A week ago yesterday, I sat in a pre-operation room at Providence Holy Cross hospital in West Hills, California awaiting a C-section to bring forth my second born child, but first born son.
The month, and days, and moments leading up to that morning were anything but joy filled.
There was my fear that he wouldn’t turn.
There was more fear when after trying EVERYTHING he didn’t get any closer to the cephalic position, fear that he’d be the 1 in 10 breech baby with a major or minor birth defect.
Then there was even more fear still about leaving my baby girl behind for 3 to 5 nights.
And finally, there was something beyond fear – humor murdering terror, I’ll call it – at the thought of the surgery itself, my body to be sliced open like a cadaver in anatomy class, my baby to be pulled from my bloody insides, a strange species delivered into a strange land, the cold, hard planet of the operating room. I had weird thoughts like that, I really did, visions of a mutated creature who had chosen me as its host. I realize now that where some are prone to postpartum depression, I teeter on the edge of gestational insanity the entire time I’m pregnant.
When a wiry nurse had finished setting up my IV fluids, I started to cry.
“I’m just so scared,” I sobbed, the mascara I had put on for post op pictures, a surprise benefit to being able to plan my child’s birthday (that’s what I told myself at least), streaked down my face like war paint in the rain.
And then when a new baby was rolled in front of her mama’s “room” next to me, calling out for warmth and love, I cried even harder. This was really happening. I was going to have another baby. I was also going to have major abdominal surgery in minutes. I then expected to see a miserable mother wheeled in next and even murmured under my breath, “I should so not be seeing this right now.”
But what I heard and what I saw, through a crack in the curtain in front of me, was beautiful.
I saw a big burly dad cradling a swaddled infant in his arms, as a bubbly blond baby nurse explained eye ointment and vitamin K shots.
And when I heard the baby’s mother get wheeled into the curtain divided recovery room next to me, I couldn’t help but keep listening. Their soft, calm voices. The mother’s response to her recovery nurse that she had no pain. The sweet muffled grunts of a baby latching for the first time.
I wish I could thank this little family, whose baby’s birthday is shared with my son’s. Their post op moments filled me with so much strength.
After that, I wiped away my tears, took a deep breath, and prepared to drag my IV bag with me down the hallway.
As I was walking in my sheet of a hospital gown toward the double doors of the operating room, I started to shake. It was freezing cold. And despite the gift of perspective from my neighbor family in c-section fun, I was still so very afraid.
I shook through the insertion of the spinal, which after numbing medicine was no more painful than a bee sting.
I continued to shake as they laid me down, fitted me with an oxygen mask, and pulled up a blue sheet to shield me from the gory reality that is this kind of a birth experience.
When I realized I could no longer feel my legs, I started to panic. The cumbersome oxygen mask and blue sheet in my face made me feel like I was about to be buried by the ultimate surgery complication – death.
So I spoke up. The sheet was adjusted. The mask replaced with two buds in my nose. My arms left unrestrained with a promise to keep my hands behind the curtain.
And then my amazing, gracious, beautiful, talented doctor, who described that awkward sheet as “blue sky,” started her work. She had called me the night before, joking that she was a Gynochiatrist when I bawled my eyes out that this wasn’t how Leif’s birth was supposed to go. Up until the moment they cut me, I still had a hard time accepting it.
After some extremely quick sensations of tugging and pulling, Leif began to wail. Unlike his sister’s birth, where silence marked her first seconds of life, Leif came forth into the world a blazing trumpet of sound.
“He’s perfect,” Dr. Long exclaimed, “Stephanie, he’s absolutely perfect!”
When asked if I wanted to do skin to skin then and there, I declined. Something didn’t feel right to me about holding my baby boy for the first time with my innards exposed, blood weeping from me onto the floor. But I did want to see him. To kiss him. And so they held him up for me, all 21 inches, 8 pounds and 10 ounces. And when he was swaddled they brought him to my lips and I kissed his round little face, that back then looked so much like his sister when she was born. But his hair! Dark and thick and almost curly.
Oddly, I had a dream a week or so before Leif was born that in hindsight I should have considrered more seriously.
In it, Levi held up a perfect baby boy, presumably Leif. This stunning child had dark hair and blue eyes, just like the one I was blessed with a week ago. It’s like Leif was trying to tell me through that dream, to “calm the f down mama. I’m going to be okay. And so are you.”
The next phase of surgery didn’t pass as quickly as the first. Levi went with his baby boy into recovery, while I stayed behind to be put back together again. While doing so, I smelled smoke and heard the teaching doctor who I agreed to let attend with his student, explain that they had just found endometriosis on my left ovary and cotarized it away. I was not expecting to get a mini-lap out of the deal! But hey, I’m thrilled they could do some damage control while in there.
It felt like a lifetime before I was reunited with my loves, Levi and Leif. And when I finally had my baby boy in my arms, peace and love and light ran through me stronger than the morphine they’d given me to help numb the pain. Even if he hadn’t been “perfect” in the 5-fingers and 5-toes sense of the word, he Is perfect to me. His latch. His cries. His round face and dark hair. Perfect. The beginning of Leif’s life story was a lesson in letting go of plans and learning to be brave. Leif’s birth may not have been my ideal, but it was exactly what it needed to be.