Before I had Olive I wasn’t sure that I wanted to write about her birth. In my 37 week post I wrote:
…I know that I approach a situation differently if I plan to write about it. I notice different things, feel pressure to record and document and inevitably I end up approaching it from a place where I am reporting, rather than experiencing.
What’s more, if I’m actually part of the situation I’m writing about I really can’t be sure that my own actions aren’t being affected by the need to have a good story, develop a good narrative. I don’t want to go into this experience needing to take pictures for the blog, remember times and details simply so I can write about them later.
I don’t know that I have the words to write about something that feels this big. I wouldn’t know where to begin, I don’t know that I’m capable.
Looking back, I am so glad I allowed myself this experience without looking at it through the writerly gaze. It still feels sacred, private. There’s still pieces of those moments that I will always keep to myself, keep for us three as a family.
However, there’s also so much that took me by (pleasant) surprise, so much that went better than expected. Lying in the recovery room and reflecting on what had just happened, I found myself wishing I could go back to my 5 month pregnant self and, after enfolding me in a great big bear hug, I wish I could just tell myself to calm the fuck down, that it was going to be great.
Since time travel continues to elude me however, I will write this post instead.
This is for women who might be facing a c-section themselves and are similarly terrified, stressed and spending hours creating collages to assuage their fears. I hope my words can do a little to help.
(Despite me having to have a c-section, our amazing midwife was still able to attend our birth. She took pictures throughout the surgery and I am including some which feature a newborn with birth-gunk all over her. Additionally, some might find the details of the surgery unpleasant so I’m putting the rest of the post after the jump, should you choose to read it.)
As predicted, we got no sleep the night before the big day. Driving down to the city our mood was ebullient and excited, and it wasn’t until we had checked in and changed into scrubs that the panic set in and I began to quietly freak out. We sat there in the hospital room and I cried and cried. I was scared for me and scared for the baby and I remember just rubbing my belly over and over, trying to focus on how I would get to meet our son or daughter in under an hour.
Smiling through tears
The hospital staff were amazing; kind, understanding and compassionate. Our midwife arrived and a nurse led us down to the waiting room. I met the anesthesiologist and he explained step-by-step what was going to happen. I was trying to hold it together and explain to him our birth plan, he was on board with everything we were asking for and shortly the surgical team came to meet us and lead me to the operating room to administer the spinal anesthetic.
This next bit was the most difficult for me emotionally, because Adam wasn’t allowed to be in the room with me while they administered the spinal. Thank god that our midwife was there, because as soon as I walked into the operating room I lost it. I stood there alone and shivering in my backless gown, staring at the metal table and the lights and the instruments and the team of doctors and nurses, faces half-hidden by surgical masks.
I was sobbing as they asked me to sit on the side of the table and lean over. They swabbed my back with antiseptic and inserted the numbing needle, and this is the only part of the entire c-section procedure that hurt in the slightest. It was about a 4 on a scale of 1-10.
After I was numbed they administered the spinal and lay me down on the table, arms outstretched like I was on a cross. I felt my legs go numb, then heavy like they were encased in concrete. Not being able to feel or lift them was an extremely unpleasant sensation, but I tried to focus on other things to take my mind off of it.
They placed an oxygen mask on me and I began to shake, which is apparently a common side effect of adrenaline and the medication they give you. I remember trying to turn my head to see my vision board poster, shaking and crying as I tried to focus on the pictures of happy, healthy babies, and although I was trying my best to stay positive, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t freaking the fuck out.
At this point my midwife saw the fear in my eyes and she grabbed my hand and told me to close my eyes and go inside and talk to my baby, tell it that it was about to be born. She encouraged me to prepare the baby for what was about to happen.
At the time, and even now looking back, there is a part of me that rolls my eyes at this hippie nonsense, but a larger part of me really needed this, I needed a reminder of what this was all for, so I did as I was told and I closed my eyes and tried to breathe, tried to tell Olive (who wasn’t yet Olive), “Hi baby, you’re about to be born. At first it will be scary and cold, you’ll be surrounded by strangers. But then I will hold you and I’ll make sure you are safe.” I kept up this strange one-sided conversation until they let Adam into the room.
I remember him looking scared (later he would tell me that he thought something was going wrong because of the way I was shaking) and I told him to please touch me somehow. He started stroking my head and talking to me and my shakes disappeared and I started taking deep breaths.
At this point the surgeon said “Alright, we’ve made the first incision.” and I was in total shock, I hadn’t felt a thing. And when I say that, I don’t mean I didn’t feel any pain, I mean I didn’t feel anything. The feeling-but-not-feeling was the part that I had worried about the most. I hate that disassociated state, I dreaded it. But I hadn’t felt anything, and this, combined with Adam’s presence turned the whole thing around.
Within about two minutes, I heard the surgeon ask the nurses to drop the drape because they were going to bring the baby out. I struggled to raise my head to see, and managed to glimpse a baby, grey and covered in gunk, being lifted up into the air. (I have a picture of this – too gory to share- of Olive being lifted out of me, squalling and covered in blood. In this picture she truly earns the “Demon Baby” nickname we gave her throughout my pregnancy.)
Adam cried, “It’s a girl! It’s a girl and she has tons of hair!” and I heard her begin to wail. They immediately took her to an incubator that was right beside my head and I could see them rubbing her down, I could hear her crying.
Throughout my pregnancy I had a fear that I held tight to my chest, as though giving voice to it would give it legs, make it true. I was worried that something would be wrong with our baby. I didn’t know what, exactly, it changed each time I thought about it, had nightmares about it. One night she would have a missing limb, another she would have a developmental disability. The unknowing was terrifying and I never gave voice to these fears, not even to Adam.
So, after they put her in the incubator and she was being examined by the pediatrician I kept asking “Is she ok? Is she ok?”, worried that my fears had been manifested in this real little baby. Adam and the pediatrician kept assuring me that she was perfect, later I would find out that her Apgar scores were 8/10 and 9/10.
As soon as she was laid down she grabbed one of Adam’s fingers tight in her hand and wouldn’t let go.
After about a minute they placed her on my chest and I got a good look at her for the first time, her thick hair and plooshy lips, her dark eyes. I couldn’t believe she was a girl, I couldn’t believe she was perfect, I was so so in love. I couldn’t believe she was ours, our daughter. A this strange little being who now existed beyond dreams and imagination, who was here, real, tangible.
They asked if I wanted to try breastfeeding while they stitched me up and we did. It was awkward with the drape and the gown and her being upside down, but it was one of the things I had asked for in our birth plan and I’m so grateful that they let us try.
Our first family pictures
After a few minutes of cuddling, Olive (as yet unnamed) went back to the recovery room with Adam and the midwife. I followed a few minutes later.
As they stitched me up I still felt nothing, no pain, no sensation at all. I remember exclaiming, “That was awesome! That was so much better than I thought it would be!”, and it truly was.
At the same time, it would be untrue to say that this was the birth experience that I wanted. What I wanted was what I imagined as the perfect birth. A peaceful night at home with water and candles and us cuddling in our own bed on that first night as a family.
What I got was the perfect birth for us. It was necessary, and it was what we needed, and it was fantastic. The surgery was so much less frightening than I had anticipated, so much less painful than I expected. And for all my railing against hospital births, staying in the hospital was lovely. We had meals brought to us and dishes whisked away when we were done, a perfect blend of visitors and alone time. Nurses on call to help with baths, and our midwives to visit and help with breastfeeding.
Adam and I actually opted to stay in the hospital for an extra day, we were enjoying our little cocoon so much.
So, if you are anticipating a cesarean, and especially if you did not want one in the first place and are scared to have one, first I wish I could give you a big hug.
I know what it’s like to stand where you are, feeling powerless and frustrated. I know what it’s like to see your idea of what the birth of your child would be like disappear before your eyes, but please know that it will be okay. It hurts, but only a little. It feels strange, but not for long. The recovery can be frustrating but it’s a good reminder to slow down, and sometimes you need that.
In short: You will be cut open, but you will still emerge whole.
For all the praise and power of natural birth (and I am a huge natural birth advocate), sometimes it simply isn’t possible. And in these cases we would do well to remind ourselves that natural doesn’t always mean good.
Illness is natural. Death is natural.
We are fortunate (I am fortunate) to live in a country where we have access to medical advances like c-sections, for without it Olive wouldn’t be here, or I wouldn’t be here, or both.
My scar is a thin red line about four inches wide. It lives right above my pubic bone, and will be hidden by even the skimpiest of bikinis. I was back to feeling like my old self about four weeks after the surgery. Olive is a lovely, alert and happy baby who by all accounts is no worse for wear for being born two weeks early.
I was cut open but I emerged whole; the best parts inside of me brought out.