During morning tea in the staffroom last week, a few of the other teacher-mamas and I got to chatting about our birth stories, and BOOM, instant contraception for the young, child-free teachers who happened to be sitting with us. After we had shared all the gory details, the reality of what REALLY happens; one teacher friend told me she had the romantic movie-image in her mind of eating ice-chips, having a few pushes and out pops a clean, pink little baby. Hmmm okay, that is not in fact the reality of birth. Take a seat girls, this is messy…
I was scheduled in for a caesarean a few weeks before my due date. I had slipped a disk in my spine during my pregnancy, and after a 2-night hospital stay, my doctors advised me to opt out of natural birth. And want to know a dirty little secret? I could not have been happier!! My gynae scheduled all her caesareans for Tuesdays and Thursdays. She wanted me to go as far as possible into the pregnancy, so opted for the latest date, which just happened to be Spring Day, 1 September 2011. Again, I could not have been happier! After an emotionally difficult pregnancy, the thought of starting my new life on the first day of spring just seemed so metaphorically apt, so absolutely perfect.
Baby Daddy and I had a caeser-prep appointment with my gynae. She sat us down for 30 minutes and told us the truth of what to expect. No Grey’s Anatomy banter, no music in the background. She said it would be pretty silent, except we would here metal clanging, plastic crinkling and the sound of whooshing as they broke my water. In short, she did not sugar-coat it for me. So obviously I was terrified. The thought of being operated on while you are awake is not a joke! Towards the end of your pregnancy you are caught between wanting that baby out of your body so badly, and the sheer terror as you acknowledge how that is going to happen.
I woke up very early that morning. I packed my last minute things into the baby bag and put on my make-up. If you are going to have a planned birth, you may as well use it to your advantage and make yourself look good right?! Baby-Daddy drove me to the hospital and we were told I would be eighth in the queue, and they would be in to fetch me at 8:15. How they managed to fit in seven babies before 8am astounds me. But I guess that’s why they earn top dollar!
After some time with my family, they wheeled my down to theatre. Baby Daddy was whisked away to put on theatre scrubs and then sat right beside me, looking more panicked than I felt. There were a lot of people in that room – myself and Baby Daddy, my gynae and her assistant, the anaesthetist and his assistant, the paediatrician and her assistant and two nurses. They were all very chatty, trying to ease the obvious fears of a mama-to-be. They told Baby Daddy that if he fainted, they would pull him to the side of the room and leave him there as he was not their concern. And a nurse offered to take photos for us and asked me what angle I would prefer. It all felt very bizarre.
They then propped me up for the epidural. I had visions of a monster-sized needle going into my spine. The nurse held my hand and told me they would first give me a small anaesthetic, and then the big needle. After the first little injection, she smiled and told me she had been joking, that was it and it was all over. I appreciated her in that moment. They lay me back down and asked me when I could feel ice on my skin. I felt it on my shoulder but learned later that they had started at my toes, and I was already completely numb. My gynae told me then that my water had just broken and I was about to go into labour anyway. I was relieved knowing we weren’t forcing my baby out too early and that she had decided that spring day was her day all on her own.
It’s a little blurry from then on but this is what I remember. I asked Baby Daddy what they were doing and he told me they had already cut me open and there was a baby’s head sticking out of my tummy. He looked pale to say the least. The anaesthetist came behind me and told me he was going to lift my shoulders up as he pushed on my tummy, so that I would see my baby coming out. As he did this, he said “sh*t’s about to get real”. I loved that!
And then I heard my baby girl scream. They put her onto my chest. She had been sucking her thumb and her finger in the womb, and her little hand had gotten stuck to her face, so they pulled it off and there was already a little sore on her chin. She was so tiny. She had a little drop-lip already and I remember the nurse telling us she was going to give us trouble in her teen years. She was beautiful and we were in awe. Baby Daddy cut the cord and they took her to have her Apgar tests. And that’s when I noticed the doctors speaking in code.
I asked what was going on and I heard them say “keep the Dad away”. I panicked. The anaesthetist ran into the room (I hadn’t even noticed him leaving) and gave me an injection. I suddenly couldn’t see and I wanted to vomit. I honestly thought I was dying and I would never see my baby again. That moment still haunts me. I learned later that I had had major complications. My placenta wouldn’t dislodge and they had to give me something to speed the process along as I was losing so much blood. Baby Daddy told me he turned to look at me and all my insides were on top of my stomach. The doctors have subsequently told me that if I hadn’t had a caesarean, I would have had to have an emergency hysterectomy. I know right, YAY for that flippen slipped disk!!
After all that drama, they lined my bed with hot water bottles to stop my shivering and I couldn’t hold my baby for a while. We were wheeled back to the room and instantly flooded by family. I can’t remember much of that day, but I remember having 13 people in the room at one time, wanting Woolworths tomatoe soup, and feeling completely zonked on morphine. But mostly I remember us just staring at her. Baby Daddy and I took hours to name her, but Bella had been my choice from the beginning, and Bella she was. She weighed 2.95kgs. She was so perfect, so tiny, and so ridiculously mind-blowing.
I was in hospital for 4 days. The morning after I gave birth, a nurse came into my room, pulled back my covers and told me that I would have to walk to my baby for her morning feed. Yip, 24 hours after major abdominal surgery, they just stand you up and expect you to walk. The pain killers help, but wow it is sore and uncomfortable. But all of that is overridden by the thought of your new baby, and how you want to do whatever you can to be there for her, even if it means standing up and feeling like your insides might actually just fall out.
Baby Daddy joined the rest of the caesarean dads in the nursery for lessons on how to change nappies and hold the baby, while the moms recovered and gained back our strength. We also had lessons on breastfeeding and bathing our newborn. The hospital staff were amazing and so helpful. Little Bella went to the nursery at night so I could get a few hours sleep, and the nurse would bring her to me for her late night feed. Baby Daddy would tell me every time he went to fetch her that she was the most beautiful baby in the nursery. And damn was he right!
The day we took her home was another encounter with fear. We had to work out how to put her into a car seat, how to best hold the car seat so she wouldn’t topple out of it, how to put the car seat into the car, and that was all before we had even left the hospital! It was all so new and scary. When we got home we put her onto my bed and just stared at her. We didn’t know what to do except wait for her to cry and then tick off our check-list: is she hungry, is her nappy wet, does she have a wind? And thus began the first six weeks of my newborn’s life, also known as the toughest-job-on-the-planet (but that’s for another blog post).
Giving birth, whether natural or caesarean, is the most emotional and powerful thing you will ever do as a woman. Your body is a complete mess for weeks after the birth, your emotions are on a rollercoaster that you simply cannot control and your mind is in complete survival mode. I remember a high-school teacher telling us that giving birth was the most animalistic thing you will ever do. And she was right. It is rough, brutal and the most vulnerable thing in the world. And is it worth it? More than you know!