Women have always been able to find narrative stories that explore vaginal birth. But what about books that just talk about what happens during C-Section and shortly after. The new book, My Caesarean: Twenty-One Mothers on the C-Section Experience and After takes a thoughtful approach and explores a diverse lens of stories.
The following is an excerpt from editor Rachel Moritz’s essay: The Parent Room.
The skin touch of Finn when I finally held him. My ankles were swollen, club-like on the wheelchair foot rests. My body was a drugstore: Percocet and Motrin for pain, surgical anesthesia, morphine from a few days earlier when the midwives thought my contractions would strengthen if I slept through the night.
I didn’t recognize this baby inside the NICU isolette. He lay on his back, one hand taped to an IV port, a fluff of blondish hair on his well-shaped head. Of course, I remember thinking: It hadn’t been pushed through my vaginal wall. The nurse helped position him on my chest, and he drank a little colostrum. I stroked his cheek, watched the pulse of his throat as he sucked. It was hard to leave after only an hour.
No one woke me that night, and later, even today, I wondered why not. Did a nurse rock Finn when he cried? Did they feed him formula? The next morning, I woke filled with despair. When I managed to sling my legs over the side of the bed and stand, leaning against Juliet, I wept with exhaustion and pain from my incision. After nine long months of pregnancy and four days of labor, was this feeling all there was? I sobbed until the top of my hospital gown was soaked. Then the phone rang. It was a nurse saying, “Your baby is hungry,” as if this were normal news. And mother that I was, there was no time to cry. Again we wheeled down the hallway. Finn was wailing, and this time we fumbled as he latched on and slipped off, the morning nurse hovering with suggestions on technique.
A persistent regret in those early days; I never saw our placenta and umbilical cord, two features of my pregnant body that felt like ghost children themselves. They had been packaged up and sent to a medical closet deep in the bowels of the hospital. I asked one of the midwives if there was any way to find them. Could I take the placenta home to freeze? She said it wasn’t possible; they were stashed somewhere as evidence. It was all unclear. Of course, this was nothing compared to the difficulties of Finn’s birth: the emergency C-section after his heartbeat started dropping, the infection that filled his lungs with fluid. He was whisked away to the NICU for a mandated ten days of antibiotics. I couldn’t hold him until late that night, when the distracted nurse in charge of my post-op finally wheeled me down the hall.
The larger challenges of my passage into motherhood: I didn’t find a known donor in the way I hoped, and didn’t have a partner giddy or excited about my pregnancy. Our birthing classes; Juliet and I awkward in the rows of straight couples who inhabited a space they never had to question. I went alone to hospital tours, to my midwife appointments, to my ultrasounds.
I’m struck by how much of Finn’s birth story still resonates with loss. The losses I encountered while trying to bring someone new into the world, which was ultimately a gain. How some losses continue; they’re part of the story. Like Finn’s paternal line, which I sometimes imagine as a dissolving wall in a room that continues expanding.
But when I share my sadness with other parents—in the moments when we tell our birthing stories—I’m immediately washed in self-loathing. What luck, I hear the voice inside me say, to deliver a healthy baby. Why call his birth difficult when it was basically a privilege? Why waste time envying another woman’s eight-hour labor, her easy sleeper, her second baby? So what if our family’s formation was messy, if we weathered a storm to emerge intact on the other side? The C-section, after all, was not without a silver lining. Juliet was the first to bond with Finn, following him to the NICU while the surgeon sewed me up. Her palm warm on his belly; she kept watch. “He’s really, really nice,” she said when she came back to sit with me. Given her devotion to Finn today, her singular role as co-parent and beloved playmate, it doesn’t sound like much. But I knew in that moment she was smitten.
Excerpt adapted from My Caesarean: Twenty-One Mothers on the C-Section Experience and After© Amanda Fields and Rachel Moritz, 2019. Essay © Rachel Moritz, 2019. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, The Experiment. Available wherever books are sold. theexperimentpublishing.com