By Bridget Lester
I’ll never forget my C-sections, my births.
When I look into the eyes of my children, the way they entered this world never crosses my mind; but deep within the hidden treasures of a mother’s heart, I’ll forever hold their birth stories close.
I would describe my first two C-sections as “clinically disconnected.” From the emergency first to the pre-planned second, they were conducted very similarly in their calculated, routine, businesslike schedule. First the cold operating room, then the surgery, a quick glimpse at my baby before they were whisked to the NICU for observation, stitched up, rolled to the recovery room. There I would wait hours, or days in one case, to hold my baby, who by then felt quite like a stranger. Then we would go home and I would continue the pattern I learned at the hospital: mechanically going through the motions of caring for my baby, and hanging on until those sweet moments of bonding began to slip in to our days. A few months later, I would be madly in love with my little baby, healed from surgery, and all was well again. I never knew it could be different, until….
On a hot August morning in 2015, I rolled up to the hospital with my belly, my mom (my doula) and my husband. They gathered protectively around the hospital bed, my husband holding my hand and my mom conversing confidently with the nurses. Immediately, a sense of safety and peace washed over me. My wonderful doctor walked in and as we began talking about the birth ahead, I took a deep breath and prepared to make what felt to my like a Mount Everest of a request.
“Can we… try skin to skin right after she’s born?”
Without missing a beat, she smiled warmly and replied “I don’t see why not!” (As if it were absolutely normal for a mom to want to hold her baby after birth!) I was stunned, elated, thrilled.
They rolled me into the cold operating room and immediately I braced myself for the wave of nervous shakes to take over my body and the reprimands from a nurse to keep still for the spinal tap. Instead, an angel of a nurse glided over and wrapped a fluffy blanket around me that felt like it had come straight from the sunshine outside. “Here, just pretend like you’re hugging me!” She smiled kindly, and as the spinal tap proceeded, the shakes never came.
The moments before little Evie arrived were absolutely golden. My mom stayed right beside me, reassuring me and holding my hand. The atmosphere felt anything but coldly clinical, as we waited with breathless anticipation to hear that little cry. Instead of emotionally numb and vulnerable, I felt relaxed and protected. And few moments later…
She was here! I watched through a clear curtain (another first!) as she was lifted into the air, Lion King style! And then before I knew it…caring hands laid her gently her on my chest. This tiny, beautiful, perfect human being who just moments before had been dancing within me, was now pressed warmly up against my heartbeat. My mom tucked us in together, adjusting our blankets and snuggling Evie tighter to me, ensuring that nothing disturbed our bubble of bliss. I couldn’t believe how instinctual and euphoric it felt to hold her so close, just moments after being born. It felt like we had been on a long journey together and this…this was like coming home.
When the surgery was over, they wheeled us back to our room and settled us in, as the nurses cooed over our little bundle and made us feel like the Queen and Princess of the hospital! I didn’t have to wait for that feeling of absolute adoration to come softly over weeks this time. I didn’t feel alone and unsure, waiting for hours alone in a hospital bed wondering if they would bring my baby back to me. The usual pain of C-section recovery was there of course, but it was no longer a pain in my heart also. I finally felt the magic of BIRTH…the redemption of the experience that makes you a mother again each and every time.
Each birth is its own story, with its own trials and triumphs and lessons to teach. Our experiences don’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. What the differences between my births taught me is how much a few small things can make a world of difference. Having caregivers who support you, believe you, and honor your autonomy. Having a doula to make you feel heard, safe, and supported when you can’t always advocate for yourself, and in those crucial moments is there to comfort you and give the utmost care to you and your baby. Birth is sometimes glossed over as an experience that will deeply impact your psyche, and being surrounded with people who are WITH you and FOR you is one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself, your partner, and your baby!
A baby is not the only one who is born at your birth: a mother is too. And if she arrives at this transformation in a place that is safe, supported, designed to celebrate her journey and her baby…her greatest love story will unfold with a bright beginning.