A Tale of Two C-Sections

As someone who is/was a believer in natural childbirth, it’s challenging for me to write up my “birth” stories, when in some ways, I didn’t really “give birth.” I lay on an operating table numb from the waist down while doctors sliced me open and extracted my babies.

Don’t get me wrong, both of my c-sections were joyous occasions in their own special way. I am deeply and profoundly grateful for the amazing doctors and nurses who helped us bring our children into the world, and for Darin, who was able to take a more active role in his children’s first hours in a way that he wouldn’t have if I had home births.

Oscar and Aria’s birth stories are worth telling. They are just not the stories I expected to tell when we first set about building a family.

I discovered the idea of home birth when one of my best friends, Colleen, told me that she had two of her children at home, with the help of local midwives here in Flagstaff. Her stories of her births were so amazing, I was immediately hooked, and promised myself I would have a home birth with a midwife whenever I got pregnant. In the years after Colleen shared her story, I had other good friends who had home births. My friend Maya had her daughter at home, and when we had dinner one night at our friends’ Mark and Julie’s house, we got to hear the story of their two home births. I was mesmerized by Mark’s description of catching their daughter, and how she opened her eyes and looked at him before she was completely delivered. I was seduced by the idea of Darin being the first one to see and touch our babies, rather than a doctor, and having them be born in our home, instead of in a bright, cheerless, cold, impersonal hospital.

When I was pregnant with Oscar we did all of our prenatal care with Woman Care Midwifery here in Flagstaff. It was a wonderful experience, very intimate, and nothing at all like seeing a doctor. Their office was cozy and decorated like a house, and they spent a great deal of time with us, discussing all kinds of things like pregnancy, birth, nutrition, breastfeeding, etc. Despite the outcome of Oscar’s birth, I am grateful that we had that experience.

Oscar ended up being breech, which we discovered at my 38 week appointment. After two harrowing days of trying to turn him (yoga postures, acupuncture, moxabustion, homeopathic remedies, and an external cephalic version at the hospital) I went into labor and ended up with a c-section. I was thrilled to meet my son Oscar, but devastated at losing my home birth, and spent much of my recovery crying and dealing with that disappointment.

Seeing Oscar for the first time:

When I got pregnant with Aria I knew that I faced three equally unappealing choices for birth. A scheduled c-section at FMC, a VBAC in Phoenix, or a UC (unattended childbirth is something I would never have considered attempting). After some research I made the decision to have a scheduled repeat c-section. Not something I feel like I “elected” to do, although it says that in my medical records.

Yet Aria’s birth day was lovely. As we drove to the hospital at 5:00 in the morning the sun was just starting to come up, and Flagstaff was quiet and still, bathed in blue light. I felt a sense of peace about the upcoming birth. Not only because I knew what to expect this time around, but also because I felt like I had finally reached a place where I could let go of the idea of natural childbirth. Somehow, as I thought of my son and daughter and what they meant to me, I realized it didn’t matter anymore. My desire for a home birth suddenly felt like a distant memory, the way we feel about a friendship we had as a child. There might be some nostalgia, some bittersweet memories, but mostly there is the sense of distance, that we have grown up and moved on and we are not the same person we were back then. In the years since Oscar’s birth I’ve met women who will never get to experience pregnancy, who have lost their babies, and who have babies struggling to survive in the NICU. I realized that birth is no longer a defining moment for me. I just wanted Aria in my arms.

Seeing Aria for the first time:

The c-section went well. The staff were warm and friendly and funny this time around, whereas with Oscar’s birth things had been a little more rushed and grim. We had medical students and student nurses present this time, which was surprisingly rewarding, and I thought about how much I love being a teacher. Now I was getting to use my body and my birth as a teaching experience. Most of the students had never seen a c-section, and in a strange way I felt like I was giving them a gift.

These are the things that are burned into my memory: joking with the nurses about “C-Section, the Musical,” the kindness of the surgical team, seeing Aria’s face for the first time, watching Darin hold Aria in the OR while they sewed me up, and nursing her in the recovery room, skin-to-skin and covered with warm blankets, the lights dimmed, and my sweet daughter in my arms.

My children were not born naturally or at home, but their birth stories belong to them, and just like Oscar and Aria, they are perfect and unique. I may not having “given birth” to my children, but I gave them life.