I planned for an unmedicated birth, but ended up having a c-section. I wish I could go back one month to the week before my son was born and tell myself that everything would be okay. I can’t, but for moms-to-be planning on natural labor, I hope you’ll consider this letter as also being for you. I hope you will read this letter as a reminder that things may not go according to plan, but in the end, a healthy baby is all the matters.
I know that you want to have a natural birth, free of pain-killers and other medications, and with the least amount of interventions that is medically prudent. I know you think that your body was built to have babies, that women have been giving birth without modern interventions for years, and that what you want is the healthiest and best option for you and your baby. You’re not wrong.
But here’s the thing. You’re going to have a c-section. And everything is going to be just fine. More than fine, actually. Everything is going to be incredible, because you and Chris are going to have a healthy newborn son.
Over the course of the 12 hours between when you arrive in the hospital and when you first meet your son, the space between what you wanted and what is actually happening to you (and it will seem to be happening to you, rather than your being an active participant as you had planned), will increase until it almost couldn’t get any greater.
You won’t be allowed to move around as you’d planned, to use the strategies you’ve practiced, to deal with the pain of increasingly strong contractions your way. You will be asked first to stop moving so much, then to lie in the bed, and then to turn on your side in the bed and stay still for hours. You’ll be told you need Pitocin, if there is to be any hope of a vaginal birth. And then, after hours of active labor, the doctor and nurses will suggest that you get an epidural, not because you’re not tolerating the pain (though lying in the hospital bed on your left side through dozens of contractions – some of them Pitocin induced – isn’t anyone’s idea of fun), but because they may need to perform a c-section quickly at any point, and if you don’t have the epidural, they’ll have to put you under general anesthesia. And then after a full day of things deviating further and further from that you’d wanted, they’ll tell you it’s time to discuss “other options.” But the only option is a c-section and it needs to be performed immediately.
You will cry. You will cry because you don’t want this for your son. You’ve read the statistics about breastfeeding, about strong immune systems, about attachment. You will cry because you don’t want this for you. You are strong and athletic, and you’ve never had surgery before. You’ve read about the difficulties inherent in recovering from a c-section. You will cry because you are physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. You will cry because you feel like it is somehow your fault for not being able to have the delivery you’d planned.
Nonetheless, you will of course agree and agree quickly. An army of nurses and doctors will whisk you to the operating room to prepare you for surgery. Before you even know that they’ve begun, they’ll announce that the baby is almost here. Seconds later, you’ll see your son for the first time, through a blurry plastic curtain.
They’ll say “is it two,” and you and your husband will be momentarily confused. Twins? But no – the umbilical cord is wrapped not once, but twice, around the baby’s neck. This was the cause of his dropping heart rate during each contraction, the reason the c-section was necessary.
In a matter of minutes he’ll be weighed, evaluated and cleaned, and the nurse will place him on your bare chest before the doctors have even finished closing you up. You will nurse him before he’s 10 minutes old, even though he came by c-section. And you will know immediately, that he is going to be fine. You will realize just as quickly the silliness of your concern, only minutes ago, for your own well-being. Because in this moment, if the doctors told you they’d have to cut off both of your marathon-running legs for your son’s health, you wouldn’t hesitate for even one second. And luckily for you, they may have cut you open, but all they took was your darling baby and now they’re going to sew you back up.
Your mother will later tell you that her mother, your grandmother, lost her first child, a boy, during childbirth. His umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck, and it strangled him. You will remember that though women have been giving birth unassisted for centuries, the women and their babies used to die a lot more frequently than women in developed countries do today. You are so fortunate: with an incredible medical team at your side, you never worried that you or your baby would die.
One month from now you will write this letter, your son sleeping peacefully beside you in his swing. He will be smiling, and though you know at his age it’s probably just gas, you’ll smile back just the same. The last of the steri-strips closing your incision will have fallen off, and you’ll be left with a small purplish scar. You’ll be just weeks from returning to regular exercise and heavy lifting.
One month from now, you and Chris will already feel like Jack has been part of your life – and in your hearts – forever. And you will know, that everything turned out perfectly.
Lots of Love,
Your Future Self