The next couple days in the hospital were just as devoid of joy.
I had a lot of trouble breast feeding my baby. Her latch was hurting pretty badly on my right side, but when I asked the nurses with a lactation certification, she couldn’t tell me what was wrong. One of the nurses said she had watched me nurse and that my baby’s head was crooked because I was lying down. “No one wants to drink like that,” she said with disgust. She suggested that I turn over and lie on my side to breastfeed. Sure, if I had any ab muscle and not seven layers of incisions, I might be able to twist my core and turn. But, no, that would not be possible. Instead, every time my baby cried, my husband either changed her diaper on the other side of the room, or plopped her onto my breast for feeding. I had trouble even moving my arms or adjusting the baby’s position without help, so I had to make sure he waited until she latched.
I couldn’t sit up fully, because my abs felt like they had been slashed and removed. I imagine recovering from a c-section surgery feels a lot like being repeatedly stabbed with a butcher knife through the abdomen, except, with no sympathy from friends, family, or medical staff. There’s more of an air of, “This is what it’s like to have a baby. Aren’t you glad you joined the club, you naive little girl?”
One of the nurses – the one who had saved me from vomiting with a pain killer shot to my thigh – realized that some of my trouble sitting up had to do with the fact that they had left me in my labor bed and not transferred me to a bigger, more mobile hospital bed with a thicker mattress after surgery. She transferred me onto the new bed, and I was able to raise my bed without additional stomach cramping.
My legs were cuffed with compressors to lower my chances of developing a blood clot and oxygen tubes were put into my nostrils. They fell out often – every time I turned my head, or looked down at my baby, and a nurse from the station would come rushing in and tell me to stop taking them out. I asked them to please tape them in and they said if they had time they’d look for tape.
I had a catheter and I was repeatedly asked if I was passing gas and how my bleeding looked. I couldn’t move or see the lower half of my body, so they had to check. I felt disgusting and ashamed. I looked drugged up, put through a clothes dryer. I looked to have gained about 20 pounds just from the IV fluids. I looked bigger than when I had checked in pregnant. I asked my husband and the nurse to take pictures of me and my baby together, thinking she might want to see them one day, although I didn’t.
I was cramping often, especially during breastfeeding. My uterus was closing up, and it was the hospital’s policy to administer Pitocin to help this along. Pitocin has the reputation of strengthening contractions beyond regular pain and strength tolerances, and also of having a potential to rupture uteruses. This is why many hospitals don’t administer it to laboring women attempting to birth after a csection. Interestingly, here they found it perfectly safe to administer after my uterus was just cut open and sewn back together. I told the nurses my cramping hurt worse than my unmedicated labor to 8 centimeters. They seemed to think I was exaggerating.
I woke up frequently, gasping, with my entire abdomen seizing. It felt as if my organs were being pulled forcefully out, and I couldn’t catch my breath. I told the nurses of this and they couldn’t find an explanation. This lasted for about a week after surgery.
About 24 hours after my abdominal surgery and removal of my baby, the nurse told me it was time to walk. This brought a wave of terror almost as strong as being lifted onto the operating table. Then again, since being put through surgery without my consent, I no longer felt attached to my body, like it even mattered, so engaging in something that would bring me massive pain and terror felt normal at this point. Didn’t I care about my baby?
I got out of bed, slowly but surely. With a cold sweat, and the nurse’s and my husband’s help (not Connie), I took shuffles across the floor in socks, gripping their arms in pain and fright. I found I could get out of bed with help if I had taken pain pills in the past 30 minutes. Toward the end of the four hours duration of the pain meds, there was no way in hell I could do it without screaming and feeling nauseous.
So they removed my catheter, and yet another nurse helped me to the bathroom. She helped me sit onto the low toilet, gripping my hand, helped me wipe, and change my pad, as I didn’t have the core mobility, and helped me up – the scariest, most painful part, coming from squat to standing, hours after abdominal surgery.
Several hours after this, my husband went out to get food, feed the cats, get out of the hospital room. I was alone, and needing to relieve myself of all the IV fluids. I buzzed the nurse. About 15 minutes went by and I really had to go. I buzzed again and started to get out of bed. By the time the nurse entered, I was out of bed.
“What do you need?” she asked, somewhat annoyed. I told her I needed help going to the bathroom. “Really? It looks like you got out of bed just fine by yourself.” My mouth fell open. “I…I can’t sit by myself,” I stammered. “I can’t help you do that. You know, we could really hurt ourselves doing that,” she told me angrily, and left the room. I shuffled to the bathroom and sobbed. My husband walked in, baffled. I told him what had happened. He helped me go to the bathroom and get back in bed.
Later, the same nurse gave me grief for staying a third day in the hospital. “Usually people only stay two days after they have babies,” she said. “Some even go home that night.” I reminded her I had surgery. She said still, she heard the other doctors talking about how unusual it was that I was staying. I felt she was trying to rush me out.
Dr. Sayago came in the second day. I was standing at the whiteboard, keeping track of the nursing times so I could let the pediatrician and nurse know when they came in. No one told me how often or long to nurse or even to track it, but I had listened to my sister’s nurse teach her months before at her hospital in Chico.
“Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you standing up,” she said. She told me to shower, and to wash the incision with soap and water. She told me that she would prescribe Percocet, but that I didn’t really need it, that all I needed was Ibuprofen for a couple weeks. She said not to worry, that she had had two c-sections and she was fine. I looked at her coldly – did she really think her experience translated directly into mine? That I felt the same about surgery? She mistook this look for a comment on her image. She grabbed her stomach and said, “Oh no – don’t think that. This is from the twins, not from surgery.” Then she proceeded to tell me that her c-sections were actually needed, because she had had a breech pregnancy first and then twins. I couldn’t believe what was coming out of her mouth. Was she saying I didn’t need the c-section? I asked her, timidly, what did she think happened to necessitate my csection? She narrowed her eyes at me, immediately defensive. “I think your placenta was old,” she said with mild disgust. Then she excused herself. I never saw her again.
The doctor I had seen multiple times before going into labor, the one who told me that only the locum doctor would be on call for a few days, came in to see me the day of my discharge. She looked scared and sorry for me as she entered my room. “How are you?” she asked, immediately saying, “I heard the birth was pretty traumatic.” I started crying. “Yes, I got to 9 centimeters and -” my husband interrupted, someone was on the phone to ask me questions for the birth certificate. “Wait,” I said to him, and to the doctor. She waved her hands, “Oh no, I’ll come back. It looks like you all are busy.” She rushed out. I took the phone from my husband.
She came back a couple hours later to look at my incision. She visibly recoiled. “Staples,” she said. I hadn’t looked at my incision. I couldn’t bend over to see it, and I didn’t want to touch any part of myself between my chest and knees. It all felt gross, broken and shameful. “You know,” she said quickly, “Studies have shown that staples can have just as good healing as sutures.” I laughed inside. Who cares about my body, anyway. No one has cared thus far. It was easier for me not to care, too, to stop fighting for it. It was too painful to acknowledge that this was my only body, my only life, and this is what they did to me, without my consent. Instead, I let the anger boil hotter and lashed out at myself. This is what you get, I told myself. This must be what you deserve.
Then she blathered on, trying to make it better. “I remember this man told me once that watching his wife give birth was like watching his favorite pub burn down.” Her implication here was at least I didn’t have that.
Oh good, at least I didn’t take away my husband’s favorite cushy penis pub, I thought sarcastically. At least I got major, life-changing abdominal surgery instead, and won’t hamper my husband’s sex life. I lost my right to birth the way I wanted, to a spiritual, empowering birth and bodily autonomy, and I was re-traumatized, but hey, yeah, at least I won’t bother my husband in bed. Except for this scar that you are implying is hideous.
I saw her two weeks later for an incision check. I told her I was waking up with nightmares about the surgery, screaming, and I was afraid I had postpartum. She made a funny face, like she didn’t know quite what to say. “I like the way your scar looks, though,” she said instead. I told her I had pain on both sides and that it felt hot. She didn’t comment. I asked her what she thought had happened – why did I have a c-section? “It was just the perfect storm,” she said. “Sometimes, we get the baby out, and nothing’s wrong and that can make people feel bad about what happened. But if something is wrong with the baby, we only have 14 minutes to get the baby out before something can go wrong.” She turned to my baby, on the floor in her carseat. “And look at her, she’s perfect,” she said. She might as well have said, we don’t know why we gave you a c-section, it appears there was no reason, but no harm, no foul – your baby is perfect! But there was harm. I had been irreparably harmed for no medical reason. No good reason at all. Probably because Dr. Sayago was tired and wanted to go back to sleep, or out of spite and some deranged need to teach me a lesson for daring to think I had any say over my own body. And my baby was harmed. She was on a respirator from the drugs they pumped her with before and from my c-section. We were separated for hours and did not bond. The very beginning of our mother-child relationship was overlooked and tossed away. My confidence in being a mother, a human being, was slashed. I had PTSD and PPD. I woke up crying and my husband found me in the kitchen weeping late at night. There was harm. Ireparable, undervalued harm.
Six weeks later I went back and told her I thought I had PPD. I had tested positive for it twice already on forms. She said she wanted to wait, that it still might be baby blues. I told her I didn’t think it was – that PPD ran in my family, as did depression, that I knew my risk for PPD was higher because I had depression and anxiety before and during pregnancy. She didn’t waver. She didn’t recommend resources, a therapist, or even hand me a brochure. I told her I could look into the ICAN meetings. She told me it sounded like I had “a handle on it.”
Two months post-surgery, the adhesive used to reinforce my scar fell off half way. I looked at it for the first time in the mirror. The adhesive left was dirty and peeling, like a bandage left on too long, and the scar was angry and purple. It was also jagged and came to three different points. It started about an inch lower on one side and ticked up, like a chart showing the unnecessary c-section rate in America. It was above my bikini line, a couple inches above my pubic hair and would certainly peek out of the top of a bathing suit bottom or underwear like an arrow pointing to a terrible injury. I cried.
A few months later, after I had written a six page complaint and sent it to the hospital’s Patient Experience Coordinator, I sat at a story time activity at our local library. I had gone through a couple months of trauma therapy for PTSD. I was still healing. My heart still ached. But I wasn’t waking up screaming and crying after nightmares of being on the operating table.
A woman and her little baby girl sat next to me. She looked to be about my daughter’s age. How old, I asked. Five months. Really? Mine, too. Did you have her at home? I asked. No, at the hospital. Me too, I said. What day? December 16th, she said, about 11pm. Wow, I said, that was literally the same time I was in the hospital. I asked her if Dr. Sayago, the locum doctor delivered her, knowing she’d say yes, and finally, I could talk to someone with the same doctor.
But she didn’t. Instead, she said that my doctor, Dr. Weavil, and Dr. Rudolph delivered her.
“I have a good relationship with Dr. Weavil, so she came in to help me,” she said. “They were so amazing. They spent hours helping me and turning my baby so I didn’t have to have a c-section.” She said it arrogantly, blissfully. My heart rate picked up and I could feel angry tears stinging my eyes. The library activity started, and I tried to surreptitiously wipe away my tears as we sang songs to our kids. Thirty minutes later, when it was all over, she left quickly and I ran with my daughter to the car. I sobbed there for fifteen minutes. They had lied to me. My doctor had lied to me. They were there, that very night in the hospital while I was there, leaving me to the locum doctor – to her timetable and affinity for c-sections.
When I told the hospital administrator this later, her face clouded, like she was embarrassed. When she refused to give me the heart rate strip, I knew in my head and heart what my husband had always thought – the csection wasn’t necessary at all, and some major mismanagement led to it. My heart broke. Denied a spiritual rite of passage and put in physical danger because of a line up of poor medical and business decisions made me ill. I knew I had to fight.