“When anesthesia was developed, it was for many decades routinely withheld from women giving birth, since women were “supposed” to suffer. One of the few societies to take a contrary view was the Huichol tribe in Mexico. The Huichol believed that the pain of childbirth should be shared, so the mother would hold on to a string tied to her husband’s testicles. With each painful contraction, she would give the string a yank so that the man could share the burden. Surely if such a mechanism were more widespread, injuries in childbirth would garner more attention.” ~ Nicholas D. Kristof
Aren’t I glad the days of witholding anesthesia has passed?
Although some of the nurses at Sunninghill Hospital were amazing, I remember quite distinctly the loud arguing between a couple of them outside my room about the availability of an OR. Aside from being unprofessional, it did nothing to ease the nerves of a young couple anxiously awaiting the arrival of their baby. On the upside, it made us aware that my doctor was aggressively looking to push us in ahead of the queue of already scheduled procedures. He must have succeeded because one minute he told us that the earliest available slot was 12pm and he would be back then and the next minute, an almost-military-type-no-nonsense, short, loveable, auntie-type nurse walked into my room in scrubs and theatre shoes at 9 am and said, “the doctor sent me. it’s time. We are going now.”
She explained a lot about the process on the way to the OR. Once we got there she had a showdown with another nurse about the use of the OR. She was quite the fiesty little human. She won. One of the things I remember quite distinctly after that is her explaining that once the procedure started, her primary focus would be the baby. If the baby needed anything or was not ok in any respect, she would take him away to get immediate attention. If he was fine, she would stay and we would all go back to the room together. I recall taking my husband’s hand right before we went into the theatre and telling him, “if there is anything wrong with the baby and they have to take him away, go with the baby. I will be fine.”
Once we got into the OR, the indignities truly got underway. The room was a hive of activity. A nurse for me and a nurse for the baby (military lady). A couple of other nurses who I can’t classify because I am not sure. 2 surgeons for me. A paediatrician who, believe it or not, was fiddling on his cell phone majority of the time. An anesthetist for me who had the most amazing bedside manner. He was an elderly, wiry man wearing a doek rather than a surgeon’s cap.
The latter got things underway with a spinal block injected directly into my spine while I sat on the bed, bum “to the wind” (think Patricia Bright) holding hubby’s hands. The nurses then settled me onto the bed lifted my gown up to just under my boobies and then spread me out like a butterfly chicken ready for service. Remember how I “cleverly” refused to be shaved in the privacy of my room? Well, the theatre nurse made short work of that. No discussion necesary. Everything was numb from the waist down but my ears stayed warm and toasty for a little while. As soon as that short while passed, I didn’t feel particularly embarrased. Just exposed.
Although they put up a screen of sorts so that I wouldn’t see the gory details, they were no match for YouTube. I already knew that the lights used by the surgeons have a mirror behind them and if you look past the lights, you can watch the whole procedure in high definition detail. That is exactly what I did.
The first cut produced a whole lot of blood followed immediately by the smell of burning human flesh. In response to me asking why the room smelled like an incinerator Surgeon 2 literally sang “this Girl is on fireeeee” (Alicia Keyes) and everyone burst into laughter, myself included. He later explained that they were cauterising the cut. Surgeon 1, my doctor, hardly spoke. He was working quickly and quietly.
My husband took a few photos but he found the whole thing a little too gory. I can’t say I blame him. I have a strong stomach (chuckles) for such things so I watched for as long as I could. They literally moved my organs out of the way and shifted out others. A c-section is not a small thing people! At one point Surgeon 2 had my large intestines in one hand while Surgeon one had his hands buried deep in my other organs. The baby was located and ready to come out. I felt the firm pull and then a second and third from Surgeon 1. He was really wedged in there. Surgeon 2 went in to help. They pulled the opening open a bit wider and both gave a strong pull and whoosh… Out came the baby!
It was a rather intense moment for me because I felt and saw a whole lot of things in one go. It couldn’t have been more than 5 seconds but it felt like a lifetime of things happened in those moments. I actually felt the “thlupp” of the baby coming out of my body and the immediate “lightening” that accompanies it. I saw what appeared to be quite a large baby held high by Surgeon 1. I am almost certain the baby was upside down. The baby was covered in white skin and his little dark eyes were wide open looking right at me. Quite honestly, he looked like a little whitewalker (think Game of Thrones). His eyes were so dark that they looked black. There was a moment of silence and then he screamed at the top of his lungs. His Nurse was ready and waiting to take him.
Things became a bit confusing at this stage because I started to feel disoriented. I could hear my anesthetist calmly talking to me and telling me I was doing great. I could hear the baby crying. I could see Surgeon 2 cleaning out my uterus. It wasn’t in my body. He poured the blood out into a dish held by one of the extra nurses and appeared to wipe the inside with something white. It would explain why I only had 3 days of bleeding instead of the anticipated weeks of the same. I could feel some rather intense pressure in my chest that was not easing up. There was something about the baby’s oxygen levels being said in the background. Military nurse put the baby on my chest for 2 seconds. She was in a hurry because he needed oxygen. I tried to hold him but I couldn’t. I think I kissed him but I’m not sure. I couldn’t engage with the moment because of what I was feeling: sudden exhaustion, relief, wonder, surprise, cusriosity and an ever increasing pressure in my chest. The next second, she, hubby and my little baby were gone.
I started gasping for breath and the room started spinning. It felt like I was having an asthma attack. The visuals faded out at this point. I heard Surgeon 1 say, “Chio, don’t panic. The oxygen levels in your blood are ok.” The last thing I heard was the anesthetist reassuring me that I would be ok and to hang in there. He would give me something to help me breathe… and that was all she wrote. The scene faded to black.
My next memory is being in my room some time later. I was shivering really hard. I was told it was one of the side effects of the anesthetic. I had a catheter and my legs were completely numb. I was also wearing sanitary towels courtesy of the nurses (Did I not tell you that the indiginities were plentiful). There was no baby next to me.
My husband popped in a few minutes later. His excitement was palpable. The baby was ok but he was in an oxygen ‘thingy’ and they would bring him as soon as his oxygen levels were ok. Even though I understood that, I asked “where is my baby” soooooo many times. By the time they brought him an hour later, I was close to tears. I didn’t want food. I didn’t want water. I didn’t want flowers. I just wanted my baby.
Finally, the nurse wheeled my special delivery in his little cot into my room and there he was at last. A whole little baby with a head smaller than my boob, in a ‘Netcare Baby’ hat wearing the outfit I had washed, ironed and meticulously packed into a glad bag labelled outfit 1 more than a month before and he was mine… I couldn’t stop staring.