Writing birth stories is a big thing in the US, especially on blogs, but I never thought about writing one myself. I recently read a birth story on AKnottedLife called “Thomas Emil’s Birth story – or- C-Sections are Weird” and realized for the first time that I never wrote one because I thought I didn’t have a story. Not only was the experience of having the baby a million times more important than the actual birth, which I considered a minor bump in the road, but since it was a C-section I didn’t feel it was that special or even worth retelling. It was an operation, really, not a home birth or anything half as dreamy. After reading the birth story above, I realized I feel this way because it was such a passive event, something that happened to me, and not something I felt active in. I agree with Bonnie, C-sections are weird.
With my second childbirth looming in the near future, I now realize how much impact my first birth story has had on my life and on my future possibilities of having more children. Very impactful. So writing it down suddenly seems important.
My husband and I had a lot of expectations and were pretty confident about what was important to us in childbirth. However, throughout the course of our not-so-planned-but-very-very-welcomed-pregnancy, our confidence progressively waned, I would say. I had no idea pregnancy and childbirth would seem so much within my control, but be so much out of my control. It started right from the beginning with blood loss in the first trimester and rushing to the hospital, only for the doctor on call to tell us, “well, it’s fifty-fifty, could work out or not. Good luck!” We made decisions right away: to go through a private OB-GYN and not through the public system’s general practitioner, to get furniture for our house (we had just moved in!), etc. Then the baby only had one umbilical artery instead of two, was breech until last minute when we did an external cephalic version and she turned, etc.
So by the time we got to the actual birth, I was already a little frazzled by the amount of things that could go wrong even though I eat healthy, exercise, am slightly “crunchy” and my husband knows so much about doctors, hospitals and medical procedures (he’s a doctor). There is a lot out of your control. For a person of faith, you know it’s in God’s control, but when you have very little faith (like me!) you feel a little helpless.
Even with this progressive waning of confidence, we still had a lot of expectations for the birth. I didn’t want to get an epidural, I wanted to wait at home as long as possible before going to the hospital, and we were both decidedly, adamantly, assuredly against having a C-section. In fact, when the option of doing a cephalic external version was open for us, since Adelaide was defiantly breech, we didn’t hesitate for a moment. We picked the hospital where my husband had studied, which he thought was the best in Portugal and where he felt he knew the staff and his way around.
The weeks leading up to delivery were the worst for me during the entire pregnancy. I was so nervous about whether it would go well or not and I didn’t want to be induced. I did everything I knew could help induce labor: taking stairs instead of elevators, taking very long walks (in which I exaggerated so much that I could barely walk afterwards!), etc. The 40-week due date passed, a date to be induced was scheduled and each passing day was torture. One Friday night we had a date at home. My husband organized it (he’s the best). We dressed up as if we were going out and danced. I thought I was feeling contractions, but wasn’t sure. (They say when you relax, labor happens!)
I woke up around 1am and my water had broken and with light contractions. We went to the hospital right away. It was 3am and I was led into a dim room with another woman in labor with a curtain partition. Before the nurse left I asked to use the bathroom and she looked surprised. “No, now you can’t get up anymore. You can use this potty chair,” and she placed it under me. I felt a little panicked.
My husband came and joined me and we spend the next 15 hours doing our best in what seemed like an impossibly long period of waiting. My contractions were getting progressively worse. The nurses kept on asking on a scale of 1-10 how my pain was and I wanted to act tough (so they wouldn’t suggest an epidural) so I would answer conservatively. But the truth was I was in a lot of pain and it was getting worse. I assumed that meant the baby was almost coming out, so I “kept my secret” from the nurses.
I had been admitted to the hospital with one or two cm of dilation and in those 15 hours it never increased. The pain and contractions kept on increasing, though. I just laid there or sat there, trying to breathe and hoping it would progress.
At around 3pm or so, I couldn’t take the pain anymore. I had never felt so terrible about myself or so much like a wimp. I had imagined myself in the hospital, insisting with the nurses that I didn’t want an epidural and that I could take it. Now what was happening was the nurses weren’t offering me anything, because they assumed that with only two cm of dilation I wasn’t having enough pain. I went back and forth with my husband, wondering if I should ask for an epidural. I really didn’t want to, but the pain during contractions was so intense I couldn’t take it. I was disappointed in myself.
Finally, I asked for an epidural. What hurt my ego even more was that the nurses seemed surprised. “Are you sure?” In the time that it took the anaesthesiologist to get there, I felt like I wanted to be knocked unconscious instantly… instead of having an epidural. After the epidural, the pain somewhat subsided, but I was scared that now it would all go wrong.
When the doctor said at around six pm that labor wasn’t progressing, the baby might not be okay and that we would go for a c-section, it felt like a punch in the stomach. That was the one thing we didn’t want. I had already gotten an epidural, we had tried so hard not to be induced and had the external cephalic version to avoid a c-section. I begged the doctor not to. He said he was the last person who would rush into c-sections. I started crying. And although I tried to hide it from the doctors, they noticed. He tried to comfort me, saying it wasn’t that big of a deal. I tried to hold it together, but I was heartbroken.
The nurses during the c-section were very caring and kind, unlike some others in the hospital. They tried to make jokes, along with the anaesthesiologist, to cheer me up. They asked if I knew any jokes and I said I really couldn’t think of any. They asked me about myself and about the United States, but I didn’t feel like talking. My husband was able to be presente at the c-section and he really was my only comfort. I feel terrible for people who do c-sections without their husbands, especially to pick up the baby when it comes out. Here in Portugal they usually don’t let husbands watch, but since mine is a doctor he could. He was totally relaxed and almost… happy, especially when the baby came out. I felt ice-cold and was just grinding my teeth to get it over with.
The worst part of the operation was not the fear I would feel the cut, although that was scary. It wasn’t the constant conversation between doctor and intern, about what they would do later, soccer, my organs, whether she was doing things right (during the operation and sewing me up) or not. I’d lived in Portugal for 10 years so I was used to unprofessionalism, or that kind of candid conversation.
No, the worst was the feeling of vulnerability. Going through labor and it being out of my control was already vulnerable. People say the hospital gowns and having to have an IV stuck in your arm makes you feel vulnerable. But I never felt so vulnerable as when I had to lay down on that table, they tied my arms out to the side, I couldn’t stop shaking from the side-effect of the anaesthesia and I knew my abdomen was wide open and my organs exposed. I couldn’t stop thinking about my organs beings exposed to light, to dust, to the doctor’s latex gloves. I couldn’t stop thinking about how my grandma and my husband’s grandma had abdominal operations in their youth that didn’t go so well and then both of those have been associated to cancer in their old age. With my hands out to the side, I felt as if for sure that was a little bit of what Jesus felt on the cross.
Halfway through the operation I threw up and the nurse caught it in a plastic bag. The anaesthesiologist adjusted the medication so I wouldn’t feel sick. At that moment I thought I was going to die and I never thought I would fear death so much.
When Adelaide came out, she cried a healthy cry and they showed her to me. I could tell she was beautiful, but I didn’t care to know what color eyes or hair she had or any of the things that I couldn’t wait to see before. My husband and the nurses put her on my chest and I gave her a little kiss, but I was almost insensitive to it all. My husband wanted me to try breastfeeding and I couldn’t believe he would suggest such a thing. I just wanted them to sew me up. I asked him to take her and from then until the time I was finally sewn up seemed like eternity. I kept asking the doctors, “Is it almost done?” over and over.
When it was finally over and I was wheeled into a private room where my husband and baby were waiting, I felt like all my suffering was over. I was so relieved. I had been scared that she would come out screaming and not stop screaming ever. Instead, she was wrapped in blankets and a cute blue and pink striped hat, and was calmly quiet in her father’s lap. He looked overjoyed, and that filled me up with joy inside too. He said, “Look, she’s trying to suckle on the blanket!” I was so thrilled that she seemed calm, that she had been okay with her father during that time, and that she was healthy enough to suckle on the blanket, looking for food!
From then on, there were hard parts such as the painful month-long recovery (in which I felt I would never bodily feel the same again… but then I did) and the adaptation to breastfeeding. Even so, the joy of Adelaide being so beautiful and my husband and I being so united in her care was a miracle.
I feel like saying I hope my next birth story is better than this one. Because it was traumatic. Because there were a lot of things that could have gone better, and we probably could’ve even avoided the dreaded c-section if we had been more informed and had some better help. However, it was the way it was and I think I’ve made peace with that. Life isn’t supposed to be perfect and you’re not supposed to do everything perfectly, especially the first time around. We did a birth course with a doula a couple months ago and she said, your first birth prepares you for your second. I would add, your second birth prepares you for your third and so on because life is a journey and all of it is stepping stones.
Thank you for reading Adelaide’s birth story… it was long! And please say a prayer for our second birth story (if it hasn’t already happened).