I Chose To Have A C-Section, And It Was Totally Fine

I had nary a trace of fear or dread. Just a sense of well-being. Image: Thinkstock.

I kept telling my baby over and over, “I just want you to be alive.“

Content notice: childbirth, pregnancy

I had what everyone called an “easy” pregnancy: Except for the constant nausea in the first trimester, nothing of the extraordinary kind transpired.

I gained 42 lbs over the course of 41 weeks, and for the most part, it suited me.

I took long, leisurely strolls downtown, spent many an afternoon reading a book under the shade of towering redwoods, ate till I could eat no more (and then some). I sang songs to the life growing inside my bulging belly, told her how a hummingbird is different from a robin, read aloud to her, and enjoyed her flips and tumbles.

I imagined how she would enter this world and experience everything anew.

I thought often about the birth story I would tell and retell.

Sure, peeing every five minutes wasn't fun, and neither were the back pain and sleeplessness that accompanied the fatigue. But it wasn't anything that her ultrasound images or a prenatal massage couldn't fix. One look at her still-forming features and the discomfort melted away.

I was so happy in my third trimester that friends said it was unnatural:

“You look at peace...”

“Isn't your back killing you?”

“Wow! This is going to be a huge baby!”

Family, friends, and strangers felt free to opine. When it was 10 days past my due date, I got many comments about how I had the patience of a saint. How it must be so painful for me to wait.

I, on the other hand, was just grateful to be healthy and have a baby who seemed to listen to her mom. “There's no rush,” I'd tell her. “You come when you're ready.”

I'd sit in the sun and do mandala drawings, imagining the various stages of my dilation. I'd practice deep breathing. I'd go through the motions of sitting in the bathtub relaxing my muscles and singing lullabies.

I had packed my hospital bag at the end of my second trimester. The handmade mobile was ready. The crib had been set up.

To everyone else on the outside, it signaled my readiness.

But on the inside, I was relieved that she hadn't made her debut yet.

So many eager arms to hold her, soothe her, love her. But while she was still inside me, she was all mine. Just mine.

I had also talked to her about how nervous I was. How I wouldn't let anything happen to her on her journey out of my body. How we could — how we would — do it together.

I shared with her what I dare not share with anyone else: How I was afraid of the cord wrapping around her neck. How I couldn't bear the thought of my vagina being ripped. How the whole idea of her shoulders getting stuck freaked me out. How I was afraid of hospitals and doctors. How badly I wanted to give her the best start. How I knew something would go horribly wrong at some point.

The 40th week was filled with appointment after appointment. Each time, the gynecologist would shake his head and inform me that she hadn't descended yet.

He told me to talk to the baby. I did. I told her to stay put.

It seemed to be going along just fine until the morning she stopped moving. I drank orange juice, ate ice, did yoga, went for a walk, sang to her, talked to her, cried... Nothing. It had been three hours.


 

He advised me about the risks of a major surgery, how future pregnancies would also likely result in a surgical delivery, and how the road to recovery would be much longer and harder.


 

Finally, the doctor's office answered. I was called in for monitoring.

I kept telling my baby over and over, “I just want you to be alive."

When you're 36 and have heard of still birth many times over the course of your uneventful pregnancy…

When you're (culturally-speaking) “way past your prime” and are reminded over and over of your mom's struggles with her pregnancy and delivery…

When you've never wanted a baby, but then wanted a baby really badly...

When you've been through acupuncture sessions, hypnotherapy, and cranial sacral therapy against all your logical beliefs...

When you've left not just your job but a thriving career because all you wanted to be was a mom...

When you're waiting for the proverbial ax to fall after an uneventful pregnancy...

You need this baby to be alive.

The nurse hurriedly put the straps around my belly, and we heard my daughter's heart beating normally. I let out a shriek. She was fine. She was just fine.

The doctor came in: No dilation yet. “This baby just doesn't want to come out!” she declared. I was sent to the hospital to be monitored and induced.

Being induced had never been part of my plan. I'd always imagined a long, intense, natural labor followed by a difficult birth and fourth-degree tearing (because if I would be telling and retelling this birth story my entire life, there had to be drama, a full-blown climax).

I'd always imagined she would come out strong and healthy, but that the process would be nothing short of intense and drawn-out, the room filled with screams and tears and laughter.

Since I was being monitored, with no clear timeline or prognosis, I wasn't taken to the ultra-modern labor and delivery room we had toured a month earlier.

There were no fancy recliners, remote-controlled music, dimmable lights, humming essential oil diffusers, or a TV with limitless channels. Instead, I was in 6-by-6-foot windowless room on a stretcher, hooked to a machine that was constantly monitoring my little one's heartbeat. I had been advised to not eat or drink anything. They didn't know when a doctor would come to review my situation. And did I need the WiFi password?

I had brought my hospital bag with me, at least. Over the course of the next seven hours, my husband and I had many conversations. We played Words with Friends. He went for a bit to Starbucks. We took walks around the lobby.

At 8 pm, my obstetrician showed up. He graciously told me that I was a champ. He advised us on the next steps: They would inject me. I'd go home. Labor would start in the next 24-48 hours. And then I'd come back to the hospital.

He told us that the odds that I would need emergency surgery were well over 60 percent.

“Has the baby descended?” my husband asked.

The doctor checked. He looked up at me with an ominous expression. No, she hadn't descended. She was nowhere near where he had expected her to be at this stage of my pregnancy.

“Is an elective C-section an option at this point?” I heard myself ask.

It took him by surprise. “You're asking for a C-section? You?!” he nearly shrieked.

Then, in a more neutral tone, he advised me about the risks of a major surgery, how future pregnancies would also likely result in a surgical delivery, and how the road to recovery would be much longer and harder.

He spoke to my logical side. He spoke to my scientifically-sound side. He spoke to my hippie feminist side. He reminded me of my request for a hot water tub, my mandala drawings and my labor mantra.

In short, he advised as best as he could against a C-section.


 

I had prepared so hard and so long for the end of my pregnancy, but I had never thought that it would turn out like this.


 

I'm not sure why those words had come out of my mouth. Perhaps sitting in that windowless room had driven me to the edge of my patience? Perhaps I was a wimp and just didn't want to go through all the pain of natural labor and delivery? Perhaps I needed this pregnancy to remain uneventful? I'm not sure.

But my instinct said she needed to come out that night.

There was nothing that justified that instinct. I signed the consent forms, and I was wheeled into the operating room within the hour.

I remember feeling numb: not because of the epidural they injected while my white-faced husband looked on. Not because of the terror that some experience in the face of major surgery. Certainly not because I was going to become a mother in the next few minutes.

Probably because it was an unforeseen decision, and even though it was mine, it kind of really wasn't?

My mind was still processing the implications. I had skipped over the C-section bits in all the labor and birth books. I didn't know a thing about the before, during, or after.

But somehow, I wasn't freaking out. Somehow, a strange calmness engulfed me. Maybe I was trying to block it all out.

They told me to let them know if I felt anything — anything at all.

Do you know how weird it is when you're prepared to feel pain and then don't feel a thing?

My heart was steeled for third-degree vaginal ruptures, but I knew nothing about incisions and scar tissue. I was told when the baby is pulled out, I'd feel pressure. But no — I didn't feel anything then, either.

I was just lying down looking at the blue curtain over my chest, my husband holding my hand in a death grip. I don't remember feeling impatience or anxiety. I had nary a trace of fear or dread.

Just a sense of well-being.

I had imagined being bathed in sweat, my body working hard to push the baby out. But I distinctly remember feeling cold. Very, very cold. They draped a warm blanket over my chest but the frigidity was unshakeable. My body felt useless, the breathing exercises, pointless.

And then there was the resounding cry, a hand holding up what was declared to be my baby, blood dripping on the curtain, and voices saying, “Congratulations!”

Amidst my teeth chattering, I remember asking my husband, “Did you get a photo?”

Just like that, she was no longer a part of my body. She was her own person, with her own identity, her own self.

And then, she was gone. I got barely a glimpse of her blood-drenched, wrinkly body before she was whisked away for various procedures.

My husband left my side to be at hers. He was a father now; his priorities had shifted.

I lay there quietly, tears streaming down my face. As they stitched me up, they sounded relaxed. Someone asked me if I was OK.

I feigned a weak smile. Physically, I felt nauseated and cold. Emotionally, I didn't know what to feel. Thankful, for sure, but what else? Empty? Lonely? Disappointed? Or was I supposed to be elated, joyous, proud?

I had prepared so hard and so long for the end of my pregnancy, but I had never thought that it would turn out like this.

While my innards were restored, I waited anxiously to hold my flesh and blood. It was an hour before I held her fragile, helpless, beautiful body in my arms.

But then, there she was, with her dimpled chin and dainty fingers, with her bald pate and watery eyes. Comforting me as much as I was comforting her.

We did skin-to-skin and she latched well in the first try. I took pain medications for only one day during my hospital stay. My recovery at home was “super easy,” per reports by other moms. Motherhood came very naturally to me.

I don't have an amazing birth story to share when friends ask me about my labor. I didn't have a glorious tale of heroism spanning a 42-hour birth, but I didn't have a miraculous three-minute, easy delivery either.

In some sense, I felt cheated that my pregnancy came to an end in a very controlled way. That I didn't have anything “remarkable” to tell my visitors. That I chose to have an “unremarkable” birth.

But I also felt blessed.

And that feeling of gratefulness far outweighed any sense of loss I felt for not having the birth experience I'd been hoping and planning for.  

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