“That’s not a head; I think that’s a scrotum!”
Lying there between contractions, I felt my heart sink as the realization set in: after eleven hours of unmedicated labor, I wasn’t going to get the natural birth I’d hoped for.
Time seemed to simultaneously speed up and slow to a crawl somehow as one of the nurses hit the call button and what seemed like half of Labor and Delivery instantly swarmed into my room. Dr. Ward’s face filled my field of vision for a moment, her blonde curls framing her face as she explained that they were going to take me to the OR for a c-section. The L&D staff surrounded my bed, preparing me to be wheeled down the hall — presumably, they were removing monitors, preparing my IV stand to be moved, that sort of thing, but I felt like the eye of the storm. I was still dealing with the pain of contractions, on top of dealing with the sudden turn my birth experience was taking; I couldn’t focus on the actions of everyone around me.
Unbeknownst to me, Aaron was having more trouble acclimating to this turn of events than I was. In the midst of the frenzy, he left my bedside (or was forced aside by the onslaught of medical staff) to lean up against a cabinet, lightheaded, trying to collect himself. That’s when the staff took note, and had him sit down for a moment (I’m sure they didn’t want to deal with my 6’3″ husband passing out in L&D). As I was being wheeled out of the room, Aaron called out to me to tell me he loved me. I called back from the door — they were moving me out fast — and told him I loved him, too, and that I’d see him in a few minutes. I could hear in his voice that he was freaked out, and that brief reassurance was all I could do to try to calm him.
The next minute or two felt like something out of a movie: I was flying down the hall to the Operating Room, watching hospital scenery go by — scenery I was denied seeing on my hospital tour, due to it being a sterile area. A contraction hit, and I clung to the bedrail like I had in the L&D room, only to be scolded: “Keep your hands inside!”
“OK, hands inside,” I repeated, and let go. With nothing else physical to focus on — no massage, no clutching to the bedrail — I was even more aware of my urge to push. As much to act as a help to myself as to assure anyone else, I said aloud, “I’m not pushing… I’m not pushing…”
I heard my nurse Karen somewhere behind me, reaffirming, “Yes! Don’t push!” I remember feeling a little irritated by her response — didn’t I just say I’m not pushing? But I was also glad to hear her familiar voice, and to know that someone was listening.
The doors to the OR swung open, and even more staff were there, ready and waiting for my arrival. The intricate ballet that happened next was hard to follow in my pain-haze: I heard Dr. Ward talking to the anesthesiologist as I was moved from the labor bed to the OR bed, discussing whether he could administer the spinal with me on my side or sitting up. As I was being transferred to the OR bed, the nurses explained to me that I’d feel like I was going to fall off, but not to worry: they wouldn’t let me fall. Once they’d transferred me, it was time to get my spinal — which, unfortunately, I had to sit up for; he couldn’t do it with me lying on my side for some reason.
Of course, as the nurses helped me into a sitting position, I felt another contraction coming on. Karen was right there again, her familiar, calming voice telling me to “breathe it out, just like in the room.” I remembered, and relaxed, and hissed my exhales and counted to ten. Again, I felt like I belonged on the (now-defunct) Discovery Health Channel as I braced myself, staying utterly still while the anesthesiologist inserted the needle, saying something to the other staff (and maybe me?) about how this was perfectly fine, how he’d had to do this during contractions before, and it was no problem.
I was catheterized at some point (I forget in the shuffle whether it was before or after the spinal), they put an oxygen tube in my nose — “More for the baby than for you” — and hooked more equipment up to my arms, so I was spread out in some sort of Jesus Christ pose. During this part of the prep, they also erected the screen that would keep me and Aaron from seeing the actual surgical procedure.
I could feel myself going slowly numb, and remembered something someone had said on a pregnancy podcast about the OR staff checking to see how numb she was before making the incision. For some reason, I was suddenly ultra-paranoid about the spinal not taking effect in time, so I asked, “Am I supposed to be able to feel anything?” I knew I hadn’t felt any contractions since the spinal, but I also had no sense of time, and I could feel some vague, numb sensations on the surface of my skin. They assured me that I’d feel some pulling sensations, and pressure, but no pain. I was glad that the podcasts I’d listened to had prepared me for the shortness of breath I might feel with the anesthesia, too, or I might have been freaked out by that. As it was, I was prepared for it.
Finally, finally, Aaron arrived, wearing scrubs. He was wide-eyed and shaking, and I could tell he was having a bad time of it. I almost felt guilty for being as calm as I was — I mean, I knew I was OK, but he’d had no such reassurance. I came to learn later that he was told that if I ended up having a spinal, he’d be allowed in, but if I had to be put under completely for the procedure for some reason, he’d see us in the Recovery Room. Not only that, but he’d had to change into scrubs and just wait, alone, outside the OR door, not knowing what was currently happening or what would happen.
Poor guy. No wonder he was so freaked.
As he stood by me and we said our hellos and everything’s-OKs, the nurses draped a warm blanket over his shoulders, and pushed a stool up for him to sit on — after they were convinced that he wasn’t, in fact, going to pass out and fall off. He sat near my head and held my hand (with some difficulty; we had to work around lots of IV tubing), and we waited for the cesarean to begin.
When they announced that they were starting the incision, I sat utterly still and waited to see what sensations I would feel. I barely felt a fingernail dragging across my skin, then a mild sensation that my skin was being moved around — Aaron told me later that I was, in fact, held open by big metal claws, just like on those medical reality shows on TLC.
It wasn’t long before someone — assumedly Dr. Ward — announced, “I’ve got one leg!” Soon Connor was out and was hastily peeked around the edge of the barrier (Aaron got a quick flash of Connor, but I couldn’t see him at all) before being whisked away to be evaluated.
I nearly cried when I first heard Connor’s voice coming from the adjoining room, letting out his first cries. Aaron and I looked at each other in shock and amazement (“Holy shit, we’re parents!”) before the nurses invited him into the room to be with Connor.
Then I was alone with the nurses in the OR, straining to hear Connor’s cries and the low cadence of Aaron’s voice talking with the nurses in the other room as he took picture after picture. The staff stitched me back up and discussed the remainder of their Labor Day weekend as I lay there alone, longing to see my baby. They discussed their dogs and my fibroids and whatnot, then ceremonially counted all their instruments three times over after they were done closing the incision.
As I stared at the wall with nothing to occupy my mind but my desire to see my newborn son, I memorized the times written on the whiteboard there. I had entered the OR at 13:30, or 1:30pm; Connor had been born at 13:47, or 1:47pm. The prep and surgery had only taken 17 minutes total.
In the midst of this, Aaron did come back with Connor and the nurses in tow, and there was much rejoicing and many photos taken:
And that’s how two became three.