When I gave birth to my first child - a beautiful baby girl - via an unplanned Caesarian section, while initially disappointed, I was not surprised. C-sections rates are high in the US (approximately 1 in 3 births are delivered via C-sections), and are one of the most common operating procedures. At my 38-week appointment, my doctor had told me I had a big baby - this meant there was a strong likelihood I would need one.
Working at Ovia, I’m been so lucky to have access to the nation’s leading pregnancy experts and writers. When first pregnant, this helped me feel not only knowledgeable about C-sections, but also empowered if one were to become a part of my pregnancy. Weeks before my due date, I spoke with one of Ovia’s medical advisors who encouraged me to advocate for myself in the delivery room. I communicated my desire for a vaginal birth with my doctor, learned all the reasons an unplanned or emergency C-section might arise, and felt mostly prepared for whatever might happen.
And whatever did happen. My baby was quite late, and eventually I had to induce. After two days of trying, with very little cooperation from my cervix, my doctor advised that it was time to change plans. I was disheartened, but also comfortable with the decision. I went into the delivery room informed, empowered, and I advocated for my birth plan.
Still, there were elements of the experience I didn’t fully anticipate.
This is major surgery, which I think is sometimes forgotten. And it starts out alone. My husband wasn’t allowed in the room while I was getting the epidural, although he was there for the delivery. I was awake during the operation with a hanging cloth separating my head from my body. I was given the option to look through a window in the sheet, but the thought horrified me so I chose not to. I was surprised that despite the anesthesia, I could feel the operation happening. It wasn’t painful, but I felt a fair amount of movement. At one point I imagined zombies eating my insides like a scene out of The Walking Dead.
After getting the epidural, my time in the operating room was only about an hour; Baby Hazel came out within 10 minutes, the rest was stitching me back up. But it felt much, much longer, and was the same powerful, emotional experience that I thought I might miss out on by not having a vaginal birth. My nurse made sure I saw my baby through the sheet opening as soon as she was born, and even today, remembering seeing her and hearing her first cry now still gets me choked up.
Other nurses quickly whisked her off for clean-up and measurements (my husband was allowed to observe and take photos) and just as quickly brought her back to me for skin-to-skin contact. In the meantime, my nurse could see I was a little uncomfortable and asked me questions to distract me. We spoke about the work I do at Ovia, and it was incredibly soothing to think about Ovia in that moment. It felt like I had the support of the millions of women, telling me to be strong and congratulating me on my little one. Who, it turns out, wasn’t so little. Hazel was born at 9 lbs 10 oz (with her dad’s large head), making me perhaps a little bit relieved I hadn’t given birth vaginally after all!
Obviously no woman walks out of her birth experience (vaginal or C-section) pain-free, but I found the physical recovery to be more than I anticipated. I was kept in triage care a few days after my delivery, which was after days of failed induction, and by the time I got home from the hospital I was fully stir-crazy. As a generally active person, I desperately wanted to be out and about. The pain medication initially gave me more confidence than was merited and I pushed myself too hard (specifically with a long walk around my Boston neighborhood) and ended up with painful complications. After that experience, I made a point of reducing the medication so I could feel the pain and better gauge my limits. Sometimes the pain was so hard it became difficult to nurse and hold Hazel. Thankfully my husband was very supportive - he’d wake every night with every feed to carry her to me. And for the first two weeks, he changed every diaper!
Emotionally, despite my amazing surgical delivery, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat robbed of a birth experience. I had seen vaginal birth as a natural human right of passage. I also felt ashamed, as if I had failed at this most basic of human endeavors. I was afraid to tell colleagues because they knew how strongly averse I felt to c-sections. So I allowed a little space to grieve for my experience, but then I told myself it was time to accept and move on.And now, years later I have two babies (both born via C-Section for different reasons), and I no longer think I failed. My body has made two perfect babies, and I am just as strong as any mother.