In the end, we – or I – caved. My son was measuring big, huge, large, especially his head. There was no way I was even going to try to push him out. Yes, I carry that shame. And I still feel the need to justify it. But his head was huge, look at him, I say to friends who know as I thrust my son towards them. But his father’s schedule – we needed predictability, I plead. And, yes, all of those things came into play. But I also need to acknowledge that I was scared. I didn’t think I would be able to. So I didn’t.
We dutifully scheduled a C-section for the first of April. I know, I know, I knew. I didn’t care. I’d reached the end of my third trimester, a time that is wholly dominated by fantasies of having your body back: think guzzling a litre of wine all the while throwing sushi rolls down your mouth and rolling around on your baby-less belly. Things of that nature. I thought I was ready. And here’s the really hilarious part: by ready I meant ready to no longer be pregnant, ready to meet my baby, not necessarily ready to become a mother. (Yes, you can be ready to meet the baby and be unprepared for motherhood.) My doctor could only do C-sections on Wednesdays and the nearest available Wednesday before Easter break was the first. So, my child would just have to live with the inevitable jokes about being born on April fool’s day.
The Sunday before the Wednesday, I was in the grips of the panic-nesting that had taken over almost all our weekends since the second trimester. We have to do stuff, I told my husband. There was a list: assemble the stroller, practice putting in and taking out the car seat, practice using the slings and carriers. We did all that, in a very relaxed manner. (I wonder why we were so laid back? Even though we didn’t know he was coming quite so soon, he was still coming in four days. Why on earth were we all, ‘Oh we have time’ about it all?!) My sister-in-law and her partner came over and put up an adorable rocket wall sticker in the nursery. And an hour and a half after they left, I felt the first pangs of labour. I didn’t know it was labour at first. At this point, I was just past 39 weeks pregnant and was yet to experience real Braxton Hicks contractions. So, that’s what we thought this was. To make sure, we called both our mothers. Neither of them thought it was labour. Both advised baths and rest. Both were pretty relaxed for being about to meet their first grandchild. The pain came in waves, as they say it does. It rolled over me slowly and built to a crescendo before subsiding again. Slowly I started to learn it. I would feel it coming before it began to roll over my edges and I would clutch – at my husband, and the bed. My husband clutched his smart phone and started timing contractions using one of the several apps he downloaded. The waves came and went, and the peaks became slightly peakier. This was starting to feel quite real. But still, we held fast to our belief that this couldn’t be it. We had a plan, see? Plus, first pregnancy, 39 weeks – this kid was for sure not going to be that early, even if he was my child and was inheriting his mother’s obsession with being on time.
We ate dinner, went to bed. And at 3am I was hit by a wave of pain that wrenched me from my sleep and threatened to drown me. The waves were coming thicker and faster and I couldn’t sleep through them. Still, even if this was labour, I understood that it could take hours before it was even remotely worth thinking about maybe contacting our doula, never mind our OB-GYN. I hadn’t had a hint of breaking waters or bloody show. So, I decided it wasn’t worth mentioning to anyone. Except my husband – oh, I woke him up to tell him, for sure. I stayed up the rest of that morning, timing contractions on my own app. At 8am, the waves stopped. Just like that. The last one came and gripped me tight, left me gasping, and then nothing. Sudden silence. On dry land, safe from the waters, I felt confident enough to phone my doctor and my doula. I was so relaxed, I even suggested to my husband that we go out for breakfast. After all, this kid was coming on Wednesday and our leisurely breakfasts out were about to come to a halt. But my doctor put paid to that plan. Come in now anyway, she said, let’s have a quick look at that baby. This is how unprepared I was, reader. I quickly took a shower and got dressed because when I phoned the doctor, I hadn’t even showered yet. I phoned my mother to come and take me to the hospital. Off we went, sans hospital bag. My mother, perhaps because she too didn’t believe this was it, took one of the most speed-bumpiest side roads. This of course sent me into another, fiercer, more insistent contraction. At this point, I was starting to believe my baby was coming. There is something about the drama of clutching at the car dashboard while the person driving tries to drive both as fast and as slowly as they have ever driven to the hospital that just convinces you this is it. So, sure enough, as we arrived at the hospital, the contractions ceased. Just like that. I was very upset: now that I was there, and I had the attention of the nurses, I very badly needed to be in labour. You see, in week 33 of pregnancy, I had a small scare, a slight bleed that had sent me to that very hospital, to that very ward, to those very nurses. It turned out to be nothing. In fact, there was no blood by the time I got there, and I could just sense them writing me off as nothing more than a nervous first-timer, a paranoid rookie. I desperately did not want their suspicions about me confirmed.
So, I lay there, strapped to the monitor, listening to my son’s strong heartbeat. As my husband arrived, hospital bag in tow, finally, a wave came. And this time, we could see it building, fast, on the monitor. Only the waves were no longer rolling in. They were rushing me, subsuming me and giving me a good shake before throwing me up out the other end. And they kept coming. Initially, I felt triumphant: aha, maternity ward nurses, see, I am not paranoid! Then the fear set in: this baby was really coming. By the time my doctor came into the room, it was clear this was labour and I was to give birth at least before the first. And because I still couldn’t do it, we went ahead with our plan to have the C-section.
Once the call was made, we called my husband’s mother, our poor doula who had previously been assured that there was no chance this was it, our family members and close friends. Within an hour, we were saying goodbye to our mothers and were both being wheeled – me in my bed, my husband in his wheelchair – to the theatre. I had never up until this moment had major surgery. But if I ever do again and if any of you, dear readers, ever need to in the near or distant future, I wish you a medical team like the one that worked on my son and me that day. This was surgery but it was also acknowledged as a joyous occasion. The doctors were happy and engaging. I did not once hear the word ‘scalpel’, or any other detached medical terms. They talked us both through the process, and during lulls, they were careful to talk to us both about our love story, how we ended up here, in this room about to meet our little longed-for boy. They learnt his name so that when he emerged, all flushed skin and sound and fury, they could call him by it and welcome him to the world. I could not have asked for a more wonderful entry into the world for my son.
And there he was. There you were, my Sam. Quietly listening to your father’s voice. Watching me carefully when they placed you next to me. Desperately trying to free your little swaddled arms (something you do to this day) so you could take in more of the world. And then, finally, blissfully suckling away with an unmatched life force. But that was always you. You always wanted to be here. Exactly a year ago, I was lying in a room in a local fertility clinic as they put my son back in me. Defying crazy odds, he had survived four days in an incubator environment, becoming a few cells then a few dozen more, then a zygote. Then he made a home in my body, grew still into an embryo, then a foetus. And now here he is.
This season of motherhood is one I could not have anticipated. It has thrown me clean from the sentimentality of my pregnancy into some truly grim sleep deprived realities. It has taught me what it really means to live in uncertainty and make a home, even a refuge there. It is all overwhelm and all awe and all routine and all drudgery all at once. On that Sunday before that Monday that now seems lifetimes ago, I could never have guessed at any of this. And I probably can’t guess at any of what will come. Sometimes – truly, a lot of the time – that terrifies me. There are no answers; there are no maps (no matter how many books are out there on the subject). There is just this: your baby and this journey. And there’s no way to do it except one step at a time. For the first time in my life, I truly am learning that, courtesy of my beautiful, happy boy.
I am so grateful.