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The Birth Story (Or: More Than Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Having A C-Section)

  • Posted on May 9, 2008 at 6:02 pm

I’ve always considered myself to have child-bearing hips. I’m built to have babies. My uneventful pregnancy confirmed this fact for me—my body just knows what to do. So I thought.

In my head, I imagined that my water would break on my exact due date, and I would go to the hospital when the contractions were five minutes apart, and the doctor would meet me there and I would labor for a few hours and push out a healthy baby girl the natural way, and things would go just perfectly. Even when, during my pregnancy, I entertained the possibility that I just might end up having a c-section, Larry just laughed it off and told me that no way, you’re not having a c-section. You’re pushing that baby out. Yes, that was the plan; that was my vision. I wanted as natural a delivery as possible.

One of the first lessons of motherhood that I have learned is that things don’t always go according to plan, and that I have to be flexible, and that sometimes life will not always play out the way that I have envisioned it. That is a hard lesson for me, because I am a planner. I always have a vision. And I like things to go my way.

When I checked into the hospital on Tuesday, April 15, I was a wound-up ball of nerves and excitement. I was being induced the next day. The end of the pregnancy was tangible, and without a doubt the baby would be in my arms in about 24 hours. I had hoped and wished that I would go into labor naturally before my induction date, but I had no contractions, no water breaking, nothing.

Larry and my mom went with me to the hospital and my mom left once I was settled into the labor and delivery room. This was the room that my daughter would be born in the next day. Larry camped out on the extra fancy reclining chairs that they provide for partners to sleep in—chairs that Larry later coined “torture chairs” because they were so uncomfortable. That evening, I was hooked up to monitors, examined, questioned, and given drugs to “ripen” my cervix. Then I was given an Ambien to help me sleep through the night. Damn, if only I had known that Ambien was safe for my unborn baby, I might have taken it during a few of the sleepless nights during my pregnancy.

The night went by in a hazy blur. The next morning I was allowed to wash my face and brush my teeth, but not to eat breakfast. It was also the last time I would stand up for a long time. Dr. B., my obstetrician, came in that morning to check on my progress. Before they administered the Pitocin, the drug to induce contractions, I was only a couple of centimeters dilated. My blood pressure was higher than it should be.

I remember Dr. B. saying that morning “someone probably should have told you this, but 50% of inductions end in cesareans.” Yeah, someone should have told me that. But would it have mattered? I really didn’t have any choice but to be induced, since the baby was already a week late.

Around 7:30 a.m. the nurses started me on Pitocin and hooked me up to monitors to track my contractions, the baby’s heart rate, and my blood pressure. Soon, I was feeling the contractions. So this is what they feel like, I thought. Dr. B. broke my water a few minutes later using a tool that looked like a giant knitting needle. THAT was not a pleasant experience—they really need to put a bucket or something down there, because there was fluid EVERYWHERE, gushing on the floor, on the bed, and on me.

The contractions kept coming, stronger and stronger. The doctors and nurses warned me that it sometimes takes a while for the anesthesiologist to come to administer the epidural in my spine, especially if there are multiple women requesting epidurals, and I should not wait until the contractions are unbearable. I asked for the epidural around 10 a.m. when they started to get really painful. The doctor came a short while later, stuck a big needle in my spine, and by 10:30 I was pain-free. For a while, at least.

This is when things started to go downhill, at least the way that I remember it. I kept having stronger and stronger contractions for the next few hours, but NOTHING ELSE HAPPENED. My cervix did not dilate any larger, and the baby was not making her way towards the exit. Dr. B. kept coming in and checking me, and he would say things like “the baby is still in Northern Alaska” and “she’s still in Upper Volta.” I didn’t even know where Upper Volta was, but I had a feeling it wasn’t DOWN.

To make matters worse, the baby’s heart rate seemed to be decelerating every time I had a contraction. Going into distress. And my blood pressure was going up, up, up. Dr. B. started seriously talking about the dreaded c-word: cesarean. He told me that if I didn’t make any progress (i.e. dilate a few more centimeters), the best/only option would be to have the c-section. It was dangerous for both me and the baby. There was talk that maybe I was beginning to show signs of toxemia, since my blood pressure was so high. And I distinctly remember him talking about women in Africa that don’t have access to hospitals and doctors, and how they labor for days with no progress, and their babies die and turn to mush before they finally come out. I guess he was going for the scare tactics.

When the cesarean became a real possibility, I lost it. As Dr. B. sat in my room, explaining it to me, I couldn’t help but cry. It was just not at all how I pictured it. I know many women who have had cesareans, and I’ve always felt bad for them, with a certain pity that they had to endure the surgery. And I thought the recovery was so much worse, not being able to lift anything or bend over, and ooohh the scars. I still get choked up, thinking about that flood of emotion I had, the doctor trying to tell me how not bad c-sections are, my mom trying not to cry as I sat there sobbing, and Larry trying to comfort me.

I wanted so badly to have the baby as naturally as possible (not counting the epidural, of course. Duh.) I decided to give it another hour, and I spent that hour lying still in my bed, trying to will my cervix to dilate. I repeated in my head over and over “at least 8 centimeters, at least 8 centimeters…” Mind over body.

Then, my epidural started to wear off—I could feel painful contractions again. My faith in the magic of the epidural was quickly waning, because I didn’t think it was supposed to hurt again this soon. The anesthesiologist came in and gave me more medicine. Ah, relief. I used zero of the techniques I learned in the childbirth class for managing labor pain. Just give me the drugs.

After that last hour past, Dr. B. came in to check my progress. And there was no progress. I was still at 4 cm, and unless the baby was a pinhead, it was not coming out the natural way. I was diagnosed as failure to progress.

The word failure echoed in my ears and my heart, because I felt like a failure. I failed. FAILED. I, the overachiever, do not fail, but I somehow failed at this basic (yet so complicated), natural act, which all the women in my family had so mastered, and which billions of women before me had mastered. And that stung me.

But I had no choice. Actually, I had a choice, but I knew I was making the only logical decision. At 2 p.m., I told Dr. B. that I would have the surgery.

Things happened quickly after that, and it was mostly a blur. They stopped the Pitocin, so my contractions mellowed out a bit. Doctors and nurses came and went. They started administering a stronger dose of medicine for the epidural, and that is when I began to feel such terrible back pain, like nothing I have ever felt. It wasn’t like back pain that you feel when you pull a muscle, or throw your back out, or sleep wrong. This pain felt so deep in my back, like someone was hammering my spinal cord. I complained of the pain, and the doctors took notice immediately. They asked me to describe the pain, but I couldn’t even verbalize what it felt like. I just hurt.

Soon after I was wheeled to the operating room, feeling nervous and jittery. There were people everywhere, working on me and around me. The drugs took effect quickly, and my toes went from feeling like pins and needles to feeling like NOTHING. What a scary feeling, to be awake but not able to move half of my body. They stretched my arms out on both sides of me as if I was lying on a cross and hooked me up to monitors, IVs, wires, and who knows what else. A curtain was raised to block my view of my abdomen. Larry was let into the room to sit next to me and hold my hand.

The surgery began. I could feel pressure and movement, but no pain. I could, however, see things in the lamp hanging above. Nothing too gory, but hands and metal instruments moving about. I started to feel a slight sensation of pain, and the anesthesiologist immediately fixed that. Oh yeah, and they conveniently placed the suction tube with my blood directly between Larry and myself, so we could see my blood being sucked out of me.

In about ten minutes, they had the baby out of me. Stella Moxie King, born at 4:09 pm. I heard her cry before I saw her, and I started crying. They took her to be cleaned and checked out, and Larry went over to meet her and take pictures. Apparently they were using a brand new machine for measuring her, and there was a big red light on top of it. I could only think of Veruca Salt in Willie Wonka and The Chocolate Factory when she jumps onto the egg scale and is judged a bad egg. Luckily, our little baby passed as a good egg, and soon she was brought to me so I could see her face while they sewed me back up. A nurse held her close to my face and insisted on a picture, which is probably the worst picture of my life. My abdomen was split wide open. I wasn’t feeling my best.

We learned that she was “sunny side up”—babies are supposed to be born with their faces towards the mother’s spinal cord, but Stella was facing up. The back of her head rubbing against my spinal cord probably caused the intense back pain I felt—literally known as “back labor.” She also had the cord wrapped twice around her neck, causing her heart rate to plummet with every contraction as the cord tightened.

The anesthesiologist kept trying to make small talk with me, like asking me if I would play Mozart for the baby. I told him that I would most likely be playing her the Beatles and the Old 97’s. I’m not sure if all the talk was to make sure I was still lucid, or to cover up the noise of the staple gun they were using to close up my incision. Yeah. Staples. (The doctor who later removed them asked if I wanted to keep them as a souvenir. Ew.)

Larry went off to recovery with the baby, and I was soon all put back together and able to meet them there. I finally got to hold my baby. And it was all so worth it. All at once, I didn’t care one way or the other if she was born naturally, by c-section, or if they had to cut me from breastbone to pubic bone. She was here, and she was perfect.

We spent three more nights in the hospital. I was finally able to eat real food on Thursday evening—a good 48 hours after my last meal. They wouldn’t give me food until I farted—yep, that’s right, I’ve never had so many people concerned with whether or not I passed gas. Since the epidural put everything to sleep down there, they needed to make sure that all systems were operating before I could eat, and farting is a sure sign that everything is back on.

We were discharged on Saturday evening, after a few interesting days in the hospital—I had my breasts fondled by a lactation consultant; an evil nurse made me cry by first taking my baby away for a suspected fever (which turned out to be nothing) and then telling me that my baby was losing too much weight; a cord blood donation administrator made my husband and mother leave the room while she asked if I knew any prostitutes from Cameroon; and about fifty people came to survey me on everything from my hospital registration experience to the effectiveness of the previous survey taker. They also took my blood pressure so often that I got scabs on my arm, and they somehow managed to take it at the most inopportune times.  For example, the evil nurse would come in, say “your baby is running a low fever, and she’s lost one pound since birth! Haha! Now give me your arm so I can take your blood pressure! Haha!” Of course my blood pressure was ridiculously high, I think around 190/110. Now I’m on blood pressure meds and I’m beginning to feel light-headed.

I admit, Dr. B. was right. The c-section was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. The first few days were rough, and it was excruciating to use my abs to sit up or get out of bed, and the first time I coughed I thought I had ruptured every stitch inside me and I was going to die of internal bleeding. As I write this three weeks later, I feel really good, except for an occasional twinge of pain at my incision. I stopped taking pain medication after about 10 days. I can bend over just fine, I can walk, I can take the stairs, and the scar is so low that I think I’m likely to forget it’s even there. And honestly, given the alternatives for where I might have had stitches and scars (you know, down there), I just might admit that I prefer the one I’ve got. Plus I’ve got the world’s cutest baby.