I hoped and planned for a natural birth.
There are varying definitions as to what “natural” means, of course, ranging from delivering in a tub in your living room drug-free and with zero intervention, to not counting how many drugs are involved or where you deliver, so long as a baby comes out of your hoo-ha, then natural it was. For me, it meant a hospital birth with minimal intervention, and while I wasn’t opposed to having an epidural, my plan was to go as long as I could and make the experience as natural as my body and mind would allow. From the moment I found out I was pregnant I began seeing the hospital’s midwives, and we hired a doula. I took the classes. I read the books. A natural birth I would have.
But, as it normally goes, life offered me up a swift bitch-slap to the face. At my ultrasound around week 30, we saw that our little Miss P was in the breech position. I read about many breech deliveries done by Ina May Gaskin and other midwives and understood that, although tricky, it could be done. Surely I’d find someone willing to take me on! I mean, isn’t that how Rachel delivered Emma in Friends?!
Clearly I’d been watching too many late night TV re-runs, because what I didn’t know was that no hospital doctor or midwife (at least in the state of NC where I live) would attempt to deliver a baby in the breech position. A breech baby, for me, would mean an automatic C-section, which was NOT the birth I wanted. But there was still time, and I hung on to the hope that she’d turn.
The midwives were encouraging, sharing stories of babies who turned at weeks 36, 37, even 38 and 39. “Do your exercises!” they’d tell me. My mother told me my sister didn’t turn until a week before she was born. I became a mad researcher, discovering positions I could lay in, exercises I could do, foods I could eat, and anything else to help encourage P to turn.
Our house became an obstacle course for those weeks: an ironing board propped up on the couch for me to lay on upside down, three times per day for fifteen-minute intervals; a space in our bedroom for me to crawl on hands and knees twice per day for ten minutes. I did somersaults and handstands in the pool at my gym every Sunday morning for hours (who needs to pay Seaworld to view orcas in captivity when the price to view a willing Shamu is included in your gym membership?).
I sat at my desk all day at work with headphones tucked into my pants because it has been said that babies like and will turn toward the music. (I chose my favorite John Mayer albums because his music is a good mix of upbeat and soothing.) And let me tell you, nothing says “come approach me to discuss our professional goals” to a boss like a nine month pregnant woman playing music to her vagina.
There were cardboard paper towel rolls littered all over the house. Why, you ask? So my husband could aim them at my lower abdomen and talk through them, of course, which was said may encourage her to turn. If I ever doubted he loved me, all doubts were gone when he graciously humored me by speaking to my lady parts through a cardboard vessel.
I did a ton of those cat/cow yoga stretches (I’ll let you guess which of those animals I felt like most). I took baths every night, as the water would supposedly expand my belly and provide room for her to flip. I did meditation exercises to visualize her turning. Put bags of frozen vegetables on my stomach where her head was to get her to turn away.
I lay in bed every night watching TV leaning forward on a pillow, butt up in the air, for half hour increments. A dancer for many years, one of my workout routines was Dancing with the Stars DVD’s, and at this point I threw in the DWTS Latin version because – what the hell – just maybe those Salsa moves would help her turn her little tush around. Have you ever witnessed a nine month pregnant woman attempting to Merengue? It’s not pretty. My husband is still laughing.
I even contacted a few chiropractors to have the Webster Technique done, and an acupuncturist who practiced moxibustion, but was turned away because they feared she might get stuck in a transverse position. Just so we are all aware, I know I was crazy. But when you are desperate for something, you’ll try anything.
I even placed subliminal messages around the house:
At my 38 week ultrasound, P still hadn’t turned. You know how everyone has those adorable ultrasound pictures with their little Buddha babies perfectly positioned for delivery, content in the womb? Not me. Mine was sitting straight up and down, and facing my back. When we looked close enough, I could swear she had her arm bent up behind her, giving us the finger.
After all of that exercising and hoping, serenading and swimming, all that happened is that my vagina became well-versed in John Mayer. And, as you’d imagine, not in the way some women would have liked it to be.
The last-ditch option I was offered is called an “external version,” a procedure done in the hospital where the doctor and nurse/midwife attempt to literally and manually turn the baby around from the outside. It would require pain meds, I would need to be monitored closely as it could send me into early labor and possibly cause harm to the baby or placenta, and we were told it had only a 50% success rate.We watched a few YouTube videos of the procedure which confirmed the pain factor and, in one video, the baby goes right back to the position she was clearly most comfortable in just as soon as the procedure was finished, because – DUH! – if she wanted to be upside down, she would have turned around on her own. An acquaintance whose wife had it done told me: “Never again. It was unsuccessful, and the pain and recovery of the version was worse for my wife than the C-section.” Did I want this procedure, the midwives asked? Uh, no thanks.
By now they decided they let my antics go on long enough. It was time to schedule the C-section. They wanted to deliver her before I went into labor because if that happened, while it wouldn’t be an emergency C-section, as they put it, “we’d have to move very fast.” (I interpreted this as “Listen sweet cheeks: don’t be a dumbass. Schedule the freaking surgery.) So we scheduled the C-section a week and a half prior to the day she was born.
I came home, had a good cry, threw away the paper towel tubes, and put the ironing board back into the closet. I decided to enjoy the last week and a half of pregnancy and accept the situation for what it was. I hardly told anyone when the surgery would be because 1) it was short notice and 2) I was terrified. I never had surgery before, I was scared, and pretty much shitting bricks (which says a lot for a pregnant woman). I knew anyone who I told would be calling and/or texting leading up to it and while they’d have the best intentions, it would only make me more nervous. That’s the paradox of being pregnant today: you’re supposed to relax and be peaceful, but your cell phone, house phone, email, and Facebook are blowing up to the point that you spend most of your time responding to others because if you don’t get back to people immediately in this instant-gratification society we live in, then OH MY GOD WHAT HAPPENED SHE MUST BE IN LABOR IS EVERYTHING OK???!!!!! I just wanted to take the week to relax and get through the surgery.
At 5 o’clock in the morning of the scheduled C-section, I walked into the hospital and uttered the strangest sentence I’ve said to date: “Hi, I’m here to have a baby?” We were directed up to the 8th Floor and put into a “pre-surgery” room, where I was given IV. I’ve been prone to anxiety and panic attacks from when I was younger – I even saw a therapist for a few years to help – and, while I haven’t had a panic attack in many years, I was nervous this was a formal invitation for one of those fuckers to creep right in and wreck my whole experience. But I figured, hey, at least they have things like Xanax and tranquilizers here, right?
Two nurses were with me: one, who was taking what looked and felt like 20 vials of blood from my left arm (was Nurse Twilight planning on drinking this shit?), and the other, seated at my right, asking me all sorts of scary questions (do you have power of attorney? A living will? Can your husband make decisions for you in the event you can’t make them for yourself? Does your religion allow you to accept blood transfusions?). I started to feel the anxiety monster bubble up inside of me. I knew I couldn’t drink anything, not even water, from midnight the night before, but out of my mouth came this winner: “I know I can’t have water, but, could I please have some water?” I wasn’t even on any drugs yet. The nurses looked at each other. “No, I’m sorry,” one said. I felt immediately better when I realized that I wouldn’t dehydrate because of the IV, and that sunlight was approaching, meaning Nurse Twilight would have to either go away or spontaneously combust.
Next the anesthesiologist came in. I liked her immediately and suddenly I felt at ease. We learned that the spinal would be given to me in the operating room. Greg wouldn’t be with me when it was given, he would be brought in after, which sucked, but I was still keeping my cool. I liked that I would be awake for the procedure – literally, not even drowsy – although she mentioned in some instances (if the spinal didn’t take, for example) they would have to put me under. I wanted more than anything to witness the birth of my baby so I hoped this wouldn’t happen. (Side note: I learned the difference between a spinal and an epidural. An epidural is injected into the space around your spinal cord, and takes about twenty minutes to go into effect. A spinal is injected directly into the fluid within your spinal cord, and takes effect right away. As if I wasn’t nervous enough already, yes, I had to look this shit up.) Finally, I kissed Greg, and walked into the OR.
A rush of cold air hit me upon entering, and it was oddly refreshing. They asked me to sit up on the operating table and hang tight for a few minutes to wait for the anesthesiologist. There were so many people in the room, all with their backs turned to me, busy doing different things, and strangely the controlled chaos made me feel at ease. Stone Temple Pilots “Creep” was playing on the radio and as I sat there and listened, I went through all of the meditations and deep breathing exercises I picked up from my days of dealing with anxiety as a teen, leading up to everything I practiced throughout my pregnancy for having a natural birth. The sweet irony was not lost on me, but I was grateful for the tools.
By the time the anesthesiologist came in I already felt like I had taken something to relax, and it was in that moment where I truly experienced the power of meditation and of how our brains can have such compelling effects on our bodies. She asked me to lean forward onto her nurse who stood in front of me, and curve my back to form a “c”. I remained there for what felt like eternity but in actuality was probably a minute or two as she administered the spinal. When it was done she told me I receive the award for the most “calm, cool and collected” patient and somewhere in Rye, New York I could hear my therapist from when I was sixteen get up from her chair and applaud.
Next my OB came into the room, and the big tarp went up so I couldn’t see past my boobs. What was going on over there? How long would this take? When would it start? Finally, he said: “Well, I’ve been pinching your stomach for the past 5 minutes and you haven’t made a peep, so it looks like we’re ready!” He began making the incision. Greg was brought in moments later, and he took a seat right next to my head. He looked beyond the tarp, turned a lovely shade of greenish-white, and with a queasy look on his face, gave me a thumbs up sign. (I imagine he was suppressing an intense urge to barf.)
Just minutes later, my OB said: “Here she is!” and straight from my belly to the top of the tarp appeared the cutest, grossest, bloodiest, most adorably beautiful, mind-blowing-ly incredible sight I’ve ever seen, screaming her little head off already. They brought her over to the scale to do her APGAR and check her out, and Greg began snapping pictures:
The part of the surgery that took place after she was born was longer than the first part, but the whole thing in total was about 35-40 minutes. My midwife was in the room with me as well and stitched me up. My OB told me that he didn’t see any issues or reason why she was breech – she likely just got comfortable. He also didn’t see any reason why I couldn’t have a natural birth in the future, should I want that. As soon as they were finished stitching me up I was taken into recovery and immediately Penelope was placed on my chest. Since the spinal only numbed from my stomach down I had full feeling in my arms and chest (and so much feeling in my heart).
My hospital stay and recovery went great, thankfully, and after spending two nights there, I woke up the next morning really anxious to get home and settled in with P. I asked my doctor if I could be released a day early and yes! She cleared me to go home. Being in the hospital is of course necessary but there are constant interruptions, you can’t get much rest, and there’s just nothing like your own bed.
It took me two days after coming home to finally muster up the courage to look at my scar, and I was nothing short of baffled at how minor it is and amazed at how they got Penelope out of such a small space. It’s below my bikini line and super thin. No bandages, or stitches or staples that would need to be removed. Just some steri-strips that would eventually peel off on their own, and stitches that would dissolve. My mind was blown.
I found so many things to be ironic with this whole pregnancy: I read every book under the sun, but always skipped the parts that discussed C-sections because I never thought I’d have one. I sang songs to Penelope while she was in my belly where I jokingly asked her to “please be nice to mommy’s vagina!” Well, note to self: children take things quite literally. (And what I really should have asked was for her to be nice to my boobs instead.)
Since pregnancy can last 42 weeks and I had to have the C-section at week 40, I sometimes wonder if she would have turned at week 41, and been born at week 42. There’s no way to know. And at this point, it doesn’t matter. She is safe, I am safe, and all is good.
Even though the process wasn’t what I envisioned, it couldn’t have gone better and I was and will always be grateful for the experience. The fact that the team was placing wagers as to whether or not Kate Middleton had an epidural the day before when she birthed the Royal baby as I was being stitched up oddly put me at ease, probably because, while I was a nervous wreck, this really was just another day at the office for them.
Should you find yourself in the position with a breech baby and an inevitable C-section, I think it’s important to at least feel secure with your doctor and the care you will receive. It really helped me to talk to friends who had C-sections and to hear POSITIVE stories. There is something about relating to other women in our positions that is far more comforting (and less scary) than talking to a doctor or being exhausted yet awake at 3 am searching the web, alone.
It also helps to think about what’s important to you, and discuss these things with your doctors beforehand. Just because you are having a C-section doesn’t mean they will all be taken away. For example, I wanted to have “skin-to-skin” contact immediately and had made the choice beforehand to breastfeed, which meant it would be important for her to be on my chest right away to begin. This was able to happen for me despite having a C-section.
Although it wasn’t the birth I wanted, the experience was humbling and made me grateful. I read somewhere that breech babies are natural born healers, and I already feel she has healed so much in me.
Editor’s note: If there is anything more you’d like to know, feel free to ask me in the comments. I also have a ton of resources I could send you on what you can try to help your baby turn (although by now we know they didn’t work for me, they have been said to work for others). Also, if you have anxiety want to know the breathing exercises or other natural ways to calm down, I have a bunch of things I could send you as well, so either email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or drop me a comment and I’ll reply back. But for now, to recap, here is what I did to try to get P to turn:
- lay on an ironing board, propped up on the couch 3 times a day, 15 minutes each time
- crawled on hands and knees 2 times per day, 10 minutes each time
- somersaults and handstands in the pool at the gym
- headphones tucked into my pants with different types of music playing (at work and whenever else I could)
- laying forward leaning on a pillow, 15-30 minutes per day
- laying down with hips elevated above heart (use pillows under your butt), 15-30 minutes per day (I did this while meditating, knocking two things out at once)
- held bags of frozen vegetables on my stomach where her head was
- had my husband talk through paper towel tubes aimed at my lower abdomen to get her to turn toward his voice (seriously)
- meditations visualizing her turning
I did not try:
- treatment from a chiropractor
Of course, don’t do any of these things or any other physical activity without your doctor’s approval and/or if you are in pain. Good luck in your efforts. Come back and let me know if your breech baby eventually turned, and share your experience in the comments. We all have unique situations and I really love hearing others’ experiences. Thanks for reading!