Everyone has a birth story, right? I’ve been meaning to share mine from when Penelope was born and thought, what better time than the New Year, so here I go.
I hoped and planned for a natural birth. Natural means many things to many people: for some, it means absolutely no drugs. For others, it means having a home birth in your living room in one of those blow up tubs while a breathtaking sunrise takes place outside your window as your baby’s head emerges from your lady parts, and later dining on the placenta over candlelight. And for some, it means it doesn’t matter how many epidurals or other drugs are involved, so long as your baby comes out of your hoo-ha, then a natural birth it was. I was probably a mix of all of these; I wanted a hospital birth, with minimal intervention, and while I wasn’t going to beat myself up for having an epidural, my plan was to go as long as I could and make the experience as natural as my body and mind would allow. From the moment I found out I was pregnant I began seeing the hospital’s midwives, and we hired a doula. I took the classes. I read the books. A natural birth I would have.
But, as it normally goes, life offered me up a swift bitch-slap to the face. Because, at my ultrasound somewhere around week 30, we saw that our little Miss P was in the breech position. I read about several breech deliveries done by Ina May Gaskin and other well-known midwives and understood that although it is tricky, it can be done. But I didn’t know that no hospital doctor or midwife (at least in the state of NC) would even attempt to deliver a baby in the breech position. A breech baby, for me, would mean an automatic C-section, which was NOT the birth I wanted. BUT there was still time, and I hung on to the hope that she’d turn.
The midwives were encouraging, sharing stories of babies who turned at weeks 36, 37, and even 38 and 39. My mother told me how my sister didn’t turn until a week before she was born. I became a mad researcher, looking up positions I could lay in, exercises I could do, foods I could eat, and anything else I could do to help encourage P to turn. Our house became an obstacle course for those weeks: an ironing board propped up on the couch for me to lay on upside down, 3 times a day for 15 minute intervals; a space in our bedroom for me to crawl on hands and knees for 10 minutes, 2 times a day. I did somersaults and handstands in the pool at my gym every Sunday morning for hours (who needs to pay Seaworld to view orcas in captivity when the price to view a willing Shamu through big glass windows is included in your gym membership?) I sat at my desk every day at work with headphones tucked into my pants because it has been said that babies like and will turn toward the music. (I chose my favorite John Mayer albums because much of the music is upbeat and/or soothing.) And let me tell you, nothing says “come approach me to discuss our professional goals” to a boss quite like a nine month pregnant woman playing music to her vagina.
There were cardboard paper towel holders all over the house, so my husband could aim them at my lower abdomen and talk through them, which was said to help encourage her to turn. I did a ton of those cat/cow yoga stretches (I’ll let you guess which of those animals I felt like most.) I took baths every night, as the water would help expand my belly and provide extra buoyancy. I did meditation exercises to visualize her turning. Put bags of frozen vegetables on my stomach where her head was to get her to turn away. I lay in bed every night watching TV leaning forward on a pillow, butt up in the air, for half hour increments as this angle was touted to help.
I had already been doing yoga and pilates throughout my pregnancy along with Dancing With the Stars DVD’s, and at this point, I threw in the DWTS Latin version because – what the hell – just maybe all of that salsa and merengue would help her turn her little tush around. I even contacted a few chiropractors to have the Webster Technique done, and an acupuncturist who practiced moxibustion, but was turned away because they feared she might get stuck in a transverse position. Just so we are all aware, I know I was crazy. But when you are desperate for something, you’ll try anything.
I even placed subliminal messages around the house:
At my 38 week ultrasound, P still hadn’t turned. You know how everyone has those adorable ultrasound pictures with their little Buddha babies perfectly positioned, appearing content in the womb? Not me. She was sitting straight up and down, and facing my back. When we looked close enough, I could swear she had her arm bent up behind her, giving me the finger. After all of the exercising, hoping, wishing, music-playing, swimming, leaning, and talking, apparently all that happened is that my vagina became well-versed in John Mayer. And, as you’d imagine, not in the way many women would have liked it to be.
The last option I was offered is called an “external version,” a procedure done in the hospital in which the doctor and nurse/midwife attempt to literally and manually turn the baby around from the outside. It would require pain meds, I would need to be monitored closely as it could send me into early labor and/or cause harm to the baby or placenta, and had only a 50% success rate. Greg and I watched a few YouTube videos of the procedure being done which confirmed the pain factor and, in one video, you see the baby go right back to the position it was clearly most comfortable in just as soon as the procedure was finished, because – DUH! – if she wanted to be upside down, she would have turned herself around on her own. I ran into an acquaintance whose wife had it done and he said, “Never again. It was unsuccessful, and the pain and recovery of the version was way worse for my wife than that of the C-section.” Did I want this procedure, the midwives asked? Uh, no.
At this point they decided they let my antics go on long enough in my hopes she would turn, but it was time to schedule the C-section. They wanted to deliver her before I went into labor naturally because if that happened, while it wouldn’t be considered an emergency C-section, as they put it, “we’d have to move very fast.” (I interpreted this as “Listen up sweet cheeks: don’t be a dumbass. Schedule the freaking surgery.) I decided then that I would rather know when it was going to happen, schedule it with my doctor and do things as calmly as possible instead of a rush-rush situation that I imagined would make things a bit more scary. So we finally scheduled the C-section a week and a half prior to the day she was born. I came home, had a good cry, threw away the paper towel tubes, and put the ironing board back into the closet. I decided I would just enjoy the last week and a half of my pregnancy and accept the situation for what it was. I hardly told anyone when the surgery would be because 1) it was such short notice and 2) I was terrified. I never had any type of surgery before, I was nervous, and pretty much shitting bricks (which says a lot for a pregnant woman.) It wasn’t about a surprise date, or keeping anyone in the dark. But I knew anyone who I told would be calling and/or texting leading up to it and while they’d have the best of intentions, it would only make me more nervous. That’s the paradox of being pregnant in today’s times: you’re supposed to relax and be peaceful and serene, but your cell phone, house phone, texts, email, and Facebook are blowing up to the point that you spend most of your time responding to others because if you don’t get back to people right away in this instant-gratification society we live in, then OH MY GOD WHAT HAPPENED SHE MUST BE IN LABOR IS EVERYTHING OK???!!!!! I really just wanted to take the week to relax and get through the surgery.
The morning of the scheduled C-section at 5:00 AM I walked into the hospital to check in and uttered the strangest sentence I’ve said to date: “Hi, I’m here to have a baby?” but alas, I was. We were directed up to the 8th Floor and put into a “pre-surgery” room, where I was given IV. I’ve been prone to anxiety and panic attacks from when I was younger – I even saw a therapist for a few years to help – and, while I haven’t had a panic attack in many years, I was nervous this situation would bring one about. Two nurses were with me: one, who was taking what looked and felt like 20 vials of blood from my left arm (was Nurse Twilight planning on drinking this shit?), and the other, seated at my right, asking me all sorts of scary questions (do you have power of attorney? A living will? Can your husband make decisions for you in the event you can’t make them for yourself? Does your religion allow you to accept blood transfusions?) I started to feel the nervousness bubble up inside of me. I knew I couldn’t drink anything, not even water, from midnight the night before, but somehow out of my mouth came: “I know I can’t have water, but, could I please have some water?” I wasn’t even on any drugs. The nurses looked at each other. “No, I’m sorry,” one said. I felt immediately better when I realized that I wouldn’t dehydrate because of the IV, and that sunlight was approaching, meaning Nurse Twilight would have to either go away or spontaneously combust.
Once all of that was over, the anesthesiologist came in, with her nurse and a resident. I liked her immediately and suddenly, for whatever reason, I felt at ease. After a few minutes of conversation and questions it was almost time, and she left Greg and I alone. We learned that the spinal would be given to me in the operating room and that Greg wouldn’t be with me when it was given, that he would be brought in after, which sort of sucked, but I was still feeling okay. I liked that I would be totally awake for the procedure – like literally, not even drowsy – although she did mention in some instances (if the spinal didn’t take, for example) they would have to put me completely under. I wanted more than anything to witness the birth of my baby so I hoped this wouldn’t happen. (Side note: I learned the difference between a spinal and an epidural. An epidural is injected into the space around your spinal cord, and takes about 20 minutes to go into effect. A spinal is injected directly into the fluid within your spinal cord, and takes effect right away. As if I wasn’t nervous enough already, yes, I had to look this shit up.) Finally, I kissed Greg, and walked into the OR.
A rush of cold air hit me upon entering, and it was oddly refreshing. They asked me to sit up on the operating table and hang tight for a few minutes to wait for the anesthesiologist. There were so many people in the room, all with their backs turned to me, busy doing different things, and for some reason the controlled chaos made me feel at ease. Stone Temple Pilots “Creep” was playing on the radio and as I sat there and listened, I went through all of the meditations and deep breathing exercises I picked up from my days of dealing with anxiety as a teen, leading up to everything I practiced throughout my pregnancy for having a natural birth. The sweet irony was not lost on me, but I was grateful. By the time the anesthesiologist came in I already felt like I had taken something to relax, and it was in that moment where I truly experienced the power of meditation and of how our brains can have such compelling effects on our bodies. She asked me to lean forward onto her nurse who stood in front of me, and curve my back to form a “c”. I remained there for what felt like eternity but in actuality was probably a minute or two as she administered the spinal. When it was done she told me I receive the award for the most “calm, cool and collected” patient and somewhere in Rye, New York I could hear my therapist from when I was sixteen get up from her chair and applaud.
Next my OB came into the room, and the big tarp went up so I couldn’t see past my boobs. What was going on over there? How long would this take? When would it start? Finally, he said: “Well, I’ve been pinching the crap out of your stomach for the past 5 minutes and you haven’t made a peep, so it looks like we’re ready!” He began making the incision. Greg was brought in moments later, and he took a seat right next to my head. He looked beyond the tarp to see what was going on, turned a lovely shade of greenish-white, and with a queasy look on his face, gave me a thumbs up sign. (I imagine he was suppressing an intense urge to barf.) Just minutes later, my OB said: “Here she is!” and straight from my belly to the top of the tarp held up the cutest, grossest, bloodiest, most adorably beautiful, mind-blowing-ly incredible sight I’ve ever seen, screaming her little head off already.
They brought her over to the scale to do her APGAR and check her out, and Greg began snapping pictures:
The part of the surgery that took place after she was born was longer than the first part, but the whole thing in total was about 35-40 minutes. My midwife was in the room with me as well and stitched me up, at which point my OB walked over to talk to me. He told me everything looked great, and that he didn’t see any issues or reason why she was breech – she likely just got comfortable. He also didn’t see any reason why I couldn’t have a natural birth in the future, should I want that. As soon as they were finished stitching me up I was taken into the recovery room and immediately Penelope was placed on my chest. Since the spinal only numbed from my stomach down I had full feeling in my arms and chest (and so much feeling in my heart). My hospital stay and recovery went great, thankfully, and after spending two nights there, I woke up the next morning just really wanting to get home and settled in with P. I asked my doctor if I could be released a day early and yes! She cleared me to go home. Being in the hospital is of course necessary but there is constant interruptions, you can’t get much rest, and there’s just nothing like your own bed. Two days after coming home I finally mustered up the courage to look at my scar, and was nothing short of baffled at how minor it is and amazed at how they got Penelope out of such a small space. (I’d post it but that’s probably more than you want to see, so I’ll spare you.) It’s below my bikini line and super thin. No bandages, or stitches or staples that would need to be removed. Just some steri-strips that would eventually peel off on their own, and stitches that would dissolve. My mind was blown.
I found so many things to be ironic with this whole pregnancy: I read every book under the sun, but always skipped the parts that discussed C-sections because I never thought I’d have one. I sang songs to Penelope while she was in my belly where I jokingly asked her to “please be nice to mommy’s vagina!” Well, note to self: children take things quite literally. And what I really should have asked was for her to be nice to my boobs instead. Given that pregnancy can last 42 weeks and I had to have the C-section at week 40, I sometimes wonder if she would have turned at week 41, and been born at week 42. There’s no way to know. And at this point, it doesn’t matter. She is safe, I am safe, and all is good. Even though the birth process wasn’t what I envisioned, it couldn’t have gone better and I was and will always be grateful for the experience. The fact that the team was placing wagers as to whether or not Kate Middleton had an epidural the day before when she birthed the Royal baby as I was being stitched up oddly put me at ease, probably because, while I was a nervous wreck, this really was just another day at the office for them. Should you find yourself in the position with a breech baby and an inevitable C-section, I think it’s important to at least feel secure with your doctor and the care you will receive. I read somewhere that breech babies are natural born healers, and I already feel she has healed so much in me.
I wanted to share my story with my readers, and also to share it with those who may find themselves in the same position as I was: pregnant with a breech baby, desperate for her to turn, and scared. It really helped me to talk to friends who had C-sections and to hear POSITIVE stories. There is something about relating to other women in our positions that is way more comforting (and less scary) than talking to a doctor or being exhausted yet awake at 3 am searching the web, alone.
It also helps to think about what’s important to you, and discuss these things with your doctors. Just because you are having a C-section doesn’t mean they will all be taken away. For example, I wanted to have “skin-to-skin” contact immediately and had made the choice beforehand to breastfeed, which meant it would be important for her to be on my chest right away to begin. This was able to happen for me despite having a C-section.
If there is anything more you’d like to know, feel free to ask me in the comments. I also have a ton of resources I could send you on what you can try to help your baby turn (although by now we know they didn’t work for me, they have been said to work for others). Also, if you have anxiety want to know the breathing exercises or other natural ways to calm down, I have a bunch of things I could send you as well, so either email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or drop me a comment and I’ll reply back. But for now, to recap, here is what I did to try to get P to turn:
- lay on an ironing board, propped up on the couch 3 times a day, 15 minutes each time
- crawled on hands and knees 2 times per day, 10 minutes each time
- somersaults and handstands in the pool at the gym
- headphones tucked into my pants with different types of music playing (at work and whenever else I could)
- laying forward leaning on a pillow, 15-30 minutes per day
- laying down with hips elevated above heart (use pillows under your butt), 15-30 minutes per day (I did this while meditating, knocking two things out at once)
- held bags of frozen vegetables on my stomach where her head was
- had my husband talk through paper towel tubes aimed at my lower abdomen to get her to turn toward his voice (seriously)
- meditations visualizing her turning
I did not try:
- treatment from a chiropractor
Of course, don’t do any of these things or any other physical activity without your doctor’s approval and/or if you are in pain (come on do you even really need me to tell you that?). Good luck in your efforts. Come back and let me know if your breech baby eventually turned, and share your experience in the comments. We all have unique situations and I really love hearing others’ experiences. Thanks for reading!
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