Over to You

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BABY

Did I want Caesarean section? Definitely not Am I happy I had one? Absolutely.

DAWN LIU-SMYTH August 11 2003
Over to You

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BABY

Did I want Caesarean section? Definitely not Am I happy I had one? Absolutely.

DAWN LIU-SMYTH August 11 2003

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BABY

Over to You

Did I want Caesarean section? Definitely not Am I happy I had one? Absolutely.

DAWN LIU-SMYTH

IN MY 36TH week of pregnancy, my doctor told me my baby was in a breech position and that I would need an “elective” Caesarean section. I’m not sure why it’s called elective when my freedom of choice in the matter was anything but. As with most aspects of pregnancy, the baby—or “fetus” in medicalese—dictates the plan of action. In our case, our daughter, whom we had already named Hannah, had chosen to wedge herself into my pelvis feet first, a position that makes a normal vaginal birth next to impossible. (Picture trying to pull a partially open umbrella through a mail slot, handle first, and you’ll see what I mean.) So a C-section it had to be. I was left to digest the fact that not only would I become a mother a few weeks early, but would also face major abdominal surgery—both with one swift cut of the surgeon’s knife. Contrary to my expectations, I was going to be a passive participant at the birth of my child.

Before I learned the C-section would be necessary, I had spent a lot of time prepping for the birth experience. Like many first-time moms, I read volumes, plagued my obstetrician with questions, diligently explored my options and arranged a birth plan I felt confident would best meet my needs and those of my baby. Yes, in the modern world, a mom-to-be is supposed to develop a step-by-step outline of how she envisions her ideal scenario. Does she want to listen to soothing music as she grunts and pushes? Tracey Chapman or Pyotr Tchaikovsky? Who will be invited? Will it be an intimate gathering or an extended family affair? What kind of pain relief, if any? Have the dreaded episiotomy or risk tearing naturally? All of these are valid questions, important for a nervous first-timer to consider. The preparation gives the woman some feeling of control, a sense that she and her partner have a say in how their child will enter the world. But as I learned, can that ever be the case?

I had decided to take the so-called natural route. I was going to forgo pain medication, opting instead for breathing exercises,

water therapy and massage, a decision that made my girlfriends who’d had kids snicker and chortle. But all my research led me to believe that that approach, while not for everyone, would best suit Hannah and me. I knew the pain would be intense: one friend likened it to a medieval torture chair involving a burning hot cone—I’ll leave the rest to the imagination. But I also knew that I was strong and focused, and, most important, that the pain would be temporary and followed by a fantastic reward. I was mentally and physically prepared, no matter what those “birthing expert” friends of mine had to say about it. So I sat down at the computer, typed up my birth-plan checklist point by point and proudly prepared to defend it to nurses, doctors, and even my husband, Stan.

But then came the unanticipated news from my doctor. After spending nearly eight months desperately anxious for Hannah’s arrival, the prospect of a predetermined date and time left me strangely torn and discouraged. I had to resign myself to a very different birth experience, one that was going to take place within the sterile con-

fines of an operating room, complete with being rendered numb and virtually immobile by anaesthesia. Instead of the intimate group I had envisioned, I was going to have an entire masked and draped medical team at my disposal. I would lie still, hooked to tubes and monitors as someone else performed the job my body was intended to do. I thought I would feel jealous of Stan who would be the first to cuddle and hold Hannah, a privilege I would be denied for close to an hour after her birth. And I found myself perplexed at how the “too-posh-to-push” set in Hollywood could ever prefer this kind of birth. How could anyone willingly choose such a scenario?

Yet maybe I was losing sight of what was ultimately important—the healthy arrival of our daughter. And I must be thankful that this option is available. Just 50 years ago, the kind of fetal complications we experienced would have spelled disaster, most definitely for the baby, and possibly for me as well. Now we can do so much more. After all, the same advances in technology that allow us to surgically remove an otherwise healthy infant allowed Stan and me to discover in the 21st week of pregnancy that the child we were expecting was a girl. We were able to carry home a photograph and video of our daughter in utero and choose appropriate paint colours. Heck, we even chose a name! If I could so willingly embrace the photographic invasion of my womb, why not the surgical?

So with that I became a spectator at the birth of my first child. I let the anaesthetic seize my body, stared upward at bright lights, and listened to my vitals as they beeped on the monitors. I only caught a fleeting glimpse of my darling after she was tugged from my womb. I listened to her first cries echo from what seemed painfully far across the room. I did, however, manage to get my head and heart around this kind of birth, so dramatically different from the version I had romanticized. I suppose it was my first lesson in the sacrifices of motherhood, letting go of a personal goal, adapting to meet someone else’s needs. At 9:36 a.m. on May 20, a new baby girl entered the world-without labour, pushing and pain. Hannah, who has a perfect, round little head, looked into her daddy’s eyes first. And her mother is still the happiest woman alive.

Dawn Liu-Smyth is a Toronto high-school teacher. To comment: overtoyou@macleans.ca