“I can't lift that bag of dog food, can you help me please?” I said to the Agway clerk. “I’d carry it myself, but I just had a Cesarean section.”
“Congratulations!” said the Agway clerk.
Huh? Congratulations?! Oh yes, that's right. I had a baby. She couldn’t see the scars.
At 36 weeks pregnant I felt like I had the flu. I blamed it on a stomach virus and the flu shot. I blamed abdomen pain on baby kicks. I took 2 to 3 baths a night for the aches, and dumped Witch Hazel and Noxema on an unbearable rash. Eventually I decided to see my midwife Michelle.
“I just feel crappy and swollen,” I told her.
“A headache?” she asked.
“Hmmm, a little, and I see some spots, like fairies.”
Michelle said, “I'm sure it's nothing, but let's check you out.”
I gave her a urine sample, and she seemed unusually calm as she checked the dipstick. She measured my belly twice. Still calm. Then she tested my reflexes and was even more unusually calm. Last she checked my blood pressure, looked at me sincerely, and said, “You will be going to the hospital from here.”
I cried out, “What? No!”
“There is lots of protein in your urine and your blood pressure is sky high.” She handed me a sick note saying: not to return to work due to complications of pregnancy.
I said I would drive to the hospital and she said no, she would.
I called Andrew five times in a row until he answered during class. I told him I had pre-eclampsia and Michelle was taking me to the hospital.
My pregnancy was smooth up until now. I never even had morning sickness! This was particularly a shock because Andrew and I were planning a homebirth. I read everything you could find about home birthing and was looking forward to having my baby naturally. Everything was supposed to be perfect, however the birth story I was hoping not to have became mine...
Michelle checked me into Samaritan, but sadly she couldn't make medical decisions. I didn't expect her to stay with me, but she did. As Michelle told the nurses about my pregnancy I was asked to put on a gown. What? Was I staying here? So many disappointing and sad thoughts entered my mind as my neighbor Amy came to the door. I began to cry.
I was so scared. Where was the walk around the block, the low light, essential oils, the birthing tub, deep breathing, and Indian flute music?!
Amy and Michelle came with me to a pastel birthing room. The nurses gave me paperwork. I just signed, too freaked out to read. Next the dreaded needles starting coming and the nurse couldn't find a vein because I was so swollen. Finally the IV was in and they started pumping me with magnesium sulfate to prevent seizures, which are the danger with severe pre-eclampsia.
Another nurse came to give me a catheter to monitor the proteins in my urine. The placenta was poisoning me and the baby! Then the doctor came and said I had to go to Albany Medical Center since the baby might need the NICU.
I was not happy, but there was no choice. I just had to wait for the ambulance. Andrew arrived and Michelle told him what was happening.
I started feeling contractions. The tightening that I had been anticipating for 8 months felt good. Maybe I can still have her naturally? The catheter hurt, it burned and made me not want to move at all. Two cute EMTs came into transfer me. Note: I was half naked and felt paralyzed. Ugh...
Soon I was at Albany Med. The nurses asked me a couple hundred dumb questions and yelled at the computer over and over again. I was having contractions every 3 to 5 minutes and Michelle was watching the monitor. Thank God she was there because the resident had no idea I was even having contractions.
The nurse didn’t like the resident’s orders and kept talking behind her back. Such bad energy! But at least it distracted me.
The resident came in and out a few times to check the monitor, give me an ultrasound, and the most forceful and intense pelvic exam ever! I don't feel pain unless something really hurts and holy shit it hurt! I cried out "Oooouchhhh!"
I was not effaced or dilated at all, so I got three options: induction, a balloon in my cervix, or C-section. I looked to Michelle.
“You and the baby are healthy now,” Michelle said. “I can see your baby’s heart rate drop with every other contraction. I think it's best that you get the C-section. You have severe pre-eclampsia and the only cure is delivery.”
Ugh. Okay C-section it is. Michelle wouldn’t say so if it was not the best decision.
Next I was flooded by a team of anesthesiologists, medical students, and nurses. Questions, questions, questions. Papers, papers, papers.
The surgeon entered the room, and stayed halfway between the bed and the door like he had to pee really badly. He asked if I had any questions. I had a vision of him slicing my bladder in half.
“Can you please be careful?” I was half joking. He was not amused and said nothing. The resident smiled and said, “Of course he's always careful.”
Off to the operating room. There were bright lights and pop music - I felt like I was abducted by aliens who were all set at their specific positions in the spaceship. Deep breath, deep breath. There was a sweet anesthesiologist who used to work with midwives in South Carolina. He made me feel human. He rubbed my temples and said, "I know this wasn't what you planned, but you are going to meet your healthy baby soon." Then he gave me a shot in my spine.
Someone helped me lay back and the nurse shaved my pubic hair. The green curtain went up and separated my head from the lower half of my body. My legs were lead logs. “You're going to feel a little pressure like someone’s sitting on your belly, but no pain.”
I was mad that they wouldn’t let Michelle in since their policy was to let only one ‘guest’ inside the OR. Andrew was finally allowed to enter after they cut me. I would have looked at the scary half of me, but Andrew didn't. He sat to the right of my head and seemed excited. I felt drugged and a little nauseous. I breathed deeply, trying to relax. I felt a lot of pushing on my belly and I imagined it as a bowl of jello. Then all of a sudden the baby was out! The surgeon raised her over the curtain, but I only saw her foot. Andrew laughed out loud and said, “It's a girl and she has a lot of hair!” He was so happy.
They whisked her off to the next room and Andrew went with her. I felt a wave of nausea even though they gave anti-vomit meds. I should have been ecstatic, but at that moment I just felt drugged. And very very heavy. I think Andrew came back in after they cleaned her up and began to staple me and said. “She's healthy so she doesn't have to go to the NICU!”
Then I heard the surgeon say something about my gallbladder as he's telling the resident how to staple me up. Then he asked the nurses and others in the room if it was the Tin Man in The Wizard Of Oz who had no heart. Are you kidding me? “That movie really freaked me out when I was a little kid,” he told them. Part of me found humor that they were discussing this with my guts hanging out, the other part of me was horrified. Then the surgeon stood up, took his gloves off, said “Congrats,” and left the room. I never saw him again.
Andrew thought it was amusing that my belly was so flat all of a sudden. To me it felt like a glob of pudding. Shortly after I was hooked up to a new set of tubes and medical contraptions, I met Hazel,15 minutes after the surgery.
She came in on her little plastic bassinet on wheels and the nurses put her right on my chest. She wore a little cream colored hat that was way too big for her head. She was tiny! So adorable and homely at the same time. She had these amazing long little fingers. And so much hair! I was in love.
The nurses kept asking the same lame questions. Then the lactation army arrived. A nurse forced my nipple into Hazel's mouth and she latched on right away. She couldn't stay on for too long with her little mouth, but she was hungry!
The next 24 hours felt like a week. I did not sleep. Andrew held Hazel in the chair mostly because my arms hurt so badly from the blood pressure cuff, heart monitor cuff, oxygen thingy, and multiple IVs. Plus the catheter was still in. The nurses changed Hazel’s diapers during that time and only brought her into feed every three hours until we realized that it was our right to have her in the room with us at all times. I couldn't eat, get up to pee, and my hair was a rat’s nest. The nurses had to clean my crotch. It was awful.
I didn’t want visitors, but my mentor Branda brought me organic goodies and Hazel her first peace lily. My sister Lisa came from Connecticut the morning after the surgery and brushed my hair. It felt amazing. Having her there distracted me from all the random nurses and medical students who kept coming into check my pee, press on my belly, and ask me the same questions: dizziness, headache, pain?
We had to stay at the hospital five days because my blood pressure wouldn’t stabilize. Andrew slept on a crappy reclining chair and I laid awake still in shock of what had just happened. I was sad that Andrew couldn't lay in the same bed and cuddle me. I needed that so badly! With all the nurses around I should have felt cared for, but I felt alone.
Sure all of the nurses seemed nice, but not full of love like Michelle. They were just doing a job that seemed annoying to them. Andrew was with me the entire time. All I wanted was to be home in bed with Hazel and Andrew with our warm wood stove and the sunlight that comes into our bedroom every morning. Not the fluorescent hospital lights that made the room feel like the morgue.
I began to mourn. Mourn the loss of having a natural homebirth. Mourn the loss of never going into labor. I was not able to work with my baby to get her into this world. I felt less of a woman. Andrew reminded me that Hazel and I would be dead if we weren’t at the hospital. Right, but it still felt really bad. And I was sad. When I was finally allowed to take a shower I stood there with hot water pouring over my bandage, and cried.
Looking back on all of this nine weeks later. I am thankful. Thankful for my life. Thankful for Hazel. She's healthy and strong. Thankful for Andrew who reminded me daily after the birth that I could have died. Thankful for supportive friends who cooked us meals and cleaned our home when we were in hospital and returned home. Thankful for our midwife Michelle who took care of us with love and wisdom at home postpartum. I don't think I would have healed so quickly without her and my community.
I recently watched a beautiful homebirth video from a woman in my prenatal exercise class and I was not jealous like I thought I would be. Hazel’s birth was just as beautiful, but in a very different way. My neighbor Amy reminded me about perspective. Hazel’s early arrival gave us four less weeks of worry about her arrival. We didn't have four weeks to argue about where to put the birthing tub and if it was going to be warm enough with the woodstove during labor. There were four weeks less of my itchy rash and hemorrhoids! And most importantly, four more weeks to get to know Hazel Moon.
The next time a woman tells me that her child’s birth was Cesarean, I'll say “Congratulations!” instead of “Awwww,” like I used to say. Birth is birth. The product is life. Hazel’s birth took endurance, strength, and love. It made me appreciate my community, my partner, and life. I hope other women and families who have experienced this will have the support to make peace with their unexpected Cesareans, too.