I'm compelled to write my son's birth story for two reasons. One, I've never documented it, and since he just turned 2 last week I know the detailed memories will fade soon. Secondly, I have high hopes that my next child's birth in a few weeks will be different and I would like to look back on both years and years later.
I remember during one of the birthing classes Jason and I sat through the childbirth educator said that statistically 3 of us in the class would end up having a c-section (there were 9 other couples). I looked around the room and thought, “Ugh, not me!” The teacher herself had 2 c-sections and even my sister had 2 herself because of a heart condition she has. But I knew there was NO WAY I was going to be one of them. This baby was coming out the way nature intended as far as I was concerned.
Fast forward to week 32. My blood pressure was continuing to slowly rise with each visit to my OB/GYN. I was put on a pregnancy safe medication early on for high blood pressure because I have chronic hypertension even when I'm not pregnant. Because of this the doctors also like to check fluid levels in the womb and that turned out fine, but he saw that my son was in the breech position (which is butt first instead of head first). He said ever-so-casually, “Well, if he doesn't flip within the next few weeks, we'll just schedule a cesarean section.”
Um, excuse me? I don't think so.
Never having even THOUGHT about this, I asked him if I could birth my son in this position. My doctor explained the risks, the only one I remember standing out in my mind was that the umbilical cord could come out first, get pinched and cause major problems (come to find out later, this could happen when the baby is head down as well). As I continued to ask questions the conversation ended with “No obstetrician at this hospital will allow you to birth a baby that is in the breech position.”
I left the appointment with the hope that maybe this little baby would figure it out and flip within the next few weeks. My blood pressure kept getting worse and with each appointment they would confirm that he was still breech. At my 36 week appointment my doctor informed me that they had already scheduled my cesarean section for August 30th. My son was due September 5th. I told my OB that I didn't feel comfortable having them take him before he was “ready” to be born. I wanted to go into labor on my own, go to the hospital and then they could proceed with my surgery. Doesn't a woman's first labor typically last 12 hours or something? Was that asking a lot? Apparently yes, and as I can't recall his exact words, I remember feeling like it wasn't really up for discussion. I also later found out that they like to schedule c-sections at 39 weeks so the mother's DON'T go into labor on their own. In a nutshell, it's more convenient for the doctors and the hospital.
I left there feeling completely helpless and deflated. I was a statistic. My OB also prescribed bedrest because my blood pressure was still rising and I was already taking the maximum dosage of medication. I went home to prepare myself and try my best to come to terms with the fact that I wouldn't get the birthing experience that I wanted. My son had his first appointment of his life: To be born.
The next day was August 11th, 2007. I was at my in-laws house with Jason relaxing and talking to him about these being the last few days of just the two of us. We came in the house after laying by the pool (did someone say something about bedrest?), I laid on the couch and reached over to pick up a bottle of water and felt something shift inside of me, unlike the baby movement. The sound of it was strange too, like something popping. I thought I probably had to go to the bathroom, stood up and took a few steps and felt the warm rush.
“I think my water broke” I said to my mother-in-law. She replied, “Well, don't just stand there, go and check!” I shuffled into the bathroom and sat on the toilet. My bathing suit and shorts were soaked and it wasn't pee. I sat there for at least a full minute, totally silent. Oh. My. Shit. I vividly remember thinking, “How am I going to get out of this?” He was only 36 weeks along….IT'S NOT TIME!!! I poked my head out of the bathroom and told Jason we needed to go to the hospital. When we got there and I got out of the car my shorts were soaked. As we walked in the front doors I could feel it trickling down my legs and asked Jason to walk behind me. He assured me that I was not the first pregnant woman to walk into a hospital with amniotic fluid soaking my clothes and running down my legs. Thanks, honey. We got to the triage floor and I politely told the nurse that my water broke. She asked if I was sure. I said, “Well, I'm standing in a puddle of it so you can come around and check if you want.” I don't think they found the humor in that.
I was put in a room and I can't remember much of what happened next except a nurse casually said, “Okay, looks like you're going to have a baby today!” NOTHING can prepare you for a perfect stranger saying those words to you. Nothing. She left the room and I burst into tears. Sobbing I sat on the edge of the bed and put my head on Jason's chest. I said to him, “Why is he so early? Is he okay, what if he's not ready? I'M NOT READY!!!” And I wasn't. Sure, I didn't have a bag packed (I was in my bikini, shorts and a tank top for pete's sake) and we didn't have the carseat ready, but I wasn't ready for surgery. I wasn't ready for this. I had never had a chance to come to terms with the fact that this is how my first born would come into this world. Less than 24 hours before that my doctor told me it was certain that I would not get to birth the way I wanted. I had never in my life even had a surgery before. Never even had a cavity! I was terrified.
I can't remember how we got to the labor and delivery floor, but shortly after we met the obstetrician that would deliver my son. Oh, nice to meet you, you're about to cut me open to pull my child out of my abdomen. Oh, and the anesthesiologist. You're about to stick a needle into my spine. Great! Glad I got to know you both for 5 seconds. I feel MUCH better. Here, let me just pull my heart out of my chest and hand it to you while we wait for an operating room. Wait…..what is that feeling??? Oh-you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me those are contractions starting.
As Dr. About-to-cut-me-open and Jason chatted, a nice nurse prepped me for surgery. I watched the clock as the contractions kept coming. There were 4 total every 5 minutes that lasted about 30 seconds. Knowing what I know now, I was in the early stages of labor and those contractions were a picnic as compared to what was to come. But, I never got to know. Away to the operating room I went. Alone. Jason was not allowed to join me until they were ready to cut me open.
Much of the next couple of hours is foggy. I was given the spinal to numb my entire lower body and I was helped to lay down on the table. I gasped out loud as I felt a nurse pull my legs open (not gently) and slightly felt her looking for where she was going to insert the catheter. No pain, but I could feel something. Then I heard one of the nurses say, “Uh, oh. Meconium.” which I knew wasn't good. (Meconium is a sign that the baby has made a bowel movement in utero and could cause an infection if ingested.) I asked the other nurse if that was really bad. She was a heavy-set African American lady that said, “Honey, your baby's butt is wedged in your pelvis right now. Your contractions are literally squeezing the shit out of him. He's fine”. Love her.
Jason was let into the room and sat down next to me, the anesthesiologist was on the other side of me. They both had their haz-mat suits on, masks and all. The doctor I had met previously then introduced me to another doctor that would be assisting him. Another stranger digging around in my innards. Fantastic! They told me they were about to start. Then I smelled it. Jason asked the anesthesiologist, “What's that smell?” I knew exactly what it was but was so horrified I could not speak it. The doctor said, “Do you really want to know?” Jason replied, “Oh, nevermind” as he figured it out.
It was the smell of burning flesh as they cauterized my skin open. Gross. The smell is unmistakeable. I focused on the huge bright surgery light above us and just prayed. Prayed that it would be over soon. Prayed that my son would be healthy. A few minutes later they removed him from my womb and held him up for me to see. I memorized his face right then and there. I knew I wouldn't be able to hold him until God knows when, so I wanted to be able to recognize him in case they accidentally switched him with another baby like you see on Oprah. I really don't remember details after that. I was sewn up, taken away to recovery, and suddenly there was Jason and my sister. I kept telling Jason to go and be with the baby instead of me because I didn't want him to be alone. It BROKE MY HEART that I couldn't be with him right away. His first minutes of life and he was in an incubator, being held by someone else, in a kangaroo pouch bouncing down the halls, I didn't know!?!?! All I know is that I couldn't move and I kept thinking, “Am I sleeping? Is this real? Dreaming?” I really couldn't decipher between reality and dream-state. I don't know how much time passed and they brought him to me. I was able to nurse him and finally be with him. But it was still strange. I never felt fully awake until hours later.
The point of this whole post is this:
It took me a long time to be at peace with the birth outcome of my son. I do believe a cesarean section was the best decision, given that I had a breech baby and hypertension. Had I not had high blood pressure I know in my heart I could have given birth to him vaginally if given the chance. But I can't take it back so I had to come to terms with it. Both for my own sanity and preparing for the birth of my daughter.
Which brings me to my next point. As mothers giving birth, we are taught to focus solely on the outcome of our baby. There is little regard to the feelings and emotions of the mothers. Cesarean sections have become so common and part of birth that our society has accepted it as almost as normal as a vaginal birth. And it's not even close. I can't tell you how many times I have heard, “Well, at least you have a healthy baby. And that's all that matters.” And I nod back with a lump in my throat. There is an overwhelming feeling of shame for being unhappy about your birth outcome. It's looked at as selfish. Of course I am happy I had a healthy child and that I was safe. That goes without being said. But giving birth is one of those things that most of us know we are going to face someday. It's a monumental day, one that will live in our memories forever. I think it's not unlike our wedding day, it's something we think about and hope that day turns out perfect. And when it doesn't, it can be devastating.
I just want to put it out there that it's okay to be angry, frustrated, sad and just plain pissed off about your birth outcome. Feel the feelings so that you can move on. If you hold it in, it doesn't go anywhere and will just get worse. It wasn't until I admitted how awful it was, then I was able to shrug my shoulders and say, “Okay, I'm done and ready to move on.”
If you have a similar story or even a different opinion, I would love to hear it!
*I should note that not all mothers have these feelings after a c-section. I personally know a few that had easy recoveries, and even elected to have c-sections rather than a vaginal birth. I think it's fantastic that these women can be happy with their birth outcome. I can only speak for myself and the many other women I have talked to that have had the same feelings that I've had.
Photo courtesy of David Maddison