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What Really Happens in a C-section: The Other Side of the Operating Table

Have you ever wondered what is going through an obstetrician’s mind during an emergency C-section?

As obstetricians, we want nothing more for our patients than a normal vaginal delivery. However, those of us in this profession all have stories to tell. Stories of labors that lingered too long, or hemorrhages that threatened (or took) the life of a mother or unborn child.

In those moments we fear for our patients, but we are also grateful for the skills our hands can bring. We are grateful for the opportunity to attempt to avoid tragedy and heartbreak for families.

Every mother holds her breath when her child is born, awaiting the wail of her child taking their first breath, before she can release her own. Did you know that at every delivery an obstetrician does too?

We often think of the experience through the lens of the patient. However, this poem gives insight and perspective to the other side of the operating table.


These Hands

I hear the heart beat beginning to slow.
Dropping further down with each passing minute.
Turning, twisting, trying.
A momma pushing with all her might.
Too far from birth and too close to death, we move like one body to the operating table.
With the thought of what may be, suddenly my hands feel heavy.
They remember.
Every baby that was born still into my hands, and the two who crossed over while I cut down to them, frantically racing with all my strength but unable to beat the infections raging within them.
Every one of these babies lives within my soul.
Shattered pieces of my soul.
The shards of their memory weigh down on these nerves.
Activating them.
Reminding them.
When birth becomes death.
I feel my hands begin to shake.
Shaking with the memory of what they have been through, what they have seen, and what they have touched.
As I hold the knife in my hand, I feel the fine tremor of their resistance – to push back, to put down the knife, to pull me away.
But this momma and this baby deserve my hands when they are still.
When they are confident.
When they are calm.
“Rest now”, I say. “Be ready.”
There is not a moment to waste on fear.
So we wait.
As the chaos of emergency rushes around me, I tell my hands again:
Be still.
Be confident.
Be calm.
When the signal is given, my hands know what to do.
Down through the layers, I reach for this new life.
Someone’s hopes, someone’s dreams, someone’s future.
My hands reach down into the depths of a momma’s womb and pull this baby out.
Cord clamped.
Cord cut.
Now we wait.
I put her back together again physically.
One layer at a time.
My hands can feel her stretching as I stitch, straining her head to get a glimpse of her child.
Any glimpse.
They work, they count, they breathe.
After what feels like a lifetime, her baby cries.
And I cry too.
And even though the rush is over,
and the fear is gone,
my hands will remember.

Poem by Dr. Alissa Conklin

2 thoughts on “What Really Happens in a C-section: The Other Side of the Operating Table”

  1. Wow. What a well written poem. Really gave insight to what must be an incredibly stressful moment for all involved).

    My daughter was born via an emergency C section and every bit of medical training left me as I took the role on the patient side. It was a nerve wracking experience for me but it was assuring to see how the surgical team did a highly coordinated dance and delivered a healthy baby girl into our arms).

  2. Thank you for what you do.

    Each child that dies leaves a mark. They stay with you.

    It is impossible to escape the second guessing and doubt.

    If I had done something different then would he still be alive? 2 months old.


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