The cesarean was wild: the blood pressure cuffs; the way I lay prone, arms out like Jesus; the masked doctors and nurses, buzzing about; how I imagined what they were doing to my body even though all I felt was strange, rough pressure. Patrick arrived in his surgery moon suit, whispering to me and rubbing my face, and I was so happy we were together. When I heard our baby cry for the first time, relief flooded through me. They held him up, and I could not stop crying. He looked just like Patrick! He was red and wailing, and a few minutes later, I heard Patrick tell him, “I have a face, too, like yours; it just has a mask on it.”
When they brought my baby to me, he stopped crying. We were like old friends. Patrick and I hadn’t told anyone what we’d call Bean once he was born; we’d kept his name a secret for months. Now, though, he would be called Dixon. But he’d always be my Bean.
After my surgery, the doctor who performed it told my mother that Dixon had turned slightly transverse during labor, and so the side of his head was hitting my cervix, making it impossible for labor to progress.
I’m not sure why no one could figure out Bean’s position during my labor; I still ask myself that question, almost two years later, and I wonder, if I had gone ahead and had a home birth, like my own had been, maybe things would have gone differently. After all, my mother’s labor with me had been long and difficult, not without complications, but the midwives had been able to manage it. Sometimes I think about the photos of my own birth, of that gorgeous golden light, and how calm everyone seems, even when things must have been intense, and I feel a terrible longing, a kind of shame, even. Maybe it’s my fault I ended up with a cesarean. Maybe somewhere along the line, I made a poor choice. If I had asked for a sonogram after hour thirty . . . If I hadn’t squatted with such enthusiasm . . . If, if, if.
Something like thirty percent of women in the United States give birth via C-section, and that number is rising every day. I believe that many of these operations could be avoided. Was mine one of these? The truth is, I don’t like to talk about my labor, mostly because I feel the need to explain the whole long story; otherwise, you might think I’m a clueless everywoman who let the doctors do what they did because I didn’t have faith in my own body. Because I was weak, because I’m not in touch with my physical powers.
When my sister Heidi gave unmedicated birth to her second child, just as she did with her first, the labor was relatively short. Though I have no memory of it, I’m told that the first thing I said to her upon walking into her hospital room was “Fuck. You.” I’m sure I meant it in jest, but that doesn’t mean my words didn’t come from a place of deep and complicated pain. Only eight months had passed since Bean’s birth, and I was still struggling to accept my own labor. I would tell myself that I got three births in one—a natural one, a medicated one, and a surgical one—but the truth is, the first was the only one I wanted, that I still want.
If the female body is built to give birth, and if every other woman in my family can give birth naturally, then why did I have to meet my baby with an oxygen mask over my face, half my body so numb it became not my own?