I was reading my super-smart friend Sascha’s blog and saw that she’d included a three-part account of the natural birth of her (wicked cute) first child. It had really never occurred to me to do such a thing, probably because no one thinks C-sections are beautiful. Well, I’m not here to moralize on people’s birth experiences or choices, except to say that a healthy, happy baby and mama are what are important. I’m just here to tell you that if it’s necessary for you to have a C-section, you don’t have to be terrified. That statement shouldn’t be controversial, but it probably is in this day and age. People have really latched onto the idea that doctors schedule C-sections for convenience and/or financial gain and that women who express a preference are selfish, lazy, and “too posh to push.” There’s also the popular notion that if you desire an unmedicated birth and wind up having a surgical birth, it’s some kind of disappointment or failure and that hey, maybe next time you can try to deliver naturally. Again, I’m not here to tell anyone what she should or should not want for herself and her family. But I will tell you that my C-section delivery was amazing and spectacular and every other glowing adjective a new mom uses to describe her birth experience. And, in case you’re scared, I’ll walk you through what happens.
This is not for the faint of heart, OK?
As I’ve explained in previous entries, my pregnancy was complicated by several potential heart defects detected on fetal echocardiograms. A 40-minute scan turned my plan for a “regular old delivery” in a smaller hospital 15 minutes from our home into one that involved a Level III NICU and a new high-risk pregnancy team. I was about 30 weeks along when all of this happened and suffice it to say I was SCARED SHITLESS.
I’m not going to lie to you. Before all that happened, I did NOT have strong feelings about completely unmedicated birth. I planned to ask for an epidural, and I also wasn’t dreading a C-section. I just wanted to safely deliver a healthy baby. I knew there would be some pain involved no matter how he came into the world, and it just didn’t matter very much to me what sort of pain it was. To be honest, both prospects made me equally nervous, and once we learned about the potential CHD, it solidified my belief that I would do whatever I had to do to make sure my son was all right. The night before I hit the 39-week mark, I saw my high-risk OB for a checkup, and he told me that he was delivering my baby two days later, a Friday morning, at 7 AM. I was supposed to get to the hospital at 5 AM to sign in and prepare for (medically indicated) surgery. I’m pretty sure my reaction involved some lip-biting, but it wasn’t because I was going “Oh no, he wants to do a C-section.” It was more along the lines of “Oh no, this is really happening and I don’t know what it’s going to be like and AHHHH.” I was very afraid that I was going to wake up from general anesthesia alone in a room, not knowing whether my family was nearby or in another state dealing with my son’s health (the plan was to take him to CHOP if necessary.) THAT terrified me.
I went home that night and thought, oh God, I have more than 24 hours to think about all this and worry about it … that’s not good! But I also thought, hey, I’m going to make sure my hair looks decent and check my hospital bag and get really ready. I didn’t sleep much that night. When my husband got up to go to work at 6:30, I finally managed to doze off for a couple hours.
It’s a really weird feeling to be asleep and wake up to the realization that your body is going into labor THAT INSTANT. I called my other half at work and said that whatever he was doing right then could wait. (It did. Also, I’ve never seen him drive like that.) We really scrambled, so we left the damn cord blood correction kit on our bedroom floor, and I arrived unshowered in my husband’s college hoodie, my $15 yoga pants from Kohl’s juniors section, and my Ugg slippers. So much for trying to look decent. Oh well.
The people in the lobby gave me a wheelchair to sit in while my husband parked in some very complicated garage, and they told me he was the only one who could push me to the elevator to the L&D department because of some liability bullshit. Well, I sat there being enormous and sheepish for about seven minutes, and then I was like, the hell with this, I’m walking upstairs myself. The nurses put me in this little holding cell where I got an IV stuck in my arm and some heart monitors on my midsection while I told them every vital piece of information about myself including my sun sign in order to register as a patient. I was elated at the idea that this would be my private hospital room because it was so spacious, and of course my real room was maybe a third of that size and had a view of an abandoned factory.
I confessed to a nurse at one point that I was nervous, and she started laughing at me (not meanly) for saying so, because she could already tell from my vitals (racing heart, high BP, slight fever.) My husband kept telling me that I looked great, which I thought was really generous of him considering I felt like Swamp Thing. I wound up having to wait a couple hours for a free operating room, during which my contractions got more painful. I was really happy to meet my anesthesiologist. I never thought I would be so happy to meet someone whose entire function in my life was to stick a big needle in my spine.
Okay, so about the spinal block. It sounds horrible, but it’s really not that bad. I was mostly concerned for the TINY 27-year-old nurse who had just started her job at the hospital THAT WEEK, because it was her job to hold me up on the table while I got the spinal block. I was afraid it would hurt and that I would fall off and crush her. It did hurt, but not in the earth-shattering way you think. It feels like someone is sticking a needle in a vein in your arm, like when you donate blood, only in your lower back. Then I couldn’t feel anything, and that was great! I kept telling everyone in the room not to start anything until I was really, REALLY numb. I kept insisting “I can still feel my toes!” until someone finally told me that they weren’t going to be doing anything to my toes anyway.
My OB made me sing before he would start. I really hate how when people find out you’re a singer, they demand you sing something for them right then and there. I generally don’t budge on this one. However, when I really, really want someone to take another human being out of me, I can make a concession. It was Les miserables. I’m not going to say it was my best. But, in retrospect, I’m glad I sang my son into the world.
The surgery stuff is pretty straightforward and easy. You have a tarp-like thing shielding you from everything that’s happening below your ribcage. You’re hooked up to a lot of machines that make boops and beeps. I had nurses and a bunch of very nice residents sitting around petting me on the head telling me I was doing great (which is funny because there wasn’t much else I could have been doing, since I couldn’t move.) You feel some weird pushing and pulling, but none of it hurts, and it all feels kind of distant. Then you feel a big push on your tummy and hear a BABY CRYING IN THE ROOM. And it’s YOUR BABY. That part is surreal, and if you’re like me, you will probably start to cry because OMG LOVE.
One bummer (not huge, but can be a little disappointing if you’ve been expecting otherwise) was that I didn’t get to hold my baby for awhile, just pet him from where I was laying. He went to the NICU just a few minutes after he was born. I’m not sure what the deal is for C-section mamas whose babies are declared totally healthy right at birth, but I assume you can hold the baby as soon you’re able to sit up in your hospital bed a little.
After my little man was out, it took awhile to sew me up, which, again, didn’t hurt. Then a bunch of people transferred me from the operating table to a gurney or something, and I totally felt like I was going to roll off it because I couldn’t really feel my limbs, but I didn’t. Then more people had to haul my ass into my bed. None of this hurt at all because I was still numb. Then they put me on this magical morphine drip that I could control. I pressed a button and every 10 minutes, it would give me another hit. My husband stayed in the room with me that night and he said I would get a dose, start sounding really goofy, and then click the button again 30 seconds later and every 30 seconds thereafter until I got more. I guess I like morphine. At one point, someone brought me Jello and fruit punch and ginger ale, and I have never been so excited to eat anything in my entire life. I didn’t sleep that night because I was way too excited to actually get to hold my man. Also because I was high as a kite.
The next morning, everyone got really bossy and insistent that I get out of bed. I was torn between wanting to go to the NICU and hold my baby and wanting to avoid the serious amount of pain I felt when I tried to sit up. I’m not going to lie, if you’ve never had major surgery, it’s very disconcerting to feel like your insides are going to rip apart when you try to engage your abdominal muscles, which you do when you sit, stand, cough, sneeze, speak, laugh, and breathe. I thought I was doing myself a favor by clinging to the morphine for as long as they would allow it, but when I switched to Percocet and motrin later that day, I felt MUCH better. I would highly recommend this. I had to use a wheelchair to get down to the NICU the first time, but as time went by, I started to be able to walk around. The more you can walk, the easier it starts to feel.
I’m unclear on the specific reasons for this, but when you have abdominal surgery, everyone who sees you is obsessed with your bodily functions. They make you get up and pee. They barge into your room at all hours and drop stethoscopes on your belly to hear your “bowel sounds.” They ask you if you are farting a lot and praise you if you are, which is super fun and not at all awkward, particularly at 5 AM when it’s two young residents with fabulous blowouts and you look like a caveperson. Everyone wants to know if you’ve pooped. People whose names you don’t know will ask you about your poop. It’s fine. They’ve dealt with worse. It’s okay to ask them their names first, though.
Standing up is not the easiest thing for the first few days. I highly recommend having someone around who can escort you to the bathroom and help you take a shower. Bring some flip-flops with grippy bottoms so you don’t fall over. Bring a bathrobe, too, because when you’re limping around, the flimsy hospital gown totally doesn’t cover your butt at all. I found out that the nurses had a stock of apple juice at their station and would make myself go down the hall to get some.
The first few days you’re home, have someone on hand who can help you … longer, if possible. You won’t feel as bad as you did the first day after your surgery, but you still feel really sore and exhausted, and wiggly newborn baby feet line up perfectly with your new incision when you’re holding your munchkin. Kids are actually born knowing how to beat you up. Also, set up little stations of necessities by your bed and couch so you aren’t getting up to get stuff all the time.
Your staples come out about a week later. This sounds disgusting, but it’s fine. I am a grade-A wimp, and it was seriously a pain-free event. It feels like dead skin falling off or something. I felt a lot better about two weeks later … I actually went back to my church gig when my son was two weeks old. Another couple weeks and I felt completely fine, like it had never happened (except that I had an awesome baby.) I have a very small scar, and that’s it. It doesn’t even show on the beach.
In conclusion: it’s really not so bad. If you need more evidence, I am a GIANT WUSS and I plan to do it again one day and am even looking forward to it (mostly.) Many hospitals are resistant to VBAC, and I’m not inclined to push (ha, get it) for one, because I loved everything about my son’s birth. My C-section delivery was as beautiful as any natural one and yours will be, too. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating the day you became a mother (or became one again), no matter how it happened.