With All Your Soul: Grief & My Birth Story
Today's post is a guest post by Calah Jackson from the Naked Mom's Collective. Calah's powerful story highlights the many challenges that women of color face in our healthcare system today. As I read her story, I'm amazed at her vulnerability and strength. However, I'm equally struck by how different her story is from my birth stories as a white woman in American. I am left thinking about my role in this system and what I can do to change. Thank you for sharing this intimate story Calah! This post was originally published on her site HERE.
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Mark 12:30
Whew chile, my birth experience was no walk in the park. I debated sharing this. I really did. I’m still not 100% sure it won’t cause someone to feel uncomfortable, but hell, it’s truth and at this point in my life the rosy glasses I used to filter myself through don’t quite fit anymore.
I found out I was pregnant right on the heels of receiving news that a few couples very close to us had all experienced miscarriages. I remember sitting in the bathroom on the floor, nervously twiddling the positive pregnancy test in my fingers while crying on the phone to my mom. “Why would God choose now?” “Doesn’t He know how that would sting?” It felt like we were nowhere near ready for baby number two. We were still recovering financially from the hardest season we have experienced as a married couple. We were still recovering spiritually from the pain that came out of God closing the door on us being able to do ministry full time. Still wrestling with the whys of life and fighting bitterness. We were knee deep in recovery on all sides and here comes a curveball. It felt cruel. Like we would never get our feet on solid ground.
My pregnancy was physically and emotionally draining. He was a bigger baby than my first was so my body got tired easily. It became hard to walk and move at all in my third trimester. I had dizzy spells and night sweats. The physical hardship felt heavier when it was coupled with the spiritual heaviness I felt with turmoil in my family with broken relationships. I didn’t feel cherished and loved by God. I couldn’t see or feel Him fathering me. The hormones didn’t do much to help me see clearly either. The doctor’s office I went to was horrible. I never saw the same doctor twice even up until my delivery, and the statistics on maternal mortality among black women swirled in my head constantly. In moments of depression, I kept going back to questioning if God was really enough to get us through this? Did he really care about these lonely moments? Did He see me?
Labor and Delivery
Labor was hard. I was in labor beginning the afternoon of May 7th. I pushed and pushed and he was not budging. On May 9th, I couldn’t push anymore. After my epidural, I was having back pains from my neck and shoulders down. I was taken in for an emergency cesarean on May 9th. I vividly remember being in surgery and feeling the pressure of them taking my baby boy out. I remember yelling at the lady behind the curtain the whole time. But when my precious boy came around the curtain it was like looking at a miracle. He was the most perfect thing. I stared at him crying and telling him over and over “you’re so worth it, baby, you’re so worth it!” The doctors took forever to close me up and the pain of pressure of them putting my insides back and my body back together is still a memory that makes my eyes water. I looked at my husband and he didn’t know what to do. I was in so much pain.
Occasionally during the surgery, I would look over and see one random guy that had the kindest smile. He literally wasn’t doing anything other than nodding at me and mouthing “you got this” between his big smiles. Tears rolled into my ears as I looked at the reassurance on his face. When the finally rolled me out, he took my right hand and whispered, “you did it” through with his beaming smile. I went into recovery after that and I never saw him again. Call me crazy, but I honestly believe Jesus put him in that room.
After my recovery period, I remember being so out of it and family buzzing around trying to act like they weren’t terrified. I stared at my baby and thanked God for him. He was like a big gulp of air when you have been holding your breath too long.
After my cesarean, I suffered with awful headaches. That were only alleviated when I laid motionless, completely flat. When I first told my nurse about my headaches she brushed it off and said “a lot of c section moms have headaches”. It felt like more than just a simple side effect. A couple days went by and I tried to power through it. It wasn’t until a random nurse came in to check on me that we realized the severity of what was going on. She was attempting to have me sit up to check my vitals and I couldn’t look her in the face let alone hold my head up. My head and eyes felt like someone was beating my brain in with a hammer. The lines on the floor started to go dark and I thought to myself, “I’m going to be a static. I’m going to die.”
She pushed a button and rushed a team into my room. In the process, sternly asked my nurse why she hadn’t told anyone about my spinal headaches? That comment was what forced my nurse to also test and realize I also needed a blood transfusion…badly.
That was the first time in my entire pregnancy I heard a medical professional advocating for me. It took me falling into a desperate condition and the voice of a white nurse to make someone believe me. I shouldn’t have to convince health care workers that I’m telling the truth.
Being a birthing black woman comes with a looming fear if you will join the number of women who die while delivering or during recovery. The short of it, is while people like to believe we live in a post racial America, prejudice follows us even into doctor offices and birthing tables. It’s in the disbelief of our pain. It comes from the years, decades and centuries of forcing black women to endure. Enduring the gaze of people who didn’t allow us our innocence or girlhood. Enduring the pressure of being forced to be the strong black woman. Enduring so much that discrimination begins to take a physical toll on your body.
My doctors downplayed the severity of my pain just like many have before. Working through the anger and fear of not being believed just because I’m black is daunting. The vulnerability of knowing the stats is a mental toll. The fear of becoming one is almost paralyzing.
When there is the normal stuff that is stressful like adjusting to low milk supply, lack of sleep, and healing from major surgery, the last thing you need is a blood transfusion, three epidural procedures and the feeling like no one really cares about your life.
My family was a worried wreck, they were so scared. My poor husband wasn’t sleeping well and would just come over to me and touch my face. It still breaks my heart how scared he looked. It still brings me to tears to remember.
I was discharged a few days later. Still plenty of wounds and pain. With all of the pain, I was very unpleasant to be around. I was so angry at my pain that at times I didn’t realize the blessing of having that village who took care of me and my family. The amazing women from my church who came and picked Elijah up to wear him out at the park and splash pad. The men who checked in with my husband, who was having to swallow all his feelings because my hormones and I were using up all the space. My mom and MIL who took care of me from the crack of dawn. There were people who were there, don’t get me wrong, but the freshness of my pain was all I could see. It’s all I felt. My mental health was struggling. I was grateful, but very depressed and scared. Fearing I would never feel “normal” again.
When people would jokingly probe about if we would have another I found myself feeling angry and unseen. In such a simple, even well meaning, passing comment, about how cute a girl would be, they had unknowingly minimized and dismissed the pain I had experienced. They had poked the bear and being gracious in that moment felt like keeping that raging bear in a cage.
While I love vulnerability and openness, I do not believe that vulnerability means unbridled sharing or probing someone to share. Vulnerability is wisdom, honest, authentic and thoughtful raw truth. True vulnerabilty can’t happen without safety and that is something I felt stripped of during pregnancy. This is why people asking about more kids would make me feel unsafe, then defensive, then angry when this vulnerable topic was brought into an unbridled setting like small talk around people that I wasn’t comfortable with.
Grief & Guilt
The grief of having a plan, even simple little expectations or hopes along the way, then not being able to carry them out really hurt. For a while I would see people post about their amazing birth and in the midst of being happy for them, I felt a deep longing and sadness for a beautiful experience that didn’t make me cringe or cry.
I mean after all, I did have healthy babies right? Why was I so damaged from what in the span of my whole life was only a fraction of a fraction of time? It didn’t last long but the residual is still enough to gut me at a moment’s notice. I didn’t believe in the validity of my pain especially because I’ve seen other people that have been through so much worse. I felt guilt over my grief.
For me, the healing process didn’t start until I was okay with not being okay. Until a trusted Mama friend encouraged me to give myself permission to grieve. The stinging wasn’t quelled until I believed that God wasn’t scared or put off by my anger or sadness. He wasn’t measuring my pain up against the pain others and giving me the side eye for doing the most. It is still hard to believe that fully, but he’s present like an attentive friend hearing us out. At times it still feels unbearable to allow space to go back to that place and do the hard work of processing the pain. The mentality of being in survival mode surely has lasting effects and it causes you to press right up against a point where you don’t have the strength to heal it. The healer has to be someone bigger than you.
About seven months postpartum, in the middle of having a meltdown about someone asking if we would try for baby number three, I desperately reached out to an amazing mom friend who shared this with me:
“Most people don’t understand birth trauma and the permanent effects it has on our whole being. And when you also have a high needs baby and/or toddler, plus sleep deprivation and life stressors, it’s all just so raw and fresh. People will say ignorant things because they do not hold your birth experiences as traumatic since you took home two alive babies. People equate trauma with something really awful or death even when your experiences were both traumatic. You can’t look to anyone to validate that.”
Let all the mamas say, Amen!
I can confidently say, I have absolutely no idea what the purpose of all of that was. I do know that as hard as it all was, God’s grace was always enough and at no point was I enough. There was too much raw emotion, too much hurt, and too much to manage alone, yet He still chose to meet me in that place and be there with me.
Humans can take their pain and beautifully put it in a song, a poem, their work, or a blog post in hopes to express and resonate with others, but God takes pain and makes something completely new. God takes death and creates life. Only he can do that.
So, what do you do with pain? Don’t waste it.
There were moments I needed to reach out to people and some moments I just needed God, to know him and know He knows me too.
I didn’t want to read my Bible, but I was challenged by a friend to really read it for what it is and not try to insert my pain or needs into it. It was hard because we’re conditioned to think in terms of what someone can do for us, especially God and especially when we are hurting. In times I just showed up, with all my scars visible to Him, emotionally rattled and broken but desperate to know Him, he showed me. Healing and freedom wasn’t exactly the heavens opening and golden light shining down, but is happening little by little in Him showing me just how good He is. Questioning his goodness does not change the fact that He is. With Uriah’s birthday is such an appropriate time to remember. There is very real pain when I remember this experience but coupled with it is the kind of joy and comfort only a supernatural, all powerful, all knowing, mercifully loving and gracious, heavenly Father could give.
Over and over He’s shown me through His word that the place of pain and discomfort can still be the place of security even when there’s uncertainty. Grief is unstable. It’s not a secure place to put your identity or hope in. It’s heavy one minute and light the next. After all this, I thought I would never feel secure again, but what I kept forgetting was my security was never in anything but Jesus. My hope wasn’t in the bank account balance, ministry life, family, broken systems, discrimination, self care, or even in myself. My source of security could only be Him. The thing I didn’t realize, that I now fight to remember daily through reading His word and journaling, is that when you’re standing on Jesus, and Jesus alone, you are always on solid ground.
About the Author
Meet Calah. Jesus follower, worshipper, and writer, Calah, has become passionate about championing the power of vulnerability. She has merged her compassion for women, gift for writing, love of discipleship and studying the bible to create The Naked Moms Collective. Her desire is to see women free in Christ, never afraid to truly be vulnerable. This dynamic mama shares her life through raw and open writing that always leaves you feeling challenged, yet ready to trust God more.
Her witty and relatable posts are honest and bold yet always circle back to the true and only hope we have in the Gospel of Jesus. She joyfully shares her life with her amazing man, Christopher and two adorable boys. When she’s not writing, you can find her singing her heart out while leading worship at her church or somewhere under a cozy blanket cuddling with her babies waiting for it to rain like the quiet, introverted, pluviophile she is.