Preparing for a scheduled c-section is a lot like preparing for a long, cross-country trip. Or maybe a trip to the moon. The days beforehand are a blur of lists and packing and obsessing about the lists and packing. And dusting and laundry and the state of your toenails.
The conflicting information you get from the hospital and your doctor's office feels like the airport keeps changing your departure gate on you. Bloodwork two days before! no, 24 hours! No, the day of the surgery! You need a doctor's note! No, you don't! No food or drink after midnight! Water is okay! No, it's not! Only there's no Expedia confirmation email to cling to, just a nurse whose name you didn't catch on the other end of the phone.
I'd gotten the pre-op bloodwork done on Tuesday and was outfitted with an assortment of hospital bracelets. Jason's mother had gone with me -- she was terrified that I was going to faint if I went alone, I was just terrified of getting lost inside the hospital -- and then that night she insisted we go out for one last dinner out, sans child, pre childREN.
For the first time in oh, NINE MONTHS, I was able to enjoy a meal without nausea or heartburn or a never-ending parade of violent food aversions. I ate crab bisque, a gigantic steak and a whole goddamn slice of cheesecake -- order your own, husband -- looking for all the world like an escaped mental patient, what with the hospital bands, giant belly and pathetic attempt to "dress up" in high heels at ninety hundred months pregnant.
My surgery was scheduled for 2 pm. We were to arrive at the hospital at noon. I woke up at 6 am.
I wandered down the hall to Noah's room and crawled into bed with him. He was in a sweetly tired good mood -- we sang songs and cuddled and talked about Baby Brother Day. I'd long since given up on trying to wrap my mind around the fact that the baby inside me was just hours away from being born, that he was done and complete and HIMSELF, whoever that was, so I don't imagine that morning's conversation did anything to really help prepare Noah, either.
I didn't realize, though, that it would be the very last time I would ever look at Noah and see a baby, or anything resembling a baby. His round belly and chubby cheeks seemed to vanish that day -- by the time I saw him again 12 hours later he would turn into a long and lean little boy, all arms and legs, shockingly mature-looking and huge.
Around 7:30 am I noticed that Jason had forgotten to take one of our recycling bins to the curb the night before. Our bottles and cans and plastic containers were piled high -- by next week we'd be drowning in them, for sure. I heard the trucks revving around the corner and glanced out the window -- our neighbors' bins were still there and upright and full! We could still make it! And so I dashed out through our backyard in my pajamas and slippers, lugging the bin at an awkward angle below and to the side of my massive belly, out to the curb where I dumped it, practically hyperventilating from the effort and the rush of adrenaline that one can only get from very barely getting your trash out in time for collection, knowing that you are now free to go have a baby in peace, because OH THANK GOD THE RECYCLING IS TAKEN CARE OF.
We stopped at Panera on the way to the hospital so Jason could eat lunch. He wasn't particularly hungry -- he was trying to prepare himself for the bloody surgery sights ahead, but I insisted he eat something so he wouldn't faint. Again, with the fainting. I woefully watched him eat a salad until my hunger took over and I rebelliously ate a few pea-sized bits of his whole wheat baguette, rationalizing that I certainly hadn't fasted this long before my previous c-section, what with going into labor right after dinner and all, and besides, I've never gotten nauseous from anesthesia before, I'll be fine.
LAY OFF ME, I'M STARVING.
There were vending machines in the hospital waiting room. I sat and glared at them, then glared at the book I brought but was entirely too keyed up to read, then watched the Showcase Showdown on The Price Is Right. ("$35,000 for the non-car showcase? Oh my God, what an IDIOT.") Jason called a roofer while we waited, and I laughed at him. ("DRILL BIT! IN OUR FUCKING ROOF!") He retaliated by getting a cup of coffee from the fancy little pod machine nearby.
A nurse appeared and called my name. "Let's get this started!" she said brightly.
And so, we got started, in the same room, in the same BED, where I'd started my labor with Noah.
"Oh my God," I said, when the nurse led me to the corner bed in the triage/recovery room. "This is where I labored with my son. There weren't any empty rooms, so I was right here, in this bed."
"Huh, how about that," she said, not nearly as impressed with this as I was.
At this point, I was still essentially waiting for something to come and derail the whole thing. My doctor getting called to an emergency at another hospital, another mother needing the operating room before me, lost bloodwork, lost luggage, hours of circling the tarmac, SOMETHING.
The minutes ticked by. I asked Jason for the time over and over again. I shifted in the bed, as much as I could without disturbing the monitors, remembering how uncomfortable I'd been last time; how terribly unsuited these beds were for the heft and weight of a full-term pregnant woman being forced to lie on her back. Without the rise and fall of contractions, there was nothing to focus on except the waiting, the boredom.
My impatience immediately turned to panic when my doctor appeared around the curtain, dressed in his surgical scrubs. No, no, no. This isn't right. I should go home. Wait for labor. Wait to make sure he's ready. How terrible we are, joking about ugly hospital hats, getting ready to go slice me in half and yank this poor baby out without any warning. All the fears and worries I'd mashed down over the previous months rose to the surface -- that study I'd read about mothers not bonding with their scheduled c-section babies, the impact of skipping labor on breastfeeding and milk production, hemorrhaging, nicked organs, the invisible army of people judging this choice as unnecessary and wrong and selfish.
Luckily, my mini-anxiety-fest was cut abruptly short by the arrival of the anesthesiologist. My doctor sat down in a chair and cracked jokes with Jason while the nurses removed the monitors and the anesthesiologist asked me a few questions and the whole room seemed downright jovial -- it reminded me, bizarrely enough, of that feeling I used to get backstage before the start of a play, back when I acted in high school and college drama productions. It's a weird batch of nerves and excitement, topped off with the confidence that you've rehearsed and performed your lines a million times before, and that really, this is no big deal.
An emergency c-section takes about five minutes. I don't really remember much about it, even though I was just as awake and aware when it was happening. The decision was made and it was like hitting the fast-forward button on the remote.
This time I walked into the operating room, clutching the back of my gown while a nurse wheeled the IV pole. I hopped up onto the table and prepared myself for the spinal -- another irrational source of anxiety, since I'd had an epidural late in the game last time and found it to be just downright FABULOUS, but since I was in such terrible, terrible pain the whole "needle in your spine" thing was not really high on my priority list. This time I was not in pain, not in labor, not really excited about getting jabbed in the back with a huge fucking needle.
My doctor held my hand and put his arm around my shoulders while the needle went in. I don't know why, but I found this little routine gesture to be enormously comforting, and after the slightest stinging sensation, the needle was in.
The set-up time for a scheduled c-section is ridiculous, or at least seems that way. It was full of little luxuries that you don't get in an emergency, like an inflatable heated blanket over your arms and chest, endless fine-tuning of your anesthesia, and the somewhat maddening puttering around by nurses and doctors, doing God knows what while you lay naked and spread on the table, listening to conversations about your doctor's ruptured appendix and the multiple misdiagnoses and medical incompetence he encountered before it was discovered.
The anesthesia kicked in and swallowed me up. I disliked it intensely. While the epidural was a blessed relief last time, to go from feeling just fine and dandy to heavily drugged and numb and not quite in control made me uncomfortable -- a reminder of why I was such a big dork in college, someone who thought pot was just a little too intense of a high and who always turned down the chance to try anything stronger.
I thought about those bites of bread a few hours before and regretted them terribly. My nerves were churning and I felt floaty and disconnected and the sensation was weirdly oppressive. Jason was allowed in and he sat next to me, trying and failing to find my hand under the inflatable heater. I stared right at him and gritted my teeth and ordered myself to STOP LOSING YOUR SHIT AND GET A GRIP. RIGHT THIS MINUTE.
I think I admitted to him, in the barest little whisper so no one else would hear, that I was really, really scared.
"Do you feel that, Amy?" my doctor asked. I had no idea what "that" was, so I said no. And with "that," the surgery began.
It seemed like it took forever, although the official birth time suggests that I was in the operating room no longer than 24 minutes before Ezra made his appearance. But oh, it felt so much longer. So much tugging and pulling and the absolutely crazy-weird feeling of being cut open -- seriously, feeling every sensation of the scalpel dragging across your skin, except for the sensation of PAIN. My doctor said something about me not having any fat on my body and how I'd managed that, but I wasn't sure how to respond to that since I wasn't entirely sure he was talking to me.
I stared at the ceiling and waited. And waited. Jason occasionally peeked over the drape -- the mere thought of what he was seeing made me feel like throwing up, and I kept closing my eyes and shaking my head, indicating that I didn't want to know.
And then, a cry.
"OH!" I gasped, and let out a shuddery cry of my own.
His first cry came before he was even all the way out, before that official time of birth, leaving no questions about his maturity and readiness to be born. His next cries were louder, indignant little squawks. Jason stood up, anxiously trying to get glances of him, snapping a few illegal photos of him as he was pulled from the carnage (we were told by the hospital not to take photos or video of the actual surgery). He told me he was smaller than Noah.
I kept waiting to hear his weight. I heard someone say something about "eight, nine" and assumed that was it -- that was about right, smaller than Noah, but still big enough to make the c-section a good idea.
But the "eight, nine" were his APGAR scores, not his weight.
Seven pounds, seven ounces. I was stunned.
"I could have delivered that?" I said to Jason, half-whispering, half-questioning. But Jason was off taking pictures, getting ready to hold him and bring him back to me.
"He's so little!" Jason said, clearly delighted by this new species of baby we had. An honest-to-God newborn-sized newborn. "But he still looks a lot like Noah."
And then I saw him. He was little, tiny, perfect. Like Noah, but entirely unique and delightfully himself already. I fought to get my arm free from the stupid inflatable thing and succeeded, and touched his round, squishy little face. I slid my fingers under his hat to see his matted downy hair and stroked his rosebud mouth and pulled Jason's arm down so I could kiss him over and over and over.
And it hit me, again, in a palpable, overwhelming rush. Motherhood. Love. Just an explosion of it, pulling me out of my anesthetized fog instantly, forgetting immediately the strange, almost-mechanical circumstances of the birth, the what-ifs and the pros and cons of VBAC and surgery, forgetting that this birth was any different than Noah's birth, that it was any different from ANY birth, because how different could it be, when it has the same wonderfully perfect ending?
My baby, my son, my everything I ever wanted, all over again.