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After giving birth naturally to my first son, I never imagined that I'd need an emergency c-section the second time around.
My labor started and progressed similarly to how it went the first time: I developed steady, painful contractions in the middle of the night, and when I arrived at the hospital I was already 4 centimeters dilated. Eventually the doctors broke my water and when the contractions became too painful for me to handle, I asked for an epidural.
Everything seemed to be going according to plan, until I found out my baby was in a posterior position, also known as "sunny-side up." All of the doctors and nurses who checked me internally assured me that this birth would not be terribly difficult, especially since I'd previously had an uncomplicated vaginal birth.
I got the go-ahead to start pushing, with an on-call resident in the room. My first baby took two and a half hours to push out, so I knew it would be a while before my OB showed up. But, after just a few pushes, the resident doctor ordered me to stop and ran out of the room to get my ob-gyn.
My husband and my mom were each holding one of my legs as my OB checked the baby's position in my birth canal. I still remember the tension of that moment: I remember the doctor there in front of me, feeling around with his eyes closed, allowing his fingers to visualize the baby's position inside of me.
"It's too dangerous to continue," he finally said. "Your baby's neck is twisted and he's coming out mouth first. We have to take you for a c-section."
It was as if time had stopped. I had never felt as helpless as I did in that moment, paralyzed in the hospital bed with no control over my body and no way to deny the necessary operation. As they wheeled me into the operating room, I was forced to put all my faith in the staff's ability to safely deliver my baby.
It seemed like I was on the operating table for hours as the doctor wrestled inside my abdomen to dislodge the baby who was so deeply wedged in my birth canal. I heard everything that was said: The doctor kept asking for residents with smaller hands to scrub into the surgery as he continued to struggle on his own. With each of his grunts and groans, I was longing to hear my baby's first cry. After seemingly everyone but the hospital chief had been summoned into the operating room, my baby boy finally emerged.
Quite unlike my first birth, the moment was not euphoric. The doctor didn't hold my baby up in the air over the hospital draping like I had seen in the movies, and my son never let out a cry. Instead, the neonatologist seized him for monitoring because he was in shock. After sewing up my incision, the OB unexpectedly leaned over the hospital drape to give me a kiss on the cheek. He was visibly exhausted and so thankful our trauma had ended positively. Years later when I randomly bumped into that doctor at a restaurant, he remembered exactly who I was and commented that my birth story was one of the most difficult of his career.
Luckily my emergency c-section was carried out quickly enough to save our baby from any potential birth defect. When the initial shock wore off, the doctors agreed he was healthy. But, after the operation, I really didn't know what recovery would be like. I was in no way prepared for the challenges of a c-section recuperation.
I learned quickly that instead of the ice pack and squirt bottle that soothed and cleaned my aching lady parts after my natural birth, high-waisted brief underpants and panty liners would become my newest accessories. Taking care of the oozing incision line wasn't too difficult, and an experienced friend even taught me how to insert a panty liner into the top part of my underpants, a trick for catching any liquid escaping from the incision. Aside from the normal recovery pain, I began to heal physically and gain strength with each passing day.
But my mental and emotional recuperation proved to be grueling. When I finally looked at my incision during that first day of recovery, all the anxiety and fear of my scary birth experience released into uncontrollable sobbing. The episode may have been heightened by the hormones that were surging through my veins, but I cried hysterically at the sight of my altered body. There was a wound on my abdomen that would remain there eternally – a mark that I never wanted to have, never thought I would have, and did not want to recognize as my own.
Two and a half years later, I had my third baby via VBAC. One of the same residents who had been in the operating room the night of my emergency c-section was again on call for my third trip to Labor and Delivery. She recognized my name and asked me about the development of my second born. She also told me my son's birth was one of the most traumatic ones she had ever experienced.
At that moment, life came around full circle and I fully realized how lucky I was. Regardless of how the baby was born, we were fortunate to have a healthy son and to have had a speedy recovery. The traumatic scene from two years prior was soon eclipsed by the cathartic, uncomplicated VBAC of my third son.
Sometimes, when my second son points to the faded incision on my abdomen, we joke about the "tattoo" that he left on my belly as he came into the world. The incision line may hide beneath my panty line or tucked under a bikini in the summer months, but I always know it's there. The difference today (compared to that first day of recovery in my hospital room) is that I recognize my emergency c-section scar as a symbol of my strength, endurance, resilience, and luck.
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.