Saturday, September 13, 2014

Thoughts on a C-Section

When James wakes up from his nap, I’m going to give him a big kiss on his chubby cheeks and place him snug on my hips. My big ole’ birthing hips. Except those hips didn’t birth him. He came out of a 7-inch incision on the underside of my belly. I see that scar everytime I take my clothes off, a reminder of the happiest day in May when I became a mother. But, for some reason, lately I’ve been looking at that scar and wondering one question: what went wrong?

Of course, in the most important sense, nothing went wrong. I was pregnant in the 21st century and gave birth in a stellar hospital, under the care of wonderful nurses and physicians, coached by our incredible doula, in a country with a low maternal mortality rate. When my water broke at home without any sign of labor and baby’s risk of infection went up because his bag of waters was no longer protecting him, those nurses hooked me up to pitocin to start labor for me. And after kickin’ it the old-fashioned way for 22 hours, I got to labor without pain thanks to the guardian angel anesthesiologist who administered my epidural. And when my cervix refused to dilate past 4.5 cm, and I’d been on high levels of pitocin for too long, that wonderful team of doctors cut James out of my belly safely for the two of us, and I became part of the 30% of women who give birth via C-Section every year in the US.

That’s a substantial number, but I naively thought I would never be included in it. I had a very easy, healthy pregnancy and thus had the luxury of casually ignoring the possibility that I would deliver James via C-Section. Some mamas aren’t so lucky: risk factors like breech position and placenta issues often require a planned-for, scheduled surgery. But that wasn’t me. On top of my healthy pregnancy, I went to yoga classes and on daily walks, I took prenatal vitamins and ate well(-ish), I read pregnancy books, and Ian and I signed up for a 9-week long childbirth education class. Ending my pregnancy with a C-Section felt like being carried across the finish line when I had been training to run a marathon.

Moreover, as I prepared for a "natural" childbirth in the months leading up to our due date, all l I kept hearing was how women’s bodies are designed to birth their babies. And I couldn’t help but look at my own body in the mirror, with my big hips, big boobs and soft tummy, that I looked like a woman designed to push a baby out of her hoo-ha.

With the benefit of hindsight, I wish that I would have forced myself to envision James’ birth in different ways rather than believing that my birth plan would come to fruition if I wanted it hard enough.

That I didn’t mentally prepare for a C-Section has led to a bit of retrospective mourning for the birth I thought I was going to have, something scheduled C-Section mamas get to grapple with weeks ahead of time. Instead, after a whole day in labor with no sleep, the surgery team flooded our labor & delivery room and I had no time or energy to reconcile my emotions. I was left feeling like I missed out on something: the pushing, the baby on the chest, seeing my husband’s wide smile instead of trying to decipher it behind a surgical mask…

Most of all, I’m scared that James missed out on something, that being born through my abdomen will disadvantage him somehow. And that he’s disadvantaged not because of some unlucky pregnancy issue, but because of the decisions I made that precipitated his cesarean delivery. He wasn't breech and my placenta was fine, so I can't help but blame my own choices. If only I had waited longer for labor to start on its own, or asked about Cervadil at that last prenatal visit when I was past my due date, or used my birthing ball more… Maybe I didn’t just fail to have a vaginal birth; maybe I failed him.

But in the face of this doubt, I am certain of one thing: my C-Section was the right decision under the circumstances at the time. So perhaps James’ birth was my first big lesson in parenting: all Ian and I can do is make the best decisions we can with the information that we have. That’s what we did. As our childbirth education instructor told us, “As long as you love your baby, you’re making the right choice.” I love my sweet baby more than any words I could write here, and the choices we made on his birthday - being induced to avoid infection and opting for the C-Section to stop his prolonged exposure to pitocin - we made of out love.

I may not have been the first one to hold James in my arms - that was Ian - but I held him in my body for 41 weeks. And I hold him today, his little foot resting sweetly over the scar on my belly, in between my birthing hips.

*Amanda Megan Miller Photography