Researching natural birth became a hobby of mine several years ago, and I’d been dreaming about it for just as long. Since I’m a numbers person, I like to know what is going on with some sort of empirical evidence to back it; even if that “what” is just nothing. Curiosity got the better of me and I requested a check at my 36 week appt. I didn’t expect to hear anything very encouraging. But I’d waited so long for this pregnancy and waited so long to be this close to meeting our daughter. I was cleared to give birth at the birth center, so we were good, and I was delighted!!
On July 16, 2010 I had a 36.5 week MW appt complete with cervical check that showed a high, soft, stretchy 1.5 cm dialated cervix. DD was still up high in my pelvis, just barely dropped and not yet engaged. I’d prepared as well as I thought I could, and still had a few more weeks to finish reading the books I started. DH hadn’t even started reading The Birth Partner, despite my pleas. We had plenty of time!
On July 17, at 5AM I woke to an intense need to pee. Sure, usual for a pregnant woman, but this was something more. After I was awake enough to realize what was happening, I was thrilled- I was having painful contractions! I was SO excited to give birth and couldn’t wait to meet our daughter. I thought “for sure, this is in my head- I can’t actually be in labor!!” I was gleeful. I decided to keep and attend my early morning "end of pregnancy mani/pedi" appointment with my best friend in hopes that I could relax, or at least pass the time doing something other than watching the clock. After all, it was my first labor, so I figured it would take a while. By the time I left the salon, I was extremely uncomfortable, and ctx were coming every 5 minutes, consistently. It was surreal. I called my wonderful doula before I got home, and after describing all my symptoms, she suggested I call the birth center, then call her back.
The birth center thanked me for letting them know it might be time, and told me to hang tight till we thought it was time to come in. My doula arrived shortly after, around 12PM I think.
All I wanted to do was rip my clothes off. Everything was so uncomfortable. But I was also freezing, so I didn’t know what to do with myself. I went from shower to birth ball, to shower, to bed, to floor, to baby’s room rocking chair, to sitting on the boppy, to leaning over her (still unused) crib and back again. Breathing through contractions and visualising the birth I'd been dreaming about for 3 years was helping me manage the pain, but it was getting more intense with every contraction, at this point 3-4 minutes apart. And I still had the chills. My doula said it could happen with transition coming quickly. I was, again, thrilled. It made all the pain worth it. I started feeling a “pushy” feeling around 1PM, and constantly had to use the bathroom to BM. This was the sign- we called the birth center. My doula was certain that I had to at least be 7cm judging by my pain level and behavior, so at 1:30PM I hastily packed the rest of our bag for the birth center, we hopped into the car and headed out. The ride was hell, and felt like it took an eternity.
When we arrived, the midwife took my blood pressure, and checked my cervix; it was SOOO painful- and I was devastated to hear I was still only at 1.5cm. How could that be? We were all shocked. I was GBS+, but MW didn’t see a need to start me on atbx since she thought it was likely prodromal labor (and maybe thought I was being a baby and not really in pain?). I sobbed. She took a urine sample and did a quick test for a bladder infection, as an attempt to explain my intense pain. Negative. I knew this was not just prodromal, something was happening, even if it wasn’t cervical change! She allowed me to get into the tub for a while "to slow things down" and rest. Though the ctx didnt slow at all, the water made them bearable enough to doze for about 30 min, complete with snoring. It was nice, since I'd been in severe pain for so long, and the water was hot enough to keep my shivering body a little bit less freezing. I kept saying, “I’m so cold. I’m so cold.” But MW insisted I go home, have a glass of wine and "visualize" my cervix opening and labor bring productive; I could call or come back if necessary. I begged her not to make us leave, but what could she do? I wasn’t even close. She told me she was sure that after the wine and the tub, I’d probably be keeping that baby in for another few days, and might even go late. She’d seen it all before.
The ride home was worse than the ride there. I was defeated and doubting my own intuition, sobbing in between contractions. Our tub at home has a faulty drain, and DH was annoyed with me bc I reminded him – not very nicely- how I had begged him to fix it before baby came... and he didn’t. So, I laid in a few inches of water with a small glass of wine and it did not help. On DH’s urging around 7PM, I went upstairs to plead with my body for a break and some rest. The wine must have put me over the edge of tired, because I managed to do something similar to sleep for about 40 minutes. DH said he could hear me moaning in my sleep the whole time. Loud, deep, painful moans.
At midnight, still in intense pain, I woke DH. I knew something wasn’t right. I just knew that I hadn’t made any more progress, and I was still freezing cold. I finally realized that I must have a fever. Not one other person thought of it, and I was not in my right mind from the pain. Took my temp:100.4F. We called the birth center again. Still the same MW on call. I told her I was still in pain, and sure something wasn’t right. I told her about the low grade fever. She suggested I come into the hospital for a better culture instead of the quick test, and wanted to know how soon we could get there. She suggested that I might have a kidney infection, in which case we could run a course of atbx and I could be on my way- since you know, I was not in labor. I told her we’d meet her there in one hour, around 2AM. I got in the shower, put on some PJs, my slippers, and headed out the door. We figured we’d be in and out, so brought only the bag we’d roughly assembled for the birth center, just hours before. I was starting to believe that I didn’t know what was happening and the MW was right. I wasn’t in labor- it was all in my head.
We arrived at the hospital at 2:00 AM. DH dropped me at the L&D door, I went inside and waited for him to park, moaning, breathing and sobbing through each contraction in that (thankfully empty) hallway. It took forever. When we finally got upstairs, L:&D was dark, quiet and practically deserted. We had to walk to find a nurse. They hooked me up to a monitor. My contractions were off the charts, consistently. I was in so much pain. And with another check by the midwife, I was only 2cm, maybe 2.5. My fever at this point was 101.7. My heartrate was slightly elevated, understandably, but DD’s was spiking into the 190s with each contraction. My pain was nearing intolerable, and I still felt pushy. They took some blood samples to do a CBC and check for kidney, liver and bladder infections. No identifiable infection turned up, but my white blood cell count was really high, and it alarmed the MW and the nurse. After some urging, I consented to an IV for some fluid- I was severely dehydrated despite drinking non-stop since the morning. MW called in the OB on call.
This is where it gets hazy: the OB came in and reviewed my chart quickly with MW. Did another check, and I was still at 2cm, maybe 2.5. They brought in the low-tech L&D ultrasound machine and OB thought that it looked like there was decreased amniotic fluid. They used a little stick thing to see if there was amniotic fluid present in the birth canal. Result: inconclusive. They couldn’t tell if my water had broken, but coupled with what appeared to be decreased fluid, they thought I had PROM with a slow leak. OB suspected the infection was chorioamnionitis. Since they had no idea how long my water had been broken, and I was GBS positive, and they suspected this horrible infection, they HAD to get the baby out now. Her HR was still elevated, my cervix was “not inducible” and I had been in intense, severe pain for close to 24 hours at this point. I was in disbelief, but figured that if there were another option, the MW would have said something. They assured us that in the event of a hospital birth, they would advocate for us, question the doctors and make sure that we had the best, most natural birth for us. Not one question. Not one “maybe we can do this…” Just, “looks like we have to do a C-section.” DH was no help. He just said, “if its what the doctor says…” this was the whole reason I didn’t want a hospital birth, and why he was supposed to read TBP! So he could advocate for me, when I wasn’t in a state to do it for myself.
Less than 2 hours after arriving at the hospital, I was walking down the hall to an operating room. MW and nurses were telling me what a “trooper” I was. Then I was strapped to a table, getting cut open.
The procedure was quick. I heard her cry. Our girl was born at 4:40 AM weighing 7lb 2oz and 18 inches long. I think I was supposed to be more joyful hearing that than I was, but it was not the way I expected to witness her first cry- from behind a blue curtain, numb from the chest down. It was not the peaceful, dimly lit, joyous experience that I’d dreamt of and planned for so long. It was the total opposite of everything we wanted. And now I doubted everything about childbirth that I was so sure of just 24 hours before.
They “had” to take her for observation to the NICU since she was late-preterm. (If I were in the birth center, they’d be preparing to send us home at this point.) I got to hold her for about 10 minutes after they closed me up and I was in recovery. Then she was gone.
I don’t know if they fed her. She was put in a little tent due to some breathing issue that’s normal with C/S babies. They “let” me go down to visit her after about 3-4 hours. She ended up being held in NICU for about a day I think (it’s all still very unclear in my memory) due to breathing issues. Mostly her breathing wasn’t regular and her blood sugar wasn’t stabilizing. But she didn’t have mommy nearby to demonstrate breathing pattern … and the nurses were so rough and uninformative when trying to show me how to nurse her. I was intimidated with all of the wires, cords, etc. I was still in major pain, and didn’t want to nurse out in the middle of the NICU with some half-assed curtain set up in a wheelchair. It was humiliating. The NICU doctor started to push formula from our first meeting because she wasn’t gaining weight and her blood sugar was unstable. SHE WAS 12 HOURS OLD!! And they would only let me go down to nurse every 3 hours, instead of every 2 which is what I requested. And basically said that I was killing my daughter if I didn’t give her formula, since I “didn’t have enough milk” for her yet…. UGH. I had to have a nurse wheel me down since I wasn’t permitted, nor was I physically able to walk down. They would rush me once I was down there, asking if we were finished nursing after only 10 minutes. It wasn’t until we were home a few days that we finally got the hang of things, and now she’s a champ, but I was disillusioned and doubting myself as a mother until then.
At my 6 week postpartum checkup, I was informed that I didn’t have an infection in the womb- the cultures on my placenta and some amniotic fluid collected at delivery came back clear. And that during the whole ordeal, the MW wanted to "just suggest that they give me atbx and some Tylenol for the fever" and see if DD responded. But she didn’t. She said that the C/S was totally unnecessary. But the good news was that the C/S was not for FTP or anything that would cause me to risk out of a VBAC. HA! They can’t take VBACs, but would be sure to find me good midwifery care should I decide to have another baby. Wow. Thanks.
Our little girl’s first experience in the world was harsh, abrupt, cold and unnecessary. And I mourn the loss of our beautiful birth experience that we were meant to share.
eta: we absolutely love and are thankful for our daughter, and she is the most beautiful light in our world. But her entry into this world was not at all what we expected and I still need to heal from it. It's been suggested by some people IRL that I'm being selfish for being upset about it bc "at least the baby is OK." Of COURSE we want her to be healthy and well...
Sending love and healing your way.
Congratulations on the birth of your daughter!
I hesitated to respond, because in no way do I want my reply to sound preachy or as if I'm telling you "just be thankful you had a healthy baby." But I did want to say that we had a baby girl that passed away during full-term labor; cause of death...chorioamionitis. I wholeheartedly believe that many c/s are completely unnecessary, however, elevated blood count, fever, increased heartrate of baby, etc are all hallmark signs of a uterine infection. I reread your post several times to try to figure out why your midwife would tell you in retrospect that the c/s was unnecessary. An infection can be devastating to mother and baby (as it was in our case) and can very quickly take a tragic turn.
I guess what I'm trying to say is, it may be healthier to your emotional recovery to acknowledge that there were some pretty big red flags in your labor that made the doctor decide to do a c/s. I am so sorry you didn't get the labor you wanted, and I hope that next time can be completely different. FWIW, we have had two more babies after our loss, the last being a beautiful homebirth. Blessings to you!
SAHM to Abraham (9) Gillian (5) Adrienne (3) and baby boy coming in October!
Always missing our Gianna, lost during fullterm labor (8/23/04)
Sticking together through the good and the bad with dh of 10 yrs!
Carolyn, first, I am so sorry for your loss. And I'm sorry that it was so traumatic - NOTHING compares to that.
Secondly, I wanted to address your question - I wasnt clear in the birth story - and have since edited. The doctors did testing on the placenta and amniotic fluid, and all came back clean. They assured me that if there were a uterine infection, the cultures would have shown something. They did not. MW said sometimes WBC count is high for an unexplained reason, and that "we may never know" what was wrong. I do acknowledge that there were red flags. Totally. And if they hadn't done something drastic, and something did happen to DD, I totally would have blamed myself and them for NOT doing a CS. I know this. That fact helps me to process, yes. But hearing after the fact from the MW that it was unnecessary was what really made it become such an emotional scar. She actually told me that things would have probably been fine if I had been given some tylenol, atbx, and maybe pain meds to rest.... That was the hard part.
I know you're not insinuating that I am ungrateful or selfish, but it has been suggested by some others, since i'm not overjoyed at getting sliced open to bring our daughter into the world... and I should be happy about it. I am SO grateful for our daughter every day, especially since she was conceived 17 long months into trying, after losing pregnancies. But I dont think I have to be grateful about how she entered the world.
Thank you both for the support.
Mama, congrats on the birth of your wonderful daughter and on moving forward after her birth did not occur the way you had planned and finding that the c/s was not necessary in retrospect. I am in a similar boat (worked so hard for natural birth before and during labor and then ended up with c/s), though I do think my c/s was warranted. I can't imagine how hard it would be to hear from my MW that it was totally unnecessary after all--I would be (even more) devastated. I also know how frustrating the answer, "We'll never know why" is--I have heard it about several parts of DS's birth. Just letting you know that there are others going through the same thing. I think it's very legitimate to mourn our births not going the way we had dreamed, even as we are eternally grateful to have our little ones in good health.