Thursday, 10 March 2011


Due to developing an illness that affects one in 300 women, or something like that, I was told I should consider having what purists might term an unnatural birth. The baby was at risk, and so was I. So, her birthday was brought forward and I was booked in for the first operation I have had, bar dental surgery. I was so tired, so very exhausted by weeks of illness and not being able to sleep due to the Woman Next Door (WND)'s bloody noisy, ongoing building work (another story)... But there I was, with S, on the early morning of motherhood, nervous as hell and looking pretty unpretty, my skin dull and blotchy. The place was spotless, utterly clinical. My surgeon and the anaesthetist had warned me of all the complications, which included death, so I was suitably shaken.

The obstetrician sliced through my abdominal muscles instead of parting them (as is normal with most Caesarean sections), as my years of kung fu had rendered my stomach muscles 'so tight!' that the team couldn't stretch them. A compliment, at any rate, and one that made me smile as I waited in fear/hope/excitement as my insides were tugged and pulled with immense force. I had imagined that during a Caesarean section the baby was always lifted out calmly, gently, peacefully... but the fact is they try – where possible – to give the baby something akin to the experience of birth. In reality, they push the little being from its warm cocoon through the incision and out into the brightly-lit, impeccably clean theatre with its white walls, scrubbed and greened theatre team, metal implements and an absolutely massive digital clock on the wall, (which had stared back at me as a spinal tap was inserted).

After this part – the 'spinal', as it's called by some – I lay down as the powerful anaesthetic coursed through my body, deadening my nerves. They sprayed an icy cold substance up and down my sides to determine where sensation began and ended, a process that was repeated until the correct vertebral markers were numb. It was a staggeringly quick process and one that added surreality to that which any new parent must feel. One minute there's no child. And the next? "Meet your daughter," as this tiny person is held above the blue cloth they pin up to stop the mother and birth partner (S, in my case) seeing the gory business. Afterwards, I asked S what he could manage to see, and he said: "just lots of blood". I recall hearing the words: scalpel, knife, suction, gutters... and forced S, at the time, to tell me in great detail about his week at work. Also nervous, he got through this quickly and moved on to a ghost story. I think. I was terrified. My hands were clammy, my brow sweated and the oft-repeated warnings of what might happen to me and the baby rang in my ears. A Caesarean is not an easy way out. To believe so is incredibly stupid. What kind of fool would choose a major abdominal operation with a higher mortality rate than the other option?

The birth itself involved so much pressure being applied to my chest that I suffered excruciating pain in my upper back once we got home – and at one point screamed for an ambulance, as I (really) thought I was about to die of a heart attack. But it's not uncommon, this pain. This squeeze out of the womb helps the baby to do what it would do naturally – take a breath and cry to clear its lungs to begin its life independent of the umbilical cord. I cannot begin to describe the feeling I had at that moment. It was out of this world for its sheer uniqueness. My life, at a stroke – in the beat of a tiny heart – had changed irrevocably. I had taken a fork in the road that would lead us to life anew.
The scar is still numb. I couldn't touch it for weeks after the dressing had been removed, and then, only tentatively, peeking at it shyly as though it might open and reveal my shiny, scarlet innards. It's neat, about six inches across (having shrunk from nine) and sits beneath where I might wear a bikini if I chose to do so. Neat work by the startlingly young-looking surgeon who performed the operation. The skin is looser than it was before and, while I was back into my favourite fitted jeans fairly quickly, there is more sag, more excess, more softness. As my abs were cut open, it's unlikely I'll regain my muscle tone of old. I don't worry about these things. I don't diet. I do my best to exercise (a little). But flat tummy or not, my scar will always remind me of all of the above and more: of where I was and where I am now. It is the best kind of body art. No Chinese saying, no Inca symbol, no bird or butterfly could mean more.