It’s been just over 6 weeks since I welcomed my son, my first child, River, into the world… And I am just now sitting down to attempt to describe his “birth story” to you all. I am sorry for the delay. It is just that giving birth to River is the most insanely exhilarating, painful, rewarding, scary, joyful, and complicated thing I have ever done. Words escape me and my brain shuts down when I think about trying to describe it in the form of a little short story. Also, there is always that nagging fear of getting judged for certain aspects of my story, and for certain decisions that I’ve made. The vegan community, especially, seems to me to value and expect a birthing experience that includes things like– for starters– no medication, a midwife, and a vaginal delivery.
While I applaud those who pulled it off like that, my birth story could not be further from the above.
Where to start? The truth is, ever since I was a young child, I have feared childbirth. It was always in an abstract way, though; such an event seemed so far away that it didn’t require me to examine my phobia. All I knew was that more than anything, I wanted to be a mother… But when I closed my eyes and tried to picture giving birth, the way you see it in the movies– feet up, husband holding your hand, a doctor coaching you through– I just KNEW that was not me.
Fast forward to 2017. It was a month after my wedding when I realized I was pregnant. Matt was out of town on a quick business trip. I was feeling “icky”… Body aches, a little nauseated, headache. I was lining up wellness shots at a nearby juice bar, trying to kick whatever illness was coming for me, and a thought popped into my head: “you should take a pregnancy test.” Of course I KNEW I couldn’t be pregnant; I had JUST gotten off of birth control, and more importantly, I had gotten (what I assumed was) my period a couple of weeks prior. (Note to my former self: google “implantation bleeding.”) But just to put my mind at ease, I grabbed a cheapie, generic-brand test at CVS on the way to my car.
I got home, hung out for a bit, ate lunch, answered emails, peed on the stick when I had some free time and… Hmm, weird, I thought there would either be one line or two lines, but this looked like one line plus a reallyyyyyy faint, can-barely-see-it second line. Nooo, surely not! I got in my car, went and grabbed several more tests, rushed back home, took ALL of them… And then sat down on my bathroom floor, staring open-mouthed at the collection of positive tests fanned out on the tile in front of me in total disbelief. Holy shit. I am pregnant. WHAT?! Still on the floor, I called Matt. He stepped out of a meeting to take the call, and to his unsuspecting “what’s up sweetie, everything ok?” I answered “well yes, but you’re not going to believe this… we are PREGNANT!” So much for a cute, clever reveal! But I just had to tell him, I couldn’t hold onto this news alone for a moment longer. It is such a surreal feeling, knowing that your entire life is about to change. Every aspect of it. Forever. It is excitement, fear, disbelief, happiness, and more fear.
It was about week 12 into the pregnancy when everything started to feel “real.” The scary window of time when miscarriage commonly occurs had finally closed, I was getting a tummy, I was feeling nauseated, I knew the sex, we had a name. We had the beginnings of a nursery. THIS. Was. Happening. The realness of the pregnancy is what made me finally face the fact that I had been carefully avoiding since day 1: This baby was going to need to exit my body, one way or another. I was terrified.
I tried to convince myself that vaginal childbirth wouldn’t be that bad, that I could do it. I watched video after video of water births, I called friends who had given birth vaginally to get reassurance, I posted on BabyCenter message boards asking for people to share their positive vaginal birth experiences… Nothing helped, I was under a cloud. I felt hopeless and depressed and scared, and, I hate even writing this, but I found myself not wanting to go into the nursery, and was distancing myself emotionally from the pregnancy. At that point my husband stepped in and said we should talk to my OB about options. She discussed tokophobia– a rare but very, very intense fear of pregnancy and/or childbirth, risks for vaginal birth vs. that for an elective c-section, and benefits of each. As soon as I decided to have a c-section (which is what I would have had anyway, it turns out.. River’s head was measuring off the charts,he stayed breech until delivery, and his umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck twice), the clouds lifted. I felt like I could do this. I know that a c-section is not what most women would choose for themselves, but for me it was absolutely the best option. It allowed me to bond with my unborn child, to relax and enjoy my pregnancy, and, ultimately, to successfully give birth to a healthy baby. I also liked knowing when he was coming… The day before River arrived, Matt took off work and we took our doggies to the pool and to a dog park. It allowed us to formally say goodbye to our pre-baby life as a family of 5 (fur babies included).
The next morning, a Thursday, Matt and I woke up at the crack of dawn to get ready for my 9am surgery. We already had the bags packed in the car, we had the dog sitter booked to arrive at noon– she would be staying at the house with our doggies until we returned home from the hospital on Sunday, we were READY. We got to the hospital and hung out for about an hour and a half in a pre-op room, cracking jokes and trying to keep our minds off of surgery. I could tell Matt was nervous. But honestly, I was ok. I was ready to meet River.
I was wheeled into the operating room, where I was told to lean over so they could administer my epidural (didn’t hurt whatsoever). Then, they inserted the catheter. I had been scared for this part, but again, no pain at all (which was a tad bit unsettling, to be honest. Because of my bump I couldn’t see what was going on “down there,” and because of the epidural I couldn’t feel it either.). Matt had prepared an “OR Playlist,” consisting of my favorite music– mostly music and rap from the 90s (by FAR the best era for music!)– and songs with a “baby” theme, like Justin Bieber’s “Baby” and James Brown’s “Give It To Me Baby.” My beloved OB (Amy Martin, if you happen to live in Dallas– I can’t recommend her highly enough!) came in, and I was so glad to see her. She went near my feet and put up the big sheet that would shield our view of the operation. Matt sat next to where my head was, and he immediately took to the task of distracting me and making sure I was ok. Constantly kissing my cheeks, making dumb conversation, joking with the doctors, singing to Lil’ Troy’s “Wanna Be A Baller” with me. At one point I asked when they were going to start and– surprise!– they had already just begun. Immediately after that, I asked them what that burning smell was– they explained that it was their laser they use to cauterize, in order to reduce bleeding. I thought, sooo basically that’s my flesh burning? Cool… Moving on…
There was zero pain. For the most part, I just felt an odd, internal “jostling.” I felt pressure, especially in my lungs/rib area… THAT was the scariest moment I experienced throughout my entire c-section, simply because I was totally unprepared for it. In my head, all the action was going to be tummy and below. So when I felt such INTENSE pressure in my chest, like someone was basically standing on it, I was really taken aback. I whispered to Matt, “honey, I think something is wrong… I feel it in my lungs,” at which point he immediately dropped his cool guy act, stood up and asked the doctors if everything was ok and if I should be feeling pressure in my lungs. They quickly explained that it was just part of the tugging sensations that they would expect for me to feel. “So this is normal?” I asked them again. YES.
A few minutes later, they said “Ok guys, get ready to meet your baby!!!” Matt and I locked eyes and held them there. Nothing. Nothing. Then, a cry.
Matt’s mouth dropped open and his eyes filled with tears. I said “Oh my gosh, honey. That’s our BABY.” We still couldn’t see him, just heard him crying. “Is he ok??” was my first question…and “Is he cute?!” was my second. The doctors laughed and said “he’s healthy and he’s adorable.” They held him up over the sheet for us to see, and then they took him a few feet away to check his lungs and give him some sort of quick test. Matt asked if he could go over to be with him, and I said of course. About one minute later, Matt and one of the nurses came over and placed River on my chest. It was such an incredible moment. There aren’t words that could describe how surreal it was, so I won’t try. He was so much tinier than we had expected! Matt sat back down near my head and the three of us took our time being together quietly as a family for a few sacred minutes.
Later, with River still on my chest, they wheeled us into a recovery area. I was so happy and peaceful, and Matt was so excited and sweet… He kept telling me how proud he was of me and how he had never seen me look so beautiful as I did now with our son. Nurses would come check on us about every 15 minutes or so and ask how I was feeling and if I could wiggle my toes (I couldn’t do that until hours later. Apparently the duration of the epidural effects vary greatly from person to person). At one point, they had to press on my uterus, hard, to make sure it was shrinking back down at the rate that it should. THAT HURT. Note: They repeated this “uterine massage” (ha! some massage) multiple times per day while I was at the hospital, and it was probably my very least favorite part.
Finally, it was time for us to go to our room where we’d be staying for the next few days. Being vegan, and having gotten to the hospital extra early, we already had the room stocked healthy snacks for Matt, popsicles in the mini fridge for me (the first 24 hours after surgery, you can only ingest clear liquids, which includes broth and popsicles.. I would recommend bringing your own if you have dietary restrictions), a polaroid camera, and movies to watch. We decompressed in there for another hour or so, and then we called our parents to come see us (it turns out they were already at the hospital, waiting for us to give them the green light to visit). It was so cool seeing our parents hold River. It made me realize, yes, this is an incredible experience for Matt and me– but in a different way, its a surreal and awesome experience for our parents, becoming grandparents for the first time. They were all so hushed and excited and gentle with River, examining his little fingers and toes and nose. I am thankful we have such a mindful family; they stayed for under an hour and then left us to rest. I think much more time with them would have been very overwhelming to me; its such a time of physical and emotional shock. Once they left, the nurses gave me pain pills and an anti-inflammatory to take. This finally knocked me out, and I was able to take a little nap. **A word of advice: Don’t be like me and try to skip pain pill doses after a c-section. The main reason I say this is that doing so will make it harder to walk around and be active following your surgery. Moving around is vital to your post op recovery. But I digress.
Matt and I had discussed this prior to delivery– we were going to let the hospital nursery take care of River, and bring him in to us at intervals to feed him and bond with him. They pushed back but we were firm in our decision. Our reasoning was: a) These people know how to care for an infant, and for the first 24-48 hours of his life, we wanted him to be as safe as possible. In the hospital nursery, he was watched around the clock, expertly swaddled, monitored, etc… We figured it was literally probably the safest place he could be. b) We knew that we were about to enter what was sure to be the most sleep deprived period of our entire lives. Might as well grab a little shut eye in preparation. Like clockwork, the nurses would bring River to us to nurse and cuddle every couple of hours, so we didn’t feel like we were sacrificing much time with him at all– we were simply able to rest and recuperate a bit more easily.
The pain came that night. I was gradually becoming sore starting around 6pm. Around 8pm, they took my catheter out (this was another part I had dreaded, and I made Matt come and hold my hand.. Turns out that it was uncomfortable but not a huge deal). THIS was the bad part: I woke up around 1am needing to use the restroom to urinate, so as instructed I called a nurse to help me get up and walk to the bathroom. I WAS UNPREPARED FOR HOW MUCH THIS WOULD HURT. I clung to the woman helping me, and every step took about 30 seconds. Remember when I said that the uterine massage was my least favorite part? Scratch that. The first time standing up to walk absolutely takes the cake. Peeing didn’t feel great either, frankly, but I think that was just temporary soreness from the catheter.
The next morning I woke up and was walking around, feeling great, holding River. The staff kept commenting on how quickly and well I was recovering– I honestly attribute this to three things: a) the surgery was planned as opposed to an emergency; b) I worked out twice per week with an experienced trainer my whole third trimester, with the main goal being a successful post-op recovery; and c) immediately following surgery, I asked my nurses to please order me a belly support band– I wore it religiously while in the hospital, and it made a huge difference.
I actually LOVED staying in the hospital for those 3 days– it felt like a prep course before we were released into the world to care for this little infant all by ourselves. We learned how to nurse, swaddle, burp, and change him. By the time Sunday rolled around, I was like “OK! Let’s do this!”
I get messages every single day from women wanting to know why I had a c-section, and what my experience was like. All in all, I would say I had a very positive birthing and hospital experience. Matt agrees. It was very special and emotional, and we wouldn’t do it any other way. I don’t feel like having a c-section was much, if at all, more painful than people describe their vaginal births to be; I don’t feel like I bonded any less with my baby (I’m completely obsessed with him) or likeI am any less of a mom (what??) just because he came out through the sunroof; I feel like a strong mama warrior who took control of her mental and physical health (and the wellbeing of my baby) by following my instincts and scheduling a c-section. Is it right for everyone? Nope. Was it right for us? Absolutely. And when I look back on my birth story, the #1 defining moment that stands out to me is Matt and me, the ultimate team, locking eyes, hearing our son’s cry, and then putting our heads together as he was laid on my chest. It was perfect.