Last week I was moved to tears by this article noting three truths about C-Section mamas. It brought tears to my eyes not only because it was sensitive and gracious in acknowledging all that mothers who have C-Sections go through, but also because it reminded me of the scars, tangible and not, that I have from my own experience. As April is C-Section awareness month, I share my story with you so that others who may be facing the same challenge can do it better than I did. Hopefully much better than I did.
I had a healthy pregnancy (until the end) and I have a healthy little girl so I will start off by saying that is all that really matters. But I won’t pretend that having her enter the world was a stress free or even joyful experience. I feel guilty even saying that, but it is true. My pregnancy was smooth sailing and as I entered my third trimester, began to be fueled a bit by fear. Fear of a delivery with interventions (Pitocin, an epidural) that could potentially increase the risk of having the dreaded C-Section. I also wanted to be completely clear of mind, not fuzzy with medication, the moment I got to meet our little girl. On top of my fear of intervention, I was battling the anxiety I have around anything “medical” (an IV, needles, having blood drawn, white coats etc.) and whole-heatedly decided that a natural delivery was the only option for me. I read every book I could find on having a successful natural birth, I watched YouTube videos of natural births and I read every personal narrative I could find online of an intervention-free birth. We started interviewing doulas, my husband lead me through relaxation and visualization techniques at night to practice getting through a contraction. I planned on laboring at home for as long as I could in our tub, on an exercise ball or through whatever means possible so that I didn’t have to go to the hospital until it was absolutely necessary…just to prevent the risk of intervention and ultimately a C-Section.
Just as intense as my fear of interventions was my desire to have immediate contact with our baby. I wanted to take the natural approach in the interest of creating a strong an immediate bond with her and to promote breastfeeding as soon as possible. I wanted skin-to-skin as soon as she took her first breath and I had no plans to let go of her until it was absolutely necessary. Having a natural birth would promote both bonding and breastfeeding and for me it was the only way to go.
So given this, you can imagine how rattling it was when at my 33 week ultrasound, we found out our baby girl was Frank Breech. Thank god she was healthy, but her butt was where her head should be which didn’t put her in a position to come out on her own, much less, naturally. So I did every weird trick I found on the internet to get that baby to flip on her own. I got into a pool daily and did sumersaults (yes, really), I put an ice pack on the top of my tummy hoping the coolness would convince her to move her head downwards. I inverted myself, I had my husband help me do headstands…and at week 35 she still hadn’t flipped down. Nor had she at week 37. At the 37 week ultrasound my doctor agreed to help me with a last-ditch effort to get that baby into the right direction so that I could deliver naturally and we attempted an External Version the next day at the hospital.
It was scary, it hurt like hell and it didn’t work. But I am not sure what was harder on me…having two doctors use their entire body weight to lift and rotate the human being living inside of me or the crushing realization that all of my fears, my phobias, were now my reality. A C-Section was happening. We knew from the fetal heartbeat monitor that the baby was doing well and I should have just been grateful that I had a healthy baby inside of me but unfortunately I will admit that my fear ruled my brain.
The doctors shrugged their shoulders and said “it was worth the try” and we scheduled the C-section two weeks out. Just as we were getting ready to leave (my husband and I had just decided we were going to Chiplotle for lunch because I was starving!) the doctor recommended that we do an ultrasound just to be absolutely sure she was doing well in there.
So they wheeled me down to the ultrasound room where I had yet more images taken of our baby girl while the technician chatted with us politely about holiday plans. Then they wheeled me back upstairs and we sat in the triage room where the external version had taken place, packing up our things and waiting to get the go-ahead from the doctor to leave. When the doctor came back in after reviewing the ultrasound report, she said. “Well, your aminotic fluid levels are really low so the baby should come out soon.” Soon?
My husband and I asked in unison, “Soon, like today?”
“Yes”, the doctor said nonchalantly, “I have time to do it now.”
Panic. Fear. Panic.
I will pause here for the women who had true emergency c-sections, and were wheeled into the operating room after learning that your baby was under stress and the amazing work you were doing during labor wasn’t working. Your journey was much more difficult than mine. You were braver than me.
But I was still afraid. Fear consumed me as I broke down and bawled in the triage room with a nurse and a doctor staring at me and my husband not sure what exactly to do but hug me. Luckily he gathered himself more quickly than I did and was able to ask the doctor some questions (which I can’t remember) which convinced her to consult with the hospital’s “high-risk” doctor who agreed that we could wait 2 days before I had to have the C-Section.
Two days to put the car-seat in the car, two days to pack our hospital bags, two days to get our house in order and two days to, oh yeah, wrap our heads around knowing exactly when our baby girl was arriving into the world and to try to forget she was coming in the way that scared me most.
Those days ended up being the longest of our lives as we waited with excitement, anxiety and for me, fear of what was to come the next day. I hardly slept while we waiting for 6:30 a.m. on delivery day, the time we were to report to the hospital so I could be monitored before my 8:30 scheduled C-Section. It is the strangest thing knowing exactly when your baby is going to come. To have such an intentional birth but at the same time not knowing at all what to expect.
Upon checking in at the hospital we were ushered into the triage room–the same room where I had my failed External Version just days before. A friendly nurse went through the check-in process with me and hooked up the fetal monitor to make sure our baby was still doing well and was stable (she was!). Meanwhile, they sent in a newbie nurse to put in my IV (which I would have in my had for the next 48 hours). Given my needle phobia and the fact that I was trying to keep it all together I was hit with intense nausea when she stuck me not once, not twice but three times before finding a good vein. I am a nervous sweater so by this point I had already soaked through the sheets on the hospital bed. I composed myself as my husband made his best efforts to be upbeat and excited which helped distract me a little. Somewhere in the two hours that we spent in the triage room I was given a few injections and an oral medication that was horrifically flavored while I stared at the clock watching it creep closer and closer to 8:30. I was excited, of course I was excited-I was meeting our baby soon!-but I am ashamed to admit that my fear was squelching that excitement. I am ashamed that when I remember that day, those hours before her birth, I remember fear and not happiness.
As we sat in the triage room my husband remained upbeat, making jokes with me and the nurses. Reminding me that everything was going to be OK, that this was how our baby girl was meant to be born. I faltered between thinking OK, I can do this with moments of panic and wanting to run out of hospital. Rational, right? I had just gotten myself to a place of inspiration when the anesthesiologist (who wore the strongest floral perfume which made my nose burn) came to the triage room to “walk me through” the Spinal she was going to be giving me. I really can’t remember what she said other than “needle” and spine” but that was all she really needed to say. Lets think back for a second to the medical-based anxiety I have, my needle phobia, and my wishes to do this naturally and you’ll understand how the 3 minute explanation of what she would be doing to me was worse than watching a horror movie starring yourself and you are the character that gets slashed. I know, rational, right? But fear is that way.
So I was queasy with fear and anxiety trying to accept that what the anesthesiologist explained to me was going to be my reality in minutes. On top of that, one of the injections they had given me started to make me fuzzy so I felt like I was in a dream state. A panicked dream-like state that was feeling awfully close to hysteria. Hysteria that heightened when the nurse came in just moments after the anesthesiologist came to describe my fate, to tell me it was time to go to the operating room. My husband got into his scrubs. I was expecting, no, hoping that they would be wheeling me down in a wheel chair, but they simply unhooked my IV bag and handed it to me and asked me to walk down the hall to the operating room with it in my hand. What?!? So I took slow steps, feeling increasingly queasier and as I shuffled down the florescent-lit hallway. Then I stopped in my tracks. Nope, no way, I thought, they are going to have to knock me out if they are going to be sticking a needle into my spine, cutting me open and pulling my baby out. No way I am doing this. Nope. Nope. Nope! I can’t remember if I actually articulated this, the drugs were really kicking in by this time, but somehow we arrived outside the operating room. The nurse announced that my husband had to wait outside while they did my spinal and they would come get him once they started the surgery.
WHAT?! Had the drugs not been making me so fuzzy, I would have fought it more.
But he gave me a hug and kiss and watched me shuffle into the operating room-which, by the way, is nothing like it appears on T.V. It was so big and so bright! The brightness felt strange. I remember asking one of the many people fluttering around the room if all the lights were going to be staying on and they looked at me like I was crazy. Of course, how else could the doctors preform? The anesthesiologist and her perfume came over to me and instructed me to sit on the table and lean over, relaxing my spine. Relax, right. I remember telling her I needed a minute and having to make several attempts at leaning over before I got in the right position. One of the nurses in the room came over and let me hug her neck to help sturdy myself as I felt the prickles of the first “numbing” injection. It felt odd and uncomfortable and soon I felt the second injection-the one actually going into my spine. It lasted seconds and I kept chanting “I don’t like this, I don’t like this” out loud to the nurse who was letting me hug her like a child. Finally it was over and they told me to lay back.
Can my husband come in yet? No.
But I could still feel my legs! I made sure to tell this to every person who walked by me…if I could feel my legs, I would surely feel the surgery! But as the minutes passed a numbing warmth spread down my lower body and while I was still aware that I had a lower body, I really couldn’t feel or move it. My doctors came in talking about the other surgeries they had that day and happily-greeted me. They raised the sheet so I couldn’t see what they were about to do thank God. They told me to keep my arms (which I could still feel) very still and if I didn’t they would have to strap me down. So you better believe I wasn’t going to move them. I held very still.
Can my husband come in yet? No.
They must have started the surgery but I was completely unaware. I remember being able to see the clock and noting that they started right on time. I remember all the people why so many people fluttering around the room. I remember the anesthesiologist standing near me, her perfume stinking up my air. And I remember the OR door opening and my husband coming in. Finally. He smiled at me but he had tears in his eyes. I later learned how long he had spent in that hallway by himself, not knowing what was taking so long for them to come get him and fearing the worse. But I was OK. The baby was OK. And everything was much better once he was with me. I stopped focusing on the stinky perfume, I stopped noticing all the spectators, I stopped listening to the doctors talking casually. And we waited.
After minutes of feeling nothing, I was surprised to feel the most bizarre and intense pulling sensation in my tummy as the doctors reached inside me and pulled the baby out. It felt like someone had their hands in me and was moving my organs around, which is basically what was happening. I am pretty sure I grunted and breathed like a banshee and suddenly the sensation was over. And was that a cry? It was! Oh my God, it was a baby’s cry! My baby’s cry! For what felt like hours, I listened to that tiny scream until a man appeared around the curtain holding this deliciously plump whaling baby girl. I was worried that she would be tiny since she came 2 weeks early, but she wasn’t! She was red from the wailing, and clearly a healthy baby girl. I cried. She was here.
I watched the doctor bring her to a table to inspect her. Then I watched as they placed her in the scale and her tiny hand wrapped around the edge as she screamed. I couldn’t believe the little stranger over there was mine, that she had just been inside me and yet there she was. I wanted so badly to leap off the table and grab her. I hated to see her helpless over there while she cried! They quickly wrapped her up in a blanket and they handed her to my husband, which ended her tears. I begged him to get her as close to me as possible so he put her cheek up to my face. I tried to get as good of a look as I could without moving (I didn’t want to get strapped down), while my husband held our baby girl for the first time. I so badly wanted to hold her.
We got to stay together as a family for a few minutes before they took my husband and my daughter to the nursery for additional examination and to be kept warm while they finished my surgery. So I laid there, again by myself, desperate to see that little girl again. Desperate, but no longer scared or panicked. People continued to flutter around the room and I remember asking how much longer it was going to take…I had somewhere important to be! Over the course of the next 20 minutes, the doctors sewed me back up and I heard the nurses counting the towels they used during surgery to ensure one wasn’t inside of me. It gave me the willies.
Then it was over. It took several nurses and the doctors to lift my dead-weight body off the operating table and into a hospital bed which I laid on while they wheeled me into the recovery room. A nurse began to monitor me while I patiently waited to be reunited with my new little family. The time couldn’t pass quickly enough but at least now I was no longer afraid. The surgery was over and the adrenalin from knowing she was here and healthy gave me such a high (I am sure the drugs helped). On top of that, I felt no pain (yet)! I was so ready to hold my baby! Finally my husband appeared, out of his scrubs, holding that little baby girl! He handed me to her and I quickly put her on my chest and she figured out how to begin eating right away. It amazed me. Her preciousness melted my heart.
It’s been four months and her preciousness continues to melt my heart on a daily basis, which is really the only important thing. I won’t pretend that the recovery was easy (as if I’d let anyone forget that). It was at least three weeks before I could get off the couch without the help of my husband, longer until I could carry the baby across the room and longer still until climbing the stairs didn’t kill me. The recovery was really tough and I still don’t feel like I have my abdominal strength back But it was totally, absolutely worth it. As I sit here typing this with my baby sleeping peacefully in my lap, I have a clear mind to appreciate how incredibly lucky I am to have a healthy baby. So lucky to have had a complication free C-Section that I knew about in advance so I could prepare myself. Lucky to have a sensitive and thoughtful husband to help me with the recovery. Just really lucky.
So if you have made it this far through my story, I thank you. Please know that I share my experience with a certain level of embarrassment for failing to see my blessings and focusing on my fears. Since as you were reading this you probably thought at least once this lady is pretty dramatic, I hope it can act as a cautionary tale for anyone else with a shared situation. My advice if you want it? Focus on your blessings and not the things you can’t control.
There is no greater blessing that a healthy baby and that is really all that matters.
Have thoughts on this or wish to share your own experience? Let me know in a comment below. Thank you!