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)!
When I became pregnant with my first child in 2002, my husband and I decided to have our baby at home with a midwife. Both our mother’s had some of our younger siblings at home with midwives and we were both more than comfortable with the idea. My mother’s first two births were cesareans. Her first was because my brother went into fetal distress when her labor was being “helped” with pitocin. Her second (me!) was a scheduled repeat cesarean. She went on to have four VBAC’s with one being a set of twins. I figured by choosing a midwife the first time, I would be avoiding the unnecessary interventions and thus the problems she had dealt with. I’d heard my mother’s stories most of my life. When reading books about birth during my pregnancy, I inevitable skipped the chapters on cesarean section.
At around 39 weeks, my doctor confirmed what my midwife suspected—my baby was breech. It was the end of the week and my doctor said he could do the cesarean on Tuesday of the next week. I was devastated and went home crying. I called my husband and my midwife and was frustrated by their calm responses. Over the weekend I called my doctor at home and told him I wanted to wait until I went into labor and would try to get the baby to move in the mean time. With the help of my midwife and doctor we tried external version, chiropractic care, breech tilt, moxibustion, ice packs, and homeopathy—all to no avail. I even talked to other midwives around the state to see if I could find anyone who was comfortable delivering a breech baby. I was pregnant for four more weeks and never went into labor so we went forward with the cesarean almost a month after my original due date.
I had time to come to terms with my disappointment over not having the opportunity to birth my baby naturally. The cesarean itself went fairly well. I remember during the procedure a pulling that felt like my lungs where being pulled from my body along with the baby. I instinctively tried to grasp my chest with my hands, and it was then that I realized my arms were strapped down. I complained about the pain, but since I didn’t receive much of a response, I figured it was normal. My midwife was present and could overhear some discussion about a tear in my uterus. Later, when my husband and I inquired about it, our doctor implied that the surgeon had been careless. My medical records would later note a “nasty laceration” on my uterus.
After putting me back together, I was given something to cause my uterus to contract. At that time we assumed it was pitocin, but since there is nothing in my records, I don’t know for sure what it was. Within seconds of receiving it in my IV, it seemed, I started to vomit, or dry heave. I remember the nurses trying to show me my baby, but I couldn’t look at her because I was vomiting. About the time it would wear off, I would get another dose and would start heaving again. I remember my midwife saying, “Do you have to give that to her?” and, “Can you reduce the dose?” I think I was still vomiting when I was wheeled into recovery.
I had a beautiful 9 lb 1oz baby girl, Evelynn, and she was perfect in every way. She had no signs of being overdue. I didn’t regret our decision but knew that I would be pursuing VBAC for future births. I didn’t have any trouble nursing and don’t feel like I had any trouble bonding. I was able to keep my baby with me during my hospital stay. My doctor told me that VBAC would be an option for me for future births, but he didn’t recommend it. He said I could not have a home birth.
I experienced a period of secondary infertility after my cesarean. Whether it had anything to do with the cesarean or not, I don’t know. When our daughter was 4 years old we consulted an infertility specialist. After a consultation and confirming my husband had a good sperm count, I had a hysterosalpingogram. The doctor said everything looked fine and sent us home with the instructions of coming back if I wasn’t pregnant by the beginning of the year and he would prescribe me some mild fertility drugs. The New Year came and went and I put off going back to the doctor. In June by my daughter’s 5th birthday, I had a positive pregnancy test for the first time in over five years. My husband and I sat on the news for a while and when we did tell family and friends we were expecting, I felt like I was lying to them.
I wasn’t sure how I would proceed on seeking prenatal care. I knew that the hospitals in our area had a reputation for not allowing VBAC’s. The midwife that I’d worked with before had moved to another area. I read all I could find about VBAC online and read about every word on the ICAN website. After getting a couple of references I called a local midwife who was relatively new to the area. I found her to be very confident and comfortable with delivering a VBAC at home. After we did our first pre-natal and heard the baby’s heartbeat I finally no longer felt like I was lying when I told people I was pregnant.
My pregnancy went well and uneventful. About two days before my due date, I had a night of what I thought was labor—ten hours with contractions 3 to 5 minutes apart. I waited till to morning to call my midwife, but still told her not to come yet. I was dedicated to not jumping the gun or sounding false alarms. Labor like this came and went for five more days— strong and consistent at night, but light during the day. On Saturday, the contractions continued stronger most of the day and night so on Sunday morning I called my midwife and asked her to come over. When we found I was effaced but barely dilated, we decided she should go home. My contractions had stopped when she came, but started back about as soon as she left. I decided against going to church. I knew I couldn’t pretend to be comfortable and didn’t want to risk making people uncomfortable. That evening I tried watching a movie with my husband. I couldn’t focus found I had to walk around to stay comfortable. So I called my midwife again and asked her to come over, but said she could decide if she wanted to stay. She came and stayed all that night and all the next day. My contractions continued off and on, sometimes consistent and strong, sometimes, I would sleep and realize I’d slept for a while. Other times I would doze off only to waken with a strong contraction on top of me, making it difficult to relax. All of the while I was dilating, but at a very slow pace. Late Monday afternoon, I asked my midwife what we could do differently. She said I could take castor oil. I had previously said I wasn’t inclined to want to take it, but I changed my mind at that time. We talked and decided my midwife and her assistants could go home. They left me with instructions to eat supper then snuggle in with my family.
Soon after they left and my husband and daughter went to bed, the castor oil and contractions hit me pretty hard. At 9pm my midwife’s assistant came and checked on me and the baby and said she’d be back at midnight. I stayed on my knees in my living room and watched the clock waiting for midnight. I had conversations with myself during those hours that went something like this:
“ I can’t do this anymore. “
“Yes, I can!“
“Why is my husband sleeping? Doesn’t he care?”
“Of course he cares; I’ll wake him when things get going.”
“Why did they leave me here like this?”
“Why did they make me take that rotten castor oil?”
“They didn’t make me do anything. I was more than willing.”
“No, I can’t do this anymore.”
“Don’t be stupid, of course I can.”
When Laura, my midwife’s assistant, came back at midnight and stayed it gave me comfort to have her there. It was good that she did because I lost sense of time and ability to know if anything was advancing. I was pretty much convinced that it was my fate to be pregnant forever, that I’d never be able to give birth to my baby naturally. I thought for sure my midwife would say I had been in labor too long and we’d have to go in for a cesarean. At some point my water broke and Jessica, my midwife, returned. I remember when she came in the door, she said “Good morning” and I gave her a little wave. Time and contractions went by. I was convinced I’d run out of time and they were going to transport me at any time for a cesarean. I think I had reached the place emotionally that I didn’t care for the first time in over 5 years if I did have a repeat cesarean. I was exhausted. I would never think of asking to be transported, but I thought I’d better face my fears—possibly what I’d feared all along— that fate had it for me to never birth naturally.
So I thought I’d better talk to Jessica and Laura about it. I got up and stood next to where they were and said, “I can’t relax anymore.” I turned and looked down our hall and saw my husband sleeping on our bed. Then it hit me, the diarrhea again, I thought. I quickly went into the bathroom. This time it wasn’t diarrhea. I was wrong about my fate—my body was pushing all on its own! I was stuck on the toilet and I’d shut the door. After a bit, Laura opened the door and said, “Are you going to the bathroom or are you pushing?” I thought, “They must think I’m a complete idiot, going in to the bathroom, shutting the door, and then pushing.” I said, “I’m not going to the bathroom.” I don’t know if I could say that I was really pushing, but my body was, along with some audible grunt-type sound I was involuntarily making. I had always read about the “urge to push.” Wow, “urge” was an understatement! The realization that my body was taking over completely was amazing. Jessica checked me and said I was all good to push and that she felt the baby’s hair. I tried pushing lying on my back, while squatting, but ended up back sitting—on the toilet, something I’d vowed not to do. I pushed with all my might. About that time I felt my sense of humor return. I think I realized that the end was near! I made some corny jokes in between pushing and thought I must be pretty funny, but I’m sure they were awful jokes. I remember saying something about what in the world was God thinking when he did this! I thought with my luck it would take my 5 hours to push the baby out so I gave it everything I had. I think it was less than an hour and our daughter was born. Jessica had said when I felt the baby’s head crowning I should stand up. When I did, I delivered our baby, as I stood with my husband’s support. I saw her laying there. I saw her eyes. She was so alert. She was beautiful.
My midwife wrote down that I had 65 hours of labor. It was one week after the night I thought my labor had started. During my labor, I kept most of my irrational thoughts to myself, but when Jessica told me I had to push to deliver the placenta, I said, “I can’t push anymore,” She didn’t hesitate when she said, “Yes, you can.”
We named our second daughter Jacqueline. She was 8lbs, 5ozs and had her hand up by her head at birth.
Through my birth experience, I developed a great respect for midwives. I admire my midwife, Jessica and Laura, her assistant. I’m so glad they do what they do and am thankful I had the privilege of working with them. I think it’s very likely I would not have had a VBAC at all if it wasn’t for their support and willingness to work with me.
I came away from my birth experience feeling, “Wow, what was that? THAT was amazing.” It was traumatic. It was awesome. It was painful. It was cool. It was frustrating. It was a triumph.
Since my daughter’s birth, I’ve read off and on some of my birthing books and stuff on websites. I’ve watched birth videos. I’ve read birth stories. I’ve been looking for something—an explanation. Why did I think that was so cool? I didn’t expect this transformation of sorts. How do I explain how I felt about giving birth naturally? I thought I knew how I would feel. I was wrong. It was more awesome than I expected. Why do I feel like it affected me so greatly? Am I becoming the sappy female that I’ve always vowed I’d never be? I can’t find the words. In the reading I’ve done, I’ve come across two words that are used often in describing natural childbirth. Those words are “empowering” and “transforming.” Do I think these words apply? Sure. Can I explain what they mean? I don’t know if I’m there yet, but am ok with leaving their meaning a mystery. Perhaps it’s meant to be a mystery—maybe something given to us at creation. I recommend the journey of natural childbirth. Don’t be afraid of the challenge. I believe women are stronger than they often think they are.