Last month, my second child was born. The pregnancy was full of surprises: aside from keeping the baby’s sex a mystery, he surprised us all by flipping from head-down to breech and back again multiple times over the last few weeks of my pregnancy. He was also much bigger than his older sister—8 ½ pounds to her 6 ½. But perhaps the biggest surprise was that I was able to have a good birth even though he was born by cesarean section.
As my pregnancy dragged on, I knew that having a C-section was a possibility. My three-year-old daughter had become breech at some point late in my pregnancy, and we didn’t know it until I was in labor. Luckily, I was able to have an external version performed mid-labor, and she was born a few hours later in a drug-free, vaginal birth. But I knew that experience was very rare. If my little guy wouldn’t stay head-down, he would have to be born by C-section.
I did not want a C-section. I definitely did not want an epidural (gross!) or a catheter (creepy and gross!). I didn’t want to be stuck on a table, feeling like a passive patient instead of a fierce, determined mother. I didn’t want to spend those minutes after birth numb and in recovery while my brand-new baby was whisked away somewhere out of sight. I never really cared if my baby was born in a tub or emerged to the strains of my favorite song, but I did want to come out on the other side of his birth feeling empowered and proud of the work I’d done to birth him.
And so, as it became apparent that this baby wasn’t going to stay in a good position, I began to reluctantly prepare for a C-section. Even as I did all the Spinning Babies exercises and visited the chiropractor and scheduled two versions to try to flip the baby, I also, grudgingly, started learning what was involved with a Cesarean birth. I learned about the concept of a “gentle Cesarean,” in which the mother’s wishes are respected as much as possible. I researched the differences between epidurals and spinal blocks, and discovered that I would still be fully conscious during surgery. I found out that I could ask for a clear drape so that I could see the baby being born. And I was reassured to find out that I could still hold and breastfeed the baby right after he was born.
Two days after the baby’s due date, I went in for an external version. The baby was turned head-down, and my partner and I were faced with a decision: wait for labor to begin and hope the baby stayed in place, or induce labor while the baby was still in a favorable position? Induction meant saying goodbye to a birth at the Minnesota Birth Center. We went to the Birth Center, where we consulted with Tasha, who helped me think about the decision in a positive way: it was a matter of choosing my priorities. I realized that my first priority was having a vaginal birth, so if induction could increase those odds, that was the best choice.
I went to the hospital that evening, excited to think I would probably meet my baby that night or the next morning. We started the labor induction process, which involved ripening my cervix overnight. I was so uncomfortable and nervous the whole night, but I was sure that by morning, we’d be ready to move on to the next step, Pitocin. Instead, our midwife Kaitlin arrived at the hospital and suggested we check to make sure the baby was still in a good position. An ultrasound revealed that he’d gone back to breech sometime overnight.
Because this baby’s position was so unstable, Kaitlin gently suggested that we think about a C-section. In that moment, as disappointed as I was, I also felt so safe and confident that I was prepared to make the right decision. I knew that the midwives at MBC had done everything possible to help me try to have the birth I wanted. Kaitlin spent time talking through the decision with my partner and me. She expressed her own disappointment, which made me feel like it was ok to let down my guard and share my feelings and ambivalence. By the time the surgery rolled around that night, my nerves were supplanted by excitement. Kaitlin explained what I should expect during the surgery and accompanied us into the operating room. She even took photos of my son’s birth—something I hadn’t thought I’d want, but am so glad to have. I don’t think I’d feel so good about my Cesarean experience if it weren’t for the guidance and care of the MBC midwives.
I encourage all pregnant women to think about what they really want out of birth, and how they could retain some of their priorities in the event of a C-section. Know your options for a more woman-centered C-section. I’m so happy I did some of that practical work, and the emotional work of coping with my feelings, before my son’s birth.
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