Story of My Scars
"Can I see your incision?” the doctor asked. Sitting on the crinkled paper of an exam table, I was not surprised by the request, but still hesitated. This is the one scar I do not like to remember.
Others I am glad to show: the two inch scar in my side where a tree branch caught me as I fell from its limbs; the one shaped like Florida on my wrist where a pig bit me at a petting zoo, greedy for twenty-five-cent feed; the tip of my finger, almost sliced off by an aluminum can at a pool party. My scars are my stories, constellations over the map of my body, identifying me.
Except for one.
It isn’t because this scar is low enough on my abdomen that only my husband sees, or because of its size—seven inches across. I’m not proud of this scar because of its story: this scar is a reminder of a C-section I did not want. It carries memories of an emotionally wrenching night. It has also made finding a doctor so hard in this third pregnancy. At least, finding a doctor who won’t see this scar as a command: must cut here.
“It’s healed nicely,” the doctor said. Maybe so. But it is still hard for me to think about Lincoln’s birth. With my first son, Sawyer, we tried for a home birth but transferred when I had not dilated after 12 exhausting hours. Pitocin, epidural and an episiotomy later, I was holding my son in my arms. Not the birth I hoped for, but I learned that birth goes its own way.
With Lincoln, again, we began at home, but had what felt like a full-on emergency transfer to the hospital when his heart rate plummeted. In my labor haze, I never got the memo that he was fine once we got to the hospital. Instead of pushing when the doctor arrived, I demanded a C-section.
I awoke a few hours later in a sterile room; the center of my body hollowed out and on fire. A nurse stood a few feet away at a computer. My voice was raw, throat dry and cracked from the intubation.
“Did I have a baby?”
“You did.” She did not look up from the screen.
“Was it a boy or a girl?”
“Where are the drugs?”
It took a whopping two hours after I woke up from surgery to get morphine, some kind of hospital mix-up. Because I went under rather than having an epidural, I felt everything. At last reunited with my husband, I was racked with physical pain, and the pain of separation from my child.
The first time I saw Lincoln was a photo on Rob’s phone. Nine hours after he was born, I finally got to see and hold my son.
For some women, a C-section was simply a procedure; a way from point A to point B. Other than recovery time, there is no black cloud hanging over the memory. But for me, the scar is a reminder of what failure feels like.
Failure to communicate with the birthing staff that I thought my baby was dying.
Failure on their part to communicate with me that he was, in fact, stable.
Failure to have a vaginal birth, despite making it to the home stretch of labor, feeling the rolling earthquake that is the urge to push.
“She gave up,” someone told my mother in the hospital. I feel that judgment in my scar. Failure.
But I did not give up.
I fought to have my baby without drugs at home. I fought for his life when I thought he was in danger. I did not want a C-section—I did it for him. It was worth the cost to save his life, which is what I thought I was doing. I must continually remind myself that my scar is not failure, but evidence of the sacrifice a mother will make for her child.
I wish I’d known I didn’t have to make it. I wish someone had gotten through to me, had asked why I was so panicked, had reassured me that I was not going to lose my baby. But that’s not how the story goes.
For months the incision throbbed. My secret scar, cutting through layers of muscle and tissue. I felt its ache when I walked, picked up my children, played roller derby.
Now the ache is emotional.
But less now, and then the words of this new doctor reached my ears. “You are an excellent candidate for a C-section,” he says. I only nodded, because I would cry if I spoke. I know that – again – birth can go its own way, but I am hopeful for the chance to avoid surgery. At the least, I would like a birth experience without the immediate fear of someone dying. A birth with a healthy child.
The scar reminds me not only of birth trauma, but my beautiful, healthy son. His laugh and the light in his eyes. The way he runs, arms flapping at his sides. The smell of his skin. The whirling cowlick in the very front of his hair.
The scar does not tell the story I wanted, but it is still a story with a happy ending. And if in the throes of birth another scar must eclipse the first, I will know it is a sacrifice worth making; a cut made for the life of another.
A scar that carries the story I am slowly beginning to tell.
Kiki is an avid pickle-hater, mom of boys, wife to a youth pastor, writer, and when not pregnant, plays roller derby. Read more at I Still Hate Pickles.