Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Elective Caesareans: The Truth

The first weird thing about an elective caesarean birth is knowing when it’s going to happen. Waiting for a natural birth is like falling off a tightrope; you know it’s going to happen some time, you’re just not quite sure when. A caesarean is a like bunjee jump. You buy your ticket, strap yourself in and off you go, jumping into the abyss.

That’s certainly how it felt to my wife and I as we drove to the hospital. We were thrilled at the prospect of finally seeing our baby in person. We chatted about baby names and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to the bump on the way in.

On arrival at the hospital my wife was ushered into a ward of six other mums who were all to have caesareans that day and plugged into a heart monitor of half an hour. Once the readings had been approved, we were told that we’d be the first operation of the day.

Then came the next weird thing. My wife was taken away straight away to have her spinal epidural anaesthetic. I, meanwhile, was given a green gown and a little green hat and told to get dressed and wait until I was called.

Knowing how nervous my wife was about the anaesthetic, it was the longest forty minutes of my life. It seemed bizarre that I could be at the birth, in the operating theatre, holding her hand all the way, but while she had the scariest bit done, I couldn’t be anywhere near. So there I stood, dressed like George Clooney, feeling like George Formby.

It was a huge relief when I was finally told I could go long to the operating theatre and a complete surprise to see my wife lying there smiling. A dark green curtain separated us from the business of the operation, which was already underway. We’d been told we could have a CD on, so I found the ghetto blaster and put on the track we’d chosen. We chatted with the anaesthetist, a smiley man who counted down the minutes for us until the baby would be born.

We’d been given the option of a caesarean because our baby was in the breach position, sitting upright, rather than upside down. They’d tried to turn him twice on other hospital visits, but he stubbornly refused to be upside-down. Consequently we’d had quite a few scans and were used to the idea of seeing our baby folded double with his legs around his ears. We joked that when they finally pulled him out they’d have to open him up like an oyster to reveal what sex he was – we didn’t know yet.

The anaesthetist told us they were a minute or two away and asked if we’d like them to drop the curtain. We both said that we would. The view wasn’t in the least terrifying. Just a damp patch in a sea of dark green sheets. Suddenly, the surgeon reached inside and pulled out something grey and white. The baby! Bottom first, then head and feet. It took maybe ten seconds. He cried straight away and peed all over the surgeon!

Then, just as we’d predicted, the surgeon literally unfolded him and held him up for us to see. At this point we were utterly speechless. I think we might have said “wow”, or “oh my god”. Words just couldn’t describe the sense of complete wonder at what we’d produced. There was a new person in the room and he was our baby, we made him. His little wrinkled face was strangely familiar.

They handed him to us and cut the chord. A minute or two later we were still transfixed when someone prompted us: “So, what is it then?”. “Oh yes, it’s a boy!” we said, having completely forgotten to check.

The whole operation had only lasted ten minutes.

They filled in the little ankle bands, Boy, then weighed and checked him over. In the meantime The Mrs was being sorted out, her placenta removed and things being put back together. She told me later it was like they were doing the washing up in her stomach.

Twenty minutes later she was being wheeled back to the recovery ward where she would spend the next couple of days.

Recovery took a long time. Anyone who thinks that by having a caesarean you have a painless birth is way off the mark. It’s a major operation. Your stomach muscles take a long time to rebuild themselves. But The Mrs healed well and there were no lasting effects beyond six weeks of what the medical profession call “discomfort”. Even the smile scar on her lower belly has almost faded completely away.

When our baby was very small, I had to help a little more with fetching and carrying things than I might otherwise have done. The Mrs found getting him in the right position to breastfeed difficult and he was generally not an easy baby. But that’s another story.

As far as births go, I don’t think it was any less wonderful or much less stressful than a natural birth. The Mrs felt disappointed initially that she’d not been able to deliver the baby naturally, but having done that with more trauma the second time round, I think she was glad she had a caesarean the first time. I don’t remember taking off the gown, although I’m sure I did.

I drove home from the hospital just a couple of hours after I’d arrived, a fully-fledged dad. All I could think of then, and all I can think of now as I write, is the image of that baby, my son, appearing in the surgeon’s hands.

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