birth story

I Missed My Child's Birth

I hate that I didn't get that moment.

by Erin Hug
A pregnant woman is going in to surgery. She is laying on an operating table in the hospital's opera...
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I was never someone who loved being pregnant. I didn’t get that “glow;” I got nine months of unending nausea and people at work with big, dumb smiles shouting, “Are you sure it’s not twins?!” But somehow, I didn’t mind labor with my firstborn. It was long — twenty-seven hours — but I mostly remember laughing with my husband Julien as we waited and how the air sparked with magic the moment our daughter Mia was finally born.

So in my second pregnancy, when I got the news three months in that a complication would mean a C-section, I was devastated. What does the spark look like in a cold, sterile OR?

On the day of the C-section, we waited in the hospital for hours, laughing at Julien’s comically small OR onesie. This might not be that bad, I thought. Eventually, the anesthesiologist came in, a man who looked like a weathered football coach who had just walked out of the locker room after his boys let him down. I was expecting a routine conversation walking me through the C-section, but instead, he delivered me an even worse blow: “I just reviewed your labs, and your white blood cell count is down, so we’ll have to use general anesthesia. You know, put you under.”

It was such shocking news that it took me a second even to understand what he was saying. I just nodded, but inside, everything was crumbling. I hadn’t wanted to have a C-section at all, but at least I would have been awake for it. Now he was telling me that I wouldn’t even be there. My baby would be born into a room of strangers as I lay there, asleep.

He didn’t wait for my response, and as he started putting the IV in my arm, I became overcome with emotion and started crying. I could see him tense up, but he didn’t even look at me as he said, “I’m a typical man; I hate crying.” He told Julien they’d come and get him when it was time so he could wait outside the OR and hear the baby cry when she came, and he led me down the hall.

I woke up later in a hospital room, very groggy. Julien was there, full of nervous energy. They hadn’t come to get him after all, and he was left in the first room waiting with no news for over an hour. No baby cry, no proud Dad moment — just worry. My midwife Michelle was there too, and she was so sorry she hadn’t been there, but they hadn’t warned her either. The baby was in the nursery, she told me. I didn’t feel anything when she told me that. It didn’t feel like my baby — I wasn’t there when she was born. Michelle smiled and said, “She has red hair.” I hated that she knew the baby better than me.

In the movie version of my life, they bring the baby in, and I’m overcome with relief and joy, and I hug the baby, and I whisper to her that I’m her mama. That’s not what happened. In real life, they wheeled in a baby I didn’t know, and she was too tiny, and they asked if I wanted to hold her, and I said yes, but secretly I didn’t want to because she was so fragile, and I didn’t want to hurt her.

I hated that the nurse showed me how the baby liked to drink from the bottle because she knew her better than me, and I wanted to be the one to feed her.

Then a nurse checking my vitals glanced over at the baby and asked, “How long has she been breathing like that?” Before I knew it, the baby had to go back to the nursery again for observation. Deep down, I was relieved because I didn’t know how to take care of her, and they seemed to know what they were doing.

All day, Julien would visit her in the nursery and bring back pictures. The first time I saw her in her little clear box, covered with little tubes and sensors, I was stunned. I felt terrible knowing that I couldn’t even get out of bed to go and see her. The doctor returned and delivered another shock: they would be transferring her to another hospital with a better NICU, and I felt numb — almost too sad to feel any worse.

Soon, a team of very burly EMTs wheeled in the tiny clear box with my baby inside, and I couldn’t help but wonder why they needed so many giant guys to move a baby. They were so comforting and let me say goodbye to her, but all I could do was cry and try to tell her it was okay. We didn’t even have a name for her yet — how could we, when we didn’t know anything about her? They left, and Julien went with them, and then I was alone.

I was eventually released and joined Julien at the new hospital, taking shifts sitting next to the baby’s little clear box and listening to the peaceful beeping of the machines. The doctor encouraged me to reach in to touch her once, but it agitated her so much the nurses had to come over and calm her down. So I kept my distance, staring at her little body and trying to know her.

Five days later, she was clear to go home. I wasn’t sure if I felt relief or fear, being suddenly handed a baby who was a stranger to me. A nurse ran through paperwork with us, and I felt the urge to beg her not to go. Can’t we stay one more week? The baby hadn’t spent a single night with us in our room. I had never soothed her cries, never cradled her head. She had never even held my finger. I had always imagined I would feel the bond with her before we left the hospital, and faced with going, I felt a panic knowing it hadn’t come yet. I ached for a closeness with her.

After a quiet drive home, we opened our front door to find our daughter Mia and my visiting family waiting for us. As we put the car seat down in the middle of the room, I suddenly felt exposed, an uneasy feeling rising inside. I was a fraud carrying this baby, forcing myself to put on the smile I knew I was supposed to present and wondered if my family could sense she was still separate from me.

Nobody moved, except Mia, who walked up and got down on her knees in front of the baby, staring at her in awe as the air sparkled with magic. “I’m your sister,” she whispered to her. She didn’t hesitate or scan her body for recognition as I had during those long nights in the hospital. She knew her already. And in knowing her solidified her instantly and permanently into our family. That was the moment when she felt like ours.

Erin Hug is a freelance writer as well as a video editor/producer at Dodo Kids. She was a Telefilm Canada New Voices Award recipient in 2018 and has written several award-nominated short plays. In her free time, you can find her performing improv or storytelling onstage.