Get one mother talking about how their baby was born, and soon almost every mother chimes in. Birth stories unite us as much as they differentiate us. They teach us, warn us, and possibly even provide some level of birth control. Some birth stories traumatize (either the mother or the listener) and some comfort. I’ve had two c-sections and my experiences have contributed to my identity. Almost a decade apart from each other, my birth stories go a little something like this…
Elle’s Birth: 2007
Elle was two days late. When Wednesday came and went and nothing happened, I was disappointed. “Firstborns are usually late,” was the rumor I’d heard. But I was huge, swollen, and sleep-deprived. Mama was ready to meet her baby.
After another sleepless night, I returned to our bed once my husband got up to go to work. I was dozing off when I suddenly felt a lot of fluid between my legs, soaking the bed. My eyes shot open and I hobbled my way over to the bathroom where my husband was taking a shower. “Adam,” I said, “I think my water just broke.”
The contractions I’d been feeling for weeks changed in intensity and frequency. By the time we were on our way to the hospital I had to concentrate on breathing through them, unable to chat on the phone with excited parents who were 2,000 miles away.
The hospital had just been renovated and the maternity ward was beautifully done. Our room looked more like a hotel room with only scant traces of the emergency OR room it could become. Strapped up to the monitors and sucking on fruit punch-flavored ice chips, we waited.
8am to 5pm
I was dilating at a good pace, my contractions growing in intensity and frequency. I received a blessed epidural and it was working phenomenally. I was at 8cm, 100% effaced 9 hours after my water broke. The baby’s head, however, wasn’t descending relative to my body’s progress. Whether it was the strength of the epidural or the actual lack of pressure, I couldn’t feel any increased pressure on my pelvic floor. The nurses assured me I should be feeling something by then, and I was getting worried that I couldn’t.
Around 5pm the doctor came to assess my progress. Taking in all of the nurses reports as to my body’s progress, the baby’s head placement, and how I could feel none of it, he presented me with two options:
- Continue to let my body progress and see if I could push the baby out or
- Have a c-section.
I didn’t want to have a c-section, but I was familiar with them as that is how my sister and I were born. I’d heard my mother’s recovery stories and knew what that looked like. So, I hesitated.
To C-Section or Not to C-Section?
Given my frame’s petite size and the experience of my last cervical check when I yelled a little (surprising us both), the doctor didn’t seem excited for me to try to proceed with a vaginal delivery. He pressed a little more, discussing how safe cesareans are. Still, I hesitated. And then he pulled out the argument that ultimately got me to consent to a c-section: If I had a c-section now, I could avoid possibly distressing Elle in a vaginal delivery that he didn’t think would be successful and would end up requiring an emergency c-section.
Adam and I discussed our options. Ultimately, it came down to what we thought was safest for Elle. We told the doctor we’d have the c-section.
Within the hour, we had Elle in our arms.
Directly after the surgery, Adam went back to the room where Elle would be brought to him after her vitals were taken and she was cleaned up. I was wheeled out to the hallway outside of the OR. And left completely alone. The shock of the surgery and the anesthesia was being realized by my system and I began to panic a little. Finally, a nurse came and wheeled me back up to my room where Adam and Elle were waiting for me.
Elle was born Friday evening and by Sunday afternoon we asked to be discharged. I wanted to stay there forever, but we knew each day in the hospital meant a higher and higher medical bill we didn’t want to have. Still dazed and overwhelmed, we packed up our car with our new precious baby and returned home on a beautiful May Sunday.
Because Elle was born Friday evening and we left Sunday afternoon we didn’t get to meet with a lactation consultant. Breastfeeding was not going well and we were worried. I was desperate and after a relative suggested that maybe it was the Vicodin I was on that was making Elle lethargic and causing the issues, I took myself off Vicodin. Completely. Not even a week after my c-section.
Pain, Pain, and More Pain
Recovering from a c-section without medication is rough. I don’t advise it at all. I lived, obviously, but the whole experience was very traumatizing. My hormones were fluctuating like crazy, I was still dealing with engorgement as my milk slowly dried up, and it was weeks before I could bend over to pick up Elle.
The emotional pain of the delivery and recovery lasted much longer than the physical pain. For years I’d have to answer the question, “Why did you have to have a c-section?” with an answer I didn’t really have.
“My doctor kinda scared me into it.”
“I was 21 and didn’t really know better.”
“We were trying to do what was best for Elle with the information we had.”
None of these explanations ever felt satisfying enough to tell the whole story. Even in the Lamaze class we took to prepare for Addie’s birth, I felt the shame, confusion, and regret of my first c-section.
Secondary infertility made the wait to heal my heart even longer. Read about our journey here.
Addie’s Birth: 2016
At the encouragement of a friend, I decided to commit to a VBAC for Addie’s birth. My doctors were 100% supportive of my decision. I read tons of books and blogs about preparing your body for a vaginal delivery. I created positive affirmation cards for Adam to read to me during labor. I got myself a birthing ball. I practiced the various positions for unmedicated birth. We hired a doula. We took a Lamaze class. We left no preparatory stone unturned.
Fifteen days before Addie’s due date I went out for the evening with a friend. As we window shopped my contractions were coming more forcefully and I kept having to sit down through them. I arrived home a little after 10pm. Adam and I chatted about our evenings and I confessed how intense the contractions had been during my outing. Lying in bed, ready to go to sleep, I heard a *pop* and rolled over to feel a gush of fluid come out.
It was midnight. It was 2 weeks before Addie’s due date. Our 1st and 2nd picks for babysitters for Elle were out of town. Our 3rd wasn’t answering our calls or texts. So, I texted my friend who I’d gone out with, hoping she was still awake too. She was.
My friend met us at the hospital and took Elle home with her to sleep. My doula arrived shortly after we got settled into my room. I was shooting for an unmedicated birth if at all possible, and thus started the longest night of my life.
Dilating and Pushing
For 8 hours I rocked and groaned as my labor progressed. My doula and Adam worked tirelessly to apply counterpressure, keep me focused and breathing, and keep my spirits up. When the morning nurse came to check my progress, we learned I’d stalled at about 6cm. The three of us were disappointed and dead tired. I decided to get an epidural to see if that would help my body relax to finish dilation.
Once the epidural took effect, Adam and my doula took turns getting breakfast. Then we all slept. Around 4pm I was declared 100% effaced and dilated to a 10. It was go-time!
Because I couldn’t put any weight on my legs due to my epidural all of my fun birth positions were deemed unsafe. Instead, I pushed for 3 hours curled into a ball on my back and sides while Adam and my doula took turns holding up one of my legs. The nurse was a fantastic cheerleader, calling out my progress as Adam kept counts for pushing. Addie’s head full of beautiful hair could be seen more and more with each push. But one she got to a certain point, all progress stopped. After 3 hours of pushing Addie was starting to show slight signs of distress.
Adam and I asked everyone to leave the room while we discussed whether to continue pushing or go for a c-section. The decision to get a c-section brought us peace, and we knew it was the right decision.
My Second C-Section
I asked the doctor if he was LDS. He was. (Gotta love Utah). I asked if he would join my husband in giving me a priesthood blessing before the operation. He said he had a policy of not giving priesthood blessings to patients he’s about to work on, but offered to help find someone who would. He found the head custodian who turned out to be a giant tender mercy: this good man was a ward member in one of our previous wards. We remembered each other and he laid his hands on my head with Adam’s and gave me a priesthood blessing.
After the blessing, Adam was suited up in the OR outfit and my medications were adjusted. It was go-time, for real this time.
Adam was able to stay with me the whole time. (We had our doula go home to her family, so grateful for her tireless help.) My doctor was joined by another I knew and liked and I could hear their cheerful banter the whole time. My anesthesiologist was very attentive and tried to make me as comfortable as possible and my hands weren’t strapped down like last time.
Adam took pictures of the surgery. Afterward, I looked through the pictures of the moments they are pulling Addie out of my body. I felt so strong and empowered! Addie was big and had a strong cry straight out of the womb. Adam got to be there and take pictures the whole time they were taking her vitals and wiping her down. He got to bring her to me. The anesthesiologist took our picture as I was being sewn up. Adam and Addie stayed with me the whole time and we went back to the room together.
Postpartum and Recovery
The medications made me feel freezing and I was shaking so bad I didn’t feel safe to hold Addie. But as soon as the shaking subsided I got to put Addie on my chest and have the most glorious skin-to-skin time.
We stayed in the hospital for 5 days (an extra day than we wanted because Addie’s bilirubin was too high) and left with formula-feeding Addie because, again, breastfeeding was just not working well. (Stupid PCOS.) While recovering I stayed on my Percoset as long as I was prescribed to and allowed myself to continue taking pain relievers as needed after that. Because I was taking care of myself, I was able to give Addie her first bath, pick her up from a bending position, and not be in such mind-numbing pain.
Healing My Heart
A c-section birth is not the end of the world. It’s the beginning of life. Elle, Addie, and I are all here because of this miracle of technology. Even my husband wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for the option to have a c-section. Going into my second c-section full of the knowledge of my options gave me the confidence to create the birth story I wanted. Having the opportunity to try again has been a sweet blessing that has brought me peace and healing.