An Empowering and Healing Cesarean Section

by Krystal Cleaver on August 26, 2013

My first pregnancy was one that was mostly good, but the bad was very bad.  I had extremely bad swelling.  So bad I thought my skin would split open by the end of my workday.  And the carpal tunnel was sheer misery.  At eight months pregnant, the beginning of October 2008, I had cortisone shots in my hands to make the pain more bearable.  By the beginning of that November, the pain was starting to come back.  Baby’s due date was November 17th, but I begged for an induction.  My OB and I scheduled it for November 10th.  I was already partially dilated and mostly effaced, so I was a good candidate for an induction.

However, it actually was a textbook cascade of interventions that led to the inevitable end result, a c-section.  I was hooked up to a Pitocin drip to begin.  I had my water broken for me three hours later.  I had an epidural (after the Nubain’s luster wore off) three or four hours after my waters were broken.  About five hours after that, I pushed a posterior baby for three hours without being able to fully feel my legs or get off the bed or work at trying to shift the baby’s position by switching my position. They then told me I had one more hour to progress or I’d have a c-section. Needless to say, the baby didn’t budge, and after the fourth hour of pushing, I was wheeled into the operating room and my baby was cut out of me.  Finn Steven was beautiful and healthy and everything I had hoped for.  All the same, I felt like a failure.  I felt like I couldn’t even give birth properly and my body had failed me.  The best thing about the situation is that my son was born and he was amazing.  I didn’t get to touch or hold him until about three hours after he was born, while I was in recovery, and we had a rocky first few days (which I chalk up to being first-time parents), but we did manage to bond while in the hospital.  Right away I knew I loved him with a ferocious intensity and that I would die for him.  We established an amazing breastfeeding relationship, and he self-weaned at 15 months.

There are many things I would have done differently in Finn’s birthing process, in hindsight, but it actually set the stage for my second pregnancy.  See, my second pregnancy also resulted in a c-section, but it’s THAT c-section that healed any lingering hurt or doubts that I had from the first one.

My second son was my third pregnancy.  (The second pregnancy was a blighted ovum which resulted in a sudden and bloody trip to the emergency room and the performance of a d&c.)  Because of this, I had my first ultrasound at seven weeks to determine if there was actually a baby in there, and, to my absolute relief, there was!  The second ultrasound was done at 12 weeks when we couldn’t find a heartbeat by doppler, and in the five short weeks between the first and the second ultrasound, the bean had grown into a baby, with a cute nose and brow and chin and belly all seen in profile.  The third ultrasound gave us the reveal, another boy!  Finn was crushed, as he had his heart set on a little sister.  It also showed that I had placenta previa.  I had been contemplating a VBAC, switching from my regular OB who did not perform them at all to someone who would, but with that diagnosis, it became obvious that I had to come to terms with having another c-section.  I had two more ultrasounds for the duration of my prenatal care.  We would always check on the baby and then the placement of the placenta.  The ultrasound at 34 weeks had shown that the placenta previa was no longer complete, and for a short moment, I again thought about trying to pursue a VBAC route.

But at 34 weeks, 5 days, I started bleeding.  It was September 20th, 2012, my husband Erik’s birthday.  I was finishing up my shift at work, second shift, and we were going to have a great relaxing family weekend with good food and ice cream cake, a calm downtime before the storm, with four weeks left before baby‘s arrival.  We had scheduled the c-section for October 23rd, due date of October 27th!

I had been feeling the baby do a hearty move, and then there was a weird pressure down low, but hey, baby was a tumbler, so I didn’t think anything of it.  Right there at the very end of my shift, 9pm on the dot for once, I felt like I had peed a little, so I toddled off to the bathroom to use the facilities and check it out.  I didn’t expect to see blood, but there it was.

Since I couldn’t get ahold of my husband (I’d forgotten it was game night) I waddled to my car and drove myself home.  By this time it was 9:30pm.  I’m surprised I didn’t get into an accident, since halfway to home I realized I hadn’t felt the baby move in a while and kind of drove pretty reckless.  When I got home, I freaked out on my husband a bit, I’ll admit, and then I told him and Finn to get ready to leave because we were heading to the hospital.  Even though the placenta previa had been cleared, I was still pre-term with bleeding and cramping and I didn’t want to risk anything.

We got some stuff together and hopped in the car (where I started to feel the baby move again, thank goodness), and once at the hospital I got admitted right away.  I even got a posh labor and delivery room for observation instead of one of the triage rooms in the old part of the Birthing Center (my local hospital had just built a whole new and amazing wing just for birthing).  By this time it was 10pm, so Erik and I talked it over, and we got ahold of our friends, who took Finn overnight.  We didn’t want to chance anything if this baby was going to be born, and I wanted Erik with me.  Before Finn left, he cried that he didn’t want to leave because I had an ouchie and he wanted to take care of me, and oh, how he made me cry.

When Finn was gone, Erik and I could relax a bit and wait it out.  I was still bleeding a bit, and it became obvious that my cramps were actually contractions.  Baby kept squirming away from the fetal monitor, so my nurse left it off for a while.  As long as I felt him moving, that’s all we cared about.

I had an ultrasound (the sixth one of this pregnancy) to help assess the situation, and then the doctor who was on that night (an absolutely wonderful woman) came in and checked my cervix, which was 3cm dilated, to my surprise.  Considering I was having contractions, 3cm dilated, and still bleeding it was a foregone conclusion that Erik and I were going to become parents again that night, no waiting, no trying to stop the process.  Since my OB was on vacation (doing Oktoberfest in Germany of all things!), the doctor who was already there was to be the one to perform the surgery/delivery.

So I was prepped for the operating room, and the whole time Erik and I managed to crack jokes and try to make light of something that was actually pretty serious.  Because baby was early, we hadn’t even started on some of the things we had wanted to accomplish before baby’s arrival.  We had also counted on four more weeks of my regular pay (my husband is the stay-at-home parent), and we really were not ready!  The nurses and PCAs thought we were hilarious, and when I was rolled into the operating room everyone was amazed at my sense of calmness threaded with levity.  It’s not that I was blasé and not taking things seriously, but it was more like I was fatalistic.  We were there, and it was happening.

The only time I panicked was when the spinal block kicked in.  Erik wasn’t in the operating room with me yet. I couldn’t move my legs, it felt like I was falling through my butt, and all I wanted to do was shift my weight and I couldn’t.  I had to stop thinking and just breathe, otherwise I would have full-on freaked out, and if that had happened they would have put me under.  Putting me under would have meant I wouldn’t have seen my baby right away, and that was something I couldn’t bear.  Once again I was complimented on my poise. When Erik joined me, I clung to him as my lifeline.

The cutting began soon after.  The baby’s delivery went surprisingly fast.  Someone had to practically sit on my upper abdomen to push the little one out.  He didn’t cry right away, and I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time…  But with a little prompting, his little voice started protesting against the world, and what a beautiful sound.  Nearly 35 weeks and his cry was amazing and strong.  Which of course made me cry.  Hard.  Hard enough to vomit.  Do you know how ridiculous it feels to vomit while laying with numbed legs, arms spread, on a table while also cut open?

But Archer Rhodes was born at 2:59am, and he was beautiful.  5 lbs, 14oz, and 18” of beautiful.  He was cleaned up and assessed in my line of sight (which didn’t happen with Finn’s birth), and I could see him, his precious little face, his tiny body, so pink and healthy.  I gripped Erik’s hand so hard.

I didn’t see Archer again until 12 hours later, and I didn’t get to hold him until that night.  I began my relationship with the hospital-provided breast pump right away, and as soon as I got the all-clear from the NICU nurses, I put Archer to breast.  He fed like a champ, even though he was so small that he had to take frequent rests and I had to pump the surplus to relieve engorgement.  I held him as much as I could, stayed with him as long as I could, and kissed him at every opportunity.

Even with the separation and hurdles that we had to jump, we have bonded beautifully.  I think part of our success is that I was completely at peace with his birth.  After the surgery was over, I learned that his umbilical cord was only 38″.  (A normal cord is 60″+.)  Even if I had managed to attempt a VBAC (or hadn’t had a c-section with Finn in the first place), his cord would have made it impossible to birth him vaginally without extreme risk to himself and to me.  Also, I had started to have placental abruption (a product of his short cord and his tumbling).  To deliver him, the doctor had to cut through the placenta, proving that it was still actually very low and would have made a VBAC risky.  So many things added up, before and after, to make Archer’s c-section birth a healing experience rather than the disappointing and resentful one that Finn’s was.  I am grateful to the birthing team in that operating room for not letting me or my husband know just how critical every moment was and how badly the situation could have gone.  Everyone was calm and supportive and efficient.

Archer was in the NICU for six hard days, but he is six months old now and beautiful and amazing and sassy.  He is proof that c-sections CAN be empowering.  He is proof that not all c-sections have to be a sign of failure.  In the end he chose his entrance, he chose his time, and we were very, very lucky.  I’d call that a win.

healing c-section

healing c-section

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