Recently, our 10-year-old son had appendicitis and needed surgery. He spent two nights in the hospital. Our 5-year-old daughter wistfully noted how lucky he was to get to be in the hospital and have surgery. Why was he lucky? Because, she explained, now he knew what it is like to be a mama having a baby in the hospital. This made everyone laugh, especially my 10-year-old son.
My three youngest children were born via c-section and our new baby will be, too. My five oldest kids were born the old-fashioned way. I grew them in pickle jars in a pantry in the basement. When they were sufficiently steeped we opened the lids, just as our mothers and their mothers did before us.
If you think about c-sections from a child’s perspective, they seem unduly harsh and scary. Many adults share this view, sometimes rightfully. There can be complications. Healing is longer. But lives, like my 5-year-old daughter’s—who had a cord prolapse during my labor with her—are saved. Many moms who have c-sections reflect on the experience with love, with wonder, with amazement, with a little disbelief. C-sections are unique experiences. They are weird and wonderful at the same time.
Here are 10 things that make c-sections awesomely awkward:
1. Sometimes, they take your intestines and uterus out of your body. This is especially likely if you’ve had more than one c-section. There can be adhesions and scarring, which means doctors have to move pesky innards out of the way to get to baby. My husband reports he saw things he can’t un-see during my last c-section. I guess I looked a little like roadkill for a few minutes. Thankfully, they put everything back neatly.
2. What the doctor calls “pressure” you will call “I know what a bounce house feels like.” Right before each of my c-section babies were born, the doctor said, “You are going to feel a lot of pressure now.” To free the baby from the incision, they press down on your belly as if you were the dough, they are the baker. You are the freshly-poured concrete, they are the steamroller. This only lasts for a few seconds, however.
3. Surgical prep is a lesson in humility. You are shaved with a disposable battery-powered razor that was designed by John Deere’s loser brother, Lenny Deere. You won’t look like a golf course, though. Then, you must drink sodium bicitrate, which looks like grape juice but tastes like a mix of rotting licorice and tears.
4. Spinals are scary, but work fast. Getting spinal anesthesia is the part I dreaded (and dread) the most. First, they numb the area with shot, then they administer the actual spinal. It’s different from an epidural. There is no tube leading out of your lower back, plus it kicks in immediately and wears off quickly. It’s disconcerting to rapidly lose the ability to move. Your movements are at the direction and mercy of the OR staff after that point.
5. Your arms are strapped down. Not only do you lose the ability to move from the chest down, your arms are immobilized. They want you to be perfectly still, which makes sense. Once your baby is born, the anesthesiologist might free your arms so you can hug and touch your baby.
6. They might play music in the OR. When my second c-section began, Billy Idol was screeching about how it was a nice day for a white wedding. Apparently, the OR was staffed with 80’s glam rock fans that day. In an odd way, it relaxed me because I thought it was funny. During my third c-section, the anesthesiologist played a mix of songs he told me he made for births. There are a lot of closet DJs in the medical profession.
7. Your spouse or birthing partner will look funnier than you. My husband, who joined me in the OR all three times, wasn’t given scrubs to wear. He was given a blue prison jumpsuit made of 3-ply toilet paper with a big silver zipper going up the front. They were disposable and one-size-fits-all. The most bizarre design element is these jumpsuits have pointy collars, just like button down shirts. For my second c-section, my husband made a jaunty necktie out of the elastic heart rate monitoring strap that went around my belly. Babies don’t want to meet you if you don’t look snappy. First impressions. Think of it as a job interview.
8. ORs are cold, cold places. You know you’re in an OR when you hear penguins bleating. I’ve asked but have never received a reasonable explanation for why ORs are kept cold. The nurses just laugh and agree that it is cold. But why? Why? To keep the produce in the corner fresh? Every time I go in the cold produce room at Costco, I have birth flashbacks. Now, peel me a grape from that crate over there.
9. You are repaired with office supplies. Staples and/or glue will close your incision. This reduces scarring and holds everything together more solidly than repairs made from items commonly found in grandma’s sewing basket—in other words, stitches, love, and cat hair. Too bad there’s no Easy Button.
10. When scheduled, c-sections take less time and effort than a hair cut. Something as monumental and life-changing as the birth of a child means sweat, work, labor. Opening the ol’ pickle jar takes clenched jaws, hot water, and elbow grease. But there is something leisurely about showing up at the hospital at an appointed time on a certain day. There’s no rush, no sense of urgency. You are nervous and excited, but you’ve been waiting for that day and that time for awhile. You get to meet your baby, finally—just like the mom down the hall in labor, just like the mom at home in her bed, just like the mom at the birthing center in a bath tub. The common goal is to hold our little ones in our gazes and in our arms.