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Ellen’s Birth Story

My body is riddled with scars.  I have a scar on my forehead, a scar on my chin where an object pierced all the way through my lip.  I have scars on my abdomen from a surgery I had when I was seventeen and scar tissue built up in my ears and sinuses from the eight surgeries I underwent as a child in an attempt to correct my ear infections and hearing loss.  I have broken my jaw, my tailbone, both arms and two fingers.  Throughout my childhood I always seemed to be sick, injured or having surgery.  I grew to hate and fear doctors and hospitals.  Before I even got pregnant, I knew that one of my biggest problems would be dealing with the hospital in which I would have to give birth.  My husband had worked for several months with a midwife who attended home births and had a birthing center during his undergraduate work and he was the first one to tell me about alternative birth options.  I told him when the time came I thought I would like a midwife.

On August 6, 2009 I was lying on the couch reading when all of a sudden I realized I was pregnant.  We were not trying to conceive a child and were actually utilizing a non-chemical form of birth control.  I called my husband at work and asked him to bring home a pregnancy test.  The test came up positive.  I took more tests and the results were the same.  I was pregnant.  I called my doctor and she arranged for me to have a blood test done the next day to confirm the results.  I was terrified and excited.  But when the doctor called me with the results it came back as negative.  I was confused and asked how I could have had positive pregnancy tests only to be told that I was not pregnant and was told that what I had suffered was termed a chemical pregnancy or a very early miscarriage.  I was saddened and confused by the whole occurrence.  I had known I was pregnant less than 24 hours when I got the blood test results back.  I felt it had been a girl.  Her name was Pearl Night Smith.

In May of 2010 our daughter, Eden Amaranth Smith, was conceived.  Again I knew I was pregnant, but I was not far enough along to be able to test.  When I was finally able to test the results were positive.  The local hospital had recently brought a midwife into their practice and she had privileges at the hospital.  I had seen her once for my annual exam and really liked her.  I called her and asked for a blood test to be done to confirm the pregnancy, but she said it wasn’t necessary and scheduled my appointment for twelve weeks.

I was very unsure of the pregnancy at the very beginning after my experience with Pearl.  I kept taking tests and expecting them to turn up negative.  They never did.  At about six weeks I began to experience horrible morning sickness.  I could not keep anything down.  I was dizzy and was unable and unwilling to eat.  I also started to be repulsed by many different foods including most vegetables.  This was dangerous because I am vegan and a lot of what I eat was not an option for me because I couldn’t keep it down.  I had a lot of trouble staying hydrated and gaining weight.  During the first trimester I lost fifteen pounds.  The morning sickness lasted the entire pregnancy.  It was horrible the first trimester, but it was very bad throughout.  I also developed an issue with my left hip which made walking very difficult.  I went to the chiropractor for adjustments and this helped some.  I also hung out in the pool at our gym for hours since being in water was the only time I was pain free.  This limited the amount of physical activity and exercise I could do during the pregnancy.  And the worst side effect came during my last month of pregnancy.  For no good reason my blood pressure shot off the charts.  My midwife was very committed to allowing me to birth naturally and go into labor on my own.  We found I could control my blood pressure if I stayed lying on my left side and so I was put on bedrest for the last month of my pregnancy in order to give me time to go naturally.  I am not sure all of this set up the causes for my C-section, but it certainly didn’t help.

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I had refused all cervical exams, but at 41 weeks I asked to be checked.  I was not dilated at all.  My baby’s head had dropped and was actually in front of my cervix, so during the check my midwife had to reach under her head and push up to check my cervix.  She said it was still high and thick.  At forty one weeks and one day I had had several scares where my blood pressure (which my husband was monitoring) had gotten so high we had thought we might need to do a C-section or at least induce or I was at serious risk of a stroke.  At my checkup my midwife and I discussed my options and she said that if we decided to induce she would rather me give myself a few days rather than start the day before I hit 42 weeks, thereby only giving myself 24 hours to deliver and putting a time clock on my labor before the doctors risked me out.  We elected to induce and I went into the hospital on Friday, February 4, 2011.

My first fight was with a nurse who was insisting she put in a lock.  After several issues with needles and IVs during my childhood I have a huge problem with them.  I can accept them, but I absolutely refuse to move my arm or hand with one attached.  As I wanted an active labor I felt this would inhibit me.  I refused and said I would sign whatever they wanted to show I was declining and accepting the risks.  After a discussion with the nurse, the head nurse, my midwife, her sister midwife, and the OB on duty I was told I had to have a lock or I could not be induced.  They could refuse to induce me if I did not accept a lock because it was a voluntary procedure.  I took the lock.

They inserted Cervidil and told me I was now on a clear fluids diet.  I started to get very upset.  I told them that I was hungry all the time now and that I could not see spending all of this time trying to go into labor, then going through labor and not eating anything for 48-72 hours if I was hungry.  I had been told I could eat throughout labor if I chose to.  I turned out since I was being induced that everything had changed.  I almost left.  The only sane people were my two midwives.  They came in and talked to me privately and one of them said if she didn’t see any food than that was good enough for her.  My husband was forced to leave me for periods of time during the next few days in order to go get food and then sneak it back in to me.  This stressed me out all that much more.

I underwent several insertions of Cervidil and it did nothing.  I was exhausted on Saturday.  The bed was a labor bed, not even a normal hospital bed.  My hip was in agony and I had barely slept with the pain and the constant vital checks.  After talking to my midwives we decided to start Pitocin.  As I was on an IV I spent the day sitting in a chair or on a birthing ball.  They maxed me out on Pitocin over the next twelve to fifteen hours.  They said they took me up to the maximum dose and then left it there as long as they could.  I would begin contracting and then after awhile I would stop.  They would turn it up higher and the cycle would repeat.  At the maximum dose I was having very hard contractions, but after awhile my body started to shut those down too.  A cervical check showed my cervix was still behind the baby’s head, high and thick and still not even at 1.  It hadn’t even really thinned.  My midwives suggested I check out, go home, get a good night’s sleep, come back the next day and start over.  That is what I did.

Sunday I checked in again and they tried another vaginal insertion medicine.  That day since I was not hooked up to an IV, I just had a lock, I was much more active.  I paced the room, sat on the smallest birthing ball the midwife could find (about the size of a basketball) and asked if I could leave my room and do steps.  The hospital told me I was confined to my ward, so I got a step stool and jumped up and down off that.  I was there for about eighteen hours.  When they did another cervical check after multiple doses of this medicine I was still at 0.  The head nurse had stayed in the room for some reason during the check (usually I had everyone leave, including my husband).  For some reason she just went behind the curtain and did not leave.  When the midwife told me I had absolutely no progress I started to cry.  I was having contractions and had been all day.  They were pretty severe to me, but they weren’t doing anything.  The nurse came back in and started telling me she would go get a doctor for me to talk to.  I was confused and thought the midwife wanted me to talk to a doctor (she had left to go get my husband).  I said okay and started to get really upset that they were going to get me to have a C-section right then.

Luckily the doctor was busy and by the time the nurse got back to tell me the doctor would come as soon as possible the midwife was back with my husband and had told me that she thought I should go home and rest.  The nurse reiterated that we could see a doctor and really pushed it, my husband told her no.  It was Sunday night and the midwife and her sister midwife thought I should come back to them on Tuesday for more in-depth screening.  I was still having contractions from the medicine and I think they were hoping if I got out of the hospital and home I might relax, rest and progress.  I didn’t.

Tuesday afternoon I was back in the office and the midwife had bad news.  I was two days from 42 weeks and was getting ready to risk out.  My cervix was still thick and high and showed no signs of getting ready to go into labor, even after two days of continuous and continuing contractions.  My fluid levels were getting low and the baby wasn’t moving as much as they liked to see.  Since I was still completely undilated I couldn’t do a cervical balloon or strip the membranes or have my water broken.  I felt so stuck.  There was this baby in me and they were going to have to cut me open to get it out because for some reason my body couldn’t or wouldn’t do it.  After speaking with me and making sure I was comfortable with what I was consenting to, my midwife brought in the doctor.  She turned out to be a little older than me and very matter-of-fact, but obviously not of my mindset.  In her eyes the baby had already been in there too long.  She wanted to operate immediately, but I had just eaten, so she said I should have the surgery done at ten that night.  I refused.  I said I wanted a good night’s rest.  She arranged to have me enter the hospital at seven the next morning.

I went home and spent a fairly wakeful night.  I was uncomfortable because I was still contracting.  I kept hoping for some last minute reprieve, but I was too tired to get up and walk or even sit on the birth ball.  Before dawn the next morning I was at the hospital dressed in the hospital gown that I hated, an IV in my arm with fluid pouring in my veins and nurses shaving me and trying to reassure me.  My midwife, wonderful to the end, came with me into surgery.  They wouldn’t let my husband in for the spinal but she held my hands and reassured me.  Then they brought my husband in.  I asked them to tell me when they started and they replied they already had.  I wanted to cry, I couldn’t feel anything.  I felt like a bug on its back, strapped down, no dignity, all these people around me.  I disassociated as best I could.  I pretended it wasn’t my body.  I pretended I was on a beach, in a meadow, talked to my husband, but I refused to process the fact that the body on the board was mine.  Looking back it infuriates me; I wasn’t even present for the birth experience in my body.  I was too busy pretending it wasn’t me.  I just kept waiting thinking that soon I would hear my baby cry and see her.  I was convinced she would have a head full of black hair and I couldn’t want to see it.

They didn’t tell me that things went wrong almost immediately; the midwife did the next day on her rounds.  They cut in and hit a huge fibroid on my uterus.  They had to remove it before they could continue.  It was the size of a fruit.  Then when they cut in they saw the baby’s chin.  Her head was bent back exposing her throat.  The cord popped out when they cut in and this was dangerous because her oxygen supply de-pressurized when the cord popped out.  The cord was also wrapped around her neck.  She was very stuck. She was far down and turned sideways.  I don’t know everything that happened but they worked very quickly and never let me know anything was wrong.  The doctor almost wrestled me off the table and then all of a sudden, she was out.  I heard her cry and I looked up over the curtain and…nothing.  My husband and I had agreed that he would go with the baby immediately when she was out to make sure that they didn’t do anything to her we didn’t want and he said, “Oh, they have her” and left.  They never lifted her up to show me.  I didn’t even get to see her.

The midwife stepped up to my husband’s spot and talked to me.  Told me that she had the dark hair I had dreamed about and that she was big.  I could hear her crying and I kept asking when they would bring her.  After ten minutes I stopped asking.  I just lay there.  Finally, my husband brought her back to me wrapped in a swaddle.

“Here she is!” he said.

Our first pictures of us reunited are of me clawing at the swaddle.  I couldn’t see her face because of the blanket.  All I saw was blanket.  My hands were too clumsy and my husband finally got the blanket away from her face so I could see her.  She was beautiful.  She was clean.  She was all wrapped up and I could only see her face and one arm.  I couldn’t hold her.  I let her hold my finger.  I just stared.

After another ten minutes they wrapped everything up and I started to roll towards recovery.  When I had spoken to the doctor I had said during the discussion about the cut, “I can still VBAC after this, right?” and she had said yes.  I had said it was important to me.  As she was nearly out of the operating room, as I was halfway through the door to recovery the doctor turned and tossed over her shoulder, “by the way, we had to use an incision called an inverted T; you will need to have C-sections for all future deliveries.”  Then she was gone and I was in recovery and half my attention was on my daughter and half of my drug-addled mind was going “WHAT???!!!???”

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I saw the doctor twice more as she rounded on me every morning.  I was too confused to talk to her about what had happened in the surgery.  I talked to the midwife a bit, but even she didn’t know everything since she had been at my head.  I was supposed to see the doctor for a scar check at two weeks, but they scheduled me with some random nurse I had never seen.  I was going to talk to the doctor then, but she wasn’t even there.  I never did get a chance to speak with her and I can’t seem to get up the guts to request my medical records.

My postnatal check at six weeks was with my midwife.  She said they had cleared me to get pre-natal care through her next time and then to have a doctor do a C-section.  My midwife told me her first birth was a C-section, but then she VBACed.  She does VBACs all the time, but can’t take me because of my scar.

At the beginning of my pregnancy I was debating a home birth versus a hospital birth.  I found a midwife I thought I liked and decided to have a home birth.  I even went to one prenatal visit with her.  But she never returned my calls.  She was not dependable.  At the end of my first trimester I decided I wanted to have a hospital birth with the midwife who ended up doing all of my care.  I was always a bit scared of home birth and for some reason knew it wasn’t for me.  I don’t think my mind will change in the future, especially not after my experience.  This limits my VBAC options pretty severely, especially where we live.

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I loved my daughter, but I was so overwhelmed.  The pregnancy took a huge toll on me.  The C-section was painful to recover from.  Nursing was almost impossible.  Eden never did learn to nurse due to some mouth and latch issues and so she was mostly formula fed.  It took me months to recover and get back to full energy.  I still haven’t completely shaken my sense of failure over the nursing. It will be a year on February 9, 2012 and my scar is still numb.

I hate that I had no experience at all.  I never dilated, my water never broke, the contractions I had were due to medicine and so, in my mind, were not real.  I didn’t even have a labor, I just had a surgery.  I had no birth experience, I just got another scar.  Being pregnant does not mean you are sick.  Most people don’t need doctors and surgeons and surgeries to have their babies.  I did.  And more than anything I HATE that my daughter’s birth was just another medical procedure I had to grit my teeth and recover from and that they tell me any future ones will be the same.  I know it doesn’t have to be that way, thanks to Special Scars, and I don’t know if I will attempt to VBAC or not.  But I hate that that is the refrain I hear from doctors, friends and family.

I was so frustrated and so angry.  I would hear people talk about their C-sections and I had no pity because in my mind they were lucky.  They had an opportunity to VBAC in the future.  I did not.

I helped found a chapter of ICAN about four months after my C-section.  I was co-leader and that was all I wanted to be.  I was surprised how much the meetings helped, even if there were people there who had never had a C-section and who had had regular C-sections and could VBAC.  It gave me a place to talk to other women.  My husband had always been supportive, had listened to me talk for hours.  But it was nice to be able to talk to someone else and not worry about him getting tired of my fixation.  It was nice not to be ridiculed for caring or being told to just be grateful my daughter was happy and healthy.

A few months ago I became the leader of our ICAN chapter by default.  In a way I think I was ready to move on.  I had said my piece, found a peace and was busy with my family.  I wasn’t ready for the commitment of being a leader.  But then I finally found the time to log onto Special Scars, which an ICAN leader online had recommended to me.  I found their Facebook page and I realized that I had found people who relate to my EXACT situation.  I felt a huge relief again.  And I was able to share my story and get some more support.

And that helped me realize that I did want to lead our local ICAN chapter.  I want to be able to give people the support that helped me so much this year that I found such relief in.  And I want to be there, just in case, at some point someone walks in to our meetings and says that they too have a Special Scar.  If I can offer them support through that, and maybe (just maybe!) even offer my experience of VBACing with my Special Scar then I will know that I have truly come full circle.

I will never be sorry I had the C-section because it did save Eden and I.  I am grateful for the medical knowledge that did end up saving her life and mine.  A hundred years ago we both probably would have died.  That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t wish my experience was different

Looking back I realized that my daughter was conceived on the exact day that would have been Pearl’s due date.  It was also Mother’s Day.  Seeing that pattern, I like to think there was a reason for all of this.  Losing Pearl, having Eden, and having the birth experience we did, maybe there was a reason behind it all.

One Comment

  1. Katie says:

    What an amazing strong mama. <3