I want to share what it was like for me to watch my wife have a C-section. As a first time dad, it was a whirlwind experience and I think it’s important to share with other first time dads, or birth partners, so they have an idea of what to expect. Needless to say, I was not quite prepared for the change in plans and the pace of the OR caught me off guard. I think knowing the basics of what was about to happen could have greatly reduced my stress.
Like a lot of couples, we had fully planned on having a traditional birth in the hospital. I recommend having a basic outline of how you want your birth story to go, but always remember that plan can change at a moment’s notice and you have to be ready to roll with the punches. Trust me, you want to stay flexible when it comes to giving birth. I can’t stress that enough.
Luckily for us, we were already in a flexible mindset going into our birth story. We went into the hospital for Lisa to be induced. By the next morning, everything was going according to plan and Lisa’s water broke and contractions started right on schedule. As the day went on, the contractions increased like normal. As we got closer to active labor, Lisa got an epidural just like we had originally planned.
Once she started pushing, I watched my wife turn into the strongest woman I’ve ever seen. She pushed for 3 hours straight as hard as she could and didn’t take a single break. We thought our daughter, Zoey, was going to arrive on December 31 which happens to be Lisa’s birthday, but as she continued to push with all her might it got later and later.
Poor Lisa gave it everything she had for 3 hours straight. Nurses changed shifts, different pushing techniques were tried, but Zoey was still no closer to being born than when we first started pushing. We were fortunate to have a doctor that did not pressure us at all to make the decision to have a C-section. He totally left the decision in our hands. Even though we knew what the decision had to be, it was still tough to let go of the idea of having a traditional birth.
Somewhere close to midnight we finally conceded and decided to have a C-section. Until this point, I had been fine with everything. I hadn’t left Lisa’s side since we got to the hospital. I felt ready to help any way that I could and I was right there with the nurse helping Lisa countdown though the contractions. I brought her washcloths for her head and I held her hand. I made sure she kept breathing while she was pushing (even though she said she got to the point where she would breathe just so she wouldn’t have to hear me remind her).
It’s a surreal feeling to be right there in the moment but still feel helpless. Disclaimer: I realize my part in this birth story does not equal my wife’s. As a dad, I can read about giving birth, go to classes about giving birth and talk to other birth partners about being there, but there is still something different about being there in person. All mothers deserve a round of applause when they walk into a room because having a baby is no joke and if you get the privilege of watching your significant other basically turn into Wonder Woman, consider yourself lucky, because it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
But, I digress, back to the story at hand. We made the decision to have a C-section and to me it was like the hospital flipped upside down. Until this point I felt good about everything, but as soon as we decided to change course, everyone started a flurry of activity. To be honest, the rest of the events are foggy to me highlighted by flashbulb memories of little moments. Like I said before, I was not prepared.
People came in with documents to sign. The nursing staff whisked Lisa away to be prepped for surgery while a nurse handed me a cap and gown and some little things to go over my shoes. I remember trying to gather up all our stuff and hold on to the stuff they gave me. I had to basically load up all our belongings onto a wheelchair and I remember Lisa leaving the room without me. I said I felt helpless before, but I’ve never felt as helpless as when she was carted out the door without me.
Then, for whatever reason, the nurse took me into a room by myself and said someone would come to get me shortly. It felt like an eternity and being alone was horrible. I’m sure it was only a few minutes but I was super nervous at this point. I got all the protective gear on and finally a nurse came and got me. She gave me a quick run down of where I was supposed to stand and how I needed to walk into the OR.
I’d like to take this opportunity to say, TV has lied to us all. I had never been in an OR before, so my only reference was TV and I was used to seeing just 2 or 3 people in there. I thought it would be dimly lit and people talking in calm, soothing voices. But no, that is not even close to reality. I walk through the doors and see these bright, blinding lights. I have no idea how many people are in the room but everyone is super active and moving around. Everyone is talking loud in excited voices. It was sensory overload for me.
Then I see my wife strapped down to a table with her arms outstretched. The nurse ushers me to a seat by my wife’s head. I try to remain as calm as possible and I try to be as supportive as I can for her sake, even though I feel like I’m having an out of body experience myself. So I’m sitting there and all of the sudden I hear the doctor/doctors/nurses (I honestly don’t know who all was over on the other side of the drape at that point) say a collective, “Wow!” That was not comforting at all.
Thankfully, nothing was wrong. Apparently little Zoey was just really stuck and they said Lisa could have pushed forever but that baby wasn’t going anywhere. Shortly after that the nurse barks at me that I need to stand up if I want to see the baby being born. I had about 1 second to make that decision. In one of the quickest decisions in human history, I stand up and look over the curtain. I had no preconceived notions about what I was going to see when I looked over, but I can tell you, I had no idea the amount of force it takes to pop a baby out of a woman’s stomach.
You would like to think the doctors are being super gentle and just barely massaging the baby out, but no, when I look over the doctor is mashing on my wife’s stomach and out pops Zoey. I quickly see the baby come out and I see that she looks healthy and I sit back down. The nurses quickly get Zoey cleaned up, weighed and measured and then hand her to me.
That’s the most surreal experience of my life, looking at my daughter for the first time and looking at my wife too wanting to know for certain that she’s okay. I noticed a vacuum thing that was collecting blood from Lisa which freaked me out to see how much she was losing. It should be noted that I have no idea if Lisa lost a normal or abnormal amount, it just looked like something that should be inside the body and not in a vacuum. While that thing filled up and Lisa laid there trying to look at Zoey, I just sat there in shock from it all.
While all of this is going on, Lisa started saying she was having trouble breathing. I am so thankful that a nurse was standing beside us and explained why it felt that way. Apparently as a woman lays there, sometimes the epidural that’s meant for the lower half of the body can travel upwards causing a woman to feel like she can’t breathe. We were both relieved that she wasn’t in danger, but it would have been good to know before hand because it’s definitely alarming in the moment.
Through all this, in my head, I held it together very well. However, it has been a point of debate between Lisa and I that in my efforts to comfort her, I may or may not have showed signs that I was stressed. In my mind, I calmly rubbed her arm to comfort her, but according to her I was rubbing her arm so fast that it felt like I was rubbing her skin off. Since there is no verifiable footage of said incident, this matter cannot be resolved. Either way, Lisa would like it noted that she did ask me to stop rubbing her arm and just leave my hand still. Unfortunately this matter will remain one of the world’s greatest mysteries.
After a short time of sitting there, Zoey and I were ushered out of the OR and taken to a post-op room to get Zoey a little cleaner while Lisa got the rest of her stitches. Once I left the OR, everything got a lot calmer. That moment actually felt like the first time I got to hold Zoey because I really got to look at her and appreciate her sweet little face. That was the moment I finally got to breathe easier. Shortly after that they wheeled Lisa into the room and we got to just be a family.
While we hung out in the post-op area admiring Zoey, Lisa started to shake. To me it looked like she was shaking like a person standing in the snow who’s really cold. However, Lisa said to her it felt like she was shaking violently. However, this is apparently fairly normal. The nurse explained that with a C-section, the baby comes out so quickly the mom’s hormones scramble to re-balance and this causes her body to shake. Fortunately the shaking subsided fairly quickly.
Sitting there looking at our daughter was a beautiful moment in time that I hope I never forget. Once everything was checked out on Lisa and Zoey, they moved us to our room for the night. I changed my daughter’s diaper for the first time around 4am in the morning and then we did our best to get some sleep. The whole process had taken almost 24 hours. It’s extremely draining, but our adrenaline kept us going and it’s only after everything finally calmed down that we realized how exhausted we really were.
My goal in sharing this story is to help other first time dads and birth partners feel more prepared for their experience. If you scrolled past the post, here are the key points below. If you read all the way through, thank you.
8 THINGS I WISH I HAD KNOWN
- REMAIN FLEXIBLE WITH YOUR BIRTH STORY – It’s great to have a rough outline of how you want things to go in the hospital. It can help you feel more confident to know you and your partner are on the same page. It makes decision making easier. However, be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking it has to go exactly according to plan. There are so many variables that you can’t account for, so don’t put a burden on yourself that’s unrealistic. If it all goes according to plan, that’s wonderful and consider yourself lucky. If the whole plan gets trampled by elephants, just stay strong and roll with the punches.
- KNOW THAT YOU ARE GOING TO FEEL HELPLESS – It was hard to watch my wife deal with all the pain by herself. It was hard to watch her struggle with all the pushing. It’s hard to watch her lay there in an OR while she’s awake having a baby removed from her stomach. But as a dad, or partner, you have a role in this story. Do your best to manage your emotions and your stress and do whatever little thing you can to help her. If she needs her back messaged, do that. If she wants a hot or cold washcloth for her head, get it. If she needs to talk, listen. If she needs ice chips, grab them. If she wants to listen to music, make it happen. You are there to support her however you possibly can and that is the best way to help you feel a little less helpless.
- KNOW THAT ONCE YOU SWITCH FROM A TRADITIONAL BIRTH TO A C-SECTION, EVERYTHING HAPPENS VERY FAST – That was one of the things that immediately caught me off guard. I thought there would be a little downtime while they got everything ready, but there was not. It’s just sign the papers and let’s go.
- WHEN YOU’RE IN THE FIRST ROOM, KEEP YOUR STUFF PACKED UP BEST YOU CAN – Like I just said, everything happens fast once you switch to a C-section and it was very nerve-wracking for me to try to gather up all of our belongings and put them in a wheelchair. I literally had the wheelchair overflowing with stuff as I was trying to push it down the hall. Not to mention that all my mind was thinking about was how my wife and daughter were doing, so making sure I had everything was very confusing in that moment. It is worth nothing that the labor and delivery unit was completely full the night we went to the hospital. If the department wasn’t so full, we probably would not have had to change rooms. It’s still a lesson learned not to move into the first room.
- BE READY FOR A BUSY OR – I had unrealistic expectations walking into the OR, so I think that made everything worse for me. Just know that the TV has led you astray and ORs are actually very busy and well lit. Surgeons have conversations while working, nurses are running around getting everything ready and you are not high priority to them. You are only allowed in there to make the woman who’s giving birth feel better and to be a part of the experience. Beyond that you are just a body that’s in the way of them doing their job.
- THINK ABOUT WHETHER OR NOT YOU WANT TO SEE THE BABY COMING OUT BEFORE YOU GET TO THE HOSPITAL – I’m still glad I stood up and saw Zoey being born. However, it was crazy being told to stand up now if I want to see her being born and having to decide in a split second. I really wish I had thought about it before hand, because there was a good chance I might have thought a couple of seconds too long and missed it. Seriously, right as I stood up was right when Zoey was coming out. Two more seconds and that moment would have been lost. So think about it even if you plan on having a traditional birth, because you only get a few seconds to decide and you don’t want to regret that you missed it.
- KNOW THAT THE EPIDURAL CAN TRAVEL UPWARD MAKING A WOMAN FEEL LIKE SHE CAN’T BREATHE – It was alarming for my wife and I when she felt like she couldn’t breathe, but we were assured it’s a fairly common occurrence. So if your wife or partner says she can’t breathe well after getting an epidural, don’t automatically panic, but do tell a nurse or doctor quickly so they can monitor the situation.
- KNOW THAT YOUR WIFE OR PARTNER MAY SHAKE A LOT AFTER THE BABY COMES OUT – Again, don’t automatically panic if your wife or partner starts shaking after the C-section. Of course, tell a trained professional what’s going on, so the situation can be monitored.