I’ve always been fascinated by birth stories.
Even back in the days when I was very sure I’d never have one of my own to share, childbirth seemed like such an extreme thing to go through – for both good and bad reasons – that I’d read every birth story I came across, and be absolutely amazed that the women writing those stories had lived to tell the tale.
My own birth story (Or Max’s rather: I mean, I like to think I have a pretty good memory for details, but I don’t actually remember my own birth…), however, is slightly different from most of the ones I’ve read: in fact, given that I had an elective c-section, I know there are some people who’d argue I can’t really call it it a birth story at all.
I didn’t go into labour, or have contractions.
My water didn’t break dramatically in the middle of the supermarket. (Which was something I’d feared since day one, even although I never actually GO to the supermarket. To be honest, if my water was going to break anywhere, it would probably have been in IKEA…)
I didn’t suffer hours on end of pain, or physically push a baby out of my body: instead, I turned up at the hospital on the designated day, walked myself into the operating theatre, and, around 20 minutes later, I had a baby.
Pretty trippy, huh?
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Max’s birth story, then, may not be the most typical kind of birth story: it is, however, the story of the day our beautiful boy was born, and, despite my fears, I did live to tell the tale. So here it is… (With apologies for the length: you wouldn’t really have expected anything different from me though, would you?)
Max Miaoulis was born at 11:51am on a snowy December morning, at the very end of the year.
The previous day, I’d gone into hospital for my “clerking” appointment: they’d taken blood, measured me for the surgical stockings I’d have to wear during and after the operation, and given me a small package of pre-op meds: one antacid pill to take at 10pm that night, and another which I was instructed to take at 6am the next morning, along with two energy drinks:
I was also told to fast (other than water) from 2am onwards, and to not even have water after I’d taken my meds on the morning of the surgery. Everyone I encountered at the hospital over the next two days made a huge deal about how hungry I was going to be, but honestly, I already felt so sick with nerves that I had my doubts about how I was even going to manage to choke down those two drinks. (Also, my surgery was scheduled for 9am, and not eating between 2am and 9am isn’t really “fasting” as far as I’m concerned: it’s just “night-time”…)
Everything already felt totally surreal to me by this point. It so happened that my friend Mhairi had had a baby the day before, in the same hospital: she and her husband were getting ready to leave just as we arrived, so we managed to duck out of our appointment and go and meet them in the hospital corridor, to quickly say hello to the new baby, who was absolutely gorgeous.
“Can you believe we’re going to have one of those by this time tomorrow?” I asked Terry, as we walked back to the ward. No, Terry could not believe it: and I DEFINITELY couldn’t – in fact, I was so sure something was going to go catastrophically wrong (Context: tokophobia) that, while I’d stopped short of making a will, I had left him with a bunch of instructions for my untimely demise. Stuff like, “Burn my diaries without reading them,” and, “Play Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now at the funeral,” – that kind of thing. Well, you can’t be too well prepared, can you?
Anyway! The rest of the day passed in a complete, “I’m having a baby tomorrow” blur. We visited Terry’s mum, then had a visit from my parents (I was obviously assuming that this was the last time I would ever see all of these people, so I was a complete emotional wreck…). I decided I’d like a bacon roll, as a kind of, “The condemned woman ate a hearty meal,” kind of thing, but the shop we stopped at had sold out, so that was just BRILLIANT, obviously, and TOTALLY a sign that everything was going to go wrong, I mean, OBVIOUSLY, right?
(Yeah, complete wreck. Also, oh hey, look, I’m 769 words into this, and I’ve still not even got to the day of the birth! Could someone please hand me a grip, here?)
Anyway, back at home I had a huge plate of pasta for dinner, plus a baked potato (I’d been instructed to have lots of carbs, and I was happy to comply with that…) and Terry and I spent our last night as a family of two binge-watching This Is Us (Which is awesome, seriously. Like, I don’t know why you’re reading this rambling blog post, when you could be watching it, instead?), before heading to bed at around 11pm.
I REALLY didn’t think I’d sleep much that night, but sometimes when I’m facing something really, really scary, I enter a strangely calm stage right before it, so I actually did get a few hours sleep, before waking up at around 5am, an hour before my alarm. I lay in bed for a while, mulling over the thought that this was the day I was going to have a baby and/or die, until it was time to get up and take the rest of my meds.
The two drinks tasted like very cheap candy, and I only made it through one and a half bottles before my churning stomach forced me to stop. Then I had a quick shower, got dressed in my trusty maternity leggings and top, and it was time to go. OMFG.
I can clearly remember walking downstairs, thinking with every single step that the next time I did this, I’d have a baby (Or I’d be dead, and this would be the LAST! TIME! EVER! that I’d walk down the stairs in my house: woe! Drama!). I had a brief freak out in the kitchen doorway, when I burst into tears and told Terry that, actually, you know what, I absolutely, positively could not – and WOULD not – do this, but he gently prised my fingers off the doorjamb, and steered me out to the car. (Last time I’d ever get into a car! Last time I’d ever buckle a seatbelt! The drama is STRONG in this one, folks…)
It was still pitch dark outside, and had snowed overnight, which made the drive to the hospital feel every bit as surreal as everything else at that point. Once there, we parked outside Labour & Delivery, unloaded my three hospital bags (Two for me, one for the baby. I barely even opened any of them…), and headed inside. “Big day today, then!” said a woman we passed in the corridor, nodding at our collection of bags. I only managed a weak smile in response, but at least I managed to refrain from saying, “YES, I’M HERE TO DIE!” which is what I was thinking, so at least that’s something.
We headed upstairs to the maternity ward, which was in complete darkness, with a bunch of nurses milling around looking confused. “We’re not quite ready for you yet,” one of them told us, before showing us into a waiting room, which had obviously been used for Christmas dinner: there was a long trestle table with a Christmas-themed cloth on it, a tree blinking away in the corner, and a general air of, “I’m trying to be festive, because it was Christmas this week, but, actually, I’m a hospital waiting room, so ain’t nothing I can do to be even remotely ‘festive’, no matter how many Christmas baubles you throw at me: sorry!”
I’d been told there were three c-sections scheduled for that morning, and, sure enough, we were soon joined by two other couples, all looking every bit as nervous as I felt.
“No one has nearly as many bags as you!” hissed Terry, who had taken issue with my over-packing.
“No one needs as much makeup as me!” I replied – which was a truth I felt should be self-evident, given that I was sitting there looking like Casper the Friendly Ghost. GOD.
So, we waited.
Then we waited some more.
We waited so long, in fact, that it became painfully obvious that I would not be having my surgery at 9am – which was unfortunate because I knew that the longer I had to wait, the more nervous I’d get. I’d been promised I’d be first in the queue (Assuming there were no emergencies that day, which would obviously take priority) for this very reason, but the hospital staff had seemed almost surprised to see us, which made me wonder what else would go wrong.
“It’ll be the private room,” I told Terry, grimly. “What do you want to bet they don’t have a private room?”
So, because of my tokophobia/fear of hospitals, my doctor had very kindly arranged for Terry to be allowed to stay overnight in the hospital with me – which was obviously going to necessitate me being given a side room. (In Scotland, partners are not normally allowed to stay overnight, and you can’t pay for a room or book one in advance, unfortunately, otherwise I’d happily have done that.) I’d been promised over and over again that this fact was all over my notes, and that the staff on the ward would know all about it – so, obviously I was totally convinced that, no, they wouldn’t, and that they wouldn’t have a side room for me.
They did not have a side room for me.
Or, rather, they DID – but they refused to give it to me, saying that, as I was having a c-section, I’d have to be on a communal ward, so they could keep a closer eye on me. No, the promise of a side room was NOT recorded in my notes, I was told, so, instead, I was shown to a bed in a crowded ward, with barely any room between it and the next bed, and definitely no room for Terry to stay overnight.
Yeah, I cried.
I’m embarrassed to admit it, because I realise it makes me sound like an absolute princess, but I’d had months of counselling to try to help me deal with my fear of the hospital, and the only thing that had actually helped me was the promise that I’d be given a private room. I was absolutely horrified by the thought of having to be on a communal ward after the surgery, when I knew I’d be at my most anxious, and I had no idea how I’d cope on my own with a new baby, when I presumably wouldn’t even be able to get out of bed.
So, yeah, it was not my finest hour – and it got worse when I was handed a package consisting of two surgical gowns, a pair of white knee socks, and cardboard box, and instructed to change into the clothes in the ward’s shared toilet, and – oh yeah, if I could just pee in that box, too, that would be grand.
I did as instructed, leaving Terry to try and argue my case with the head nurse – who was clearly not for budging. Thankfully, though, by the time I emerged, wearing one surgical gown on my front, and another on my back, like a cape, Terry had persuaded her to call my doctor, who’d been all, “For the love of God, give this woman a side room, like we arranged weeks ago!” (When I saw her the next day, she told me she’d wanted to beat her head against the desk when they told her they were trying to put me on a ward…) and I was finally shown into a room.
I had never looked sexier:
(Excuse the emoji – my face was so swollen by this point that I almost burst into tears when I saw this photo…)
At this point, I was introduced to Katie, who’d be my midwife while I was on the ward. (And who confirmed that she’d seen my notes, and that yes, the instructions about Terry staying with me WERE all over them…) She was absolutely lovely, and really made me feel like I was in safe hands, so I started to calm down just a little bit. By this stage, though, it was well past 9am, and Katie told me one of the other women had been taken down to theatre before me (I think there had been some concern about her baby when they’d done the ante-natal check, so she’d been taken as an emergency), so my surgery had been pushed back. While we waited, Katie did a final check on the baby, and we heard his heartbeat for the last time (This made me really emotional: I just couldn’t believe we were actually about to meet him, after all this time…), before sitting down to wait.
And take photos of the sign on the bathroom door:
(It’s the choice of an exclamation mark rather than a question mark that intrigues me here. It’s not, “Worried about passing a poo?” it’s, “Worried about passing a poo!” Which is an oddly jaunty way to phrase this particular issue, don’t you think?)
I took this opportunity to message my parents, who I knew would be almost as anxious as I was at this stage, and then Terry and I sat side by side on the bed, watching the snow fall outside the window, and trying to come to terms with the fact that we were about to become parents – like, REALLY soon.
(I never did come to terms with this, by the way. I was still 100% convinced that one or both of us – me and the baby, I mean, not me and Terry – was going to die…)
I’d been worried about the effect any delay in proceedings would have on my mental health, but, as it turned out, the time passed really quickly (Mostly due to the 345,875 trips I made to the bathroom…), and before long, Katie was back, this time with a hospital porter, who, she said, would be taking my bed down to the labour suite. This totally confused me – like, who were they giving my bed to, and where would I sleep after the operation? – until Terry told me they were taking it there so that I could be put into it after the surgery. Which was, it seemed, imminent.
Sure enough, a few minutes later, Katie was back.
“Are you ready to do this, then?” she asked, smiling. And honestly, I considered saying “no”. That didn’t really seem to be an option, though, so, instead I followed her out of the room, and she, Terry and I walked down to the Labour Suite. At this point, I finally got the answer to one of my many hospital-related questions: would I have to walk through the public part of the hospital in my surgical gown and socks, or was there, perhaps, a network of secret passages for this kind of thing, a bit like in the Magic Kingdom?
Guys, it was NOT like the Magic Kingdom.
Nope, I did a walk of shame – I will refer you at this point to the #OOTD photo above – through what felt like many miles of hospital corridors, plus a ride in one of the lifts. I’d ordinarily have been mortified by this, but hey! I was on my way to
certain death have a baby, so bad fashion was the least of my worries, really.
(On a related note, I think I know EXACTLY how Anne Boleyn must have felt as she walked to her execution. She was probably a bit better dressed than me, though…)
Once in the labour ward, we were shown into the room I’d visited a few weeks earlier during my tour of the ward, and Katie handed me over to another midwife, who’d be looking after me during the procedure. I really wish I’d paid more attention to this woman’s name, because she was absolutely fantastic, but I could barely remember my own name at this point, so… yeah. Anyway, the midwife gave Terry a set of scrubs to change into:
(How come he got to look good in his outfit, while I looked like a blimp in mine? Also, thanks to whoever named surgical clothes “scrubs” for ensuring I went into theatre with TLC’s ‘No Scrubs’ playing on a loop in my head. Sing it with me, folks: “No! I don’t want no scrubs! A scrub is a guy who ain’t gettin’ no love from meeee…“)
Next up, the anaesthetist came in to
scare me rigid speak to me. I’d actually requested – and been promised – that I not be taken through the risks of the procedure yet again, because I knew it wouldn’t be helpful at that stage, but, yeah, she totally went through all of the risks of the procedure again, and, yeah, as soon as she left the room, I burst into tears and told Terry I wasn’t going to be able to go through with it, so could he just take me home now, yes?
Er, NO was the answer to that.
Which was honestly a bit of a bummer, really.
A few minutes later, though, the surgeon appeared to talk to me. I’d hoped my regular doctor would be performing the surgery, but she was working in another hospital that day, so instead I got Maeve, who was absolutely lovely, and who managed to talk me down from the mental ledge I was on. She asked at this point if I wanted her to talk me through the procedure as she was doing it, but my answer to that was a firm NO. I was just all, “Do what you have you do, but don’t tell me what that is.” I mean, I was pretty clear that she was going to cut me open and extract a baby: what more did I need to know, really?
Finally, it was GO time.
I walked into the theatre, which was weird in itself: most people don’t actually see the inside of an operating theatre, as they’re normally unconscious by that point, but I was very much awake, and had to make an effort not to look around too much – I didn’t want to see any of the surgical equipment that was about to be used on me!
The room was really cold, and seemed to be filled with people. I’d been warned in advance that there would be a lot of people present, but I was still a bit surprised by it, although I guess it was reassuring in a way to know there were plenty of people there to keep an eye on me, and to shout, “We’re losing her! Give me 20mls of epinephrine, STAT!” when necessary.
(I really wanted Shaun Murphy from The Good Doctor to be there. He was not. Because that’s just TV, apparently.)
As soon as we got into the room, I was taken over to the operating table (This was actually my first surprise, as it was a narrow bench, not the large dining table affair I’d been imagining…), and divested of my underwear, plus one of my two surgical gowns, before being helped up to sit sideways on the table. At this point I was painfully aware that I was flashing my bare butt to a room full of people, but honestly? I had other things on my mind – and no, I’m not talking about that TLC song, or the absence of Dr Shaun Murphy…
At this point, I was given a pillow to hold, and instructed to kind of crouch over it, so my back was as steady as possible. I’d already been talked through exactly what would happen during the surgery, so I’d expected this part, but not the next bit, where my back was sprayed with some kind of freezing cold mist (Some kind of antiseptic, I think), and a plastic sheet was stuck onto it. (Another one of these was later attached to my torso, apparently, although I knew nothing about that one. As it turned out, I had some kind of allergic reaction to the adhesive they used on these, and was horribly itchy for around 24 hours after the operation, with an attractive rash on my torso and back: up until then, I’d always answered “no” to the “any allergies?” question you’re asked constantly when you’re pregnant, so it figures my very first allergy would turn out to be something surgery-related!) Terry was shown to a seat right in front of me (Partners aren’t normally brought into theatre until the spinal block is in place, but the hospital had made an exception for us, in the belief that he would help keep me calm. Well, he did his absolute best, bless him, but he looked so terrified all the way through it that I felt like I should be comforting him instead…), and everyone seemed to crowd around me while the anaesthetist examined my back, ready to administer the spinal block. While this was happening, someone else was putting a venflon into the back of my hand (Everyone told me this would be the most painful part of the procedure, but I honestly don’t remember anything about it…), and attaching various monitors and tubes to me, and it all got a bit much, at which point I burst into tears: #GIRLBOSS.
Luckily, my midwife was absolutely fantastic, as I said. Her job was to basically keep an eye on me during the surgery, and make sure I was as happy/comfortable as possible. As soon as she saw that I was getting distressed, she made everyone take a step back, and give me a few minutes to calm down. I was really embarrassed, particularly given that I didn’t really know WHY I was crying (Or not exactly, anyway: I mean, I knew I was so paralysed with fear that they probably wouldn’t need the spinal block, but I didn’t know why the tears came at that exact moment…), but everyone was so kind, and gave me a moment to get a grip, before they got back to work.
First of all, the anaesthetist injected local anaesthetic into my back: it was sore, yes, but no more so than any other injection/blood draw, really. It obviously worked, too, because I didn’t feel the spinal go in AT ALL: I just knew it was done because – and this is weird – my butt started to feel hot, quickly followed by my legs, which got warm and tingly from the toes up: such a weird feeling!
As soon as the tingling started, I was moved onto my back. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t realise that the bench I was on was designed to tilt to the side, so I thought I was about to roll off it, and let out one of my patented Silly Girl Squeals, which made everyone laugh. So, yeah, I was acquitting myself MARVELLOUSLY at this point, I really was…
So, they put me on my back, and started to put up the screen that would stop me seeing what was going on once the surgery got started. My next surprise was the fact that the “screen” was partly just my own hospital gown, hooked up in front of me, at chest level: as they pulled it up, I noticed that it was spattered with blood, and had a horrible moment when I thought I was wearing someone else’s dirty gown, before Terry – who was seated at my head – told me the blood was from the spinal: whoops!
By now, my legs were feeling seriously tingly. The anaesthetist asked me to raise them off the table, and I was absurdly disappointed when I only managed to lift them a couple of inches (My ab muscles have never been that great though, tbh…) – which was obviously stupid of me because that was kind of the whole point, Amber, D’UH. In all of my anticipation of the c-section, though, I’d totally failed to consider how my health anxiety would play out in theatre, and, when it came down to it, I actually found it quite frightening to be paralysed from the chest down, and unable to feel/move my legs – in fact, I had to work really hard to fight the impulse to try to wiggle my toes all the time, just to see if I could. I even did a panicked, “I CAN’T FEEL MY LEGS!” speech to Terry a couple of times – he was just like, “Dude, you REALLY don’t want to be able to feel anything AT ALL down there right now – trust me…”
While everyone busied themselves around me, attaching me to more drips and monitors (I mean, it felt like there were dozens – I think there was just the one drip, though!), and doing God knows what else, the anaesthetist started to do more tests to make sure the spinal block had worked properly. This involved her basically spraying my body with cold water, and asking me to tell her when I could feel the coldness of it. This was actually pretty tricky, because she’d told me I would always feel the water itself – it was the temperature she wanted to know about, and, me being me, I got a bit panicky about this, and kept worrying about getting the “wrong” answer. A lot of the time I just couldn’t work out whether what I was feeling was cold or not, so it was a bit like when you go to the opticians, and they’re all, “Is it better with this lens, or with this one?” and you become quietly convinced that they’re not actually changing the lenses at all, but are just trying to catch you out.
Or is that just me?
Anyway, because of my dithering over whether the water I was feeling was cold or maybe just lukewarm, I suspect this part took a bit longer than it really needed to, but soon enough the anaesthetist declared herself satisfied, and we were ready to start – or I assume so: I wasn’t actually told when they’d begun the procedure, which is how I’d wanted it to go – I couldn’t feel anything at all, other than my body occasionally being moved around, but then, after a few seconds, I started feeling really nauseous, which panicked me a bit, because I was lying on my back, and I REALLY didn’t want to throw up. Luckily, though, as soon as I mentioned this to the midwife (Who was at the opposite shoulder from Terry), she sprang into action. “We’re on it!” she told me cheerfully, then they added something to the drip, and instantly – INSTANTLY – the nausea disappeared. Wish I’d had whatever that was during the 1st trimester, that’s all I’m saying…
The nausea may have gone, however, but now I had another issue: THE SHAKING.
I just could not stop shaking.
I’m not sure if it was from the cold (I’m told the operating theatre is always freezing, although I wasn’t actually aware of it), the anxiety, or, well, THE DRUGS, but both arms started shaking uncontrollably, and I just couldn’t make it stop. I remember all I could say for the first part of the procedure was, “I can’t stop shaking! I can’t stop shaking!” I said this so often I think I freaked Terry out a bit, as he had no idea what to do to help me: I was (stupidly) worried they wouldn’t be able to go ahead with the surgery if I couldn’t stop myself shaking, but, of course, my lower body was completely still – and, unbeknown to me, they were almost done at that point anyway. (In every c-section story I’ve read, the woman writing it has said how quickly it went: to me, it actually felt like it took a really long time. I remember asking Terry if there was something wrong, because it seemed to be taking so long. “Would they all be chatting and laughing if there was something wrong?” he asked, and sure enough, although I couldn’t focus on what they were saying, I could tell that the surgical team were all chatting away, almost as if they weren’t just about to pull a live human from my body, so that was comforting…)
“I know you don’t want to be told what’s happening,” the midwife said suddenly, around 10- 15 minutes in, “But there’s a bit coming up that you need to be prepared for…”
At this, the surgeon stuck her head over the curtain.
“That part’s coming up right now,” she said, cheerfully. “Brace yourself!”
The next second, I felt a huge pressure bearing down on my chest. I’m not going to lie – it was absolutely terrifying: even more so because it wasn’t something I’d read about in any of the many, many c-section birth stories I’d read, so I totally wasn’t expecting it. The pressure continued, though, and I started crying – not in pain, really, just in sheer terror: at one point I remember thinking, “They obviously don’t realise how hard they’re pushing down, but they’re going to break my ribs if they don’t stop…” Pretty freaky, really.
“I can’t breathe!” I sobbed, dramatically. “I can’t breathe!” (I totally could breathe, by the way: I was just panicking…) “I really can’t do this!”
And then, all of a sudden, a baby started crying.
Oh. My. God.
On the way down to theatre, the midwife had warned me that c-section babies don’t always cry when they’re born, and that I shouldn’t panic if he didn’t. Max, however, came into the world – to the strains of Uptown Funk, incidentally – screaming. And it was the best sound I’ve ever heard – or ever WILL hear – in my life.
“Congratulations!” said the surgeon, peering over the curtain. “He’s absolutely gorgeous!”
I couldn’t reply though, because as soon as that cry rang out, I started SOBBING – these giant, uncontrollable sobs of relief that he was here, and he was – judging from what I could hear – safe. It was the best feeling in the world: I totally forgot about my shaking arms, and the fact that my body was presumably open to the elements at that point: I just lay there and sobbed, until the surgical team all started laughing, and telling me to stop making them so emotional.
Our hospital does delayed cord clamping, so there was no dramatic, “baby being lifted over the curtain moment,” which I was a little bit disappointed about.
“Look at all that hair!” I heard someone say, so I asked Terry if he wanted to take a look.
“Does he look like you?” I asked him. Terry, however, was also in tears at this point, so he just stood up slightly and took a quick look over the curtain.
“He has black hair,” he managed to say through his tears, as he sat back down, (He actually has dark brown hair – it just looks black a lot of the time!) and then we both cried a bit more as we waited to meet our little boy. I think this was probably the hardest part of the whole thing, and probably the biggest downside to having a c-section: as soon as he was born, I just wanted to hold him, but while it only took a few minutes for them to finish cutting the cord (They cut it long, then offer the father the opportunity to cut it shorter afterwards: Terry wasn’t bothered about that, though…) etc, it felt like forever.
A few minutes later, though, the midwife appeared at my side again, clutching the most precious little bundle ever:
Max’s face all was squashed from being in the womb (He changed so much just in the first couple of days!) and bright red from crying (He also had a touch of jaundice when he was born, which cleared up on its own), but he was hands down the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. There wasn’t enough room for him to lie on my chest, but the midwife held him next to me, and I was able to reach out and stroke his soft little cheek, before he was whisked off to recovery to be cleaned, weighed and checked over. Terry went with him (He had offered to stay with me, but I wanted him to go with the baby), and I endured the longest few minutes of my life while they were gone: I’d stopped shaking now, and I honestly couldn’t have cared less what was happening on the other side of the curtain – all I could think about was my beautiful baby boy, and how I just couldn’t believe he was actually here. A nurse took Terry’s seat while he was gone, to keep an eye on me: I think she was chatting to me about New Year’s Eve, or Christmas, or something, but I honestly can’t remember, I was just so focused on the baby, and when I’d get to see him again. This part also seemed to take forever, but it was really just a couple of minutes before a beaming Terry re-appeared, with that precious little bundle in his arms:
I can’t even describe how it felt to finally see him, after all this time. People had warned me that I might not feel that rush of love everyone talks about, and that it can sometimes take time, but I’d loved him before he was born, and he was so exactly as I’d imagined him (Throughout my pregnancy, people kept fixating on the idea of me having a “ginger” baby – to an extent that actually became quite upsetting, if I’m honest – but I’d always imagined a little black haired boy, just like his daddy…) that I just couldn’t stop crying, and smiling, and staring at him.
Meanwhile, of course, the surgical team were busy sewing me back up, and soon enough the midwife came to take Terry back to the room we’d been in earlier, to change back into his own clothes. While he was gone, the baby was placed in an incubator, and I was moved from the operating table to a bed (All I’ll say here is that it took every person present to lift me…) and wheeled into the recovery room next door. By this point, I still hadn’t held the baby, and it was all I could think about: I’d asked to do skin-to-skin as soon as possible, so once they’d wheeled us both into recovery, the nurses helped me pull my gown down, and one of them picked up Max and laid him on my chest.
He’d started crying as soon as he was picked up, but the second he touched me, he stopped, and just stared up at me with his big, dark blue eyes.
And there he was.
There were the little fists I’d felt hammering away at my belly all those months.
There was the tiny nose I’d seen so many times on the ultrasound, and the little chubby cheeks.
He was simultaneously so familiar, and so totally brand new, that holding him for the first time was absolutely magical – strong contender for Best Moment of My Life award, right there – especially when he immediately cuddled in to my chest, and lay there contentedly. After a few minutes, Terry joined us for more Staring in Amazement: we were both just so emotional at this point that we could barely speak, and I don’t remember what we said. I’m going to guess it was just endless variations of, “Can you BELIEVE he’s here?” and “We MADE him!” though, because that’s pretty much all we said for the first few hours.
(This is the single worst photo of me ever taken, but I’m sharing it anyway, because it’s the only one I have of the first time I held Max, and I think you can see how happy I was. One of my regrets here is that we didn’t get more photos: we did have our phones with us, as you can see, but neither Terry nor I were in the right headspace to really think about photos, and I’m honestly not exaggerating when I say that, in all the photos of me, I look like I’m at death’s door, seriously. Since I got out of hospital, I’ve been pretty horrified by my appearance – that’s another post, for another time – so while I DO have plenty of photos of me with Max, I’m sure you’ll understand why I’m choosing not to share them with the internet!)
I’m not sure how long I was in recovery, but it seemed pretty quick, and the next thing I knew, I was being wheeled up to the ward, still with my top pulled down and the baby snuggled against me. Once again, I was taken through the public part of the hospital – I remember going past the front door of the Labour and Delivery suite, plus the crowded waiting room I’d sat in a few times while I was still pregnant. Ordinarily, I’d have been mortified to be seen like that, but I was just so elated they could have wheeled me naked through the centre of town, and I honestly wouldn’t have cared.
(OK, I totally would have. Glad that didn’t happen.)
Throughout my pregnancy, I hadn’t ever allowed myself to feel excited – I just hadn’t dared. By the time Max was born, I was so convinced something was going to go wrong that I couldn’t even bear to look into the nursery: I’d had to close the door so I couldn’t see it as I walked past, so sure was I that there wasn’t going to be a baby to fill it. As they wheeled me up to the ward, though, it was like 9 months worth of stored-up excitement arrived at once, as I finally allowed myself to believe that we were actually going to be allowed to do this: I really would get to see my baby boy in the beautiful nursery we’d created for him; I’d get to dress him in all of those little outfits that were hanging up in his closet, and do all of the things we’d planned. It was such an amazing feeling, and one I’ve been doing my best to remember during all of those night feeds and hard times we’ve been going through lately: if only I could bottle it!
Max was born at 11:51am, and the ward’s visiting hours started at 2pm, so, once I was back in my room, it wasn’t long before my parents appeared to meet their new grandson:
This was a moment I’d been looking forward to since before I was even pregnant, so you can imagine how emotional I felt seeing them all together. My parents came bearing gifts, naturally – and no, it wasn’t more burp cloths (although we probably could have used them, now I come to think of it…):
This is Rufus Carruthers (first name picked by my friend’s little girl, Sienna, surname is a family name, from my dad’s side). My grandmother bought me my own beloved “Ted” and brought him to the hospital on the day I was born, so I was happy to see the tradition continue. (And yes, we removed him from the crib before Max went into it!)
Soon, Terry’s mum appeared with my brother-in-law, John, quickly followed by my sister-in-law, Lila, and our niece, Maria:
As some of you know, Terry’s mum is very ill with cancer, and throughout my pregnancy, we really weren’t sure she’d get to meet Max, so, needless to say, this was another hugely emotional moment for us: we’re so grateful she got to be there on the day he was born, and we’ll always treasure these photos, and the subsequent ones we’ve managed to take of them together.
Max’s middle name is John, and he’s named after both of his grandfathers (Really handy that both of our dads are/were called John!), plus this guy, who donated a kidney to Terry 12 years ago. Er, if you’ll excuse me for a moment, my eyes seem to be a bit damp for some reason…
It was at this point that I suddenly started to feel really nauseous. I’d had a migraine develop minutes after I got back to my room: I’m pretty lucky in that I get migraine without headache – I just get the visual disturbances, then some vague nausea, most of the time. I actually hadn’t had a migraine in almost 2 years at this point, but I wasn’t remotely surprised when it turned up: my migraines are mostly triggered by stress, but they tend to appear when the stress goes, rather than when I’m in the middle of it, and I still felt so totally euphoric that I guess I was pumped full of hormones by now, and totally primed for a migraine. I felt really quite sick, though, so our visitors decided to make their excuses and leave, rather than have to witness me throwing up in front of an audience.
And then it was just the three of us.
As it turned out, I didn’t throw up: I did, however, feel pretty rough for the next few hours, so I was really grateful that the hospital had allowed Terry to stay – I honestly don’t know how I’d have coped without him. I’m not going to claim that night in hospital was a breeze for me, because it really wasn’t. We drew the curtains and dimmed the light, though, and it was almost – ALMOST – possible to forget we were in a hospital. We were just in our own little bubble, really: I remember there was babies crying and buzzers going off all night – not to mention the fact that I was still hooked up to a catheter, and had to be given morphine during the night due to the pain in my abdomen – but it was still pretty much perfect, really. I mean, how could it NOT be, with our baby boy safe in our arms?
This post is now almost three times longer than I’d intended it to be (I’d apologise/go back and edit it, but honestly, I’m writing this as much for me as for anyone else, and I want to be able to remember ever single detail of Max’s birthday…), so I’m going to wrap it up here, and do a separate one on my c-section recovery, etc. Suffice it to say, though, that while it’s not something I’d be keen to do again (Max will definitely be an only child!), and it was scarier than I’d imagined it would be, I had a pretty positive experience, all round.
I was discharged from hospital the next afternoon (My choice: I could have stayed longer if I’d wanted, but our hospital offers an enhanced recovery programme, which aims to get you home the next day, and I was very keen to take advantage of that…), and can’t thank the staff there enough for the care they took of me, Max and even Terry. Every single person we dealt with was amazing, and I’m incredibly grateful for the many allowances they made to take account of my extreme levels of anxiety about the hospital stay/surgery: I know I’ve said it before, but we’re so incredibly lucky to have access to such a high standard of (totally free) medical care, and some truly exceptional nursing staff, who did everything they could to make the biggest challenge of my life as easy as it possibly could be.
And I did it, guys! Even just a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me I’d one day have a baby – and live to tell the tale. Somehow, though, I managed it: and honestly? It was worth every single second.