As a young girl, I always believed in doctors. That they could help those who are ill and take away their pain. How innocent I was. Because when I found myself, nineteen and in labor, no one could help me.
I wasn’t sure how I had gotten to this point. All I knew was that the searing pain had to stop. Could someone please press the pause button? I wondered how women in all of history before me had gone through this. It boggled my mind. But after 30 hours of labor, I couldn’t focus on the curse of Eve for too long, as pain seared through my abdomen and lower back. With a malfunctioning epidural, I was feeling every contraction in all its glory.
I wanted a baby to hold in my arms, to caress and love. But the intense pain made my “fight or flight” instinct kick in. I felt as though I was fighting for my life. The pain was too much to bear. It needed to stop. I couldn’t do this any longer.
“I’m done,” I told the doctor. I could not push anymore. He took one look at me—the kind of look one gives to an utter fool—and told me that I must continue. I tried again. But after 2 more hours of pushing and no little one in sight, the baby’s heart rate was dropping quickly and the amniotic fluid was getting dangerously low. The baby had to come out. They rushed me to the operating room.
At long last, I received stronger medications and anesthetics to numb the pain, and I finally breathed a deep sigh of relief. I had the pause I so desperately needed. But as they wheeled me into the operating room, I felt a strong need to push—stronger than I had ever felt before. In my drugged up stupor, I said and did nothing. I was just so content to be free of pain.
What if I would’ve tried one last time? This moment would haunt me for years to come.
The operation room was a blur. I kept falling in and out of consciousness, not knowing the next time I would come around. And when I did awake, it was like one of those horrible movies where you keep waking up to the same nightmare again and again. I felt everything. Although it wasn’t pain I was feeling, I felt the knife slicing me open. I could feel their hands inside my abdomen and moving my organs around.
Suddenly, I heard some commotion. “She needs more oxygen,” they yelled. “I’m fine,” I said…until my eyes darted toward my mother. She was an awful shade of gray and looked like she was about to faint. My mother was never good around blood. She got an oxygen mask and her color slowly returned.
Finally, we heard a loud cry. It’s a girl! My mother held her first and didn’t take her eyes off of the baby as they wheeled her to get cleaned up. I heard them counting the incision tools, one by one, to be sure nothing was left inside me. I felt them stapling the incision closed. I passed out yet again.
This time I awoke to annoyingly bright lights and found myself sitting upright, with my arms limply around some man’s neck. Where in the world was I? Where was everyone? I attempted to move away from him but the pain was too great. He told me he was an anesthesiologist and was helping remove the spinal tap from my back. I vaguely remembered him from before my surgery, and then I immediately began to have flashes of what had just transpired in the past 35 hours—it all felt unreal. I passed out once again.
I woke up in a quieter, yet slightly less bright room. My husband was slumped over in a hospital chair in the far corner, sleeping deeply. I suddenly remembered everything, clear as day. I frantically rang the bell for the nurse. My baby! Where was my baby? I wanted to hold her! They brought me my precious baby—the one who I had just fought so hard to bring into this world. She was so tiny and sweet.
Suddenly, I began to feel really nauseous. The nurse quickly grabbed the baby from my arms, as I doubled over and retched out whatever was left inside me. I was extremely thirsty but the nurse cautioned me to take tiny sips since I was not going to be able to handle much fluid after abdominal surgery. I didn’t listen, though, because I was parched. Cold apple juice never tasted as good as it did then. I doubled over again, and threw up the juice I had just drunk. My body kept trying to throw up more, but there was nothing left inside. I promised myself I would listen to the nurse more carefully from then on.
I was determined not to give my baby formula the first few months of her life. I couldn’t give birth naturally, but I wanted to give her the best nutrition I could. As the drugs from the surgery wore off, it became hard to move at all. I couldn’t walk. Getting up from bed was impossible. I tried to feed my baby but she fell asleep often…and so did I. That night, I awoke to my baby screeching. The nurse ran in and asked when I had last fed her. I didn’t know. I was recovering from both labor and surgery and could hardly take care of myself. The nurse fed her some formula. She gulped it down like a starving child. Guilt washed over me. I couldn’t birth normally, and now I could not feed my baby. I felt broken in more ways than one.
Over the next week, I stayed in the hospital to heal. Walking more than 10 steps was a huge accomplishment. I was so weak. Nursing was painful. My body felt like it had been split in half. It took a full two weeks before I could stand up straight.
I wanted a big family. I truly did. I cried when the doctor told me I needed to be on birth control for 6 months to a year. “Ask your rabbi,” he said. “Minimum healing time is 6 months.” The Rabbi said to do as the doctor ordered and to wait the full year.
The year went by quickly. One day, I discovered I was pregnant. I was unsure if the tears I cried were tears of joy, fear, or both.
My doctor told me I had to be careful about gaining weight during my 2nd pregnancy if I wanted to give birth naturally this time. Carbs were the devil. I had to stay away from sugar. But I was pregnant, and I had cravings. Although I gained less weight with this pregnancy than the last, the baby was growing rapidly. A week after my due date, I went in for testing. The baby’s estimated weight was 12 lbs.
“If the 8 lb baby couldn’t come out easily, you won’t be able to birth a 12 lb baby,” the doctor took me into his office. I told him I still wanted to try naturally.
“Please give me a chance to try,” I pleaded. He told me it was too dangerous, especially with a previous C-section. “Do you want to be around for your family—or not?” were the words that ultimately convinced me.
This time around, I entered the operation room vertically. I was hyperaware of my surroundings, and details that I had conveniently forgotten from the previous C-section came flashing back all at once. I saw the familiar bright lights. I knew what this was. I turned around.
“I’m going back home,” I said. “I don’t want to do this again.” I knew how this worked.
It didn’t take much convincing from my mother and the doctor to go back in. There really weren’t any other choices. The baby had to come out. As they curved my back for the spinal tap anesthetic, I started to panic. Because as soon as the spinal tap was inserted, a warm, jelly-like feeling crept down from my chest to my toes, and I lost all sense of feeling in my legs. It’s quite an unpleasant feeling to lose mobility in one’s legs and not be able to walk, yet this is how the anesthetic works to make sure one won’t feel the surgical pain.
They lifted me up onto the bed and tied my hands apart like a cross so I wouldn’t unintentionally touch the open and sterile operation site. I passed out multiple times, and each time I didn’t know if I would come back around. I begged my mother, who was dressed in surgical clothes for sanitary reasons, to keep talking to me so I could stay conscious.
When they were done, they had to switch me to another bed, and they banged my head hard on the bed pole on the way. Although in tremendous abdominal pain, the recovery was quicker this time. I was able to walk soon afterwards. I was even able to attend my son’s bris (who was only 9 pounds in the end), and no one was the wiser. In my mind, I decided that C-sections must be easier when you don’t have to go through labor first. I came to the conclusion that the previous one had been harder because of the grueling and long labor beforehand, and this one was less painful because it was scheduled. But I was so wrong.
Fast forward 2 years later, and I’m pregnant again. This time, I switched to a top doctor and hospital. I wanted the best shot at giving birth naturally. This was my final chance to prove I could give birth naturally, or else my fate of continued C-sections would be sealed. This doctor said he’d try, and we’d see how the pregnancy progressed.
At my 7th month visit, my doctor’s associate saw me instead. After one quick peek at my chart, he looked at me and let me know that I was a liability. There would be no way their practice would allow me to try to birth naturally after two previous C-sections. It was too risky for them.
“Sign here that you’re willing to have a C-section…or switch practices,” he said.
I tried to reason with him. I pleaded and begged for him to give me a chance. But he wouldn’t budge. I thought of switching doctors, but I was scared. Confused and overwhelmed, I signed it. Fear of the unknown can make even the strongest-minded shake in fear. At least it wouldn’t be an emergency C-section after hours of labor.
The section was scheduled a week before my due date, but the moment I entered through the hospital doors, my contractions began. The stress and fear had forced me into labor. I finally reached the dreaded, overly-familiar and eerily sterile room. I paused, because I knew this all too well. I’d done this twice before.
During surgery, I kept spinning in and out of consciousness and throwing up, as they moved around my organs. My mom fainted and needed oxygen again. The spinal tap spread a bit too far up this time, reaching my heart and causing intense pain. It hurt even more as the doctor used his fist on my chest to push the baby out. It felt like they were pulling out a garden hose which doesn’t end.
After what felt like an eternity, it was finally over. The doctor ensured that I didn’t bang my head this time—like I had asked. As they wheeled me to the recovery room, the dizziness became overwhelming. They brought me some apple juice, and the refreshing taste was gone quickly, as the juice came right back up. Although I felt weak, I chose to have my baby room in with me. I wanted to keep my prize—for which I had gone through so much—right beside me.
The next day, as I was nursing my baby in the hospital bed, a nurse entered to take my vitals. I didn’t feel too well. She grabbed the baby from my arms and let me know that she could not room in with me. She said I needed a blood transfusion since I was anemic and I’d lost too much blood. I felt defeated. I had gone through so much, yet it was not over. The thought of getting another person’s blood scared me, and I didn’t want the transfusion. After being on careful watch and eating better for a couple of days, the nurse finally agreed that I didn’t need one anymore.
On the day I was to be released, my doctor came into my room. After some basic questions on how I was feeling, he asked me my plans after leaving the hospital.
“I’m going home,” I said.
“Do you have a nurse?” he asked. “Is your mom coming to help you?” She wasn’t. He wouldn’t sign the release papers until he had confirmation that my mom or a nurse would be helping me. He said I was too weak.
That was the last straw. The tears didn’t stop flowing.
It is now eight years later. My scars have healed completely, but it’s the mental scars that still remain. I’m astonished that I’ve had these three amazing human beings. There are those that physically struggle to have children. My struggle is different. My heart cries for another child, yet my mind won’t allow. You see, next time around there is no question whether I will be having a natural birth or a C-section. It’s a definite surgery. No doctor in any first-world country will allow a woman to give birth naturally after three C-sections. The risks are too great.
Every day that passes I convince myself I will be strong, that I could do it. But I know what it feels like to be on the brink of death, not knowing if I will make it. I’m not that innocent little girl anymore.