So apparently, it’s C Section Awareness month, or Big Up the Sunroof Exit, as I like to call it. It reminded me of my experience with my first born and never one to not insert my two penneth into the slot of conversation, I thought I would bring forth an excerpt from Womb with a View, my book about pregnancy, birth and motherhood. Probably best not to read over lunch as there are mentions of cervixes, ectoplasm and washing up …
You couldn’t get a golf ball up there (8am)
The consultant arrives to check my dilation. I have been in labour for six hours and feel like the end should be near. I am bloody tired and it hurts (I think these are both what are called in the trade ‘sodding great understatements’).
He gets down to business to check out what is going on and to find out how dilated I am. I pray repeatedly to the god of wide openings for at least eight centimetres. I could probably just about cope with seven. Come on, my lovely helter-skelter cervix, don’t let me down.
“You are two centimetres dilated,” he announces. Fuck. Two centimetres? Two? Twenty bloody millimetres? Are you sure you are not measuring my poo hole by accident?
On and on
It could be day, it could be night. I have no idea and I am not sure that I care.
Still here (12pm)
We are on our third shift change and yet another midwife takes the reins. She is being shadowed by a trainee. I am annoyed by this, but have no idea why. I am certainly not going to say anything, because a) talking takes too much brain power and energy and b) if I have learnt one thing in the last ten hours, it is that the midwife in the labour room is my best friend and it is more than a little foolhardy to jeopardise this relationship with an irrational hatred of a woman with blonde plaits.
Still here. Still.
Oh fuck, this can’t still be happening, can it?
Question: On a scale of one to ten, how knackered am I? Answer: One hundred and ninety three.
Where do I sign? (3.30pm)
Thirteen and a half hours. I have never done anything in my life for this consecutive number of hours, apart from breathe. It is time for another consultant check and he gets out his highly technical precision cervix-measuring instrument (otherwise known as fingers).
Okay, after this length of time, I must be nine and a half centimetres. In fact, I will be surprised if he doesn’t make eye contact with Prawn whilst he’s down there.
“Hmmm, about three centimetres.”
I am numb. No, I am not numb in fact, as another contraction hits. Bollocks. I bloody wish I was numb. I think it is just my brain that is numb. It is flashing up ‘Does not compute’ every time I try to feed in the information that I have dilated one more centimetre in the last seven and a half hours. Tectonic plates move bloody faster than my sodding cervix. I need an emergency swear word. I need a swear word so heinous that it is kept behind glass with a small hammer hanging beside it, not to be used unless in the direst of circumstances. It is at this precise point that I would break that glass and scream the word repeatedly at the top of my lungs until there is not one iota of breath left in my body.
The consultant presents Mike and I with our options. We can either carry on, as although the baby’s heartbeat is not as strong as it should be, he doesn’t seem particularly distressed (at least that makes one of us), or we can have a C-Section. Then he adds, somewhat too nonchalantly for my liking, that carrying on would mean at least another four to six hours to make any meaningful progress.
“What shall we do?” I whisper to Mike as the consultant leaves us for a few moments to decide.
“What do you want to do?” replies Mike.
Many things that I want to do flash through my head, comprising:
- Be anywhere but here
- Be anywhere but here
- Be anywhere but here
“I don’t know.” I think I do know, deep down, but I want this to be a joint decision. After all, it may be hard being the one full of foetus, but Mike’s past four days have been no bloody picnic. Before this sounds a little too caring and altruistic, making a joint decision does also leave the “what did you make me do that for?” card in play.
“I think I want the C-Section,” I whisper as I start to cry.
“Then let’s do it,” Mike replies.
Form, razor, action (4.00pm)
We inform the consultant and midwife that we’ll take the C-Section please. Mike packs away the hypnobirthing scripts and the consultant, armed with his form, starts to talk us through the procedure. He lists all known side-effects of the epidural I am about to undergo, along with possible complications that the surgery can have. I have no idea what he is actually saying, he could be telling us that there is every likelihood that my head will fall off as a result of the operation and I would still sign that form.
As he talks, I begin to shake uncontrollably. I sit on my hands to try and look a bit less like someone is passing 240 volts through me, but it feels like every single muscle in my body is trembling violently. It is so ridiculous that I laugh, which is no mean feat when a contraction is hitting your abdomen with the force of a small tornado. Being a polite kind of chap, the consultant does not pass comment on my juddering limbs; there is no ‘hey Jerky, sign here please’.
Now it is the turn of the anaesthetist. He comes in and sits on the bed, and slowly and gently talks through the mini epidural I am about to have. I am not clear why it is a mini one – personally at this stage, I am all for a Super-Max-Deluxe-King-size one with extra fries, but he assures me that a mini one will be just fine. A contraction hits and I yelp with pain and cling to Mike.
“That will be the last contraction you will feel,” he tells me and I instantly fall in love with him.
“Okay, you just need to be still whilst I administer the injection.” Hmmm, easier said than done when I am shaking like a windsock in a hurricane and I start to fret about moving just at the moment of impact, but before I can formulate an appropriate level of anxiety, he tells me he has done it and I should start to feel the effects shortly. I fall in love with him all over again.
The midwife then steps forward and tells me I need a shave. Now, I realise that I have been in this bloody room for a long time, but surely I haven’t grown a beard? No. They are going to shave my pubic hair off. Mike is whisked away – as if they have decided that whilst he can sit through labour and childbirth, watching his wife’s pubes get shaved off in a way reminiscent of a boarding-school-style prank would be too much for him to take. And the midwife and Plaits divest me of my pubic hair, with little ceremony and no offer of being able to take my pubes home in a little drawstring bag, which I thought would be part of the ritual of the first haircut my pubic region had ever had.
Then I get wheeled to theatre and am rejoined by Mike. His green surgical trousers leave little to the imagination, which cheers me up no end. I may be about to be cut in two, but boy, does he look amusing. A green cloth goes up over my chest, which I like to assume is so that I can’t see the business end, but is probably more to do with containment of splashing. The anaesthetist’s head appears from behind this screen and he talks through what is about to happen, slowly and clearly and with a smile. For the third time, I fall in love with him. I am sure he must have spiked my anaesthetic.
Mike hunkers down next to my head and starts to talk to me, about what exactly I have no idea, but it is fantastic. It is the ‘la la la’ technique made manifest and it works a treat – for a long time I let the assembled masses do what they have to do down there without so much as a second thought.
On one of my previous perusals of baby and pregnancy websites, I had read an account of a C-Section by a new mum. She had described it as feeling like someone washing up in your stomach. So as I lay there, I am anticipating this gentle sensation, akin, I imagine, to a little light rummaging.
What a load of tosh. There is a four man tug-o-war going on down there all of a sudden, and I wonder if they are trying to pull a baby or my entire spinal column out of there. Washing up? Does that bloody woman wash up in a cement mixer? I swear one of them puts their foot on my hip to gain some traction at one point, although given the state of my head, I admit I may have been mistaken. There is absolutely no pain, which in itself is a little perturbing, as I know by the way my body is moving involuntarily the voracity with which they are attempting to extract the baby.
“Here he is,” says one of the masked womb raiders, and holds up Ellis over the screen. He is scrunched up like an angry little puce fist and immediately blows a big bubble from his mouth. I smile at his bubble-blowing party trick and at the sudden sense of it all being over. I am secretly hoping that they don’t pass him over the screen to me as he looks like an extra from a low-budget horror film, covered in gunk, blood and dripping with ectoplasm. Or placenta juice. Or some other bodily fluid that I would rather not have to kiss. I am no Earth mother. I’ll take my babies scrubbed, cleaned and lightly fragranced, thank you. Luckily, they whisk him away to clean him up; I am hoping they have the services of an industrial pressure washer. Mike and I seem to be holding our breath, and then we hear a cry. We exhale and smile.
Mike is called over to collect him. Ever the attentive wife, I remind him of a sage piece of advice we received from the NCT class – in exactly this scenario, don’t let the husband get the baby, then turn round to head back to you – he will come face to face with the insides of your abdomen and he may not be able to look you in the eyes again, or at the very least, will cover your new baby in vomit. So with averted eyes, Mike goes to collect him and returns to my side, holding him next to me for a few minutes. We stare at him, cocooned in a white towel. Our baby. We say nothing, just stare a little more before Mike and the baby are told to leave whilst I get “tidied up”, a gentle euphemism for what I imagine is quite a repair job. Off go my husband and my son, and I am left alone.
My first thought in the silence that follows is to wonder if it is appropriate to ask the surgical team to maybe do a quick nip and tuck on my belly before they stitch me up, to go some way towards counteracting the Fruit Pastille fest I have been on, but fear it would fall on deaf ears. There seems to be quite an engrossing conversation happening about arrangements for their night out, so I turn instead to the momentous occasion that I have just experienced: the birth of our child. How do I feel, I ponder? Totally and utterly knackered, I answer. I don’t feel different. I don’t feel whole (who would though? I am pretty sure half my insides are lying outside of my body at this point in time). I don’t feel elated. I don’t feel infused with a love profound and deep. I just feel relief that it is all over. It is not the most poetic of emotions, relief. It doesn’t make the heart soar, nor the soul sing, but it will do me just fine right now.
And should you want more of this (it seems unlikely, but you never know) then you can get yourself a shiny new copy of Womb with a View from Amazon if you wish to read it on a Kindle, or www.jodienewman.co.uk if you want the old fashioned version that also doubles as a fly swat, a door stop and a handy device to stop that table wobbling.