Of a cold 3 days in early March 2002 when my son Jonah was born.
|My first and only child, Jonah, was born by Caesarean section after an exhausting 56-hour labor and three hours of futile pushing. There were times when I was scared as hell; during labor in an average hospital, nurses and doctors have only so much time to answer questions and virtually no time to hold your hand, much less talk you down from the occasional freakout.
Well-meaning moms (and other relatives) can bring worried or controlling energies into the labor experience. And your partner is only as helpful a “birthing coach” as his/her own personal experience with birthing – which almost always means none at all. Yes, my husband Andy was with me every minute and I cherished his presence. But he didn’t know what I was really feeling – how could he? -- so naturally he was as anxious as me.
Our family doctor, Jacob Reider, was also with us, albeit intermittently. Unlike the other doctors who’d examined me, though, he found time to sit down with my family in the waiting room and explain what was happening and why. He was gentle when he had to "check me" to feel how many centimeters I’d dilated. He helped us make many decisions; he listened carefully to our concerns. He was the only doctor who made it clear he genuinely cared whether I was tired, or hungry, or in pain.
Most of the doctors and nurses had been kind, but cursory; they rushed and hurried through both procedure and explanation. A few made me feel like a standard barnyard cow giving birth for the umpteenth time – an interesting happening, perhaps, but not of any particular concern. None but Dr. Reider seemed to quite break through the “this is just another day on the job” mentality.
When we made the decision to go to a Caesarean section, I was devastated. Not because I wanted to give birth naturally (though I did), and not because I was afraid of being awake during an operation (which I was), but because Dr. Reider didn’t perform Caesarean surgeries.
That meant I'd be under some anonymous doctor’s knife...surely an excellent physician, but random all the same. So I tearfully said goodbye to Dr. Reider (though I wish now I’d begged him to come in with me, if only just to stand there) and was wheeled into the operating room. Of course they let Andy come with me, and through my increasingly-drugged state, I focused gratefully on his hazel, new-father eyes meeting mine.
The lights were too bright, though, and they wouldn’t give me a pillow. My memories of the birth are hazy and disjointed:
My arms, flailing wildly of their own accord, trapped like birds held down in cages…
My imagined images of scalpels slicing into flesh and cutting, opening me like a can…
The rocking, rocking, rocking him out of my pelvis -- rocking and pulling…
Voices of several people, doctors and nurses and aides, whomever… chatting about politics and telling jokes and wondering aloud what's for dinner…
This is the soundtrack for the birth of our child -- a miracle yanked from my bloody belly into mundane conversations and necesary comments:
“It’s a boy…”
Where is he? Can I get up now? Who has him? He’s crying and I’m crying and there are Andy’s eyes again, and he is holding our son so I can see… I whisper “he’s a peanut,” and we smile.
I’ve often heard people say that if given the choice, they’d rather have a top-notch, experienced surgeon with no bedside manner than a far-less-experienced doc bearing hugs and lollipops. But I'd almost rather have had Dr. Reider perform his first-ever Caesarean on me than be cut open by that much-experienced surgeon, all faceless and functional.
The birth of my child was a miracle – a sacred event. Don’t get me wrong; I wasn’t expecting absolute silence for the show, or gifts of frankincense and myrrh, but a respectful atmosphere would have been nice. Hospital staffs surely bring babies into the world every day, making labor and delivery commonplace. I only gave birth once, though, and it all seemed pretty remarkable to me. Couldn't I at least have gotten a "congratulations?"
Had Dr. Reider been right there, and a roomful of people like him, I think it would have been a whole different experience. Although I don’t want to revisit my son’s birth with anything but joy, I sometimes imagine how much greater would be the joy of delivering my son with a doctor, not by one.
I'm grateful there are still physicians like Dr. Reider out there. I love that he knows and treats my family, and I’m especially thrilled to know he teaches medical students, surely stressing the practice of mindful medicine – one which utilizes knowledge stored in the heart as well as the brain.