Like many other cesarean section birth stories, my birth story starts long before the day.
My body seemed to love being pregnant. A lot of chronic issues I have were actually alleviated during my pregnancy, rather than made worse. However, one of my chronic issues may have contributed to my birth story.
Around 36 weeks, for various reasons, it was determined that my son would probably grow better outside the womb than inside it, so an induction was scheduled at 38 weeks. Induction is when the mother is brought into the hospital and given Pitocin in order to get her to go into labor. My body was enjoying the pregnancy, but my son was small for his developmental age.
After work in the evening, my husband and I went to the hospital for my induction. They started by giving me a little sample of Pitocin just to see how my son and I would react. They strapped an external baby monitor around my belly to monitor his heartbeat while they gave me a little Pitocin through an IV.
There started a five-hour wait and began the anxious pacing of first-time parents. We gave constant updates to our families who were 1,000 miles away.
Around 11 p.m., we got the news: My son’s heart rate was going wonky on the Pitocin. They would have to do a C-section. It was scheduled for 8 the next morning.
I couldn’t sleep that night. The last time I had surgery was my tonsils being removed when I was in kindergarten. I had read all there was to read about pregnancy. I had done all the research. My goal had been a natural childbirth, but I had researched the different pain management options. I had done no research on C-sections. I knew nothing about them, but I knew I was getting one in the morning.
The nurse came in that morning to prep me for surgery. I had a panic attack on the way to the OR. The nurses were so kind. They stopped everything and let me sit up until I calmed down.
Upon arrival to the OR, I got a spinal block to numb myself from the shoulders down but keep myself mostly alert for the birth. I had two OB-GYNs. They each took one side of my incision. They chatted with my husband and me about Disney World. One of them had been recently. There was a curtain cutting off the bottom half of my body from view.
I don’t really remember a first cry. They cleaned him up and weighed him before handing them over to my husband. My husband brought him to me. We took our first family picture. Once they stitched me up, they took my son and me back to the delivery room and gave me an opportunity to start breastfeeding.
Once they were sure that my son and I were OK, they took us to the recovery room. They have a practice of pushing a button that plays a lullabye throughout the hospital when a baby is born. I got to push it on the way to the recovery room. All the nurses commented that my son looked exactly like me. I have to agree: He looked like a mini-me for the first couple years.
We were in the hospital for three days, the standard amount for C-section mamas. Those three days are mostly a blur. I know the evening of the C-section, they encouraged me to walk for the first time. Although it’s scary walking on legs you couldn’t even feel six hours ago, they want C-section mamas to walk as soon as possible to help the healing process.
And don’t get me started on the first bowel movement. I was terrified to push for the first time, thinking I would pop all of my stitches out. Every C-section mom I have ever met had this same fear, and none of them hurt her stitches at all.
I remember the second night screaming and crying my eyes out. A nurse came into my room and held my son and talked me through it. This is also normal. The second night is really when the hormones of giving birth are at their worst. Many moms have similar meltdowns before leaving the hospital.
At our hospital, sleeping in was encouraged. This is the practice of keeping the baby in the mom’s room, instead of putting him in a nursery. They didn’t even open the nursery except in emergencies. Our nurses did take him for a little bit at least one of the nights we were there to help us sleep. He just hung out at the nurses’ station for a while so my husband and I could sleep. The recovery rooms were also set up so that my husband had his own bed in the room with me. Sleeping in helps with bonding and breastfeeding.
I recovered from the C-section pretty easily. It is a major surgery. It is difficult adjusting to life as a mom while recovering from major surgery. For the first month when I got home, I wasn’t supposed to pick up anything heavier than my son. My family planned it so that someone was always home with me for most of the first month.
Emotionally, it took me a long time to heal from my son’s birth. I joined a support group for moms who had C-sections ran by ICAN. It was helpful to hear other women share their experiences. We engaged in local activism to bring attention to issues surrounding childbirth. We did an art exhibit of tasteful pictures of our scars and either our stories or poetry inspired by our experiences. It took years for me to come to terms with what happened.
C-sections are often looked down upon like they’re easy or not really giving birth. They are just as hard — in some ways harder — than giving birth vaginally. They are certainly a way of giving birth. C-section moms are just as much moms as any other. I just gave birth to my son through surgery.
Another important lesson is that it is OK to not be OK. Sometimes, it seems as if people expect pregnant women and new moms to be glowing and happy all the time. It’s OK to mourn your birth experience. It’s OK to have postpartum depression. It’s OK to reach out for help. There is always someone out there to help; then we pass it forward.
By Bethanie Ryan