Just a quick recap from last week’s post:
- Kidney tract infection caused preterm labour at week 34 of my pregnancy
- After four nights in the labour ward, given the all clear to go home
- Morning of home time, the baby goes into distress, placenta failing, lack of oxygen
- Emergency C-section ordered immediately
- Premature baby born at 35 weeks
Of all the stupid, inane thoughts to roll through your head during an emergency, I had some whoppers.
Whopper #1: I can’t give birth now, for goodness sake the nursery is even finished. All we have is a cot and a compactum and a pair of husband-made cloud bookshelves. What about the decorative nappy basket, the bunny shaped cotton wool jar, the cloud shaped night light, the artful strewing of her colour coordinated hand crocheted blanket? What about the princess tray that needed to still be sourced, bought, hung and filled? How can I possibly have a baby and raise her to be a half-decent human being without a frikken bunny and cloud motif tee-pee reading nook in the corner of her room?
And that was just the lack of planning in respect of the nursery. In respect of my person…
Whopper #2: I haven’t shaved my lady bits, I was planning to get my husband to do it (give me a break, I hadn’t even glimpsed the top pube line of my cooch for at least two months) at home in the privacy of my own bathroom with my newly purchased, for this very occasion, lady bits hedger. I haven’t prepared a playlist of soothing yet not naff music that I planned to play in the theatre whilst my daughter made her entrance to the world. I had not yet packed my hospital bag – I have no disposable panties, no breast pads, no motherly yet flattering pyjamas to receive visitors in, no post-birth sanitary pads and no toiletries.
And what about her person?
Whopper #3: Never mind my bag, I have not packed her “go bag”. She will be left naked with nothing to her name. She has no nappies, no preemie baby grows, no cute little anti-scratch mittens, no teeny tiny beanies and absolutely no bamboo swaddling blankets in multiple designs and colours. She will hold my lack of planning against me for the rest of her life as she grows to be as bare on the inside as I had left her on the outside at birth.
And what about work?
Whopper #4: I am still supposed to be at work for another three weeks at least. I haven’t done my hand over, I haven’t wrapped up anything, I am facilitating a workshop on Friday – who but me could possibly facilitate it? How would my client’s business’ survive me exiting earlier than expected? (Obviously, they would and obviously, they did.)
And last but definitely not least of my worry whoppers #5: My daughter is going to be a Cancerian, but she is due to be a Leo like me? I don’t even know anything about people born under the Cancer sign, what if they are unequivocal assholes?
Oh, the unimportant and asinine things your useless pea brain thinks of when you are freaking out.
Thankfully, despite my spiral into the abyss of hysteria and crazy, my husband was with me. And like he had on Saturday night, he channelled his inner Deep Blue yogi and began making plans and coordination solutions with the precision and efficiency of a military commander.
Within twenty-five minutes, my sister was there to hold my hand, my parents had been tracked down, informed of the developments and were dispatched to retrieve a camera to document the birth, Will’s sister had been tasked with assembling a bag for me and a bag for the baby and to get it to the hospital as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, I was wheeled into the theatre before my parents and Meg (my sister-in-law) got there, so I didn’t get to see or talk to them beforehand. The speed at which the surgical team were mobilised was incredible, and an indication of the danger my unborn child was in.
Before my sister arrived, the anaesthetist met with me, did a quick medical history assessment and explained the procedure to me, “You will need to sit dead still as I insert the needle into your spinal column. You will feel a warm sensation and then almost immediately you will no longer feel or have control over your body from the waist down. It should take at least six hours to regain feeling and movement.” He seemed nice in a secretarial AI kind of a way.
Shortly, after my sister arrived the nurse took to my lady bush with her disposable razor (in my defence, I had not seen down there for at least three months and Will and I had an agreement that he would shave down there for me when the time arose). This job was done with the imprecision of a person whose only intention was to clear the area for cutting, not with the purpose of leaving an aesthetically pleasing arrangement. She only shaved half and not even in a straight line or consistent length.
By this point, they had also given me something to take the edge off, relax me and keep me calm. Add to this that my pubic hair design was so far down on the list of things to worry about at this point, she could have shaved my eyebrows off and I probably wouldn’t have given a damn. Probably.
I was then wheeled in my bed, through the hospital corridors, to the surgery ward. As I was going through the doors, I saw my parents and Meg wave from the sidelines. But by this point everything felt quite distant, I was removed, numb, I assume due to a combination of shock and sedatives.
According to Wikipedia: Acute Stress Reaction (ASR) is a physiological condition arising in response to a terrifying or traumatic event. It is characterised by the presence of dissociative symptoms. These symptoms include a sense of numbing or detachment from emotion, a sense of physical detachment, decreased awareness of one’s surroundings, the perception that one’s environment is unreal or dreamlike.
Other sources talk about a feeling of numbness or detachment. That a person may not feel the event’s full intensity right away. This your body’s very real stress response when faced with an overwhelming and or frightening event. An overwhelming and or frightening event, like hearing that your unborn baby maybe suffocating to death and you will be rushed into emergency surgery to perform a C-section to removed said baby from its hostile environment. And to top it all off, your nursery will not have its teepee reading nook finishing touch. Immediate triggering of acute stress reaction.
After lying for a few minutes in a queue of beds all waiting to be wheeled into their allotted operating theatres, my bed reached the front on the queue and I was wheeled into a room and transferred from my hospital bed to the cold hard stainless steel operating table.
As luck would have it, the catheter cannot be inserted post the spinal block, so first I had the pleasure of taking a deep breath and on breathing out a long thin (not thin enough, mind you) pipe being thread up and into my urethra.
Afterwards, I was made to sit on the edge of the table and lean forward slightly. Another deep breath in and out. Hold breath. Sit dead still. While a man you met only forty-five minutes earlier injects a sizeable needle into your spinal cord. Within seconds I experienced a rush of warmth flow from my abdomen down my legs almost simultaneous to me losing all feeling in the same areas.
The medical team laid me back down on the table. I quietly and ashamedly asked one of the nurses if I had wet myself. She smiled kindly and assured me I had not, that I could not, as I had a catheter inserted, it was just a sensation delivered by spinal block taking effect.
Dr Barrow entered the theatre and asked if I was ready. I believe this was a rhetorical question as not only did I not have a choice, he didn’t really care what my answer was. This was happening whether I was ready or not.
Just before surgery began I glanced over to my left and noticed a teenage girl in scrubs and thought to myself; “why is there a child observing my birth?”. At roughly the same time the doctor also noticed her and asked the nurse who she was and why she was in his operating theatre. He, and me by proximity to him, were informed that she was indeed a schoolgirl, no more than seventeen years old, who would be observing my C-section as part of a job shadowing programme. No more questions were asked, no more permission was required. I mean of course job experience, that’s obvious, how silly of me, why wouldn’t my surgical team include a seventeen-year-old redhead with no medical experience? Apart from looking decidedly traumatised the whole time, she successfully blended into the background and so I gave her almost no more thought.
But seriously, is it just me or does this seem inappropriate on numerous levels. I mean, anyone else want to watch me at my most vulnerable and exposed, how about the dude with the sweetie and sandwich trolley? Or the woman in reception checking in for her routine nip and tuck? How about the car guard?
In order to make absolute certain that the spinal block was in full effect, he used a clamp, almost like a pair of pliers, to pinch a fold of my skin (or perhaps more aptly described as a mini fat roll) as hard as he could, whilst asking me if I could feel that. I was lying in a position where a folded sheet placed strategically on my chest obscured my view of anything beyond my boobs. So, with my spinal block in full effect, I was none the wiser to this torturous act and nonchalantly replied, “feel what?”.
Will witnessed this test and to this day he describes this legendary pinch with a mix of awe and queasiness. I wore the bruise I won that day for several weeks after the surgery.
This pinch was the green light for Dr Barrow, let the slicing begin.
A C-section is a weird sensation. You can’t really feel anything solid, which is obviously the whole point of the anaesthetic and thank goodness for that. But you can feel some things. Like pressure and tugging. I knew the procedure was not delicate or gentle as my whole torso was at times rocking from side to side. At one point a bare knee and thigh entered my field of vision, about sixty centimetres from my head, for a not so brief moment I was confused. I stared hard at this knee willing it to reveal why it was there and where its owner was. Only for the anaesthetist with barely masked bemusement to clear up my apparent confusion, “It’s your knee, Leigh. You just can’t feel it.”. I laughed somewhat sheepishly, somewhat detachedly, “Oh right. So weird.”. So weird does not begin to cover the sensation of a spinal block and being awake during a major surgical procedure.
My normally squeamish husband loved every moment of the procedure, to such an extent I felt he should have had a bucket of popcorn and a grape Slush Puppy. At one point he leaned over the bundle of sheets on my chest and exclaimed in excitement, “Boeb, boeb (our unisex joint nickname), your uterus is out of your body and resting on your rib cage!”
It took about fifteen minutes from the first cut to carefully negotiating Isabelle out of my womb and into the world. It was quite surreal, as Dr Barrow held her aloft as if she were Simba and we were all on Pride Rock. She delivered the obligatory wail and was placed onto my chest for our first face-to-face meeting. The most time was spent stitching me back up.
Once again, my plans were chucked out the window. I had envisioned my daughter being placed on my chest, skin-to-skin, and she would stay there all the way to the maternity ward. Instead she lay on my chest for three minutes before she was whisked away to be examined by the Paed, for obviously important and essential reasons.
When a baby is born, regardless of the type of birth, the medical team assess the new-born against a standardised score called APGAR, which stands for activity, pulse, grimace, appearance and respiration. The Apgar score is a simple method of quickly assessing the health and vital signs of a newborn baby. Basically, it is a series of measures and observations which are then graded along a sliding scale from bad to good. The lower the score, the higher the likelihood that the baby will require medical intervention.
Anything above a score of seven is considered normal. Izzy scored an eight. Despite her more than adequate Apgar score, the paediatrician told us he wanted to take her to the NICU briefly to conduct a few additional tests, specifically to test her blood sugar levels. He suggested my husband go with.
He assured me they wouldn’t be long, it was just a standard test and given her solid Apgar score, there should be nothing to worry about.
Twenty or so minutes later, after being stitched back together like a rag doll, I was wheeled into the recovery section.
Maybe five or ten minutes after that my husband found me. For some reason, physical shock post the surgical procedure or a drop in adrenalin post the emergency, I was shivering uncontrollably. Even with several layers of blankets, I felt like I might shake right off the gurney, which was impossible as only the top half of my body was shivering because the other half was still dead to the world.
I realise now, looking back on it that this was actually an awful experience, no one plans for this to be their birth story.
Me: Paralysed from the waist down, unable to be with my tiny (2.3 kg) little girl, left alone to be stitched up with no one to even hold my hand. Moved from one area of the ward to the next as if a carcass being moved around a meat processing plant. No idea what is going on. Somewhat dulled by drugs and the after-effects of shock and still no hand to hold.
Baby: Pulled from the safety of the only world she has ever known into a bright and confusing new world, only to be placed into some level of familiarity with me for a few minutes, before being taken under a bright light to be probed and poked. Only to be put into a bassinette and wheeled away to another bright room with no sense of familiarity or security. No one carried her there, no one cuddled her while she had her tests and no one let her sleep on their chest to hear the familiar sound of a heartbeat.
When Will found me in recovery, he told me that our daughter’s blood sugar levels were dangerously low and that would be staying in NICU for a couple of hours, so they could give her some glucose and monitor her but that they would bring her down to me as soon as they could. So, off I was wheeled to the maternity ward, without a baby.
He also told me that our family who had all been patiently outside the operating ward doors had seen him and Izzy, fleetingly, as she was wheeled past on her way to the NICU.
Once she and her procession had passed by the audience, like some sort of mini Queen Elizabeth impersonator, they had moved on downstairs to the room I was allocated in the maternity ward. So, they were all there waiting for me when I arrived.
They all, immediately, said she looked exactly like Will. Great! Isn’t that what every mom who has just spent the better part of 40 weeks growing a parasite inside of them, giving them everything and taking nothing, wants to hear? Your parasite looks nothing like you, she looks like the person whose only biological contribution to this process was one sperm forty weeks earlier. Fuck it.
One hour passed. Still no baby.
Another hour passed. No baby.
My husband went to find out where she was. Bad news. Her blood sugars were still iffy, her blood platelets were low and she had an infection (most likely a secondary infection contracted from my kidney tract infection), which would need intravenous antibiotics. All of this meant she would need to remain in NICU indefinitely – they couldn’t give a solid time period. Maybe three days, maybe three weeks.
It was clear the doctors were concerned, not very concerned, but concerned enough to make us VERY concerned.
The fact that I could not even stand up and walk up the stairs to see her made me feel so useless, combined with being struck by exhaustion like none I had ever felt before. I ended up going to sleep for a few hours. When I woke up I was started to regain some feeling in my extremities. But still not enough to coordinate movement. Almost like when your leg goes numb from sitting on it, you can feel it kind of and move it kind of but not for any use or function.
Again my plan of having my tiny bundle of joy in a bassinet next to my hospital bed on her first night on earth was foiled. Instead, Baby Tayler’s first night in the world was spent asleep in a machine, attached to wires and drips, lulled by the sounds of beeping, under the watchful eye of a stranger, her nurse Patience.
Definitely not the plan.