I’m taking part in an academic research project that’s looking at the experiences and feelings of women who have experience C-section births. We were asked to take pictures that made us think of our birth experience or that brought up some of the complex emotions that that experience had inspired. Then we were supposed to upload these pictures along with an explanation of the image. This was one of the pictures that I took, and my story.
I desperately wanted to have my twins naturally. I knew that the odds where against that, but I still forced my husband to not just one but TWO “hippy dippy” natural birthing classes. I did all of the exercises to get babies to drop and to get them to turn. I stretched and massaged. I wrote birth plans for both natural deliveries and C-section births. But when I woke up at 2:30 in the morning and saw the blood I knew that my options had changed.
At Labor and Delivery triage, the nurse slowly and calmly looked for the heartbeats of my boys and attached the heart monitors. She chatted about mundane things. Finally she said, “Now I’ll check to see about your bleeding”. When she inserted the speculum the gush of blood soaked the bed and dripped on to the floor. Flustered, she excused herself. Within seconds lights were flashing and people surrounded me. The were taking vitals, inserting IV’s, coming at me with razors and forms to sign. As I was being swiftly prepared for the OR, the Doctor (who wasn’t my actual doctor but the attending on call doctor whom I had never met) came in and introduced herself. She asked if I had any questions. I told her that I had a birth plan and “hold on let me get it for you and we’d really like delayed cord clamping and immediate skin to ski…”. She cut me off and said “If we don’t get these babies out as quick as we can it will be bad news for all 3 of you.” I agreed that “yes, then we should do that, yes, immediately.” I was whisked away to the OR and my husband was sent in another direction to put on his scrubs and wait to be allowed in.
The OR was controlled chaos. There were so many people – the anesthesiologist, the doctor, the surgical team assigned to me, and neonatal teams for each of the babies. The room was literally filled with people – every one of them a stranger. Everyone was organizing, preparing, hurrying – moving in all directions all around me. And I was left sitting alone on the table in the eye of this hurricane of motion and preparation, utterly ignored. All of this was for me, about me, and yet I was invisible. I was enormously pregnant, freezing cold and bleeding profusely – I could feel blood on my legs – I knew I was sitting in a puddle of blood. I didn’t know if my babies were alright. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. When the anesthesiologist finally asked me to hold still and take a deep breath I stared to shake – I was so afraid of that needle, so afraid of what was going to happen next, so afraid for my babies. Out of the corner of her eye the doctor must have seen my tears, or recognized my fear. She stopped her hurried preparations and came over to me. She put her arms around my shoulders and laid her forehead against mine. She held me in her arms and she held me with her eyes. She said quietly “You are doing great, and everything is going to be ok. We’re going to take a deep breath together and then you’re going to feel a pinch. Then I’m going to go and get your babies for you. You are going to hold your babies in just a few minutes. Be brave, mama. I will take care of you. I will care take of all of you.” She held me while the anesthesiologist inserted the needle. She held me until I stopped shaking. She held me until I found my courage.
This picture is my attempt at showing what it felt like to be held by her in that terrifying moment. Held by her arms and by her eyes. I was totally alone and completely helpless. She recognized my fear and she touched me, and held me and comforted me. She became my focal point. In that moment of vulnerability what I remember most is her compassion and her eyes. She became my anchor and I put my life and the lives of my unborn children willing into her hands.
So that I don’t leave you hanging, she did, indeed, go and get my babies. She held my first-born over the sheet and laughed “He’s a big fat juicy one!!” Both of my boys were born angry and squalling and healthy and perfect. I, on the other hand, suffered massive postpartum hemorrhaging and was apparently in dire straights. But, true to her word, she took care of us. Of all of us.