Being awake through a c-section wouldn’t be so unusual, or anything to be thankful for really if I was in the UK where it’s a routine option, but here in Turkey, where the majority of c-sections are performed with the mother fully asleep, it’s an after-thought if at all thought of to offer the mother the option of being awake at her child’s birth. Out of the seven women I know who’ve had caesarean births here, only one besides myself was awake for the birth, and she, like I, requested that specifically. Just like the father being present in the room, for all of the strides ‘forward’ in modern thinking Turkey is taking, some approaches remain very Eastern.
After M was born, the epidural wore off gradually but speedily and although the sensation of numbness leaving my legs and toes was one which even thinking about now sets my stomach churning, it was a painless, smooth recovery. For T’s birth, neither the anesthesiologist or my OB was happy for me to have an epidural, but agreed to a spinal anaesthesia instead which from my perspective on the table makes no noticeable difference. Administration is the same for both: you sit, leaning forward still as can be while a needle is inserted between vertebrae into your spinal column – not the easiest of maneuvers when you’re 9+ months pregnant! – and once it’s in, you’re laid down flat before the feeling starts to disappear gradually from waist down.
Spinal anaesthesia, a safer option for anyone at risk of blood clotting, is the prefered method of anaesthesia generally because less medication is required; post-surgery however the risks of complications are higher. Two days after M’s birth, the morning we were leaving hospital to bring him home, I felt as though I’d pulled every single muscle in my neck and couldn’t turn it without pain. The on-duty-nurse assured me I’d simply strained it looking down while breastfeeding through the night and massaged heat gel into the area to ease it. Whether simply elation at being home or tiredness or actual recovery, I’m not sure, but the next day, the pain was much better and I forgot all about ever experiencing it until the day after T was born when the same pain in my neck started again. Again I put it down to having strained my neck and as T wasn’t with me, I spent most of the day lying in bed and so didn’t think very much of it. The day after, as before, the pain was worse but this time, the logic of having strained it breastfeeding didn’t make any sense. Nonetheless, I dismissed it as nothing, having more pressing matters on my mind and though I mentioned it at discharge, didn’t think very much of it. The following day, within an hour of getting up in the morning, I was struggling to hold my head up without crying. Rather than a strained muscle feel, this was a searing pain shooting from my shoulder to my brain, excruciating and totally debilitating. It turned out I was experiencing a side-effect from the spinal anaesthesia – that of trapped gas on the spine. Caused by a bubble escaping when the needle is inserted, there is no cure except wait for the gas to work its’ way out of your body. Lying down is the only way to ease the pain which explained why the pain had remained bearable until I went home and was moving around. having been prescribed countless cups of coffee and bedrest – caffeine helps the gas escape – I spent the next four days sitting up only to pump milk for T, wash and eat. Being unable to sit up with M, prepare meals or stand long enough to take a shower, I’m not sure how we’d have managed had T been at home with us.
These past two pregnancies and births have taught me many things about myself and the journey we take through our lives and in many aspects I’ve come full circle on my thoughts and approaches to medicine, or natures way; in others I’ve taken a 180 degree turn. Yesterday, the boys were both awake and we were playing on our corner-seat-labour-of-love*, M jumping across it from square to square, no concept of the risk of overstepping the edge, T lying big eyes soaking up the excited sounds his brother made. I watched our reflections in the mirror, daydreaming of the months to come when T like his brother before him will inshallah discover each patch individually, it’s colours and textures, the flaws in the stitches. These are the things it’s really important to see; these are the moments we need to be present for. Being awake for my children’s births was so important to me, the memories are dear too, but not being here for these moments..For now, we’re done having babies, but if we weren’t.. never say never, right? ..I wouldn’t risk any of it, whatever the birth option that meant. Avoidable complications, whatever the reason, are not ok to take me away from being Mum, in all my definitions of the word.