Editor’s Note: In 2009, shortly after marrying her (first and only) husband, Paolo, Elizabeth Heath was diagnosed with premature menopause and resulting infertility. Paolo and Liz are now parents to a baby girl, Naomi. In this series, Liz recounts the couple’s struggle with infertility, and how they finally achieved a successful pregnancy and parenthood.
In the weeks leading up to delivery, Naomi had decided to turn herself into breech position. We’d watch my belly every night at bedtime—when she seemed to wake up and get moving or, as often as not, would get a case of the hiccups. We could clearly feel head, shoulders and feet, and my undulating stomach often reminded me of watching the contents of a lava lamp slowly morph into different shapes.
Because of her breech position, the doctor scheduled a C-section and to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t disappointed. I know many women feel very strongly about natural childbirth—I’m just not one of them. It’s not so much that I was worried about the pain of labor; I was more worried about my recovery afterwards. Because of my advanced maternal age, I was at greater risk for perineal tearing, uterine prolapse and urinary incontinence after the trauma of a vaginal birth. 45-year olds simply don’t bounce back from natural childbirth as well as 25-year olds do. So when the doctor said “C-section,” I replied “Where do I sign?”
It turned out that a week or so before my scheduled C-section, Naomi did move and get herself in head-down position for natural delivery, but we stuck with the surgical delivery all the same. On November 28, I checked into the hospital at Orvieto, with my surgery scheduled for “sometime” the next morning. I spent an absolutely sleepless night in the room I shared with a mother who’d just given birth that day. Her poor baby, also a girl, cried incessantly. The new mom struggled to breastfeed, with nurses coming in every time the baby cried, trying to get the little one to latch onto her mom’s nipple. Every time the woman or her husband got the baby calm, she’d start to cry five minutes later. A few times, the mom looked at me, her eyes hugely open, with a desperate WTF? expression on her face. I was wondering WTF myself. Could it possibly be this hard for me, too?
It wasn’t until after noon the next morning that I was finally taken into surgical prep. Paolo was not allowed to accompany me into surgery—one of our big regrets of doing a C-section—but his cousin, Diana, a nurse at the hospital, was. At first I thought I wouldn’t want her there, but after I was given an epidural, draped for surgery and scrubbed down with betadine, I felt a little panicky, and I was glad to have her with me.
Women who’ve had a C-section with epidural know how it feels, but for those who don’t…well, it’s just bizarre. There was no pain—not even a pinch. But I could still feel everything the doctors were doing. I felt the incision. I felt them wrenching back skin and muscle to get to the uterus. I felt what seemed like them yanking on my insides like I was the rope in a tug-o-war. And finally, I felt a huge pull, and at 1:10 pm on November 29, she was out. Moments later, Diana presented me with a wrinkly, purplish crying baby, covered in waxy white vernix, the natural substance that protected her in utero from being waterlogged in amniotic fluid. I kissed her briefly, and she was whisked away to be cleaned.
Diana then took her out to meet Paolo, who was waiting in the hallway with his sister, Anarita. Finally, we could tell people her name! We had promised his niece, Serena, that she would be the first person to know the baby’s name, so Paolo, after briefly touching and kissing his new daughter before she was taken up to the OB ward, immediately called Serena and yelled into the phone, “NAOMI!!!!!”
Closing me up after surgery took another 20 minutes or so, though it seemed much longer. I was wheeled out past Paolo and Anarita, who took a nearby elevator to meet me upstairs. Except that when I got back to my room, they didn’t bring Naomi to us. She was having a little trouble breathing, the nurse said, nothing to worry about, but they wanted to keep her in a neonatal oxygen chamber for an hour or so. An hour came and went, as did another two or three. Paolo and his family members, who had started to assemble outside my room, could look in the nursery window and see Naomi in her oxygen chamber, kicking and moving around just fine. But I could not. I was numb from the waist down for several hours, and even when feeling started to return to my feet and legs, I couldn’t sit up because of the spinal epidural. (Moving around too much after a spinal block can dislodge cervical spinal fluid, which can cause the mother of all headaches, on top of other complications.)
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By the time six hours had passed and I still hadn’t held my baby, I was getting desperate and worried. I cried to Paolo, “I want my baby!” He went again to check with the nurses and finally, Naomi was brought to me in her bassinet, and placed in my arms. It was about time! Of course, to me she was perfect, with a full head of hair, and clenched purple fists. She was remarkably calm, and seemed content to be in my arms. Paolo too, held her for the first time, though I had to coax him to take her. He had to brace himself against the wall, he was so overwhelmed and afraid of dropping her.
So there she was, the dark-haired, dark-eyed baby I’d envisioned when I sat in the clinic in Spain, waiting to be called in for embryo transfer. That second baby I’d envisioned, the lighter-haired boy…I always think that must have been her twin, the one we lost at eight weeks. I admit that when I see a mother pushing a double stroller, or when I see twin babies and toddlers out and about, I still feel a pang of longing for the baby we lost—Naomi’s sibling. But we look at her, at her perfection, and at our incredible good luck to have been able to have her after all we went through to get and stay pregnant, and it’s hard to feel sad for long. Besides, at 15 months, she doesn’t stop moving long enough for us to think about much other than chasing her and keeping her out of trouble.