I suppose there are many similarities between natural birth and c-section. I wouldn’t know from experience; but just from reading descriptions and guessing, it seems there are. And after all, even with natural birth, no two births are the same. (Is that partly why we all love to read birth stories?) But from what I understand that sense of the timeless within time, the way pain puts us into a separate space is similar. In a natural birth, though, I’ve heard women talk about the pain being something they can work with and through rather than fighting against it. It’s natural and comes from within, from work, rather than being he result of foreign forces invading the body. It seems to me that the other big difference has to do with the time line. In a natural birth almost all the pain happens before the child is born. It’s all pretty downhill from there. While in a c-section the surgery lasts about an hour but the baby is born after about ten minutes. Almost all of the ordeal is after the actual birth. Rather than the pain culminating in the birth, the pain actually overwhelms the experience of birth and the baby’s arrival is not the blessed end to the work but only an island of distraction in the middle of the journey, not even signaling a halfway mark.
Tracking the time line of the c-section in retrospect is difficult. Pain tends to blur things together and my ability to piece together memories of one thing following another in orderly succession isn’t great at the best of times. But I do know this, by the time Ben was born, I’d already been in great distress. I’d been moaning aloud and the anesthesiologist seemed alarmed. I, on th other hand, was in serious pain but not surprised because as far as I was concerned this is how a c-section works. I experience greater anxiety and pain than they expect and they try to reassure me and do something to relieve my distress to no avail. So by the time Ben was born he’d given me some oxygen to try to relax me a bit, which is why the pictures of Dom holding Ben close to my face so I can see him show me with the mask on.
This was definitely worse than the previous two times. I was so much less aware of Ben and a part of my mind registered that and was sad that it was hard to stop focusing on the pain and to pay attention to this beautiful new person. I don’t even remember Dom leaving to go to the nursery with Ben. I just know that at some point I got lost in my interior world of trying to cope with the pain and patiently endure until it was all over.
Perhaps it was a bit of a relief, though, to be able to retreat into my head, stop focusing on the baby and worry again at my psalms and prayers. In my mental landscape each prayer was a light: bright, white stepping stones leading me across a sea of dark red agony. I remember at one point returning to one of my favorite verses: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path,” realizing how true it was for me in that moment, the words of the scripture showing me how to exist from one moment to the next while enduring the pain. As I finished each prayer or verse I’d pause and cast about until I hooked onto another word to move me forward just a little bit. And there was always something there, a new word or phrase waiting for my searching mind. Truly I felt that God was a rock to cling to in the raging storm, the words were little lights that guided me towards him.
In the days after the surgery when the nurses came in to dispense my pain pills to me they always asked me to rate my pain on a scale of one to ten. I wasn’t asked there in the OR to give a number to the pain; but if I had been I think I’d have replied 11 or 111. It was off the scale. I was hardly aware when a voice on the other side of the blue drape announced that they were done, it was over. It didn’t register. I couldn’t believe it. And it almost seemed like a dream when they moved me from the table to a bed and wheeled me into a recovery room. I was still lost in my inner landscape of pain,not really connecting with the outside world at all.
Even though my vitals looked good, I think the anesthesiologist was concerned, especially as my pain seemed to be localized in my chest and shoulder. He actually followed me to the recovery room and sat at a table near my bed, writing in a notebook and occasionally asking how my pain was. Not good. I was very distressed, still off the chart. I stared at the crucifix on the wall and wondered if there was something really wrong. Was I going to make it?
My previous experiences in recovery were that I was very alert almost immediately, alert and aching to have my baby brought to me, angry that it was taking so long. Yearning and lonely. This time I didn’t even think about wanting the baby. The one time he crossed my mind, I was glad they hadn’t brought him yet because I just wasn’t ready.
Finally the pain began to ebb a little and I started to take control. I began to realize the pain I was feeling in my chest and shoulder was radiating from a point in the middle of my back and asked if they could raise the head of the bed so I wasn’t lying prone. That relieved some of the pressure. And then the nurse leaned me forward a little massaged my shoulders and back and that relieved more of it. Finally the pain levels started coming down. And then just when I began to think I’d make it, and the anesthesiologist was packing up to go, the door opened and I heard the rattling sound of the bassinet crossing the threshold as Dom wheeled Ben into the room.
I was still a little hazy; but as soon as I identified the noise, I snapped to attention and when I saw Ben my heart leaped up and the longing I hadn’t been feeling was suddenly there. Dom handed him into my arms and I immediately got him started nursing. It took him a bit longer to latch on than Sophie did; but he was soon gulping strongly. I touched his head and contemplated his face, all the things a new mother is supposed to do. When I sat him up to burp, I took one long look at his face and declared that he looked just like Dom.