Betsy DeVos. The refugee travel ban. The Syrian War. Trump/Bannon. Alternative facts. The war with the press.
It’s just so much that it nearly paralyzes you.
Then part of you thinks, Hey, it will be okay. Things will work out. They always do. Let’s just see what happens.
To that voice in your mind, I say this:
Fight like hell.
Fight for your life.
Fight for the future of this country.
Don’t listen to that voice. Don’t be lulled into thinking that things will take care of themselves.
This country is bleeding. We are bleeding.
It’s true that if we’re healthy, the bleeding will stop on its own. But does it seem like we’re healthy? And if you feel like things are okay, are you blind to the signs that you see from everyone else?
Do you see the pain of others or do you blame them for their pain? Or worse, do you belittle their pain?
Do you realize that you are bleeding? Or will you allow yourself to bleed until you’re too weak to fight anymore?
I’ve been thinking a lot about blood loss in the past few days.
Just a week ago, I suffered from a postpartum hemorrhage.
I was afraid something like this would happen. I even wrote about it in my book, Becoming Mother. Dissatisfied with the difficulty of having an unmedicated labor in a traditional hospital setting, I decided to give birth in a natural birthing center attached to a hospital for my second birth.
Sometimes, people would ask me if I would ever be interested in a home birth.
Here’s what I wrote:
To lose that much blood moves your mind into a place of limbo, caught somewhere between reality and dreams. Awareness and unawareness. The physical and the spiritual. You become light. Hazy. Detached. Almost as if you’re drifting off into sleep.
But it doesn’t feel quite right.
It feels like you’re leaving something behind.
Let me take you into those moments just after it happened to me.
At first, it’s uncontrollable shaking. I’m so, so cold. Nurses cover me with heated blankets upon heated blankets, but still I shake and shake. Then, the weakness. I can barely lift my head from the pillow. The nurses won’t let me walk to the bathroom, so it’s the bedpan for me. Once. Twice. Three times. Four times. With all my strength I push my hips up so the bedpan can slide underneath me.
When they finally let me stand, each of them takes an arm and helps me to my feet. They tell me to look up, not down. They ask me if I’m ready and I say yes.
“Actually, let’s wait on that,” one of them says. “Your lips are blue.”
Then, the fogginess. I can see my husband talking to the nurse, but I don’t immediately understand their words. My understanding is on a several-second delay. The nurse tells me to drink the entire contents of a giant plastic cup of water. I don’t know what to do with it until she puts it in my hands. Using both sight and touch, my thoughts finally click into place. I should drink this.
My husband asks me if I want to eat. I say yes and he hands me the menu. I hold it for a moment, my eyes seeing words that I know are food, but that I don’t understand. Turkey hot shot? What is that? Salmon… is a fish. Salad… Vegetables. Side items are… oh, like fries. Dressings… are for salad.
The menu falls against my face and I doze off.
But when the food arrives, I eat like a mo-fo.
My husband feeds me bits of burgers, fries, carrot cake, cheesecake, salad, juice, more juice, water, soda, salmon, broccoli, pizza, waffles, sausage, fruit cups, and more. I eat it all and with each bite, a breath of life comes back to me. My mind opens and clears. Voices make more sense.
I feel myself coming back.
The next day is deceptively good. The happiness of new life and the excitement of going home overshadow how hard it is to walk and move from one place to another. I tell myself that I’m already doing better than after my first birth. Look at you move! I praise myself. I didn’t tear this time, so I can sit (mostly) comfortably.
I continue to eat and eat and eat. Chicken, kale smoothies, lamb, mushrooms, baked potatoes covered in butter and salt, granola bars, bananas, apples, thick peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, spoons of peanut butter straight from the jar.
It makes sense later on, this hunger. For fun, I check my Fitbit stats during labor. Look at this.
I know what you’re thinking. The peak must have been during the pushing phase.
You. Are. Wrong.
That period of peak heart rate happened when I started to hemorrhage. As blood poured out of me, my heart pumped more and more blood to keep delivering oxygen to the tissues and cells that were under attack.
It began after I delivered the placenta. My midwife noticed the bleeding wasn’t slowing. She massaged my uterus. A nurse gave me a shot of Pitocin in my right thigh. Another nurse was prodding my left arm, trying to get an IV started as my tiny veins rolled and rolled. I apologized to her as she stuck me and dug and dug and dug for the vein. Stick after stick.
When the Pitocin didn’t work, the midwife gave me Cytotec.
But I kept bleeding.
The nurse finally got my IV threaded. Pitocin and fluids entered my veins.
But warm blood kept flowing out of me.
If you’re cringing in pain, don’t. All that bleeding was completely painless. My body sent me no signals that I should fear it.
What my body did feel were all the people trying to save me. The nurses, poking and prodding me with needles and IVs. The midwife grinding and massaging my uterus to help it contract. It was those who were working to keep me here that I protested against. My body didn’t understand that those pains were signals of my salvation.
I asked my midwife how much I had lost so far.
“500 ccs is what we usually want to see… You’re probably at 1,000 right now.”
And I kept bleeding.
More uterine massage. I groaned. I moaned. I looked for my baby, but I couldn’t see him. I heard my husband talking and figured that he was the one holding the baby.
I must assure you that I wasn’t afraid when any of this was happening.
I just had a baby.
I had climbed the highest mountain I had ever attempted in my life and I had pulled both of us up by fingernails of sheer will and grit. This birth was nothing like my first, which had been a thirty-six hour humbling of body and soul that felt more like spiritual possession.
No, this birth was a struggle. From beginning to end. This birth was a seemingly impossible task that required me to engage and confront over and over again. (Don’t worry: I will write more about this later.)
So as I lay there on the bed, painlessly bleeding life out of me, I was not afraid.
What I was feeling was relief. Peace. Profound gratitude. Love. All covered with the surprise that I had just given birth to a boy.
Then, finally, the drug that works: methergine.
The seriousness of what had happened to me did not fully set in until the next day. My husband told me that he could tell from the expressions on the nurses’ faces that the situation was getting tense. That we were probably only minutes from a true emergency.
But hey, I had come through and I was fine. Right?
All’s well that ends well. Time to move on and forget about the whole thing.
After all, I had another hurdle to overcome: establishing breastfeeding.
But just like the last time, inverted nipples and poor milk production have their way with me. Every few hours, I try something new. In the beginning, I use a nipple shield while my husband drops formula from a syringe onto the shield to encourage our baby to not get frustrated and continue to feed. Sometimes, my husband feeds him with a bottle while I pump. Sometimes, I just pump between feedings. Then, I try to get him to latch without the shield.
I don’t realize it at first, but I’ve started to lag behind in my eating and resting.
It’s not something I do on purpose. It happens naturally as my mind focuses on what we can try next to continue breastfeeding.
Then comes the Dreadful Day Four Postpartum. The day when my body starts to register the absence of my placenta, which just days ago was flooding my body with estrogen and progesterone. But now, like a baby rooting for nourishment, my body cries out for that hormonal lifeline that is no longer there and will never return.
This is when the shit hits the fan for me.
At first, I’m doing okay. Marveling that I’m not the sobbing, crying mess that I was with my daughter. After my first birth, I would be tearful and weepy all day long. But it’s different this time. I tear up every now and then, but I’m mostly composed and collected. Is it because of some different hormonal cocktail that I’m experiencing because I had a boy instead of a girl?
But at the end of the Day Four Postpartum, I’ve decided to stop breastfeeding. I climb the stairs to where my baby boy is sleeping in the bouncer, and I have to stop to catch my breath. My Fitbit reads 116, 115, 117, 114, a fat-burning heartrate. I hold onto the walls and allow my breathing to slow.
Then I see his face and it’s over.
The crying starts. The choking sobs build and I don’t make an effort to push them down. I close the door and let it out. All of it. I let all of the thoughts surface. All of the memories of when I stopped breastfeeding my daughter come forth, as clear as the day they happened three years ago. I let them come and talk to me. I let every doubt and fear and reassurance express its voice.
I don’t deny myself the right to feel any of it.
These are my emotions and I’ve learned that I need to let them out.
One voice says:
You shouldn’t give up yet. We have so much breastfeeding stuff! Pillows and the pump, nursing pads and bottles, lanolin lotion and nipple shields. Your milk is coming in this time. Give it a chance!
Another voice says:
You did all you could. It’s okay. You know he’s going to be fine. You know it. And fuck anyone who even subtly holds this over your head. They don’t understand.
But the loudest voice of all says:
Sharon, seriously. You cannot do this again. Your body cannot go through that hell again. This is the last baby you will give birth to and hold and care for. Don’t you dare rob yourself of the joy of enjoying your child.
That final voice is right. I know it.
But, God, it still hurts.
I call for Doug and he holds me while I cry. But now the afterbirth pains have skyrocketed because of the weeping and I’m moaning in pain. Doug leaves for a moment and I’m in the bathroom, feeling a tiny stream of blood falling from me. And when I stand, a golf ball sized clot falls into my hand.
That blob of jet black jelly now stains my skin blood red.
I call for Doug.
But it gets better.
The next day, I’m relieved that the weaning has begun.
But then the tiredness has returned. At the baby’s first doctor’s appointment, the pediatrician comments that I look really pale.
In the car on the way home, I review my hospital bloodwork that was drawn on the day after the birth by accessing my on-line records. My hemoglobin and hemocrit are way down. I read a brochure about life after a postpartum hemorrhage and I understand that I need to take this more seriously.
I need iron. I need to eat and eat and eat. And rest and rest and rest.
So I do. Eating and resting is what I do.
After I make breakfast, I’m completely spent. So I eat and sleep. Then I rise and I shower. I sleep again. I get up and eat lunch. I rest on the couch and talk with my mother. I sleep some more. I eat a huge snack and I sleep again. I let my friends bring food and I eat and eat more. I sleep.
I do not do the dishes.
I do not do laundry or even pick up my clothes.
I don’t take out the garbage or get the mail.
I forget about any plans to go on a walk anytime soon.
Instead, I conserve and gather my strength.
Every time I eat, I feel life coming back into me. I feel my body swallowing life whole and absorbing it.
I feel reconnected. I feel my mind hook into awareness and reality.
I start to crawl back to the living.
This is what I want you to understand about blood loss: it doesn’t just get better on its own.
You have to know that you are not okay. But to know that you’re not okay, you have to rely on more than just your instinct to respond to pain.
Bleeding is painless. It’s the wound that hurts. It’s the attempts to stop the bleeding that hurt. And once the bleeding is over, you can still be slaughtered by it if you don’t equip yourself with enough armor for the battle. If you spend too much of your energy preoccupied with things that don’t ultimately matter, you have halfway lost that battle. And once you realize that you are too weak to fight, it will be too late.
Right now, I am tired. I am weak. I am worn.
Right now, I’m fighting to bring myself back to independence. Part of it is because I didn’t appreciate my own condition. Part of it is because I neglected to understand my own limitations. That instead of pouring energy into nursing, I should have been strictly eating and resting.
Right now, I fight for myself and for my son and we are slowly winning. I look down at his face.
And I think, we are going to be okay.
But not because things naturally become okay.
Far from it.
We will be okay because I’m recognizing and engaging this weakness and tiredness. I’m conquering it with food, food, more food, and rest.
I am not sitting back and assuming that my body will naturally take care of itself.
This is a struggle.
The same is true of our country. If we sit back and assume that our county will be okay because God blesses the USA and screw everyone else in the world, we are in for destruction.
Things don’t naturally become okay. We need to work for it.
But when I read the news, do you know what I see?
That’s right. Hope.
I see so many of you fighting. Protesting. Calling our senators and representatives. Even my husband now has Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown on his speed dial and is planning a group meeting to sit down to talk with our U.S. House representative.
Many of you are responding to the pain of watching your rights and freedoms threatened. The right for every child to access good public education. Freedom of speech. Freedom of the press. The right for every American to have health care.
These battles are good and just.
But we need to vigilantly search for the ways that we are painlessly bleeding.
Where is our attention and what are we missing?
Men, do you fight for women’s equal pay?
White Americans, do you speak out against racial profiling?
Cis-gender Americans, do you squash the laughter when someone points at a transgender person?
U.S. citizens, do you fight to create a welcoming environment for those who are fleeing war and systematic killings on par with the Holocaust?
Christians, do you seek to understand your Muslim brothers and sisters? Or do you paint them all with the same broad brush of suspicion?
Which wounds do we not feel or see yet?
When you can’t see your own wounds, you need to be willing to hear when others tell you that you need help.
Because we need you. We cannot afford to blind ourselves from the truth of what is happening.
Because we are fighting for this future.
We are fighting for this planet because, in the end, this is what we truly leave behind for our children and grandchildren.
We are fighting against insatiable greed for power and the deceit that feeds it.
We are fighting because we see ourselves in those who are fleeing war and displacement and fear.
We are fighting because we understand that it’s not such a crazy reality to imagine that we could be the ones who are fleeing next.
We are fighting for the future.
This world still smells like everything I hate
But I’m learning to love, ’til that’s just not the case
And all my friends, they feel the same way too
We look inside the mirror, and all we see is you.
The water’s still rushing and the blood is still gushing
From the wound you left inside.
My eyes have seen the glory of your love
And I won’t turn back this time.
No I won’t turn back this time.