Eight years ago today I gave birth to my first son, Shane. I have never published his birth story and it seemed appropriate today to share it. (*This story may be triggering for some.)
“Sometimes the bad things that happen in our lives put us directly on the path to the most wonderful things that will ever happen to us.” – Nicole Reed
“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.”
– Bob Marley.
My husband and I had taken Bradley Method Childbirth classes and prepared to have a natural birth. It was 10 or 12 weeks of Friday night classes with several other couples, some of whom have become life-long friends.
Our educator was a “hippie” type and I loved her for it. She had two small children of her own. She breastfed her youngest openly. No covering up. And I’m really glad she did. It helped us see breastfeeding in the right light – as a natural and normal activity, nothing to be shy or embarrassed about. The information she provided was life changing and opened our eyes to the poor quality of maternity care in the US and helped firm up our strong conviction to have a natural birth with a midwife.
Our plan was to labor at home for as long as possible and then go to the freestanding birth center.
We planned a water birth, and figured it would be easier to do at the birth center rather than bringing a birthing tub into our small apartment.
On Dec 20th, I was 37 ½ weeks pregnant. Around 3:00 am I woke up to go to the bathroom, sat down on the toilet and a lot of water came out and kept on coming. I realized my water had broken because this was a very different sensation than peeing. My husband was asleep and I called his name several times, until I finally got his attention and told him that my water had just broken. I was surprised as I still had 2 ½ weeks til my due date and, being a first time Mom, I thought I’d probably go to full term.
We decided that we should try to go back to sleep and see what happened next as it would be important to be well rested for labor.
However I soon knew that was not going to happen. After lying down for maybe 15 minutes I began to feel contractions. They were not strong, but they were regular. I got in the bath to relax, and also to slow down or stop the labor so that we could go back to sleep. I was in the bath for about 30 minutes and the contractions carried on steadily becoming stronger and more uncomfortable.
I called my midwife and let her know that I was in labor. We talked about the contractions, how strong and frequent they were. She told me to stay in touch and let her know when we decided to head to the birth center.
After getting out of the bath I continued laboring in various positions. I laid on my bed on my left side, and right side and moved my legs around. My husband was in and out of the room packing bags as we hadn’t prepared anything yet. Most of the time he was with me, comforting me, holding my hand or rubbing my back, or just lying with me. At some point I asked for food. My husband made some scrambled eggs and I ate them. I wasn’t really hungry but I thought it would be smart to eat now so I had energy.
By around 5:00 am I was in very active labor. From this point on most of what happened is somewhat foggy.
I became very quiet, and very centered. I did not speak much, especially not during contractions. I was totally in my own mind space and gave myself up to the power of labor. The pain was intense during contractions, and it brought out a primal force within me to moan. It wasn’t something that I was trying to do, it just sort of happened whether I wanted it to or not. My loud and deep moaning got more intense and followed the pattern of the contractions.
I carried on laboring in my bedroom. I remember lying on the floor squirming and writhing, always moaning. Those particular contractions were really painful and I felt somewhat out of control and not able to just ride them. My husband seemed worried and told me I should get up and move and change positions. I guess he thought I had been in that position too long and per our Bradley training he wanted to do his best by keeping me moving.
I didn’t take this too well and just told him no. I was doing fine and I didn’t want to move or change positions. It was taking everything I had to just cope with the pain, and I wanted him to be there, hold me, and not say anything, especially not tell me what to do.
At some point we moved into the living room and I was coping with the contractions while kneeling on the floor. My knees were on the carpet, and I was hunched over an ottoman. The sun had come up by then and light was coming in through the windows.
My brother in-law had been staying with us in our apartment. My husband woke him up and told him to go to Target and go buy us a stroller and car-seat. For some reason this was really important to both of us at that moment. It was something we had planned to do and hadn’t gotten to yet. Yes, a car-seat is a must, but why at that very moment during intense labor was it so vital? It could have waited, but in our silly new-parent wisdom we sent him out immediately. I was so internalized into my world of labor, that anything happening in the background was kind of dream-like and vague. But I do remember him coming back and seeing the boxes.
It was around that time I told my husband that I felt we should head over to the birth center because the contractions were very, very intense and close together. It was around 8:30 am.
He packed everything up and put it in the car. Then he came back to get me. Just getting myself from the apartment to the car was a serious task. We were on the 2nd floor of our apartment complex. We waited for my contraction to end, he put his arm around me to support me and we started down the staircase. Half way down, another contraction started and it was intense! They were really getting close together and the moving and walking made that contraction even harder and stronger. My husband pushed me forward to keep moving anyway, even though I wanted to stop, be still and just have the contraction. He hurried me along and brought me to the car, which was good of him to do because it was clear that things were moving fast.
Before we got to the car a woman passed by and looked shocked, stared at me during a contraction and said: “Is she… is she….. is she?” as if I was some kind of spectacle. That made me mad. YES! It is what it looks like! Get out of the way and leave us alone, I thought. Finally I made it to the car. My husband had put blankets and towels down in the backseat and I laid down as best as I could on my side.
He got in the front and we started driving. The drive to the birth center was pure torture. I asked him to drive fast, but not too fast, and please not to make it a bumpy ride. Of course all of these requests were impossible and he really did the best he could. We got there in about 25 minutes or so.
In the car I started to feel a pushy sensation, like my body was bringing the baby out.
I told him to please hold my hand. Bless his heart, he tried his best to hold my hand while still driving with me in the back and him in the front. I told him I felt like I was pushing and of course this scared him since we were still in the car. The feeling was a completely involuntary powerful force that was bringing the baby down and the urge to push was very strong.
We got to the birth center and he went in first and left me in the car. He said he wanted to bring the bags in and then he’d come right back for me. So I labored alone in the car for a minute. I’m sure he was talking to the midwife. It seemed like forever and it felt like the baby was rapidly making his way out.
He put his arm around me and brought me in to the birth center and put me on a bed. The midwife said she had just started filling the birth tub, and it would take some time, but she thought it would be done in just enough time.
She said she wanted to check me, and as she did so she suddenly had a surprised look on her face and said the baby is breech and we needed to transfer to the hospital at once. She ran over to the phone and dialed 911 without any further discussion.
A few days prior during a prenatal visit the midwives had concluded my baby was head down, so of course this came as a big surprise.
Unfortunately midwifes are not allowed to deliver breech babies across the majority of the United States. This is a serious flaw in our maternity care system. Years ago care providers had the training to do these deliveries, but it has fallen entirely out of practice. My midwife was also especially concerned because I was a first time Mom.
My heart sank and I felt my body and mind fill with fear and panic. I called out after her: “No, isn’t there something else we can do?! No, no, no!” I said to my baby… “Oh please turn around, turn around. I don’t want a cesarean, no, no, no!!” I was terrified, horrified and still in labor, having contractions, coping with the pain which was now intensified by my fear and grief and hormones.
I’m not sure how long it was and what happened in those few minutes, but it seemed like only 5 minutes or less, which is very likely because the hospital was just up the road from the birth center. The paramedics came storming into the room where I was lying. They were friendly but still kind of frightening to me because of what they represented.
A very nice paramedic gentleman asked the midwife: “So what have we got here?” and she told him that I was a first time Mom with a footling breech presentation. I don’t know if she said it then or told me later, but she said that she actually felt the babies’ foot and tried to tuck it back in behind the cervix.
So the paramedic said: “Ok, We are going to pick you up and put you on this gurney and then get you to the hospital. OK? So you just need to try to stop the pushing. Try to breathe through the contractions.”
Ok, I said. I was devastated. I felt powerless. So many thoughts were going through my mind. The loss of my dream-birth was crashing over me and I was still in so much pain from the contractions.
The mental pain I was experiencing made it even harder to deal with the physical pain. The physical pain became worse and almost unbearable. I tried to breathe through the contractions. I tried my hardest, but they were coming like a freight train and I felt like the baby was coming out no matter what I did. No amount of breathing through the contractions was slowing them down. I was not causing them, they were a force of nature.
I was put into the ambulance and we headed over. The paramedics asked me all kinds of questions, was I allergic to this or that, what is my social security #, etc, questions you don’t want to answer when you are in the thick of intense painful contractions and feeling totally out of control. But I did my best. One of the female paramedics came close to me and was very sweet and helpful. She said: “I know it’s hard Sweetie, but try to breathe, don’t push, try your best.” She was the first person that showed some empathy and understanding, and addressed the fact that I was scared. She had a kind face and tone and that really helped.
My husband was not allowed to come in the ambulance with me, which was really scary for him. He was panicked and would not be able to see us for those few minutes. I could see the fear and concern on his face. He and the midwife drove to the hospital right behind us.
When they took me out of the ambulance and started to wheel me into the hospital and up to the operating room, my husband caught up. He was there with me and in the elevator going up to the ward.
I had finally acceded that this was happening, I was having a cesarean and there was nothing else to do but just accept it.
My husband was so scared and freaked out. I looked up at him from the gurney and I said: “It’s Ok. It’s just a cesarean. It’s going to be fine. We are going to be fine. Everything is going to be OK. ” I think that really helped him to hear that from me. He could see that I had accepted it and I was no longer freaking out. We were going to live through this horrible ordeal, and he could be strong and pull through it. He calmed down.
Four years later I talked to the doctor who did my surgery and on her own origination she brought up the fact that she remembered me saying this to my husband. She recalled me being brave, strong and calmer than the rest of the people around me. I had no idea she even heard our conversation.
It was as if the world was ending, and I kind of had to bring both of us back to earth, to realize that it wasn’t the end of the world. It was just a cesarean and we were going to live.
It helped me. I also told myself: the pain is almost over. They are going to take the baby out and that’s it, no more pain.
At the time that was my only tiny comfort. I felt I had to give myself something of a “bright side” or else I simply would just not be able to cope. This tiny positive did help me to relax. Knowing that the intense pain was almost over gave me a glimmer of peace because the mental and physical pain together was overwhelming. Given my circumstances, and the fact that I was having a cesarean whether I wanted one or not, I took comfort in knowing the contractions and pain were soon going to be over.
Again, the sequence of events following this are a bit of a blur. At some point I was finally in the OR. The OB who did the surgery was there. I remember seeing her and thinking, “This women is more terrified than I am.” She looked extremely freaked out, was breathing very fast, was hollering out instructions to the other people in the room. I knew everything was going to be fine, but to me she looked like she had never seen anything as bad as this in her life. She was also 9 months pregnant (and gave birth to her baby just a few days later.) She didn’t check on me again after my surgery because she was giving birth herself. Her co-worker midwife took over with overseeing me after that.
My arms were strapped down, and lots of nurses and people began doing things to me. I gave in and everything was done very quickly without discussion. I was still coping with the contractions while all of these things were taking place.
The anesthesiologist arrived. He put a mask over my face and said to me: “This is oxygen. It is going to help you breathe.” Ok, I thought, great. This is going to make me feel good. I began to breathe in the air. I didn’t really know who he was, but I had a vague idea that he was the anesthesiologist. However, suddenly I felt like I couldn’t breathe and that whatever was in this mask was choking me.
I panicked. My arms were strapped down, so I used my teeth to pick up the edge of the mask and move it off of my mouth and screamed out: “I cannot breathe! I cannot breathe!” The man did not like this and said: “No! Don’t do that” and he put it back on me. Then I suddenly realized “Oh, this is the gas. I’m being put under general anesthesia since this is an emergency. Why on earth didn’t that guy just tell me that?” It would have made it a lot easier for me if he had just told me the truth. And that was my last conscious thought before the lights went out completely.
Fast forward several hours later and I was in a recovery room, lying on my back.
It felt really weird and uncomfortable since I hadn’t laid on my back in months and I still had the idea that I shouldn’t be on my back. I was groggy, in pain, confused, drugged and lethargic. I had not an ounce of energy or will to fully wake myself up. I laid there and could hear the distant voices of people talking around me. My in-law family was all there. Mother in-law & her boyfriend, father in-law, two brother in-laws and my husband. They were all in the room talking. They’d all seen my baby already and held him. It had been at least 2 hours since he was born, I think.
I felt sharp pains in my abdomen, and I felt like I had been run over by a truck. My husband noticed that I was waking up. He said to me that I should try to wake up and see my baby. I did not respond and he left me alone for a little longer.
All I could think about was that I was lying on my back and I was really not enjoying that. I spoke out and asked if I could be turned over onto my side as I could not do it myself. I could hardly move and there were wires and things attached to my body. Nobody answered me. I said it again, and I think it took about 3 times or more before somebody realized I was asking for help. A nurse came and turned me over onto my side. After a few minutes of lying on my side I realized it didn’t feel much better either, but it was worth a try.
My husband tried again to get me to look at my baby. It felt like an awful dream. I was in a drugged state of mind with pain and weird thoughts. I felt like a confused lump on a log. This went on for quite awhile and I just wanted to be left alone.
Eventually I had a sudden awakening and recognized that I was in a recovery room, my baby had been born and was here somewhere and that I needed to wake myself up to see and hold him. It took a lot of effort to move from my zombie state to a normal person state.
My husband put the baby on my bed next to me at eye level and I started to cry. He was beautiful, tiny and perfect. I was instantly in love with him, and I was so sad and so angry that he was born this way. However the sight of him in all his little baby glory was uplifting and I savored every moment of him. I eventually got him close to my breast and offered it to him. A nurse helped me with getting him to latch and he started breastfeeding.
From there forward I slowly but surely got stronger, and stronger. My baby was healthy. He did very well at breastfeeding and we had a long and successful breastfeeding relationship.
At some point either that day or the next day, the nurse-midwife who attended the surgery and was an assistant during the surgery came to check on me. She had a very sappy, sympathetic and almost condescending attitude which made me extremely uncomfortable.
She made me feel like a poor helpless victim and I absolutely hated that feeling. It is the last thing on earth that I ever wanted to be. She told me that I was very lucky that everything turned out well with my baby. She said that due to the urgency of the situation the doctor had to do an extension of the incision, because the babies’ head was trapped and they couldn’t get him out. She didn’t really explain it in detail, but I eventually found out that the incision looks like a plus sign ( + ). It goes horizontal and vertical.
I found out from reading my op report that they had to push the baby back up, in order to get him cut out. Only his head was in the uterus by the time we arrived to the hospital. The rest of his body had already made it past the cervix and was in the vagina (birth canal). Apparently at some point his heart had stopped beating momentarily. This may have explained the look of terror on the OB’s face. I don’t know how true this is because it’s not mentioned in the op report.
The nurse-midwife said that due to the incision I could never have a vaginal birth, and that I would be an automatic cesarean candidate in the future and that I probably should not even try to go to full-term. To me, it seemed she was trying to deter me from ever getting pregnant again. I was a time-bomb waiting to explode if I should ever try to give birth again.
The magnitude of her statements were almost impossible to accept. What? How can that be? The births I had always dreamed of for my babies were dead. I would never have a vaginal birth? How can this happen to ME? Why?
I acknowledged what she said, but I didn’t accept it. I was emotionally upset, angry and grieving. I talked to another nurse about it and she told me I definitely could have more children and that she herself had had 4 cesareans. This made me feel a teensy bit better, but I still couldn’t believe that I would never have a vaginal birth in my life.
At the time in my mind that nurse-midwife was the bearer of the worst news in my entire life. I wanted to get out of the hospital as quickly as possible.
The first night after the birth I had terrible nightmares.
I woke up startled and feeling like I was choking and unable to breathe (like had happened during the birth). I was too scared to go back to sleep at first and told my husband to sleep right next to me and not to leave me alone if I fell asleep because I thought I might die in my sleep. This dream was one of the most vivid I’ve ever had. I had 2 – 3 similar dreams almost every time I fell asleep within the first 24 hours after my surgery. The trauma of that anesthesia experience took time to wear off.
Within the first 24 hours the hospital staff wanted me to get back on my feet briefly. I also used that as an opportunity to finally take a real shower. The first time I came to a stand it was extremely painful in the abdomen and required two people helping me. I cringed but I picked up my body and forced myself to get up. After that each time I stood up it became progressively easier.
We worked hard to do everything in our power to leave the hospital as soon as possible. The baby was born on the 20th of December, and we were discharged on the 23rd. I did not want to spend Christmas there.
Once I was home walking from the car, up the stairs and back into my apartment was physically draining and painful. I felt very overwhelmed when I got home and burst into tears as soon as I got into my bed. I was relieved to be there, but so upset with what I now had to deal with moving forward. I was sent home with painkillers and realized I hadn’t taken anything for a long while so I took one right away and that helped me to calm down. I only took them for 2-3 days and then stopped. I didn’t want any more drugs in my system.
My Mom arrived from California to help me on Christmas day. We had planned to have her at my birth and she had even booked a flight but since the baby came 2 ½ weeks early she missed it. So she changed her flight to the soonest day possible and came to help for ten days, which was a huge relief.
I began my road to recovery physically and mentally.
ealing from the cesarean was not easy, while taking care of a newborn. I had 17 staples on my abdomen keeping my scar closed. It hurt to cough, laugh and use my abdominal muscles at all. My husband and mother took wonderful care of me. Things slowly got better physically and my body healed quickly and smoothly.
The mental recovery was harder. Immediately I wanted answers. Why did this happen? How did his head become trapped requiring an unusual incision? Was it because he was breech and his head was not putting pressure on the cervix, therefore it did not fully dilate and the rest of his body was able to slip out, leaving his head trapped? This doesn’t line up with the op report that says I was fully dilated. Was it because of the panic and urgency of the situation and me being told to “stop pushing” which resulted in a rush of adrenaline and the closing of the cervix down around his neck? Ina May Gaskin (a world famous midwife) talks a lot about the “fight or flight” mechanism and mother nature’s ability to stop labor during times of danger.
Either way, I will never know for sure and I have since come to peace with that.
Over the weeks, months and years that followed I healed from this experience.
I talked through it with friends, family and experienced birth professionals. I found support groups including ICAN (International Cesarean Awareness Network) and Special Scars ~ Special Women both of which provided an enormous amount of information, understanding, support, love and encouragement in moving forward. My fire was lit and I knew that I was going to find a way to have the birth experience I desired the next time around. I threw myself into the world of birth and used my experience to help others.
There are things in this world that we have no control over. Making the best of a bad situation and using it as strength to move forward and do better things is where I have taken this journey.
My son is a happy, healthy, amazing child. And the good news is that he now has a young brother – the result of a beautiful vaginal birth right in the comfort of my home. And that is a story we will save for another chapter!
(If you’ve gotten this far thank you for reading and listening.)