Thursday, January 28, 2010

My Lovely C-section by Katherine Taylor


When I first starting thinking of what I wanted from my birth experience, my number one priority was to avoid surgery. I’ve had traumatic surgeries in the past, including one where the anesthesia didn’t work. I laid there powerless and yelled at the surgeon’s touch like something from a cheap horror flick.

That said, it was not a completely simple choice to go with home birth as a means of avoiding unnecessary intervention. My own birth was a very medical experience. I was born at 28 weeks gestation, with a twin who passed away after a day outside the womb. Doctors had saved my life. I felt a sort reverence for doctors and was uncertain about birthing without them and their drugs.

Like most Americans, I simply thought you needed medication in the birthing process even though my sister, Amy, is a nurse midwife who specialized in homebirth and is now working to change this misperception and to empower women to give birth naturally (check out her blog at scienceandsensibility.org). But after reading Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth that she sent me, I was convinced that homebirth was safe and that there were other methods to relieve pain that give the woman more options.

I knew that I wanted to be able to move freely, to make noise, and to not feel rushed or under any pressure to perform. And so, with the hesitant faith of my husband, we jumped in. And the more we learned, the happier and more comfortable we were with the decision. Meeting our midwife, Maria, put us at ease and fortified our choice as she seemed the right mix of no-nonsense confidence and strength with warmth and compassion. Also, Jane Austin, the local childbirth educator, really helped us along in her classes with good, clean information and the additional support of like-minded couples. Her yoga classes kept me from worrying in my last weeks of pregnancy and helped me enjoy my big body! I felt ready and psyched for the upcoming event.

A couple of days after our baby’s due date, my water broke. I squatted on the kitchen floor and let it drip while my dog Jasper looked at me like, “What? You’re not supposed to do that!” and proceeded to lick my face and console me. Labor came on that night and we tried to sleep through the contractions, which were steadily about 7-8 minutes apart. Our doula, Nova, came over for several hours and gave me advice on positions to help get things going and suggested ways my husband, Andrew, could support me. We sent her home as it was getting late, things weren’t picking up, and Maria had told us to keep trying until 10 or 11pm and then to try to sleep.

That night was the worst. Andrew, Jasper and I camped out in the living room on the floor and futon with the birth ball nearby, since that was a good form of support for intensifying the contractions. Andrew had set up a little shrine with candles and something my sister had given me: a picture of a woman’s vagina opening in a bathtub. He knew I liked it because it showed how natural it looked for the body to open and allow birth to happen. During the contractions, he was so sweet and helped me to stay positive, chanting with me “open” and “Yes!” to embrace the contractions as our doula had recommended.

When morning came, we were sure that this day we’d have our baby at home. I took a shower to let the night’s pain drain. Maria came over and did some acupuncture and gave me castor oil to help get things going. She said to go outside and take a walk. It was raining hard and it was nice to moan in the rain with no one around. I felt so big and was excited to meet the baby and not be pregnant! On the way home we saw a rainbow over our apartment – a good sign!

Toward the evening, it started to pick up. Sitting on the toilet was extremely intense, so if a contraction started to come, I’d sit there and really let it come. Soon, they were about 4-5 minutes apart and Maria came to stay. She checked me and I was at 5cm. She let me go in the birth tub, hoping I’d relax and give my body a rest while the contractions were strong enough to keep things moving. It was wonderful to float. My body felt no tension in between the contractions and it felt light and mobile. As soon as I stood up to get out, things got more intense and I worked for several more hours, primarily on the toilet. Andrew passed out and Maria too, so I was alone. I took a shower to regroup and it was a good break. We had decided she’d check me after this and in my head, I thought “OK, I think it’s still looking good. If I’m at 8 or 9, I can do it. Otherwise, I’m going to the hospital!” I was hoping it wouldn’t be a 7 or 8 and that I’d have an easy choice. And it was! Still only 5cm after 48 hours of contractions! My heart sank.

It was about midnight and I couldn’t imagine another night of this. Maria said that if I was going to get through the contractions to get to 10cm and then push a baby out, that I’d need rest, which only an epidural could provide. It was also getting risky because my water broke and had been leaking for 60 hours! So we decided to transfer to UCSF, our back-up hospital. Once there, the epidural was successful at taking away the pain of the contractions, but I still felt strong pain in my back, probably from the baby’s position. They thought maybe the baby’s head was tilted. Also, it was clear that my uterus was swollen and tired. I developed a 102 fever, so we took care of that and gave the pitocin some time to work.

My only job was to sleep. I felt comfortable with Maria and my husband taking care of things, so I just let myself drift. I got to 6cm and stayed there. Maria warned my husband that this waiting period would not go on forever and that they would start talking to me about a C-section. And that’s what happened, though the OB doctor presented it as a choice since the baby seemed to be doing just fine. She said it was likely that my cervix wouldn’t respond to the increasing pitocin. Andrew, too, told me that he could see the waves of contractions being printed out from the machines and he had been excited at one point to see them so close together, but then saw them peter out. I began to see clearly what I needed to do. We talked with Maria who said that a C-section was totally reasonable at this point and that it would be better to act while the baby was still strong because once the baby shows signs of distress, choice is gone. My desire for a vaginal birth was still strong and I didn’t like the idea of having to recover from major abdominal surgery in the postpartum days to follow. But I didn’t want to risk the baby’s health and I didn’t think or feel intuitively that the pitocin was going to work (and if it had, I wasn’t sure I had the strength to push!). With truly no misgivings, I said let’s go for it.

Within a half an hour, they had me ready for it. My body was numbed and I was led through the process of what would happen. Andrew was finally allowed to come to my side in the surgery room (Maria, or any second person, was not allowed) and as things got more intense – as the sensations of the surgery could be felt, but not in a painful way – his presence was equally forceful. He stroked my hand and chest and then rested his forehead against mine, blocking out the lights so that all I could see was love. We were so excited, and I was teetering between nausea and bliss. They finally said, “You’ll meet your baby in a few minutes!” There was a respectful silence in the air and we heard him cry. His voice was awesome and is burned into my brain.

They knew we didn’t want the gender announced, that we wanted to see the baby together. Andrew went to cut the cord and they hid the gender from him still. He came back over to me in awe and said. “He’s beautiful, but I don’t know if it’s a he.” One of the doctors said, “I’m impressed!” (I guess by his ability to wait!) They came over and I got to lay my eyes on my baby’s face and they unwrapped him so we both could see that he was definitely Luke. I kissed him hello and felt his soft skin and basically fell in love right there.

After the surgery, I know that Andrew and Maria met up and she gave him advice on how to get the baby to me as soon as possible. She gave him the confidence that it was possible despite their usual policies. The hospital staff said, “Well, we don’t really allow the baby to go right away.” But Andrew said repeatedly, “I understand, but how about we just take him.” And it worked. Andrew remembers pushing Luke down the hall in the little rolling crib feeling as if he’d just committed a felony – crazed and exhilarated. When he delivered him to my breast, with Maria’s encouragement all the way, he felt he was returning a lost jewel to a crown! And that’s how it felt, as if a piece of me had returned. He latched on right away and I felt a new joy on my baby’s birthday.

20 comments:

Jenna said...

I think it would be difficult for me to express how much I love this post. I've written so much about home birth and alternative choices to hospital birth that I'm perceived by many as a hospital hater, which is simply not true! I think there are many situations, like yours, where hospitals are wonderful and good and bring a baby into the world where it wouldn't have been possible otherwise. Thank you for sharing your story, I hope you won't mind me linking to it to help others understand that we don't have to choose one side of the other to be happy, we just have to have the option to MAKE a choice.

Beautiful photos, beautiful family.

toniasquires said...

as a homebirth advocate and labor and delivery nurse i love this story, you don't know how crazy i get when i see a baby in the nusery under the warmer and showing all the signs of "ready to eat" and mom is down the hall waiting for HER baby, love that your husband had the courage to unite his family, the first hour after birth is "golden" no matter where you birth!!

Melissa Garvey said...

What a beautiful post and a beautiful story. The part about hearing your baby's voice for the first time gave me chills. Thanks for taking the time to share.

Olivia said...

Your story very much echos my own homebirth/transfer/c-section experience. I didn't get the homebirth I wanted, but the c-section was as good as it gets. My husband was able to tear open his scrubs and hold our daughter skin to skin while I was put back together. We were never separated; she was with me in recovery and nursed within an hour of being delivered.

Anonymous said...

I have struggled to come to terms with my c-section (planned home birth). This post really describes my experience, all the good parts of it! The title says it all. Thank you for helping to shed light on the very positive and precious moments of a surgical birth.

Carrie said...

Katherine: Your story was beautifully written and poignant. I am a midwife and can remember being told in training that indeed there is one cut in obstetrics far worse than a c section, and that is cutting the cord of a dead or sick baby. Not to be morbid, but it is true that at times our stories are out of our control, and we must let our life proceed by its own design. The value of medicine in obstetrics has become clearer to me recently in light of my own infertility. Sometimes, things just don't go as planned. Thank you for your post.

motherwitdoula said...

Thank you, Katherine, for your beautiful story. We sometimes don't honour women enough for the HARD stories, the ones in which the outcomes were not as they had hoped or expected. What I love about your story is that it is full of choice, graceful acceptance, and no sense of victimization. Having had such good support from your midwife and hospital staff goes such a long way in making a woman feel like a heroine, regardless of outcome. May your motherhood be full of the glory, richness, and beauty you deserve. I am SO happy for you that you had a beautiful surgical birth. Your sharing will help other women come to terms with their own challenging births, and give them permission to own their strength and power, regardless of what their expectations were.

Lesley (MotherWit Doula)

Jaime Nass said...

Congratulations, Katherine, on your beautiful baby! You are absolutely glowing in your pictures--it is a moment in life unlike any other. Thank you also for sharing your experience so eloguently. I, too, had a very similar marathon first labor that ended with a cesarean section--and like you i was supported by a wonderful midwife during the entire process. I will always be thankful for all that she did for me. As a midwife myself, I couldn't help but feel a bit left out by the terminology often chosen by strong advocates of home birth and groups dedicated to avoiding unnecessary ceareans. Experiences like your and mine make it clear that it is not just the route of delivery that matters to a woman--it is how she comes to that place and who helps her get there. In the end, does that woman feel informed, empowered, listened to, and at peace with her birth experience? That should be our goal, shouldn't it?

I'm glad to hear you are doing well, as I haven't seen you in many years, but was glad to hear your good news via your sister. Again, thank you so much for sharing a story we all needed to hear.

Katherine said...

Thanks for your comments everyone! Please feel free to share with anyone with similar experiences. Thanks again Maria!

bethany golden said...

Katherine,
Congrats for already being a fabulous and wonderful parent who makes great decisions for herself and her family! Inspring!

radmama said...

I also ended up in the hospital after two days of labour. Our third baby just wasn't ready to come out yet, despite ruptured membranes and lots of contractions. I was so exhausted.
A rest, a small amount of pitocin and rebreaking my water brought rapid (almost instantaneous after the membranes were ruptured!) dilation and a vaginal birth but if things had gone differently...

Each labour is different. Good midwives help women make the most appropriate choice. Your birth story is lovely.

Lori said...

I have read far, far too many stories of terrible hospital transfers where women were treated spitefully, infantilized, abused. I am so happy to see that yours is not one of them, that you were treated with respect and compassion as you deserve... As we all deserve. Congratulations on your beautiful baby boy!

milkstained said...

This is a wonderful birth story! Congratulations on your baby!

Dou-la-la said...

What a wonderful birth story. Congratulations!

Anonymous said...

Oh, I loooved your birth story. Thank you so much for sharing it. I love that the decisions were yours and I especially love the way your husband peacefully but firmly handled the issue of getting baby back to mama. Hurray for all of you including the hospital!

Anonymous said...

ah, this was so much like my story - which i have yet to write after 16 months. i teared up. i was lucky to have a wonderful compassionate gynae who is one of the few midwife friendly gynaes in johannesburg so i didnt feel as violated by the surgery. but i had ppd and i didnt bond til about 10 days after my darling daughter was born. i cried for 2 months... to be honest i think my midwife was shit, and will get another one for my next birth.

Karen said...

Katherine, What a great example of loving support from your midwife and the hospital staff.
I had my 2nd baby at home and was concerned about the possible attitudes of hospital staff if I needed to transfer (that was my biggest concern, really). Yours is an example of how integrated care works for women, so they are supported through each decision they must make during labor. Women deserve choices.
Congrats to you and thanks for sharing your story.

Photography by Emily Payne said...

Wow... I read and cried and then re-read and cried.. I knew that Maria was your midwife and am so happy that she had the confidence to lead you in the right direction in every way. I have photographed Maria a few times at the film festivals that I have told you about and am so excited that she helped unite you, Andrew and Luke. All my best,
Emily Payne
ps. see you all soon!

Aida said...

congratulations on the birth of your son.. your birth story sounds very similar to mine..

http://macamacam.wordpress.com/2008/01/09/the-failed-vbac-birth-story/

The Soggy Mom said...

Thank you for this. It DID help ME come to terms with my homebirth transfer/csection. My hospital experience was also very wonderful, all things considered. And yet its still so heartbreaking that with all the research, reading, believing and trusting, my little body just couldn't do it alone. Does that mean I'm less of a woman or less empowered? I think you just showed me that no, we are not. We both did our very best, and then made the right decision. Thank you.