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CAM Birth Story #17: Victory after Loss

ubac_camIn 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)!

From Heather…the story of her UBAC after the traumatic loss of her previous baby. You can read her cesarean birth story (in three parts) here, here and here.

Despite using protection (condoms, which were obsessively checked before and after sex), and not having my period return, AND breastfeeding my toddler, I somehow managed to miraculously conceive 6-7 weeks after my son’s birth, and death. Making me due a mere 10 months after a traumatic cesarean.

I had “High risk” written all over me: I have pituitary dwarfism and have underdeveloped hips with dysplasia on the right side, the only baby I birthed naturally was 6lbs (my daughter, 2 and some years prior), I had a previous child death due to defects, a cesarean inside the SAME YEAR which I was due, previous breech presentation, previous premature labour (although for what my son had, he was perfectly on time and I have always felt that he was not “early”; had he stayed in longer he would have been stillborn instead of having his brief life and the chance to die in his father’s arms)… there was no way anyone would even take me on for a VBAC, and I was determined not to ever have a cesarean again unless my baby’s life was seriously at risk.

We lived a mere 5 minute drive from the major hospital with NICU, so distance was not an issue. I’d also had a previous unassisted pregnancy, and I knew my stuff. With a circle of support from my friends and family, I went it alone.

It was clear early on that my baby was a big one. I measured 5-6cm ahead throughout the entire pregnancy. I am a tiny woman: a mere 5’ and 110lbs, and due to pituitary dwarfism I have a very small torso and a pelvis that never grew past my eight year old body. I had even been previously told by a midwife that a baby larger than 8lbs would give me a lot of trouble. But I was very confident. I also knew the signs and dangers of true CPD and shoulder dystocia, and knew what to do in the event it actually happened.

At around 23 weeks I arranged my own ultrasound appointment for a curiosity swipe: I was concerned I was having twins and would need to adjust my plans if this was the case. I set everything up by myself and when I walked in I carefully explained the situation. There would be one mere swipe, no measurements, no checking for malformations just a quick peek for twins. The technition said she understood, but quickly took advantage of me. She tried to take measurements. I heard her stop-click-typing as she did. When I asked, “Is it twins?” to prompt her she would answer, “Hang on a minute”. I pushed hard and eventually she sighed and went back and forth over my entire belly, answering, “No. Just one”. She then explained that I “needed” to have measurements and checks taken, and pushed me back down.

“Thank you for the information,” I said. I sat up and wiped myself off, then left. She ran out in a huff, slamming the door behind her. I was harassed for two weeks after about the “results” (the measurements of the baby: which were very large for gestational age I had told them, when honestly I had just guessed!), but I asked them to shred the records and told them I would consult with my care provider if I needed more.

“Fine,” snapped the receptionist, then she hung up on me. It seems that taking charge of your own care is not something professionals like very much.

The rest of my pregnancy was very difficult both mentally and physically. I experienced pre-e and successfully fought it back to ensure my safe and healthy labour, I had severe hyperemesis gravidarum and on many days kept nothing down. I drank two litres of red raspberry leaf tea a day, took Floradix iron, nettles, vitamin K, chlorophyll and many other supplements to ensure my oft serious anemia was well taken care of, checking my body regularly for signs it was under control (there is more to it than a blood test!). I must have done a good job, because after birth I did not even bleed enough to soak a single Gerber prefold and only had a flow of lochia for three days before it changed to light spotting, compared to the 6 and 7 weeks I bled with my previous two children.

I had irritable uterus, the same as with my previous pregnancies, and had regular contractions sometimes as long as 6-7 hours a day, every day, starting from around the mid-way point. I was exhausted.

I had a very hard time connecting with my unborn child; having not fully addressed the grief of my son’s death and feeling that I had betrayed him by becoming pregnant so soon. It took a long, long time to feel that this was meant to be. I waited over five months to tell the rest of my family I was pregnant.

I went into labour on the afternoon my belly turned 43 weeks, now measuring almost 48cm in fundal height and covered in stretch marks that looked like water rings rippling from my flattened navel, a design I had received just as I crossed my 41 week mark.

This is my birth story.

———
Around 5am I woke up to a few mild cramps. The anticipation more than the sensation kept me awake until Curtis (my husband) woke up two hours later to leave for work. They weren’t regular and were pretty mild. Every half hour or so I’d have one that hurt and then they would all but stop. I told Curtis to go to work anyway; if they actually turned into something I’d call him in a few hours.

I got up and plodded around the house a little bit, and the more I moved the more they spread out and eventually just felt like mild gas pains. I ate some breakfast, talked with my friend LC who was staying at the house with her seven month old girl, and by 9:30am I was much too tired to stay awake any longer. I asked LC if she would watch my three year old, Tempest, for me and went back for a nap.

I slept soundly for three hours. When I got up I felt a hundred percent better and the on-and-off cramps had long stopped. I frequently got these kinds of cramps, although usually only in the evening, and dismissed them as merely a return of the painful braxton hicks.

Earlier that day I had written to a few close friends that I thought the cramps might turn into something and now I felt silly for jumping the gun seeing as they’d completely stopped. I was on my way to change my message to “false alarm” but made a stop at the bathroom before going to the computer. When I undressed I saw that I’d lost my mucous plug in a very big (and gross) way. I checked my cervix; it was around 4cm dilated with a bulging bag. I’ve never had a bulging bag before so I had no idea what it was at first. The baby was still facing outward at this point so I gave into the fact that I’d be having my third posterior labour! I guess when you don’t know the difference it’s not that bad.

Because I had made it up to 5cm before I ever even started labour with my second child, I didn’t count this so quickly as being “in labour”, but did consider the idea that it would be within the next few days.

LC and I decided to go for a walk down to the corner store for some drinks. I’m pretty sure she offered the walk to try and perk my contractions back up again, she had that look in her eye when she grabbed her coat. I was there for her labour so she knew the tricks.

We were gone about half an hour. While I walked I got mild, tiny squeezes every three few or so that really weren’t that regular nor painful. I only had to stop walking twice, but not so much for pain as just for the intensity of the squeeze – they felt a little like someone taking both hands to the side of my belly and pushing it inward. These felt different from my day-to-day cramping but also didn’t feel quite like real labour.

When I came home and sat down they spaced out to ten-to-fourteen minutes and I barely felt them, but I had already resolved to call my friend Amber (who would be photographing) and Curtis just the same. Even if it wasn’t labour I figured Curtis wouldn’t mind coming home an hour early. I predicted that real labour would probably hit late that night or the following morning since all of this warm-up generally happens a day or so before the real contractions start going.

I left a message for my friend and then called Curtis and told him to come home. When he repeated, “Now?” back into the phone I heard co-workers behind him start cheering and clapping.

While I waited for Curtis to get home I checked myself again and couldn’t feel my cervix. The bulging bag and now part of a head were so low that I couldn’t get my fingers in far enough to feel what was going on. I figured I couldn’t be that much further in and gave up on checking. Real labour hadn’t actually started yet, and the only difference seemed to be that he’d engaged. The mild squeezes were sometimes as far as twenty minutes apart and I only noticed them if I paid attention.

I sat on the birthing ball in front of the computer and made my updates. Curtis came home about ten minutes later, and literally as soon as the front door opened real labour hit and the contractions were suddenly five minutes apart and intense. It was as though someone had flicked a switch to start me up. There was no gradual build-up to it.

I couldn’t get off the ball; every time I tried a contraction would hit and I’d have to sit back down again. I ended up stuck at the computer for an hour. I was feeling rather ridiculous, thinking that I was going to have my baby in front of the computer with forums and friends up on the screen and how I could never again claim to not be addicted to the internet if that actually came to pass.

Finally I managed to get up and go to the bathroom. I wanted to be alone for a while and feel my contractions without distraction. I laboured on the toilet for another hour, by myself. The contractions felt much easier there: I was able to focus more on opening up and made quieter, lower noises through them. I kept my fingers and throat open and tried to make my body limp when each contraction crept up. It was working very well, being able to be alone and not afraid that eventually someone would burst in made it so much easier to relax and I was almost able to sleep, or at least disassociate, through the contractions by self-hypnosis.

At one point during this time – completely alone, safe, comfortable in my darkened bathroom seated on the toilet with no risk of anyone coming in to disturb me – I was able to so completely relax that I was sitting back, quiet and peaceful, as every contraction hit feeling my body melt further and further into itself and open wide. I made no noise: I did not need to. I was completely at peace.

I continued this for about forty minutes before the cramps became a little more intense and I was unable to continue the meditation through them. I had a little bit of bloody show at that point, and was still unable to check myself because of how low the baby’s head was.

Curtis quietly asked permission to enter my birthing zone to bring me ice water with a bendy straw and some yogurt and granola to eat. I had as much as I could, but was starting to feel nauseated and couldn’t finish it. After a few more contractions I decided to try and fill up the tub and see if some of the warm water would help.

I ran the bath as high as it would go and tried to get comfortable. It was at this point that I started feeling that intense “nothing is working” feeling that is very typical of transition. Although I didn’t recognize this as transition (also typical of transition…) The contractions were a little closer together, a little more intense but I was still waiting for them to get “really bad” and still considered myself in early labour.

At the tail end of a few contractions I felt this very odd tingling feeling in my chest and upper belly. It was something I’ve never experienced before. It felt almost like a tiny urge to push, more of a nudge than an urge. With the next contraction I tried giving a little push and that felt pretty good, so I called Curtis in and asked him to stay. I still didn’t feel like I was really that close to the end, and imagined I would be hitting transition soon. I always expect transition to be so dramatic that I cannot possibly mistake it for anything else, but this is my third labour now and I have yet to be “taken over” by one the way I see others experience it.

The tickling feeling started to get a little more nagging, but still didn’t feel like a real urge to push. I held it in, not exactly scared but a little unnerved by the speed and the idea of letting go of this baby. The last baby who left my body died shortly after birth, only 11 months prior, and I was struggling throughout pregnancy with the fears that leaving the haven of my womb and cutting the cord would result in the death of my child. I asked Curtis to give me some reassurance that it was okay to give in and start pushing, and as the words, “It will be okay” left his lips my water broke with a huge ‘bang!’ that was audible even underwater. The level of the tub raised up by about an inch, if not more. There was some meconium (normal for postdates babies) and a little bit of blood. I felt the baby’s head come down very hard, as though it had slammed into my cervix, and the urge to push was now undeniable. I leaned back in the tub so I could raise my hips and get as much coverage in the water as possible. After only one push I started to feel a burning sensation. I had Curtis reach down and feel the head just as it started to crown. I could feel the thick rolls and wrinkles on the top of the forehead and realized this was going to be a fat baby, just as I’d been hoping.

The next few minutes were so incredibly intense for me. Not just physically, but emotionally. It was coming very fast and I had expected myself to be terrified of letting go of this baby… but I wasn’t.

I applied very gentle counterpressure to my perineum to prevent tearing when I felt the crowning at its biggest, and Curtis mistakenly thought I was trying to push him back in and at first tried to gently move my hand. It’s a little difficult to speak coherently when one is crowning a baby, so all I could muster was, “No no no!”.

I’m not a big fan of the ring of fire sensation, so I made a lot of horrible noises over the few seconds it took for the head to come out.

Once the head come out all the way the relief was instant. I reached down and felt my baby’s nose and eyes. The head came out anterior, even though when I’d checked the positioning a few hours ago, baby was still firmly set in a posterior presentation. I had felt a lot of spinning and moving just moments before I started pushing and I imagine that’s when the baby turned the right way.

I felt the baby rotate its body to prepare its shoulders for birth; the feeling was just like someone trying to pull it out and I yelled, “What the hell is that?!”. Curtis didn’t have an answer for me and didn’t realize I was asking rhetorically.

About twenty or thirty seconds passed and I gave one more push. The baby’s body flew out so fast it went almost clear across the tub. Both Curtis and I reached down and together we pulled this chubby newborn person out of the water. The baby was a little gray at first so I started vigorously rubbing its back. I turned my baby over one arm and slanted it downward, saying, “Come on baby, /come on/ baby”. Curtis tells me later this made him nervous, but I wasn’t afraid at all. I instinctively knew everything was fine. Curtis admits this was the point where he forgot everything I’d ever told him about how being a bit slow to start is okay when you’re not clamping cutting the cord the instant they’re out. The umbilical cord continues to provide a steady stream of oxygen, blood and nourishment until the placenta detaches from the uterine wall: it is a lifeline.

I saw my baby’s eyes open right away, and a few seconds later start grunting, pinking up very fast after that.

My mother, LC and Tempest were waiting outside the door and all came in to see “her” just as we were lifting her out. I vaguely recall my mother asking, “She’s okay?” when she saw his (we were all thinking it was a girl throughout the pregnancy, to the point of having only big sister’s baby girl clothes set out) initial colour, and I answered, “Yup!”.

My mother was incredibly supportive and calm through this experience, I’m so grateful she took what I had said to heart and been such a rock. She never tried to interfere and was incredibly respectful with offerings of help and support. She wasn’t a “mother hen” in the least, didn’t lose her cool and I’m grateful for her presence around me during the labour. It’s a complete turnaround from how she’d acted when I was labouring with Tempest: fretting and busying and generally making everyone a little bit nervous.

I asked LC to check her watch and it was 6:10pm, and it had been about two minutes since she’d emerged so we called it 6:08!

Tempest wanted to join me in the tub, but it was pretty gross so I asked her not to get in. Instead she perched on the edge: “That’s a baby! Look at that baby! That baby came out your ‘gina. That baby is sad. Will you nurse that baby with your nipple?”.

She started nuzzling at my breast but didn’t seem too interested in nursing. A few minutes later my mother asked, “What’s her name?”

“He. It’s a boy,” said Curtis.

“It is *not!*” I said. I lifted the legs to check, and then started screaming in excitement. All through my pregnancy I kept hearing his name in my dreams, I’d shared it with Curtis and wondered why it never felt quite right. We’d spent many nights sitting on the couch for hours at a time trying to figure out why it didn’t fit when it felt like that was the right name. I kept applying it to a girl. In the back of my mind I would think, ‘but it would be perfect for a boy’.

Curtis had noticed as soon as he came out but kept it a secret so that I would figure it out on my own. I broke down in happiness: I really could have a beautiful, living son.

Less than five minutes after he was born Curtis pointed out that the placenta was sitting right at my perineum, just as I’d visualized in my meditations. I gave a tiny push and it came right out. We stayed in the tub about twenty minutes adoring him before I pulled the plug and had Curtis set up the bed with chux pads so I could lay down. I wrapped Xan in a clean, hot towel that my mother had just warmed in the dryer and passed him to LC so that I could clean off the placenta in the tub and check it over to make sure it was whole.

As I rinsed myself off I noticed quite a few large clots so I asked Curtis to bring me a half cup of water with a few teaspoons of chlorophyll in it to help rebuild blood supply. I drank a glass of ice water, and then sipped on some orange juice as I got into bed and nursed him. Amber arrived about ten or so minutes later (missing the three hour birth completely!) and started taking photos.

In the meantime, I called my father and announced the news personally, Curtis called his work (that he’d only left a few hours before!) and his mother.

I felt so comfortable and glowing. I wasn’t even the slightest bit sore. Everything just seemed absolutely perfect and… normal. Even though something so amazing had just happened, I could just get up and go on with life. I didn’t even think about my cesarean scar, or my hospital experience less than a year before.

After a few hours I called my LLL Leader and asked to borrow her scale to weigh him since we had forgotten to pick one up. She came by, oohing and awwing, took part in the weighing and asked me all about my birth. I promised to come and show him off at the next meeting (eight days later) and gave her permission to make a birth announcement to the email list. He weighed *nine and a half pounds* more than anyone had ever said a little person like me could manage. I was beaming with pride.

Amber went and picked up my friend Marian who had been present at my daughter’s birth and brought her over to see him. I was up until almost 2am, nursing, making phone calls and letting it sink in that I’d just given birth. Life felt so undisturbed by the process; it was so quiet.

It’s amazing to have a secret no one else knows until you choose to tell them.

A baby was just born and the only people who know of his new existence were those I wanted to. We had the opportunity to tell whoever we wanted, whenever we wanted.

We wrapped Xan’s placenta in some towels, salted it and swaddled him up with it on his stomach. We had never officially decided anything specific to be done with it, but it didn’t feel right to cut the cord. When I thought about picking up the scissors, all I could see was my first son being cut out of me like a tumour, knowing that with his damaged lungs and heart he had been kept alive and at peace solely by his cord. Like magic. I can envision him being held high above me, alive, heart beating, breath coming, seeing my butchered body below him – and then he is severed and he started to die… How could I now do the same to /this/ son? I could not bring myself to sever him from his lifeline, even though it provided nothing for him now. It was a testament to his brother’s life that no one could save.

When he was about two days old, the cord had long dried, crimped and had broken a few inches above his newly forming navel. It was hanging on by a tiny corner and the two halves of cord looked like a broken stem of a flower attached only by a single line. It felt right, then, to separate his placenta where it had broken.

Curtis cleaned and boiled a pair of scissors and I spent some time talking with Xan and asking his permission. We clipped the tiny string still attaching the broken pieces, leaving the rest of his cord still attached to him. We put the placenta in the freezer, planning to plant it in the spring.

The point where the cord was breaking off was around eight inches past his middle, completely dried, hard and brittle. It had a crook in it right above his belly so that we could easily dress him while he was still attached. Despite it being so hard and dried, having not bent or yielded in days, it somehow curled into a perfect tight coil, a beautiful design, separated and encircling his brand new navel – revealed to us at his next diaper change just an hour later.

As a small woman (5’) treated for pituitary dwarfism, who married a tall man (6’4”) I’ve become very tired of hearing about how I will never be able to birth any big babies. How I will always need surgery, epidurals, and that my body just isn’t able to withstand anything I make from loving my partner.

It’s a wonderful, victorious feeling to be able to hold up my big fat newborn, who quickly became my 26lb 3 month old, and say that not only did I birth over nine pounds of bouncing baby boy naturally and unassisted, but I did it VBAC!

3 Comments

  1. Nicole says:

    That is such an awesome and inspiring story, thank you so much for sharing!!!

  2. Kari says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this part of your journey… huge hugs to you.

  3. Kristen says:

    Absolutely beautiful. Your journey to UBAC has left me in awe over what an amazing woman you are and the trust you have for birth, such a natural process in our lives. Thank you so much for sharing your journey with everyone. We are so blessed to have heard it.