Labor is experienced by each woman differently. No one labor is superior, and no two are equal. April is Cesarean Section Awareness month, and as a repeat c-section mama, COHI feels called to craft an ode to those of us who bear the scars of our labors physically on the outside of our bodies. This celebration of the Cesarean Section is steeped in pride, banishing the shame and dishonor that often accompanies these kinds of birth stories because, put simply, those emotions have no place here. – Sera Bonds
My identical twins, West and Lou, will be two in July, and needless to say, the last two years have been pretty psychedelic. My April horoscope said to expect the unexpected, but I’ve been doing that for a while now. It was a long winter, treating Lou (successfully) for a rare brain tumor. Had that not happened, I would probably be looking back on my pregnancy, delivery, and recovery in a different light – the drama! But because of it, I can now look back with a sense of humor and wonder. Nothing can prepare you for cancer, but having two babies cut out of you at once is a different kind of shock, if not a total romp. Here’s what I remember.
I was determined to have the kind of pregnancy and delivery I kept reading about in the plethora of cool mommy blogs. The empowered, glowing caftan-clad pregnancy where I did yoga until the very end and planned every detail of what was going to be a perfect, if not orgasmic, home birth. Well. I lost my first pregnancy and, somehow, two months later, I was pregnant again, naturally, with identical twins. “I didn’t read that chapter in the book!” I said to my OB, “Can I still have them at home in my bathtub?” Nope. I was considered high risk and they were sure to come early. Guess we weren’t going to be listening to Joni Mitchell and lighting sage.
The first trimester was a Cyclone ride of double morning sickness so extreme the only thing that could have prepared me for it was that one time in my twenties when I got so drunk I could have sworn the bar was moving. And then there was the hunger! So intense if I didn’t satisfy it immediately I swore I could feel claws scratching my insides.
I did enjoy a brief golden period, but by seven months the honeymoon was over. I stopped taking the subway because I could no longer walk up the stairs and then I left my job so I could eat in peace. By eight months, nothing at Destination Maternity fit me, leaving my mother, who was walking with a cane due to a foot injury, to wave said cane in the saleswoman’s face yelling, “This is a travesty!” She used to be an actress.
So I put myself on bed rest. Maybe it was the cult-leader look I was rocking, or the fact that I couldn’t move out of my big red chair, but friends came to “Pay respect to the Great Mother!” and they would just tell me all their problems. I should have charged them. Unable to hug them goodbye, I’d pat them on the head, absolved of their sins.
Days shy of 38 weeks, full term for twins. The babies, gigantic, were nowhere near coming out. I had been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, and my fingers were polka-dotted with the needle pricks needed to monitor my glucose levels. All I wanted was cake. All I could have was the South Beach Diet. I was ready to get the show on the road, and I was somewhat relieved when the doctors scheduled me for induction.
We were due at the hospital at midnight. My husband, Ian, was more nervous than I was, pacing the apartment after dinner, while I drank a glass of red wine, attached my nipples to the breast pump and even tried moving all 215 pounds of me to the Bee Gees. Still nothing.
By the time we got to the hospital, though, I was really excited. “Let’s get this party started!” I sang to the resident. “I’ve performed a dozen c-sections today,” he told us, blank faced, as he assembled the Foley balloon that was going to open my cervix. What a party pooper. To spite him, I refused the epidural he was convinced I needed, and as he opened me up I sang Bollywood songs with my doula, Odile, and we made fun of Ian who was snoring in the corner.
It really never occurred to me that the induction wouldn’t work. I kept my good spirits throughout the night, as an endless stream of expressionless nurses and residents came in and out, adjusting the Petocin levels. I watched the double heart beats and slipped in and out of sleep.
But then the sun rose and I knew nothing had changed. My OB showed up with what looked like knitting needles to break my water. “No!” I gasped, “I do not need to feel that, I will take the epidural now.” The prick of the spine followed by my seeping water is a blur. I pretended I was in a bathtub, listening to Joni Mitchell.
I’m sure they discussed it with me but I don’t remember them telling me that my cervix wasn’t opening, and that West was wrapped around the umbilical cord. I do remember them all in their scrubs gathering in what looked like a prayer circle. Was I going to die?
Everything I had never done flashed before me, the album that didn’t go platinum, and the novel I would never write. Oh what an egomaniac you are, Alexa. The voices in my head I would never learn to shut up!
I signed something, and then they wheeled me in. The screen went up, but I knew what they were doing behind it, I had seen the movie. My OB asked me if I minded if he removed a mole on my hip that looked cancerous. “Sure,” I said, rolling my eyes at Ian.
I remember the pressure when they pushed down, I thought of the time the waves took me under in Montauk and my boyfriend was mad that we hadn’t lost our virginity yet. I heard West’s cry. Tears blurred my vision. “Go, fast! Put your hands on him so he feels you!” I said to Ian. Then Lou. I couldn’t see them when they brought them to me, I was crying and shaking so hard from the anesthesia, but I made sure my cheek touched theirs.
And then they were gone. I lay there staring at the bright lights, shaking. Someone wheeled me out and there were my parents, each holding a small bundle, and Ian, smiling. Was I really still alive? It was a bad dream. I held West and Lou but had to give them back as I was shaking so hard and everything was blurry.
Next thing I knew I was in a bed next to a woman watching Jerry Springer, fighting with her baby daddy over the name on their baby’s birth certificate. Nurses came in to tell me things but I didn’t understand them. I fell asleep. When I woke the sun streamed in from Central Park and it took me a minute to remember where I was. I heard babies crying and I was overtaken with an animal urge so strong I thought I might have turned into a wolf over night. “Where are my children?!”
I won’t get into how long it took me to secure a wheel chair, or the pain that overtook me when I tried to get up, or the pain I felt when I saw my babies in the little incubators, under observation for high blood sugar. I was mad that my parents held them before I had, I was just mad at everyone. I was mad that I had been cut in two and I was mad that I didn’t get my Joni Mitchell make-out session in the bathtub.
Almost two years, a lot of sleepless nights and one brain tumor later. We are here. I still look a little pregnant, due to a severe diastasis from carrying such huge babies, and my incision scar is crooked, with a delightful flap of skin folded over it. I’m getting used to it. My OB called it my red badge of courage. He had such a way with words! But here’s the thing. It took me a long time to be okay with my story. It didn’t look like any of the stories I had read and I felt for a long time that somehow I had failed.
But looking back it was the greatest lesson.
Expect the unexpected is what I tell all my pregnant friends. At the end of the day, you get your baby, or babies in my case. That's all that matters.