge, but I’m working hard at making it nonetheless, and making it quickly before tomorrow. Before I knew about the breech problem, I was looking forward to labor as if it was going to be like a surprise slumber party. I wasn’t concerned about the pain or potential complications, because I was naively assuming that my labor would go off like clockwork. This was, in my little head, I’m ashamed to say, a foregone conclusion. I even skipped the childbirth class that was devoted to c-section births. My doctor kept calling me the ideal patient throughout my prenatal visits. I was confident and trusting in the strength of my body. Now I see that I was overly confident, and setting myself up for potential disaster. I was forgetting that my body is in fact a fallen body, and forgetting the inescapable clause of human fragility. For all I know, if I had gone into labor without anything intervening in these expectations, things could have gone badly for me and made postpartum recovery even more difficult emotionally than it will be now that I can know pretty well what to expect.

I’ve sobered up. I’m expecting to feel drugged and shakey the first day. I’m expecting to have no abdominal muscles for several more days; for it to be difficult to laugh, cough, change positions in bed, and go to the bathroom. I’m expecting to be weak and sore and to have a really hard time nursing. All of these are facts. I can only hope that the baby will have no complications, which is still an unknown variable.

The book says to take something from home to personalize your hospital room. I’m taking the Icon of Extreme Humility with me to prop by the bed. I’m looking at this icon as a picture of reality in this world, which mercifully, I haven’t managed to escape unscathed with my stupid expectations intact. I’m starting to believe that salvation for me involves God saving me from my own childishness and forcing me to grow up and join the human race. Tomorrow, I will become the one out of four. I won’t be able to maintain my prior illusion that strength and health and all things “natural” and “normal” are in the bag for me. But I don’t think I will fall into depression either.

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  1. Charlie Brown
    September 18, 2006

    Ah, the icon says it all. I am honored to be able to watch Julia grow up into an adult. How do we humans/Christians get the expectation that we can expect the Cross before the Resurrection? But, yes, it is all, all, all about expectations. And, I think that Julia is beginning to align her expectations with those of Life.
    Charlie Brown

  2. Courtney
    September 18, 2006

    Good Luck Julia! I knew about my c-section from about 7 months on since I had Placenta Previa. It was a hard reality to accept, for sure. But my recovery period was not as bad as I thought. I think the hardest part was not being able to drive anywhere by myself for a few weeks. But when I think back,I wish I had taken more of that time to sleep instead of being so antsy to go out and do things! Best wishes on the baby.

  3. Erin
    September 19, 2006

    Julia, you guys are in our prayers today, and we wish we could be closer. Can’t wait to see the pictures of Baby Wickes!

  4. Nostalgia
    September 19, 2006

    Oh, Julia!

    This is so so touching, and so beautiful and so you.

    Please, keep bloging, as I’m dying to know about the baby.

    Much love!

  5. anna j
    September 20, 2006

    I’m speechless–and grateful that I saved this post until I could read it wholeheartedly. Doing so just now has made me weepy with the joy of knowing you, Julia–you are beautifully you, and I too am honored to get to be somewhat involved in the past 10 years of your life [it took me a minute to figure out it’s been that long!], as you have been a Godsend of a life-enriching friend.

  6. Jenny
    September 21, 2006

    Julia,

    I was so moved by this post. I love the icon in your hand. When I was in labor with Anna it helped me so much to think of Christ on the cross. I kept thinking, how do women survive this if they don’t have the cross to cling to?

    And then, of course, it was Pascha after she was born and everything seemed so white and pure.

    I think that the chasm between reality and expectation is the place that every mother falls into. Childbirth is just the beginning of that! For me, motherhood has been a fitful surrender to an evolving reality that never matches my expectations.

    Anna is five today, and I imagine that you’re holding your little one in your arms. I can’t wait to see the photo online.

    Jen