Women who undergo a cesarean section while giving birth are usually unable to see their baby actually being born — in fact, they may be the last one in the room to actually take a peek at the newborn.
But in 2018, doula and photographer Tracy Abney documented a C-section on camera, one in which the mom used a partially clear drape instead of a solid one, so she could actually see her baby being born.
Personal Space spoke to Abney, who explained how she started documenting these births.
"The very strongest memory I have from my own cesarean birth 13 years ago was being the very last person in the room to see my baby. I felt oddly detached hearing my baby cry but not being able to see her and knowing everyone else in that room knew what color hair she had and what she looked like, except me.
"When they finally brought her to me, she was wrapped in what seemed like a million blankets, with one even covering her head. A little burrito baby. They let me kiss her, then whisked her away with my husband to the nursery. I remember thinking while they were stitching me back up that I couldn’t remember who she looked like. In fact, I couldn’t remember her sweet face at all," she explained.
Abney says that for years she heard about countless women requesting something different, so they could see their baby being born.
"The concept of a family-centered cesarean emerged and a clear drape appeared on the scene. For a while, none of the hospitals in our immediate area carried the clear drapes, so some women were traveling up to two and a half hours away to another hospital to get them," she said. "I’m not positive when the first clear drape was used, but it has only been the in the last three years or so that they have picked up traction here in north Alabama. Even though clear drapes are now available in our local facilities, families are still driving past their nearest hospital to head to the ones that provide families with what they need and want, including having an additional support person allowed in the OR, such as a doula."
Called gentle cesareans, the procedure typically has more than just the option of a clear drape.
"A gentle cesarean will often include a few things: clear drape to witness the birth, immediate skin-to-skin in the OR, or as close to immediate as they can. The birthing parent’s arms not strapped down, so they can hold the baby skin-to-skin, and the ability to breastfeed in the OR if that is the patient’s wish," Abney says. "The gentleness is not in reference to the actual birth itself, but rather the gentleness of keeping the mother and baby together versus separated."
She swears it's not gory to witness.
"I think one of the most important things new parents should know is that it is not gory or gross. Depending on the type of drape, there are typically two drapes present during the birth: a clear drape and an opaque drape. The opaque drape stays in place until right before the baby is born, then is reattached back up after the baby is born while the physicians finish the cesarean. Typical cesarean incisions are very low on the abdomen," she said.
"When I talk with clients about how the clear drapes work, I tell them to imagine laying down on their backs at nine months pregnant. Then I ask them if they think they can see their pubic bone. Most women would not be able to. Then imagine the blue, opaque drape piled on top of the breasts and ask them again if they can see to the pubic bone. That’s the view you’ll have during a cesarean with the clear drape, except you’ll also have this wonderful baby to grasp your attention.
"Now, partners may occasionally struggle a little more with the view as they are not laying down on the table. I tell partners to lower their head to their partner and talk with her when their baby is born if they are nervous about the view, keeping their heads in the same field of vision."
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