So if I thought I didn’t want an epidural, you can imagine how I felt upon learning I was now entering Caesarean City, ready or not. And the troops gathered with admirable efficiency – the birthing suite hummed with activity, as a cast of thousands readied me for theatre. Dr F miraculously appeared, as though he’d been waiting behind Door #3 all along, nurses came and went, and a man – Bernie was his name – charged with wheeling me to the surgery nattered cheerfully, offering a running commentary while I was indelicately rolled onto the waiting gurney, sporting a catheter and the slowly numbing spinal block for my trouble. Llew was thrown a set of scrubs, which he dutifully donned, and Bernie took a photo of us pre-op as they wheeled me down the hall. It’s an utterly hideous photo of me, I look bloated and, um, beached, and I’m starting to look quite off the air, but it’s a photo Llew loves, because we were on our way to meet our child. And for that reason, I find I can almost love it too.
We went down, down in the lifts to what felt like a beyond basement subterranean level. Lying on my back, I stared wonderingly up into the exposed air-conditioning ducts, bits of foiled pipe dangling above like some spaceship’s dramatic disembowelment, the occasional gaping hole in the ceiling appearing obscurely menacing. It was like we’d left the hospital proper and entered a zone whose existence hospital officials categorically deny… it felt like I’d been outlawed somehow. Banished to the place where the women who can’t handle the pace are taken in hand.
Or many hands, as it turns out.
It was a blur of new faces. There was a new anaesthetist, P, another obstetrician, Dr D, who would be assisting Dr F. There were several nurses… and the midwife from upstairs, M, was there, and for her presence I was particularly glad.
Llew was given a nametag they’d prepared earlier. It read simply, DAD.
At some point I lost all feeling in my legs. And it was after I’d lost all feeling in my legs that Dr F said we were going to give it one last shot the old fashioned way. Bring in the stirrups! Hand me the suction! Push!
Push what? I can’t feel a thing!
It was the strangest spectacle, watching my legs being manually separated and placed in stirrups as though they were separate entities, and not part of me at all. “Oh look, there are my legs… there they go…” – I had no sensation connecting them to me. Most peculiar. Mercifully, it didn’t take Dr F long to allow me to abandon the faux pushing as it clearly wasn’t going to work – there was no movement at the station. Again I had that weird sense of faking it, as though this was all an elaborate ruse, and I wasn’t really pregnant or about to give birth at all.
But still the grand finale awaited. In moments, sheets were discreetly dropped, effectively separating my quasi-lucid mind from my unnaturally slumbering body. P the anaesthetist and Llew held their positions by the side of my head, while everyone else gathered on the other side of that all important partitioning sheet. The doctors began chatting and joking – P rolled her eyes as they discussed real estate and fitness. Dr D didn’t mind the sound of his own voice, but I didn’t mind it either – their relaxed chatter achieved its desired effect: it put my mind at ease. Earnest silence would have been terrifying – their insistent jocularity assured me that all was well.
I wouldn’t say I couldn’t feel anything. I could feel it, a kind of remote sawing, certainly not painful, not even uncomfortable, just… a dull probing.
“You won’t feel a thing,” cooed P.
“Really? Because I can kind of feel that.”
Llew glanced over the sheet, paled and quickly dropped back. Forceps. Later he would describe the scene as medieval, and as though they were pulling a gigantic tooth, really putting their backs into it. And then, very quickly, a wailing cry. Probably the single most welcome and profound sound of my life. Llew held my hand and we both had a bit of a cry. There was a confusion of voices and instructions. I wasn’t going anywhere, but Llew was taken over to the table where they cut the cord and count fingers and toes.
“Is everything all right?” I wanted to know.
Yes, they assured me, everything was just great. P directed me to a monitor over my left shoulder, on which I was supposed to be able to see my baby. Instead all I saw was my beloved husband’s back, entirely filling the screen.
“Um, hello?” I ventured after a while, “I still don’t know whether it’s a boy or a girl.”
“We’ll let your husband tell you,” Dr F said.
And then Llew was by my side, fresh tears in his eyes.
“We have a beautiful baby boy,” he said.
“Ooooh,” I said, my heart tight as my throat.
And then they handed him to me, all wrapped up in a hospital issue blanket. He slotted into my arms like he had always been there, and I held my son for the very first time.
Too soon, far too soon, he and Llew were whisked away from me, escorted up to Special Care. I was bound for post-op recovery. My two boys left me. Without a doubt, this was the lowest point of the entire experience. It couldn’t be helped, Baby J needed his care and I needed mine, but it was about the most counter-intuitive derailment of the natural order that I can possibly imagine. Suddenly I was alone with a couple of nurses, and neither my husband nor my minutes-old baby was anywhere in sight. It didn’t take all that long until we were reunited in Special Care, an hour maybe, but it was the most interminable wait imaginable for me.
There is a photo Llew took of Baby J seconds after he was hauled into the world. His limbs are all working, his face in profile full of protest. His eyes are squeezed shut, he is clearly crying, and his little ribcage is rippling. Whenever I see this photo, I am struck by the force of it, struck by the absolute physical fact of him and the moment Llew captured: life.