For two weeks leading up to my son’s birth, I would wake up crying, having dreamt I had died giving birth. I never had dreams like this with my first two children, but these were so vivid, that I begged my husband to videotape the birth in case something went wrong. I was scheduled to have a Cesarean section on February 11, 1997 at seven in the morning. The thought of an early morning surgery made me happy. This meant I would not have the stress of anxiously waiting all day to be split open like a pig after the slaughter; unfortunately, the events of the day did not go as planned, and my miracle child would not come into the world for another five and a half hours.
It was very important to me to stay awake for my C-section, so I could witness the birth of my child; therefore, I did not want to be put under with general anesthesia. First, the nurses attempted to give me an epidural, which is a supposedly, somewhat simpler and less evasive form of anesthesia. “Supposedly” being the key word. The nurse had me arch my back, as if I was a double jointed contortionist in a circus act, and yet hold completely still while she inserted a needle around my spinal cord into my lower back. I had always heard how an epidural was the best thing invented for pregnant women, but I was shocked at how painful it truly was. It felt like someone was hammering a nail through my big toe. The purpose of the epidural was to numb the area below my stomach in order to perform the C-section, as they said my recovery would be much quicker than if I had received the spinal block I had with my previous two children.
Once the needle was in place, they inserted a catheter into my back so the numbing medications could be given to me periodically throughout the surgery. The next step was to have me lay there until I started numbing up, and then they would wheel me to surgery. About 20 minutes later the nurse checked on me, and she found that I was still not numb, so she administered more medication. She repeated this two more times to no avail. The weird part is that my legs were completely numb as if I was paralyzed, but I could feel every poke and prod on my belly, as if I was their own personal voodoo doll. The doctor assumed that I must have had so much scar tissue from my previous surgeries; therefore, it may have been blocking the medication from getting where it needed to be. They said they would have to take me to the operating room and give me a spinal block after all.
The anesthesiologist was waiting when I arrived. Spinal blocks are not an improvement in the pain department either, but by this time, I just wanted it all to be over. I remember lying on the table like a side of beef prominently displayed in a meat market window. The room was extremely bright with stainless steel everywhere, and there were people circling my table peering down on me like a lab rat that had failed to escape. They told me I needed to lie on my right side and rolled me over like a helpless, injured seal that had washed ashore. I had to keep my right arm extended out to monitor my blood pressure. It is crucial to remain still during a spinal block, or a side effect can be excruciating spinal headaches that make a migraine feel like a spa vacation. My legs were still extremely numb, yet I also started having contractions, and had no way of controlling the movement of my body; there went any chance of staying still. My mom told me if I was ever modest, I would lose this modesty in child birth; yet, I do not think she had ever experienced such a loss of self than I did lying there, like a naked slab on that operating table, unable to flee the degradation of public violation. The anesthesiologist was able to insert the first needle into my spine, but again, like the epidural, nothing happened. She tried again and again and again; seven times to be exact. My arms were covered in tears, as I could not quit sobbing from the enduring trials I was being subjected to. C-sections are never an easy operation, but I was a human pincushion going on five hours of painful prodding and was gradually losing hope. The doctor looked at me and said he thought they should take me back to my room and try again the following day. I cried out “No!” – delaying the surgery would be too much for me and I begged them to try again. As a result, they paged the head of anesthesiology, who could have done the spinal block blindfolded. He walked in the room, inserted the needle one more time into my spine, and almost immediately my body went numb, but this time my entire body was asleep from my chest down. I now understood how a stroke patient must feel. I was entombed in my own body and had no control or sensation. They decided to act quickly while I was still anesthetized. Minutes after they sliced into me, I started choking and could not breathe; my throat was now numb too, and I instantly realized the horror of suffocating by my own tongue. I tried to cry out, but I felt like I was in jeopardy of swallowing my tongue, and I was unable to communicate the horror I was experiencing.
My husband was now next to me, but was no help to me either. Within minutes sensation began to return to my throat and I could breathe again. I would learn years later that I had been over medicated, which caused my throat and tongue to go numb. I then asked the doctor to explain to me about what was happening, since this was my third child, I thought a play by play would get my mind off my fears, and time would pass by more quickly. He said I know this is a cesarean, but your son is so big that we are having trouble getting him out. They informed me they would need to use suction to pull him out, and needed me to try and push. Even though I was numb on the outside, I started feeling what was happening on the inside. This was frightening at first, but then I embraced it, because I thought this would be the closest I would come to a natural birth; maybe that of an alien birth, but still a natural birth. When my baby son came out, he was beautiful, and I realized that everything I just went through was so worth the precious life I was gaining. The nightmares would now be a distant memory because we had both survived the birth, and therefore, I sent my husband to witness my son being weighed in the adjoining room, as the surgeons finished sewing me up.
What a relief! As I breathed easy again I was struck with the most painful sensation. It was as if someone had reached in my belly and grabbed my organs, and pulled them as far out as possible, and suddenly let go, releasing them from a sling shot at a speed of a hundred miles an hour. I heard myself screaming for help. From deadness to extreme pain was more than I could bear. The doctor calmly reassured me that due to all of the pain medication, my organs were shutting down, and I swear I heard him say the pain I was feeling was from them knocking my uterus on the table to revive it, but that they had it under control. What? I could not understand what was happening, but before I could ask anything else, the pain quickly subsided and was suddenly over.
The pain had been silenced, and I felt a peace I had never experienced before. I watched as the nurse weighed my beautiful new baby in the room next door. He weighed nine pounds twelve ounces and was 21 ½ inches tall. My husband stood their video taping everything for me. Next, I watched over my two older children sitting at my friend Diane’s kitchen table playing cards seventy miles away. My three year old little girl sat there in her adorable French braids, short bib overalls and little freckles all over her face, while laughing with her older brother, now seven, who loved to entertain and watch over his little sister, and this day was no different. I tried to call out to them, but everything started to fade, and I felt myself floating further and further away. I was weightless like a feather gliding through the air with the aid of a soft summer breeze. I did not have a care in the world. I wanted to linger there forever, and bask in the warm rays of the sun. As I was drifting away, I was jolted and quickly remembered my three beautiful angels waiting for me to take care of them. What was I doing? Where was I going? Please Lord, do not take me away and separate me from my innocent children, I frantically thought. You above anyone else, I cried out, are so aware of the monster he secretly is, please do not leave my helpless babies with him.
That was the last thing I remember before waking up in the recovery room. My eyes opened to two nurses hovering over me with huge smiles at the sight of my eyes flickering ajar. To say I felt like I had been run over by a 40 ton eighteen wheeler would have been an understatement. They continued to inform me my organs had shut down, and for a little over a minute I had died on the operating table. Fortunately for me, the surgeons did there job and were able to revive me. I was so grateful at being alive; I never again questioned what happened that day until years later.
Recently, an OB nurse I know said that the anesthesiologist probably over medicated me, and then when I started choking on my tongue had no choice but to pull back on the numbing medications, only to back out too far to the point I began to feel my own surgery. She said she has been in surgeries before and the patient awoke and could feel everything; she then concluded I was most likely minutes from bleeding out and dying, so they would be left with no other choice, but to put me completely under, so they could focus on saving me. The nurse’s explanation of my one-minute death went along with my out of body experience. I do not know if I experienced a second chance from God, but no one to this day can explain how I was able to know what my baby weighed and measured before anyone had the chance to tell me; or the whereabouts of my other two children, and how they looked and were dressed. Both of my visions were true upon verification to the very last detail.
As I lay in recovery contemplating the events of the day, I found myself very grateful to be alive, but I was also haunted by my cry out to God, begging him to save my children from the fiend that was their father. I do not know at this point in my life if I had ever acknowledged my feelings towards him. I had always blamed myself for his abuse. He worked too many hours. The kids were too loud. I was not attentive enough to his needs. He always shouted that if I did not always think that life revolved around the kids and me, he would not have to be so angry.
My marriage had been shaky since the time my husband put a ring on my finger eight years earlier. A ring symbolized ownership to him, and from then on, he thought he controlled not only his own life but mine as well. It seems so simple looking back, but abuse is never simple, and not as easy to see as people may think. There’s an analogy about a dog, which is locked in a kennel day in and day out. The dog is starved and beaten almost daily. Three years after consistent neglect and abuse, someone sneaks in and opens the kennel gate and runs away. No one else is around; the dog can run; yet, the dog stays still. Why? The dog knows nothing else. How does the dog know the world on the outside is not even worse? When a woman, a man, or a child are in long-term abusive relationships, they do not see them as abusive relationships; they see them as their reality. What else is there? They have been beaten down so much; they start to believe their abuser’s insults and degradation. If there are children involved, it is even worse, because it is too risky for a woman to run from her abuser, and risk the man having alone time to torment her children, so it is easier to sacrifice herself, for a chance at a better life for the future of her children.
This is how I saw my married life. Every time I thought about running, something would happen in my life that kept me from leaving; my pregnancy with my youngest son was one of those things. I had been preparing for months to leave my husband when I suddenly came down with the flu; a flu that never ended. Finally, because my period had not arrived, I bought a pregnancy test to rule it out. I could not be pregnant, as I was using three forms of birth control. I had just quit using the birth control shot Depo-Provera, and immediately, started birth control pills; yet, I still insisted on my husband using a condom just to be safe. As sick as it may sound, no matter how much I hated him and wanted to escape with my children, I wasn’t allowed to say no to sex, or I risked him hurting my other two children; therefore, I always gave in, but I took lots of precautions. My newest son decided he was not having it, and made his way into this world, despite my safety measures; what a blessing in disguise he has turned out to be.
Three years earlier when I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband brought home the cutest chocolate lab. I might have been more open to this gift if we did not already have a five-year old Chesapeake Retriever, a small house and yard, and I was eight-months pregnant with my second child and suffering with Toxemia on top of that. I was in no position to take care of and train this sweet puppy. My son fell instantly in love with the puppy and quickly named him Charlie. Charlie loved us, but was still unhappy from the beginning. He wanted to run and play non-stop, and if he were not getting constant attention, he would begin barking non-stop, even at night! I was so tired and tried everything to get him to stop, but he would bark and bark and bark. I was miserable, my son was miserable, and even our other dog was miserable. One night we had friends over, and my husband over heard me ask our friends to find a farmer for Charlie to go live with. It was not Charlie’s fault. He was full of puppy energy, and he deserved the right to live in a home where he had room to run and play.
My husband spoke up and said he was so sorry that Charlie was so unhappy, and that was never his intention, so while I was having our baby, he said he would find Charlie a farm or ranch to live on. I was stunned that he was being so sweet and understanding, and I have to admit I was so relieved. A few weeks later, after just giving birth to our daughter, my husband came to the hospital and said he had good news; I would never have to worry about Charlie again. I said great, did he find a ranch for him to live on? His eyes became very cold and he said he definitely found him a place in the country. I asked what that meant. He glared at me and said he drove Charlie outside of town, shot him between the eyes, and buried him, so I would never be bothered by him again. My horror turned into tears. As I was sobbing, he told me to shut up, he did not want to do it, but my whining had left him no other choice. We never mentioned it again. Down deep I hated him, but I had just given birth to my second child and had nowhere to go. Maybe my friends and family would agree with him and blame me for Charlie’s death, so I saved them the time and blamed me too.
Right then the nurse came into recovery to take me back to my room. But all I wanted was to find my son and get the hell out of there. That also proved easier said then done, because later when I woke up in my hospital room, my baby was nowhere to be found. My husband was asleep in the chair beside me, and I yelled for him to wake up and tell me where my baby was. He said our baby had started running a fever, and they moved him to incubation in the nursery. The nurse heard my screams and came running in the room. She tried to calm me and reassured me he was okay, but due to my catheter, IV, and the fact that I had just survived major surgery that I was in no condition to make a trip to the nursery; and she added that my son could not be moved from the nursery to me. She did offer to take my husband to see our child, to prove he was okay. I told her this was not good enough and I kept arguing that my baby needed me. After giving me a condescending eye roll, she exited with my husband in tow.
Twenty minutes later I heard my husband arguing with the nurses, explaining he knew I would never give in until I could see my son for myself, but they replied that was not possible. They obviously underestimated the love of a mother. At that moment, I pushed through the nursery room door, hunched over, holding my catheter in one hand, and my IV in the other, with a trail of my bloody, laden footprints following me down the long corridor, demanding to see my son. The shock on their faces was priceless, and once they understood there was no reasoning with me, they negotiated a solution to appease both of us. I was informed there was an available room across from the nursery, but the problem was that it was for outpatients only; therefore, if I moved into it, they would bring my son to me for feedings, but I would not have nursing care for me. I had read that all a baby hears in the womb is the constant sound of their mother’s heartbeat, and if they are sick, the best way to soothe and heal them is to lay them on their mother’s chest so they can be close to her heart. I insisted as long as he needed to be in the hospital that is where he would be, so I took their deal and was able to spend the next five days with my baby at the hospital. My husband told me if I took this deal, then I was on my own, and he would be returning home to our other two children. I agreed.
I was very sore from the surgery, but having my son asleep on my chest took my mind off the pain and instead brought me peace and tranquility, the same peace and tranquility I felt when I was floating to the heavens during my surgery. But this serenity became short lived. Later that night, I started to become hungry and realized the nurses had never brought me in food during the day. When they came to retrieve my son for the night, I asked them when dinner was. They laughed and said “Remember you are an outpatient now?” No nursing staff, no meals, but I was more than welcome to order in. After they left, I grabbed my purse to see how much money I had and found it empty. My husband had left me without a dime to my name.
How would I survive the next five days and have enough nutrients to feed my baby? I called my husband immediately and told him my predicament. He clearly said I made my choice, good luck with that and hung up. Again I laid there in shock, which led to tears, and then to a realization, I was all alone. As I thought of a solution, I remembered when I was an in-patient the nurses would go down the hall and bring me back unlimited amounts of Jell-O, instant soup, and juice. All I needed to do was find that survival pantry. After putting on my bathrobe with the huge pockets, I spent the next hour attempting to navigate my walking skills.
When the nurses saw me in the hallway, they immediately asked where I was headed. I informed them the walk would do me well, to build up my strength. Every step I took was a constant stab to the belly, but I trekked on searching for the elusive pantry. After going down one hallway and turning the corner twice, I spotted the pantry door. Leaning against the wall to rest, I waited patiently for the nurses to clear the hallway. As soon as the coast was clear, I went into the closet and quickly filled my pockets with as much bounty as they could conceal. I continued these missions for the next three days, living on Jell-O, chicken noodle soup, and cranberry juice. Not once did my husband check in on me or on our son.
Day four I awoke to an incredible headache. It hurt to open my eyes, and it was as if a drum corps had snuck in my head and was competing to see who could beat their bass drums the loudest. I started to cry, but it made my pain worse, so I laid as still as I could, praying for God to take away the pain. The door opened and the hall light pierced through my pupil like an ice pick to a block of ice. The nurse began to wheel in my baby for his morning feeding. Gritting my teeth, I told her to take him and leave. She just kept coming closer. Again, as the drums beat harder in my head and the light blinded me with pain, she kept coming towards me. My voice rose and I firmly told her to take him and leave. She said, “for days you have gotten your way and now you don’t feel like taking care of your own child?” I screamed, “GET OUT, AND GET OUT NOW!!!” She realized there was something wrong, and took my son quickly back to the nursery and rushed back to my room. She called for a doctor to come quick. The doctor was horrified to hear how I had been surviving for almost a week on Jell-O and juice, and was not receiving any type of healthcare. He instantly readmitted me to the hospital and gave me an IV filled with medication to relieve my excruciating pain.
In the weeks following the spinal headaches, I also ended up getting hemorrhoids, and then hives, as a follow-up gift from all of the stressors my body had been through due to the surgery. My husband’s job granted him a three-week father’s maternity leave, so that he would be able to care of me until I healed. This would have been an amazing gift if my husband had used it for that purpose. Instead, he worked outside building himself a welding cart for work, and left my care in the hands of my seven-year old son.
I wish I could say life improved after that, but I was finally able to escape with my children 10 years later. There are days I wish I could go back and open that kennel gate, and yell for my younger self to grab her children and run. I would tell her that she’s beautiful and a wonderful mom, and that she can survive without her husband’s daily deprivation and abuse. My children and I will never get those years back, but my youngest son’s birthday is an invisible measuring stick of where I have been and how far I have come. Currently, instead of needing that kennel gate opened for me, I am now working my hardest to open that exit gate for all of the other emotionally and physically caged women in the world. Every human being, no matter what their gender, sexual orientation, color, religion, culture, and so on are valuable and should never be treated otherwise. I hope one day to live in a world where we respect and love each other for our individuality instead of the current world I see, where we tear down people who refuse to conform and fit inside the box. Uniqueness is what makes our world beautiful, we just need to stop, look around, and soak it in because no matter what abuse my ex-husband put me through, I will continue to see the glass half full, and learn from my past, while thanking God every day for the three beautiful children he blessed me with and for the ability to now use my experiences to pay it forward; no one deserves to live their life inside a kennel. No one.