So I was a little hesitant to share this post. I had so many emotions over the fact that Luke was born by C-section, but didn’t want to write anything negative about it, because we don’t want to forget for a second how fortunate we are to have had our little man, however he arrived. Still, in the weeks leading up to Luke’s arrival, I found other mamas’ accounts of their breech babies and C-sections so very comforting and wanted to know so much about their experiences that I thought it would still be worth sharing my thoughts — if even just for me to look back on someday. So here goes!
I mentioned a few weeks ago that we found out little man was breech, which meant that, if he didn’t turn head down by around 37 weeks, he would need to be born by C-section. After an almost wholly uneventful pregnancy, that next week was a whirlwind — while B2 went out of town for work, I chugged water to give B3 a bigger swimming pool to flip in and hung out upside down in all kinds of pillow arrangements and Googled things like “breech baby” and “did your baby flip after 36 weeks” like a madwoman. At this point, I don’t think I really thought he’d stay breech, since there was still time, all the statistics said only 3-4% of babies were breech at term (and wasn’t that a tiny percentage!) and if he didn’t flip, we could always try an external cephalic version, where two doctors try to turn baby from the outside by forceful “massage,” which I hear is a euphemism in the strongest sense of the word. But little man didn’t flip! And when we decided to try the version, we discovered at the hospital that my amniotic fluid had dropped too much for it to be a good idea. So, with B3’s head still nestled steadfastly under my ribs, we went ahead and scheduled a C-section for him in about two weeks, remarked to each other how funny it was that we got to choose his birthday, and really started to contemplate the fact that he was going to arrive his own way.
I honestly had no idea that a C-section was something I didn’t want — or at least, didn’t want so strongly — before I was told I might have to have one. I’d always preferred the idea of a vaginal birth and I’d always assumed that that would be the way I’d have my kids, but I was totally unprepared for the emotions that washed over me when this happened. I read about the increased risks of complications for future pregnancies; I read about how the recovery period would almost certainly be longer, and wondered if I’d be able to handle all the household work and take care of Luke once B2 went back to work.
Maybe the most visceral emotion for me, and perhaps the least rational, was what all the baby books said I might feel and yet what I didn’t expect to — the idea that I would feel “cheated” out of the labor experience. Can you really be cheated out of something when by all accounts it’s torturously difficult? It felt silly, but I was fixated on this idea that I wasn’t going to be having B3 the way that my mother had me and my brother, how my grandmother had my mother, how B2’s mom had B2. No one on either side of our families had had a C-section, and somehow I had never once thought I might have to. Having Luke this way felt, for some reason, that I wasn’t going to go through this same womanly rite of passage that all the women in my life had, that I wasn’t going to get to “prove myself” in this test that I had implicitly associated with the very essence of motherhood. Somehow I’d never been scared at the thought of labor, even though I’m a wimp when it comes to pain. I just felt that it was something I was meant to do and overcome, and now the C-section meant I wouldn’t get that chance. (This is ironic, because the C-section did scare me, a lot!)
Around 11:30am a week before Luke’s scheduled C-section, B2 was at work and I was at home, typing out a brief and a blog post and finishing an extra-large portion of this pumpkin French toast, when my water broke. My water broke! Even though it was pretty clear what had happened, I was in shock (I mean, didn’t we just spend a week getting accustomed to the idea that we picked his birthday?) and called B2 in a daze. “Did you call the doctor?” he asked me. Great idea, I had not. I called the doctor and left a message while B2 came straight home. We missed the call back (oops) because we were running around (or, in my case, waddling) putting together last-minute hospital things, changing out of the Jean-Claude Van Damme shirt that served as pajamas (me) or frantically wiping down random parts of the kitchen and bathroom (him: “It was just what I kept thinking I had to do before Luke came!”). We called back again, received the appropriate admonition to “please stay near your phone in case you have to go to the hospital,” and finally got directions from our doctor to go straight to Labor & Delivery.
At the hospital, they confirmed that my water had broken, and told me that that day would be Luke’s birthday, after all. (He decided to be a Libra instead of a Scorpio!) But — because somebody had scarfed a ton of French toast that morning — we had to wait for another five hours or so before we could go into surgery. Whoops. Those hours rushed by in dollops, both slow and crazily fast. We spent it texting our families and watching the clock hands spin; we talked to each other about how close we were to meeting B3, how funny it was that he’d decided to do things his own way yet again, and how happy we were that he had picked his own birthday, after all.
When the time came for surgery, I felt calm in my head, but watched my knees knock together (turns out that that’s a real thing that happens) as I sat on the operating table while they prepped me for the spinal block. The needle in my back didn’t hurt at all, but when they laid me down on the table and clipped up a curtain just under my collarbone, the anesthesia made it hard to breathe and suddenly it felt like all the fear in the world was sitting squarely on my chest. They’d told me that B2 would have to wait outside for 15 minutes, but much longer than that seemed to have passed and I kept wondering where he was. After what felt like forever, his masked face finally drifted into view, and I stammered to him through a clenched jaw that I was scared and (this bothered me for some reason) that his face was upside down. I’ll never forget the love in his eyes as he tried to turn his head so that I’d feel better. Meanwhile, the anesthesiology resident pricked me up and down my side to make sure the anesthesia had taken hold. I remember thinking I was unconvinced that this was a good way to make sure that I wouldn’t feel anything. My obgyn asked me a few questions, which I answered in whispers. Once they began, B2 kept up a steady stream of chatter to me, which neither of us remember at all anymore. I didn’t feel any pain, only pressing and pushing.
Luke was born sixteen minutes later, to “Stand By Me,” by Ben E. King. I was too terrified to pick any music, but as it turns out, my obgyn had excellent taste: I can’t imagine a more perfect song, and I haven’t been able to listen to it again without bawling immediately. B2’s face lit up when we heard B3 start crying for the first time. The doctors had him go with them while Luke was cleaned up, and he told me that the most emotional moment for him was when Luke, crying, grabbed onto B2’s finger with both hands like it was his lifeline. The thing that surprised me most about the C-section was that I just could not relax the entire time I was in surgery — my arms and chest and jaw were the most tense that they have ever been, seized up with all of my being. But then they put B3 on my chest for the first time, his pillowy cheeks just a few inches from my face, and that finally fell away a little bit. The rest of the surgery passed by in a haze of baby cheeks and Motown.
If I was surprised by how scary I found the C-section, I was equally surprised by how smoothly the recovery went. The beginning was not the most fun I’ve ever had — I had pretty violent shakes in the first three hours afterward, which I hated and which B2 hated watching, and the morning after the surgery I cried from the pain when I first got out of bed. But those were the worst parts — by the end of Luke’s first week, walking around the house was fine, and about nine or ten days out I stopped taking pain medication altogether. (Everyone is right about ab binders, by the way! Mine helped so much.) And right now I feel so much more normal than I ever thought I would three weeks after a C-section.
The truth is, on the other side of it all, I still wish that we had been able to have Luke without surgery. Most everyone we talked to about the C-section was quick to assure us of how many people they knew who had had C-sections, how someone they knew had had three of them, or one C-section and two VBACs after, how routine the surgery was, how remote the risks were, and I totally know all of that is true. But I’m a worrywart, so I still worry about what it’s going to be like trying for a VBAC or having to have a second or third C-section, when I was so scared during the first.
At the same time, the other day the receptionist at my two week check-up asked me if the birth was easy. Without thinking, I answered, “Oh, it was fine — I just had a C-section.” And it was fine. It’s not for me to say whether a C-section is easier or harder than a vaginal birth, and I have no idea how labor would have gone for me. I kept joking before Luke was born that if he had turned head-down, there would have been a time during labor when I would have wondered why on earth I ever wanted him to! The fact of the matter is, like our obgyn told us from the beginning, this was not a bad problem to have. We had a smooth delivery and we have our little man with us safe and sound (and we even got to have a little fun in the meantime, scrambling to get to the hospital after my water broke in what felt like a small piece of the labor experience, after all). The beauty of that has made everything else fade so fast, into strains of Ben E. King, sunny afternoons in the hospital, the look on B2’s face when he heard Luke cry for the first time. Remembering all that reminds me that the way Luke was born was, after all, perfect, because it was just that — the way he was born.