At 34 weeks it was clear that a C-section would be the only way my first-born son would arrive in this world. My baby, who had been in a breech presentation for over a month, was “stuck,” as the doctor put it. He was wedged into place, and most likely had the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. External cephalic version, or the process of attempting to turn the baby externally prior to birth, would not be possible. And so our fate was sealed.
I was disappointed, to say the least. While I’m not sure that anyone actually looks forward to labor, I was hoping for as close to a natural birth as possible. As someone with a long history of hospital stays (I had leukemia as a teenager), the last thing I wanted was for my child to be delivered in an operating room. But alas, this step was medically necessary and the safest thing for the both of us.
At 37 weeks, Jake made his desire to enter the world known by giving me a swift kick and breaking my water. He couldn’t even wait for our scheduled C-section date two short weeks later! In the following hours, I labored while I waited for an OR to open up, and tried to embrace the fact that I was about to undergo major surgery. Sadly, some women labor for hours and hours, expecting a natural delivery, only to have something go wrong, and are then whisked into the operating room with just minutes to prepare themselves. Even though Jake was early, I still had a couple of weeks to wrap my head around the event. For this, I am grateful.
But no matter how much you read about or research a topic, nothing can really prepare you like the actual experience. Here are some aspects of the surgery that I hadn’t been expecting. I hope they will take some of the mystery out of the ordeal for women who might have to undergo a C-section in the future:
1. You are strapped down in a rather uncomfortable position.
With your body situated on a narrow table, your arms are strapped to arm rests, crucifixion-style, and you absolutely cannot move, even if your nose itches.
2. While you cannot feel any pain during the procedure, you can still smell.
In my case, the doctors were cauterizing while they cut, which meant I could smell my own burning flesh. It was only off-putting to the extent that I realized what they were doing, and it was a bit surreal. I stared at my husband, and he gave me a knowing look. “Yes, they’re cutting you open right now,” he said with his eyes and a small nod. No words were necessary.
3. When I was wheeled into the OR, my husband wasn’t allowed to accompany me right away.
The doctors and nurses had to prep me—and the room—before he was allowed in. I lay there while they chatted and cleaned and swabbed. The room’s fluorescent lights were mildly nauseating, and its sterility was palpable. The scene posed an unfortunate juxtaposition to the warm event—the birth of my first child—which was about to occur. It made me sad that I was alone, and that my husband couldn’t be there for those moments before Jake was born.
4. After the baby was born, it took a while before I was able to kiss him.
The next time around I will specifically request to have interaction with my newborn sooner, but the first time, nurses and doctors checked him out and wrapped him up before I was even able to see him. My husband stood over him and described his features to me while I anxiously awaited our first meeting.
5. After the birth, my body shook uncontrollably.
This was from the numbing and pain medication that was administered into the epidural. It can feel off-putting and scary, but it is completely normal. The shakes wore off in about an hour or less.
6. Closing the incision took a long time.
For upwards of 45 minutes after the birth, I had to remain on the table while my doctor stapled and sutured.
7. The incredible amount of fluids that flowed into me during and after the surgery resulted in a lot of bloating.
My face, hands and feet were very swollen for a couple of days after the birth, which made walking even more difficult.
8. I had numbness around my C-section scar for almost a year post-op.
Apparently, when your nerve-endings are cut, they take quite a while to grow back.
A C-section is part of the story of the birth of my first child, and it will be for my second son as well. It was not something I chose, but it was no less “real” than the natural birth I had my heart set on. Despite the discomfort and pain (which is the case for any birth, really, it was how my little man came to me. It was beautiful, even in all its sterility.