When I sat down with Carrie Ann and Owen, she immediately began to tear up. Dabbing at her eyes with a tissue, she started to apologize. “Really, I'm so sorry,” she said, “I'm really okay with all of this. I know it doesn't look that way. We live in my in-laws basement, we can't have another baby right now. I have an eight month old at home; we don't even have a place of our own to live.”
She took a moment and dabbed at her eyes. “I had a cesarean for my baby. She's just eight months and she's beautiful but...” She trailed off. “I'm just so scared to have another surgery. I know that I have to be put asleep and...it's just really scary...”
My gut said that this sadness not about this pregnancy or this abortion at all. “Carrie Ann, tell me about when your daughter was born.”
“I read every book,” she said, “I started as soon as I found out that I was pregnant. We did all these classes. We did the Lamaze classes, then we took the Bradley classes, you know, the ones for the husband so that he can be the coach. We were gonna do it together.” She was weeping as she told her story. “Then, I was at my due date and nothing, no contractions, nothing. We practiced so much. A few days later, I thought my water had broken, so we got all the bags and went to the hospital and when we got there, her heart rate, it kept changing, going up and down. They didn't even let me have any labor. We didn't know what was going on, it was just doctors saying it was an emergency and bright lights everywhere. They just stripped me down and shaved me and the next thing I know, they took me into the OR. Owen was there, but he didn't know what to do. I was all doctors I didn't know and I couldn't feel anything.”
"That was really scary for you,” I confirmed.
“Yes, I just know that it's going to be like that again! We had practiced so much and we both just froze. I know that he feels bad too. We were supposed to be there for each other and we both just froze. He thinks he really let me down. Maybe I blame him a little bit too, that he couldn't do anything. I know that she's healthy and that's supposed to be the only thing that matters, but I didn't even get to have any contractions...this thing, you know, it's been like a wedge between us...and we practiced so much....” Owen kept his eyes down the whole time, nodding occasionally and hardly adding a word. He was clearly hurting too.
I told her sincerely how much courage her birth must have taken. It was not the one she was prepared for and she still got through it. “You know, today is different. It's not an emergency. We can take our time. It seems like you're really scared about being asleep.” She nodded. “That's the worst part,” she said.
“Carrie Ann, maybe this sounds crazy, but we don't have to have all those elements that are scary to you. Your birth was really scary and I don't want today to feel like that. You and your husband spent all this time practicing your relaxation techniques together. I know that it's not exactly what you'd practiced for, but what if you were awake for the abortion, rather than asleep? Many women compare the feeling of the abortion to working through one contraction—it takes about the same amount of time as one long one. When you had your birth, you didn't have a lot of choice in what was about to happen. It was an emergency and you did what had to be done to help your daughter. Maybe you could use this as an chance to use what you learned about in your Lamaze classes. It could be an opportunity to work together in a different way and really be there for each other, like you wanted to be when your daughter was born. This time you're in control. Maybe this could be something healing between you.” She considered this quietly for a moment. They looked at each other and then slowly nodded.
The day got really busy and I was in with another patient when Carrie Ann had her surgery. At the end of the day, I checked in with our nurse. “How did Carrie Ann and Owen make out?” She hadn't heard the story of Carrie's cesarean birth yet. “You know,” she said, “they did just great.”