The first time I laid eyes on our youngest son, Rhett, I felt a massive wave of relief.
After waking up from my general anesthesia c-section, I sat alone in the recovery room for what seemed like an eternity. No baby. No husband. I was groggy, hurting, and the nurses were clearly not telling me something.
Finally, my husband came in with our newborn son. He was a sweet, perfect little bundle of joy swaddled in a blue and pink striped blanket and wearing a tiny little beanie on his head.
“There are two surprises under that hat,” my husband nervously joked.
It turns out, he wasn’t joking at all.
Surprise #1: Bright red hair.
Surprise #2: A sizable scalp laceration that they had spent the last 45 minutes supergluing back together in the NICU.
That’s right…I sat alone in the recovery room for nearly an hour because my amazingly skilled surgical team accidentally cut our baby’s head during his delivery.
First, let me say this: My doctor is amazing. Maybe the best. He and his surgical team are highly trained to perform c-sections safely and complications like this are not the norm.
With both of my planned c-sections, I naturally considered the things that could go wrong…for me. I knew the risks with such a major medical procedure, especially for an older mom. I feel ridiculous admitting this, but I never once considered that there might also be risks for our baby. Although the likelihood of birth injuries during a c-section are relatively low, I learned the hard way that they are definitely not impossible.
What I know now is that general anesthesia c-sections carry a few extra risks that I hadn’t considered. One is that c-sections performed under general anesthesia carry an increased risk of surgical injuries to the baby because of the urgency under which they are performed. The doctor’s goal is to get to the umbilical cord as quickly as possible to minimize the baby’s exposure to the anesthesia drugs. In fact, I remember how proud my doctor was during the birth of our older son – he was delivered in just 47 seconds, which was a personal record.
This time, however, there was no boasting. It turns out that as they raced to get our baby out, I actually started to wake up. That’s right. I moved.
I didn’t know it, but “intraoperative awareness”, or waking up, is actually another potential complication during a general anesthesia c-section. It was later explained to me that “light” general anesthesia is used during c-sections to reduce the adverse effects on the mother and to minimize potential respiratory depression in the newborn. It’s also one of the reasons that regional anesthesia is preferred with c-sections.
At any rate, my amazing surgeon was racing to get our baby out, I started to wake up, and he accidentally cut our baby’s head.
Those moments in the recovery room after I learned of our son’s injury are a blur. First, I was already feeling pretty dazed. General anesthesia c-sections are a little surreal to begin with. When you wake up, it’s like: Good morning, sleepyhead! Sorry you’ve been sawed in half and that you feel EVERYTHING…let’s get you some pain medicine now that you are awake and breathing on your own. Hey! Here’s your baby. We promise he’s yours. Oh, and sorry about his chopped up head. I bet your throat hurts from the intubation. Let’s get you some ice chips, Mama!
In addition to being generally overwhelmed, I also felt pretty guilty when I learned that I ultimately caused his injury. (My rational brain knows that I could not have prevented what happened, but mom guilt starts early). Having never even considered the possibility that he could be injured in the first place, guilt was quickly replaced by anxiety.
Cue the intrusive thoughts: Dear God, what if it had been his face? His nose? His EYE? What if they cut HIS BRAIN??? And what a horrible, disturbing delivery experience for a baby! There he was just minding his own business and then he’s stabbed in the head, ripped from his warm cocoon, and whisked away to have a team of aliens figure out how to fuse his gaping wound back together. He’s going to be emotionally and physically scarred for LIFE!
(Old New Mom postpartum hormones are awesome, by the way.)
Thankfully, in the days that followed, I was able to calm myself down and gain some perspective. Our son’s birth injury was unexpected and unfortunate, but it was still relatively minor in the grand scheme of things. It could have been worse, and thankfully it wasn’t. That was our last pregnancy, but I now know that while c-sections are considered fairly routine, there are still risks for both the mother AND the baby.
And our son? Our beautiful, red headed baby boy had a 3 inch blob of super glue on his head that eventually separated from his scalp, revealing a bright pink scar and one extra long red curl. Two years later, I can just barely feel the tiniest little ridge on his head when I shampoo his hair. Best of all, I’m happy to report that he has forgiven me for the whole thing.
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