Where I left off at the end of Part 1, my stubborn little breech baby had refused all efforts to turn him head-down. I was already in a hospital bed, hooked up to the appropriate IVs and a low-dose epidural, and it was time to head to the operating room for a C-section.
Getting prepped for the C-section was rather surreal. I’d never had surgery before, and it was a new experience to be so completely uninvolved in what was happening to my body. The situation wasn’t an emergency – after all, I wasn’t in labor and my baby was perfectly healthy – so things proceeded fairly smoothly, except for some confusion about which anesthesiologist was supposed to stay with me and which one needed to go assist with some other operation in another building.
At some point, my epidural dosage was increased. I still had enough control of my lower body when I entered the OR to help move myself from the bed to the operating table. (I remember one of the nurses rushing over because the other nurse hadn’t properly stabilized the bed for the transfer.)
“This is the weirdest thing I’ve ever done,” I told someone when they asked how I was doing. By that point, I was lying flat on my back on the operating table, mostly naked, with my arms extended – all while processing that my baby was arriving very soon. “Weird” doesn’t really do the feeling justice.
My husband, meanwhile, was getting suited up and waiting. He was brought into the OR only when everything was ready and the surgery was about to begin. We had already agreed that he would stay with me for the birth, then follow our son to the nursery while I was being stitched back together. Before they wheeled me away to get ready, I’d firmly entrusted him with the responsibility of taking the first pictures of our child. (He did a great job.)
He sat down at my left side and took my hand. The anesthesiologist was at my right, giving me some kind of instruction on what to do if I felt queasy.
On the plus side, I definitely didn’t end up feeling queasy.
Here’s what some popular references have to say about what you’ll experience during a C-section:
What to Expect When You’re Expecting: “… you will probably feel some pulling and tugging sensations, as well as some pressure.”
The Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy: “If you’re awake, you’ll probably feel some tugging, pulling or pressure as your baby is pulled out. … You shouldn’t feel any pain.”
WebMD: “You will probably feel slight pressure at the incision site, but not any pain. … You may feel a slight tugging sensation as well as feelings of pressure …”
You get the idea.
The anesthesiologist said something very similar when I started moaning and calling out that it hurt. “You’ll feel some tugging and pressure…”
I no longer remember the exact back-and-forth, but my husband and I had to state quite emphatically that what I was feeling was PAIN and it was NOT OK.
That’s why the anesthesiologist gave me laughing gas during my C-section.
It was excruciating. The epidural must not have numbed my abdomen far enough up; the pain I felt was all the manipulation of my son that had to happen in order to remove him through a 5-inch incision. (I didn’t feel the incision itself, thank goodness. That part at least was numb.)
Even with laughing gas taking a little of the edge off, it was horribly painful. The anesthesiologist told me that the last option was to put me to sleep completely for the rest of the surgery, but that if I thought I could make it, it wouldn’t be long now before the baby arrived. I didn’t want to be put under and miss the birth, so I focused on each breath of gas and on my husband’s tightly-gripped hand, with his accompanying words of encouragement.
I’ve never loved my husband more than I did during that surgery. Laughing gas gets some of the credit, but it was his strength that allowed me to stay awake for the birth of our son. He told me I could do it, and I did.
What felt like an eternity later, someone said they could see the baby’s toes. I know they meant it to be encouraging, but it wasn’t. Toes? You’ve all been telling me that the baby’s almost out when his toes are only just starting to poke out now? (Remember, he was breech, so his bottom half would be first.)
Another eternity later, I heard a baby cry.
“Do you hear that? Do you know what that is?” someone – I think it was my husband – asked me.
“It’s a baby,” I whispered in relief.
They brought my son, warmly swaddled and topped with a pink-and-blue-striped hat, over by my head for me to see. His chubby cheeks and button nose matched the face we’d seen in a 3D ultrasound. I reassured my husband that he could go with our child, that the worst part of the surgery was over and I could make it without him, and they left.
The rest of the surgery is kind of a blur. It still hurt, but not with the same intensity. Eventually, it was over and I was wheeled back to the room I’d started out in, where a nurse and her trainee monitored my progress and spent an extraordinary amount of time going over how to enter medications into the hospital’s new computer software.
I thought at first that I should try to avoid additional pain medication (an idea my nurse rightfully thought was a bad one), but the ache in my stomach grew worse and I began to shake. Two doses of Demerol and a pile of warm blankets helped with the shaking. The pain, however, remained, prompting the following exchange:
“On a scale of 1 to 10, how bad is the pain?”
“Uh… 6 or 7, I think.”
“Which one? If it’s a 7, we can give you morphine.”
“It’s a 7.”
As I started to feel slightly better physically, I also started to get rather bored. The nurses weren’t really that interested in talking to me, and listening in on their computer lesson was only entertaining for so long. Plus I really wanted to see my baby again. It therefore came as a great relief when they called over to the nursery that my husband and son could come back.
Little Boy had spent the first 45+ minutes of his life snuggled skin-to-skin on his father’s chest, listening to him sing. Mostly Christmas music, because those were the only songs whose words he could remember. I love thinking about this – I love that Little Boy had the comfort and love of his father from the very beginning. When they were brought back to me, my husband pushed the little glass bassinet through the halls himself.
My husband tells me that the best part of that day was seeing the giant smile on my face when they walked in the door of my room.