Trigger Warning: This post contains images of real surgery.
Both my children were delivered by c-section. Whenever people heard this, as often as not, someone would make some disparaging remark about how terrible c-sections are and how a woman who has one didn’t really give birth and imply that she somehow isn’t a “real” mother.
I would try to explain the reasons for having a c-section, but the story is a bit of a long one and after numerous tellings, I finally just started answering with a simple, “There were complications,” and tried to leave it at that, but after reading a recent post here on Grounded Parents by Em, I decided that I should tell my story here.
We had tickets to see Fiddler on the Roof in Boston. I was excited since it is one of my favorite shows. My wife was in the shower and I was trying to catch a few extra minutes of sleep before having to get up and get
“Honey! I think my water just broke!” I don’t think I’ve ever woken up faster than I did at hearing those words. It was alarm, not excitement, that I felt at that moment. My wife was only 32 weeks pregnant. This was not good.
To give you some quick background: my wife is a type 1 diabetic. Her pregnancy had been fraught with several hospital stays due to ketoacidosis, earlier onset of contractions, and other scary stuff. Fortunately she had excellent prenatal care at one of the best hospitals in the country. We immediately called her OBGYN and told him that we were on the way to the hospital.
Photo by Braden Gunem
The hospital was in Boston, a 45-minute drive. We made a beeline for the hospital with me actually hoping a state trooper would pull me over for speeding so we might get an escort. Once there, she was checked in and the fetal heartbeat monitor hooked up. Our son’s heartbeat was strong and regular. We breathed a slight sigh of relief. I say slight because there was still the problem that contractions had started. As I mentioned above, this had happened before and they gave her medication to make them stop. This day they did the same thing again.
After several hours, an examination from the OBGYN, and the usual battery of blood, urine, and ultrasound it was getting dark outside and we still had no idea what to expect. Finally the doctor came in and said that since the membrane protecting the uterus had, in fact, ruptured, she’d need to give birth soon to avoid infection. The problem was that our son was not in the right position: he was sideways in the womb and so a vaginal birth was out of the question. This meant a c-section.
Photo by dliban
They continued to give her medication to keep the contractions at bay. They also gave her Celestone to help the baby’s lungs better be able to let him breath on his own once born. We’d have to wait at least 12 hours for it to work. The neonatal doctor came in around 11:00 p.m. to explain the risks my wife and son faced. Since she was diabetic, she ran the risk of higher post-op complications like difficulty of the wound healing well and higher risk of infection. Also, there was a high risk of risk blood clots and stroke during and after the surgery. As for my son, he could encounter problems with his lungs and problems feeding and digesting.
After this less-than-encouraging talk, we waited up all night, unable to sleep, listening to the baby’s heartbeat while I fed my poor wife ice chips.
At 9:00 a.m., she was wheeled into the OR. I sat behind the screen they’d put up with my wife, giving words of encouragement and kissing her forehead as the doctor worked on getting the baby out. After about 25 minutes, the doctor (who was cheerful and kept everyone as relaxed as possible with humorous comments) said that he was ready to take our son out. He said, “I’ve got a leg.” I peeked over the screen and could see him holding a tiny limb that was poking out of the incision. Suddenly he said, “Oh! That’s not a leg, it’s an arm!” He then became very serious and I could seem him working fast and with great concentration. I saw him put both hands into her womb to try and turn my son around. He said to the assisting physician that he had to be careful not to get the baby tangled in the umbilical cord. “Ok. Got him! Here he comes!” I heard him say, the cheerful tone, with a touch of relief, back in his voice.
Photo by Mattman4698
Up till that point, I was concentrating on comforting my wife as she was obviously terrified and kept asking if the baby was all right. I looked up and the first thing I saw was my son’s scrawny little butt. The doctor cut the cord and the neonatal doctor immediately took him over to a scale where he worked on sucking the fluid out of my son’s nose and mouth.
The doctor’s back was towards me and I could see him, along with a nurse, working furiously and silently. It was the silence that was the most terrifying. It seemed like it had been minutes since my son was born, but we had yet to hear any sound from him. I look over at the OBGYN and saw a look of almost helplessness on his face. It was out of his hands now and all he could do was wait with the rest of us. We all seemed to hold our breath.
Then a faint, but unmistakeable, sound, like that of a hoarse kitten, was heard by everyone. The OBGYN said, “That’s what I like to hear!” I kissed my wife and wiped the tears from her eyes, and then from mine.
A few moments later, a nurse brought a little bundle of blankets over and showed us our son. My wife and I both immediately said that he looked like me. The nurse asked if I’d like to hold him, which of course, I did. I showed him to my wife, who cried even more. Then, for his first act in life, my son peed on me (an activity he was to repeat countless time in the years to come). After this very brief family gathering, he was whisked away to the NICU.
My son’s lungs were working well enough so that he only needed some oxygen and, except for light treatment for jaundice (quite common), the only other big issue we had was that we had to stroke his cheek while feeding him to teach him how to suck to get the formula. After only eight days in the NICU, my son was declared fit to go home. A remarkable and wonderful outcome considering how premature he was.
When they were finally able to wheel my wife, in her hospital bed, up to the NICU to see our son, an amazing thing happened. At the first words she spoke,our son immediately turned his head and looked directly in the direction of his mother. He heard, and recognized, his mother’s voice. Both myself and the NICU doctor, a veteran of countless births, were awestruck.
I have a healthy son with a living mother. Without a c-section, I might not have either. So, to those who try to claim that c-sections are somehow not a real birth or that the mom is not a real mom, think about a baby knowing his mother’s voice upon first hearing. If that isn’t real motherhood, I don’t know what is.
Featured image by Ben McLeod