This birth story, in honor of Cesarean Awareness Month (CAM), comes from Jordan Bucher. Jordan says, “I wanted to send the story of my cesarean and my attempted HBAC (that turned out to be an incredibly empowering CBAC) for Cesarean Awareness Month. I hope other ICAN blog readers can find some inspiration from my experiences, just as I have from theirs!” To have your story posted on this blog, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s spring again. And here I am: in the middle of yet another rebirth. This time last year I was pregnant, swelling with hopes of an HBAC. I was still on the side of unknowing. I said goodbye to that self towards the end of last September, in the middle of an oddly chilly night, in the coldest room in the hospital, the OR. It was not how I imagined it would look, and yet…
Of course, to understand the second birth, it is important to look at the one before. My older son Henry’s pregnancy was easy, free of complications. When I hit 40 weeks I was suddenly on the defensive, refusing an induction every 3 days. At 41.4 days my OB ordered an ultrasound; it looked normal. Then came the non-stress test, which was a complete joke, though we didn’t know it at the time. That was my OB’s calling card. Her pace pale and drawn, she told us we had 2 hours to get to the hospital. This baby was clearly in distress, she said, his heart rate was too high (nevermind the Dublin Dr. Pepper and 3 mini chocolate bars the nurse told me to drink beforehand) and it was time to get him out.
From that moment forward, I could not catch my breath. I felt like I was hovering over my body, watching the whole thing go down. We went home and ate our last supper (pizza), gathered our bags and left for the hospital, never once wondering what would happen if we just didn’t show up. Once we got there they dressed me in the old prisoner’s gown, gave me some crappy IV, hooked me up to the monitor and administered the first cytotec vaginally. When I questioned my OB about cytotec earlier that week, she said, yes, there were some disastrous outcomes associated with the drug, but those were with VBAC moms which I was not and this was our only chance to actually get my cervix to dilate any further. The other prostaglandins simply were not effective, she said.
I couldn’t sleep at all that night. The nurse gave me some ambien. It didn’t work. My contractions kicked in somewhere around 1 or 2 in the morning and I watched them all night long on the monitor. Pretty soon it was 5am and I could hear my OB talking to the nurse outside my room. They were supposed to give me a third cytotec but there was some kind of scuffle going on. I couldn’t make out any words. My OB breezed in the room. We needed to get this baby out, she said again, and we needed to turn on the pitocin immediately. She examined me; I was dilated to a 2. Then, without asking, she broke my water. I was stunned. There was meconium everywhere. I was very worried at that point. To this day, I don’t think there would’ve been meconium if there had not been cytotec.
What happened next is textbook. I was too scared to labor in that environment. The pitocin didn’t work. I needed an epidural. The decels on the monitor. I needed oxygen. I needed a drink of water badly, but I couldn’t have that. I begged my doctor to make it end, cut me open.
Henry was born at 2:59pm. I was sewed up before 4 and I bet my doctor was on the road by 5. (She had mentioned she was attending parents’ weekend at her daughter’s college, also her alma mater.) The recovery was brutal. I was drugged beyond comprehension. I had panic attacks before I even left the hospital. What followed was 18 months of intense PPD/PPA/PTSD. But, I got through it and it made me who I am today. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Here is the letter I wrote to my second son, a few days after we got home from the hospital:
My dear Arlo,
I want to get your birth story written while it’s still fresh and raw. I’m sure, as with your brother’s, that it will go through several revisions as I process everything that went down, but here’s what I have for now.
My due date was September 18. Though I went 2 weeks late with Henry and told myself this whole pregnancy I’d be completely fine with going over this time, I wasn’t. I was ready to birth you! I had my last prenatal with our midwife, GB, on Thursday, September 23. She did some Mayan abdominal massage and craniosacral therapy on me, and she said you’d dropped lower into my pelvis. I was hopeful. Afterward I felt a sudden urgency to make dates. Henry and I went on a special date on Friday. I got a sitter for Saturday night so I could go on a date with your father. I could feel your arrival was imminent.
On Saturday morning Henry and I walked a 4-mile loop around the lake. We saw the same people we saw almost every other morning on the lake. One of them asked when I was going to have my baby, and I replied, “soon.” After our walk we went to the food co-op and stocked up on a bunch of groceries. That afternoon I felt really sleepy and took a deep one-hour nap while your dad and Henry played with the dogs out front. Then our sitter came and your dad and I left for our date.
All I wanted to do was walk. I should’ve known something was up! I also had a mad craving for pizza. I didn’t want to wait for a table. I just wanted to eat quick at the counter, people watch, and then walk some more. Your father and I had a really sweet time—it was reminiscent of some of our very first dates. After pizza we went to the candy store and messed around in a bunch of other shops. We were home by 9. I quickly checked my email and then I took my computer to bed so I could watch the new episode of Project Runway on Hulu.
That was when I started noticing my contractions. I tried not to get too excited—I’d had 4 other trial runs of regular contractions for a couple of hours only to have them stop. We timed them and they were mostly 10 minutes apart, sometimes 8, sometimes 12. They started in my lower back, wrapped to my front and then went down deep into my cervix, but still, I wasn’t sure this was actually it. They were still coming when the show was over. I told your dad we’d have to try to get some rest if this was the real thing. We could call our friend in the morning to get Henry and then we’d go for a long walk to really get things moving.
So your dad went off to Henry’s bed and I continued to lie there in the dark. I dozed off a bit but when I woke I was still having contractions, and now they were 3-5 minutes apart. I decided I’d wake your dad to call GB and Amy, our doula, once they were that close for an hour. I got up to go to the bathroom, probably around 1 or so, and my water broke. It was brown. I ran into Henry’s room and woke your father, telling him to call GB right away, my water broke and there was meconium.
While your dad ran to grab the phone I felt another urge to go to the bathroom. Then, the oddest sensation. I looked down at about 10-12 inches of grayish, whitish matter hanging from between my legs. I panicked for a second, fearing a cord prolapse. But in the next quick moment I realized the birth was completely out of our hands and if I let myself leave my body like I did with Henry, I would be completely traumatized. I made a pact with myself right then and there to stay calm, stay with my breath, and accept whatever was happening. If, no matter what, I could stay present in my body, I would be OK. I visualized the lotus drawing I made in our Birthing from Within class about what to do when birth takes an unexpected turn.
GB was on her way, but we knew that would be another hour because of how far away she lives. Brielle, our other midwife, would be there in 20 minutes. GB told your father to call EMS to come listen to your heartbeat and then to email her a picture of what was hanging between my legs. She asked him if it was pulsing and he said no. I’ve never seen your father’s hand shake like it did when he emailed that picture. GB called right back and said it wasn’t the cord, it was the bag of waters. She told me to get in bed and put my butt in the air. I labored like that for about 10 minutes and EMS arrived. They listened to your heartbeat and it was great, about 130 beats per minute. Everything was fine, we refused medical treatment and told them to leave once Brielle arrived.
At some point during this time our friend came to get Henry but my bedroom door was closed so I was completely oblivious. When your dad called our doula Amy, she said she was at another birth but her backup was on her way. Meanwhile, Brielle came in the room very quietly and confirmed that it was indeed the bag of waters hanging from my body. Still, it was very strange, no one had ever seen anything like it before. Now I see it was almost like a divine foreshadowing. It certainly had prolapse on everyone’s mind. Brielle checked me and I told her not to tell me how far I was dilated. I flipped back over with my butt in the air—it felt really good to labor that way. She listened to your heartbeat and, again, about 130 bpm.
Later GB arrived and I felt I could really get down to business. GB and Brielle have the most calming, reassuring presence. GB was concerned about the meconium but we were keeping a close eye on it and since I was a VBAC I’d be monitored every 10-15 minutes anyway. Your father went to go fill up the birth tub in the dining room. I decided it was time to unleash my squatting power. As I rose from the bed, a huge gush of meconium spilled out of me and it was suddenly much darker. GB put the monitor to my belly and that’s when we heard it: your heartbeat slowed dramatically, down to 40 bpm. GB threw me on the bed, to my left side, my right side, my butt back up in the air. Your heartbeat picked up well after the contraction had passed and only when I had my butt in the air. GB called your dad into the room and told him to call EMS. There was a problem with the cord and it was most likely a prolapse. I’d have to have an emergency cesarean. There was no time to lose.
GB told me to tell you to stay inside, to tell my body to stop contracting. I tried but the contractions were only coming stronger. Still I stayed calm, breathed in, breathed out. GB had her fingers inside me, pushing against your head to keep you off the cord. EMS arrived. There was a commotion. They wouldn’t let GB hold her fingers inside me. She was going to have to sit in a seat belt. They wanted to strap me to a stretcher flat on my back. GB explained that her fingers and my butt in the air were the only things keeping you alive. I screamed at them and fought the straps. I had to be on my back but I pushed my butt in the air with my legs. Once we got into the ambulance, GB found a blanket and propped it under my butt. The bitchy EMS woman kept telling GB that I was her patient now and she demanded what kind of training she had. I screamed again that GB had been delivering babies for 30 years and she’d better follow her instructions. This fracas seemed to last forever. The whole time we were just parked in the driveway, not going anywhere. Your dad and Brielle were waiting to follow us in another car.
Finally the ambulance started moving. The woman put her fingers in me and her touch was so much rougher than GB’s. She couldn’t tell when I was contracting. She kept asking me but by this point I could no longer speak. I could hear GB telling her when I was contracting, when to push up on your head. Though the hospital is only 5 minutes away, the drive seemed to last an eternity. When we got there we realized the EMS clowns had not called ahead. The OR was not prepped and they started wheeling me into labor & delivery. Despite all of this, I stayed calm, stayed with my breath. I could hear GB telling them this was a life and death situation, I needed a c-section immediately. There was a lot of screaming. Nurses and doctors were running everywhere. One nurse screamed at GB and Brielle for letting me VBAC at home. Someone checked me and said I was dilated to a 6. Later I found out that I had gone from a 2 to a 6 in a matter of minutes. If this had not been an emergency situation, GB said I would’ve pushed you right out no problem.
We got word the OR was prepped. GB, Brielle, and your father had to stay outside. Your father gave me 2 squirts of Rescue Remedy and waved a cloth dabbed in lavender essential oil under my nose. It was such a touching, centering gesture. I knew in that moment we’d all be OK. I was very calm as they prepped me. I remember them shaving me, I remember the gush of cold iodine on my belly. The OR was bright, cold. I told everyone to take good care of you when you were born, and a nurse squeezed my hand and promised they would. The contractions were coming stronger and I held my butt in the air as long as I could. Then the anesthesiologist put the mask over my face and told me when I woke up I’d be able to see my baby.
I woke up a couple of hours later in recovery. I was shaking but still calm, still with my breath. I wanted to see you so bad, but you were in NICU. They told me you were going to be OK. I always thought I’d die if I couldn’t see my baby right after birth, but in this case, it was a blessing. Here’s what I didn’t have to see: you emerging from my womb limp and gray. You had an Apgar score of 3. I didn’t have to see the head NICU doctor call to another hospital about a transfer because they had the only life support machine that would be appropriate for your condition. Some kind of spirit took hold of you and within 5 minutes they decided to keep you at the NAMC NICU. I am forever grateful for that.
The nurses at NAMC were excellent at managing my pain, so different from my experience at Seton with your brother. They allowed GB into the recovery room and she did craniosacral therapy right away. Her loving touch on my feet, my head, my sacrum, my abdomen was so centering. I also knew that I would not be able to see you until I was able to lift myself out of bed and into a wheelchair. With Henry this simple movement took me 2 days. With you, I was out of bed in 6 hours. Our first meeting was in the NICU. You were hooked up to a million machines. There were cords and wires everywhere. There was talk of possible brain damage, lung damage, many more tests to be performed. I was not allowed to hold you or bring you to my breast. You would not be able to ingest anything other than IV fluids for days, someone said maybe even longer.
But, like I said, you have some kind of spirit, Arlo. You turned around faster than any of the doctors or nurses predicted. Everyone called you a miracle baby. I pumped like crazy and I brought you to my breast on the third day. From the first latch you were perfect. Tests started to come back and the results were not as bad as feared. Your lungs took the longest to recover. I was discharged from the hospital on Thursday and allowed to room in until Friday when your lungs looked good enough to discharge you from NICU.
Now we’re all home and having the babymoon we always wanted. I hold you 24/7. You hate your cosleeper and prefer to be snuggled in bed with me. You nurse all throughout the night and fall right back to sleep. We’re making up for lost time. There are times I fall into the what-ifs: What if we hadn’t planned a homebirth and our midwives were not right there with us? GB saved your life. If I’d planned a hospital birth, we’d have stayed at home and not called anyone until the last possible moment. I wouldn’t have known to elevate my hips to keep you off the cord. That would’ve been too late. But I can’t go there for long. Right now I’m just so grateful you’re alive. I don’t feel traumatized from this birth. I got to go into labor on my own, I labored through strong contractions and felt amazing. I feel incredibly empowered by the fact that when shit hit the fan, I stayed calm. If I can focus on my breath through this, I can endure anything. And I know if you can fight back like you did, you most certainly can endure anything, too.
I’m sure there will come a time when I grieve the loss of the homebirth, the fact that I will never birth a child vaginally. But for now I focus on gratitude and a wonder at the universe. We were all so lucky on September 26, 2010, brought together by some force way bigger than us. Right now, the windows are open and a cool breeze blows across you and me. You’re asleep in my lap as I type, and I’m in awe of the mystery and power of your birth.