In honor of Cesarean Awareness Month 2010, we will be filling the blogosphere with stories from real women (and their families) who know first-hand the consequences of a 32% cesarean rate. Each day we will post at least one birth story submitted by these women. Prepare to be moved (hint: grab a box of Kleenex)!
I knew nothing about childbirth, but I wasn’t worried about it. That was what I had an OB for! At my 39 week prenatal visit, my OB – marveling at the size of my belly – sent me for an ultrasound to establish an estimated fetal weight. The scan revealed a baby that might be as large as ten pounds. If I didn’t go into labor by Tuesday, she recommended a c-section. I recall asking if she thought it was really necessary. Her response: “Well, we could try to do it vaginal if you want, but I think you’ll just end up with a section anyway.” Faced with her lack of confidence in my body (and my own), I agreed to the surgery. I did not go into labor spontaneously. The surgery and recovery were medically unremarkable, though I frown at the thought of it now. With the help of an attentive LC, the baby nursed successfully on one of our first attempts. I asked during the hospital stay if I’d have to have all my babies by c-section. My OB said, “Probably. Women tend to grow a larger baby each time.” Jack Henry was large – 9lbs 5oz – so it all seemed justified at the time. I trusted the experts and life went on.
I got pregnant again when Jack Henry was 15 months old. My OB, a different one from last time, was startled to hear that I was still nursing my toddler and instructed me to stop to avoid a miscarriage or premature labor. However, I’d done a little research on the issue and felt confident that our nursing sessions were harmless. This incident – almost our first exchange as patient and care giver – resulted in me putting a mental asterisk next to everything he advised, reminding me to double-check its accuracy. I was surprised when he asked me if I wanted to vbac or have a repeat section. After what my previous OB had said, I thought I had no choice. I remember saying that I supposed I’d have a repeat, preferring the known to the unknown.
Nevertheless, the seed had been planted. If my body could conceive and grow this baby, if milk my body made could nourish my son for so many months, why couldn’t my body birth this baby? I began to research and was astonished at what I found. The stats were clearly in favor of a vbac. At the next visit, I asked the OB to change my status in the chart. I wanted to go for it. His response was noncommittal; we’d see if I was carrying large this time or not and go from there. So for the next month I researched big babies. I was stunned to discover that a big baby was not, in and of itself, cause for a scheduled surgery, which meant that 1) my first cesarean was almost certainly unnecessary and 2) that the current baby’s size shouldn’t preclude a trial of labor like my OB had suggested. By then I had stumbled onto ICAN’s email list and was blown away by the women’s experiences, advice, and encouragement. I toyed with the idea of having a midwife for my next birth, but the pattern with my OB persisted – him suggesting that such-and-such was a reasonable obstacle to a vaginal birth and my research suggesting otherwise. At around 21 weeks along I took the plunge; I switched to a hospital-based midwifery practice with an outstanding vbac success rate and signed up for some Bradley Method childbirth classes. If I was going to do this, I was going to do it!
In my 39th week, on a Friday morning, I went into work, even though I was having what I thought were lower intestinal pains brought on by bad lasagna the night before. When they started increasing in frequency and intensity, it dawned on me that they might be contractions. Balancing on my giant exercise ball – long since exchanged for the standard office chair, stares be damned – I started to time them, keeping track on a sticky note on my desk. I fielded phone calls and watched in awe as the numbers got closer together. I had to start putting calls on hold when I couldn’t talk through the contractions anymore. At 9am, I thought this might be labor. At 10am, I called my husband to come pick me up.
I spent the next few hours at home with him, laboring. A little experimentation revealed that leaning on Chris and making ‘figure eights’ with my hips was the most comfortable way through the contractions. We slow danced around the living room and then into the bedroom, so Chris could finish packing for the hospital in between. The midwife on call told us that when the contractions were three or four minutes apart for an hour to make our way in, but Chris, who’d been diligently keeping track, could see how much more quickly they were coming, and suggested we start that direction anyway. Even in the car, the contractions were picking up steam; they were only two minutes apart and double-peaking.
I was admitted at about 3pm and got the standard hospital gown, bp check, blood test, hep lock, and efm. Protocol for vbac labor is continuous efm, but the midwife had it taken off after 15 minutes, and I didn’t argue! I was declared 100% effaced and 5 cm dilated. I’d already shed the gown and was laboring in only an old nursing bra. In between contractions, I felt completely normal, so part of me still didn’t think this could be the real thing. But the contractions themselves were all –consuming and coming faster and faster. I sipped my water and held on to Chris. The deep abdominal breathing was starting to get away from me, and my wonderful husband reminded me that I didn’t have to be silent; I could moan through the contractions if I wanted. That helped so much! The staff left to give us some space; my sister and mother went to fetch bags from the car. We were all alone when my water broke, a clear pink. I had enough time to think, “Oh no, the contractions are supposed to get harder now,” before the next one took me. At the tail end of it, my moan turned to a grunt. I told Chris, “I think I pushed a little, but let’s see if it happens again before we tell anyone.” He only had time to look dubious, before the next one was on me. It was all push and my grunt turned into a primal yell. Chris’ eyes were big as saucers as he started to inch me toward the bed so he could hit the nurse button. It took one more contraction to get to the bed. My sister burst in – she’d recognized my yell in the hallway – sent mom for the midwife and braced me for push number three. Baby was only an inch from crowning. The staff had me up on the bed before I knew what was happening, my one big regret. What had been completely instinctual standing up slipped away from me once I was lying down. I recall the staff pulling out a mirror so I could see without being asked. I can still see the midwife’s face floating in front of mine, encouraging me to take deeper breaths (I was all but hyperventilating) and asking me not to push past the count of four.
In only twenty minutes of pushing the baby was out and on my front, wet and wonderful. He cooed and nursed, looking around with big brown eyes. I held him all through the suturing repair – ninety minutes in all – before I handed him to his father. According to the CNM, the quick second stage and nuchal hand tore me up internally. Grant William was born 8lbs 4oz at 4:43pm. I was and still am amazed that it was so easy, and so difficult, to do. I certainly wouldn’t have had the courage without the group of ICAN women to lean on, who made me feel like it was a normal goal, and yet, spectacular!
Originally posted on ICAN of Nashville’s website.