Cesarean Awareness Month: My C-Section Birth Story
April is Cesarean Awareness Month. Around 30% of pregnancies end in c-section, and I had one of them.
My second birth was an elective cesarean. I chose to have an elective cesarean because after we lost our first born, Autumn, we were lucky enough to get pregnant again almost right away, and the due date for our subsequent was only a week apart from the death of our daughter a year earlier. I knew I wasn’t mentally prepared to go through another vaginal birth so soon after the first trauma, and I was also terrified of losing another child - because we didn’t know exactly why we lost our daughter, and because there was the possibility that she had lost oxygen during birth, the thought of going through another labour, wondering whether we would have the same heartbreaking outcome, was too much to think about.
This is almost unheard of so I was truly grateful for the support. I was also lucky to have an OB that had piloted the skin-to-skin cesarean a few years earlier at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center, and so I planned for a “gentle cesarean”, with delayed cord clamping, immediate skin-to-skin, and vaginal seeding. Everything was scheduled for September 28, 2016 at 10am.
That day was probably one of the most stressful of my life. In hindsight, I realize that I was a complete mess. The drive to the hospital in Toronto rush hour traffic sent me into a panic and I almost turned around to go home, thinking that my daughter could just stay inside forever because I couldn’t face another loss, and if it happened once, why wouldn’t it happen again?
Arriving at the hospital, finally, I’m pretty sure I was shaking and I felt sick with anxiety. We made it to triage and were taken into the prep room where I was asked lots of questions from doctors I had never met before and reiterated our plans for a gentle cesarean. Finally the countdown was really on and I was told just 5 more minutes before I’d be taken in.
Things went sideways at this point as I was bumped for an emergency c-section. No problem, I’ll be next, I thought. But I was bumped again. And again. And again. I’m not kidding. My 10am cesarean turned into a 6pm cesarean and my plans for a gentle cesarean were now lost. An extra person is required in the OR for a skin-to-skin cesarean and there was no extra person available by the time my turn came around.
Nonetheless, finally I was taken back. The room was bright and sterile feeling. I sat on the table and a nurse held me still while the anesthesiologist placed the spinal. I then laid down and the drape was placed. I almost immediately started to feel nauseous, partly because of anxiety I’m sure, panic started to set in as I couldn’t feel the lower half of my body and felt truly incapacitated. It’s not a fun place to be.
As I started to feel worse and almost as though I was going to pass out, I mentioned it to the anesthesiologist who cranked the saline on my IV and immediate relief took over. Then they started, just as my husband was walking through the door to join me. There were so many people in the room - I had my OB and a resident performing the surgery, plus at least 3 nurses, 2 doctors from the OB family team, the anesthesiologist and a resident, 2 respiratory therapists, and my husband. To say it was a packed house is an understatement.
What nobody told me beforehand was that babies born via c-section, especially those who have not gone through a trial of labour beforehand, don’t always cry right away. My daughter was one of those babies. The panic that took over when it took her forever to make a sound was debilitating, made worse by the fact that I was incapacitated on the operating table. You can see in the video that it wasn’t until she was on the warmer and jostled that she finally perked up and cried.
As I wasn’t able to do skin-to-skin with her, my husband took over while they sewed me up. Then I was taken to the recovery room where we initiated breastfeeding. The first day after surgery was brutal. I wasn’t so much in pain but I felt like I had no muscle in my abdomen to even sit myself up, let alone get up. It took about 12 hours for the spinal to fully wear off and I was able to feel my lower half again. I left the hospital after 2 days and it was a long, slow walk to the car because I couldn’t stand straight and could not walk any faster than a snail’s pace.
Recovery was hard, even though I healed well. I had pain and itching at the incision site for well over a year after the surgery, and it took a long time before my abdomen started to feel like it had normal function again. Although I hope to never repeat a cesarean, I’m lucky that it was an option for me, and I don’t regret the decision for a second. I did what I had to do at the time to protect my mental health and make sure my daughter was safe, even if that was just what I had to tell myself at the time. I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt, having had both a vaginal and surgical birth, that c-sections are not easier by a long shot.