Normally I cram a lot into one post but I think this one deserves a post of it’s own because it holds a special place in my heart. Last week I got to shadow a neonatologist. She probably has the best job out of all the doctors I’ve shadowed so far. If you don’t know, neonatologists are specialists in newborn infants and focus especially on premature newborns. She also attends all the births in the hospital and tends to the baby the moment it is born. So the day I was shadowing her there happened to be four Cesareans scheduled. Until then I had never seen a birth in any shape or form but it was one of those things I was hoping to see while in Ecuador, so I was very excited when I found out I would see four on my first day. I’ve heard a lot of medical providers talk about the first time they attended a birth and how special that was for them and I have to admit that I didn’t understand what the big deal was until I saw one for myself. I’m sure a live vaginal birth, especially a natural one, is much more emotional than a sterile C-section in a cold operating room but it still left quite an impression on me.
I don’t really have eloquent words to describe what it’s like to watch a tiny human come out of a woman’s womb. My temptation is to just describe everything as “crazy,” because really that’s what it is. At first, watching the surgeon make his precise cut on the mother’s abdomen felt like watching any other surgery I’ve seen until a minute later they started pushing on her belly and out pops this tiny terrifying purple life form, that honestly looks more alien than any human I’ve ever seen. As soon as the baby pops out it’s like a flurry of action in the OR. The neonatologist grabs the baby and suctions out its mouth to make sure it can breath, they cut the umbilical cord, and the baby starts turning pink and wailing out its tiny newborn cries. After that the neonatologist carries the newborn into another room and places it under a heat lamp while she makes sure its airways are cleared, which requires some more suctioning and maybe some oxygen. She also takes a blood sample from the umbilical cord, does a rudimentary exam, dresses the baby in tiny clothes and then writes a novel about it in the chart. While she was writing (and writing… and writing…), I got the chance to stand there and stare at this newborn. I felt like I bonded particularly well with the first newborn I saw. It was just crazy to think about this tiny human yanked out into the big scary world without any idea about what it’s getting itself into. I stared at this newborn and watched as she opened her eyes for the first time and felt special that I was the first person she had ever seen (mixed with feelings of regret that her actual mother didn’t get that opportunity). I stood there and just stared at this little person for probably the first hour of her life (as the doctor continued to write) and had some deep, philosophical thoughts about the meaning of life. Yes, it was that dramatic and it wasn’t even my kid. Unfortunately the novelty of it all had worn out a little by the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th child. I also thought it would be a good idea to talk to this 10 minute old child in English so that she would be bilingual when she was older. Yes, I know that’s not how it works. I went slightly insane over this child and it wasn’t even my child.
Anyway, one of the coolest moments was when the doctor asked if I wanted to take the baby into the OR to show the mother. I got super excited and I gingerly picked up this tiny bundled-up package of a tiny human and panicked the whole 10 feet into the OR about tripping over something. Then I awkwardly said to the mother “aqui esta su preciosa bebe!” and placed the baby by her face so she could get a good look at her. I didn’t realize that the mom didn’t even know what sex the baby was until she asked me. For some reason I thought that was already common knowledge, otherwise I would have made that more clear from the beginning. It was a really special moment to present this tiny human to her mother. It almost felt intrusive to be the blundering foreigner encroaching on such an intimate moment between mother and child but I also felt honored to be able to do it.
After the mother had been stitched up and wheeled to a recovery room, we brought the baby to the mother to nurse. The first baby’s mother (the one I bonded big time with) wasn’t able to nurse at first so they asked me if I could give the baby a bottle while the mother recovered. The nurse asked me if I knew how to feed the baby and I didn’t quite catch what she said but said “sí” anyways (always a bad idea) and then quickly realized I had no idea how to feed this baby and was terrified of breaking it. So the nurse looked at me like I was a dummy and showed me what to do and then walked away. On the outside I was calmly feeding this tiny human (at least I think I looked calm) but on the inside I was freaking out about all the things that could possibly go wrong and kept expecting the baby to turn purple or something. It’s hard work being in charge of someone else’s tiny life… But everything went fine and I returned her to her mother unscathed.
So there was my first newborn experience. It was pretty special but don’t get too excited (Mom), I’m still not having my own for a very long time.
With all that being said, the way I saw these births happen went completely against everything I learned in my medical anthropology about mother-child bonding in the birthing process. Part of that was due the complications that arise during a C-section but there’s more to be said on this subject and if I have the time and energy I may make a separate blog post about that later.