“Ok so that’s a wee foot there, I’ll just tuck that back in”…….. WHAT!
That was one of the many things that I didn’t prepare myself to hear going in to the hospital. Having a baby is scary, so scary in fact that we do about 9 months of reading and googling and collecting information to try and prepare ourselves for yes, parenthood, but also the totally ridiculous fact that an entire human is gonna come out of you at some point. And what’s worse is that you can’t even be 100% sure of where exactly it is coming out of!
Neither option is particularly appealing. There’s the traditional doot exit, or the equally fabulous magicians assistant exit, where you lie down and someone saws you in half. Delightful. So whatever way this goes, there is fairly good chance it’s going to totally suck at some point. BUT, and it’s very important to hold on to this, it will also be the most Badass, amazing, uniquely ‘you’ thing that you ever do.
Now, back to the original foot comment. My precious little munchkin missed the day they were handing out instructions on how to be a foetus so never bothered turning around (so selfish). She was breech for the entire pregnancy, like she never even tried to get that wee head down! And this of course pointed to one thing….a section. Hearing the words Cesarean Section can bring up a whole menu of new emotions (which is exactly what a pregnant person wants, more emotions). I did the initial reaction noise of “Oh, um, oh right ok, well that’s um, ok right”, you know that noise you have been making since you peed on the stick. But as the news started to drift from the pregnancy fog in to my actual working brain I had two simultaneous thoughts. One, Oh holy sweet moses amazing! No labour, oh my god you shouldn’t even think that but here we are, they are gonna just lift that kid out of ya and we can all go home. Two, did you just fail at something? It feels a lot like you just failed a little bit.
Of course I read all I could get my hands on about breech delivery and 99% likely cesarean sections however must have missed the bit that tells you that while this is common and hard work and just as scary, there will forever now be a little voice in a comments section somewhere, or a reference in an overheard conversation or a simple slip of the tongue that will give you the distinct impression that you haven’t really ‘given birth’ that you are somehow less. Even now, nearly 5 years later, I still come across it occasionally. So listen, really really listen. If you grow a person and then get it from inside to outside, that’s enough. It is not a competition, you don’t get a special tick beside your name in the hospital chart if you were ‘extra brave’, there is not a board of births written up like the fucking derby. There is no right way to do this, there is no wrong way to do it, and it’s unfortunately also not your decision, or your midwifes, or your partners. The important thing to remember when you go to have a baby is that NOTHING is off the table. Never presume, I know this is beyond frustrating when all you want is a little control but those little people have no idea what you have planned and shit happens (often literally, sorry) so just try as much as you can to go with it, with what your body needs. I had always known I would be a section delivery, and was booked in a week before my due date. And still, with all that clever planning, less than 12 hours before my planned section I went into labour. Thanks kid. I know people that have gone through hours of labour and ended up having a section, I know people who had medical emergency’s and needed a section, I know people who elected to have them. There are no rules to childbirth. You have to think of it like planning a party, except you don’t know what date it’s on, or where it is, or how many are coming. Prepared but vague, very much like parenting as it turns out. However I warn you now there are moments, and for everyone it’s different, but there are moments that no class or book can prepare you for. Like the moment that the midwife checks how far along you are, you know the old ‘hand up the puppet’ routine, and a tiny foot gives her a hefty kick! And she says “I’ll just tuck that foot back it”. Those are the moments that you will hear yourself say insane things like “I’m sorry, what the fuck? is my baby falling out?” This also applies to those well behaved head down babies who can get themselves into all sorts of shapes so don’t be alarmed if you casually hear “oh I feel a face” or something equally bizarre.
Cesareans can be scary, and for a million reasons. They can be planned, or emergency, they can be part of your plan or completely out of the blue. Epidurals are scary but not that bad. The test where they rub ice all over you is weird, but not scary. Your arms go out like you are on a cross and it aches like a bastard, but it’s not too scary. And that screen is for your own good, my partner looked behind it and hasn’t really looked at me the same since. I can only imagine that behind that screen is fucking scary.
If you have the wonderful luxury of being able to pack for the possibility of surgery (and honestly you should anyway, just in case) then there are a few essentials…
Massive pants. Whatever you are thinking right now, go bigger, and if the weather allows, a maxi dress to go home in. Whatever wardrobe you have right now, go have a look and think WAISTBAND. Because you are going to want to avoid those things like a call centre cold call. The problem with a C section is that the scar is going to be somewhere around where your pants sit, or your jeans (jeans, hahahaahahahahah), or any trousers really, so think soft, soft and loose, like your boobs after all this is over.You want those pants that old ladies wear, in that section of the underwear department you never find yourself in, the ones that cover your bellybutton, I’m not kidding.
The cushion to hold against yourself when you cough or sneeze or laugh. They aren’t kidding. I sneezed the day after my section and was actually surprised it wasn’t like that scene where the lift doors open in the shining, I presumed I was going to sneeze my innards across the room. Also be prepared for the distinct feeling when you first stand that they have sewed it up too tight and not given you enough stomach to stand up fully. They definitely haven’t but it’s a horrible feeling. Oh! Speaking of horrible feelings, you know how when someone pushes a baby out, they are also pushing and moving everything else inside them that has been living in the square inch below your lungs for the past 20 weeks? Yeah you won’t do that, they just lie you down and hoof it out so you may get what is sometimes delightfully referred to as ‘the drop’ where you feel all your insides suddenly use up all that spare room. Like you just got on a rollercoaster. .
Other than that, you will need all the usual, post ‘I had a baby’ accoutrements. The only real difference, and there is no nice way to say this or describe it, is that you aren’t pushing, and all the crap that comes out with a baby is still going to come out. So the bleeding after can be a lot heavier for C section women. I mean I’m not a doctor but I just know that the maternity pads I needed should have been made by Boeing, that my sofa is probably haunted now, the horrors it has endured, and that once while boiling the kettle, out of nowhere, the amount of red on my kitchen floor made me presume I had been shot and was too tired to feel it.
The actual act of having a section is kind of nothing to do with you because you aren’t really doing anything, but at the same time, the most vulnerable you will ever feel and the most personal experience. I remember a lot of fidgeting. I remember thinking I was cold, glad I wasn’t having contractions anymore, but cold. I kept brushing my hair away or straining my neck to look around. I put a hand to every wire and line in my arm, I had to be told very gently to just lie still. It’s unnerving in a thousand ways, and incredibly emotional. Honestly I think I had imagined it being very sterile and impersonal and somehow not the way you are ‘supposed’ to have a baby. But what even is that? It was quiet, and focused and intimate and unreal in a way I couldn’t have imagined. If there is any part of you, a tiny voice saying you are giving something up or losing an experience by having a section, let go of it.
If the scar is what your mind keeps coming back to, I’ll tell you something right now, that kid could float out of you left nostril and your body will still be unrecognizable afterwards. Babies, in no uncertain terms, fuck your shit up. Yes we get a crude smiley face drawn on for the rest of our lives, but eventually I PROMISE you won’t even notice it, it will just be there. like your BCG scar or if you are too young to remember that torture, like the tramp stamp you thought was a good idea. It’s a part of you and what you managed to do. I’m not really one for all this ‘tiger stripe, badges of honor’ crap, if they were that awesome, 18yr olds would be drawing them on with fake tan, but they are there, and they are there because you created a person. The scar is shit, it hurts and you have to look after it when you are at your most exhausted but if you have a scar, your fanny is probably in Ok shape so silver linings and all that. Seriously though, it’s not a vanity I thought I had, I hadn’t given any real time or consideration to the fact that I would have a fairly sizeable scar for life, on the front, where I can see it, where the person who lies on top of me can see it. It’s a formidable scar, it’s the biggest scar I have, it’s the only time so far I have had major surgery. Although it’s also the first time I have ever turned food into people so it’s probably worth a good scar.
It’s ok to not be in love with your stripes right away and to hate your scar, but it’s only ok for a little bit. Because you will have to get used to it, you will learn to love it. Someday a three yr old will sit on your lap and rummage through the folds in your clothes and pull at you until she finds skin and will trace her tiny finger along that scar and say, “Mummy is that where I lived in your tummy?” and you will smile and say yes! Yes it is, your first address! Oh and my final piece of advice, DO NOT, in your sleep deprived stupor, while discussing all things mummy, with weetabix in your hair and baby sick over the shoulder of your cardigan, refer to yourself as having been sectioned. That’s something else.