My beautiful children have been in my life for three and a half years and 16 months now respectively. I brought them into this world naturally. How else could they have come? Unnaturally? A good friend of mine told me that she had a real problem with the terms “natural” and “unnatural” childbirth. My children were born out of my “zipper”, a 6 inch long incision in my abdomen just above my bikini line; a.k.a a cesarean section. Otherwise, I would have died. Modern science has given me choices that women would not have had a hundred years ago. In a perfect world, I would have had a drug-free, incense enhanced, birth that was a celebration of womanhood. Instead, I had a drug-enhanced, high tech, high intervention, celebration of modern medicine.
Labour with Chloe began at 4 am on Friday morning. I was so excited. After my husband and I carefully timed and recorded my contractions in our little notebook to make sure that they were regular, I called my doulas and my parents. Life’s miracle had started!
My carefully orchestrated birth plans began to go awry when I was sent home from the hospital the second time because I had not dilated enough; a mere 2 centimetres after 24 hours. All the books and articles written about labour don’t tell you about wanting to punch out the poor soul who delivered this news. Hard labour began soon I arrived home. My contractions were virtually on top of each other for the whole day. I thought that Chloe was playing my spine like a xylophone. My husband, mom, dad and doulas took turns jamming their hands into my lower back and walking a well-worn path into my carpet. At about 4pm, we decided, once again to journey to the hospital, only this time, I couldn’t bear the thought of sitting down, so I groaned on all fours in the back of an SUV (God help the cop who tried to pull us over for unsafe driving).
Three tries lucky. I demanded to be seen. After my millionth pelvic exam, they put me into a birthing room. I gave the nurses my gift of chocolate and a copy of my birth plan as an incentive to follow my carefully thought-out instructions. The patient and helpful nurses crawled around on all fours with a heart rate monitor up my nightgown to check Chloe’s heart rate because I refused to get into bed. Two more hours went by. Another pelvic, this time by an Ob.Gyn. I was still only 2 centimetres dilated, and Chloe had not descended. I was told that she was going to have to be delivered by c-section. All that work! I cried, and then reluctantly agreed.
It was time for the epidural. There was no break in my contractions, and the hospital bed was as inviting as a concrete slab covered in scorpions and lit on fire. My instructions were to get into bed and lie perfectly still so that this long, gleaming, needle filled with morphine didn’t go into the wrong spot. Sucking back nitrous oxide didn’t remove the pain, but it removed my concern about the pain. After some jabs, the anesthesiologist ran from my birthing room to get the head of the department; apparently, he had missed his mark 3 times! Panic stricken doctors fleeing from my hospital room did little to put my war weary parents at ease. The head anesthesiologist had no problems. I hadn’t realized that when you bought an epidural, a catheter came free. Bonus! An epidural renders you completely numb from just under your ribcage to your toes, and the hospital doesn’t want any stray urine making a mess.
The operating room was cold. I could almost see my breath. I wanted Chloe to be put skin to skin against my chest after emerging, but she would have been frozen. In reality, a curtain is put up at chin level to mercifully separate you and your hapless husband from the grizzly reality of surgery. As far as Fraser was concerned, Chloe materialized by osmosis, pre wrapped in blankets, aided by beautiful butterflies, and strong, but dainty fairies. My arms were strapped to boards on either side of my body and attached to machines to carefully measure my every function. I couldn’t lift them even if I tried. I was quivering with fear. While I was pregnant, the c-section was an amorphous concept to me; not major abdominal surgery. After feeling a lot of tugging, I heard a cry. She was here! Chloe was immediately whisked away, out of my sight, to be cleaned up, weighed, and apgar’ed. Fraser watched the whole scene because I couldn’t move. The first time I met Chloe, I couldn’t touch her, because my hands were strapped down. Fraser brought her close to me so I could nuzzle, kiss and smell her. Wonderous!
In recovery, I was so exhausted, I couldn’t lift my arms. Nurses were bustling about me, cleaning and changing my dressings while I slept. Chloe spent most of her first couple of hours nestled against Fraser’s chest. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have a strong birth partner; especially when having a c-section. Fraser gave Chloe that special bonding time that she so desperately needed because I was physically unable to so. Daddy met and snuggled his baby daughter without having to share her just yet.
About those dressings….
A word of advice for all women giving birth soon; c-section or not: bring your own underwear and pads. Did you ever wonder what happened to all the sanitary napkin and belt systems? Vancouver hospitals bought them. They look especially appealing when accompanied by paper underwear. Enough said.
As the epidural began to wear off, what struck me the most was not the pain, it was manageable, but the itch was unbearable. Apparently, many people get uncontrollably itchy as a side effect of the morphine in the epidural. Bring moisturizer to the hospital if you are having an epidural; it helps a great deal. The hospital gave me an antihistamine to control the itch. If it is offered to you, make sure that you find out if it is non-drowsy unless you are looking for a “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” experience. The room was spinning for about 2 hours afterwards.
Breastfeeding was new and exciting. I have never had so many strangers manhandle my boobs. Everyone had an opinion on the correct technique. Nurses would come by and squish my breast like a hamburger in an attempt to get Chloe to latch properly. One poor friend of mine told me that the janitor came over and “manipulated” her breast into a proper latch. People just love to help J
I was ravenously hungry the next morning. It had been about a day and half since my last food. I started salivating when my morning tray arrived. Bacon! Eggs! Toast with peanut butter! Hash browns! Mmmm. I wheeled my bedside table over in eager anticipation. I lifted the lid and was greeted by jello and chicken broth. I began to size up the nurse to see if she would be tough and stringy or tender and meaty. Another little c-section detail that was left out of my education was no food until you “pass gas”. You must drink some terrible medicine prior to surgery to halt digestion. The indicator that everything has started moving again is the noble, yet humble fart. My digestive track took 12 hours to start moving again, prompting many whispered inquiries as to the state of my flatulence.
I planned for a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) with Logan. I chose a midwife this time for a more soulful experience. Contractions started on Sunday, and Logan was born on Thursday afternoon naturally by cesarean. I didn’t labour hard, but I laboured long – 5 days. I walked and walked and walked. Ikea and Metrotown Mall were like old familiar friends. I got all my Christmas shopping done. My water finally broke on Thursday morning prompting an immediate c-section to avoid cord prolapse as Logan had not descended. My beautiful boy had arrived.
Logan’s birth was soulful because I knew what was going to happen, and I had a great team. This time around, I was more relaxed and more prepared. I loved being pregnant. I loved the miracle of growing a person inside my skin. I love that I was able to have 2 beautiful kids without dying in the process. Your birth experience can be soulful, spirited and filled with humour. It is what you make of it.