Once I gave the green light for the cesarean, the room came alive with activity. Nurses I’d not seen before came in to prep me for surgery. The OB stopped by to introduce herself and answer my questions, of which I had a ton. I was crying and shaking uncontrollably and admitted to her that I was terrified. I asked her if I would die. She assured me that I wouldn’t, but I wasn’t so sure.
I called Brittany to tell her what was happening. I was literally choking on my tears as I explained everything to her. I felt guilty for wasting her time over the past two days leading up to this point. She worked so hard and on such little sleep for me to have to birth this child surgically instead of vaginally. For that matter, so had I. She said she’d meet me in my room once I was out of surgery.
A nurse began to shave the top portion of my pubic hair, which was humiliating. Another covered my head with a surgical cap and rubbed that orange stuff all over my stomach. The anesthesiologist returned to give me a stronger anesthesia that would completely numb me from the chest down.
Ian called my parents, and I must have reminded him about ten times to grab the camera so that he could take photos of her when she was born. He donned a cover-up that reminded me of Bryan Cranston’s meth-making suit from Breaking Bad.
He walked behind my bed as they wheeled me to the OR, which seemed so far away. They were about to take me in when I begged them to let me kiss my husband first. They obliged, but a nurse tried to reassure me that he’d be sent right in as soon as they finished prepping. What nobody understood is that I was convinced I wouldn’t survive until then. In my mind, I was being marched to my death. Surgery terrified me, and surgery while awake was my actual living nightmare. I tried to accept the fact that these would be my last moments alive and that I’d never get to meet this sweet baby. I kissed Ian and cried and told him I loved him so much. “You’re going to be fine,” was what he said.
The OR was frigid. I’d been shaking for hours from the epidural but was now practically convulsing from a combination of adrenaline and the icy temperature. I asked for blankets, which they draped over my neck and shoulders since the curtain wasn’t much farther in front of me. I felt like I was suffocating.
“Throw up. I’m going to throw up,” I said through chattering teeth. I was laying completely flat on the surgery table and could not sit up at all, so the anesthesiologist made me turn my head sideways and held my face down to keep it there so I wouldn’t choke on my vomit. I puked once, then twice into one of those bean-shaped bins. My mouth was incredibly dry and I begged for an ice cube, a wet sponge, anything. My throat was so dry it was choking me.
So I began to panic. I told the anesthesiologist that I was blacking out and my chest was heavy. All I could see was the edge of the blinding florescent light overhead, and the blue drape obscuring my view of everything they were doing to me.
The anesthesiologist assured me that I was fine, that my blood pressure was fine, and that I was not dying. I struggled to move against the restraints of the wrist straps that held my arms, outstretched to either side, in place. I tried lifting my head. I needed to move. This had to stop. This was a mistake and I had to get out. It was too bright and too cold and I didn’t like feeling trapped and I was going to die as soon as they started cutting. I needed to leave.
They struggled to keep me still. The anesthesiologist was no longer tolerant of my anxiety and he became very clearly irritated with me. I begged for something to help with the panic and he told me I’d have to wait until the baby was out. I started asking every few minutes if they were cutting yet, if it was over yet, how much longer, etc. I counted backwards from 100 in increments of three to try to distract myself. I reached for Ian’s hand. I prayed that I would live.
Suddenly, I heard a cry.
“Is she okay? How is she? Am I okay?”
She’s fine, they told me. The NICU team is taking her over to examine her now.
“Why is NICU here? Why are they taking her over there? Can’t I see her? Am I hemorrhaging? How much blood have I lost? Is the surgery going okay? Ian, you need to go over there and be with her so she’s not alone.”
Instead of relief to hear my sweet girl’s cries and signs of life, I became more panicked than ever. Once again I struggled to move, and I fired my questions at rapid pace, desperate for reassurance that everything was okay.
This was the last thing I remember for a few hours. The anesthesiologist gave me a dose of Propofol which hit me instantly. Apparently, though, one wasn’t enough because my husband told me that several minutes later I came to and started panicking again. So another dose was administered. My husband tells me that a remark was made about the amount of drugs I was on and how I needed a lot more than what’s typical to quell my particular brand of panic.
I came to in the recovery room. I hadn’t met my daughter yet, or at least had no recollection of it if I had. I looked over and saw Ian sitting in the chair next to my bed, holding a tiny bundle in his arms. I wanted to know everything. Every detail. What color was her hair? Her eyes? How much did she weigh? What time was she born?
Mavis Thressa Terry was born on July 13 (my birthday), weighing 5 pounds, 10 ounces, and measuring 18 inches long. She was born with blonde hair and gray-blue eyes. She was healthy and perfect, with Apgar scores of 8 and 10.
A nurse heard me wake up and hurried over to help me undress so that Mavis and I could do skin-to-skin and nurse. I was still quite groggy and numb and needed lots of help. I was so out of it, in fact, that I was scared to hold her at first.
But once she was in my arms the fear went away. I had lived, she had lived, and here we were. It had taken 44 hours (and 37 weeks) of work to get us to this moment and it all seemed so very worth it. She was breathtaking. Tiny and delicate, but visibly strong. Her head control was exceptional for someone who was just an hour old. She skillfully hunted for my breast, opened her wee mouth wide, and latched perfectly onto my nipple as if she’d done it a hundred times before. We’d finally found one another, we were finally together. And my body, which had failed me for the 43 hours leading up to surgery, was suddenly working perfectly. It gave my new daughter her first meal. This union of she and me, our little dyad, was almost too much to bear. The exhaustion and elation, the agony and the ecstasy, washed over me and soaked me in such splendid love.
It was over. The pregnancy was over. The birth was over. The surgery, the fear, the pain, over. I could heal now. I could be better because of her, my sweet baby May. Born on her mama’s birthday because we are, and had been, so closely entwined for the last nine months that it was only fitting for us to share a birthday.
In my darkest hours of the pregnancy, the ones when I thought of ending it all, the ones when I spent another sleepless night in the ER begging for the pain to stop, the ones when I’d vomited up yet another meal I couldn’t digest as the numbers on the scale went down instead of up… In these dark hours, I stayed alive for her. And she, in many ways, stayed alive for me. She was my lifeline, and I hers. This was a special child. My baby May, born in July.
In hindsight, my ongoing fears of a c-section were a bit of a premonition. I believe that I knew all along, deep down, that she would be born this way. I believe that I exhausted my efforts to prepare for the induction and a vaginal delivery so that I’d be able to say that I’d done my very best and feel good about that, when all was said and done. I believe that I knew that this epically difficult pregnancy had to end with an equally epic difficult birth. There’s no way that nine months of pain and suffering were going to end with me sneezing her out. Her birth happened the way it did simply because that was the way it was supposed to. I had to face my biggest fears to get this girl Earthside. I had to fight my demons and survive and come out stronger on the other side. That’s the kind of mother she needed. I had to become that kind of mother for her.
And our family of five is complete. The bigger kids are smitten and so are we. I’m happily, gratefully, and proudly closing the pregnancy and birth chapter of my life. Bringing my babies into the world have been experiences like no other, and each child’s birth story is beautiful and special in its own way. My first daughter made me a mother. My son made me humble and forgiving. My youngest made me a warrior.
You have my eternal gratitude, Mavis Thressa. Bless you and your life that we fought for, you and I.