This post contains the story of my first child's c-section birth. The photos contained here are NOT examples of my professional work. They were taken by family members, doctors, and nurses who were present at the birth.
I became a mom five years ago today. It seems so strange to me that five whole years have passed since Bug was born. No, Bug is not her real name. It's just a pet name that slipped out one day when she was a tiny baby and it stuck. Her first birthday party was even bug themed (cute girly bugs - not the creepy, crawly kind).
If you read my first blog post about why I decided to become a birth photographer, you already know a little bit about my daughter's birth. It was my first pregnancy and I assumed I would have a natural birth. I wanted a natural birth. I read several books. I watched videos. I took a birth class. I thought I was prepared. The problem was I had prepared for a normal, healthy delivery. It never occurred to me to prepare for major complications or something to go wrong with my pregnancy. I wasn't nearly as ready as I thought.
Almost as soon as I entered my third trimester, my blood pressure started spiking. It didn't stay elevated, so my doctor advised me to stay off my feet as much as possible at work and rest whenever I could. I was an elementary school teacher at the time though, so options for resting were limited.
I also started to notice swelling that continued to get worse as the weeks went on. When I was about 35 weeks pregnant, I suddenly had a horrible headache with prisms in my vision and dizziness. I put in a call to my obstetrician, who advised me to take Tylenol and lay on my left side. I did as I was told and even managed to take a nap for about 2 hours. When I woke up, the prisms were gone, but the headache and dizziness were still present although lessened in severity. I decided to take my blood pressure and discovered it was the highest reading I had ever had even after medication and a nap. I called my OB again, and she told me she would meet me at the hospital. That was the first of what would ultimately be three hospital visits.
Over the next two weeks, I went through a battery of tests from blood and urine tests to NSTs (non-stress tests) and ultrasounds. It was determined that I was right on the borderline for a pre-eclampsia diagnosis. Overall, my daughter seemed to still be healthy in utero, but sometimes showed early signs of distress (hence the second hospital stay which lasted four days). I was on bed rest with regular doctor visits for NSTs and ultrasounds to check on my baby girl.
Once I was back on the ultrasound table, the tech and my husband pushed and poked my belly and talked to her, trying to coax her into moving. She still didn't budge. My OB came in and told me I was being sent to the hospital next door. If my baby didn't start moving in the time it took them to get the paperwork and send me over, I was being put under general anesthesia for a crash c-section.
I called my mom and told her to call everyone and tell them to PRAY AND PRAY HARD. I've never been so thankful to be part of a praying family because it worked! I got to the hospital and as they were hooking me up to the fetal monitors, my baby girl started dancing. She was wiggling and kicking so hard, the nurses couldn't keep the monitors on her. The doctor said the csection wasn't needed immediately, but my induction was starting that night. I hadn't eaten in several hours because we were waiting for the official call on whether or not I would be heading into surgery. I was finally allowed to eat dinner before a nurse came to insert Cervadil. I tried my best to sleep that night, but I was anxious. I woke up early in the morning and had a shower and breakfast before the pitocin started around 7 am. I was only about 1 cm dilated at this point.
Over the next several hours, I managed contractions with support and foot massages from my mom and my best friend, Ashley. My husband was there too and he was as supportive as he could be, but honestly, he was overwhelmed and anxious. He had already been nervous about the birth in general, and now that everything was out of control, he just didn't know what to do.
Around lunch time, the on-call OB came into my room to check me and found that I had progressed to 2 cm. My baby's head was still pretty high in my pelvis though. The doctor thought maybe breaking my water would encourage her to descend and put more pressure on my cervix. Having my water broken intensified the contractions significantly, but I continued on without pain medication. My ability to cope with contractions became more and more difficult as I was limited in my options for moving around. Each time I sat up, my blood pressure would start to rise and a nurse would inevitably come into my room telling me to lay on my left side to bring my pressure back down.
A few hours later, my contractions were coming strong and rapid. I was getting very little, if any, break in between. The doctor came in to check me again, and I remember thinking I can keep going if there's progress. I just need to hear I've made progress.
Nothing. My cervix hadn't budged past 2 cm and my daughter's head was still high in my pelvis. The doctor and nurses tried to joke that I had a "cervix of steel," but I was heartbroken. The doctor told me there were a couple more things she might be able to try to get things moving, but she was limited in her options because of my blood pressure. She said we could keep going and I might still have a vaginal birth or I might end up in an emergency situation ending in a crash csection where my husband and I would both miss the birth of our daughter. My other option was to go ahead and move forward with the csection now. Of course, I was continuing to have back to back contractions while she explained all of this to me. The thought of being under general anesthesia for my daughter's birth terrified me, so I chose to go ahead with the surgery.
This was the one moment when my husband knew exactly what to do. He knew I didn't want surgery. He wrapped his arms around me and let me sob on his shoulder.
Once I had a good cry, I took a deep breath and got ready to meet my baby. I told the hospital staff that I wanted my mom and my husband to be with me in the OR. I wanted someone to be able to stay with me in case they had to take the baby out for some reason and my husband needed to go with her. The nurses brought scrubs for both of them and then wheeled me off to surgery.
I struggled to keep my anxiety in check as I waited to hear that cry. Finally, the doctor said, "Anyone who wants to see her come out, stand up."
Only moments later, I heard the most miraculously beautiful sound. My baby bug announced her presence LOUDLY right from the start. My tears of joy quickly turned to laughter when my husband announced, "She just peed all over you!"
Then the doctor said, "Correction: she peed IN you. We haven't sewn you up yet. Don't worry - it's sterile."
A nurse gave me a brief peek of my daughter past the curtain before they took her to the warmer to clean her up and check her out.
They swaddled her up, brought her over to me for a quick kiss...
Then the nurse announced, "We're taking the baby to the nursery. Anyone not necessary to finish the surgery has to come with me."
We were all stunned. I told them before the surgery that the reason I wanted my mom present was so I had someone who could stay with me. Bug was perfectly healthy and my surgery was moving along normally. There was no reason for the sudden change of plan. My husband and mom hesitantly followed the nurse out of the room, and I was left alone surrounded by strangers talking about a Halloween party during what should have been some of the most beautiful moments of my life.
After my surgery was complete, I was moved to recovery where I was attended by a nurse who seemed annoyed that I constantly asked where my baby was and when I could see her again. After what felt like hours (but was most likely about an hour), my husband walked through the door wheeling my new precious girl in a hospital bassinet. I finally got to properly meet my girl.
In the years since, I've struggled to explain my disappointment in Bug's birth to friends and family. It's not the c-section that really bothers me. Don't get me wrong, recovering from major abdominal surgery when you have a newborn is tough, but I would lay myself out on that table over and over and over again if I thought it was best for one of my babies.
However, I will never be okay with the fact that I wasn't the first person to hold my own daughter. I will never be okay with the fact that I wasn't there to see my husband hold her for the first time. I will never be okay with the fact that my very first moments as a mother were lonely. And you know what? That's okay. I'm allowed to feel both overjoyed with this perfect, healthy little human I created and also disappointed with the events surrounding her arrival.
If I knew then what I know now, I never would have let them take her from the OR. I would have demanded that they put her on my chest for skin to skin time while they finished the surgery. If for some reason I was unable to hold her myself, I would have had my husband hold her until I was moved to recovery. I acted like a prisoner doing as she was told instead of a patient with rights to her own body and her own baby.
For a while after Bug was born, I hated my scar. I hated my body for failing her - not just in birth but before that with my blood pressure and pre-eclampsia. Breastfeeding helped heal some of that. I nursed her for two solid years and it gave me an opportunity to forgive myself.
Bug and I have an incredibly close bond despite my feelings about her birth. She's my quirky, little fairy with a heart of gold, and I thank God every day that I get to be her mommy.
Happy Birthday Bug.