The first time I gave birth, things were atypical to say the least. But, I did the whole pushing part (albeit under the influence of a fantastic pharmaceutical cocktail) and overall found the experience of my body being able to produce another hugely empowering. As time went on I looked back at the painful reality of giving birth naturally as just a few hours nestled in amongst years of reward; and assumed that I’d be able to do it again if I ever needed to. I wasn’t planning on ever having another child but when my circumstances changed and I did want to conceive, I had no reason to assume that I wouldn’t just take the standard route in child eviction again.
Duh: this includes medical and birth themes throughout. If this is going to be triggering or upsetting to you, click here to leave. For professional medical advice on c-section procedures, I’d always recommend visiting the official NHS website. A c-section is a major operation and is usually only scheduled if a vaginal birth is considered too risky. Every situation is different, and you can get more info from your Consultant, Midwife or other associated healthcare professional.
With a whole host of medical factors at play, my second pregnancy was classed as high-risk and I was immediately placed under consultant care. This lead to fortnightly hospital appointments. At just over 24 weeks, a consultant explained that we could elect to have a c-section because I fit numerous criteria for one: a very breech baby (although there was a high chance she’d still shift the right way up), a previously traumatic experience that resulted in a mental health issue, a medical allergy, and a cervical issue that was likely to mean I went into premature labour. To be honest, I’d never considered not giving birth the same way I had my son, but agreed that if I made it to term (37 weeks) pregnant, I’d like a c-section because if nothing else, a full term baby would feel huge to me compared to my previous preemie. This also meant that once we were ‘on the list’ for surgery, I could choose instead to push at any time but had the back-up of immediately being prioritised for a caesarean if I did go into labour before the scheduled date. Win-win!
Quickly checking in with a couple of friends who had had c-sections at the same hospital in the last few months for recovery tips (stock up on painkillers, spend as much time as you can resting, don’t walk too far too quickly), I firmly decided that if I could make it 37 weeks, the surgery would definitely be for me. It let me feel more in control of my birthing experience than I had previously and I liked having the opportunity to talk everything through with medical professionals and ask lots of questions. And so, the ‘wait for the date’ began.
As luck would have it, our post was royally messed up right in time for us to receive a letter with our scheduled operation date on the doorstep. We’d been promised such correspondence had been sent some 3+ weeks prior, but nothing ever arrived – until we were out and about and I received a text confirming my pre-op appointment with an anaesthetist and our final c-section date. It was my birthday, 4th August, which meant my baby; should she still be floating about in utero by then; would be at over 39 weeks gestation. It was a lot later than we’d expected/hoped for, but gave us a time frame to focus on, finally.
At our pre-op appointment exactly one week before, I underwent various blood tests, swabs and health checks. My bump was checked again – and yep, she was still breech! – and we were immediately offered two earlier dates for the surgery. Despite initially having been a bit annoyed at the prospect of sharing my birthday (as though somehow I would be knee-deep in male strippers and bubbling prosecco with a newborn in a sling if she’d come any earlier), I declined both. Now we had something to plan for it felt real and the idea of having the same birthday as my daughter somehow made it more special. What’s more, her middle name was that of my grandma, who had died on my birthday 2 years prior. Somehow it just all felt… aligned.
On the day, I of course woke up at the crack of dawn full of nervous excitement. We were on the scheduled list for the morning and so I was allowed to drink black coffee up until 6am before going nil-by-mouth. I was up at 4:30am ready to caffeinate myself to high hell in preparation. Needless to say, the morning resulted in my better half getting up quicker than he ever had before and after some more coffee and a couple of last bump photos, we were straight in the car and headed toward our final hospital entrance without a baby.
Finally parking in the dedicated maternity services car park, we were early but felt ready. Arriving at the ward we’d walked past what seemed like 1,000 times for other appointments (the same one in which I’d stayed in after my previous birth), we met an MCA who checked us in and we were led to a bed surrounded by sleeping mothers and babies. There was something really disconcerting about being there still pregnant – especially compared to my traumatic post-birth prior stay just a bay across – but it was exciting. We both sat on the bed, just smiling at each other with no idea of how long we’d be waiting or what would happen next. Thankfully, things didn’t take too long.
Our MCA took my obs before my consultant anaesthetist and obstetrics consultant arrived to talk us through everything and run through the consent forms. As I’m allergic to some anaesthetics, there were some extra checks to do and when the doctor who would be performing the op checked my bump, she discovered that my baby was not just breech but in a very awkward breech position; so I consented to some additional manoeuvres to be performed during the procedure to remove her. With that, we were informed that we were first on the list for that day (total result: we did nooooot want to be postponed to another day) and within 10 mins, were handed gowns and scrubs. I was offered the opportunity to be wheeled across to the delivery suite but instead opted to walk. I wanted to enjoy the last bit of comfortable trotting I’d be managing for a while, even if it was only for a couple of minutes.
We headed across to the delivery suite and into a prep room. The consultant anaesthetist stayed with us throughout, and the team talked us through everything before administering my spinal and lying me back on the bed. I’ve had an epidural before but yeah, this shit hurt. I did jolt slightly but the pain was gone literally within seconds, which felt… odd. I was nervous about the entirely unlikely prospect of suddenly regaining feeling just as I was cut open, but the anaesthetist was superb – checking with me repeatedly what I could feel and what I couldn’t. From the chest down, zilch. A student midwife popped in my catheter, everyone checked I was OK and the double doors into the theatre opened. SHOW TIME!
I’ve seen about a million c-sections on TV and as expected, a chair was wheeled up next to me for my other half and drapes erected at about chest level. The surgical team all introduced themselves and popped the Backstreet Boys on the stereo, which seemed a positive omen given they’re my favourite. The anaesthetist crouched and chatted to us as the surgeons worked. As my partner said to me “I wonder if they’ll tell us when they start”, she leant down and laughed, telling us that it was a great sign we hadn’t noticed, but they were already almost halfway through the op. She leant over the drapes and a minute later said she could see a little bum. I was warned of some tugging, and the unusual sensation of feeling pushing and pulling but no pain began. 3 or 4 minutes later, with a lot of blood splatters on the white drapes, suddenly a baby with dark hair was handed over to me and placed on my chest. And oh. My. God.
Our daughter started screaming right away which I understand wouldn’t be everyone’s idea of heaven but was ideal for someone who was scared of waiting to hear that first cry. It seemed like people were rushing all around us but somehow there was just the three of us together in a hazy square metre of space. It was incredible but felt, somehow, like a dream. I hope I never forget it.
After a few minutes, the anaesthetist switched places with my other half who took our new baby off for her initial health checks and weigh-in. She put me completely at ease and we chatted with the surgeons just over the drapes about raising daughters, the patriarchy and the Barbie movie. I couldn’t have asked for a better distraction and was swiftly informed of my baby’s weight and wellbeing while her dad was over cutting the cord and getting in cuddles. Stitching commenced, I was switched to another bed and we all wheeled off to the recovery suite.
Recovery sounds more dramatic than it is. In our hospital, it was literally a two-bed bay room where a nurse took my obs regularly for half an hour. As our daughter was apparently absolutely starving and livid at her premature womb eviction, an MCA came to help her dad give her her first feed. Within half an hour, we were all signed off, she was popped back on my chest and we headed back to the ward and the bed we’d sat in without a baby that morning. And with that, the adventure began. This time: no trauma, no tears (apart from happy ones) and a happy bubble in a hospital curtain.
On reflection now, I couldn’t be more grateful for such a positive birth experience. I’ve learnt a lot this pregnancy about giving birth; including some details on the last time I did it that I hadn’t known before. While both have left me feeling empowered in different ways (women are fucking amazing, yo!) and I feel kinda glad that I’ve been able to experience both birth routes, I can honestly say I’d elect for a c-section again and again if given the choice. This said, I don’t want to detract from how big a deal it is to have a major operation – and I did experience some complications thereafter – but it was right for me. It gave me and my other half time to focus on each other and communicate with no trauma, and me the necessary headspace to better look after my baby right away. Now, I wouldn’t change a thing. No immediate pain, a tiny line scar and a chat about feminism to a backtrack of BSB? I’m in!
The featured image on this blog was taken by Jonathan Borba, for Unsplash.