My water broke when I was 35 weeks. It was an “oh no!” moment. I really wished I’d peed myself, but knew I hadn’t. She’d been breech all along. Despite my inversions, remedies, and visualizations, I knew she hadn’t turned. Maybe I should have been concerned about her being preterm. In reality, my first concern was that I was on my way to the operating room. So much for that waterbirth I’d wanted.
There was an eerie calm in the car as we drove to the hospital. Our son came with us. We’re a military family living overseas. My parents were coming to help with birth logistics but they weren’t scheduled to arrive for another month. This emergency C-section was going to be a family affair.
Months earlier I’d opted out of care at the base hospital. My son was born at a military facility. His birth was phenomenal, empowering, and un-medicated. We have a picture of him wearing the t-shirt they put on all the newborns: “property of the US government”. Really they mean it; don’t take the t-shirt home. I’m a big fan of military medicine. But for some reason when it was time to enroll in prenatal care for our daughter, I had a visceral feeling that we belonged with the British caregivers at the NHS.
They put me on a monitor and brought us some tea. The OB came in to explain our options. Options?!? I had options! We could choose to have a Cesarean right then. We could try an external version and an induction. Or we could let labor progress and deliver her vaginally.
My husband, in a shining moment of feminism, told me it was my body and he trusted me to decide. My answer to him was, “I am confident I can birth her.” That shocked me a bit because it felt 100% true, yet I wasn’t sure if it should be true.
Twelve hours later, we were walking the halls before visiting hours ended, 1960s-style visiting hours being one of the few detractions of our NHS birth experience. I told my husband that I needed to give myself permission to really labor. I’d been holding it off all day. He went home. I decided to take a nap and then have my baby. And I did.
When I woke up from my nap, I started doing yoga, child’s pose in a curtained off corner of a bay of metal beds that look like they came off the set of a WWII movie. That military hospital’s looking pretty glamorous right about now. I meditate on the word “courage” and press my forehead into the thin mattress, telling my baby that I will open my cervix for her, I will press my head against this bed and we’ll just pretend it’s your head pressing against my cervix. Things are moving along now.
There are no monitors. No nurses. No doula. No dad. It’s just me and this upside down baby and God, and the mom three beds down who thankfully took a sleeping pill. Our next meditation is “faith”. Somehow this is going to be ok. We do a lot of cat-cow.
We make 35 trips to the bathroom down the hall. This is so not the spa version of American childbirth. Pacing, swaying, lunges; “patience”.
Now it’s getting real. My hips ache in a way they never did birthing my son. It’s like I need them to move out of the way so her hips can work their way past mine. “Work”. This is going to be work. Horse pose. Warrior. Lizard. Monkey. When my prenatal yoga teacher said we were going to do monkey pose I was all into it until it became clear that she meant for us to do the splits. Now I do every hip opener I can contort myself into. I’m getting louder too. The midwives pop in to check on me once in a while, then they leave us to our work.
24 hours after my water broke, we enter our last gate: “Love”. No more yoga poses, just lots of “oooooo-pen” vocalizations as the midwives rush me to a delivery suite. I was a bit like an animal, bothered by the bright lights and loud noises. The next hour was a little less zen than the four hours that preceded it, but no less miraculous: Matilda Jane, 5lbs 12 oz and who knows how long because they don’t measure them in England.
The secondar miracle is that an OB caught my breech baby. In a hospital. On purpose. As an American, I still can hardly believe it. He cried when I explained how it is in the States and how blessed I felt to have the team of providers that we had with us in that room.
This was the mainstream medicine approach. We didn’t do anything sneaky or even unconventional. I walked into the emergency room with preterm labor and walked out of the hospital a few days later without so much as a single stitch, carrying a perfectly healthy baby girl. Take note, America.