I guess it is human nature to be nosey. Relatives, friends, librarians, grocery store clerks, and mechanics at Jiffy Lube began to quiz me on whether or not I planned to have more children. The first few months following Liam’s birth, my answer was an emphatic “NO!” The experience of Liam’s birth had a very traumatic effect on me. I told my aunt I never wanted to have a c-section again. She remarked that my mother said the same thing after the birth of my youngest sibling. As I thought about it more, I began to realize, it was not the c-section that was so damaging to my psyche. It was all the other circumstances surrounding the c-section- the threat of Liam not making it or having permanent damage, being separated from him, the extra work with therapists to ensure his recovery. I had to learn to separate the c-section from the struggle.
As my love for Liam grew, so did the desire to have more children. Motherhood was the toughest job I had ever had. I don’t think any mother enjoys being a slave to her milk supply, the endless obsession with bodily fluids, or the constant guessing game of “what do you need?” But within all that messy confusion, there are daily doses of wonder, amazement, and joy. I remember the first time I made Liam laugh- a real laugh, not just gas. It was such a pure moment. I was changing his diaper and cooing at him. I made a silly “bup bup bup” sound and he cracked up. He didn’t laugh because he had the social expectation to laugh. He didn’t laugh because he knew it would make me happy. He laughed because he wanted to. Moments like those began to add up and take the place of the sad, confusing memories of his birth. I knew I would go through it all again, the good and the bad, for another little baby to love.
I wanted the birthing experience to be better the second time around. The first thing I did was switch doctors. With Liam, I had never been comfortable with my doctor’s personality. He bore a striking resemblance, both in appearance and demeanor, to Norman Bates. I actually referred to him as Dr. Creepy. But I believed he was a competent doctor. I didn’t think I should let a sour personality dissuade me from letting him do his job. The second time around, I realized having a good personality is part of his job. When Liam was in trouble, I needed someone to put me at ease, not flee the room after providing me with the most minimal of information. I wasn’t going to sacrifice my comfort for quality care. I wanted it all, and I got it. I found a great doctor who knew how scared I was and wanted to work with me so I could have a positive pregnancy and birth.
I spoke with him very early on about everything I had been through. I detailed my history of low platelet count, my prior c-section, and Liam’s struggle at the time of his birth. He advised that the decision was mine, but based on my history, he would recommend another c-section. I knew that was coming, and I was ok with it. I didn’t care so much anymore about how my baby came into the world. I just wanted to meet him.
Knowing I was having a c-section, I was actually able to relax. I marked the date on the calendar. I arranged babysitters for Liam. Everything was going according to plan. Until my water broke.
I had spent the day at the botanical gardens with Liam and Ben’s sister, Manda. I don’t know if Liam had some sort of sixth sense of what was going on inside my body, or if he was just having a clingy day, but he wanted me to carry him everywhere. I was miserable hauling around a thirty lb toddler along with my thirty lb belly, but I obliged.
At home that night, I bent over to retrieve a ball from under the couch. I stood up and felt a trickle down my leg. Having not gone into labor on my own the first time, I wasn’t sure if my water had broke, or if I simply peed my pants (hey, those last few weeks, the baby was doing somersaults on my bladder. A little pee pee in the panties was not unheard of). I sent Ben and Liam out for a walk, and waited to see if the trickle continued. It did. Ben returned ten minutes later, and I told him the news.
I was three weeks early, and not ready to have a baby. My sitters were not in town, my bag was not packed, hell I didn’t even know if I had clean clothes! I hurriedly threw a nightgown and toiletries in a bag, while I discussed Plan B with Ben.
I have no idea what I was thinking, but I convinced myself that the doctors might send me home since I was not having contractions. I told Ben I would drive myself to the hospital (yes, I drove myself), and if I had to stay, I would call him to come in for the birth. It sounds ridiculous, but at the time, it made complete sense. I’d just scamper over, get checked out, and be home in time for 30 Rock. Easy peasy.
I arrived at the hospital and was taken into a triage room to confirm my water had broken. It sounds kind of silly to anyone that has had contractions, but as I waited for the results, I hoped to have at least one contraction. When I was induced, my contractions went from zero to off the charts in record time. I was curious to know what it felt like to go into labor naturally. I lay there with my eyes closed, using my hands to explore my rounded belly, hoping to feel just one tiny tremor. Unfortunately, I never felt that lone contraction. My nurse returned and said my water had indeed broken, and that my doctor would be in within the hour to perform my c-section.
My calm exterior disintegrated into immediate panic. An hour! An hour isn’t enough time to play a game of Scrabble, let alone birth a human being! I frantically dialed my husband’s number and told him to haul ass to the hospital. We had planned on my in-laws looking after Liam, but they had not yet arrived in town from their home out of state. We quickly decided to ask the neighbors to stay at the house with Liam. They obliged and Ben raced to my side just in time for my doctor to come to check on me.
My doctor was off duty, but when the nurse called him to say I went into labor, he came to the hospital. He remembered my prior history, and wanted to ensure I had a good experience. He wanted to perform the c-section himself, rather than leaving it to the on call physician. When I heard that, I knew I had chosen the right doctor. Calm returned once again, and then gave way to excitement. We were going to meet our son!
I was wheeled into the room and introduced to the staff. Ben waited outside while the spinal block was administered. I was laid on the bed, and the curtain was raised so I would not see the actual surgery. Ben held my hand and talked me through the procedure once again. But instead of trying in vain to calm my hysterical sobs, this time we were laughing and smiling in anticipation.
I heard a shrill squeak. It seemed like time was delayed or stood still. Internally I questioned what had made such a peculiar sound. I had never heard anything like it. Ben must have sensed what I was thinking because he said “Do you hear that? He’s crying.”
I broke down in tears of the best kind. He was crying! I heard it! He was crying! I had my moment- the perfect birthing moment when I heard my child’s first sound and everything was right in the world. The doctor and team began to laugh about how much hair he had. I saw him briefly and then the nurse took him to clean up. She brought him back a few moments later, and I got to nuzzle him and give him kisses on his sweet, perfect face. I was beaming, knowing he would be waiting for me after I finished my time in the recovery room.
The best part of a c-section is the four days in the hospital. I was in no rush to get out this time around. I was living in a happy bubble where people brought me food and catered to my whims. Each morning, before visitors began streaming in, I would order a huge breakfast of eggs, coffee, and pancakes, and eat it slowly while my newborn son, Kellen, napped peacefully on my chest. I still had to walk the halls to encourage my recovery from the surgery, but this time, I didn’t have to force strangers to look at a photograph of my child. They happily stopped to gaze at my beautiful boy. It almost felt like a little vacation, a special time for me to do nothing but get to know my son. Yikes, I must be a mom to think a hospital stay feels like the Four Seasons.
I know there are startling statistics about the increase in the number of c-sections, and there are many advocates encouraging mothers to go for VBACs. I do not tell my story to add fire to the debate. Every situation is different, and it is up to each mother to choose the path that is best for her and her child. I simply believe every birth experience can be lovely, so long as it ends in that strange, glorious sound of a child’s first cry. Happy mommies, happy babies, however you get there.