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A Beginning

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.

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19 Comments

  • Reply Brittany November 17, 2013 at 12:05 PM

    I have never read your blog before. I’m not pregnant and won’t be for years yet. But I am terrified. I was in tears reading this. I only hope my birth/s will go like this. What a beautiful post.

    • Reply sweetmadeleine November 17, 2013 at 12:19 PM

      Hi Brittany! I’m so glad you liked the post. I was so anti-c-section before all of this happened, and so scared, too, that I felt like I needed to write something that would cast it in a more positive light. I hope you don’t end up with a c section, but if you do you’ll know roughly what to expect 🙂 Thank you so much for leaving such a kind comment.

      Sent from my iPhone

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  • Reply RadioSilencer November 18, 2013 at 9:53 AM

    I’m currently 26 weeks pregnant and am scheduled to have a c-section. Reading this was really, really helpful for me! Thank you!

    • Reply sweetmadeleine November 18, 2013 at 10:50 AM

      Oh, I’m so glad! I was so scared, but it truly was so much better than I had been anticipating. Good luck with the rest of your pregnancy, I’m so glad this post helped a little!

      Sent from my iPhone

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  • Reply Jennifer November 18, 2013 at 9:33 PM

    Beautiful post. One of my many fears as a pregnant first time mom was having my planned natural birth end up as a c-section. I was fortunate that both of my hospital births played out the way I had planned and prepared for them to. But, it doesn’t always work that way, and this post was such a beautiful reminder of that. I am so glad your midwife could be with you and your husband – how wonderful! Thank you for sharing your experience. I know it would help me should I ever be in your shoes with a future pregnancy.

  • Reply Andrea Taylor November 19, 2013 at 12:24 AM

    You forgot to mention the burning smell. = ) I just stumbled on your blog tonight and I LOVE IT. = ) I had to have an emergency c-section because my second one was breech….and had read next to nothing about them. Wish I had read this first. However, I want to save other trembling/crying moms the embarrassment I had when asking, “What is that burning smell?” To which the surgeon replied, “Are you sure you want to know?” WELL, YES!!! “It’s your skin….being cauterized.” Oh. Oh. (*I did not spell check any of this so deal with it.)

    • Reply sweetmadeleine December 20, 2013 at 12:31 AM

      Oh god, I did not experience this! WHAT were they cauterizing? Do I want to know?

      • Reply Sarajdee December 20, 2013 at 3:29 PM

        I also did not smell burning, fortunately, though given my comment below, perhaps there is another reason.
        My surgeon and a nurse were discussing what they brought to a barbeque the whole time, though. It was oddly reassuring. Probably less so if I’d also smelled myself cooking.

  • Reply Janet Nielsen November 19, 2013 at 7:38 AM

    What a fantastic and honest birth story. I was with midwives for both of my births – first didn’t go according to plan at all and became very ‘medical’ and a bit scary. Second one was calm, peaceful and almost exactly as I pictured it. As grateful as I was to have an experience closer to what I had pictured the second time, I realize now that both were necessary and the right birth experience for that particular situation. Took me a long time to get my mind around that about round one though, so kudos to you for figuring it out way before I did. Olive is beautiful! (And I love your blog!)

    • Reply sweetmadeleine December 20, 2013 at 12:23 AM

      Thank you, Janet! Reaching that moment of acceptance/understanding of the cards you’re dealt is such a nice feeling 🙂

  • Reply Jordan November 22, 2013 at 3:10 AM

    Thanks for sharing this story – so lovely to read. It was somewhat similar to the birth of our little girl, who started to struggle after I’d been in labour for 36 hours and was delivered by emergency C-section. I had hoped/planned for a reasonably natural birth and in the end we had just about all of Western obstetric medicine thrown at us, but you put into words something I felt right from the moment our girl was delivered: firstly, thank Science for modern medicine, for being pregnant and birthing in a first-world country in the 21st century, so that we both survived the delivery; and secondly “I was cut open but I emerged whole; the best parts inside of me brought out.” Thank you again.

    • Reply sweetmadeleine December 20, 2013 at 12:25 AM

      You’re welcome! And 36 HOURS?! You’d better be busting out that statistic when your little one whines about helping with dishes- that’s GOLD! 😉

  • Reply Danielle November 27, 2013 at 10:01 AM

    Oh, how I wish I had seen this post before I had my daughter in February!! She was breech and I was SO distraught at the thought of a c-section. I ran myself ragged with chiropractor appointments, acupuncture, and hanging upside down from my couch. I was terrified to be cut and crushed by the thought of not getting to have her placed on my chest upon birth. But you know what? It ALL worked out. The hospital worked with me to have skin-on-skin time in the operating room and the procedure itself was not nearly as scary as imagined. Having my daughter on my chest while they stitched me up distracted and saved me. Recovery was no big deal. We’re 9 months into breastfeeding. Life has been awesome. Take heart, ladies! You can still have a wonderful birth experience, even if you need a c-section.

    • Reply sweetmadeleine December 20, 2013 at 12:29 AM

      So true! We had such similar experiences- I was acupuncturing and reiki-ing, too!

  • Reply Sarajdee December 19, 2013 at 2:50 PM

    Okay, am I the only one who farted incessantly through her c-section? Because I thought, I really enjoy this Madeleine woman’s blog, she’ll tell the truth about the farting. That was the surprise for me. I remember a friend once drunkenly worrying about “POOPING on the BED. Did you know??! You poop when you give birth??!” Years before having her two children. I asked her if she pooped after the first one. She said she didn’t remember, mostly because she almost bled to death. Something she had forgot to worry about.

    So I thought, well at least I won’t poop myself. But then, numb and shaking on that table, I felt… Odd sensations… Inside. It took me awhile to realise it was tummy gas, and with no muscle control… The medical team acted like they didn’t notice, which was nice, especially since I threw up on the midwife when they put in the spinal.

    I had planned a home birth, but I felt totally fine with the section afterwards, because it was nice to get out alive from a placental abruption, yay Canada. I resented it a lot more later, because the recovery was AWFUL, but since others say it was fine, I am guessing it’s because of the circumstances I was in that placed inhuman demands on my body.

    • Reply sweetmadeleine December 20, 2013 at 12:09 AM

      I had never even heard about placenta previa or any of the other disobedient placenta disorders before getting pregnant, and now it seems everyone and their cousin has had some type if similar experience! It’s immensely gratifying to know I wasn’t alone in this little misadventure.

      Also: I am overjoyed that you a) love my blog and b) think of me as someone who would tell the truth about c-section farting- BECAUSE I WOULD! I’d slip it in right between the concrete legs and meeting my baby for the first time. But I didn’t have any c section farting, I am sorry to admit. (Or maybe I did and took longer than you to clue in! Ha!)

      I also didn’t smell burning like another commenter mentioned- I have zero smell memory of the event, I was just so scared and then so happy.

      I’m glad you got a healthy baby out if the deal. Worth it! Farting and all 😉

      (Ps I also devoted a lot of worry to pooping on the delivery table and then I was heartbroken that I wasn’t going to deliver naturally and would have paid hundreds for the privilege 😉

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      • Reply Sarajdee December 20, 2013 at 3:58 PM

        I had also had placenta previa, which I ugly-cried about, then it moved. Hurray! Then he was breech right up until they decided to double check prior to external eversion, and he’d moved. Yay! But the placenta had the last laugh. It was just a lobe that pulled off though, no one had seen anything like it, this long, skinny freaky alien lobe. A lobe that just had a hankering to give me a c-section.

        Unfortunately, I did not have a healthy baby, it really stumped the platituders… Well… Depends on your definition of healthy. Those happy first twelve hours were short. Completely unrelated 1:100,000 random genetic disease, but in my mind, it stated to all blend into one nightmare. Like if I’d been at home, that mutation wouldn’t have occurred, which of course isn’t true. If I’d just grown a normal placenta. Also not true. He is a healthy baby these days though;-) , and modern surgery before he’s old enough to understand he’s different will probably let him live a relatively normal life. I have friends who would give their eye teeth to get a live baby out of their perfect birth, so it’s all relative. The first month living in the hospital lounge 16 hours a day while he was in the NICU was hard though. Very hard.

  • Reply Two | Sweet Madeleine October 2, 2014 at 12:15 AM

    […] years ago I was cut in two and sewn back up into the shape of a mother. Last year the daughter that made me a mother turned […]

  • Reply Laura October 31, 2017 at 6:54 AM

    It’s always comforting to read another c section sorry. I’m lying in bed with my 2 month old daughter, Bernadette, unable to sleep.

    After 24 hrs of a planned natural labour with a doula and a midwife, she was delivered by c section. Like you described, seeing her was still a beautiful moment despite the hospital environment, and we were very lucky to receive the care we did, this day in age. I learned just how traumatic birth can be, and was left reeling with the events of the 24 hrs swirling around in my head for days. Writing helps. A perfect beautiful baby helps.

    Love your blog.
    Thanks.

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