My First (Complicated) C-section

Despite never wanting a surgical birth, I had a medically necessary cesarean section delivery with my second child. Though complicated, in all likelihood, the procedure saved both of our lives.

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My first c-section did not go smoothly. Actually, none of my three deliveries have gone smoothly. I read and hear about women who have these natural, uneventful births and I cannot process how. My personal encounters with labor and delivery have been so far removed from anything remotely serene, I cannot comprehend the reality of “birth = beautiful.” For me, birth = trauma.

If you haven’t read the tale of my first child’s traumatic vaginal birth, I’d advise giving it a once over so you’re aware of the backstory. Once you read that, it’ll be easier to understand how we got to the dreaded first c-section.

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One year to the day after the traumatic delivery of my first child, I conceived my second child. At my first OB appointment, the doctor explained why I would need a c-section for any child 6lb or larger. I remembered my under-7lb daughter’s birth all too well (it haunted me); the logical part of me understood. The illogical, frightened, stubborn part of me did not. “C-section” was not a part of my life plan. Then again, neither was infertility, an episiotomy, vaginal tearing, shoulder dystocia, multiple rounds of resuscitation, and a NICU stay. So, ya know, life plans aren’t exactly dependable.

I came home from the appointment tearful. I laid awake fearing the possible surgery. I decided I’d schedule my next visit with another one of the practice’s OBs and get her opinion. Maybe she’d see things differently!

She didn’t. At all. Instead, she calmly walked me through the risks I’d be taking with not just my own health but with my future child’s. Well, crap. It’s a hell of an argument when you imply not having surgery could kill your baby.

Tearful again. Determined, still. I scheduled the next visit with the third practitioner. Maybe she would have a different perspective!

Nope. She was even more adamant. She held my hands, calmed my nerves, and reassured me that the surgery would be markedly better than the birth I’d previously experienced. She told me in no uncertain terms that my child and I were incredibly lucky to have escaped our ordeal without serious permanent life-altering injury. To risk that again with a potentially larger child would be dangerous for all involved.

And so I had the rest of my pregnancy to dwell on my upcoming surgery, to force myself to swallow my fate. I never did come around emotionally, but I accepted it as my reality.

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After 1.5 trimesters of Braxton-Hicks contractions, vaginal swelling and pain due to my son being head down and ready to go at 21 weeks, a fluid rush scare at 29 weeks, intermittent bouts of bedrest, and gestational hypertension, along came my final OB exam at 37.5 weeks. It was a Friday; the day before my 30th birthday party. I peed in the cup, heaved myself up onto the exam table, rolled up my sleeve for my blood pressure test, and everything spiraled.

My blood pressure was dangerously high. The nurse retested twice. The doctor retested to be sure. There seemed to be protein in my urine. I was promptly sent to Labor and Delivery.

I waddled the half-block from the doctor’s office to the hospital. I checked in, peed in a cup, draped myself in a used and — despite my 40-week large but 37.5-weeks gestation belly — heinously oversized hospital gown, donned an obnoxious fetal monitor belt and blood pressure cuff, was pierced for an IV (I loathe IVs), had vials of blood sent off for testing, and laid in a triage room by myself for four hours. Meanwhile my nervous husband shuffled through our toddler’s evening routine and anxiously awaited my mother’s arrival so that he could join me.

The doctor came in. She wanted me to prep for a c-section. I looked at the nurse with eyes pleading. I looked back at the doctor. I asked if there was any way we could wait. Just a few more days. A week maybe. She was uneasy but relented. “We’ll run your platelets and keep checking your blood pressures. Maybe we can hold off a day,” I sighed in relief.

My husband arrived as evening turned to night. The nurse drew blood. Then they transferred me to a proper delivery room. Things didn’t look great but my blood pressure had steadied at a still-shitty but not as deadly level. The blood work was yet to return. I was hungry and thirsty but the staff wouldn’t let me eat or drink since a trip to the operating room was a clear possibility.

10:00PM. The doctor had the platelet results. She was displeased. I plead for more time. After consulting my primary OB, she offered a deal. I do 24-hour urine collection, stay on bedrest, and return Sunday for blood work and observation. If there’s no protein in my urine, my platelets are the same, and my blood pressure isn’t as bad, I won’t have to deliver. She advised that I fast before coming and bring my hospital bag with me when I return, “just in case.”

11:30PM we were discharged. We drove home in the dark gulping down packages of graham crackers and peanut butter we scrounged from the hospital.

We cancelled my birthday party. I peed in a day-glow orange jug every 30 minutes. I sat on the sofa reading books to my curly-headed toddler and stressed over all I should be doing but couldn’t. There was a knock at the door. One of my friends hadn’t seen the party cancellation notice and arrived ready to celebrate. As she had brought her daughter, who was the same age as my daughter, they played together as we chatted. She in her jeans and top, I in my savagely stretched maternity tank with my massive maternity bra poking out from the edges and my over-belly maternity leggings that now hit mid-belly due to my girth. I was looking wholly unpresentable, but she didn’t flinch.

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It was actually the perfect way to spend our last day as a family of three while I was on bedrest. Sometimes life shapes itself in just the right way despite or in spite of our careful planning.

The next morning I arrived at the hospital with a brimming orange jug of urine, my hospital bag, and an empty stomach. Back into the oversized hospital gown, blood pressure cuff, and fetal monitoring belt I went. Back in with the IV. Off went vials of blood for testing. A couple of hours later the doctor arrived. My platelets hadn’t stayed the same or even dipped… they’d plummeted. My blood pressure was dangerously high. The only positive: my urine was protein-free. Still, it was c-section time.

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An hour later, we were prepping. The Hubs donned blue scrubs, paper shoe covers, and we both sported ever-fashionable paper hair bonnets. We were a beautiful pair.

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The nurses wheeled me from triage to the OR. My mind was racing, my nerves buzzed. I was outwardly calm but inwardly terrified.

We arrived at the OR. I walked into the cold room pulling my IV post, nurses fastidiously toiling about the perimeter. My nurse instructed me to sit on the operating table. She left. There I sat alone in the center of this cold, otherworldly white room. It was as if I was in a dream… invisible.

My nurse returned with the anaesthesiologist who had made a smug introduction in triage. My OB walked in. She and the nurse readied me for my epidural. “Sit up straight. Take a deep breath, let it out. Lean all the way forward. Hold onto me.” Said the nurse. In went the needle then searing pains shot from my spine down my leg. It felt like my limb was on fire from the inside. “Ow!” I yelped, trying not to move.

The nurse told me the anesthesiologist would try again. “Sit up straight. Take a deep breath, let it out. Lean all the way forward. Hold onto me.” Son of a MOTHER!! It felt as if a lightning bolt shot down my spine and through my leg. My OB moved the nurse aside and asked if I was OK. She glared at the anaesthesiologist. “We’re going to try again.” She said, petting my hair as I sat up straight, took and released a deep breath, leaned all the way forward, and held onto her.

PAIN!! He missed a third time. I began to whimper. “How many more times do we have to do this?” I asked. “Is there a limit? Can we do something else?” I implored.  The OB hugged me and cast eye-daggers at the anaesthesiologist, telling us both through clenched teeth that we would try just one more time. I sat up, let out a stilted breath, leaned all the way forward, and clung to my OB. He made it!

The nurses helped me recline on the bed and strapped me down. My anaesthesiologist put on my face mask and told me my spine was at fault. (Interesting, since I had never before and never after experienced any epidural misses, and certainly not three in a row.) I did not trust him one iota, but he was my only hope for surviving this procedure without feeling every cut. I began to cry.

The nurses let my husband into the room. The anaesthesiologist instructed me to breathe in. I did. I grabbed my husband’s hand and looked tearfully into his eyes. He had no idea what had happened. I wanted him to save me from all of this, but he couldn’t. All I could do was survive it. I held onto him tight.

I felt heaviness in my chest. I panicked. I communicated it to the anaesthesiologist, who said, “Remember I told you that can happen?” Yes, I did remember that but I also remembered him saying he was experienced, and I was beginning to doubt that tid-bit.

The staff tested my ability to feel pain. The doctor asked for more anaesthesia. (If you remember from my traumatic vaginal birth story, anaesthesia does not work well on me.) The OB began cutting. I felt pressure. I felt pulling. I felt pain. I told the anaesthesiologist who said that was normal. “OWW!” Whatever I felt was not normal. The OB asked for more anaesthesia. The anaesthesiologist obliged. And that is all I remember.

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I have a snapshot memory of our son being placed on the scale. He was round and pink. Then he was in my husband’s arms.

My memory returns when I have already been transferred to the recovery room. I was shaking and cold. My husband was by my side. I asked after our son. He was fine. He was in the nursery being examined.

Soon I was in my room in the maternity ward. Our son nestled in my arms. My husband uncomfortably perched on a fold-out chair bed.

Our son was a happy, healthy 8lb 1oz bundle of cuddly baby. No NICU. No choking. No health issues of any kind. He latched on beautifully and nursed gloriously from that day until 22 months later.

My first c-section wasn’t smooth, but neither was my vaginal birth or my pregnancies. It was, however, successful. Because of it, my son and I are here to tell about it. And that is what matters.

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** Note: The anaesthesiologist who participated in my c-section was removed from the hospital staff within the year. **

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