Now that it’s all over, I thought I would report first from the operating table. I spent the night before the birth in hospital, having a final poke and prod, and had an amazingly good sleep thanks to some nice drugs which I wasn’t too pure to refuse. I felt remarkable sanguine about my fate, in fact, until I was on my way to the operating theatre, at which point I burst into tears of terror. I didn’t have much time to indulge, however, because I was hustled in by a nurse who told me there were ‘others waiting’.
I kept on crying while they tipped me onto the table and prepared me. “You’ll feel everything except pain,” said the anaesthetist. In fact, the most painful part of the whole procedure was the wrist- slapping, designed to bring out a vein for the catheter. Otherwise, I had an anaesthetic so I couldn’t feel the anaesthetic, and a little curtain was erected to spare me the sight of a whole team in masks grubbing about in my stomach cavity.
There was an enormous schism between the momentousness of this occasion for me, and the everyday nature of it for the operating team. Mine was far from the first uterus they had cut open.It wasn’t even the first that day (not that I’m complaining).They gossiped and flirted and I got a chance to experience- for the first and only time in my pregnancy- the vena cava compression effect, where lying on your back causes the huge weight of the pregnant mid-region to press on the vena cava, which in turn leads to a drop in blood pressure.
By the time it set in I was anaesthetised and had an oxygen mask on. I suddenly felt incredibly nauseous and faint and started to sweat. I tore off the mask and was ready to roll off the table and make for the door, dragging my numb lower half like some Calcutta beggar.
“It’s too late,” observed one of the masked figures at my head. “You’ll feel better when we get the little people out.”
And within five minutes, they did have the little people out. I only saw one, hoisted briefly over the curtain, grey and still slimy. I also recall hearing only one cry. From the corner of my eye, I could see their thrashing feet as they were weighed and checked over. A masked face loomed (later I would know that this was one of the hospital pediatricians) and gave me their Apgars, weights and lengths, which I don’t recall. I only registered that they were ‘in good condition’, and lay back to have a little rest while they sewed me up.
Whatever they had given me to raise my blood pressure had had a soothing effect. At some point I heard a slightly agitated discussion about what drugs to give me to make my uterus contract- my gynaecologist (who was in fact operating on me) had warned me that it might happen, and that the worst case scenario (“God forbid”) was haemhorrage and hysterectomy. There was some back and forth over which drug was better, somebody to my north arguing that it was better to give me Metergin because the other thing took an hour to work. My hypochondriac corpse lay peacefully on the operating table, half asleep, and I thought, “Well, that’s their problem.”
The rest of the day looked similar. I lay in the post-op room, stoned and still numb from the waist down. At some point they took Maja away to the intensive care because she was having some breathing trouble. I didn’t notice, and wouldn’t see her until the next afternoon.Marcin and my new friend Aneta, with who I had shared a room the night before, hovered outside the door. Aneta, due to have her daughter a couple of days later, took one look at Janek and burst into tears.
Late in the day I was allowed to drink some water, in miniscule doses, and eat some disgusting rice pap. At nine it was time to get up- I got a shot of morphine and a helping hand to the shower, and nearly passed out from pain, or hunger, or shock, or opiates. We had hired a midwife for the night to take care of Janek so I slept all night, waking up only for another shot of morphine to enable me to go to the toilet. At six in the morning, she wheeled my son over to me, declared her work done, and went on her merry way. I sat and stared at him for a while, then called Marcin to come as quickly as possible, because I had a child to look after and wasn’t sure if I could walk.