For as long as I can remember, I knew I wanted to be a mother. Tending to dollies as a child wasn’t just imaginative play. It was practice. It was preparation. And the older I became, the closer I got to fulfilling that destiny.
When I decided it was time to start a family of my own for real, I was constantly torn between the excitement of realizing a lifelong dream and the building fear of it at the same time. I quickly learned that getting pregnant wasn’t as easy as I had always believed, and in watching cousins and friends have babies, I began to question whether the time was right. Freshly married, financially stable, and traveling the world… did I really want to give that up just yet? But at the same time, I wasn’t getting any younger and I wasn’t sure how long it would take to actually get pregnant when it didn’t happen after the first few months. I became increasingly frustrated and confused about whether this was the path I was supposed to follow.
And then when I least expected it, the positive appeared on the test. I’d be lying if I said my whole life changed right away. I felt triumphant, I felt eager. I felt very nauseous most of the time. But even as the months passed and belly grew, it didn’t feel like a reality. No matter what point of my pregnancy I was in, there was still so much time.
That was, of course, until there suddenly wasn’t.
When I pictured the birth of my first baby, I imagined the start of contractions. I would question if that was really what I was feeling, and then as cliché as possibly imaginable, I would tell my husband, “It’s time!” We would whisk ourselves off to the hospital, prepared bag in tow. My husband and my mother would be by my bedside. It would be long and difficult, but I would receive an epidural and that would help. Then finally, they would pass my baby to me and I would cry tears of joy as I held him in my arms for the first time.
That was how it was supposed to go. I was supposed to have a very typical experience. As it turns out, it was anything but.
When my water broke four weeks early, I had no idea what was going on. After questioning whether I had suddenly become incontinent and making a middle-of-the-night phone call to my mother, I spoke with the on-all doctor and realized it was time to go to the hospital. Hastily, I woke my husband and packed a bag- just in case we ended up staying. I still hadn’t been convinced that this was “it”. There was supposed to be more time. I thought they would send me back home, a false alarm.
As I walked myself into the ER and then up to maternity, baby’s arrival still seemed far away. Wasn’t I supposed to be panting in a wheelchair? Having contractions that were growing increasingly painful? As we were greeted by hospital staff, I felt like a fraud, waltzing in with no outward signs of labor. However, once we were settled in the maternity triage, it soon became apparent that we would not be leaving as a party of two. My fluid had continued to leak the whole time, and as the doctor suspected I had lost a fair amount, they decided to do an ultrasound. Being the one leaking the fluid, I felt like I was pretty confident there couldn’t be a lot left in my uterus, but I was not prepared for what else the ultrasound would reveal.
My previous three prenatal appointments had told me that baby boy was head down, ready to enter the world when the time came. What the ultrasound showed conflicted with what I had been told. Not only was the majority of my fluid gone, but baby boy was also now breech. When the resident looked at me apologetically, I knew before she even spoke. I knew this meant an unplanned c-section, one of the things I feared most about having a baby. I allowed myself to panic for about two minutes, looking pleadingly at my husband, as if he could change it all somehow. I knew c-sections were virtually as common as vaginal births, but that didn’t change the fact that it wasn’t part of the plan. I very briefly grieved how I imagined I would toil in labor and mentally prepared myself for surgery instead. As I was now having painful contractions and back labor, I was ready to bring baby boy into the world. No point in suffering this pain to no avail!
I walked myself and my IV down the hallway to surgery, leaving my husband to wait outside while I was prepped. I sat on the table and observed as the various medical personnel busied themselves in preparation, listening as they introduced themselves but not really hearing them. Knowing enough nurses personally, I knew to ask that a resident did not do my spinal (no offense, I know everyone has to learn somewhere, but I didn’t want it to be on me!). The area was numbed prior, so I didn’t feel a thing when the spinal went in, though I was pretty sure the resident ended up doing it against my wishes. It was amazing how quickly I began to lose feeling in my legs. Soon after, I thought I might be having a panic attack – not that I’d ever had one to really know what that would feel like. My chest felt heavy, I felt like I was having difficulty breathing, and I was somewhat nauseous. I let the anesthesiologist know, and I was given what I think was anti-nausea medicine. They also assured me that the heaviness I was feeling was normal and to take deep breaths; it did soon subside.
At that point, the curtain was up, my catheter was inserted, my arms were perpendicular -one with my IV and one with a blood pressure cuff, and my husband was then let into the room. Shortly thereafter, I was informed that the first cut had been made. What a bizarre experience to be wide awake during an invasive surgery and not be able to feel half of your body! The doctor then began to discuss my insides with another resident, at which point I had to speak up and tell them I did not enjoy hearing about my layers of muscle and fat. You would think that would be common sense, but apparently not. (I was also never consulted about the fact that student doctors would be learning on me. Yes, I knew it was a teaching hospital, but one would think the patient would be informed about the level of participation and be given an option. Future c-section ladies, beware.)
At one point, I also heard the words, “Oops, I’ve never seen that happen before”. Not something you want to hear while wide open on an operating table. In the moment, I did not inquire about what they were referring to, not wanting to cause myself any further distress, and afterwards I completely forgot to ask. I’ll probably never know, but I’m hoping all my vital organs are still intact and functioning properly. I was given a shot in my arm midway through the surgery (if I remember correctly). Come to find out later, it was to staunch excessive bleeding. I honestly don’t know whether or not in the moment I had been told the reason for the shot, but I do wonder if it had something to do with the “oops” comment. I continued to wonder when the shot left a giant bruise on my arm for three subsequent weeks.
After what seemed like seconds and hours at the same time, they told me it was time to get the baby out. I felt repetitive pressure as the doctor did what felt like dug the baby out of my stomach. It wasn’t painful, just again a very strange sensation that is difficult to describe. Soon after, I was told my baby was out and that he proceeded to immediately pee on the doctor. My husband asked, “Is it still a boy?” He was.
Hearing my son cry was the most beautiful sound I have ever heard, because it wasn’t until that moment that I began to consider the potential risks with him being four weeks early. His cry, in my mind, told me he was okay. I then began to cry myself, but only briefly. I was very aware of the fact that as I cried my whole body shook, which included the open parts I couldn’t feel! I quickly tried to reign my emotions in for fear of what might happen if I moved too much. We were assured that baby boy looked great, and a nurse soon brought him over for me to see him. My arms really weren’t free, so at first I wasn’t even able to touch him. The nurse brought his face to mine, and I felt his sweet little breaths on my face as he whimpered. Words can’t explain the feeling of something so simple. Despite the blood pressure cuff tightening on my arm on and off, I had to reach over and touch his head, his hair. This little miracle was six pounds eleven ounces, even though he was four weeks early. He was perfect, and he was mine.
The rest of the experience was uneventful as far as completing the surgery went. I was closed up, spent some time in recovery, and then was transferred to my room.
So why tell you all of this?
None of it was part of the “plan”. I didn’t know what to expect from having a c-section, certainly. But you know what else I didn’t expect? Motherhood. That might sound ridiculous. I did intentionally get pregnant, after all. But nothing – NOTHING – prepares you for becoming a mother. I thought I was going to glide into this new class of women, but I didn’t. I crash landed.
Being a relatively unemotional person, I didn’t really know how to deal with all of the things I was feeling in that 24-hours or the weeks to follow (another story in itself). I’m an intelligent person. I knew pregnancy led to a little person that would be in my care. But how does anyone really know what that means until she experiences it in real time? Suddenly there was this living, breathing being that was part me and part my husband. I grew a person inside of me, from microscopic material to a watermelon-sized baby. I don’t think we take the time to really appreciate the beauty in that. I know women have birthed babies since the beginning of time, but somehow we’ve lost the understanding of what a work of art that is, what an incredibly important and difficult job that is. I know I surely didn’t appreciate my mother as much as I do now. Childbirth is quite an accomplishment. No, it’s not the only important thing a woman can do with her life, but it is most definitely worth praise and awe.
Childbirth makes women warriors, whether done vaginally or otherwise. I know that many women are touted as taking the “easy way out” by having a c-section (as if it’s a choice most of the time). I can assure you that is not the case. That five-inch scar I’ll have for the rest of my life? Yeah, that’s there to prove it. I was terrified of undergoing the surgery, but now? I’m proud. I can look at my body and look at my son and say, Look what I’ve done. It might be an everyday occurrence, but from now on I will look at every mother differently. We truly do something incredibly amazing with our bodies, and that deserves to be celebrated. And it’s scary and foreign, but you will make it through and have your own story to be proud of.
And so, this is to celebrate the mommies that exist and to share what I’ve learned with the mommies-to-be. Motherhood means the best-laid plans no longer matter. Motherhood means that you need to be your own advocate when you are in the hospital; speak up for yourself and the care that you’ll receive. Motherhood means you are a survival of a battle of sorts. Motherhood means that you’ll go through a range of emotions that you’ll never really be able to explain or fully understand. Motherhood means you have the most difficult, most beautiful, most awe-inspiring job in the world.
Motherhood means that you will most likely crash-land many times in your new career – sometimes from the very beginning!- but you will still find grace no matter what your experience because you’re a mom, and that alone is enough.