My birth plan was pretty straightforward: give me an epidural ASAP and my husband’s hand to squeeze.
I’ve never been good with blood or pain, really. I’ve fainted while getting a flu shot, while ripping off a band-aid, and had to be offered a seat on the L train after getting woozy reading the vampire birth scene from the third Twilight book. I was even wary of reading ahead in What to Expect When You’re Expecting during my first pregnancy because I didn’t want to pass out in public (again) or change my mind about this whole giving birth thing.
So while I knew I wanted a medicated birth experience, I didn’t know my water would break five weeks early, drenching the passenger seat in our car as my husband and I drove home from our first parenting class. Even though I hadn’t gotten to the childbirth portion of What to Expect, I was pretty sure when liquid emptied out of you like a waterfall, it meant you were having a baby imminently. I also knew my baby was positioned across my belly and hadn’t dropped into the proper position. So my choice was to attempt a breech delivery or — per their recommendation — have a c-section right away. I chose the latter without much coaxing, quite honestly.
It was near midnight as I was rolled through an eerily empty corridor towards a dimly green-lit OR. My doctor happened to be on-call that night and she held my hands as the anesthesiologist stuck a needle in my spine. She assured me the baby would be fine before she disappeared to the other side of the blue curtain.
The first sight of my daughter was that of a peach blur wrapped in a white blanket being whisked off to the NICU, my husband with her. I wouldn’t meet her until eight hours later – she was a tiny fragile thing hooked up to tubes.
I started to settle into what would become a long postpartum process mourning the good motherhood things I thought I was supposed to experience: immediate skin-to-skin, the first latch, that new baby smell. But as I stood over her, afraid to use more than a feathered touch to stroke her cheek, our eyes met. I said out loud, “OK, you’ve got me.”
Nearly three years later, I was pregnant again. I had a C-section scheduled but was still waffling over whether to attempt a vaginal birth after C-section (VBAC). Part of me wanted to go into full labor this time — to feel strong contractions and experience something primal I never had time to experience with my first child. I assumed I’d go early again, so making it to full-term was beautiful torture. I told myself if I made it to the scheduled C-section date, I’d have the C-section, but otherwise, I’d make the decision at the moment.
When contractions started two days before the planned C-section date, I was excited. “OK,” I thought, “primal motherhood, here I come!” After hours of labor later and when the real contractions began, I could only say, “SPINAL ME NOW!”
So, I found myself on the OR table again ready to have my second C-section, but the room looked lighter and felt calmer this time. Knowing what to expect helped quell fears of the unknown. I did get to squeeze my husband’s hand. I saw excitement on his face rather than worry. The doctors were casual and chatting. They even encouraged my husband to look over the blue curtain and take pictures (which, given my fainting history, I may or may not ever look at.)
We heard that first cry and soon, I saw my new baby in her red, naked, screaming glory. She was weighed and placed on my chest – I don’t remember feeling anything after that except this tiny warm body against mine. It was magical and amazing. It is so true what they say about your heart growing with every child.
My two C-sections were so different, but I learned the same thing.
Sometimes the path to motherhood is bright and calm; sometimes it’s dimly lit and uncertain. But the way your child enters the world isn’t what teaches you what’s primal about parenthood.
You just need to look at your kid.
And they’ve got you.