Let me start by saying that when I got pregnant, a c-section was the furthest thing from my mind. My husband and I were living in Hattiesburg, MS when we found out and I was bemoaning the lack of birthing centers. There were was a group of midwives in a city 2 hours away, but after consideration my husband and I opted for natural birth classes instead and to go ahead and go with one of the two OB practices in Hattiesburg. We found a Bradley class taught by a local doula. At 26 weeks my husband’s job moved him to Tampa, FL, and I had to discontinue Bradley classes (half-way through the course) and transfer to a new OB. Still, I educated myself in the Bradley school of thought, used the Dr. Brewer diet, and filled my husband and in on what should happen at the hospital every chance I could get him to listen.
When I went to the doctor for my 39 week check up, the doctor told me she thought this would be my week — but my daughter had dropped 3 times, so they’d been saying this for a while. Everyone was surprised I’d made it as long as I had. The next evening immediately after dinner I began to have contractions. I’d been plagued by Braxton Hicks contractions since 18 weeks, so to be honest I ignored it for about two hours. I’d been timing things for weeks and they’d always fizzled out, so what was the point? I had two diarrhea bowel movements around 9pm and figured I might be starting the laboring process. But I knew from Bradley class that early labor could take hours — even DAYS. I told my husband I thought I was in early labor and was going to take a shower. I guessed they were 15 minutes apart — so by all accounts we still had a long, long road ahead of us. But I didn’t walk out of the shower — I crawled. My contractions became incredibly intense and very, very close together during my shower. My husband helped me onto our bed, naked and soaking wet. He put the covers over me and helped me time my contractions which were now 3-5 minutes apart. I called the doctor when this was the pattern they held for an hour and we were sent to triage. The doctor told me we’d likely be sent home or sent to walk the ward since I’d only been in labor for about 3 hours at this point.
On the way to triage I began to experience back labor — my daughter was posterior (”sunny-side up”) — and my contractions got closer together (1-1.5 minutes apart by the time we made it to triage). I was in the worst pain I’d ever felt in my life. I walked, I rocked, I breathed, I relaxed — everything Bradley told me to do — and nothing worked. I was only 3cm and they were going to send me home at midnight when my water broke. Because it broke at the hospital, there was no way for me to hide it. We were stuck, and now there was a count-down on top of it.
By the time we got to labor and delivery my back labor was too intense for me to walk, so I let the nurse put the stationary monitors on my belly. Because my water had broken, the nurse wanted minimal vaginal exams to decrease the risk of infection — which I knew, and expected to have to fight them off of me, but the night nurse “got it.” She was an angel. The abdominal contractions were intense but nothing I couldn’t handle — it was the back labor that got me. It didn’t let up. At all. And it triggered a panic response. I couldn’t control my breathing, and stopped making sense. My husband quietly said “Lauren, the epidural will let you relax enough to finish dilating so we can meet our little girl.” So I agreed to it. The problem: there had been a problem with my platelets early in pregnancy that I wasn’t told about, and the nurse hadn’t gotten enough blood to come out of my hand. She stuck me in my arm, and then in my other hand, trying to get enough blood to send off to get new test results done. If my platelets were down, I couldn’t get the epidural and if I needed a section they’d have to put me under — scary stuff. I remember I was mad because the doctor hadn’t told me anything was wrong with my blood results when they found out. But the blood test came back fine and I was in so much pain I didn’t even feel the epidural go in. I literally told the doctor to “git’er done.” I had been in labor for 8 hours at that point, water broken for 4 or 5, and was 6cm dilated.
I was allowed to rest and labor down without the use of pitocin until just before the nurse/doctor shift change. My contractions became erratic, but they were still causing cervical change and that was good enough for the doctor on call — who I adored, she was one of my favorites from the practice. I was 9cm for three or so hours, so they gave me a “wif” of pitocin to get the last bit dilated. I had an anterior lip, but the baby’s head was molding. I’d only had 4 vaginal exams in 9-10 hours because my water had broken. They were hopeful I’d be pushing soon. — And then the shifts changed. I was examined every hour. My pitocin drip was increased without my knowledge. I began to show signs of a fever and was refused ice chips. I had never even met the doctor who was on call, and the new L&D nurse didn’t seem to get where I was coming from. Finally, I started to push around 12pm — water broken for 12 hours. I pushed. And pushed. And pushed on my left side. And pushed on my right side. And pushed on my hands and knees. And pushed. For over 2 hours. She hadn’t budged. The doctor came in and examined me, and sat with me while I pushed through a few contractions. Sometimes we waited 10 minutes for another contraction. My temperature kept inching upward. The doctor said my daughter was likely not tucking her chin downward — babies who are anterior tuck their chins down presenting the smallest part of the noggin to pass through the pelvis, but babies who are posterior tend to keep their heads up, leaving a larger part of the head to pass through the pelvis. She said that she had to leave to do a c-section, and she would let me push while she was in surgery. If I had progressed at all when she came back, she would let me continue to labor. However, she told me that in her experience when women pushed effectively for as long as I had and no progress was made that something else was going on and a section was the best option. My temp was 100.7. The baby’s heart rate had spiked: these were signs of infection. I had been in labor for 20 hours, water broken for 14-15.
I don’t know if something in me knew she wasn’t going to come out vaginally, or if I gave up out of dehydration and exhaustion. I really don’t. My husband told me quietly he thought I had done everything I could, and that I should have the c-section. I bawled. I consented to the surgery thinking surely the doctor had several she had to attend to, and that it might be a few hours before it would be my turn. I thought I’d have time to process it. Maybe in that time I could push with just my husband (without telling the nurses). But a fleet of nurses came in to prep me for the OR immediately. I cried. And cried. And cried. I told my mother and sisters who were in the waiting room to go home. I didn’t want to see anyone. I had to have the surgery. I was a failure. I cried. and cried. And within 20 minutes I was in the OR.
I could hear the nurses talking about what they were going to do that weekend — one was angry with her boyfriend. I was just the disembodied head on the table. No one spoke to me. Finally my husband came in. The surgery began. And then, 5 little words I’ll never get out of my head: “I can’t get her out.” Maybe I forgot to mention — though I could not feel pain, I never, never, EVER lost feeling in my legs. I probably could have walked to the OR. So I felt them when they pulled my legs apart, and felt searing pain as someone had to go in vaginally to push my daughter back into my uterus. I screamed out. They wouldn’t tell me if she was ok. The doctor asked if I felt pressure or sharp pain. It was beyond sharp. She pushed a stronger epidural down my line and morphine in my drip. I kept asking if the baby was ok. Everything was quiet. It took forever for her to cry. Absolutely forever. But when I heard her cry, I cried. It was the best sound I’d ever heard. Her apgar was 8/9. They brought her over to my husband and I. I got to hold her first. She cried until she heard my voice. She was allowed to go with me to recovery. They kept me there for two hours. I was so tired. So thirsty but they couldn’t give me anything. Not even ice chips. I was higher than a kite, and instead of enjoying my baby I kept apologizing to her. For not being able to birth her myself.
Once we got to the maternity ward I asked for ice chips, but the nurse saw how dehydrated I was and cleared me to have liquids. My mother hadn’t left. My husband’s mother had arrived (though we told her what we’d told my mom). And they descended upon us. My mother-in-law came in first. She hardly looked at me, which I was grateful for. She loved on her first grandchild, talked to my husband. I was allowed to sit in stoned silence and drink juice. My mother came in a short while later and stopped dead in her tracks when she saw me. I’ll admit that seeing the pictures I looked awful. No one in my family had ever had a c-section before. So my mother, who can handle anything, was shaken. Did I mention I looked awful? I later found out I’d lost enough blood to make me a borderline candidate for a transfusion. And I was allowed to leave the hospital after 2.5 days severely anemic, without having had a bowel movement (my daughter was born 3:27pm Friday, I was discharged Monday morning).
My daughter is 7 weeks and 2 days old. She is perfect, and healthy, and happy. She is the joy of my life. We have a successful breastfeeding relationship. If my mother had had my birth, there would not be late-night research, or VBAC websites, or tears over the traumatic birth experience I had. If someone else had my birth, this email wouldn’t exist. But I had my birth. I was open to a lot of things. But a c-section was the ONE thing I always said I didn’t want. I’m blessed to have a very patient husband and very excellent friends who are willing to listen to me say the same things over, and over. I’ve been told I’m an excellent candidate for VBAC, but everyone in my family — including my husband — is against another trial of labor. In Tampa there are only 2 OB practices that take VBACs. If they won’t take you, you’re left with the midwives who will do VBAC homebirths. In 2010, Florida took VBACs out of birth centers. I wanted a large family. Now I think my daughter might be an only child. I’m having complications with my healing, and I’m not sure I want to do this again. On top of that, I’m not sure if the double disappointment of a repeat section after another trial of labor wouldn’t be even harder than the first. My emotional healing isn’t over — not by a long shot. I’ve begun making jokes to cover up the pain. This is an improvement from crying everytime I talk about it. My hope is once my physical healing is over — or I’m at least not in so much pain — the emotional healing can really start.