A Story of Births and Beliefs

The other night, I decided to watch a movie. I didn't know what I wanted to watch, so I clicked on the suggested movies of Netflix and let it help me decide. The Business of Being Born popped up, and it sounded fairly interesting, so I decided to watch it. I'd never heard of it before, but I figured there couldn't be a better subject for an expecting mother, right? I thought maybe I'd learn something I didn't already know.

I knew within 10 minutes that I'd made a mistake. Not because it was a terrible movie, but because it was going to be difficult for me to watch. Within a very short time, I was crying.

I cried because the story echoed over and over throughout the movie is similar to what happened to me when I gave birth to my first child. I cried because there was so much I didn't know then, so much that would have helped me make better decisions about the whole experience. I can't say for sure if things would have worked out differently if I had been more informed, but learning some of these things after the fact is like a sucker punch to the stomach.

When I was 36 weeks pregnant with my first son, I developed severe hypertension and borderline preeclampsia. The doctor kept reassuring me that my blood pressure wasn't so high that we needed to worry, and there wasn't much protein in my urine. But, to be safe, he sent me for a nonstress test to make sure my baby was doing ok. The test seemed to go fine; the nurse told me the baby looked like he was doing great. I left the hospital feeling absolutely relieved.

I didn't make it to my car before I got a phone call from my doctor's office.

"We need you to go back to the hospital. We're admitting you for further observation."

Apparently, although the baby was doing fine, they weren't so sure that I was. My blood pressure had increased, and they didn't want to risk it getting worse. So, my husband and I walked the 20 feet back in to the hospital and I was taken to the mothers and infants wing to spend the night.

The result of my overnight stay in the hospital was fairly inconclusive. My doctor ordered me home on bedrest, but he still didn't think there was too much need for concern. He thought if I stayed off my feet and relaxed, I'd be ok for the last few weeks of my pregnancy.

That was on a Friday. On Monday, I had another appointment. My blood pressure was still way too high, even though I very literally only got up to go to the bathroom the entire weekend (it was a very boring weekend at my house!). My doctor, still not seeming terribly concerned, gave me an option: take the risk of the blood pressure problem getting worse, or be induced?

It's hard to explain my decision making during this time. It was definitely altered by the fact that I was very excited to meet my new baby, and it was also altered by my ignorance about child birth. All I knew was that, even though he seemed calm, my doctor was paying me an inordinate amount of attention. And I was terrified about making the wrong decision. So, I consented to induction.

I hadn't dilated yet at all; my body was in no way ready to have a baby yet. I spent the night having suppositories to ripen my cervix (or something like that), and in the wee hours of the morning my water broke. So far, so good. Then, they brought on the Pitocin. I didn't want an epidural, so I tried to labor without any pain medication. The Pitocin contractions were horrible, and from subsequent conversations I've had with other mothers, I now know that they're not "natural." When you go in to labor on your own, the contractions start off slower and build in intensity. I went from nothing to full throttle in less than an hour. I was in terrible pain, and because they were monitoring my baby, I wasn't allowed to get out of the bed more than once an hour. I couldn't stretch or walk. I labored like this for 10 hours before I finally asked for an epidural; I had only dilated to 3cm.

A few minutes later, the nurses changed shift. My new nurse came in to introduce herself and look at my chart. She took one look at the fetal heart monitor and her eyes got huge. She asked my aunt to feel for the baby and rub my belly to help get his heartbeat up. Then she rushed off to find the doctor.

Again, my doctor didn't seem terribly concerned. Almost nonchalantly, he explained to me that my son's heartbeat was dropping dangerously low every time I had a contraction. Did I want to continue to labor, or just have a C-section?

I often wonder what kind of question this is to pose to a terrified woman in labor with her first child. Why didn't he offer any advice? Why was he treating this like routine? I broke down in tears, unable to answer. My husband answered for me. "If there's something wrong, do what you have to do." After a moment I concurred with my husband. If my baby was in danger, we should just do the C-section.

I've never gotten over the loss of a "normal" child birth. I feel like every intervention from doctors led me further down a path that inevitably led to a C-section. Could any of them have been avoided? Was I too scared to really think of the consequences of my choices? I'm not sure. But I do think there was definitely information I didn't have, that might have changed some of my decisions.

Ultimately, I know that it doesn't matter how my son was born. I love him just the same, and I'm happy to have him alive and healthy. But I still long for the experience of birthing a child.

On my doctor's strong suggestion ("It seems like you might have a small pelvis. You didn't make much progress while you were in labor last time. Better safe than sorry."), I opted for a repeat C-section the second time around. It is something I regret very deeply. I let myself get scared. My first birth experience was so full of scary moments that I didn't want to take any chances the second time.

Now, here I am, 16 weeks in to my third pregnancy. And from the moment I found out I was pregnant, I was very sure of one thing: I want to attempt a VBAC this time. I know there's a chance that something could go wrong. I know there's a 40% chance I'll have to have a C-section, anyway. But I want to try. And my doctor isn't terribly receptive to the idea. For now, he's humoring me, telling me there's a chance that I can. But his list of reasons I shouldn't keeps getting longer. I do trust my doctor's opinion, but I've also done a lot of self-education this time around. And I won't take no for an answer.

I'd like to be allowed to pick my baby up when it's born. I'd like to be able to walk up the stairs of my house and put my baby in its crib and (maybe) sleep comfortably in my own bed. I'd rather have the soreness and discomfort that comes with vaginal birth than the painful open wound in my abdomen that comes with a C-section. And I would like to know that my body can birth a baby on its own, without a long list of medical interventions.

Wish me luck...this is going to be a bumpy road.


Rudri said...

Congratulations on your third pregnancy.

Sometimes we wish we knew more as we are making the decision, but that doesn't always happen. I hope this pregnancy is uneventful and you have an opportunity to have the birthing experience you've always desired.

Heather said...

Yes, congrats! And I wish you strength and support as you navigate these waters.
Sounds like you've already done a bunch of self-education, but if you're still looking, Melissa of Making Things Up has some great birth resources listed on her page.
How many things about parenthood do we have to learn as we go? Pregnancy and childbirth is no exception. That's nothing to be ashamed about.

Melissa said...

16 weeks already! Wow! :)

Would you like more good stuff to read? There's A Woman's Guide to VBAC, to start. I also hear that the babycenter VBAC Support board is a good resource. And the blog Birthing Beautiful Ideas has lots of info about VBAC.

If resources help (help you feel more confident, help you in your decision-making process, help you move forward), let me know. I'm happy to offer more. :)

AmandaRaeShelton said...

I am so happy that you are pursuing this. Make sure you make your intentions known to your hubby and whomever else is going to be in the birthing room. That way they can fight for what you want! I think having someone in there aside from your husband is helpful, because he will ultimately be worried about you.

Patty Ayers said...

I just stumbled onto your blog, and was really taken by your post. I saw that documentary recently too, and I had known this for a long time, that hospitals and doctors have that terrible unethical system going. I just want to encourage you about your next birth; I bet it will be beautiful. "Every birth is perfect," said Ina May Gaskin - and oh my goodness, if you haven't, read her book "Spiritual Midwifery"! Best of luck and blessings to you.

Anonymous said...

I followed your comment at TKW to read this post and see the supportive and loving comments. It sounds like you're on a path to a more harmonious experience this time—you certainly deserve to have a trusting and mutually respectful relationship with all your caregivers. All Good Wishes, Namaste