I force one eye open, and I feel the fog starting to clear. The clock says it’s 7 a.m. It was 6:28 when my baby was born. The NICU team rushed him out of the room before I ever laid eyes on him. Is he okay? What happened to the last few minutes? These are the questions I want to ask, but trying to speak is a Herculean task. I can move my hands and head, but they feel impossibly heavy. I’m flat on my back, and my arms are strapped down. I can’t wipe away my tears. They turn ice cold as they roll backward down my face and into my ears.
It’s hard to keep my eyes open long enough to see, but I can hear everything. They all think I’m asleep.
I’m shocked by sudden, intense pain. I hear click of the skin stapler as the surgeons work to close me up.
One, two, three.
I count the pinches as they close my 12-inch vertical incision. I squeeze my eyes tighter and try to breathe through it, thinking about the last 41 hours. The induction was torture. Two days of pain. I listened to my midwife. I followed all the rules, and I still ended up here. My baby was delivered by the OB on call — a stranger — in this freezing operating room.
Four, five, six.
My baby. The tears fall faster. My sweet Henry is outside the safety of my belly, and I can’t be with him. I don’t know if he’s okay. He cried for a split second, then silence. They didn’t even hold him up to show me. Isn’t that what they always do in the movies? I cried out for my husband to run after him. That’s the last thing I remember before the anesthesiologist put whatever this is in my IV, and now it’s so hard to move. I can’t ask for an update.
Seven, eight, nine.
The conversation in the OR turns to my body, and I don’t want to listen. I will myself to go to sleep and wake when it’s all over, but the anxiety won’t allow it.
“God, there’s so much fat. This is taking forever.”
“It doesn’t have to be aesthetically pleasing. Look at her. Just close her up, and let’s get out of here.”
Ten, Eleven, Twelve.
I can’t defend myself or muster the energy to speak up. The last two days have left me exhausted and devastated. I lay still, letting the tears flow, eyes closed.
The physical pain is dull now. I think they’re done. Someone is counting surgical instruments. I’m almost out of here.
“All done? She’s asleep, right? I skipped the gym this morning, but it looks like we’ll all get our cardio in today just trying to hoist her around.”
“Right? Just what I wanted to see first thing in the morning. Ugh.”
Peals of laughter follow each remark about my body, my weight, and how inconvenient this is for them.
I am strapped down, my body wide open, feeling simultaneously invisible and fully exposed. My humanity is inconsequential. Because of my fat body, I am just inconvenience in woman form. I came here to have a baby. I didn’t ask for any of this.
The medicine is wearing off. It’s easier to open my eyes now, so I pretend to “wake up.” The surgical team moves me from the operating table to my bed, and as we leave OR 4, I try to tell myself that it’s over now. I’m going to see my baby soon, and it will all be worth it.
We leave the hospital a few days later, physically on the mend, healthy baby in my arms. Our complications are already behind us.
Healthy mom, healthy baby. That’s all that matters, right?
I had never heard of birth trauma before I found myself indelibly marked by the fear and deep sadness of my first C-section. As it turns out, even when mom and baby both end up fine, the horrors of a traumatic birth can leave permanent scars. Birth trauma is real, and we need to talk about it more.
After my son’s delivery, I couldn’t even talk about childbirth. I couldn’t shake the feeling of terror. Every time someone I knew went into labor, I was gripped by debilitating anxiety. I had nightmares that I was back in OR 4, unable to speak, hearing the surgical team degrade my body while they had my life in their hands.
I was afraid to ever try again, but the Universe knew I needed another chance. When Henry was two-and-a-half, we tried for just one menstrual cycle, and there he was. Our second baby. We fell in love with a flickering heartbeat on a fuzzy ultrasound screen. I couldn’t wait to hold him.
But first, he had to get out of my body.
I was terrified.
I knew I would need an obstetrician with experience to manage the specific risks that accompany pregnancy after a complicated C-section like mine. Fate stepped in to make sure I landed in the care of Dr. Anthony T., the man who would set my feet on the path to healing.
I went into my first appointment shaking. When Dr. Anthony introduced himself, I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. I recounted my birth story; how afraid I was of a repeat performance. I couldn’t talk about it without my heart racing. Crying, I told him I couldn’t go through that again. I wouldn’t make it.
He listened quietly. He patted my knee, and said, “None of that should ever have happened to you. I’ve been delivering babies since before you were born, and nothing like that has ever happened in my operating room. I promise, you won’t be the first.”
I instantly knew I could trust him. For the next 30 weeks, he talked me through every fear. His nurses called to make sure I was okay between visits. We only discussed my weight as it pertained to the logistics of surgery and recovery. I felt no judgment.
The morning of my scheduled C-section, all the trauma came rushing back with a vengeance. I arrived at the hospital feeling more terror than anticipation. Dr. Anthony entered my room with a smile on his face, cracking jokes and giving my husband a firm, congratulatory pat on the back. He was energized, excited to bring my baby into the world. His joy was contagious. Every member of the surgical team hummed and buzzed around the OR, prepping for my baby’s arrival. Each nurse took the time to give me a big smile or squeeze my hand as they passed by. It felt like everyone was preparing for a party. The atmosphere in the room was all anticipation and joy.
But when it was time for the spinal block, I quickly went from a few anticipatory tears to panic-stricken sobs. Dr. Anthony stopped the anesthesiologist and explained to the surgical team that I was dealing with a previous traumatic birth experience. Everyone in the OR stood quietly as Dr. Anthony and his surgical assistant stood in front of me and calmly reassured me. They offered some medicine to relax me, and I accepted. I took a few deep breaths, laid down, and surgery began.
As soon as I was settled, the mood in the room returned to bustling joy. Everyone reassured me, and my husband and I laughed and chatted as the surgeons worked their way through the layers of my still-fat body, until they got to my boy. My size was never part of the conversation.
Walker entered the world to a chorus of cheers and congratulations. The nurses wrapped him up and laid him on my chest, and the world stopped. Nothing else mattered. My arms weren’t strapped down this time, so I was free to wipe away my tears, but I didn’t want to. I let the tears of joy flow freely.
This is how it was meant to be.
It’s been over three years now since my second C-section. I never thought my recovery would start in another ice-cold operating room, but my second birth was exactly what I needed to start healing. I’ll never be able to fully forget what I endured that day in that cold operating room, but my wounds are scars now, and I am comfortable saying that I am as healed as I will ever be.
C-sections are surgery, but more importantly, they’re birth. My first c-section left me feeling empty and alone, like I had not given birth at all. My second c-section felt like a birth in every way. A caring doctor guided my child out of my body and into my arms. That is what I deserved.
That is what all women deserve.
If you have experienced any kind of birth trauma, I urge you to get help. I suffered without counseling or medication, and it took me almost 6 years to feel healed enough to even share this story. I didn’t have to wait that long. There is help for birth trauma, and you deserve it. Speak to a trusted physician or counselor. Let someone help you.
I can’t promise that your burden will get any lighter, but with some help, you’ll grow strong enough to carry it. Birth trauma is valid, and you are not alone.