Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Going under the knife

Cloth diapers; baby wearing; breastfeeding; skin to skin contact; laboring in water.  "Back to nature" is very "in" right now when it comes to childbirth and baby care.  But nothing beats holy grail of good motherhood: natural birth*.  While no one doubts the necessity of medical intervention in some pregnancies - childbearing used to be a risky business - there's still a stigma attached to having a C-section - especially a planned one.  If you're not already familiar, a simple Google search will bring up all the issues behind the high C-section rate in the US and the various people and things that are blamed (lazy women, lazy doctors, evil insurance companies, etc.).  I'm not going to get into the various merits and demerits of these arguments, but all of these thing weighed on my mind when, in the later weeks of pregnancy, because Scott was breech and because of IUGR concerns, it became clear that the most likely scenario was that I would not go into labor at all but have a C-section to deliver him.

It wasn't what I wanted, and I was afraid of having the surgery (because who wants to have abdominal surgery?), but that was the way it was going to be.  Part of my fear stemmed from the fact that all of my girlfriends delivered their babies the old fashioned way, and I didn't know anyone (well) who had delivered via C-section since we partied like it was 1999.  Despite having one lucid dream about the operation, I really didn't know what it would be like.  Now, looking back on the event several weeks later, here are 5 things that surprised me about having a C-section.

1. It was worse than I thought it would be.  For the first 36 hours especially and then for about a week after that.  I thought the pain would be like a sports injury - that the affected part would hurt, but the rest of my body would feel totally fine.  Not so.  I was completely exhausted after the procedure and had no energy or appetite for about a week.  There were a few moments that were very painful (although the nurses did their best to prevent that from happening), and I felt completely helpless for the first 36 hours.  The second night I walked down part of the hospital corridor, and it was one of the most physically difficult things I'd ever done.

2. It was not as bad as I thought it would be.  I felt better pretty fast.  After about 10 days I was ready to start walking (like on the treadmill for exercise) again.  Even the night of the operation I was able to get up and go to the bathroom to wash my face and brush my teeth (actually going to the bathroom would have to wait another day).  Two days later I was ready to get OUT of the hospital.  Now at 5-weeks later, I don't think I'm in any worse shape than I'd have been if I'd had a normal delivery.

3. It was not as scary as I thought it would be.  Or maybe it was more scary.  I thought the idea of knowing I was being sliced open would make me freak out or pass out, but I was actually very calm during the procedure.  For one, the operating room is really cold so it's hard to faint.  Two, everything happens so fast that you don't have much time to think about what's going on.  Three, there are so many people in the room who are doing things to you in a business-like way, the natural inclination is to lay back and let it all just happen.  I was able to feel a little tugging at the top of my rib cage, but I don't remember feeling uncomfortable pressure or nausea.  Nothing that made me think, "OMG - my abdomen is sliced open right now."

4. Having the staples removed was not painful.  Seriously.  I was terrified that I was going to be able to feel them being yanked out one by one.  The staple remover was not like one of those mean things with fangs they sell at Office Depot.  It looked more like the thing they use to trim hang nails at the salon.  I barely felt a thing.  And my scar is small and not scary looking at all. It wouldn't even be visible in a bathing suit.

5. I didn't get to be the first person to hold my baby.  And it was okay.  In our modern times, at an uncomplicated natural birth, the baby is immediately placed on mom's chest while the doctors attend to the baby so the maximum amount of bonding can take place.  In my case, I had a glimpse of a very blue Scott being whisked away to be examined but then had to wait until he was all cleaned up and checked out before I got to hold him, and even then he was all wrapped up so I could only see his little eyes.

Does it freak you out to know that, at the moment this
picture was taken, my abdomen was being sown shut?
But the thing is, that's the only way I've ever given birth, so I don't know if I'm missing something by not having that initial time together.  I'm inclined to say no.  There's never been a moment in our relationship thus far when I said, "If only he hadn't spend the first 20 minutes of his life with the medical staff..."

Did anything surprise you about the childbirth process?  Or if you've never had a baby, is there something that you fear or wonder about giving birth?

*I'm not going to write about the whole "epidural vs. no epidural" debate because I don't have any actual experience with labor or labor pain.

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