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A sharp, stabbing pain radiates through the left side of my abdomen. I can’t stand upright without crying out, but it’s even more difficult to bend at the waist with what feels like a basketball protruding from my stomach.

“Don’t you think you should go to the hospital?” my mom asks.

“What’s the point?” I retort, tears streaming down my face. “They’re only going to send me home; tell me it’s pregnancy pains or I’m not dilated enough to stay. I’m not going through all of that.” I don’t want to walk through the hospital doors just to be sent home a few hours later, embarrassment written all over my face because, after three pregnancies, I still don’t know what was normal. I can already feel the shame of that experience.

But something in my mom’s urging makes me go; growing up, she was never one to fully believe me when I complained of pain or sickness.

In the empty lobby of the hospital, I ask my husband for some water. The stifling heat of June and my eight-months-pregnant belly has me parched. We see the sign at the same time: if you are a patient in the emergency room, you may not drink water, in case of surgery. I roll my eyes to keep from crying and attempt to satiate my thirst by swallowing repeatedly. I’ll be out of here in a few hours, I think to myself. I’ve never had surgery before, and I’m not going to have it now.

“On a scale of one to ten, how bad is the pain?” she asks.

I realize I haven’t felt the stabbing pain since we got to the hospital. But I respond, “a seven,” terrified they won’t believe me; I don’t dare tell them the pain is receding. I’m second-guessing myself again—maybe I was just being dramatic. They hook me up to monitors and continue asking me questions.

The doctor walks in, sits down in a chair directly across from my bed, and asks me questions. How many pregnancies before this? Two. How many children? Two. My answers come out in whispers. How was your pregnancy? Good. Have you ever experienced anything like this pain before? Never.

“You just had a succession of contractions that lasted 14 minutes without a break in between. During this time, your baby’s heart rate dropped. We can let you continue to labor for the next few hours, but I don’t recommend that. I’d rather prep you for a c-section now before it becomes an emergency,” the doctor tells me matter-of-factly, kindness and sympathy shining through his calm demeanor. He explains the difference between an urgent and an emergency c-section while nurses walk in with scrubs for my husband and a hairnet for me.

The room they take me to is cold and sterile. I stare up at the bright lights and feel my body shake. Metal clicking in the background, doctors and nurses bustle around the operating room prepping for my c-section.

My c-section.

They are talking, but I don’t understand a thing they are saying. I see my husband’s pale face, and his fear makes him look vulnerable.

I am vulnerable too, lying here naked and unable to move, knowing my body is about to be cut open. I blink away the tears and all the thoughts that something terrible is about to happen. I can’t let those thoughts take over. I am about to meet my daughter.

Nearly one in three women give birth by c-section. I guess, statistically, I should have known my time was coming. But, I didn’t. When I was wheeled in through those hospital doors, I expected to leave the same way I came in—in pain and miserably pregnant. Most of my life, those around me dismissed my pain, so there was not a single part of me that thought I would be believed, that my pain would be real and seriously considered.

I didn’t have faith in myself. I am plagued by second-guesses; doubt sits beside me whenever I have to make a decision. When it comes to my body, I would rather deal with the ailments that afflict me than ask for help. After years of being told symptoms are all in my head, that I’m exaggerating or a drama-queen, I keep quiet.

“Maybe that pain was a sign,” my nurse tells me in recovery after the c-section. “Maybe it was just a way to get you here, to make sure your baby girl was delivered safely. Maybe that’s why it went away once you were in the room.”

I’ve never had words spoken over me like that before, someone telling me I wasn’t crazy or dramatic. I’ve never had someone else trust me and my feelings or my pain. Not like this. When the nurse spoke those words to me, I wanted to hug her.

I never thought this pain would be a warning that something was wrong. In fact, my body and my baby were crying out to the doctors and nurses that we were in trouble. I hadn’t seen that pain as a sign, but rather as an inconvenience and an embarrassment. But really, it was bright and painful arrows pointing me to trouble, telling me to get help.

I always used to sit with the pain and push it down until it was overpowering. I would sit with the fear until I was paralyzed by it. I never walked into a doctor’s office or hospital with confidence. But now, I am willing to fight if nobody takes my pain seriously—not even myself. I never know when I’ll be saving a life.