My baby was consistently breech from 30 weeks on.
I tried everything to get him to turn head-down. I went to the chiropractor for Webster adjustments every other day for weeks. My husband did moxibustion on me every day. I did breech tilt positions several times a day. I took pulsatilla. I tried an external version with a midwife, which failed.
Running out of time and discouraged, I then traveled 12 hours to another state to see an OB who is a friend of my family and wanted to help me. His success rate with external versions was more than 90%. Even though I was 38 weeks pregnant when I went to him, he was hopeful that he could turn my baby. I thought if he couldn’t help me then nobody could. He attempted to turn my baby twice. The first day we tried for 3 hours and it was excruciatingly painful for me. The baby wasn’t fazed. The second day we tried for an hour and a half before concluding that it was hopeless. Those 2 version attempts left me beat-up and sore for over a week.
I returned home resigned to the fact that I was having a breech baby. From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I knew I wanted a home birth and had planned on it. I did a lot of research in a short amount of time and concluded that vaginal breech birth was not any riskier than a breech c-section. I desperately wanted a vaginal birth. Nevertheless I was terrified. But when it came down to it, I knew I was not willing to accept a c-section except as an absolute necessity.
So I swallowed my fears and hired a local CPM (the same woman who did the first version attempt for me) who was knowledgeable and supportive, with lots of breech experience. She agreed to attend my birth alongside the midwife who I’d seen for my whole pregnancy. My original midwife was less comfortable attending a breech birth, mostly for political reasons—she did not want to jeopardize her hospital privileges in the event we had to transfer to the hospital and her attending OB found out she had attempted a breech home birth. Still, she had plenty to offer with more than 20 years of experience and I decided I still wanted her at my birth. So I ended up with the two most popular home birth midwives in my state.
Reluctantly, I accepted the possibility that I might have to transfer to the hospital for a c-section, and I went to speak with an OB so I’d have a doctor lined up as a back-up plan. The OB was condescending, and he told me I only had 2 safe options: 1) schedule a c-section before my due date (his preferred choice) or 2) wait till I go into labor and go in for a c-section. I kind of expected he’d say that so I didn’t try to argue with him. I gave him a copy of my medical records and although I was prepared to go to the hospital if the midwives recommended it, I prayed I’d never see him again.
On a Saturday night when I was 39 and a half weeks pregnant, I decided to stay up late working on the website for my business. I worked like a fiend until about 5 am before falling exhausted into bed. I’m convinced now that my burst of productive energy was a sort of nesting urge. That work was something I needed to get done before I could relax and welcome my baby.
That same morning, a few minutes before 7 am, a painful contraction woke me up. I stood up to go to the bathroom and felt liquid run down my leg. I’m still not sure when my water broke, but I think it had at that point because I was leaking a lot of fluid. There was pinkish bloody mucus in the toilet. The contractions then started coming, about 6-7 minutes apart and lasting more than a minute. I tried for awhile to go back to sleep but I couldn’t.
These contractions hurt, down low in my belly and all the way around my back. I couldn’t talk through them and I had to breathe deeply and moan to get through some of them. I knew for sure that it was the real deal; I had no doubt. I quietly alerted my husband that something was going on, urged him to go back to sleep, and left the bedroom so I wouldn’t disturb him with my noise.
I texted my doula to tell her I was in “early labor,” thinking as it was a first baby I could have 24 hours of labor ahead of me, or more. I asked if I should tell the midwives yet and she said sure, I could if I wanted. I was not in a hurry, and tried to brace myself for the fatiguing trial to come. With less than 2 hours of sleep, I was already exhausted before I started. “Stupid, stupid, stupid,” I cursed myself bitterly for having stayed up all night.
I took a hot bath hoping that would slow things down so I could get some rest, but the painful contractions kept coming at a steady pace. At around 9 o’clock I called the midwives.
The first midwife told me to take a bath, which I’d already done. She told me to eat a good breakfast and go back to bed, stressing how important it was for me to try to get some sleep, even if it was just a little. The second midwife also told me how badly I needed to try and sleep. She suggested I drink some booze to help me relax. They both told me to call them when my contractions were 3-4 minutes apart.
I went into action mode and quickly typed up a honey-do list for my husband to get things ready for the birth, which included some house-cleaning, making up the birth bed, setting up the birth pool, etc. I then quickly went to the kitchen and made myself breakfast: a huge omelet of 3 eggs, a tomato, and lots of cheddar cheese. As I was getting things out of cupboards and busy cooking, I had to lean over the counter and moan every time I had a contraction. I made myself a cup of hot cocoa with almond milk, and mixed it with a couple shots of Kahlua.
For weeks, my stomach had been running out of room and I hadn’t been able to eat a full meal in one sitting. But I sat down and ate that entire omelet in a few minutes. I knew I would need the energy and somehow I ate it all easily. The hot cocoa and Kahlua was delicious, but it didn’t slow anything down.
I still needed to finish putting a few things in my hospital bag. At this point, in my inexperience I still thought I was in early labor and that there was a chance the midwives might advise me to go to the hospital. I decided that trying to sleep was most important and I could pack the bag when I got up. I went back to bed around the time my husband was getting up. I was not able to sleep at all, but I do think I went into some sort of trance. I closed my eyes and completely lost track of time. I lied on my side mostly, but sometimes had to get on my hands and knees or kneel upright to cope with the pain.
I tried to focus inward and listen to my body. I visualized that my baby and I were floating together on a rough sea, clinging onto each other. Each time I felt a contraction coming, in my mind I said to the baby, “Okay baby, here comes another one. Let’s ride this next one together, just you and me. We can do it.” I focused intently on each moment, knowing it was the only way I’d get through it. I did not allow myself to think about what was coming, just the present moment. I moaned as loudly as I needed to and it helped me ride the waves. If I tried to do it without moaning, the pain was literally unbearable. At the peak of each wave, I relaxed because I knew the worst part of that one was over, and I said, “Okay baby, we’re going back down now. Good job.”
Between contractions, I sent telepathic messages to my baby, telling him it was time to do whatever he needed so he would be in a good position to be born. I told him we’d do it together and everything would work out great, and that it was a happy day and we would meet each other face to face soon. Every now and then I felt a sharp, sudden jabbing pain that I know now was my baby kicking at my cervix. During the past few hours, he had somehow managed to get his feet pointed downwards.
After some time, I came to awareness with a feeling of desperation and sudden fear. My moans were turning into deep roars. I felt panicked. I thought to myself, “This is getting really intense. These contractions seem to be coming really close together. I should try to time a few.” When I timed them I realized they were averaging 2 minutes 45 seconds apart and lasting a minute and a half long, or longer. I screamed for my husband, saying, “I need you! I NEED you! I CAN’T DO THIS!” I honestly didn’t know what I needed from him, but I felt I could not go on by myself for one more second. My terror was escalating and I started to cry.
“This baby is coming,” I told him. I told him that he needed to have everything on that list done, that we were out of time. He was running around hurriedly preparing everything, but it still wasn’t fast enough for me. In retrospect, the things on the list were not essential, but in that moment, I felt that having the floor swept and clean towels hung in the bathroom was of paramount importance. I had lost control of the situation and I was grasping for any small thing that I could control. I was really freaking out. “Call the midwives NOW,” I ordered him. In between contractions I quickly changed into my “birthing muumuu,” which was a gigantic plus-sized black t-shirt I had bought at Goodwill. It was around 11 am.
Frantically I remembered the hospital bag. I should have realized at that point that there was no way I was going to the hospital, but I wasn’t able to think clearly and only knew that it still needed to be packed. I hobbled into the other room where the bag was. Most of my things were beside the bag and just needed to be packed up. Each contraction that hit me threw me to my hands and knees. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was clearly in transition. The image is pretty funny now. I was shoving baby clothes and toiletries into a duffel bag while screaming and moaning, and barking desperate orders at my husband to hand me things to put in the bag. Tears were streaming down my face. From the floor I looked up at my husband and wailed, “I’m scared!” He looked helplessly back at me.
At this point I just wanted one of the midwives to arrive so somebody would help me. I couldn’t walk anymore. I crawled across the hall to the bathroom. When the first midwife arrived, I was doubled over on the bathroom floor, moaning loudly.
She quickly took charge. As soon as I felt her hands touch me and heard her calm voice, I felt soothed. I followed her orders without questioning. She got me to walk into the bedroom in between contractions. I was walking bent over and bow-legged because the baby had started descending. My husband was in the middle of making the bed but didn’t have time to finish. The midwife told me that I was hyperventilating and I needed to slow my breathing down to make sure I got enough oxygen to the baby. I put all my attention into breathing slow, deep breaths.
I was wild, out of my mind with pain. “It hurts!” I told the midwife desperately. “I know,” she said. She didn’t seem at all concerned. She told me she needed me to lie down so she could check me. With difficulty I got onto my back. She quickly checked me and said “You’re complete!” I struggled to get back up and off the bed—lying on my back was the most horrible feeling and I had to get out of that position. My mind processed what she had said. “I’m complete?” “(That means you’re fully dilated,)” I explained to myself in my mind. “You’re complete,” she repeated.
The other midwife suddenly arrived and I looked in her eyes. I felt like a wounded wild animal must feel when looking at a person, like just by looking at me she was intruding into my space, and I had to look away. “She’s complete,” they said. “It happened so fast!” I said in amazement. “Yes it did,” they said, happy and smiling.
Suddenly everything was a blur of frenzied activity as the midwives set everything up. Between contractions, I answered a few questions about where things were, but for the most part, everything was ready for them, as I had thoroughly assembled my birth kit weeks before. The midwives sent my husband running to get things. They finished making the bed. They lined up tools and supplies, made stacks of things. I wasn’t aware of the specifics, but I was aware of this flurry of activity and sense of urgency in the room. The second midwife to arrive had brought a birthing stool, and she set it up in the middle of the room and got me seated on it. She kneeled in front of me and I was glad she was there. At some point, my doula arrived and sat down calmly beside me. I greeted her.
My moans were now giant and long and powerful and not at all ladylike. I was not purposely making the moans anymore; rather the moans were carrying me. They told me I could push whenever I felt like it. I did not feel ready, so I sat on the birthing stool and waited. I was grasping the stool so hard my hands turned white and cramped, but I couldn’t let go. I was trembling all over. The midwife in front of me put a mirror below me. She said she didn’t see anything yet.
I felt like I needed to poop and was embarrassed. I told them as much, and they said, “That’s the baby coming down, that’s what you’re feeling! Push it down. If you poop a little, it’s not a big deal, we’ll clean you up. That’s what the chux pad is for.” So I tried pushing. I could clearly feel the baby moving down, very slowly but surely.
I made strong, deep singing moans as I pushed. I couldn’t feel where the contractions began and ended anymore. It felt like it was taking forever. At some point my legs started shaking and I felt pins and needles in my feet—the way I was sitting on the birthing stool was cutting off circulation to my legs. So my husband got two pots from the kitchen for me to set under my feet, which fixed the problem.
Finally, with a burst of red hot pain, I pushed something out. It was a foot! They showed me in the mirror, and yep, sure enough, a little grayish foot and leg was sticking out of my vagina. Shortly after, he kicked his other foot out. “He’s a double footling!” the midwife said. “Oh my God, oh my God,” was all I could say. We were all very surprised, because all the ultrasounds I’d had showed him as either frank or incomplete breech. Double footling is the least common breech position, with the greatest risk of cord prolapse. But it was too late now to be scared--he was already coming out.
I pushed for all I was worth, as hard and continuously as I could, and the baby’s legs, butt, and half of his torso slowly came out. I couldn’t see, and was working too hard to look in the mirror, but as he was coming out, I heard my husband say, “Oh…WOW….” with rapt amazement in his voice. Finally the baby’s umbilicus was out, which meant that we now had a short amount of time to get the rest of him out safely. I continued pushing with all my strength. At this point I could feel the weight of half my baby’s body hanging down out of me, and it was the strangest thing I’ve ever felt.
It was so difficult. They kept urging me on. I said, “I can’t!” and they said, “Yes you can! You’re doing it!” so I kept going. My doula got close beside me and said into my ear, “Your body knows exactly what to do and it’s working perfectly. You’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to do.”
As I felt my baby continue to descend, I felt his upper body still inside me, rotating and wiggling as he got into position to come out, which was wild. Up until this point the midwife had been kneeling in front of me and had not so much as touched me or the baby, but suddenly she reached her fingers into me and did something that was excruciatingly painful. “STOP! Stop, it hurts!” I screamed at her. She said that she couldn’t stop, that the baby’s arms were coming out and she had to make sure they didn’t get stuck. When I heard that I was so close to getting him out, my resolve was renewed. He had his arms up by his head, and all at once he pulled them both down and out of me. The midwife checked to make sure the baby’s head was tucked, and it was.
“This is it,” they all said, “one more push and you’ll have his head out!” I screamed like a banshee and gave it everything I had. I’ve never heard myself scream so loud. All at once with a searing hot intense sensation I pushed out his head, and suddenly there he was in my arms, a warm, wet, perfect little baby. In the few seconds when he was still limp, I got scared and rubbed his body and said “Wake up baby!” and then he came to life, started moving around and turned pink and cried. He had a strong little body and dark eyes and lots of dark hair. I said “He’s perfect!” choking on the words, half crying and half laughing.
He was born at exactly 2 pm. I had been in labor for 7 hours—we never even had time to think about the fancy inflatable pool I had bought specially to labor in, much less set it up. I had been sitting on the birthing stool for 45 minutes, pushing for the last 30. I told them his name, Z. Everybody said “He’s so cute!” My husband was grinning. I moved over to the bed and just held Z close for awhile and relaxed. They checked me out and told me I hadn’t torn at all! The midwives were impressed, and I felt exuberant!
My midwife’s birth assistant arrived, missing the birth by just a few minutes. Eventually the midwife told me that the cord had stopped pulsing and asked if it was okay to cut it. My husband cut it and was surprised at how thick and strong it was—he said it was like cutting a brake line. We noticed that the cord was hooked over one of the baby’s shoulders and around his arm—possibly the reason why he was unable to turn head-down, although we’ll never know for sure.
They took the baby away to clean him up and weigh him while I pushed the placenta out. The placenta took a long time to come out, which was frustrating, and when it finally did, my husband commented that it was as big as the baby.
Z weighed 7 pounds and 13 ounces. His Apgars were 9/10. I watched as they dressed him in a diaper, tiny blue socks, and a tiny orange t-shirt, and over this a yellow sleeping gown and a hat. They brought him back to me and gave me tips on nursing until Z and I both got the picture. He latched on fairly quickly and nursed off and on for a while. The midwives stayed for a few hours and did paperwork and made sure my bleeding slowed. My doula started the laundry and heated up the lentil soup I had frozen. Having been up all night and in labor all day, I was exhausted and hungry. I scarfed the hot soup and then the birth assistant helped me go to the bathroom and take a quick shower.
Before my midwives left, they told me I did a wonderful job and should be very proud, and that they wished more women had the faith and confidence that I had. My doula told me she felt honored to have been there for an incredible birth. I was elated and in disbelief that everything had happened so quickly, so smoothly, and so perfectly. For all my weeks of fearful worry, stress, and imaginings of worst-case scenarios, it turns out there was nothing to worry about at all! The baby had been in a great position for birth and came out quickly and easily. He was fine, I was fine, no problem! I did it, as a first-time mom, all by myself, with no drugs, no interventions, in my own bedroom, and completely on my own terms.
Finally we were left alone in our bed with Z. I was tired but excited, and was unable to sleep until late that night.
Now I want to tell all women whose babies are in a breech position that you don’t have to automatically accept a c-section. You may be told that a c-section is your only safe option, but it’s simply not true. The truth is that, statistically speaking, the birth of a breech baby is always going to be slightly riskier than the birth of a vertex baby. Obviously if something other than the head is coming out first, it has the potential to be less straightforward. But if your baby is still breech at term, there’s nothing you can do about that. At that point, dwelling on what could go wrong is only going to psych you out. Don’t give into the fear! Breech birth is riskier, okay. But a vaginal breech birth, if you are attended by someone skilled and experienced, is not riskier than a breech c-section!
You can have your baby vaginally! Especially if you listen carefully to what your body needs to do during labor, move around and use gravity to help the baby get into a good position. If there is any way you can get an experienced care provider willing to attend a breech birth, do it! Wait to go into labor on your own and at least attempt a vaginal birth—remember, a c-section will always remain an option if you need one in the end.
I understand that unfortunately what I did is not an option for some women, because most OBs in hospitals aren’t willing to help with a vaginal breech birth, and home birth is not an option for many, either because their insurance doesn’t cover it and they can’t afford it, they can’t find a midwife experienced with breeches, or home birth midwives are illegal in their state. Or, you may not live in a big city like me, with the security of knowing you’re within a few minutes’ drive of several hospitals. You may have all kinds of frustrating limitations, but if you are able to attempt a vaginal birth, by all means, I urge you to do it!
The skill of assisting vaginal breech births is becoming a lost art, as they don’t teach OBs how anymore—so in this country, major abdominal surgery has become the default method of bringing almost all breech babies into the world. It’s such a horrible shame!
If you are having a baby soon and you know your baby is breech, I urge you to read the book Breech Birth Woman-Wise by Maggie Banks.
If you can find it, watch the video called Assisting a Vaginal Breech Birth by Ina May Gaskin.
Check out http://breechbirth.ca/
And watch these inspiring videos:
I actually cried reading your story... I guess only us mamas can understand why.
Congratulations, you must feel on top of the world.
I must say your writing skills are excellent, and you told the story very compellingly.
Thank you for bumping your story, I hadn't seen it before. Wonderful story and I hope you have a great birth with your second baby.
beautiful breech birth story, mama. i can relate so much to the way you and baby were in it together, and sort of "talking" him through. let's get this footling story back up on the page, restoring some balance and confidence in our bodies.