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.
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.
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.