My doctor stood there, stoic as ever, as my tears crept into the conversation. In his eyes, I was a relatively low maintenance pregnant patient. But this was the one outcome I had communicated wanting to avoid at all costs. The phrases “measuring large,” “shoulder dystocia,” and “narrow pelvis” knocked around my brain like a bad game of ping pong. A game I didn’t sign up to play.
Was I really prepared to put my baby in danger for the sake of the experience? As easy as the decision should have been, it simply wasn’t. After what felt like 30 minutes, but was probably only two, my husband and I went ahead and scheduled our cesarean section.
After nine months of research, numerous classes and an abundance of well-meaning advice on natural labor and delivery, we had one week to get used to the idea of surgery.
As if to shield us from what we could discover about the recovery period, my water broke early, with contractions coming fast. Was this a sign? Maybe I could do this naturally.
But it wasn’t. Within 30 minutes of arriving at the hospital, I was scheduled for surgery. There was my dream of an unmedicated vaginal birth running away from me.
I’ll spare the play-by-play, but from the clinical, colorless operating room to the medication that made me feel languorous to an unexpected blood transfusion, I truly hated everything about this experience. I feel such guilt even admitting that because the process resulted in the birth of my beautiful, healthy son, and I know just how lucky I am to say that. But, due to the circumstances, I don’t even remember holding him for the first time.
I felt robbed. There was no skin-to-skin, no overwhelming, magical moment of joy as they pulled him out of me.
My husband will disagree. He experienced all of those feelings. He was the first one they called over to meet him. He was the first one to hold him. He was the first one to kiss him. Of course, there was a part of me that was thrilled he had the opportunity to relish in those moments of firsts. But, there was also a realistic part of me that was envious as I lay naked, strapped down to a table, in what felt like a very literal surrender of what would be my life’s most precious moment.
The next few days spent in the hospital were a complete blur. I knew we had visitors; I knew my son was being taken care of; I knew I had a list of tasks to complete: schedule the first pediatrician appointment, call the insurance company to sign him up, schedule flights for an upcoming trip with his date of birth. I was more concerned about my to-do list than anything else.
I could control my to-do list.
I knew I was supposed to be tracking any passed gas.
I knew I was supposed to be breastfeeding but had no milk.
I knew I felt worse than I should have
…I knew something was wrong.
What I didn’t know was that I was completely unprepared for C-section recovery. I had only known a handful of women who had the surgery but never once heard them describe the pains of the process. And, that’s fair. Why would they voluntarily recount how challenging those first few weeks were?
But since I had no idea what was supposed to be “normal” mixed together with my ungovernable hormones, I felt, to put it bluntly, totally out of it.
Why was I in so much pain? Am I weaker than all of these other women? How did they make it through this? Why is this so difficult for me?
It didn’t help that none of the family members visiting had ever undergone a C-section themselves. Their concern and inadvertent judgment were plastered all over their faces. Phrases like “postpartum depression,” “belabored recovery,” and “not bonding with baby” were tossed around irresponsibly.
Now I felt irrational, angry and defensive.
I remember crying while my mom held me up in the shower and washed me.
I remember hating hearing my husband referred to as “Super Dad” because he was solely caring for our son while I recovered.
I remember wondering if my son even needed me.
I remember looking down at my unrecognizable stomach and my scar thinking I was the ugliest person.
I remember convincing myself the chronic pain in my neck, the inability to move, constipation, trapped gas and insomnia would last for the rest of my life.
I remember second guessing if I was ever meant to be a mother.
What I came to understand is that the first two weeks of C-section recovery are the hardest. It takes a full six weeks to feel like a functioning person again, but once you make it past those first two weeks, you can do things like hold your baby because your abs will finally allow it, get out of bed swiftly to answer your baby’s cry because you can finally lift your legs to move them to the side and change your baby’s diaper because you can finally stand for that long.
I wish I had known this earlier. I wish I had known that as dire as it seemed, my body would heal, and the first time I would be able to properly care for my son, I would never look back.
I wish I had known that I would bond with my baby in so many ways other than breastfeeding. I wish I had known that my little boy and I would soon fall so madly in love that it would feel as if we shared a heart.
As a new mom, I was both the strongest I’ll ever be and also the most fragile. My fragility and precarious state of mind were just me processing everything that my body had gone through —growing a tiny human, going into labor, having emergency surgery—with the added intensity of caring for a newborn. I will carry my birth story with me for the rest of my life because it changed me forever in so many ways.