The month of April is recognized as C Section Awareness Month, so I am taking the opportunity to raise awareness with a few posts on the subject from my own personal experience and perspective. C sections take place for all kinds of reasons, and a lot of people have opinions regarding the frequency even necessity of them at all. Throughout this month, I hope to shed some light on the reality of C sections, what they’re like, reasons they’re performed and what the effect is on mom. I may perhaps change some of your perspectives, but at the very least, I hope my stories can be a source of encouragement for any mom who has had a birth that didn’t go as planned (which is all of us, amiright?!).
I’ll begin this series with my daughter’s birth story.
Setting expectations for how the birth of your first child will go is an exercise fraught with a million what ifs that can unseat your peace in a heartbeat. Coming up with a birthplan seemed like a task so monumental and yet so absolutely necessary that it was enough to lose sleep over. Decisions about how my child would enter the world carried with it the weight of whether I would be forever after labeled a good mother or a bad one. As if at the end of the day we have any control.
I decided that I would have an unmedicated birth in a hospital, but was open to receiving the epidural since I wasn’t sure of my pain tolerance. I was proud to make a decision that seemed so level-headed and reasonable. Take that, pregnancy hormones!
My husband and I attended the birthing classes our hospital offered cause that’s what responsible parents do. I have to laugh when I recall that I strategically waited to go to the bathroom until C sections were covered in class because I knew it wasn’t going to apply to me.
When I was 36 weeks, I went in for a routine checkup and sonogram at my doctor’s office, making sure that all looked ok for a vaginal delivery. The sonogram was up first.
“Uh oh”, said the technician as she moved the wand just under my sternum.
My stomach dropped. “What is it?” I asked.
“There’s her head,” she replied, pointing at the top of the screen.
Evelyn was full breech. My doctor spent our visit that day explaining pretty matter-of-factly that I would have to give birth via C section, and that she would need to set the surgery that day to take place a week before my due date. I was in shock. I fought back unexpected tears. “Emily,” my doctor said seeing my eyes flooded with dashed dreams, “in my 20 years of experience, I can say that sometimes it’s just as if babies know that a vaginal delivery wouldn’t work. You have to remember that this isn’t about just you, this is about what is best for your baby.”
I didn’t want to hear that. My pregnancy had already felt like endless demands for my submission. Evelyn was conceived a little sooner than Nick and I had planned, so we had to submit to God’s will that it was just the right time for us to have a baby. Pregnancy had been an awful experience taxing my body physically, so I had to submit to limitations that I never had before. Nothing was happening how I had expected it, and now I had to submit to bringing my daughter into this world the absolute last possible way I wanted. Couldn’t just one thing happen how I wanted it to? Was that so much to ask?
I heard that word over and over, always spoken in the most gentle whisper and yet it came down like a hammer to my head.
I looked into all the ways I could get this stubborn little baby to turn. I wouldn’t submit without a fight. There was moxibustion, kind of strange with an iffy success rate. There was chiropractic adjustment, but it would take 5-6 sessions minimum and time wasn’t on my side. There was version, an incredibly painful procedure with only a 58% success rate, and babies who have undergone it are often born with the umbilical cord wrapped around their necks. As I looked into each, I kept hearing my doctor’s words in my head and a strange peace crept in. This is what motherhood is, giving up what I want for what is best for my baby. Still, it seemed harsh.
Submit. (Shut up!)
When the day came, preparing to go to the hospital was surreally calm. I wasn’t counting contractions, I wasn’t agonizing over when we should leave for the hospital, I wasn’t fretting over what was in my hospital bag. Nick and I woke up early that Friday morning and went to mass. My mom and dad met us at our apartment after, and we all headed to the hospital to get me checked in and prepped.
The first part was pretty technical. We filled out paperwork, and made sure insurance was in order. There was a man in the waiting area fidgeting with nerves, when a nurse entered and told him they would be keeping his wife and not send her home, that labor was definitely underway.
Nick and I went into triage where I was prepped for OR, and I started making all kinds of jokes to the nurse. It kept my mind off how scared I was to make her laugh. I didn’t dwell on the likelihood that she was just indulging a nervous momma. I made the mistake of looking at the IV needle before it went in, and my blood pressure dropped so dramatically that even Evelyn reacted to it. I grabbed Nick’s hand in panic thinking what a wuss I was to freak out over a needle, having been very familiar with them in the past. The nurses watching the monitor at their station just outside joked with me later that they “thought we were going to have to run in here and catch a baby!” The anesthesiologist then came in and explained the sensations I would feel when she administered the spinal.
Reality hit me hard as the thing that was never supposed to happen was now minutes away. Nick put a hazmat-looking suit on over his clothes, just leaving his shirt off since he’d have first skin-to-skin contact with our baby. He had been a little apprehensive about it, but I was grateful he was doing it. It was hard for me to give up holding my baby after she was born until I was stitched up, about 30-40 minutes. More like an eternity.
Submit. (Ugh, not right now.)
I was surprised when the nurses told me that I’d be walking into the OR, and as I did so, hand firmly grasping the back of my gown, my heart sank. It was so… clinical. Like such a beautiful event as birth should never take place there. A few nurses were bustling and talking as they set things up, and I dodged them as I made my way to the operating table and sat down. I was struck by the contrast of my internal emotional hurricane with the ease of these nurses who were just having another day at work.
The anesthesiologist came in to administer the spinal. Already? I thought.
“I’m going to need you to slouch,” she said. “Just relax your back, take a deep breath and hunch over.”
Loneliness overshadowed me, so I thought one more joke couldn’t hurt. I didn’t want to cry. “Not sure how much I can slouch with this kid still on my front.”
An exasperated “Try.” was her only response. Joking time was over.
Nick wasn’t there. We learned in the birthing class that men routinely pass out from watching the epidural or spinal go in, so the hospital banned all fathers from being in the room at that time. But I wanted Nick so much at that moment it hurt. I knew the nurses were there for me having been with so many women in this process before; still I felt so alone. One of them darted up and grabbed my hands. I squeezed the blood out of hers. I tried to hold back my tears so that she wouldn’t think I was a pansy, as if she hadn’t seen it before. The shot was mercifully easy, and I could almost instantly feel it take effect. I laid back on the table and was told to stretch my arms out to each side.
It was such a comfort to receive Jesus that morning at mass as preparation for the day. It was a Friday in Lent, and I offered up all the pain I would undergo that day to Jesus in communion with His crucifixion. As I stretched my arms out, I felt Christ so near to me. I was literally laid out on my Cross.
As the surgery began, the pain I felt was a spiritual one, so acute and overwhelming that while I thanked God for it, I asked that He’d never give it again. Christ showed me plain as day that piece of the mystery of His death that He had been hammering into my head all along – His submission. He did not nail Himself to His cross. He submitted to God’s will for Him and allowed Himself to be put into the hands of men, laying down and stretching His arms out on His cross willingly to give us life.
“Not my will but Thine be done!” I whispered.
This was the way my baby had to enter the world and I had to submit to it, but oh how I wish the cup could have passed me by! I wasn’t an active participant in bringing my baby into this world. I didn’t push, I didn’t labor. I was numb, laid out, arms outstretched, waiting for her birth to happen, waiting to say it was finished. I brought her into this world through submission, just as Christ did for us with His own life on Calvary. I couldn’t hold back the tears anymore. I repeated the name of “Jesus” over and over until Evelyn was born.
A screen blocked my view of the surgery, since I knew I couldn’t have handled watching my own stomach being cut into. At this point, Nick had been in the room for a while, taking the seat next to me and immediately clutching my hand. I could make out a reassuring smile behind his mask as he said to me over and over again, “I love you, you’re doing great!” My rock. At one point, I could feel the doctors turn Evelyn inside of me, shoving her little body up into my lungs and knocking the wind out of me. Get her out already! I thought.
I don’t remember hearing her first cry. She was swiftly carried to a nearby bassinet where she was cleaned up, chord cut, and footprints were taken. I strained my neck to catch any glimpse of her. Nick still had my hand but had turned away to watch everything the nurses were doing. “She has a full head of hair!” he reported back to me.
The first thing I did see were her footprints. The nurse held them up to us declaring, “These are some long feet!” I laughed! They were freakishly long, and I couldn’t help but think, What did I give birth to!
Nick held her skin-to-skin as my incision was closed, and a nurse took some photos on his phone. God bless her! Finally, she was brought to me and laid on my chest.
Every mother knows the mix of emotions you feel in that moment the first time you hold your baby. It’s relief that it’s over, she’s arrived and everyone survived. It’s awe at yourself and your body for growing and bringing forth new life. It’s overwhelming joy that this precious little one in your arms is totally unique and all yours, your responsibility, your blood, your life’s work from now on. It’s Heaven.
Evelyn and I were wheeled out of OR together to recovery, and I felt like we were the only ones in the whole hospital. My tears quickly changed from sorrow to joy in recovery as Evelyn was gently passed from Nick to my parents. I thought my heart would burst to see this baby so loved.
The recovery after surgery was rough. It certainly wasn’t easy finding rest with a newborn clamoring for my boobs every couple of hours. The pain of the incision would reduce me to tears at times, but I had a baby who needed me and my wants (ie sleep) had to be on the backburner. Without my mom and Nick in the weeks after, I don’t know what I would have done.
There may be some who will think or even tell me that I had options, that I could have avoided all of this if I really wanted. Honestly, that’s pointless talk. It happened. It was deemed safest by my doctor who I trust, and I have a healthy and happy baby girl today as a result, and I’m so thankful we live in a medical age where this kind of thing isn’t life threatening to both mom and baby. I do struggle at times to believe that I gave birth to my daughter, that my submission still counts even with the experience I had. And yes, there are long term consequences with C sections, but those come in my next post
But I don’t know how I could wish for this to have happened any other way. All that I learned and all that I went through, while painful, were made beautiful. My submission was life-giving. My heart at the end of it all is full. And I know now more tangibly than I ever did before that nothing communicates the mystery of Christ’s passion and resurrection more perfectly than a mother bringing a child into the world.
For those who have had or will have C Sections and are looking for support, find or start your local chapter of ICAN.