April is Cesarean Awareness month, I'm sharing the birth story of our daughter, born this past October.
The thing about having your fears come true is when you come through it, then, you are free. I was truly scared of having a c-section, before my daughter was born with an unplanned belly birth. I assumed that if I ended up with a c-section for some reason- but I wouldn’t because that wouldn’t happen to me- that it would be devastating to me and I would be somehow unable to feel positively about that birth. This is the story of my fears coming true and the beauty that it brought me.
I birthed our firstborn son after a long labor and the relief of pushing him out at the end was the most incredible feeling. I was exhausted and exhilarated, delighted and totally in love with our new baby and in awe at what my body was able to do. It was empowering and beautiful but there were moments, in the midst, when I was scared and I didn’t know if I could do it. I remember saying, “I can’t do this,” while I was having intense contractions and getting close to transition and also remember my amazing midwife, looking at me and holding my hands over the edge of the tub, “but you are doing this!” and not too long after, my son was born!
It was now three and half years after my son’s birth and here we were, going for an ultrasound to check our daughter’s positioning at 37 weeks and found out she was breech (just like my son was, but he was able to be turned before I went into labor with him) and the ultrasound technician also found extremely low fluid, called oligohydramnios, which I didn’t understand was a cause for concern. She had called the midwife and then the midwife called me as we were driving home from the ultrasound appointment and she said, “I would like you guys to come to the hospital, like now, if you can.” Immediately, I was filled with dread and anxiety- is everything okay? Is my beautiful little girl all right?
This was not supposed to happen! I thought, sitting there in the hospital after a flurried drive from the ultrasound office on the other side of town, listening to the rhythmic sounds of the non-stress test, several belts wrapped around my belly, sitting uncomfortably on the awkward incline of the hospital bed. We found that our sweet Jane was doing just fine, for now. Incredible, blessed relief momentarily, as our midwife explained that the low fluid found in the ultrasound was extremely low and our baby would have to come out, like now, she said.
“What do you mean? Like a c-section?” I said, starting to feel fear and panic rising out of my belly, to my chest, higher into my throat, almost making me unable to speak. “Yes. If she does okay for now we could wait until tomorrow morning.” Our baby, being born tomorrow?! This was my 37th week of pregnancy! My son was born at nearly 42 weeks, this felt much too soon!
I was actually really looking forward to being in labor- knowing what to expect this time, hopefully having a shorter labor than with my son. I envisioned me in the tub at the birth center, exhausted but exhilarated and relieved with my sweet girl on my chest after the triumph of pushing her out. But this was not going to be. This would not be our story. Because birth is often unexpected. I just didn’t think it would ever be me, having a c-section, as I'm sure many women feel before that becomes their story. Before she was born I thought cesarean birth should be avoided at all costs and was a failure in some way.
Now that we are here, 6 months after her birth and I have had much time to reflect on all that has happened, I have come to realize, not all natural/vaginal births are triumphant, positive, empowering experiences for women. And similarly, after having my own truly beautiful belly birth, I have realized not all cesarean births are traumatic. Cesarean birth is in no way an “easy” birth or a failure. It is still birth, and it is you, Mama, only you that can bring your baby here. I had a truly amazing and positive birth experience with our gentle cesarean.
As we talked about all that was going to happen, our midwife said, “I know, this is a sacrifice for you, you have to give up your ideas of how this birth was going to go,” I nodded to her, with tears in my eyes. And my husband, held my shoulder while I sat on the hospital bed, and the steady rhythmic beeping of the non-stress test still going. All was well. Our baby was healthy and was not in distress, for now. But my heart was so torn up about what was going to happen. How could this be?
We went home that night and told our son (who was with Grandma and Grandpa) that his sweet sister was going to be born a little earlier than we thought, and that mom had to go to the hospital in the morning to have surgery to help his sister get here safely. He was tearful and so was I, and the night felt endless. After tucking him in, my husband and I were unable to sleep for hours, trying to gather a few things for the hospital, it all felt so surreal and I felt so unable to focus on anything except the feeling of dread that was like a physical weight in my stomach.
The next day at the hospital we received such incredible, compassionate and respectful care. Nearly all the doctors who would be in the operating room for the surgery had come in to talk to me beforehand, even a medical student who was just going to watch and learn came and said, “I just wanted you to see my face so you’re not wondering who is this guy in here, you know?” The anesthesiologist came in before the surgery as well and said “I know this isn’t what you were hoping for but we want to do everything we can to make this a good experience for you.” It is amazing how those simple words lightened my heart and made me feel like I was being seen, understood and respected. This is what makes a good birth. There is so much you cannot account for in birth, or even in laboring- you don’t know how you are going to react until you are in it, so much is out of your control. And in this case, our circumstances that had changed so unexpectedly, it was truly an empowering feeling to have the doctors and nurses on our side, and we were all going to work together to get our girl here because this was what she needed to come out safely.
A good birth isn’t one that goes perfectly according to plan, because oftentimes things do not go according to the plan! A good birth happens when a woman is respected as a whole human being, a thinking person, a feeling soul in this body.
Our pastor also came to be with us and, as he held my hand and sat on the edge of our hospital bed, he looked into my eyes and said “this really isn’t what you guys wanted, is it?” It is so healing to have the hurt you are feeling be validated, be spoken aloud, acknowledged. I needed that. I needed help to let go of the idea of the way I thought things should have been and accept that this is what was happening, this was going to be her birth story. I could keep fighting against it, inwardly rebelling or I could release, surrender, accept and be brave- be present. Our pastor praying with us really allowed me to do that- to release the burden of fear of what could happen or go wrong, or is she really ready to be born? His prayers covered me and I felt a shift in my heart after he left. She was going to be born, and I was going to be present for it, in my heart- I was going to live in this moment and show up with all of me. I felt empowered and I felt actually a little excited. We were finally going to get to see her!
It was time for our daughter to be born. A team of a few doctors that were working with the anesthesiologist came to wheel me into the OR first, where the surgeon, his team and the anesthesiologist would already be. After I received the spinal and before they started the surgery they would bring in my husband and our midwife. I was scared when I was in the room by myself. I remember that same fear when I was laboring with my son, "I can’t do this."
"But you are doing this!"
Yes, I am, I am doing this. I am the only one who can bring her here.
The doctors talked me through each thing they were doing, getting ready for the spinal, I sat with my back curved as the anesthesiologist had told me to do, waiting for the needle, the air cold on my exposed skin, and I breathed in, and out, slowly. I am doing this. I will do this. This was a moment of joy, which is more and different than a feeling of happiness. Joy is when His heavenly kingdom breaks into this earthly life, this joy is impenetrable by changing circumstance and fleeting feelings. I was feeling nervous and still scared, but this was all muted by the joy that was filling the room, my heart. Our girl was going to be here so soon!
My husband was beside me, our midwife behind me and I felt good. I really did! The anesthesiologist’s team asked me how I was doing and helped adjust the levels of medication that counteracted the dizziness from the spinal block and I was ready. I felt totally awake and aware. My husband squeezed my hand and the surgeon began on the other side of the blue drape, but I couldn’t feel anything so I asked the midwife standing beside us, did they start?
I felt an excited kind of anxiousness waiting while the doctors were working steadily on the other side. Now I could feel some things happening, as they had told me I would- not pain but pressure and a tugging sort of sensation, we are so close to meeting her, I thought, she is almost here!
I could hear her and as soon as I did, I asked them to open the window in the drape. I had thought I wouldn’t want to see what was happening but I could hear her voice, her cries and I had to see her right that moment, I couldn’t wait! Through the clear window of the drape, I could see her little hand, coming up out of my opened belly, and then, she was lifted straight out, pink and crying heartily, and tears welled up in my eyes. I was overcome with relief and overjoyed to see her, she was here! Her birth was beautiful. And she was beautiful!
They brought her to the warmer to check on her and make sure she was doing all right, and I asked the midwife to move the drape so I could keep seeing her, I couldn’t stop looking at her, marveling at this beautiful baby, she was really here!
The night before as I had laid awake thinking of what was to come, I had come to the conclusion that my body had somehow failed (why was there such low fluid?) if I was having this surgery but there in the operating room within minutes her soft, warm body was placed right on my chest, next to my face as the doctors worked in a calm and efficient way, stitching my insides back together, I could not feel anything but awe that this beautiful little being was grown and carried within me, perfectly healthy at 37 weeks. My body did not fail! My body grew and nourished and protected her perfectly and she was perfectly ready to be here, breathing softly on my chest, I looked at her tiny face and felt her little hand grasping- I felt lighter and more whole than I could have imagined. I did it! She’s here! I loved her so much! I was delighted, exhilarated and in awe. Much the way I was after my son was born.
Birth is always beautiful. And it is always a miracle.
Bringing forth new life is the greatest triumph. Now, when I trace my fingers over my incision that has healed to a scar, the skin there is soft and shiny and still a bit pink with a tingling sort of numbness, I feel strong, beautiful and brave. I feel in awe of what my body has done. I feel so grateful that I was respected and that our daughter was so healthy and that we had a really good birth. This beautiful, unplanned belly birth of our sweet, beautiful girl.
Huge thanks to the Midwife Center of Pittsburgh for their incredible woman-centered care and to UPMC Mercy Hospital for their incredibly skilled doctors and great care and kindness that was shown to us.
**I know that for many women their birth story is something traumatic, they felt harassed and may have experienced obstetric violence, felt pressured into an unnecessary cesarean and are left with psychological trauma because of their experiences. Dear mama, if this is you, I am sorry. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t okay that that happened to you. Healthy babies and healthy moms are of course important, but how a woman is made to feel during birth matters. Here are two great resources for a place to start, whether your birth was traumatic or not, this is something that we all should care about. **