I spent my whole life dreaming about my babies. I’ve loved children since I was young, and looked forward to being a mother for as long as I can remember. When my husband Kai and I got married, I was pregnant within a month. We couldn’t have been happier about it. I didn’t exactly enjoy being pregnant as much as I thought I would – his kicks and rolls didn’t feel sweet and tender, it felt more like having an alien in my belly – but I looked forward to giving birth with the excited anticipation of a first time mother. I read everything I could find, and prepared for birth and breastfeeding with real enthusiasm. I surrounded myself with positive birth stories, and by the time the end of my pregnancy came near, I felt like there wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle.
And then at 36 weeks, my baby turned breech. I was seeing nurse midwives at a hospital, and when the midwife discovered that my baby was head up, I was surprised by how big of a deal she made of it. I had read plenty of positive breech birth stories, and didn’t see any reason to be concerned. But, of course, the hospital had a strict policy about breech babies only being delivered by cesarean, and in Utah all licensed midwives are legally banned from attending vaginal breech deliveries, both at the hospital and at home. For two weeks after discovering he was breech, I was really unconcerned. I figured if he could flip head up, he could flip back down. Silly me. At 38 weeks he was still breech, and the midwives suggested I have an external cephalic version the next day. I watched a few YouTube videos of the procedure, so I went in thinking it would be easy and painless, and expecting it to work. I wish I had had time to do a little more research, but everything seemed to happen so fast.
The version was horrible.
Take your hand and try to touch your spine, and you’ll understand how it felt. And, of course, it didn’t work. A common theme that I’ve since noticed in birth stories is that the more power you give to doctors, the less you keep for yourself. While laying in the hospital bed after this excruciating (and, I later learned, quite risky) procedure – wearing a paper thin gown and with tubes coming out of my arm, I might add – the O.B and my midwife had a little conference together on the other side of the room, where they pulled out their planners and scheduled my c-section. They didn’t bother discussing it with me, and when I asked why they insisted on scheduling it at 39 weeks, the O.B. said, “Because that’s just what we do.” I asked again, thinking that maybe wording my question would get me a different answer, but he said the same thing: that’s just what we do. I had heard stories of women’s struggles to birth the way they choose in a hospital, but I figured that since I had read and prepared as well as I could, I would be able to conquer any obstacles that came my way. But after the failed version I came home in tears, realizing that my options were extremely limited.
I got online to start looking for some answers, and the place I started was Birth Without Fear, where January had been inspired to write two posts in a row, one about breech birth, and the next about how to have a positive C-Section. I will always be grateful for the support and knowledge and love that she shared with me on that trying, sad day.
At this point I started scrambling for other options. I started going to the pool at my gym to do hand stands, I did moxibustion, I went to a wonderful chiropractor who did the Webster method, I even laid on my ironing board propped up on our couch with a bag of ice on the top of my belly and a warm rice bag on the bottom. I also called my birth class teacher, who was so supportive and helped me stay positive and strong. She recommended a doctor a few miles north of where I live who is known for being fearless. He’s delivered so many babies that he’s not afraid of multiples, breech, or any other versions of birth.
At 38 ½ weeks I switched care and met him for the first time. He let me ask him question after question for over an hour, which my other midwives and O.B. hadn’t been willing to do. He explained to me why he was hesitant to deliver breech births vaginally, especially to a first time mother, explaining the reasons why it was a little more dangerous than a typical birth. I was able, for the first time, to express my concerns about having a c-section (which I considered equally, if not more, risky), everything from my baby not experiencing any labor and being born before he was ready to all the procedures that happen after a surgical birth that are often avoided or delayed after a vaginal birth. I wanted to be sure that my baby was ready to be here, and that when he came out he could have the same experience that he would have had if he was born vaginally, i.e. going straight to my chest, nursing as soon as he was ready, and not leaving the warmth of my skin until we were both good and ready.
Dr. Parker explained that they preferred to schedule c-sections before 40 weeks because if I was to go into labor, and the baby started moving down before I was fully dilated, there was an increased risk of cord prolapse and head entrapment (if the baby’s feet slip through the cervix before it reaches 10 cm, the head can become stuck, and the cord can become compressed). He also explained that the operating room is quite cold, and the nurses aren’t comfortable letting the baby stay for long. Apparently they started letting babies stay in the O.R. with their parents after surgery, but one time, while all the nurses’ and doctor’s attention was on the mother, a baby began turning blue. The baby was fine, but they’re now very uncomfortable leaving babies with parents without a nurse to keep an eye them, and (they claim) there aren’t enough nurses to have an extra one for the baby, or there isn’t enough room, or something. I also asked if they could delay cord clamping, and he said the risk of infection was too high to keep me open for long, but that he’d be willing to give the baby a few extra moments before cutting the cord.
I wasn’t exactly excited about having a c-section, but my situation, as I saw it, was this: breech birth is most safe when it’s attended by someone who is well trained in the art of vaginal breech birth. Where I was in the world at that moment, there was no one that I knew of who could assist me. So I could either deliver this baby at home alone, which I felt totally unprepared for and considered too risky, or I could have a surgical birth. I didn’t love those options, but at almost 39 weeks, there didn’t see much else to do, besides fly to The Farm in Tennessee (which I honestly considered).
After my conversation with Dr. Parker, I felt such a strong feeling of peace. I felt surprisingly hopeful and positive. I knew that my options at that moment in time were limited, and that there were a risks involved with any decision, but I also knew that Heavenly Father could fix anything. I realized that my birth and my baby were just as important to God as they were to me, and that he’d make up for the parts that didn’t go perfectly. Dr. Parker kindly asked if I’d like to schedule a c-section (such a nice change from the last doctor!), and when we looked at his schedule, I felt incredibly good about a date that was just 3 days later than the first planned surgery. I left his office feeling happy and excited, and my husband and I began looking forward to the day that we’d see our baby!
My section was scheduled for 7:30 am, which meant that I had to be at the hospital by 6, which meant that I had to wake up at 4:30 (I figured if this was going to be a planned event, I might as well take a shower and put some mascara on, because I could). And brilliantly, at 4:10, 20 minutes before the alarm went off, my water broke. I felt a pop and a huge gush, and jumped out of bed and ran into the shower, giddy with excitement. It was such a blessing to know that my little baby was getting himself ready to come into the world, and that September 29 would have been his birthday with or without the surgery.
My water breaking meant that they couldn’t attempt another ECV, which I was fine with (because it’s terrible). So we took our time getting ready and moseyed on over to the hospital a few minutes later than we planned. Before leaving, Kai gave me a blessing that seemed to infuse me to the core with peace and assurance. It said that Heavenly Father was pleased with my willingness to have children, and that he’d bless me for sacrifice. I definitely witnessed those promised blessings during the next few days.
When we got to the hospital, I was told that my doctor wouldn’t be able to make it in that day, and that another doctor would be performing my surgery. I was totally crushed since I had developed such a bond with Dr. Parker, but got prepped like normal, and right before I went in to the O.R., my doctor showed up like a knight in shining armor. Apparently his mother had died the day before, but he knew how important it was to me that he be there, and through his deep sadness and grief managed to show up to help bring my baby to me safely, which was the first in a long line of tender mercies. I know we don’t like to talk about doctors in terms of knights and saviors, because we’re the warriors and deliverers of our babies, but I felt like his willingness to show up that morning was heroic, and I was so relieved, and so grateful. I had never been happier to see a doctor in my life.
With my husband by my side, holding my hand the whole time, Dr. Parker surgically brought my baby boy into the world, and it was the most wonderful experience. After about 10 minutes of surgery, they lifted my son into the air so I could see him (we hadn’t known if it was a boy or girl until that point), and my husband proudly announced that it was a boy! The sight of my son’s scrunched, wrinkled, beautiful face was everything I had hoped for.
Dr. Parker said there was surprisingly little bleeding and the baby was doing fine, so he held him for a few extra seconds and let as much of that precious blood get to him as possible. Our boy was then separated from me for the first time, wiped down, weighed quickly, and handed over to my husband wrapped up in those stripped hospital receiving blankets. While I was waiting for him to be brought to me, the nurse announced that he was 7 pounds 2 ounces and had tons of dark hair!
Kai brought him over to me, and I will never forget the sight of my son and my husband together for the first time. We often talk about women becoming mothers, but in that moment I witnessed my husband change from a man to a father, and it was one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever seen. I kissed my baby’s face and kept saying, “My baby, my sweet baby!” I was worried about not experiencing the love cocktail of birth, but it was truly euphoric seeing and kissing my son for the first time. I was elated, and felt like I was floating for hours after.
Kai took our beautiful son to the nursery where they checked everything out, and they said his temperature was a little too low for a bath (which I had wanted to delay, anyway), so Kai offered to take the baby and keep him warm while they waited for my surgery to be done, which was great because when I finally held my son, I got to smell that amazing newborn smell. Incidentally, while the doctor was sewing me up, he informed me that I only had one ovary and one fallopian tube. I was shocked as I had never had any indication that I didn’t have all of my, uh, baby making parts, but it was hugely eye opening as to why my baby felt more comfortable in the breech position. I really wanted to understand why my baby was breech, and it was a real blessing to have that insight, both to understand my first pregnancy, and to prepare for potential future breech babies.
After being sewn up and taken to a recovery room, I fully expected to see my husband and baby as soon as possible, and kept waiting to see them walk through the door. They, on the other hand, were expecting me to come through their door in the room I’d eventually stay in for the next 2 days. I waited for almost an hour, making the grand total of time away from my baby almost TWO HOURS!!! I wish that I had known that it was standard to monitor mothers after surgery for an hour WITHOUT THEIR BABIES (who came up with this ridiculous idea, anyways?!), because I would have been much more demanding, but as I laid there I was totally blissed out with this huge crazy grin on my face. I had finally kissed my baby’s face, and he was beautiful and perfect, and I had done something pretty huge and scary, and come out the end of it a mother.
They finally wheeled me down to my room and there were my gorgeous men waiting for me. I immediately stripped off my gown, unwrapped my baby, and held him close to my skin and inspected him from head to toe, smelling his delicious smell and looking into his deep dark eyes. We tried nursing immediately, but it didn’t go great, so I just held him and talked to him, and my husband and I spent the next 2 days laying in bed, skin to skin, with our beautiful baby boy. It took a while to find just the right name, but right before we left the hospital we named him Kaimoku Max Barrus. He, like all babies do, has become the light of our lives, and we’re so grateful that he finally came down to our family.
I’ve had the last 9 months to reflect on my son’s birth, and after turning the events over and over in my mind (should I have tried to free birth him at home, should I have looked harder for a midwife who would attend me, should I have started handstands at the pool and chiropractic care earlier??), it finally occurred to me that what I experienced that day was BIRTH. There were so many parallels to the natural vaginal birth I had hoped to have: the study and preparation, the anticipation of experiencing something unknown and challenging, the huge effort, and the total relief when it was over. My husband was my epidural (well, he was the epidural to my epidural, which wasn’t totally comfortable at first – holding his hand kept me from fainting), and when it got difficult or scary I just looked into his eyes and knew it was going to be okay. The intense rush of love and emotion that overcame me when my baby was born was indescribable, just like I had hoped. When it was all over I was a MOTHER.
My care providers, at the end anyways, listened to me and allowed me to be as much of a participant as possible, and through it all I felt empowered and able to make choices for myself and for my baby. There were some downsides to surgery, including so much time spent away from my baby (though it was a very beautiful and sweet experience for my husband, who has had a unique and wonderful bond with our baby because of that time spent together), as well as difficulties with breastfeeding.
It took us three months to work through our nursing issues, which included a bad case of thrush because of all the antibiotics, but we managed to figure things out in the end. Breastfeeding has been great ever since. I continue to put great faith in women’s bodies ability to give birth in all sorts of circumstances, and look forward to having a different experience the next time around. And while I would never presume to make the decision for anyone else, for us at that time, my surgical birth was the best choice I could have made. Through it all we felt so much peace. We will make different choices the next time around, because that’s life, but I will make those choices without fear, with a strengthened trust in my intuition, my body, and my ability to do difficult, beautiful, powerful things.