I was 36 when I found out I was pregnant with my son, Sam. I worked right up until the week before he was born. I am a planner, a type-A person and very proactive, so I read every book about natural childbirth I could get my hands on; watched the Business of Being Born and all kinds of natural/homebirth videos on YouTube; hired a doula; learned Hypnobirthing; and, formulated a birth plan. I was ready!
I was healthy, if a bit overweight, prior to conception, and my pregnancy was relatively uneventful until the last four weeks of my 3rd trimester. At that time, I developed severe PUPPP (pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy)…essentially, a really bad case of hives that lasts 24/7. Most doctors will tell you that the cause is unknown, and the PUPPP goes away after the baby is born. (I don’t believe the cause is unknown, but that is a post for another time.) Until then, the most common treatment of symptoms other than topical ointments and antihistamines was the administering of oral steroids. I refused steroids because of how they might affect Sam in utero, and instead chose topical ointments, a few natural remedies and basically lived in an Aveeno Oatmeal bath round the clock. I was miserable and sleep deprived, but made it to 42 weeks. Except…
I really wasn’t 42 weeks along. I was really about only 40. I recently found out from reviewing my medical records that there was some confusion about the date of my last menstrual cycle, and thus my due date was calculated incorrectly. I just accepted their “due date” without doing my own calculations. During the exams leading up to my “due date”, I was thinning out, but not dilating…likely the result of a LOT of evening primrose oil a little too early. At my “41 week” visit, my OB sat me down and told me that she wanted to go ahead and schedule an induction for “week 42”, since that usually was all that was needed to get things going, with the hope that we would be happily surprised and not even need the induction. My doula suggested acupuncture, homeopathic remedies and several other things to get me going, but none of them worked and my induction date was fast approaching.
Finally, the morning of the induction arrived. I was sleep-deprived, itchy and already deflated that my body hadn’t “cooperated”. I presented for induction at 1cm dilation. They started me on pitocin, I refused any pain relief and made it through 24 hours of pitocin with only Hypnobirthing. At one point, the L&D nurse told me I was a strong 4cm, but I think she was trying to be encouraging. I hadn’t prepared for how to labor with an IV and constant monitoring, so my labor felt ineffective since I could not move around.
During a cervical check (I only had a few), I felt some amniotic fluid trickle out and the L&D nurse said she thought there was a leak in my amniotic fluid. My OB came in and said that Sam was doing just fine, but that my contractions were just not effective and that they wanted to put in an intrauterine pressure catheter in to gauge how things were really going. To do this, they had to break my water. At this point, I was exhausted, defeated and ready for Sam to arrive, so I agreed.
The insertion of the catheter was excruciating as I had not received any pain medication. It was during this time that I had a body memory of sexual abuse from my childhood. I was embarrassed, ashamed and hysterical. What happened next is what Ina May Gaskin calls “sphincter law”…I actually regressed in terms of dilation and my cervix closed back up. My doula, hubby and OB went out into the hallway to discuss options and they agonized over telling me that a C-section was necessary. After a few minutes of deliberation, the came in and broke the news to me. I already knew.
Once the decision was made, everything happened so fast. My mother and sister had gone home to get some sleep, and they didn’t even make it back to the hospital before I had major surgery and Sam was delivered. I was given a spinal, and within 30 minutes, was holding Sam in my arms. Parts of my birth plan were discarded for expediency. The cord was clamped right away, Sam was deeply suctioned, they cleaned him up and swaddled him and gave him to my husband, who then gave him to me.
There were no complications from surgery, so I was wheeled back to the L&D room holding Sam. My mom and doula swooped in and my doula unwrapped Sam and gave him back to me for the breast crawl. Finally! Something went right… Sam rooted around for a few moments and found me…we spent the better part of 30 minutes skin to skin…it was heavenly. Then, family wanted a turn, the pediatric nurse came in to check Sam’s vitals, and Steve started packing for the move to a regular room. That night, my husband slept like the dead, while I stayed awake, talked with my sister and tried to get the hang of nursing Sam. It was surreal.
I was in the hospital for three days and was finally released to go home. I simply remember feeling tired, anxious and numb. Nothing had gone the way I planned (by this time, I was experiencing some breastfeeding challenges, and my sister was more help than the hospital lactation consultant). I lay down to sleep, and then my mom woke me up for Sam to nurse.
In the days after we brought Sam home, I remember feeling like I was in a dream. Steve had injured his back, so slept for 6 weeks on the couch, while Sam and I slept in our big king sized bed. My mom slept upstairs and pretty much lived with us for the first four weeks. During the day, things were fine. I felt more than a little subdued and quite content for my mom to take charge of me and Sam. Nights were harder…I was never able to go right back to sleep after nursing Sam, so had plenty of time to revisit what went wrong.
After four weeks, my mom left town to visit my sister and her family inFlorida, and I was by myself with Sam. Steve had been back at work for two weeks, and while I had been feeling some baby blues and a little anxious, I thought I had it all under control. Then, postpartum depression hit. I know now that I was at a higher risk for PPD because of having an emergency section, but it took me by complete surprise. I at least knew right away that something was wrong. My mom flew back from Florida early, and my OB/GYN pulled strings to get me in to see the leading PPD psychiatrist within 48 hours.
I was on an anti-depressant for 8 months, and I sought professional counseling for my grief, guilt and anger over my perceived failure as a mother (and other things). I had to come to grips with the feeling of powerlessness I felt during the entire labor and delivery, and deal with the memories of sexual abuse. Daily life got better. Today, Sam is three and a half, a beautiful, talented, rumble-bumptious little boy. He is the apple of my and my husband’s eye, and we feel very blessed.
If we have another child, there is no reason at all I cannot attempt a successful VBAC. I now live in a part of Georgia where the medical community is not supportive of VBAC’s. I know many women in a similar situation, and feel a personal calling to help encourage, support and educate both women and the wider medical community regarding cesarean prevention, recovery and awareness. Today, I believe that how I got to this point is no accident, and that all things have been worked out for my good.