My breech babies: Brooke, Brady and Blake.
“The road to motherhood is not always a clear and simple journey. I learned this first hand as all of my babies presented breech. I do think more women should be given the choice with breech babies – it should be an option to birth vaginally. Where we live, midwife’s are not allowed to deliver breech babies so we did have to go to the hospital [for VBAC] but it was such a different experience from my first [a cesarean].” – Heidi
Fall of 2006, I was so excited to be pregnant with our first child and like lots of moms-to-be I read all the pregnancy books on what to expect. I knew I wanted a natural birth but never once entertained the thought that things would not go the way I planned. My mom had 4 natural deliveries so I assumed that I would have similar birth experiences.
On the morning of February 26, 2007, I experienced a mild backache and found it difficult to sit at my desk at work. After struggling through the snowy trek of walking our dogs, and finishing my nightly routines, I could not sleep because of nagging discomfort in my lower back and decided to get into the tub around 7 p.m., which offered some relief. After my second bath, still not being able to sleep, and getting sick, I realized I was in labour!
We called our doula at 3 a.m.; contractions felt like Braxton Hicks1 but were not going away and I could not feel the baby moving anymore. To ease our worry, she suggested we head to the hospital to hear the baby’s heartbeat. Upon arriving at the hospital, around 6 a.m., I was confirmed I was 6-7cm and in full labour. I was shocked I had progressed so far. Then the nurse announced she felt feet rather than a head. As soon as the breech diagnosis was confirmed, things started happening really quickly. I felt like a bystander, and watched as I was prepped for an emergency cesarean section.
I was devastated. I asked through tears if baby would turn or if I could still deliver naturally. The obstetrician laughed; I had no choice – a cesarean section was my only option. I did not question these decisions that my caregivers made and never thought that I could advocate for a vaginal breech birth. It seemed like breech presentations meant babies could not be physically birthed naturally.
Instead of amazing memories of bringing a precious baby into the world, I will never forget feelings of utter powerlessness and disrespect. The environment did not lend itself to discussion about alternatives or my choices. I did not feel I could express myself or that I had an informed opinion. At first I thought I had failed myself and my baby—that I should have spoken up. Later I realized that even if I had the system would not have listened to me—unless I transformed myself into a screaming and angry woman, which is uncalled for. Non-informed consent and blind trust have been institutionalized for so long that no-one even notices this hospital culture. Now I see that my rights were utterly disregarded. I still cry when I think about it.
Brooke Elizabeth, 6lb 7oz, was named by her father after she was born. It felt amazing to finally meet my baby, but discouraging that I had to park myself outside the ICU in order to care for my healthy child, with good Apgar scores. I brought home a thriving, beautiful baby girl, yet her birth was one of the most painful and traumatic times of my life.
Pregnant with my second, winter of 2008, I knew I wanted a completely different birth experience and chose the care of a midwife. I was still unsure of birthing at home, because I didn’t know anyone who had experienced a homebirth, yet this seemed like my only alternative outside of the hospital (birth centers do not accept women who have had previous cesareans, or VBACs—vaginal births after cesareans).
I had a wonderful pregnancy and felt nurtured under midwifery care. I was determined to have an unmedicated VBAC. I asked a lot more questions and educated myself about options. Approaching the time of birth, I felt happy, prepared, and informed.
During my 36-37 weeks prenatal visit, my midwife thought my baby was breech. Again! I could not believe it.
All I could think about was the possibility of being forced into another cesarean section.
I was devastated. I felt frustrated, angry and even resentful toward my baby. Why was this happening to me? I had come to terms with homebirth but, because midwives do not have the jurisdiction to perform breech births (despite the fact that they have the training to do them safely), the choice was being taken away from me. I felt angry and again disempowered.
I determined I could get my little one to turn. I learned about breech tilts, pulsatilla, chiropractic Webster Technique, Craniosacral therapy, walking on hands and knees, laying on an ironing board, even the use of ice packs and headphones on my belly. When all failed, I will never forget what my wise midwife told me, “You don’t always get the birth that you want but the birth that you need. You will just have to plan for the best breech birth possible!” It was with her support that we set out to prepare for a natural breech birth.
My midwife referred me to an obstetrician experienced with vaginal breech. Used to working with midwives, he said he was comfortable with vaginal breech and sharing my care with my midwife. I felt again like circumstances were out of my control, and was afraid of the unknown; it made all the difference to have my familiar and caring midwife with me. I was grateful that they had such a good working relationship, as I benefited from their collegiality.
On October 19, around 8 p.m., labour started as it had with my first, although 12 days after my due date! This time when I felt the dull ache in my back and it wouldn’t go away, I knew it was labour.
Our midwife arrived at our home around midnight and announced I was 5-6 cm dilated. We arrived at the hospital at 2 a.m. and I was 6-7 cm.
I was nervous, and unsure of what to expect, andI found it extremely frustrating when the hospital staff tried to deter me from my decision: pushing a detailed, scary, waiver in my face, pointing out risks involved in a breech delivery. I was told my obstetrician was working, but the staff quickly took over in their roles, and it felt as though they didn’t share the same values as my midwife, obstetrician, or me. Just like last time, the medical staff attempted to scare me into having a cesarean section. But they were not successful because this time I had done my research. I knew that in reality a vaginal breech birth with an experienced caregiver is as safe as a cesarean section, that mortality rates for women significantly increases with cesarean sections, and that cesarean sections increase the risks for subsequent pregnancies.
The dull backache was stronger and I found the hot water of the shower most effective. Since a breech VBAC is considered high risk, I was prepped for a cesarean in case things didn’t go as planned. The constant fetal monitor and IV did not allow me to move freely and were as annoying as the back labour.
By 5 a.m. I was 10 cm dilated. My water broke on its own and I was ready to push. It was exiting! I didn’t know what to expect and in the beginning was not pushing effectively: either because this was my first time pushing or my worries about how I sounded and looked inhibited my body from working as it needed to. There was extra staff in the room voicing their opinions which I found distracting, but was able to focus on my husband and midwife.
It wasn’t until I let go, my instincts taking over, that I felt me and my baby working together; I was squatting on the bed and groaning with all my inner being. I was working with my body allowing it to do what it needed to move my baby down.
As we neared the end of the 2 hr mark, my “time limit” for pushing as a VBAC, my midwife negotiated with the obstetrician to give us 30 min more as I was doing so well. It was close to his shift ending and, although he agreed, he brought in the obstetrician that would be taking over after his shift. As my birth history was reviewed the new obstetrician commented, “She’s already had a cesarean and this baby’s breech, perhaps there is something wrong with your pelvis and you cannot have a vaginal birth”.
I felt the need to prove her wrong. I touched my perineum and felt a little male part, my baby was right there presenting frank breech! I had gotten out of bed and the nurses told me, “Stop pushing. Get on the bed.” Our midwife ran to get our first obstetrician back into the room.
The minutes on my back were the most excruciating and uncomfortable I had ever felt. Eventually, I was told to push continuously without stopping; it is customary to push a breech baby within 7 minutes of seeing their body parts. My midwife was present, and my obstetrician helped deliver my baby. It was very intense, and amazing, holding my son on my chest . Brady James was born at 7:26 a.m., a healthy 8lb 1oz, on October 20, 2008.It was a very healing and empowering experience, and I am thankful for the support from my midwife and obstetrician.
I had nurses ask me the next day why I would try to deliver naturally when I knew the baby was breech. Having gone through both a cesarean section and natural breech delivery—I would take the breech delivery any day!
Fall of 2011, my third pregnancy, I was overjoyed and optimistic that I would get my home water birth.
As my first 2 babies were both breech, we were a lot more aware of the baby’s position. So when our baby was still head up at 33 and then 34 weeks, I started to worry..
For weeks we tried to turn the baby using moxibustion, hypnotherapy and acupuncture, to no avail. I tried to remain optimistic, telling myself baby would turn, and went to bed every night listening to the Hypnobabies script on turning breech babies.
Around 38 weeks I was exhausted—mentally and emotionally— with the realization that nothing was going to work. I was tired of defending my body, the shape of my uterus and my baby. My babies simply preferred to lay breech. I was frustrated and felt a deep sadness giving up my hopes for a home water birth. It felt unfair that some women didn’t appreciate their luck.
I knew I had been through a natural breech delivery before. My midwife reminded me that I could still have a natural breech delivery. Still I had a good cry. It was a real moment of release for me — releasing the negative feelings around what I was giving up. and it I felt as if a huge weight was lifted. I was then able to refocus on having a positive birth experience.
We planned for a natural birth with the same obstetrician that delivered our son. I was better able to communicate what I wanted for this birth— freedom to move. This translated into intermittent monitoring and a hep-lock. I saw both my midwife and obstetrician on a weekly basis.
My due date came and went. I really relaxed and enjoyed my last days of pregnancy. It was a lovely state to be in.
This time Braxton Hicks were stronger. I thought I was in labour but then would wake, realizing I was still pregnant. Five days after my due date, contractions were not going away; it was noon. I made the kids lunch, contractions took my breath away. I called my husband at 1 p.m. unsure if it was active labour. When he got home 15 min later it was clear to him it was.
We called our midwife who said she would stop by around 3:30 p.m.. However, I felt really uncomfortable and hopped in the rental birth pool my husband prepared. As my body entered the water I instantly felt relief. I spiraled my hips and visualized this baby moving into a favourable birth position. It felt so good to be in the warm water. I felt in control, easily able to focus on my breathing and to visualize a peaceful and natural birth.
My husband could tell contractions were only a few minutes apart and called our midwife back. When she arrived, around 2:15 p.m., she confirmed that I was in labour and 8 cm dilated. We left for the hospital immediately and arrived by 3 p.m. I confided in my husband that I really did not want to leave the safety of our home and felt apprehensive about going to the hospital. As we checked in my labour completely stopped. I guess it is true your body needs to feel safe before giving birth!
Our obstetrician was in surgery and the resident on duty was very cheerful and suggested, ”Lets break your waters and get things going.” I relayed the information that had been discussed beforehand with my obstetrician—we wanted things to progress on their own naturally, with the hep-lock and intermittent fetal monitoring. I expected to be met with resistance however she was very pleasant. She explained their recommendation, but that it was ultimately our decision.
Now that I was at the hospital, had met the staff, who were on board with our wishes—I started to relax. I could again focus on my labour and meeting our baby. I started walking the halls, taking deep breaths in hopes this would bring the contractions back.
After a few minutes of walking, the contractions came back. I spent the next hour or so between sitting on my birth ball and having my husband rub my back and then in the shower/tub.
I heard the nurses discussing transferring me to the operating room to give birth. I tried not let it distract me but I yearned for the depth, space and privacy of our birth pool at home. It was now 6:30 p.m. . It felt like I was stuck at 9 cm and I was starting to feel an urgency for things to happen. Me and my midwife decided to take 30 min before considering breaking my waters.
A few minutes later my obstetrician came in; it was 6:45 p.m. and he was off duty at 7 p.m. He told us that he was going to stay but would not help deliver our baby if he was off duty. He broke my bag of water and relayed to the other obstetrician that I was still 9 cm dilated and he felt feet rather than a bottom. My baby was a footling breech! Within 10 min of breaking my water I was fully dilated and ready to push, it was 7 p.m.
I was apprehensive of experiencing pain being propped up on the bed, yet this time was different; I was better able to work with my body. With coaching from my midwife and nurse, and after only 17 min of pushing, I gave birth naturally to Blake Carter! I was supported by the obstetrician on duty and a resident as our obstetrician and midwife watched—it was an amazing experience!
The tone in the room was so positive and encouraging with this birth, as opposed to questioning why I would birth a baby breech, as with my second. The obstetrician and resident were great and genuinely interested in my well-being and in being involved with a natural breech delivery.
Having 3 breech babies, with very different birth stories, I have learned so much. With Brooke, I learned that things don’t always go the way we plan and sometimes things happen outside our control. With Brady, I confronted fears from my first birth; I realized that I could have a natural birth in the hospital. It was through Brady’s birth that I healed from my first. With Blake, I was grateful to experience a shift in the medical system in regards to attitudes toward the safety of vaginal breech births.
I hope that my personal birth experiences help to educate others about vaginal breech birth: that breech does not necessarily equal a cesarean; that women can ask for a second opinion or find a caregiver to assist in a natural birth; that women should feel empowered in their birth choices and experience and should trust in their inner strength and natural ability. Natural unmedicated vaginal breech births can be done and can be a wonderfully amazing and beautiful birth experience!
More photos and a birth video can be found at Vanessa Brown Photography