Resisting the voice of fortune-telling perfectionism
One of my greatest challenges has been the voice of “fortune-telling perfectionism.”
There’s your usual voice of perfectionism: Could have done it better.
Then there’s what I call “fortune-telling perfectionism”: If you’d only paid more attention to begin with and strategized about all potential possibilities and prepared for them, then you really could have done it better–in fact, you probably could have avoided XYZ big problem.
So in other words? The fact that you experienced XYZ problem? Totally your fault.
In the minutes after I learned that my daughter was both big in utero, and in a breech position, fortune-telling perfectionism was wildly at work.
The BIG baby
“Your baby is breech,” the nurse said.
My mind took a moment more to compute this. On the one hand, I knew what “breech” meant and my brain could compute that the word “breech” was not a great word, but definitely a better word than horrible words like “stillborn.” So, okay, baby is alive–her head is up and her butt is down instead of head down, so she’s breech, but she’s alive.
The nurse confirmed this. “Oh, yeah, everything’s okay,” she said. “I don’t see anything on the ultrasound that is of concern.”
Then she added, “But you’ve got a BIG baby.”
And with that, things were pretty much set. I was officially Kate, with the breech BIG baby. The BIG baby who was unlikely to turn.
On the drive home, I called my husband. I cried. I immediately got on the internet and started researching: there was acupuncture, moxibustion, chiropractic stuff to align your pelvis, full-tilt inversions where you were practically upside down.
There were things you could DO.
That momentarily made me feel better. There were things I could DO! All I’d need to do is DO all of The Things!
Then that all started to fall apart, because…well, shit. I had thought I already HAD been doing all of The Things.
My entire pregnancy, I had prided myself, rather self-righteously, on not using pregnancy as an excuse to over-eat nor to kick back, “take it easy,” and never exercise.
In fact, my eating habits had actually never changed–I never felt hungry enough to “eat for two.” In the first trimester, I had craved bacon on several occasions and indulged, but my weight gain had been completely normal, gradual, and consistent with a boring, routine pregnancy.
Furthermore? I was taking 3-mile walks several times a week with my husband, with the first 1/3 of this 3-mile walk looping up the steepest hill in our neighborhood. Prior to getting pregnant, I used to do run intervals on this hill, and now I power walked it, determined to have a fit pregnancy, especially after I read (because oh, how I read and thumb-nailed and bookmarked and underlined and read some more) that women who exercised during pregnancy tended towards fewer complications, shorter deliveries, and–hey, no arguments, here–babies with a higher I.Q.
And really, I exercised because I’m one of those weirdos who likes to exercise, and if I couldn’t continue to train for a half-Ironman (which I’d been doing before getting pregnant) then a sweaty, cardio-thumping uphill walk that had been ok’d by my practitioner was just the ticket.
Fortune-Telling Perfectionism At Work
I thought I had done enough fortune-telling to plan for all possibilities–to make it perfect.
I had planned for a natural birth. I had arranged to work with a midwife and had purposefully sought one out who was older and who had been delivering babies since before all of the technology. I had bought the Hypnobirthing book and CD. I had read about all the stages of labor. I had identified the yoga poses most likely to open my hips and pelvis. I had watched Orgasmic Birth and The Business of Being Born and even the extended Business of Being Born AND I had read Ina May Gaskin’s acclaimed Guide to Childbirth AND her book on breast-feeding. I knew what Pitocin was and I was prepared to refuse it.
I was crystal clear that I would never have a c-section unless it was medically necessary after a heroic attempt at natural labor, and I was even prepared to bring with me, to the hospital, a list of things that the doctor would have to point out to prove that it really was medically necessary.
But–now that I was Kate with the breech BIG baby, the voice of “you should have planned for this” kicked in.
There were some times where I’d had chocolate or piece of cake after dinner (gluten- and dairy-free dinners of salads, lean meats, cooked vegetables, home-made bone broth soups and stews, quinoa…).
Now, perfectionism kicked in: I should have planned for “What if the baby was a BIG baby” and never eaten those things; my diet should have been perfect.
There were times where I’d skipped going on my 3-mile walk. I was trying to get my business tucked away so that I could be 100% available to Kid Courage when she arrived.
The voice of fortune-telling perfectionism sighed heavily and pointed out that I should never have skipped those walks. If I hadn’t skipped those walks, maybe I would have gained just slightly less weight and the baby wouldn’t be a breech BIG baby.
The baby being BIG was, of course, all my fault.
You Can’t Win at that Game
Oh, and!–the biggest thing I’d done wrong was that I should have checked out the whole breech thing, sooner.
It had never, in a million years, occurred to me that I might need to have a c-section because of a breech baby. But it should have should have should have, said the voice.
The voice of fortune-telling perfectionism said that somehow, I should have directly and specifically asked: “Did the baby turn?” I should have somehow known to ask that question, and asked it early.
Again, you can’t win the game of fortune-telling perfectionism. After a few days of trying to Do All of The Things, grieving the loss of a “birth experience,” and avoiding reading anything about c-sections in the hopes that this would mean I’d never have to have one, I felt emotionally wrecked.
There are a whole host of different interventions and things that you can try in these cases; I don’t want to debate them, here, or get on a soapbox about hospital policies around breech births, or exchange email debates with someone about how I could have had a natural breech pregnancy and it’s okay and on and on…
That’s not why I’m writing this (and believe me, I debated all possibilities). I’m sharing this because the game of fortune-telling perfectionism hit so, so hard. Its message:
Somehow, you should have known better and planned better.
I wasn’t winning at that game. I saw one alternative: I could give up the game, entirely.
I talked to a few trusted people about c-sections. Uniformly, they all expressed the same things that I was feeling: sadness and regret that they had not had the hoped for birth experiences that they’d fantasized about. However, they added, once the whole thing was over and done with, the magnitude of baby in arms had pretty much erased how much they cared about the delivery method.
Turns out, holding the love of your life in your arms pretty much trumps a 40-minute procedure where you’re numb from the tits, down.
I also ended up finding out that my mother was 9 pounds at birth; my niece was 8.5; that my sister knew of a friend who had gained exactly as much weight as me and delivered only a 6-pound baby.
So, maybe this wasn’t “my fault.” Maybe I hadn’t “done this to myself” by “not being careful enough” about my weight.
So I went within, and asked myself: Kate, what’s up, here?
What was up was that I was really attached to a fantasy.
I say that I was attached to a fantasy because the truth was, I couldn’t know with any absolute certainty that one method of delivery was necessarily going to be better for me or the baby, than another.
After all, there were plenty of traumatic “natural birth” stories out there. There were plenty of people who had volunteered their unsolicited advice throughout my pregnancy: GIRLFRIEND, GET THE EPIDURAL. These women seemed to feel about their natural birth experiences the way I feel about vegan cheese: It’s bullshit; don’t believe them when they say it’s okay.
(P.S. I have mad love for vegans–just not for vegan cheese).
Birth is a tricky, controversial thing. I knew that I didn’t want to be part of that paradigm of unnecessary c-sections.
At the same time, there was absolutely no way for me to “fortune-tell” through this one.
Here’s what I did know: I needed to make a decision, and I wanted that decision to be rooted in trusting myself and trusting my daughter. If she wasn’t flipping, it was for a reason. I couldn’t know the reason, but I felt certain that in her own way, she did.
And so, I scheduled the c-section.
Much to my surprise, once I had it scheduled, I felt the strangest sense of relief.
When I surrendered to the idea that I’d done the best I could with what I had, I’d tried DOing all of The Things and they hadn’t worked, releasing the fantasy that there was “some perfect way out there” in which these things were to be done, and most importantly, trusting my daughter…I felt much more peace.
I felt at peace not because I’d arrived at the “perfect” decision. I arrived at peace because that’s what happens any time we move into a space of acceptance of “what-is.” That’s the peace that’s available when we detach from the fantasy and attachment to a specific outcome.
And not surprisingly, peace was exactly what I got with my birth experience.