Cesarean: The “Painless” Pain

Written by admin on January 20, 2011. Posted in Delivery

Are you giving birth vaginally or having a cesarean? If it’s a planned cesarean or your vaginal birth eventuates into an emergency cesarean be sure to talk to your doctor about the two anesthetic options. Spinal Block -vs- Epidural. The spinal block they gave me didn’t work very well and although I didn’t feel the ‘sharp’ or ‘cold’ as promised I felt enormous pain and braced groaning through tears and gritted teeth throughout the 30 minute operation clutching desperately on to my partner on one side and a nurse on the other.  Here’s how my doctor-recommended safe and “easy” cesarean birth of our beautiful twin girls went south, fast.

The Gold Coast Hospital registrar anesthetist working on the day (who looked about 21) administered my spinal block. She had many attempts inserting it into my spine and at one point I heard the overseeing senior anesthetist say “Is that bone?“. Now THAT’s the last thing you want to hear. Needless to say I was in some pain and it wasn’t long before anxiety began to wash over me. I finally said to the senior anesthetist “You can step in anytime!” to which she replied “No she’s doing fine“. So I continued leaning forward and holding on to the nurse in front of me. After another 10 seconds or so I said to the nurse holding me “I’d like her to stop practising on me now please” to which she replied “I’m sorry. This is a training hospital“. I was speechless. I could not even after a full minute or so of enduring “practice” request someone senior to step in upon reaching a point of concern. I was already nervous facing major surgery (not by choice) and about to become an instant mother of two and certainly did not need a novice fiddling with my spinal cord…but it was about to get worse. She continued and by the time I was wheeled into surgery and met my partner I was visibly shaken and on seeing him broke into tears. I composed myself and got focused on the task at hand only to find the spinal block had indeed not been administered well at all.

Although I didn’t feel the ‘sharp’ or ‘cold’ as promised, I felt the blade open my skin like a zipper and I felt the doctor’s hands inside me pulling and shoving trying to get to the babies and at one point felt like he’d pushed his foot up in there for good measure. Alllllll the way up to my ribs. My organs felt as though they were squashed in a vice and shoved up and down and back and forth within my abdomen. That is the only way I could describe it to my partner afterward. Then the horrible stretch of the skin and pop as their heads were pulled through the cut.

I experienced enormous pain and remember it was a guttural, primal type groan coming from me that I couldn’t contain nor hold any focus to meditate through it. (It’s one thing to prepare yourself for the pain of a natural childbirth but quite another to face intense pain during a procedure you’ve been told has none!) The senior anesthetist said to me, “I’m going to have to knock you out with a general if you can’t be quiet! The doctor can’t work like this!” to which I replied through the pain “DO NOT knock me out I want to be conscious for my girls’ birth!!” and she said “Well you’ll have to control yourself, you have to be quiet!“. So I held my breath but I couldn’t contain the noise of the pain, it was impossible. A primal response. It was like asking a woman going through natural labour to be quiet! Looking back it was disgusting treatment of a completely vulnerable woman.

My entire shoulders, neck and head seized up as I clutched tightly on to my partner on one side and a nurse on the other. They begged me to keep breathing and focus on releasing my shoulders to no avail. I was clenched up from my feet up my legs through my chest and shoulders to the top of my head. I could have swung my legs off the operating table and ran and I can tell you I wanted to! Even when the doctor was stitching me up and wiping me down with antiseptic fluid I was begging the nurse to ask him to stop. “Stop. Stop. I’m clean enough!” is all I could say. The vigorous rubbing on my skin whose nerves were firing off after being severed was almost electric and blinding. I was near passing out.

To top off the horrid treatment I received from the senior anesthetist during a vulnerable and powerless event, as I was wheeled out of surgery I heard the doctor ask her what had happened there?! And she responded to him oh she was just hypertensive. I was  physically shaking in shock from the ordeal and couldn’t say anything or express any anger at the time. I had my girls finally safely delivered to my arms and that was all that mattered at the point.

I don’t know why a spinal block was administered and not an epidural but I certainly wasn’t offered a choice nor told the pro’s and con’s of both. I know of two other mothers who had a similar to more intense experience than this. One felt the sharp slice of the blade and screamed out only to be told there was nothing they could do now they had to continue.

In short, epidurals are different to spinal blocks. The needle for an epidural is thicker and so there is slightly more risk of spinal fluid leakage which can give you migraines after birth, but the risk of feeling all the cutting and pulling of the baby inside your body is removed. You’re completely numb from the high waist down. Whereas with the spinal block I really could have swung my legs off the table and ran in the middle of the operation. Survival instinct is screaming RUN and the only force stronger than that was the need to protect those little babies tucked away inside my body.

If it weren’t for two other mothers within my circle reporting terrible results with a spinal block I may have put it down operator error. But hearing of other cases it’s certainly something that should be discussed and shared with others. On the flipside, a friend who had an epidural for two cesarean births didn’t feel a thing for either. So talk about the pro’s and con’s of both anesthetic options with your doctor and make an informed choice.

If you’re considering an elective cesarean, before you believe your own internal doubts and fears of not being strong enough to birth vaginally research it thoroughly. Look at all it’s options including anesthesia choices, water birth, acupuncture, doula assisted, home birth etc before you take the cesarean path. Watch some vaginal births. Watch some cesarean births. Watch some home births. YouTube is at your disposal. It’s a difficult watch initially but the more exposure you get to it, the less it will affect you. And that’s a good thing. Embrace it. It’s the road you’re on and there’s a fork up ahead.

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