Our beautiful C is 11 years old today, which is hard to believe. Her birth story didn’t turn out the way I expected but it was beautiful and bizarre and perfect just the same.
My pregnancy with C was generally uneventful. I did have some moderately severe morning (how about all day) sickness in the first five months. More than once I would leave a business meeting to run to the nearest restroom and heave. I also had a weird symptom throughout my pregnancy that I first developed when I was pregnant with E and which has gotten worse with every subsequent pregnancy. It’s called pregnancy pytalism, and it basically means that you drool during your entire pregnancy. It sounds pretty funny – this excessive production of saliva – but it’s actually really, really bothersome. In early pregnancy it made my morning sickness much worse and in the last 15-20 weeks it meant that I had to have some kind of handkerchief or towel with me at all times to wipe my mouth repeatedly.
With my first three births, I’d had uncomplicated vaginal deliveries with pretty standard medical interventions, including epidurals. With this birth, I wanted to have the kind of unmedicated water birth that I’d seen my sister have. So we chose to have our prenatal care at a local, standalone birth center (which has since closed), with the plan that I would give birth there in their special birthing whirlpool. However, from the beginning, I didn’t feel comfortable with my care at the birth center. First of all, I never saw the same midwife twice during my pregnancy check-ups, meaning that I was unable to develop the one-on-one relationship that I’d had with my doctor during my previous three pregnancies. And each time I went in for a prenatal check, it seemed like I had to answer the same questions yet again because the newest midwife whom I would see would be unfamiliar with me, my obstetrical history, or my progress during this pregnancy. Plus, they all seemed to want to scare me about the fact that I would be 39 years old when I gave birth. Throughout my pregnancy I just felt a growing sense of unease about my relationship with this birthing center. However, so many people I know reported positive experiences with the center that I stuck it out.
Meanwhile, throughout the pregnancy, I grew larger and larger, eventually topping out with a 50 pound weight gain, which is exactly what I had gained in my three previous pregnancies. I got big! This is despite the fact that all my babies have been small. E was the largest, weighing only 7 lbs 6 ozs.
Because this was a birthing center instead of a regular doctor’s office, I only had two prenatal ultrasounds during my pregnancy. In the second one, at around 30 weeks, the midwife reported that my baby had turned so that she was in a breech position – feet down instead of head down. She assured me, however, that many babies remain breech until the last few weeks of pregnancy when they spontaneously turn head down all on their own. Everything I read confirmed my midwife’s assessment that by 38 weeks or so, my baby would flip over and position herself for birth (we knew she was a girl due to the amniocentesis test we had elected to have at four months due to my “advanced maternal age”).
But the thing is, I went into labor at 36 weeks. I first thought that I was just having Braxton Hicks contractions, which I’d had regularly throughout the second half of my pregnancy. But as the contractions grew more painful and continued at regular intervals, I told Jon that I thought that I might be in labor. We timed the contractions and they were about 5 minutes apart, so I called the birthing center and spoke to the midwife on call. I explained the situation and told her that considering the fact that I was in labor 4 weeks early and that the baby was breech last time we checked, perhaps I should come in for a check. She agreed.
So off to the birth center we went, with my contractions growing more regular and more painful. By the time we got to the birth center, I was actually in a lot of pain and only wanted to get on all fours on the bed in the room where the midwife checked me. She reported that while she could confirm via a special machine with a strap around my belly that I was indeed in labor, she also told us that her internal check showed that I had made zero progress toward actually giving birth. My cervix had not thinned at all and I was completely closed up. This was extremely difficult information to hear given how painful my contractions had become at this point. But she also told us that her external palpations of my belly showed that the baby was no longer breech – that she had turned into the proper head down position. This was great news.
I labored like this at the birthing center, in great pain but without any change in my cervix for hours before the midwife told us that we should just go home, take a good walk, eat some spicy foods and have sex. When she said this, I felt like throwing some spicy foods into her face because the last thing I felt like doing after hours and hours of extremely painful labor with no progress was taking a walk, having sex or eating anything at all. But we did go home, where I continued to lie in bed, alternately lying on one side and getting on all fours, in absolute agony from the contractions, which were now coming hard and fast.
After a few more hours of this, we called the midwife again and told her that I was still laboring hard and we felt like I needed to be checked again. She agreed, so back off to the birthing center we went, with me moaning and shifting positions in the car, trying to get comfortable. When we got there, the midwife checked me. Still no progress but she did determine that the baby had turned back into an undesirable breech position. At this point she decided that at 36 weeks gestation, in hard labor for many hours with no progress and with a breech baby, that I had better go to the hospital.
So off we went to the hospital associated with the birthing center – the same lovely, old hospital where I’d given birth to my three previous babies – and I was wheeled into a room so that a doctor could look me over. I was thrilled to see that the doctor that entered my room was the same jovial and ultra-competent OB who had delivered my last three babies. He did an ultrasound to determine whether my baby was still breech, which she was. He told me that unless I wanted a c-section, he would need to attempt an external cephalic version, which is where a skilled doctor manipulates your baby from outside your womb in order to turn a breech baby into a head first position. Not many doctors know how to do this procedure but mine did.
We quickly agreed to the version – at this point I was desperate to get my baby out just because I’d been in so much pain for so long. So I was given an epidural to relax (oh! That blessed epidural I’d been wanting to avoid. What had I been thinking?) and an ultrasound machine was set up so the doctor could see exactly what the baby was doing as he attempted to manipulate her into a head down position. I also had a monitor attached to keep track of the baby’s vital signs during the position. Wonder of wonders, my miracle worker of a doctor was able to manually manipulate my 36 week baby into a head down position simply by using massage techniques on the outside of my belly. It was fascinating to watch on the ultrasound.
My doctor then suggested that I go home and rest for a while since, despite my contractions, I still wasn’t dilating. He told us that now that the baby was head down, and my contractions were so strong, he expected me to begin to progress toward birth very soon, and that I should go home (only 5 blocks from the hospital) and sit in the bathtub, take a shower, have Jon rub my feet, or whatever would relax me so that my cervix would begin to open. So back home we went, with me now having been in hard labor for 24 hours with no break except for the period when I had the epidural for the version.
But as we drove home, the strangest thing happened. We crossed a very bumpy railroad track, and as we did, I felt the most bizarre sensation I’ve ever felt, before or since. I could actually feel the baby flip back around from a head down back to the undesirable breech position. I told Jon what I’d felt and he was kind but skeptical. He had just seen the ultrasound where the doctor had successfully turned our baby head down. I continued to insist that the baby had turned breech again, but we still went home and labored there for several more hours.
After a while, we called the doctor and he said to just come on in and that he was going to admit me. When I got to the hospital, they did another ultrasound and – no surprise to me – the baby had turned breech again. My doctor couldn’t believe it. He said he had never seen a baby turn breech again so quickly after a successful external version. I told him about the weird flip flop I’d felt in my belly as we drove over the train tracks and he agreed that this must have been the baby flipping back into the breech position.
I was settled into one of the nice birthing suites where I soon got the epidural I didn’t think I’d want throughout all of my pregnancy but with all that had happened in the previous 48 hours, I was eager to get, and finally the pain was gone and I could relax. A nurse checked me and even though they could clearly see my regular, hard contractions on the monitor, my cervix was still completely closed.
At about 6 am in the morning my awesome doctor came into my room and said, “who’s ready to have a baby?” He told us that it was time to do a c-section. The baby – at only 36 weeks – was beginning to show signs of stress on the monitor, and I appeared to be incapable of dilating despite two days of what had ultimately been unproductive contractions. Plus, the baby was breech. A c-section seemed to be necessary. And Jon and I were so exhausted that we quickly agreed.
The next hour was a blur for me. I remember being wheeled into the OR, and I remember the jovial attitude of the doctor and nurses in the operating room. There was some kind of awful yacht rock playing in the room – I remember thinking that I didn’t want my baby’s first musical imprint being the Captain and Tenille, but what could I do? Everyone seemed to be in such a good mood and I didn’t want to harsh their good vibes.
I remember the actual c-section going very, very quickly, and I recall Jon holding my hand and grinning from ear to ear throughout. I expected it to take some time for them to slice into my belly and remove a baby but it was only a natter of minutes before they lifted a bloody, waxy little girl from my tummy. They held her up over the drape so I could see her, but she wasn’t crying or breathing well so they carried her over to the examining table, rubbed her chest and gave her a little supplemental oxygen and soon she was wailing lustily and breathing just fine. But I did have that “what’s wrong with my baby,” moment.
They wiped her down a bit and weighed her (I think she weighed 6lbs 7 ozs but I’m not entirely sure. Please don’t hate on me for not being sure of this. After all, I have FIVE children. It’s hard enough to keep up with all of their birthdays.)
After she was wiped down a bit and swaddled, they handed her to Jon to bring over to me and we stared at her in utter awe while they stitched me up. She was crinkly and red like a little old bald man, but when she opened her eyes and blinked at us in a “do I know you people?” kind of way, she looked fantastically gorgeous to us.
I had worried that a c-section would feel somehow “less than” my previous vaginal births, but in no way was that the case. The environment was warm and happy. They gave me my baby immediately to hold skin to skin, and she never left our side as I was wheeled back to my room, where she immediately began nursing like a champ. The whole c-section experience was actually quite positive and I’d like to encourage anyone who has to have one that it can feel just as empowering and warm and personal as a vaginal birth. Mine did, anyway. And strangely enough, I recovered faster from my c-section (and my second one when I had G 2.5 years later) than I did from my three previous births. I am not in any way encouraging major surgery over vaginal deliveries. I’m simply sharing what my own experience was like.
Within only an hour or two after the surgery, C and I were taken back to my room we began having lots of visitors, including C’s three older siblings, plus Jon’s parents, plus – and this was very important – the Chinese food delivery guy. I was FAMISHED for Chinese.
So that’s how my baby girl C entered the world. I didn’t have the peaceful, au naturel childbirth experience thatI’d planned for, but I did have a very peaceful surgical birth that I remember just as happily as if I’d had the birth I had wanted.
However she arrived, she has been an amazing, brilliant, funny, thoughtful, kind and all around wonderful little girl for the past 11 years. We all love her to the moon and back.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MY DARLING GIRL.