I was touched by Jennifer’s birth story. Things obviously didn’t go how she had wanted but I think her story shows how, when women are allowed to make their own choices– guided by the spirit– every birth situation can be beautiful and healing. I am so glad she was willing to share.
March 4. My friends got together and threw a Blessingway for me. It was beautiful. Many of my friends and their children came to support me and lift up their blessings for my impending VBAC. They made a labyrinth for me to walk. It was so special. As I walked the labyrinth, I threw flower petals in my path, marking the blessings I sent out in hopes of a smooth and easy labor and a beautiful healthy baby girl.
At the end of my Blessingway, one of my friends, a chiropractor, taught me some acupressure points to help make the irregular contractions more meaningful and even. After the Blessingway, my contractions became regular and strong. I started having to poop a lot and the next morning I passed a quarter-sized mucous blog that had red streaks in it. I got really excited. I thought, “This is it!”
March 5th. I had been contracting pretty regularly at about 6 minutes apart but wasn’t getting any closer, so I went for a walk. One very old Russian immigrant grandmother who lives in our apartment complex, barely speaks English, and who has had a crush on my son since he was born came to give me some grandmotherly advice on laboring.
I got home and went to lie down and rest, but got woken by a particularly strong contraction accompanied by a hard kick to my lungs… When I got up, I found that my son had conked out. Shawn carried him into the bedroom now that I wasn’t taking up the whole bed… and then he came out to help me through some hard contractions that we finally found were 4 minutes apart… so Shawn called Kristina. She left the birthday party she was at and came to my rescue.
When Kristina got there, my contractions had spaced out to about 11 minutes. We timed a few and worked through a couple of hard ones, but it was clear that my work was done for the night. I was absolutely exhausted. Kristina told me to get some rest and she went back to her party.
I lay down on the couch, disappointed… awfully disappointed that things pretty much tanked. But ecstatic that I wasn’t in the hospital where they would start hassling me about a repeat cesarean for stalled labor.
March 6th. Kristina and I were talking, we both agreed that my body will do what it should in its own time and that trying to rush things is just going to wear me out physically and emotionally. We talked about my need to control things and my excitement over what seemed to be labor and how sometimes our bodies just ease into things. After that I prayed and got out my scriptures. I laid the scriptures spine down on the table and just let them fall open (I do that when I am just reading for inspiration or peace rather than for study) and they fell open to Exodus 31 and the first thing that my eyes fell on was verse 17
It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.
I thought that was pretty clear!
March 7th. I started having extremely consistent contractions at 8 minutes apart and lasting around 60 seconds, but not painful… they just felt like pressure, squeezing, and kind of achy like I was about to start my period and it took my breath away and my heart raced. They lasted all week.
March 13th. The contractions started coming every 5 minutes and lasting 2 minutes each. I decided to go into the hospital to make sure the baby was tolerating the long contractions. When we got there they stopped us at the door saying that Dr. L was on duty and was refusing to attend me for a VBAC, and although they can’t technically turn me away in labor, unless I signed a cesarean consent form they would not be able to do more than put me in a bed and see if I was in labor. So we left.
We headed to another hospital. They put me on the contraction and heart rate monitors, but before we even got there my contractions had slowed. On the monitors though, Lirum was doing fantastic. BUT:
My blood pressure was really high. That concerned me. They did a vaginal exam (that was excruciating) I was barely dilated a fingertip. With my pressure being high and no dilation, we decided to do a Biophysical Profile and monitor my blood pressures for a while and then do another cervical check to see if I was indeed in labor.
Lirum BARELY got an 8/8 on the BPP, she didn’t want to move, but at the last second she arched her back and the tech called it good. The placenta… oh the placenta… 1 1/2 weeks before, my placenta looked spotty, but not really terribly calcified. That day it was completely white; there weren’t any dark spots on it at all. That is a REALLY fast degradation! The tech saw it and couldn’t help but say, “WOW! That placenta is all used up!” I knew as soon as I saw that bright white placenta that I wasn’t going to get my VBAC… especially with my blood pressure so high.
We got back to the room, and they came to check my dilation to see if I was progressing at all. My cervix hadn’t budged. I pretty much just told everyone there that I would not be having a VBAC. I knew it. Sure enough the doctor came in and said that if I were in active labor that night, she wouldn’t have a problem with me having a VBAC, but to wait who knows how much longer for me to start active labor on my own ( since induction wasn’t an option) was just too risky.
I wasn’t even upset! I mean, sure, I was disappointed, feeling a loss of something I had worked so hard to achieve, but really, the whole point of working for a VBAC was to give my baby girl the best start in life. And now it was apparent that a VBAC wasn’t the best start I could give her. If I waited for labor to start on its own, it could be weeks, and by that time the placenta could give out entirely… It was just too risky.
IT WAS MY CHOICE. That made all the difference.
March 14th. I called the hospital near my home to schedule my medically necessary repeat cesarean and they said that if I was not in ACTIVE labor, they would transfer me to Seattle because of my seizures. I was irate. I called the hospital I’d been at the day before and got to talk to my favorite OB from OBAC. We discussed my case and she consulted with other docs at the hospital and we decided that my case was not “emergent” meaning my and Lirum’s lives were not in immediate danger. Lirum had been doing well even through the contractions and my placenta was not detached. It was on its last legs, but it hadn’t given out yet. So, we scheduled me for Wednesday, March 17th at 2pm with a noon check in time.
Shawn was beside himself with joy. He was still holding out hope that we could do something to get me to go into labor naturally so we could VBAC, and now we had 3 more days to try rather than having to go in that day.
I posted our plans online, as there were several people following my progress on different sites. They all knew how important it was to me to try for a VBAC. After Alex’s birth, I swore I would VBAC. I worked hard over the next 3 years to educate myself about birth and my own health. I learned more about VBAC and repeat cesarean than most doctors! And when some of my friends heard that I had consented to a repeat cesarean, the proverbial crap hit the fan. I got bombarded by people telling me that I was giving up… that the docs had pulled the wool over my eyes… that Lirum was fine and why was I not still working for it… etc… It really hurt. I made the decision based on all the available evidence. I was comfortable with my choice. I knew it was right. These people, knowing only bits and parts of the whole story, passed judgment on me. I started to question my choice. Was I really making the right choice, or was I just scared? I talked to Kristina and she helped me to understand that most of the people I had bashing my choice were people who were not invested in me as a whole… just in seeing me have a vaginal birth. These people were on crusades to have VBAC’s, or were so invested in seeing me have the one they couldn’t have, that nothing else mattered to them. Putting that all into perspective reassured me that I was doing the right thing.
March 15th. We headed to the chiropractor’s. She was amazing! We worked for over 2 hours using homeopathics, acupressure, and adjustments… but because of where my placenta was located, turning the baby from where she was lying on my right side to my left side to help her press on the cervix was unlikely. The contractions got stronger though and we thought if we just went home and rested, we would go into active labor… but by the next day the contractions slowed back down. I knew my body wasn’t going to do this.
March 17. Grandma, Shawn, Alex, and I got to the hospital at noon. They put me in a triage room and told me to change into the hospital gown. They checked my vitals… my blood pressure was still down! They put me on the monitor and did a cervical check. I wasn’t dilated at all, still. Deep down I knew that would happen, but I wasn’t prepared for how that would make me feel. This was the point of no return in my mind. For some reason, even though I had decided to have a cesarean, I guess I had still held a shred of hope that maybe the VBAC wasn’t gone. Shawn was as disappointed as I was.
The nurse came to put the IV in and draw some blood. Then the doctors came in to see me. They poked my belly this way and that, and determined that because of the amount of weight I gained since my last cesarean, following the existing surgical scar would be unrealistic. They decided to do a “bikini cut” cesarean. They also told me that they would have to use staples instead of sutures as I had requested because the incision would be under a skin fold. A little bit after that, someone came in and shaved my belly and the tip of my pubic hair to allow for the surgery.
About 20 minutes later, a L&D nurse named Sharon came to take me to the O.R., I was surprised to see that they asked me if I would rather WALK than be wheeled up on a bed or wheelchair! That was the first moment that I realized that this experience truly would be more dignified.
I walked to the O.R., leaving my husband on the elevator because they still weren’t sure if the anesthetist would allow him into the main O.R. I walked onto the floor and was met by surprised stares from people who hadn’t seen a patient walk onto the floor in a long time. Apparently the only cesareans that are done on that floor are extreme emergencies. I walked into the room and was met by a bustle of people cheerily talking and listening to upbeat music. I was sat on the table and strapped on the baby monitor. Someone came over and asked if I liked the music. I suddenly remembered that I had put in my cesarean plan that I wanted to be asked this question. It completely slipped my mind. They said they had Pandora.com up on the computer and asked me who my favorite artist was. I told them I really liked Norah Jones and they went and typed her name in. Immediately I heard more soothing music, I almost cried… they were seriously honoring my birth plan!
Soon the anesthetist came in. I asked him if my husband could come in during the cesarean. He looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Well of course!” After trying for nearly half an hour and failing each time he stuck me, and putting me in a lot of pain from each jab… he FINALLY gave up. It took him two tries to get the epidural in instead. We made small talk for a bit and then suddenly, my blood pressure plummeted, I got nausea and sweaty and the anesthesiologist was right there… putting something into my IV… and asking me questions… I don’t recall the questions he asked, but he seemed concerned and Shawn kept asking why my pressure was low, at one point he said it was 79/46. The room kind of faded for a second, but then all of a sudden my heart was racing and the anesthesiologist said, “There we go!” The whole room breathed a sigh of relief and went back to business, and I went back to talking to my husband.
The OBs came in then, and the curtain went up and they started taping my belly up so that they could get at the right spot to do the surgery. I could still feel everything, and it was very interesting… cold prep solution and the tape and then they just waited… every few minutes they would draw something across my belly and ask if I could feel that. Eventually I couldn’t and they went to work. During the next 25 minutes, I talked with Shawn and asked questions of the anesthetist and OBs… it was nice. Nothing was ever talked about except that it directly affected me and my baby. Every 10 minutes or so, when I would start to feel my legs, the anesthetist put more medication in the epidural. Then it felt like they practically STOOD on my stomach and I felt pulling and I couldn’t breathe. I remembered that this was the way I felt just before my son was born. I got excited… apparently too excited. Shawn started telling me to calm down because I started shaking in anticipation. Seconds later I felt a release and completely lost the ability to take a breath in. The anesthetist leaned toward me and told me to breathe.
And then I heard my baby girl. The room went dead silent. I gasped and actually started to hyperventilate a little, and then the tears came, and I started talking to her… telling her I was there and that I would hold her in a minute… They took her to the NICU table and checked her briefly and then they wheeled the NICU bed over to where I could see her. Sharon told them that I wanted to keep the placenta and that I didn’t want Lirum wiped off before I could touch her. Everyone who mentioned the baby called her by her name instead of calling her “baby” or “chunker” like the last cesarean team did to my son. They had asked during the prep what her name was and everyone in the room knew it and actually remembered. I felt full of joy and peace. I touched my baby and kissed her head before she was cleaned off. I watched as they shortened the cord stump and did all their other checks and wiped her off. They said her Apgar scores were 8 and 9. Then they wrapped her up and handed her to Shawn and he came over and held her by me and I reached over and touched her and stroked her cheek and listened as Shawn talked soothing words to her… she was beautiful. She had a head full of dark hair the color of Shawn’s, chubby cheeks that just made me want to kiss her and never stop and olive complexion just like Shawn’s.
She is going to be the most beautiful woman to walk the earth.
Shawn took Lirum to the NICU for observation after I had time with her. It only took another 20 minutes to close me up and install the wound vac, during which time Sharon held my hand continuously, telling me what to expect in the days ahead and how beautiful Lirum was. And the doctor softly said to me, “Jennifer, you did everything right. You worked so hard, and you have a beautiful little girl! I am so sorry you didn’t get your VBAC.” I cried. That little act of mercy will stay with me forever.
Then they dropped the curtain and waited till I could feel my legs. Then they brought in a monstrosity of a bed that was to be my home for the next 3 days, and aired up the mattress that was already underneath me and moved me over to the bed. I was wheeled to the Post-op Recovery Area where I was watched for the next hour and a half by a nurse who literally never left my bedside. She checked my uterus every 15 minutes, gave me ice chips when I asked for them, and monitored my blood pressure, temp, and how far up the anesthesia was still effective. I felt cared for. I felt like I wasn’t forgotten. Someone was there, talking to me every minute, I wasn’t just shoved aside. The recovery nurse talked to me about the birth and how I felt and the baby and everything! I told her about how we had come to this point and all the support that I had. Things couldn’t have been better… well unless I had a VBAC… but for a cesarean it was ideal.
I can’t believe the difference education and preparation made in our experience. As well as the way the hospital and staff treated me and my baby.
I was blessed with a healing experience.