What my son’s unexpected Cesarean birth taught me about being a human

Guest post by Emily Fleck

We’re celebrating all kinds of births this week, so we’ve dubbed it BIRTH WEEK. Today we’ll be focusing on the awesomeness of Cesarean deliveries.

Photo by Terence Yim, used under Creative Commons license.

Kai Apollo was due on 30 October 2011. He was late — eight days late — though I don’t think it’s all that unusual. On the 7th, my doc swept my membranes to hopefully kick things into gear and sent my husband Ben and I off to be induced, as my blood pressure had spiked suddenly.

While I was in the hospital getting monitored I started labor for real. I knew it was “for real” because I was pretty sure that my pelvis was going to crack in half — this is not a hyperbolic statement. The pain was absolutely unbearable. It hit me about every five minutes or so between 1AM and 7AM.

Even with the incredible pain, I fretted about wanting to avoid getting an epidural! After being up all night, I had the epidural at 7AM and slept on and off until 3PM. Even with the IVs, monitors, beeping, occasional interruptions, it was so incredibly blissful.

During my all-night laboring I had dilated from 3cm to 4cm, but at 3PM I was still at 4cm. The midwife tending to me during the day broke the amniotic fluid sac to try to move things along, but after a couple of hours there was still zero progress. At about 5:30PM, after wavering a bit, Kai’s heart rate plummeted. Suddenly there were twelve people in the room, and for the first time in my pregnancy I’m not thinking of the thing I’m growing but MY SON, my son who is at risk of oxygen deprivation if we keep going much longer. I’m terrified for him and the tears start flowing. His heart rate came back up soon after, but the decision that had been bandied about as a last resort was suddenly the only option: I needed a Cesarean section to give birth.

I was upset by this and was immediately furious at myself for resorting to the epidural. I was certain that if I had been able to labor unmedicated, I could have eventually figured out how to get semi-comfortable and labor as I thought I should have. Pretty quickly, though, I settled into a very cool, detached, and matter-of-fact mindset that stayed with me for days afterwards and seriously took weeks to dissipate. Honestly, I’m not sure if that feeling is gone even now. Anyway, I digress…time for the good part.

We were in the operating room by about 8PM on the 8th and after they give me the new set of meds through my epidural, my teeth start chattering like mad. I seriously thought that I was going to inadvertently bite off a bit of my tongue — that’s how fiercely my teeth were chattering. It was incredibly disconcerting and took all my concentration to stay calm through it.

Knowing that your innards are being exposed to the open air is such a weird sensation. It didn’t last long though… seemingly only a few short minutes after they started, they pulled Kai out. I couldn’t see him at all, but he began WAILING not even a minute after being born, so I knew right away that he was not in any apparent danger. My happiness on this topic was short-lived, though, because then he wouldn’t STOP wailing. I was suddenly in despair:

how can I make this thing stop crying??

I’m not ready to do this!!

what if he never stops?? what if he has colic??

I am not gonna be able to handle this.

I can’t do this.

My partner Ben took video of the first seven minutes of Kai’s life — now when I see video evidence he actually didn’t cry all that much, and certainly not without stopping. But what I perceived while lying on the OR table was just that… my baby was miserable and I was miserable. There’s a point in the video that I remember really well from my own memory: the nurse held Kai up to show me and said, “We’ll bring him over to you as soon as we fix him up” and I said, in the most nonchalant voice, “Oh, yeah, no worries, whenever.” Aside from desperation to make him stop crying, I felt nothing. I shed a couple of tears because Ben was bawling and I was floored to see so much emotion from him, but I was numb. I was not in any hurry to take over responsibility for the baby yet, and I hoped my super-casual tone would not induce the nurse to hurry.

They wheeled Kai out of the OR and to the nursery, and I was wheeled to a recovery area while our post-partum room was prepped. I begged Ben to feed me ice and we sat around taking turns saying, “Holy shit.” I was reeling from the realization that our son had just been born and I felt zero elation or happiness.

Once I got into bed in my private post-partum room and got a little more comfortable, I felt a little better. Ben fetched Kai from the nursery and I held him for the first time. I tried to latch him on, but he was not having it: too sleepy. I sent Ben home for a real night’s sleep and plopped Kai onto my chest, which, as it turns out, was probably the best thing I could have done for both of us.

Our first snuggle.
While Kai slept on me, I stared at him and the first tiny seeds of love were planted. What I felt at first for Kai was what most people feel when they see sweet, tiny, helpless things: an instinctual urge to cuddle and protect the tiny, helpless thing. Putting him on my chest and sleeping through the night like that made it a little bit different though: he was my sweet, tiny, helpless thing. That made all the difference to get me through the first night.

He slept like a champ, but we weren’t without our struggles for the first couple days. Even with my persistent too-cool-for-school nonchalance to the whole situation, he continued to grow on me. I don’t know when I fell in love with him, but it’s fair to say that I’m still working on growing it. Some lucky mamas seem to experience this almost immediately, whereas for others it takes weeks or months to fall in love with their babies.

I’m not a terribly sentimental person, but I had a moment of really raw feeling a few weeks after Kai’s birth. I had been holding him, watching him doze, when I was suddenly overwhelmed with sadness. I turned to Ben, my eyes completely filled with tears, and I said, “I wish I could know Kai when he’s an old man.”

It was this realization that my sweet little fresh baby was going to be an old man someday that really did it. I felt like I saw his whole life flash in front of my eyes. That moment was fleeting, but it was possibly the most human I’ve ever felt. Since then I’ve looked at Kai differently than I did in the beginning; he’s no longer “the baby” or “that thing I grew.” He’s our new human, and he’s ours for only a brief period. It is not easy, but I am doing my best to cherish this time.

Comments on What my son’s unexpected Cesarean birth taught me about being a human

  1. Of all the “getting it out” stories posted, this is the one that has resonated with me the most. The confusion, the disconnect… this all came through as so REAL. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Wow, thanks for this. It took me a while too to connect with my c-section baby. I have pictures of me in the delivery room sort of looking at him like, ‘What the heck is this?’ while I’m strapped to this board like I’m about to be crucified and I shook like a leaf non-stop from the shock after they told me I had to deliver via cesarian.

    However, and this sounds really hokey, the idea that my son, that I grew in my belly, would some day grow up, have a family of his own, and grow old, really hit me when I watched Toy Story 3 with him when he was 8 months old. Oh, how I cried, but it helped me come to terms with it all.

    • Heh…I understand. Weird things make me teary, too. And I didn’t even realize there WAS a third Toy Story. I am behind on the times. =)

  3. This story struck every chord inside me.
    I have struggled with the worry of not loving our future baby (right away)… we have so many animals and everytime we get a new one I have to “fall in love” with them, too.
    I told my partner my worry and he has assured me that I will love the baby because it is not an an animal. It will be our “animal” and even if it’s not right away, that it’s normal and I will feel that way eventually. Thank you so much for sharing your story and for making me feel very human as well.

    • My husband and I joked that having a newborn was like having a wild animal in the house. In some ways I found my daughter to actually be quite animal-like (simian, maybe? like a tiny baby monkey?) for the first couple of weeks. Which, in its own way, made me realize how humble we all really are. Whenever I get too cerebral in my current PhD program I think “I’m just a talking monkey wearing pants!” It was instructive, that newborn phase 🙂

  4. I didn’t have a C-section, but I can still relate to this disconnect…Pregnancy was weird for me as my body became not entirely my own-I was sharing it with this teeny person who was making me incredibly nauseous, stealing all my iron, and made me need to get giant progesterone shots in my arse twice a week to keep from miscarrying. I felt uncomfortable and kind of resentful towards him, which of course made me feel guilty, and the downward spiral continued. Yet the whole time, I was so terrified of losing this little thing that had invaded my body that it was hard for me to connect to him, even weeks after his birth. I was so scared of getting close to him and then losing him. But really, that fear is totally related to love. As I look at the little goober rolling across the floor in front of me, I know that the bond finally came. Not entirely sure when- it was a very slow and gradual process, but it did magically happen and I love him even more every day 🙂

    Also, random, my little guy was born Oct 11, so our boys were close together 🙂 I also was late and went into labor after my membranes were swept and had a CRAZY painful labor. I ended up with an epidural too after being awake for 48 hours and utterly exhausted!

  5. I felt similarly after my c-section. They gave me the baby after they wheeled me to the recovery room and I felt like “what do you want me to do with this now?” I didn’t feel connected to her immediately, which is often the nightmare scenario some of the more hardcore home birth advocates have given me. But really – in the long run, it’s no big deal. I adore my daughter, and it didn’t take long to bond. Many people in adoption situations don’t meet their children for years after they’re born – and they still become their parents, with full love and bonding and devotion. The few hours I had to spend away from my daughter meant little when all is said and done.

    • i agree completely: at that first moment after my surprise c/s it meant a great deal to me, but now my son is almost 3 and his birth story’s hard parts are completely eclipsed by the millions of bonding moments we’ve shared since.

  6. I absolutely love the honesty and fearlessness coming through in these birth stories. I feel like motherhood is sometimes confined in such a tiny box with a shiny, shiny bow of expected perfection. It’s so great to have so many stories affirming that “This is what motherhood looks like too!” even when it’s not the shiny, glowing, Stepford, everything-is-perfect in a pretty box experience motherhood is presented to be. Thanks again for sharing!

  7. This is beautiful. I especially resonated with “he was my tiny helpless sweet thing.” I think what saved me from the disconnect, too, was the first night (and the first two weeks) where I had my little one sleeping on my chest. I am prone to nonchalance and cool aloofness, but that’s terribly hard when a little helpless babe is nestled skin-skin.

    Thanks so much for sharing this. More people need to know that it’s okay, and normal, for it not to be love at first sight, that it can be a growing process!

  8. I’m so thankful for this. I felt similarly after my daughter’s birth. I was prepared for that all encompassing love that people talk about when they see their baby for the first time. After 37 hours of labor, losing half my blood volume, and not seeing my daughter for the first 3-4 hours of her life, she was so foreign to me that I was scared of her. She was cute, I wanted to protect her the way I would my neighbor’s baby, but I wasn’t sure I loved her. I remember crying to my mom about how I wasn’t sure I was ever going to bond with her. Breastfeeding felt like a weird alien suction. I, too, am not sure when it happened. I do remember when she was about 3 weeks old she had a reaction to a vaccine and was crying uncontrollably. Instead of feeling flustered, I had an overwhelming need to help her feel better and protect her from pain. And I never looked back.
    I’ve tried to explain this feeling to others, but people seem to look at me like a nut when I say I’m not sure I felt love towards my daughter for the first weeks of her life. Now I keep it to myself. But I’m really, really glad I’m not the only one.

    • You’re totally not.

      I’m sorry you had such a rough experience! I was unprepared for the blood loss, too. In fact…I remember seeing my own blood splattered on the OR light….and that made me feel SO WOOZY.

  9. Thank you so much for the kind words, everyone. And big thanks to Stephanie and Ariel for sharing my story. I believe that it is SO important to coax away those overly-rose-colored glasses from brand-new mamas and mamas-to-be. Parenting is hard enough.
    Again, so many thanks. =)

  10. Oh this is incredible and so honest and real, it brought a tear to my eye. It’s so reassuring to hear this sort of story. While other stories are also awesome, This really resonated with me and has made me feel slightly more calm about the terrifying prospect of birth and motherhood. Thank you!!!

  11. I had been holding him, watching him doze, when I was suddenly overwhelmed with sadness. I turned to Ben, my eyes completely filled with tears, and I said, “I wish I could know Kai when he’s an old man.”

    That made me cry….WOW. We don’t have any babies yet, but it just reminds me to cherish every moment…with anyone that you love. <3

    • Mandipants, there’s nothing like new parenthood to remind you of your own mortality. Morbid as that is.

      I suppose it’s good motivation to get some decent life insurance coverage, though!

  12. Wow! I thought it was just me. I remember being overwhelmed by the realization that my baby would be an old lady one day and that I wouldn’t be with her anymore. Pretty intense.

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