There’s a lot of lingo people use to describe subsequent cesareans. People just say, “repeat;” some women say “elective repeat cesareans.” In the ICAN village, a lot of women use the term CBAC to describe a VBAC attempt that ended in cesarean. This stands for Cesarean Birth After Cesarean. I don’t use that term because I don’t feel I have given birth to my children. To me, having someone else remove the baby from my body is not birthing.
I twinge reading my surgical report where it says, “The patient delivered abdominally.” That’s an active voice verb–delivered. I didn’t do anything but lie there. I prefer CSAC, which is cesarean section after cesarean.
This time, things were probably as good as they can get for a cesarean delivery minus putting my baby on my chest in the OR. My doula was there with me, along with my husband and the midwife. Last time, they didn’t bring Corey in for a long time and the midwife had to run off to catch someone’s baby that the surgeon would have been catching. But I had a husband, doula, and midwife with me for Felix. So I had a lot of people who cared about me at the head of the table.
(Edited to add: At Magee, they bring your support people into the OR after they establish the sterile field. This time, I had my midwife with me while they prepared my body and then they brought in Corey and Karen pretty quickly afterward)
The anesthesiologist this time was, again, awesome. There had been a shift change and now Dr. O’C (another DO) was on duty. She was gentle and attentive, used my first name, and listened to me when I told her I felt claustrophobic. She moved things away from my face, found alternate ways to deliver oxygen to me so I didn’t feel smothered by the mask, and held the curtain away so I could look at Felix when he was pulled out. In the event of a cesarean, I had wanted to make sure everyone in the room respected our major life event (which I didn’t feel happened last time) and that definitely came to be.
One of the nurses had formerly worked at a birth center and understood that I’d worked for a normal birth. Dr. B. said several times that he understood this wasn’t the outcome I’d been hoping for. Everyone acknowledge my fear and disappointment and that made things a lot better for me. We also got to have pictures of Felix’s early moments. How do you even describe what that means? We have no images of Miles until I was wheeled into recovery, but we have photos of each of us meeting Felix for the first time, of him still caked in meconium, of him on the baby scale.
And, as I mentioned earlier, I got to see my placenta this time. Pam brought it over and showed me all the parts of it, and the sac that had nourished and protected Felix for months.
Another thing that made the CSAC a better experience was having ICAN with me. One of the nurses participates with our chapter and she was on duty that day, stopping in to talk with me and visit. My doula is a VBAC mom. Corey was updating and sharing encouragement from ICAN members throughout the day. So, mentally and emotionally, I felt supported.
My recovery, as I mentioned, was rough. Even in the hospital, there was a miscommunication about my pain medication until I reached a 10 on the pain scale and was crying in my bed. The nurse assumed I was crying because I hadn’t had a vaginal birth and so I had to wait even longer for pain relief. We spent the rest of my stay chasing the pain rather than staying on top of it–a much worse scenario when you’ve had your abdomen severed and your organs (quite literally) man-handled.
Five weeks out, I am finally allowed to lift Miles again, but my ab muscles are still separated, I’m still bleeding and I have strange purple splotches around my incision. I’m following up at Magee to figure it all out, and I keep on keeping on because I have 2 children to parent now.
Recently, Samantha Shapiro wrote a feature on Ina May Gaskin in the New York Times and had a wonderful way of describing feelings I share about the arrival of my children. She wrote, “It should be possible both to acknowledge that something real was lost in the way my baby was born and to know that this loss is finite.” The finite part of that is what I cling to now, knowing that as time goes on my lower abdomen will look less like a grape vine and that I will, in all ways, begin to heal.