I lay in a leather chair at the blow-dry bar, my head thrown back in the basin as the stylist lathered lavender shampoo into my hair. “Are you getting ready for something special? ” she asked. I patted the swelling in my belly and told her that I was having a baby tomorrow, a scheduled c-section, and that might be my last good wash and dry for a while. The ladies at the pools on either side of me put down their magazines and phones to turn and offer congratulations, to ask the sex of the baby (we don’t know) and if it was my first (fourth).
“Four caesareans? Can you do it?” said one. I didn’t know it was possible either, but ever since the birth of my first child ended in an emergency caesarean clinging to the story of my friend’s mother who was four, hoping I could do the same, because as a fourth child myself, I always wanted a big family. “Yeah,” I said, “You can do this.” So I sat there, definitely telling this stranger it could be done, telling him maybe to further convince myself, calm the nerves, say it out loud: it’s happening. Tomorrow.
Of course, I would have liked a series of uneventful vaginal deliveries with healthy babies and smooth recoveries. I wouldn’t have chosen the path to the operating table, arms outstretched, chrome ceiling lights reflecting an eerie scene below (is it my liver?), nurses and doctors all scrubbed and covered in netting , all shiny and surgical. I had imagined a different backdrop for my babies’ entryways, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a parent, it’s to stop worrying about how which I imagined things. When that first labor ended with a C-section, after hours (was it days?) of labor and pushing, the doctor pulled my screaming son out and handed him over to a nurse, who handed him over to my husband. While the operating room staff cared for me, my husband held this boy I had carried for nine months, that I had felt and known. And for the first time, my husband knew he was a father. They spent the first forty-five minutes of his life together, just the two of them. It was tender, unexpected, a miracle to behold.
Caesarean sections are often seen as an alternative to unwanted childbirth — something too medical, avoid if possible. But when I look at the wonderfully thin pink line at the base of my belly, I feel nothing but eternal gratitude. How many women in the branches of my family tree – of any family tree – could have lived to cradle and raise their babies, if that option had been given to them? How many women would have given anything for the outdated operating table I once lamented? Plus, it’s a fun way to teach your child some big words, like when my three-year-old wants to know how the baby in my womb is going to come out, I show him the scar and teach him a new word: ” scalpel”.
I did the waiting, the ignorance, the frenzy of the first pangs of labor. And if there is joy in the surprise, there is also joy in the planning, in the goodbye kiss of the older siblings being cared for, the expected arrival at the hospital . And, because there isn’t much joy to be found in being an immensely pregnant mom of three, it’s a joy I’m willing to take.
Hampton Williams Hofer lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she writes and raises babies. His work has appeared in Flying South, Walter Magazine, Architectural Digest, and Food 52, among others. Family aside, his great loves are a South Carolina beach, a Roger Federer backhand, a Charlottesville lawn and, above all, a good story.