It’s been seven months since Katherine Jean joined our family, and I’ve had plenty of time to reflect upon my pregnancy and her birth. I can honestly say that Katie’s birth was the best, the perfect final act in the story of my children’s births.
With multiple miscarriages, a preterm birth, a full-term stillbirth, and multiple c-sections under my belt, this pregnancy was obviously considered high risk. I was seen at my doctor’s office once a month until 24 weeks, and then every two weeks until 32 weeks, and then twice a week from then on — once for an ultrasound and once for a non-stress test.
It was a very different experience for me, because I haven’t seen a doctor for an entire pregnancy since my first baby in 2001, and after my previous experiences, I have not been the biggest fan of the medical profession. That, coupled with the extreme anxiety of being pregnant after Clara’s stillbirth, gave me a lot to work through, and I was fortunate to have David to lean on for every appointment.
We were told pretty early on that I would need to deliver by c-section at 36 weeks. The high-risk doctors did not feel comfortable allowing me to progress past that point, and I had already promised myself that I would do what I was told, for a change. As the scheduled date drew closer, I became more and more nervous. I was just sure that our baby would die too, like Clara. I was certain that in the 2-3 days between ultrasound and NST each week, something terrible would happen. The feeling was so unwavering that I refused to sign the final paperwork for the tubal ligation I wanted, until I knew for sure that the baby has been delivered safely.
We arrived at the hospital at 6:30 in the morning on April 2, 2014. I was both excited and terrified. I’d never done this before, walked into a hospital with the intention of undergoing a cesarean section, but surprisingly, as much as I fought the very idea of having a c-section with my three other girls, I was not anxious at all about the surgery. I had made peace with needing a repeat cesarean, and I felt like I knew what to expect from the surgery and recovery, which took away that fear almost completely.
No, my fear and anxiety were all for the health of our baby. I was admitted and taken to a pre-op room, where I changed into my gown and socks. My vital signs were taken, I met all of the nurses and my anesthesiologist, and an IV was started. A nurse came in to put a heart monitor and contraction belt on me, and she had trouble picking up the baby’s heartbeat for just a minute… and I could feel my mouth go dry and my blood pressure going up. The nurses knew our history, so they were very reassuring, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong.
We were bumped four times for emergency c-sections, which amounted to an extra two hour wait in the pre-op room, and I held tight to David’s hand throughout that time. I kept saying, “but the baby’s fine right now, we need to get her out now, while we know she’s okay”. Nothing could convince me to calm down. I was obsessing with whether I felt her moving, whether the monitor’s beep was a good one or a bad one, and I watched the minutes tick by so slowly.
David, on the other hand, was a little nervous, but mostly he was so excited. He couldn’t wait to meet our baby and he felt confident that she would be fine. He was infinitely patient with me, petting my hair, rubbing my feet, and talking to my belly, telling our baby how excited we were to finally meet her.
My dad brought Addah up to the hospital around 9:45 in the morning, and she came back to the pre-op room for a hug and kiss. Having her there calmed me down too, and very shortly after she came in to visit, the nurses came to get us. It was baby time!
David changed into his surgical clothes, while I was wheeled into the OR and prepped for spinal anesthesia. The room was full of doctors, nurses, the anesthesia team, and the NICU team (just in case, since I was only 36 weeks along). I asked for my husband, right as a nurse was bringing him in. He held my hand so tightly, and the surgery began.
The surgery took much longer than the three previous, because it was my first non-emergent cesarean. There was a lot of scar tissue to get through, and she was in a breech presentation, so the doctor had said they wanted to take their time. Finally, after what felt like a million years, the doctor said “here we go”. David stood up to look over the curtain that fell across my chest, and I felt the pressure of our baby being pulled from my body.
I didn’t hear her cry at first, and I asked if she was okay over and over. David said, “she’s moving, they’re just suctioning her a little”. Finally I heard her tiny cries, and all at once I could breathe again. The nurse called David over and handed our baby girl, Katherine Jean, to him. He brought her to me, and all I could think to say was, “I have been waiting so long for you, sweet girl”.
Katie was the most beautiful baby in the entire world, as all of my babies have been. I kissed her chubby little hands and whispered “I love you” over and over, to her and to David. Breathing, healthy, alive… everything I had hoped for. She was 6 lbs 7 oz, 20 inches long, born at 10:55 in the morning on April 2, 2014.
My surgery was not yet over, because I had opted for a tubal ligation, so a nurse guided David and baby Katie out of the OR and into a quiet room with a rocking chair so they could bond and wait for me. The rest of the surgery took far too long for my liking; I couldn’t wait to hold my tiny sweet baby. When I was stitched up and put back together, I was taken to my hospital room, where I was finally (finally!) able to hold Katie. I’m not even sure if I can describe the wild range of emotions I was feeling — elation and wonder at this perfect little one, mixed with grief and sadness, remembering the last time I held a tiny baby in a hospital bed.
Mostly I felt peace. My previous birth stories had always started off with the end goal of natural birth and ended with the disappointment of a c-section. I tried, every way I could think of, to bend birth to my will and make a natural birth part of my story, but as it turned out, my most peaceful birth was a planned c-section. I would change nothing about my last birth story. I realized, after Clara died, that the end goal of any birth story should be “healthy baby” — it’s not how the baby gets here that matters, but that they get here safely.
The rest… really doesn’t matter, in the end.