Published on April 14th, 2022 | by Alyssa Sinclair0
The second time I was twenty-eight.
I am not sure I would call it the second time I gave birth, because it was more like it was just taken from me.
“Something is wrong.” I said it to the room, to the nurse, to my husband, to whoever was there. “Call the doctor.” I had a new one this time.
It was a different kind of searing, stabbing pain, after thirty hours of induction. There were drugs in mysterious patterns, in repetitions, after they had placed a catheter through my cervix and filled it with the most fluid possible and left it there for thirteen hours. There had been countless exams done by different residents, where they spread my legs wide and reached a hand up, felt around, applied pressure, only to tell me, “I don’t know,” “We’ve never seen this before,” or, most frustratingly, one doctor giving me one approximation of dilation only to have another give me a different answer a few hours later.
But then there was this pain behind my scar from my first child, a violent blooming deep inside. Cramp, everything squeezing. Pause.
The sharp pain coming up, up and over my head like a hood, drowning me, no fighting, just wishing I could pass out, silently, privately, even wishing for death, anything for it to be over.
And then a contraction started again. The contractions were nothing compared to this pain.
“Something is wrong,” I gasped again. “Please, please call him.”
I looked over at my husband’s cell phone on the tray. The doctor’s number was in there. The screen was locked. The nurse wasn’t saying anything. There were wires attaching me to monitors, an oxygen mask on my face, I could barely move.
“I can call the attending,” the nurse offered. Then, a girl was at my shoulder.
Maybe younger than me. The attending. “He is sleeping,” she whispered gently. “We aren’t going to wake him. But I can offer you an epidural.” An epidural isn’t going to fix this. I knew that deep down. But what choice did I have? I agreed to it.
When the anesthesiologist came, she said something about a combo, and numbed me to the neck. While with my first epidural, two years prior, I could feel a dimmer version of everything, whatever she did this time left me truly feeling no physical connection to anything below my neck. It wasn’t how I imagined a life free from my body. I thought this was going to be an escape but it was worse. I was nothing without my body. I thought about my grandfather, losing his leg in World War II when he stepped on a mine.
“Get back!” he shouted to the men around him.
I began to hyperventilate. I needed something to anchor me to the dark of that labor room, the smell of essential oils, the eternal blue and red glow of the screens, attached by numerous long wires to my distended stomach with sticky sensors. Is this really happening? My body’s heart was a series of peaks and valleys. Or was that the baby’s heart? They were indistinguishable to me. Someone’s heart rate kept dropping. My blood pressure dipped low, 80/32. The nurses burst in and out, in and out, re- attaching the oxygen mask onto my partly conscious face. They moved my hips this way and that way, to see if it would change the numbers.
Hold me in, calm me. Show me this is real. It was never clearer to me than in that moment that my body’s ownership was spread thin. I asked my husband to put his weight on me, to lean on me, a human straitjacket. Don’t let me float away.
Later, my husband slept and I watched my legs flop slowly to one side. They were falling off the bed. I knew if I wasn’t numb, this position would be painful.
“Wake up,” I said. He didn’t. I reached for the red button. Maybe I didn’t say it loud enough. Maybe I felt a little bit bad about waking him up. We had been up for over twenty-four hours. I whispered when the nurse came in,
Thirty-six hours in, they flipped the rails up on the side of the bed, and started wheeling me out, back to the operating room.
The doctor said, “I have never seen this not work before.” He said something about the bony structure of my pelvis.
It was as if the last two years hadn’t passed. They were right back to it. Except this time they didn’t strap my arms down. I didn’t shake with fear. I was ready, ready to lie in disappointment because I knew what was coming. A harvesting. I welcomed it with still arms and hands tucked like cups at my sides. I knew about the warped mirror light above the surgical bed, where I could watch everything they were doing in reverse, but this time I didn’t look. I closed my eyes because I wanted to go to a place I had visited in my last C-section, where my grandmother spoke to me and told me it was going to be all alright. But I couldn’t escape the room, the burning scent as the saw whirred. This time, there was a quiet pause once my stomach was open, a waving over, peering. As they pulled her out–no cry. A shuffle of people in scrubs and hairnets, busy hands, big booties covering their shoes. And then, a steady beep, pause. Beep. Pause. Beep. Beep. Beep. A woman called out numbers.
“Apgar score of 1.” I knew it was out of 10. I was pretty sure she meant 1 out of 10.
“Apgar score of 1,” somebody repeated back. Apgar score of 1? I wondered. I had heard it wrong. It was a mistake.
There was talking, phrases and terms I didn’t understand.
I craned my neck up and around. Just glimpses. My stomach was open but nobody was looking at me anymore. There was a boyish look on the lined face of my 70-something doctor. He held his gloved hands up and away from him as he stared across the room at the baby, whatever they were doing to the baby. It was a look of fear and uncertainty.
“Why isn’t she crying?” I asked. My heart pounded. Silence rang back to me. The beeping of a machine was an alarm clock.
“Why isn’t she crying?” I asked it to anyone, my husband, to the nurse, my doctor, all of the assistants, whoever these people were, to the room. Anyone. Anyone. Nobody could answer me. My stomach dropped and I smacked into a wall of grief. She is gone.
The rush of slippered feet. Back and forth, someone handing one thing, another thing. A huddle. I craned my neck again. I saw a box around the baby, a bag, thin like a grocery bag, ballooning toward the ceiling. Someone put their warm hand on my arm. It was surprisingly soft. Now I know that they were resuscitating her.
A cat mewing. They ran out of the room with her. The doors flapped behind them, the rubber around the edges reminding me strangely of a car door shutting.
“I am on Lexapro!” I shouted after the doctors.
“That’s not it,” a woman barked at me as she pushed the door open with her back, following them to the NICU.
They pushed, rocked, pulled. The dance was familiar. My doctor closed me up, saying he would use some special stitch to make my scar more symmetrical.
“I have to say,” my doctor said. We were still in the OR. He seemed saddened. “There was a uterine rupture. A large one. I have only seen something like this four times in my career.”
Before I chose this doctor I had read online he had delivered over four thousand babies.
Flash to—my husband sobbing in a corner, standing with the doula we had hired. It felt so stupid in that moment. Why did I think I could try again for a natural birth? Just days before we had been so naive and hopeful. There were lots of noises, but I remember no sound. I was watching everything from a great distance, my hands, still and quiet, folded over the rough cotton blanket.
Somebody held a phone to my ear. It was my sister’s voice.
“They said they have to feed her now, do you want to use formula or donor milk?” Her voice was thin and stressed.
“What?” She repeated the whole thing back to me.
“Donor milk, I guess.” So I would not be able to feed my own daughter for the first time.
I was alone in the C-section recovery room. Ice chips, a breast pump, a plastic spoon. My husband had left to carry three drops of colostrum on a white plastic spoon to the NICU. My body felt swollen, un-contained, pins and needles, numb. All of the exams and the catheters (one for my cervix, one for urine) had left me feeling violated; the awake-surgery and the rupture, it all took me beyond wanting to leave my body. A curtain partitioned off my bed, but I could hear another woman being wheeled in. I could hear the voice of her husband, then her parents. I had never felt more alone than in that moment, as I listened to them coo over their new baby as I stared at the cotton curtain between us with its faded, eighties pattern. I watched the way it hung inches above the floor, swaying slightly. I tried to picture where my baby was, and wondered if she missed me.
“Your blood pressure is through the roof,” the nurse said. I looked at her. She was my labor nurse two days before. I had been there long enough that she was back for another shift. I realized I was wearing the same blue nightgown as two days before. It was sweaty and stale at the back of my neck.
“I am so sorry this happened to you,” she said. “I have never seen anything like it in my whole career.” That was the second, and last, apology. She was typing as she said it. She looked at her screen and back down at her chart. She began to spin slightly on her stool, its seat blue leather, its legs bright silver. She looked over at me, her lips pursed.
I rested my head back, looked up at the ceiling tiles, speckled like my elementary school classroom. I thought about the last time, two years prior, when I had a swaddled baby on my chest, layers of warm blankets upon her, around us. That time, the nurse in the recovery room told me she had refused a C-section and her pelvis had broken during labor.
“Sometimes it’s the right thing,” she said.
I have learned people offer regrets as a form of apology.