I was 24 when my wife Mel and I had our first child 10 years ago. Tristan was two weeks early because Mel developed preeclampsia. Her feet, hands, face — all of it — swelled up. At the time, I didn’t really know what preeclampsia was; I didn’t realize what it could do if left unchecked, and I certainly didn’t realize that it could cause doctors to cut into my wife’s stomach and take the baby out.
In fact, I didn’t know that was even an option. I went into the whole delivery wrapped innocently in a white medical suit, mask, hat, and booties.
Mel, on the other hand, was sprawled out on a table, her shoulders and head sticking out from a curtain (behind which, I will admit, I was nervous to look). I’d never seen a baby being born. I didn’t really know what to expect; so I looked down, I looked at Mel, I looked anywhere but at the business end of my son’s birth.
About 20 minutes in, I heard a baby cry, and the doctor said, “Daddy. Come see your son.”
I assumed they were done. I was wrong.
Before my wife’s cesarean, I’d seen some really grotesque horror films. Movies showing people cut up, or chewed up, or torn apart. I watched them with friends while eating pizza and drinking soda. None of it affected me much. But nothing prepared me for my wife’s cesarean. Nothing.
Reaching from a gaping hole in my beautiful wife’s stomach was the head and right arm of a bloody, powder white, child-like creature. Something white and veiny was wrapped around his neck and shoulder that seemed unnatural, but thinking back it must have been the umbilical cord.
I’d never had a major surgery myself, and I still haven’t. I’d often heard people talk about the miracle of birth, which sounded very pleasant, but the actual act of a birth, the moment of, was hands down, the most frightening thing I’d ever seen.
My knees went weak.
I sat down.
Mel looked up at me and said, “You look white. Are you okay?”
“Are you okay?” I asked. “You don’t want to know what they’re doing to you.”
Once it was all said and done — once I was holding our son, and he was cleaned up, and Mel was stitched and bandaged, and all our family had left — I can remember clearly wondering if Mel would survive. I honestly didn’t know how my son could’ve been taken from Mel’s small body. I wondered if she would ever fully recover.
Every once in a while a nurse would come in, lift up her gown, and examine Mel’s incision. And every time I looked at the bloody line of gauze, and felt 100% grateful that I’d never have a doctor cut me open, reach inside my body, and pull someone out.
All of it was crazy and inspiring, but none of it shocked me as much as the next day when Mel was up walking around. Her steps were slow, and soft. She held my hand to keep steady, but she was up. She was smiling. It was remarkable, and I can still recall thinking that she was stoic and strong and powerful and giving and dedicated and over all, the most badass person I knew.
Flash forward a few years, to the birth of our third child. I recall Mel lying naked in front of a handful of doctors and nurses after they finished the cesarean. Blood dripped from the sides of her hips; her stomach looked like a deflated balloon. All her coverings had been removed so she could be transferred from the surgical table to a bed. I stood next to her holding our new daughter, Aspen, who was sleeping soundly.
Mel looked up at me. She smiled. Not a forced smile, but a real one. She joked with the doctor. And although she was naked and cut, she was happy and full of life. I’ve never been naked, and cut open, in front of that many people. I’m not sure how I would react, but I doubt I’d smile.
Each one of our children has come via cesarean. And while I know there is a lot of discussion out there about the overuse of cesarean sections, that’s not why I’m writing this essay. I’m writing it because across Mel’s abdomen is a lengthy scar. It’s deep and pink. It’s larger than any scar I have, or probably ever will have. And even if I do get a scar that equals hers, it will never signify nearly as much importance, because it will have to do with my survival alone and not the creation of life.
Her scar is evidence of dedication and determination to our family. It’s evidence of her willingness to do whatever it takes to bring our children into the world — a boy and two girls that fill my life with more joy than I ever thought possible. And every time I see it, I am filled with a swell of admiration for the mother of my children that will never fade.
If you liked this post, check out Clint’s new book, This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things (Parenting. Marriage. Madness.).