I always knew I wanted to be a mother. When we were ready to have kids, I dreamed about what it would be like to be pregnant and bring a child into the world. That dream did not include a cesarean birth. Quite the opposite. My water would break at home, we would calmly go to the hospital, my husband and mom would be by my side.
A major surgery was not dream worthy material. But that is exactly how my dream played out. Three times over again. Letting go of expectations for a “perfect” birth is not an easy thing to do – especially when the alternative birth plan is the result of some type of medically deemed failure (in my case, failure to progress and failed VBAC). However, each one of my girls’ births gave me a different perspective on the previous – the outcomes were all the same: a c-section resulting in the birth of a healthy baby girl. But the lessons learned, the way I viewed their stories changed as soon as I realized that perfection is not a word you can associate with the process of child birth. Perfection is the outcome of that birth.
Failure to Progress
I was lucky to have an easy pregnancy the first time around. I didn’t experience morning sickness and despite being very swollen, for the most part I felt really good. I gained a good amount of weight for my frame (55 pounds) so towards my due date, the doctors started speculating about the baby’s size. My husband is 6’3 and was a bigger baby himself so they were throwing out ranges from 9-11 pounds. Knowing I did not want a c-section, at 39 weeks, they suggested induction. We got to the hospital on a Friday night. Nervous and excited, I was fully expecting my baby to be in my arms by the following evening. After 42 hours and little progress, we were encouraged to plan for a cesarean birth. Even if I did progress, I had so far to go that likely when it came time for pushing, I would be too exhausted and things would result in a c-section anyway. Failure to progress they called it. I tearfully agreed…just wanting to meet our girl and so disappointed that my body had failed to do what it should have instinctually known how to do.
Our daughter was born shortly thereafter. A healthy 7 pounds, 15 ounces and 19.5 inches long. Nowhere close to even the 9 plus pound projection from earlier that week. I had just a few minutes with her before they took her to the nursery. It would be 4 hours before I got to hold her in my arms, nurse, breathe in all of her tiny perfection. In that moment, I didn’t care about the c-section. Didn’t care about the permanent scar on my belly or what I had planned for her birth. She was here. And that is all that mattered.
It took us longer the second time to get pregnant. In that time, I was able to read, research, pick apart the details of my first labor experience so I could do something differently this next time around. I kept thinking, “If I knew then what I know now…” Things would have been different. I wouldn’t have been induced. I would have allowed labor to come on naturally, progress on its own. I wouldn’t have failed.
With this pregnancy, I practiced prenatal yoga regularly. I received chiropractic care weekly. We learned about the Bradley method and found a doula to teach us the “right’ way to approach our second baby’s birth. I was going to do this completely naturally, no drugs, a complete juxtaposition from my first where even though I didn’t want a c-section, I definitely wanted an epidural. As my due date neared, I started acupuncture, massage, essential oils whatever I could think of to go into labor naturally. And at 1am on her due date, it happened. My water broke. Contractions were slow and spaced but they were there. This was it! My body was doing it! We labored at home for a few hours but because this was a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean), it was made very clear I needed to be at the hospital so I could be monitored. Our team was nothing short but wonderful – positive, encouraging and VERY pro VBAC which made me feel even closer to bringing my girl into the world the way I wanted. I was progressing at a good rate – 5 centimeters, 7 centimeters…contractions were closer and getting intense. But I could visualize the end. I stayed out of the bed and perched on a stability ball (the crunchy granola way to labor if you ask my husband). And then the nurses started coming in more frequently. Her heart rate…with each contraction, her heart rate would dip. As the contractions got more intense, it dropped more dramatically. We tried an internal monitor (torture device), different positions (please, please work!), but it kept dropping. And just like that, I was being wheeled into the OR for surgery. I was exhausted. 15 hours of labor and now the anesthesia was hitting my tired body extra hard. I couldn’t unclench my jaw. I couldn’t stop shaking. And I just could not breathe. I prayed for her to be out. I needed her to be out. The OR was quiet and everyone moved quickly. And then there she was…all 9 pounds, 15 oz and 22 inches of her. I got a few brief minutes with her in the OR but she was waiting for me in recovery right after. And she was hungry. And even though my body once again didn’t do what I worked so hard to help it do, I knew I could feed her. And that was more than enough for me in that moment.
Gentle C Section
Carrying/delivering a 10 pound baby did not leave me unscathed. Medically speaking, I went through the ringer after our second was born – hernia repair, hematoma, staph infection, abdominal abscesses, multiple surgeries and a long recovery process. It is amazing how quickly you forget your emotions regarding a c section when you go through something like that. Oddly enough, the one question we kept asking during that ordeal was, “Will I be able to carry another baby?” Crazy, right? Lightening doesn’t strike twice so we were willing to take the chance again. One year later, we were in the clear and got pregnant with our third daughter very easily soon after trying again. Yes, I could carry another baby. But I probably shouldn’t carry another 10 pound baby. So I put my project manager hat on and looked at all the variables I could control: my diet, my level of activity, the amount and rate at which I gained weight this time around. I could not control the genes this baby would get from her 6’3 daddy, but I was going to do my best to have the healthiest pregnancy possible. I followed a Paleo diet and worked out 6 days a week. I walked on my lunch hour, took the stairs to my office every day, kept moving. I gained 20 pounds total but more importantly, I felt fantastic, capable, strong.
I knew a VBAC wasn’t an option for me this time. I was at peace with that (well, after I asked nicely one time if we could consider it. Which was met with a resounding “no”). But I was going to have a different birth experience this time. It was going to be a birth. Not a surgery. I wasn’t going to avoid the c-section. I was going to embrace it. I started reading up on gentle cesareans – all different based on where it took place and what was allowed for in the hospital. I was extremely fortunate to have the best OB in the world who supported this endeavor whole heartedly. So at 38 weeks when my body started to labor on its own, a whole week before my scheduled delivery, we were ready. There was laughter and joy in the OR. Our team supported our plan and when our third baby girl was finally here, she went right to my chest. My arms were free to hold her, hug her, nurse her all on my own. She stayed with me the whole time. I got to keep her in my arms back to recovery and didn’t give her up until the grandparents wanted their turn to meet her. Even now, I still look back on this experience and am so in awe of how different it was from the first two. I felt like it was something I did this time vs. something that was done to me.
In hindsight, I wouldn’t change a thing about our birth stories. Because each unique journey, gave me something to carry with me into motherhood. Patience, learning to manage expectations, being strong when you want to be weak, overcoming adversity and persevering. But most importantly, those births brought me my girls. Perfection three times over again.
Will there be a fourth cesarean birth story to share someday? Well, we will just have to wait and see…