Some people think about their baby during birth. Their baby is their motivation, their source of energy and strength. They think about seeing their baby’s perfect little face and chubby hands as they bring their baby into the world. I was not one of those people.
Sure, I hired a doula and threw some things in a bag, but I didn’t really prepare for birth. And, I didn’t think about my baby while giving birth. I basically forgot I was going to meet my daughter the day she arrived.
Full disclosure: I don’t think I have a certain “style” in my clothing or appearance or home decor. If I did, it would be simple and uncomplicated. I assumed the same for birth; I wasn’t planning on a certain style of birth with chants or hypnosis or a tub. The only part of birth I didn’t want was a C-section. Guess what I got? A C-section.
I assumed I’d give birth in a hospital, probably with some happy drugs to take away the pain. At 37 weeks, I discovered my baby girl was breech. After a semi-traumatic, failed ECV (external cephalic version, where a doctor tries to manually flip the baby), I had to schedule a C-section.
When the C-section was on the calendar, I became rather detached. My brain went into survival mode—I was emotionally numb. For the remaining weeks of my pregnancy I made lists and prepared for post-surgery life. Sure, I knew on a cognitive level that I was going to be bringing home a baby, but not on an emotional level. All I could think about was the surgery.
Yes, the surgery.
In my mind it wasn’t birth, it was surgery. An intense surgery with a long, painful recovery. It wasn’t the day I was going to meet my baby. It wasn’t the day my daughter was going to be born. I didn’t use those words at all. My husband kept saying he was ready and excited to meet our daughter. I would numbly echo the same sentiments but without feeling.
Deep down, I was absolutely terrified, and I couldn’t admit it. If I dared to acknowledge my feelings, I would have fallen apart.
I wasn’t naïve about birth. I spent eight years primarily working in women’s health. I knew about pregnancy, birth and postpartum life. I was well educated on the physical impacts and changes to a woman’s body. I knew (on a clinical level) what would happen. But nothing could prepare me for the emotional and mental impact. It was an unknown. And that terrified me.
On the morning of my C-section, I remember sitting on the couch 45 minutes before we needed to leave for the hospital just waiting. Waiting for it to be over. Waiting for the pain. Waiting for the relief of post-surgery. Waiting to be on the other side.
In the operating room, I made jokes and small talk with the medical staff. I asked questions about everything except the surgery. They smiled and laughed but I wonder if they also thought I was insane. Or, maybe they knew I was petrified while they calmly went about their work. After all, this wasn’t their first C-section. As I lay on the operating table, I chatted with my doula and husband. I bombarded my doula questions about her daughters and her life. I didn’t listen to a single word of her answer. Her voice was a dull, pleasant murmur in my brain. I could only hear myself breathing and the beeping machines near my head. I didn’t see my doula or my husband’s face; instead, I just saw the plain speckled grey and white ceiling tiles above me.
Then, my daughter was born.
The surgeon said, “Congratulations!” as she held up a tiny, pink, squirming, screaming baby above the privacy screen that (thankfully) blocked the view of my open body cavity. I looked at my baby in surprise then turned to my doula and said, “Wow this is weird.” I quickly returned to my incessant questions. Within five minutes my baby was laid on my chest.
Suddenly, it was real. The moment her warm little body was laid on mine, it began to sink in: she was my baby and I had just given birth. This baby was real. This surgery was a birth. As her soft skin touched mine, I softened. In the cold, sterile operating room, I cuddled up to the warmest, sweetest little baby—my baby.
I now realize that when I scheduled my c-section, I chose my baby’s birthday. How crazy and beautiful is that? Yes, my brain did what it needed to survive the surgery so I could birth my daughter. No, I didn’t think about my baby when I gave birth. So what? I gave birth. I got through it. I got my prize. Some women will experience birth as empowering and exciting. (If that’s you and your experience, I’m happy for you.) Some women, like me, will get through birth so they can move onto the next chapter of their lives. Both ways are valid, equal, and okay.
Yes, I’ve got that post-C-section warrior scar. Yes, I now feel like a champ because it’s over and I got through it. But I didn’t feel it then and that is okay. If you don’t have a magical birth story or you didn’t think about your baby while you gave birth, remember this: you don’t have to be in love with birth to be in love with your baby.