It’s a strange feeling to walk yourself into an operating room, climb on a table, and wait to be cut open. I wasn’t sick. I wasn’t even in labour. But I was there for a C-section, preparing to bring my baby into the world in the last way I expected.
I had wanted to give birth at the Toronto Birth Centre – a midwife run facility just for delivering babies with beautiful big rooms, double beds, and fake fireplaces – long before I was pregnant, and before the centre had even been officially opened. I was drawn to the idea of a place just for birth, not contaminated by the stress of hospitals. Hospitals are for illness. Hospitals are for interventions. Hospitals breed infections.
We chose a midwifery practice with privileges at Mt. Sinai because, if something goes wrong and you’re going to end up at a hospital, it may as well be one of the best. But I wasn’t going to need it. My body – so bad at doing so many things – was going to be really good at pregnancy and birth. It was going to finally redeem itself for being clumsy and uncoordinated, for being hard to manage and hard to love.
And oh how good at pregnancy it was. So good that it grew an enormous baby who refused to leave the comfortable swimming pool of easy to access food and climate control. I was desperate to get the birthing show on the road – drinking the teas, taking the herbs, visiting the acupuncturist for the first time in my life, and then in rapid succession for the week after my due date in an attempt to get the baby out. Nothing seemed to disturb her. So on day nine, I went for the ultrasound I had hoped not to need to confirm the health of the baby and the placenta. As the OB walked me through the report, he pointed to strong muscle tension and heartbeat, good fluid levels, and a still normal placenta. And an estimated fetal weight of nearly 13lbs! His recommendation was, “in order to ensure a safe delivery”, to deliver the baby via C-section.
My first reaction was to laugh. I thought, “Yes, I know I’m having a big baby. I’m a big woman. And look at the size of this belly!” But I also knew that ultrasound estimates can be wildly inaccurate and those doctors really just want to cut things, don’t they?
We left the hospital. I tweeted about the extreme prediction, laying the ground work for some serious street cred. But I wasn’t going to be one of the 27% of Canadian births that ended in C-section. Those were for emergencies, or for people who got sucked into the medicalization of childbirth and got talked into thinking their bodies weren’t made for this. I was going to have the natural birth I planned! I knew things sometimes went wrong, but they weren’t going to go wrong for me! How could they? I had a plan.
But as the night went on, I got worried. What if they were right? What if I really had a 13lb baby? Or what if they are so wrong and I actually have a 9lb baby and have a completely unnecessary surgery?
I called the midwife, mostly looking for some reassurance that I could, indeed deliver this baby even if it was huge. I expected her to be relaxed, but she wasn’t. Was it possible the size was overestimated and that this baby would be totally fine? Sure. Was it possible that my large frame would safely deliver a baby of this size, even though it probably wouldn’t feel awesome? Absolutely, it was possible. But it was also possible that the baby’s head would deliver nicely and then nothing more. The shoulders might be too wide and get stuck. And then they would do all they could to manoeuvre her out – in an extreme case, breaking the collar bone if that was necessary. If it worked, all would be well. If it didn’t, well, the words “brain damage” and “death” are basically the scariest things in the world.
They called it an “elective C-section,” but this wasn’t a “too posh to push” situation. (Me. Posh. Can you imagine?) I lay awake most of the night before tormenting myself. I wasn’t sure it was the right decision. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was giving up. But there didn’t seem to be an alternative, knowing that I couldn’t live with the guilt of calling their bluff, pushing for a vaginal birth, and being wrong. So I woke at 6am and headed off for surgery.
We walked along a nearly empty College Street to the hospital at a quarter to seven in the morning. “Alice?” I said as we stopped at a light. “Alice Emilia?” Ryan responded. And our baby had a name.
I walked into the O.R. sometime around noon. I sat waiting for the spinal anaesthesia while watching the nurse assemble the scalpels that would be used to cut through my body.
“What kind of music do you like?” the surgeon asked.
“Taylor Swift” I instinctively responded. It was the first thing that came to mind. I had no idea why I was being asked.
“Great choice. I love Taylor Swift.”
I lay on the table, Taylor Swift on the speakers, with 10 masked strangers taping on monitors, positioning my body, disinfecting my abdomen. Actually, I really have no idea what they were doing to me. I heard the masked voices, never sure which one to respond to, tried unsuccessfully to wriggle my toes, and waited.
“So how big do we think this baby is?” says the surgeon. “I’m guessing 10lbs 3oz.”
“No. No way. I am not having surgery for a 10lb baby. She’s over 11lbs or I’m out.”
“Ok. 10lbs 5oz.”
Ryan, who had been waiting in the hall, came in at some point (we later learned that they make the support person wait in the hall not until they are ready to start cutting, but until they have actually made the first cut. I guess to make sure I didn’t scream). Some time passed, it felt like no time at all despite the strange feelings of my insides being tugged and manipulated.
“Do you like this song?” It was a Taylor Swift song I somehow wasn’t familiar with. “Someone hit next. Get a song she likes.” They settled on “Our Song.”
Someone said “Stand up now.” Ryan stood up to peer over the curtain.
“Take pictures!” Ryan took pictures.
Someone lowered the surgical curtain and there I was, staring up at a beautiful, scrunchy, pissed off baby covered with goo. I’m not sure how I felt in the moment. Overwhelmed. Amazed. Despite being pregnant FOREVER, it’s hard to process looking down at the human you’ve grown.
She was swiftly swept away to be inspected and weighed.
“11lbs, 6oz” someone announced.
I’m pretty sure I cheered.
At some point someone brought her over to me to look at momentarily before they continued on with baby inspections. Or maybe this happened right after she was born. Truthfully, everything after looking up at her from the table is kind of a blur.
They brought the baby to Ryan for some skin-to-skin contact since I wasn’t in any shape to hold her. They held her to my face so she would smell me, and feel my skin. I’m sure other things happened, but shortly after I was given a dose of Ketamine to deal with the pain of being put back together and things got awfully fuzzy. Eventually, I ended up in a recovery room with a perfect, fat baby voraciously feeding on my chest. A tiny human that I somehow grew, and housed.
We were in the hospital for two days, though the recovery is much longer. I haven’t completely let go of the feelings of missing out on the natural birth experience I planned, even though I know the consequences (not to mention the physical damage) could have been much worse than some misplaced feelings of want or guilt. It was not the birth that I wanted, but it’s the birth I got. In the end, I am at peace with the decision.