A couple of months before Jacob was born, Mike and I were riding in the car together and I was in one of my more philosophical moods. We were chatting about upcoming changes in our lives (the baby, a new job for Mike, etc.) when it occurred to me that much of my life could be summed up in the lyrics to a Rolling Stones song: "you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find you get what you need." Meaning that more often than not, things don't work out the way I want them to, but they do work out.
What I wanted in the childbirth department was to have a natural delivery. Whenever I thought about having kids even before I was actually pregnant, I just assumed that I would birth them without the assistance of medication. When I found out I was pregnant I started doing more research on natural childbirth. I read a bajillion books on the subject, took a hypnobirthing class, and even listened to cheesy affirmation CDs that told me things like "pregnancy is natural, normal, healthy, and safe", all in the hopes of having an uncomplicated natural birth.
Because my pregnancy went so smoothly, I just assumed that once my due date came I would go into labor on my own, then wait until contractions were 3-5 minutes apart and intense before heading to the hospital, where I would dilate at 1 cm per hour and deliver our baby quickly and efficiently.
Well, in the weekly appointments leading up to my due date I showed no signs of going into labor anytime soon: no dilation, baby still hadn't dropped, etc. It didn't worry me too much because my gut feeling was that he would be a little late anyway. So I kept doing all the things they tell you to do to facilitate labor. You know, long walks, spicy food, and the like. And when I went to my 40-week appointment and my cervix was still closed, I really started taking things seriously. I took all kinds of herbal supplements, ate the famous pizza at Cafe Trio, hiked up many a mountain, etc., only to find out at my 41-week appointment that I still was not dilated at all.
My doctor knew that I wanted to try for a natural delivery so we hadn't talked induction yet, but at this appointment he told me that although he was still hopeful that I would go into labor in the next few days, at 42 weeks we would probably need to start some kind of induction process since problems frequently arise when babies are delivered past that point.
I went home from that appointment feeling really conflicted. I trusted my doctor and knew that my due date was calculated acurately, yet I really didn't want to be induced. I felt so frustrated with my body and wondered why it wasn't doing what it was supposed to do. When I told people how far past my due date I was, they mostly reacted by saying "oh, you must be so miserable" or "aren't you so tired of being pregnant?" But the truth of the matter is that, although I was a bit tired of growing a human, I would have stayed pregnant for another few weeks if I could have known for sure that the baby would be all right when he was born. I had heard of people going three and four weeks past their due date and figured I might be one of them, but I realized that refusing induction in the hopes of having a natural delivery was not worth the risk of something happening to Jacob. So after giving the matter a lot of thought and prayer Mike and I decided we would go with whatever course of action my doctor recommended.
My 41-week appointment was on a Monday, and I went in on Friday for one last check and non-stress test to see how we would proceed. I had been feeling some contractions earlier in the week so I was hoping for some progress, and sure enough I was dilated to a 1. This made both my doctor and I happy because it meant that instead of going in that night for a treatment of cytotec or cervidil (both of which are no fun from what I hear) I could come in the following morning to see if breaking my water could get things moving.
On Saturday morning we arrived at the hospital at 7 a.m. and my doctor stripped my membranes and broke my water. Mike and I spent the next couple of hours walking the halls of the hospital trying to get contractions going. At one point I was even doing lunges down the hallway next to my room, much to the amusement of the nursing staff.
My contractions were now coming strong and steady at about 3-4 minutes apart, but every time I got checked my cervix still hadn't budged. By noon I was only dilated to a 1.5, so I got started on some pitocin. My nurse said that they would start me on the most minimal dose, which she hoped would be enough to put me into labor on my own and they could pull it if that ended up being the case.
Unfortunately that didn't end up happening, and instead I spent the next five and a half hours dealing with some hellish pitocin-induced contractions as my dosage kept getting increased. That was really rough, not only because the contractions were really intense but because I had to be monitored the whole time so my range of movement was decreased and I couldn't take advantage of the big jetted tub that everyone says is such a lifesaver when going through labor unmedicated.
When I got checked at 5:30 p.m. I was only dilated to a 3, and at that point I knew that I had a really long labor ahead of me so I opted to get an epidural since I already felt exhausted and the relaxation techniques I had learned over the past few months were proving to be no match for the pitocin. As soon as I got the epidural I fell asleep for two hours and by 9:00 I was dilated to a 6. At that point both Mike and I were relieved that the end was in sight and figured that within a few hours I would be dilated to a 10 and ready to push.
Well, as the hours went by I remained stuck at a 6. The nurses tried having me move positions and whatnot, but every time they came in to check me I still hadn't dilated any further. At about midnight they called my doctor, who came in to assess the situation. He talked to Mike and I and explained that what was happening was that my cervix wasn't dilating but the baby was still moving down, and although he was still tolerating labor very well at this point, there was a possibility that this could result in an emergency situation, especially since chances were that I would be in labor for over 24 hours by the time it came time to push so my body would be thoroughly exhausted by that point.
Side note: It seems like most people that plan an unmedicated birth opt for using a midwife as their healthcare provider, since most OBs are only around for like ten minutes at the very end of the process to catch the baby. I actually went to see a midwife for my first prenatal visit and wasn't happy with the experience so I went to a doctor that my sister recommended. I ended up really liking him and his office, but throughout my pregnancy I kept second guessing myself and wondering if I should go to a midwife instead. In the end I'm so glad that I didn't switch. My doctor ended up checking on us repeatedly throughout the labor process; making sure we were doing all right, seeing if we had any questions,etc. And he remained true to what he told me at my first visit when I asked him how he handled situations that needed intervention. Back then he said that he would explain the situation, give us our options, and tell us what he would do if it were his wife but leave the decision up to Mike and I.
So when the doctor came in at 2:00 a.m. and found me still at a 6, he said that our options were to keep doing what we were doing and see if things would progress, or he could perform a c-section. He told us that the baby was now at a positive station, which meant that he was trying to come out but my body just wasn't letting him do it. He said that at this point it was our call, but if it were his wife in the situation he would probably advise her to have the c-section.
After hearing that I broke down and started crying. Mike and I were both so drained and felt like we had been pushed to our limits physically and emotionally. We talked about it and decided that we would give it another few hours and if I still hadn't dilated further we would move ahead with a c-section.
I spent the next few hours desperately hoping that something would change; that I would miraculously dilate and avoid the surgical birth I had been told was so awful and so opposite of everything I had wanted. Those were the thoughts crowding my mind, yet deep down in that place somewhere inside my head--the one that seems to knows things before I am conciously ready to acknowledge them--I knew that wouldn't be the case. And as much as I wrestled and fought with the notion of having a c-section, when I got up the courage to actually consider it--to take it from that place inside my head and examine it for what it was--I immediately felt peaceful and calm. This was how things were going to happen and whether or not I planned it that way didn't matter much anymore. I just wanted my baby to be healthy and safe.
So when the doctor came in around 4:30 a.m. and told me what he assumed would be devastating news--that I was still at a 6, maybe a 6 and a half, I think i surprised both him and Mike by essentially saying "game on. Let's shred our birth plan and slice me up."
I have heard enough horror stories about c-sections to fill a book, so I think I can safely say that I lucked out majorly in the way mine went down. Once it was decided that I was having a c-section, I was given more anesthesia in my epidural and prepped for surgery, then once everything got started the whole procedure took about fifteen minutes. I could feel some pressure but zero pain, and aside from a little bit of nausea I didn't feel any side affects from the drugs. No loopiness or drowsiness. I was just impatient for that moment when I would finally meet this little person that had been living inside of me these past forty some odd weeks.
And when that moment came, when they held our baby up above the surgical sheet and I saw this tiny little human with my dark hair and Mike's almond-shaped eyes, it was surreal in the best possible sense of the word. I couldn't believe that he was finally here and that he was ours to keep. And that feeling only intensified when Mike brought Jacob over to me and laid him on my chest while the doctors finished stitching me up. As trite and cliched as this notion is, I couldn't believe how much love I felt for someone I had just met. In an instant that little man became my whole world. And when we got back to our room a few minutes later and got to have that precious skin-to-skin time with our new family of three, it was the most peaceful and beautiful experience. One I'll never forget.
So to sum things up, I think that the Rolling Stones principle held true for me once again: I didn't have the rainbow-filled hippie natural birth that I wanted, but in a strange cosmic way I think I had the experience I needed. Even though on paper it may seem like a nightmarish scene straight out of "The Business of Being Born", Jacob's birth was still a beautiful and empowering experience. It allowed me to learn, for what felt like the millionth time in my life, that I can’t control everything (which I’m finding out is something I need to remember on a daily basis as a mother), and that letting go of my frustration and just allowing myself to experience the moment allows for everything to turn out right. And even though it ended up being very different from the scenario either of us were expecting, Jacob’s birth was an amazing bonding experience for Mike and I. My husband went from dreading our birthing class like it was dental surgery to being the best birth partner and advocate that I could have ever asked for.
There was also something oddly liberating in being confronted with what I thought would be a worst-case scenario and not having it be the nightmare I expected. In short, even though I’m still on board with the whole natural childbirth philosophy and sometimes question if things could have gone differently in a non-medical setting, I don’t feel like having a c-section was an experience to mourn. After all, after everything was said and done I have a healthy, happy boy who is everything I could have ever needed or wanted.