When I tried to prepare myself for labor with India I had no starting place for understanding. I feared the pain, my capability, and the reality that childbirth could be dangerous. In reality it was a blank vision though—I couldn’t begin to fathom it. In hindsight, it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I fought through hours of strong fast contractions, had an epidural when I couldn’t last any longer, and then delivery was a lot of chitchatting with my OB between pushes about my honeymoon and life. And when India was ready to come out, I got to reach down, grab her, and pull her up on to my chest. Seeing her face and hearing her scream was one of the most awesome, beautiful moments of my life. I had a daughter, and she had a face, and a voice, and the weight of her curled up on my chest was 7 pounds and 11 ounces of family and love that had instantaneously become reality.
When I tried to prepare myself for labor with Major I said to myself, “you’ve got this.” This was a known quantity, and if I did it once, I could do it again. In fact, I not only could I just do it again, but it would be magical and special.
Just like when India was born I packed myself up a week overdue, and headed to the hospital to be checked-in and induced. I’ve never experienced the panic of going into labor and rushing around, just the quiet nerves of knowing I’m calmly walking into such a big life event. This time, instead of sitting in the waiting room for one hour we sat for several. We went out to breakfast, came back, and sat some more. My OB finally came out and said our options were to go home and wait to be called when a bed opened up, or to reschedule it for a week later. The thought of rescheduling felt insurmountable. I’d pumped myself up mentally for this being the day. I’d crammed in all the work I could, right up until the day before, so that I could be present for this. My mom had traveled to take care of India, and leaving her for these few days felt like one of the toughest pieces. I quickly said we’d come back when a bed opened knowing this meant she would likely be gone, and a stranger would deliver this baby.
Josh and I drove home, we ate lunch outside with a glass of wine (doctor’s orders!) and we waited for a bit. By four they called, ready for us. I raced down to the park where I knew India was playing and gave her one last giant hug. It felt so hard to leave her knowing she wouldn’t be my only baby the next time I saw her. We drove back to the hospital and got checked in. We were given a labor room with a sweeping view of the Hudson River, and we watched dusk settle over the city while I answered questions and met residents and attendings. Like last time the process started calmly. They inserted a balloon, and left me to wait. They came back and started Pitocin, and left me to wait. Mild contractions started, they felt easy to breath through and manage. Eventually the balloon came out and I slowly continued to dilate. They debated breaking my water and encouraged me to get the epidural now incase it caused the contractions to come fast and furious (dare I say, I felt pressured this time—with India, I felt a little shamed for wanting it). I got the epidural, and Josh and I both slept for a few hours. When I woke, a resident came in to check me. She was surprised I wasn’t more dilated, and eventually the attending came in to check me too. As she checked me we heard the sound of the monitor alerting the floor that the baby’s heart rate had dropped. This had happened a few times with India, and everyone would rush in, they’d flip me around, even onto all fours, and her heart rate would return to normal. This time they flipped me right, left, on all fours, and there was no change. Before I knew what was happening I was being flipped back on my back, unclipped from everything, and rushed out the door. I heard them tell Josh he couldn’t come, and as I passed him he said “You got this girl.” As we flew through the door tears streamed down the sides of my face, and a resident kept telling me how strong I was and how everything would be okay, but that I had to have an emergency C-section.
We flew into an OR, I was quickly tossed onto a very narrow operating table, and a curtain was drawn in front of my face. The tears continued to stream, and while I was pain-free from additional meds, I could feel the pressure of the cut across my abdomen and through my uterus, and the pulling and tugging to get baby out. In the midst of this the attending anesthesiologist realized I was alone. “Do you have a person?” She asked me. “Do you want him in here??” Shell shocked and scared I quietly said yes and she screamed at the whole OR for someone to go get him. By the time Josh was brought in the room, there was a baby being tended to and my body was wide open. I wanted so badly to be holding my baby. I hated hearing him across the room in a stranger’s arms. I hated that I hadn’t seen his face or felt his goopy body’s weight on my chest. When Josh was finally able to bring him over, he held his sweet clean little cheek against mine—the closest I could get to holding him.
Slowly the room cleared out. Josh followed the nurses that were taking Major to the nursery, the doctors and nurses no longer needed left to go about their days, and a few stayed behind to finish stitching me up (the pressure of which I could feel stitch by stich. The last two wheeled me down to a post op room. Josh was there, with tears coming down his face. It was the first time since meeting him 5 years ago that I had seen him cry. I asked him if he was okay and “that was pretty scary” was all he could mutter. We sat there quietly. I couldn’t feel a thing waist down which I hated, and where was my baby? A few doctors floated in to ask questions, and finally the OB who performed the surgery came in. She explained that they never WANT to section someone, especially someone who has already had a vaginal birth, but Major’s chord was wrapped around his neck tightly, and they had no choice. She promised it was a clean cut and that Major luckily didn’t have to hold his breath for too long. I stared, still shell shocked, tried to smile, said thank you, and reminded myself that a healthy baby was all that mattered.
It’s somewhat indescribable what the next 5 days in the hospital felt like. For starters, emergency surgery is a shock. With India I was in pain, but felt good enough to do everything with her and for her. With Major, breastfeeding hurt my incision, and the pain of getting out of bed, or even reaching side to side was so excruciating there’s no way to compare it. I had a catheter the first night I had to beg them to take out. It was hours before I could feel my legs, and once I could everything on my body felt itchy, but too painful to itch. I had to beg them to take the epidural port out of my back. Major being our second child (I’ve counted 35 people that held India in the hospital), the days were long and quiet. I was too able to focus on the pain, and replay the events over and over in my mind. Would this have happened if my OB had been here? Was it a sign that I should have waited another week? In other words, was this my fault somehow? I wrestled with this and what the C-section meant for Major. In passing the first few nights home, Josh mentioned that he worried more about Major than India because what if the breath holding had hurt him somehow? My heart sunk, and while I tried to assure him he was fine, the thought crept, and settled, almost unknowingly, in the back of my brain. The next few weeks were inexplicably painful. A friend said her sister described one of her C-sections as having her organs rearranged, and this is how I felt. One day it would feel okay to walk at an average pace, and the next there would be new pain to where I could barely walk at all. For the first three weeks I didn’t go far (I think about 2.5 blocks max), and I couldn’t pick India up. She would beg me to, and cry, and I would have to say no. It broke my heart. On days or nights alone (Josh has no paternity leave) I had neighbors on call in case I needed to get her in or out of her crib. As an independent (and stubborn) person it was so hard for me to allow the extra help.
As I started to feel better physically I realized there was still something plaguing me mentally. At his earliest appointments, my pediatrician kept asking me about his eye contact. Had I not had self-doubting thoughts in the back of my head, I don’t think it would have affected me that there wasn’t much. He was a newborn, there isn’t supposed to be. But the anxiety about the question built and built in my heart until I texted my sister asking when her son (born 5 months prior) had first made eye contact. She knows me well enough to call, and I burst out in tears. WHY was my pediatrician asking this so early? WHAT if my labor had caused developmental delays? HOW would I know?? At my sister’s urging I called a best friend who is an OB. She sat with me on the phone for hours while I cried, and explained how she knew that Major was just fine. She also gave me the questions I could ask my OB about my specific delivery if I wanted to confirm this.
It felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I felt lighter in the world and more relaxed around him. That piece of sitting guilt that this had happened (why do we blame ourselves?) was a little bit smaller, and I thought less and less about the shock + sadness (for lack of a better word) attached to this birth.
Before having a C-section it was easy for me to say “A healthy baby is all that matters!” And while it’s a true statement at the heart of it, after having physically gone through it, I feel a twinge of pain and sadness when I hear about someone else’s. I’m blessed on one million levels, in no small way because I had the surgery (my OB later told me that during surgery they saw that I was beginning to have a placental abruption as well), but that doesn’t take away from the fact that I needed time to digest the situation, both because it was scary and because it was surgical, and mourn a little bit that the experience wasn’t joyous like the first.
Like so many things in motherhood—the good and the blessings overshadow the difficulty and pain. This is great on some levels, but can also leave people solitary in their mixed emotions. People like to talk about the secrecy around these things, or shame. To me it’s only that I can be so very thrilled about the good in things, that to talk about the hard pieces feels like it dilutes or undermines the good instead of it being okay for them to co-exist. A friend of a friend emailed me when she saw on a post that I had a C-section, and said how sorry she was because she remembers so vividly the sadness, the anger, and the pain after her own. It felt like one million hugs to have someone say this and understand. Time and perspective change all things. Major is a thriving (and pretty cute) 6 month old, and luckily most of these feelings have faded. I feel more like myself all the time, and know that this is a tiny blip on the radar compared to what so many others go through with pregnancy, childbirth, and newborns—I only hope this helps someone else who has had a similar experience know they’re not alone.