By Katy Rank Lev for Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers
“Will Mommy be the next person in our family to die?” my five-year-old asked my husband as I lay on the sofa, drugged up on Vicodin. My grandmother had died a few weeks earlier and we’d just brought our third son home from the hospital. The birth had frightened my husband and me—a crash cesarean, blue baby, initial Apgar score of 4.
We’d done pretty well preparing the older kids for labor, we thought. We explained the essentials of a baby’s arrival, told them I’d be making some sounds at home as my muscles squeezed and we’d drive off to the hospital, where I hoped to push the baby out of my vagina. Late in my pregnancy, this concept caused my sons to barge in on me in the bathroom and beg, “Let me see up in there,” thinking they could catch a glimpse of their new brother while I peed.
I told my boys there was another way babies entered the world. “Sometimes, if things seem unsafe, a doctor has to cut the baby out from Mommy’s belly,” I told them. “That’s what happened with you and your brother.”
There’s nothing like a new pregnancy to spur young children to ask about their own entry into the world, and since my boys each arrived after long labors with nurse-midwives and doulas, followed by heart decelerations and hurried Cesareans, I found these questions the hardest to answer.
Was I born the wrong way? Was I sick when I was born? Did I hurt you when I came out the slice in your stomach?
I’ve been wading through my own sadness, my own lasting fear at hearing my babies’ heart rates slow until the inevitable distress surgery. I hadn’t considered how it would feel to share these birth stories with my actual babies. I can’t seem to find a way to explain without upsetting them.
After my new baby was stable, my mother left me at the hospital to pick the big boys up from daycare. My oldest and most sensitive son immediately asked, “Did they have to cut the baby out?”
He sighed deeply upon hearing they had. “Oh. Just like us.”