If you’ve read Rafi’s Birth Story, you’ll know that we weren’t planning on a cesarean delivery. In fact, the thought still terrifies me and he arrived into the world the sunroof way almost 13 weeks ago, so I should be over the trauma by now, surely?
I was adament from the beginning of my pregnancy that it would be healthier and more controlled than the previous. I tried so hard to keep to an exercise routine, eat the right things and manage my Crohn’s better, with hope I’d be in remission by the weeks preceeding our due date. Up until the second trimester I was doing well – despite a scary start to the pregnancy (I started to bleed on Christmas Day and hadn’t told our families yet so concealing this whilst fearing the worst was difficult. Thankfully a scan revealed that baby was fine and I’d suffered some kind of uterine bleed very early on, possibly from another embryo but this wasn’t certain) I maintained a healthy weight and with help from a Low FODMAP diet to decifer which foods made my Crohn’s worse, I felt pretty healthy. Then at around 25 weeks I took a turn for the worse and realised that my medication wasn’t having the same effect as before and I’d developed Rheumatoid Arthritis. This coincided with an extremely stressful house move and from there it went downhill. I began Humira injections to control my symptoms and they worked well, despite paying the price of suppressing my unborn baby’s immune system. Then at 30 weeks Rafi tried to escape from his womby cave, spiraling us into a premature labour scenario and had me being rushed into a delivery room by the same doctor who 6 hours earlier had told me I was being over dramatic to Braxton Hicks. Thankfully the medication used to stall an early entrance into the world started working as my cervix started to dilate and in utero he remained, until 38 weeks exactly. I developed severe SPD in the 3rd trimester, causing me to fall down stairs and to stop in my tracks as my back seized up at random moments. Coupled with anemia and Crohn’s symptoms so bad that made me fear eating and drinking, I was induced at 37 + 4 weeks.
At first I was excited to just finally be seeing our baby. When Adam came back into the delivery room at around 5am though and I saw him in his scrubs I started to feel nauseous and shakey and I needed an anti sickness to help me relax. When the anaesthetist came to see me 15 minutes before I walked into the theater, I was shaking so much that I could hardly speak. By this point I wasn’t scared – just very cold and very out of control of my bodily actions and it was the beginning of a panic attack.
Walking into that operating room, it suddenly dawned on me how much I wanted to give birth naturally. This wasn’t where I wanted my son to be, this wasn’t what I wanted the birth to be like, this wasn’t what had been planned or what was meant to happen. And I certainly didn’t want someone else to hold my baby before I had smelt his little head and counted his 10 fingers and toes and told him everything was alright and that he was finally where he was meant to be. I saw a black thin padded table in the middle of the room and I remember thinking that it was odd how there was so much unnecessary empty room surrounding it, bar the few monitors and drips up by the top end. The walls were a sickening 70s yellow, made even more nauseating by stirrups and forceps hanging from hooks, huge silver trays on wheels ladden with sterile instruments and big bowls for goodness knows what to be put into. As I sat on the side of the bed facing Adam and one of our midwives, the shaking took hold of me and I could feel the presence of doctors behind me, moving sheets and drips and just ‘things’ around and I began to panic. I knew what was coming – a spinal block. A very simple procedure of local anesthetic and then a temporary paralysis and rationally nothing to be frightened of. But nobody was telling me step by step what was happening and I was so nervous I’d flinch or shake too much for the spinal block to go in properly. Our anesthetist was incredibly good at his job and I could rationally tell that he was saying and doing all the right things in an attempt to calm me but I think in the end my pulse was racing so fast that he decided we just needed to power through this fear I was being consumed with and got the Midwife to hold my shoulders whilst the local went in. To anyone about to have one or to anyone who unexpectedly has to have one, you honestly don’t feel the spinal block. The local anesthetic does sting but it is no more than having a flu jab and once it has taken affect the larger needle containing the nerve blocker can’t be felt at all. I even tried to focus (God knows why) on feeling it go in between my vertebrae but all I could feel was pressure and then a lot of warmth. Immediately I was told to lie sideways and onto my back and I did dawdle at doing this, mainly as I was such a whale that I could hardly move agilely but a little because I didn’t understand why anyone was trying to rush me until I got 45 degrees of the way down and couldn’t shift my legs. The stuff works soooo quickly! Lying on my back, I was convinced I was sliding off at an angle down to the floor. Adam told me to stop being weird and that I was delusional – my pulse was peaking at just over 100 and my hands were slipping out of his with sweat, however he took this back mid way through the operation when he peered over the curtain formed just below my chest (and was quickly told to behave and stop having a peek by the surgeons) and noted that I was actually tipped slightly downwards to the left to allow the blood to pool in one area, so if you too are feeling like your half paralysed body is about to flop off the table, it won’t – but you’re not going mad either.
I have had a lot of operations, the first being when I was 6 years old. As I reached my 20s I became less scared of being put to sleep and waking up in pain for various medical reasons but being awake through a cesarean birth was on par with the fear I felt as a timid 6 year old having a routine grommets, adenoids & tonsils procedure. Maybe it was part relief of finally knowing I’d meet my baby soon, maybe it was an accumulation of all the emotions I’d stored up during 9 months and so many more over a frustrating 3 days previously, but it was also largely the unnatural feeling of being awake as several surgeons and nurses performed major abdominal surgery in a very fast time, only a curtains width away from my face.
I began to relax as the operation began (after several cries of “HOLD MY HAND! DO NOT LET GO!!” directed towards poor Adam) and within 10 minutes our little man was lifted over the curtain for us to have a look at. That moment was wonderful – complete happiness and relief all in one and enough emotion to make me cry and Adam zoom off after our new baby to watch carefully as he was checked over in the panda warmer. But I couldn’t quite hold back the feeling that I’d missed out on the birth I truly wanted and I didn’t feel like I’d had the right ending to a challenging 9 months. I used to think this was selfish and that I should have just been grateful to have a healthy baby arrive into the world in a “pain free” way, but it’s taken almost 3 months to realise that this is an unhealthy thought process and trauma can present itself in so many different ways.
In recovery I rested and slept for 2 hours after our first feed together and down in postnatal I slept again for a further 5. Waking up, I found I could just about wiggle my very heavy legs and within 8 hours of the surgery ending I was on my feet, slowly making my way to the bathroom in a bid to prove I didn’t need a retched catheter. I also managed a little poo (hurrah!) with some lactulose help and I will say that the difference of pooing after a cesarean delivery than a natural delivery is like the equivalent of passing a pea over a bowling ball. This, was the only unfortunate perk of my recovery and from then on for the next 6 weeks all I wanted was to have delivered vaginally.
I had caught a chest infection during our induction and 4 days postpartum and back home, was prescribed an antibiotic to combat this. The coughing was constant and the pain over the incisions from forcing air out of my lungs was horrendous. 5 days later I was back in hospital with a uterine infection and the third lot of antibiotics was prescribed as I left later that day, having already been topped up with an IV boost of the stuff. I was unable to administer Humira for 3 weeks postnatally due to the risk of infection and as the drug is known for slowing down clotting and scarring. This in turn made my stomach even more tender and painful, as inflammation levels rose around my biggest incision yet. The day before I was due to inject, I developed a fever and temperature of almost 40 and mastitis took hold (the first time of 4 so far), making me bed bound for almost a week. By this point I’d hardly been eating and whilst it was nice to feel the baby weight starting to drop off, I had no energy and could hardly face leaving the house. Even without mastitis I was in pain daily and the discomfort of even having a wee – yes, a wee! – was enough to make me dear drinking for almost 5 weeks after surgery. They move a lot of your organs around when they go in to dig out your beloved offspring and they don’t always out tm back in the right place, as I found out the hard way. It took what felt like forever for my bladder to shimmy down into it’s old spot and so emptying it on a daily basis was horrid. It’s like your bladder is being tugged out by a piece of string, which is utterly ludicrous but that’s what it feels like and it lasts as long as the wee and for a while after too. With a natural delivery, the post birth cramps that we feel of our uterus shrinking are minimal. They’re a background dull ache and often ignored. With a cesarean birth, that massive incision that goes through several layers of muscle has to contract exactly the same way AND IT IS AWFUL. I was in so much pain that it was on par with being examined for cervical dilation and I have never wanted gas and air in a portable cannister, by my side, more. The worst part of cesarean recovery though was not being able to look after my other child – the one who actually needed me most. She was almost 15 months old when Rafi was born and her inquisitive brain was struggling to process change. There was another small human in my arms, using her toys and clothes and I didn’t have time or energy to run after her. We sent her to be with my parents for 2 weeks until I had recovered enough to lift my tiny newborn without crying in pain, or just til I could walk up and down the stairs without wanting to faint. I really struggled having an assisted birth and I wish a million times over that things had panned out differently. Of course, I’ve read and heard many great cesarean recovery stories too and to those women, I am truly envious. I out a lot of my delayed recovery down to Crohn’s – I’m suppressed enough as it is, without having major surgery. 12 weeks on my incision is still numb and has healed well and I’m proud to look at it in the mirror every morning as it’s the way my baby entered the world. To anyone who says a cesarean is an “easy birth choice”, you are wrong. Every birth has it’s challenges and for me I found it a more confusing, scarey and difficult time than delivering without assistance. Some woman will feel differently to this and to those, I applaud you, for finding the strength I couldn’t.