Anticipating Maria's birth was both scary and exciting. Maria is my fifth child, my fifth cesarean. There were many things to be eager for: the first sight of our beloved child, first cries and cuddles. There were also many things to be frightened of: post-op pain, a complication in surgery or after, overall recovery, and the safety of future pregnancies. All of my children have been born via cesarean section.
It started with Morgan, my 8 year old. After many hours of labor, her heart rate began to slow with each contraction. My doctor went for a second opinion and the second opinion said that Baby needed to come out now. My heart sank. Emotionally, I struggled with this birth for years before I realized that it had delivered me a healthy baby who otherwise could have been in danger. In our area, VBACs are discouraged; it is difficult to find a doctor who will help with a VBAC. We were also wary of the risks involved, especially since Baby #2 arrived 13 months after Baby #1. But I won't debate reasons for repeat cesareans now. I've had five and I'm still alive and kicking.
I'm not sure why you're reading this; maybe you're looking toward your first planned cesarean for a breech baby or looking for a little support (commiseration) if it's your second, third, fourth, or fifth cesarean. Maybe you're wondering if repeat cesareans are safe. I will share what my most recent cesarean was like. You'd have an idea of what to expect then. Afterward, I'll tell you how I feel now.
We arrive at the hospital at 5:30, 2 hours before surgery is scheduled. We check in and are taken to a labor and delivery room. The nurse comes in, introduces herself, and hooks me up to fetal monitors and the lovely sound of our baby's heartbeat fills the room. The phlebotomist comes in for blood draws. The nurse prepares my body for surgery--an IV, shaving, etc. I sign waivers and releases and other papers. Jeremy signs a paper promising that he will sit quietly in the Operating Room, do what he is told, and won't try to help with nor interfere with surgery. It is quiet and we watch dawn gradually overtake night outside. Snow is falling! What a pretty morning to have a baby.
My doctor comes in to check on us and soon after he arrives, the nurse comes in and says, "let's go have a baby!" It's 7:15 a.m. I make one last trip to the bathroom and gather up my IV cords and pole and the nurse drapes a blanket over my back so I don't have to close my gown. We walk across the hall to the operating room. There are already four people in the room. The addition of Jeremy, me, and the nurse makes seven. An intern arrives and introduces himself. The anesthesiologist comes in (we're up to 9 now, including two students) and begins setting up.
My nurse's phone rings. It is Dr. K (the surgeon) calling to say that he is in house, which means that the anesthesiologist can begin working his magic. I'm a little nervous and I shed a few tears. Jeremy is across the room and the won't let him come over to me yet. The nurses distract me with talk about what I think the baby will look like. I say that as long as she comes out with hair, I'll be happy. Soon he is finished.
Before I know it, there are 3 more people in the operating room, my gown has been removed, my feet are going numb, I feel warm all over, and the nurses are working on putting a catheter in. I feel a little humiliated, as there are now at least 12 people in the room and I'm the only one without pants on. My arms are stretched out in a T and there's a lot of motion in the room. Jeremy is allowed to come over and sit behind me holding my hand. It feels good to have him nearby and although I'd really like to have him closer, an arms length is better than nothing.
It's 7:30 a.m. Dr. K comes in and Dr. M (my primary/OB/family physician) is there. Everyone is cheerful and Dr. K says he's ready for a birthday party. The curtain goes up at my chest. The surgeons are standing at my hips but it feels like they're down at the other end of the room. The anesthesiologist tells me that I'm numb and that they're ready to get started. I say that I can feel Dr. K poking me but that it doesn't hurt. Is that normal? The doctors say it is and they begin working. I can feel--without pain--the first several steps of the surgery and I lay there thinking how weird it is. Soon I hear suction (that's the amniotic fluid) then they're tugging and pushing and tugging and then Dr. M pokes his head around the curtain, smiles, and says that Baby has a lot of hair. All of a sudden, I feel a great pulling sensation and then I feel very empty and I hear Maria cry. Jeremy and I are laughing and smiling and I squeeze his hand and tell him to go to her. It's 7:45 a.m.
Dr. M holds Maria up for me as he moves from the operating table to the warming table. He puts Maria down and begins to check her over. He and the nurses wipe her down. Someone moves the curtain so that I can see her and he holds her up again for me, then continues to work. I watch him tickle her to get her to cry. Although she's pink and had been crying, she calmed quickly and will squawk and then lay quietly, moving only a little. A nurse asks Dr. M what he guesses her weight to be. He says 7-3 and when she weighs in at 7 lbs, 2 oz, they applaud. Everyone laughs. When they are sure she's doing well, they wrap her up and hand her to Jeremy. He brings her to me and I kiss her warm face, smell her skin, and admire the full head of hair that she worked so hard on.
Jeremy is holding Maria and follows me to the recovery room. She's crying, so Jeremy unwraps her and lays her on my chest. The nurses offer me water and I take oral Percocet. They push my abdomen (thank Heaven that I'm still numb) and monitor my heart rate and blood pressure. As I get a little more comfortable, I tell Jeremy to go ahead and take Maria to the nursery for her bath and meet me in our room, as I should have only 10 more minutes in recovery. After he goes, the nurses call Dr. K back because my incision is bleeding on one side--not an emergency, but not a good thing, either. He puts 3 or 4 more staples in, tells them to ice it, and explains to me why this is happening. This keeps me in the recovery room for another half hour. Finally, they decide that I'm okay and wheel my cart to my room where Jeremy is anxiously waiting with the baby, wondering what took so long and a little worried.
It's 9:45 now. They move me to my bed and my new nurse comes to introduce herself, help me into a nursing bra and T-shirt, asks about my pain (I'm still numb) and is in and out watching me closely for the next couple of hours. I begin to nurse Maria. When we are settled, we pick up the phone to share our good news.
I've heard that recovery from a cesarean birth is harder and longer than recovery from a vaginal birth. I've only done it one way, so I've nothing to compare a cesarean recovery to. I'll stick to the physical aspect of it for now. The birth is painless, except for the insertion of the spinal, and once the spinal wears off, that's when the recovery begins. As I understand, many doctors administer post-op pain medications differently. I do believe that they (the drugs) are necessary in order to recover properly. Ibuprofen is mandatory, as it reduces swelling and helps the body to cope with a new incision. My surgeon explained that Morphine or Percocet (I've had both) allows the brain to not care about the pain so much. It all helps with healing. In spite of pain medication, there is quite a bit of pain after the spinal has worn off. Within 12 hours of surgery, I was expected to get into a chair next to the bed, with help. I was expected to shower and to begin walking short distances the next day. I was able to do all of these things. I walked out of the hospital and walked around my house. I filled the prescription for Percocet that my doctor wrote and took every last pill along with the ibuprofen that he recommended. I did not need to refill the prescription for Percocet. For the first couple of weeks, I woke up in the morning feeling as if I'd been hit by a truck but I'd always feel better within a few hours. By the end of the day, was always tired and uncomfortable again. The pain and/or discomfort gradually wore off until this week--six weeks after surgery--when I'm noticing that I feel very normal again. I took five kids to Super Target and to the park and even jogged a little today!
My method of birth still gets me down sometimes. I'm still a little disappointed, I think. When I start to feel this way, I remember that the first cesarean saved my daughter and me from more suffering and possible harm. The subsequent cesareans delivered four more healthy kids into our family. I am blessed to have the children that we have, regardless of which way they came out.
I can't wait for summer to get here, for my kids to be out of school, for days at the lake and hikes in the woods. I know I can handle it. So after five cesareans, would I do it again? Indeed, I would!
Visit me at Laughing All the Way. Click here to read posts specifically about my cesarean experiences.
Note: my surgeon said that it is safe for us to have more children. Each woman's case may be different. This surgeon, a maternal-fetal specialist in my city of 250K, said that of the thousands of women he's seen, he's told only three women that they should not try to have more children. He said that as medicine advances, the safety of cesareans increases. There are risks, no doubt, which increase with each subsequent surgery but they are small.