Beneath the bright white light of the operating room a sky blue curtain separates me from my peeled open body. Numb from the waist down and fully conscious, I can hear the flurry of doctors and nurses performing tests, taking notes, and alternating between sucking meconium out of my son’s brand new lungs and pumping air in.
Only a few yards away but entirely out of reach, my seconds-old baby is near death. Fear permeates the room like a thick fog. I cannot see him.
Helpless and terrified, the last 30 hours of labor, the breech and uterine contortion to flip him back into place, the ultrasounds, endless cervical checks, and the lifetime I’d imagined before us ripple through my mind. All I can think of, over and over again, is this can’t be happening. Not after all this. Not after my boy was just ripped from my body and shown to me for the very first time, wrinkled and purple and all mine, before immediately being taken away from me. I keep waiting for the defibrillator, the loud “clear,” envisioning those life-saving sensors shocking the tiny body of my boy like a Hollywood film, because I can’t tell what’s happening. All I know is everything about his birth has gone wrong.
The surgeon keeps cutting, slicing my placenta from my womb. I open my eyes and catch a glimpse of my husband through the chaos hovering on the outskirts of the medical team that is doing everything they can to bring our boy to life. In surgical garb with palms pressed together in front of his face I can see that he is praying. In all our years together it’s a first, proof of the severity of the situation.
As the minutes tick by, my panic mounts. The kind anesthesiologist behind me, a disembodied southern drawl, checks in from time to time, making sure I can’t feel what is physically happening to me. My mouth is dry like I’ve been eating sand. Trapped, hopeful, torn open like a sardine can, and terribly aware that there is nothing I can do, I stare at the blue curtain inches from my face and try to stop listening.
Finally, after the five most agonizing minutes of my life, the sweetest sound carries through the room—my baby’s first cry. His soft little voice fills the OR with palpable relief.
“Mom, what’s his name?” someone asks. My heart jolts. I’m a mother now.
The Rise of Traumatic Births
This traumatic moment is how I’ve become a mother. It wasn’t in the slightest way the birth I had planned.
In the United States, 32 percent of women deliver by cesarean. That’s one in three women. But researchers estimate that almost half of these major abdominal surgeries aren’t necessary, especially for women with low risk pregnancies. I was one of those women: blessed with an easy, healthy pregnancy, only to be followed by a complicated and traumatic delivery. That my birth experience would turn out the way it did was entirely unpredictable. But I soon realized I’m far from alone.
A staggering 25-34 percent of women report traumatic births, according to PATTCh (Prevention and Treatment of Traumatic Childbirth). In these cases, much like mine, the trauma occurs when women believe that their lives, or the lives of their babies are in danger. Whether the danger is real or perceived, the threat of injury or death to the mother or child can result in lasting trauma postpartum.