I was reclined in a leather chair at the blow dry bar, my head tipped back into the basin as the stylist lathered lavender shampoo in my hair. “Getting ready for anything special?” she asked. I patted the swell of my stomach and told her I was having a baby tomorrow, a scheduled C-section, and that this might be my last good wash and blow dry for a while. The ladies at the basins on either side of me set down their magazines and phones to turn and offer congratulations, to ask the baby’s sex (we don’t know) and whether it was my first (fourth).
“Four C-sections? You can do that?” one of them said. I hadn’t known it was possible either, but ever since my first child’s birth ended in an emergency Cesarean, I’d been clinging to the story of my friend’s mother who had four of them, hoping I could do the same, because as a fourth child myself, I’ve always wanted a big family. “Yep,” I said, “You can do that.” So there I sat, assuredly telling this stranger that it could be done, telling her perhaps to further convince myself, to calm the nerves, to speak it out loud: this is happening. Tomorrow.
Sure, I would have loved a string of uneventful vaginal deliveries with healthy babies and smooth recoveries. I would not have chosen the path of the O.R. table, with my arms spread wide, the chrome overhead lights reflecting a strange scene below (is that my liver?), the nurses and doctors all scrubbed and netted, everything bright and surgical. I had pictured a different backdrop for my babies’ entrances to the world, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a parent, it’s to stop worrying about how I once pictured things. When that first labor ended in a Cesarean, after hours (was it days?) of laboring and pushing, the doctor pulled out my screaming son and handed him to a nurse, who handed him to my husband. While the O.R. staff attended to me, my husband held that boy whom I had carried for nine months, whom I had felt and known. And for the first time, my husband knew he was a father. They spent the first forty-five minutes of his life together, just the two of them. It was tender, unexpected, a miracle to behold.
Cesareans are often considered an undesirable birthing alternative — something unduly medical, to be avoided if possible. But when I look at the wondrously thin pink line at the base of my stomach, I feel only eternal gratitude. How many women up the branches of my family tree — of any family tree — could have lived to rock and raise their babies, had they been offered this option? How many women would have given anything for the stale O.R. table that I once lamented? Plus, it’s a fun way to teach your kid big words, like when my three-year-old wants to know how the baby in my belly will get out, I show him the scar and teach him a new word: “scalpel.”
I’ve done the waiting, the unknowing, the frenzy of first labor pangs. And while there is joy in the surprise, there is also joy in the planning, in the kissing goodbye of cared-for older siblings, the scheduled arrival at the hospital. And, because there isn’t much joy to be found in being an immensely-pregnant-already-mom-to-three, that’s a joy I’m willing to take.
Hampton Williams Hofer lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she writes and raises babies. Her work has appeared in Flying South, Walter Magazine, Architectural Digest, and Food 52, among others. Family aside, her great loves are a South Carolina beach, a Roger Federer backhand, a Charlottesville lawn, and–most of all–a good story.