Learning to Love My Scheduled C-Section
How I let go of other people's expectations and had a good birth
"I don't have gestational diabetes," I blurted out to the 10 couples at my childbirth preparation class. With two months to go in my pregnancy, my son was already measuring close to 9 pounds. I shifted my weight back and forth on the uncomfortable metal folding chair. I was the oldest woman there, and the only one who knew she was likely to end her 40 weeks with a c-section.
When my husband Ethan and I signed up for this three-hour class, it seemed like a good idea. I thought the nurse would cover a wide range of outcomes, that she would be neutral and just give us an overview so we could be prepared. I didn't expect her to spend 90 percent of the time extolling the virtues of natural childbirth, or that I would leave feeling like I was failing as a mother before I had even become one.
"Well, that was a waste," I said to Ethan when we got home. He put his hand on my knee. "We want a baby, right? Who cares how he gets here?"
I cared. I ran with a crowd who thought you should avoid getting an epidural at all costs and that cesareans were the other "c word." Two of my closest friends were even planning home births.
I wondered if the doctors would give me the chance to go for a vaginal birth if I were younger. My mother was 25 when she delivered me at 9 pounds, 13 ounces (although I did emerge with a broken clavicle). Three years later, she had my 10-pound, 3-ounce brother (who admittedly got caught on her hip on his way into the world). But if she could do it, I could do it. Right?
"Wrong," said my doctor three weeks before my due date when he reported that my son was more than 10 pounds. "These numbers can be off by a pound in either direction," he said, "but we have to err on the safe side. We are going to have to schedule you for surgery."
I felt ashamed.
I had seen Ricki Lake's documentary The Business of Being Born and knew doctors often opted for surgery to protect themselves from being sued. I had heard horror stories of women being bullied into c-sections, their birth plans overruled without their consent. I had friends who were still traumatized by being cut open at the last minute, their scar a reminder to them that their wishes didn't matter. But my doctors were telling me it was dangerous for me to deliver such a big baby, and I trusted them.
Ethan and I chose the best surgeon in the practice, the man with a reputation for going low and deep and barely leaving a scar. Then we had to pick the date and time, which felt a little like playing God – there's nothing natural about determining your child's birthday. He was due on the cusp of Taurus and Gemini. Would forcing him to come out a week early change his stars and fate and luck in life? Who knows? But May 14, 2013 at 10 am, it was.
I knew I would be dealing with doctors and nurses in blue scrubs, obnoxiously bright lighting, and a cold, metal table. No warm tub or candles or Rachael Yamagata singing softy in the background for me. But I wanted to make my experience as special and feel as connected as possible.
The first thing I requested was skin on skin contact with my son immediately after he was delivered. The second must for me was having my midwife Jennifer by my side. At 13 weeks, I had sat on her examining table, unable to stop crying and telling her how scared I was to lose another baby. I was still traumatized from miscarrying our daughter just shy of the second trimester. Jennifer hugged me and told me everything was going to be ok. I needed softness in the delivery room, and she was it.
The night before our son's arrival, Ethan and I watched three episodes of Scandal back to back, and cuddled on the couch with our standard poodle Gracie who didn't know her life was about to change.
My dear friend Merideth had twins at the same hospital, and she explained to me how it would go down (something I wished the nurse in that childbirth class had told us): They would check the baby's heartbeat. I would go in before Ethan. They would give me a spinal tap. I would lose feeling in my legs, and after that it would happen really fast. Ethan would come in, and we'd be parents.
She was right. They checked our son's heartbeat. They gave Ethan a cap for his head (which seemed silly given he is bald), and a blue jumpsuit. Jennifer showed up wearing red lipstick and a smile that instantly calmed me down. They called my name. I kissed Ethan and left him behind. In the OR, they had me sit on a cold, metal table and hunch over so they could administer the spinal.
Jennifer held me in a hug, her forehead touching mine as she spoke in a soothing voice. "I am right here. Just breathe. You are safe." I focused on her eyes, so kind and loving. I could feel the room growing warmer.
Then, just like Merideth warned, I lost feeling in my legs. They pulled me up and laid me down. Ethan came in. The anesthesiologist told me I might feel nauseous and that he could adjust the medicine if needed. Jennifer held my left hand. Ethan, my right.
"Are you going to tell me when you start?" I asked. "We already did," the doctor said.
Seconds later it seemed, the doctor motioned for Ethan to stand up.
"The baby's coming out. You might want to capture this for Kimmi later." I watched Ethan's face as he snapped some shots. "What's happening?" I asked. "He just peed," Ethan told me.
The doctor hoisted our crying son above the curtain for me to see. "Man, is he heavy," the doctor said, smiling. Everyone in the room started making bets on his size – all in the 10-pound range. Then they put our son on the scale. "11 pounds, 13 ounces!"
The room broke into laughter. People were screaming, clapping, practically jumping up and down. You'd think we were in a skybox at Madison Square Garden. I felt a wave of nausea and relief, my head tilted all the way the right to glimpse my son's body. I wanted to hold him and rock him. Ethan cut the cord and brought him over to me. I cradled our baby's head in my hands, my tears making it hard to see him.
Twenty minutes later, after he had been brought to the nursery to have his bath and get his vitals checked, they placed him on my chest. He felt warm and heavy. This being that had grown inside me, his heartbeat protected by my body, was now outside of me – breathing, alive, a whole person, my child. Ethan was right, the how didn't matter. Our son was here, and I loved him.
Later that afternoon, one of the doctors said, "You know, you're really lucky. Back in the day, you'd both be dead."
I was high on Percocet at the time, but his words hit me hard. Yes, c-sections can be overused, but they also save lives. I wished that had been covered in our childbirth preparation class.
Now when moms on the playground can't get over Ari's size, I smile and say, "Yup, he was 11 pounds, 13 ounces." Their eyes pop open in disbelief, and I quickly add, with gratitude and pride, "Scheduled c-section, thank God."