Lessons I Learned From My Unplanned Cesarean Births
One mom’s story of two very different cesarean births.
I am one of those people that believes in manifesting things, taking herbs instead of antibiotics, and getting A’s on tests. I have always believed in my ability to influence the outcome of events in my life. I’m spiritual. I’m a healer. I’m healthy. I’m an overachiever. If anyone was going to plan a natural, vaginal birth and have everything go according to plan, it was going to be me.
Izzy’s birth turned all that on its head. All the prenatal Pilates, yoga, acupuncture, optimal fetal positioning practices, birth classes, guided meditations, and Ina May books in the world couldn’t have prepared me for how this was going to go.
People tell me I was in labor for 24 hours. I really couldn’t confirm that. Time evaporated as I entered what my doula called “labor land.” Like a stormy ocean, contractions rolled in, one after the next with hardly a break in between. As each contraction came on and intensified, I thought, “I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I can’t do this,” and “I’m definitely asking for an epidural before the next one, this is the absolute last one I can handle,” and “f&*k this f*%king shit. This is such f&#king bullshit.”
Then the pain would diminish, and I would feel relaxed and rejuvenated, almost like after a massage, and I would think, “That wasn’t so bad.” And on and on it went. I never opened my eyes. I completely focused within. My internal world was huge. I don’t remember looking into my then husband’s face once.
Active labor continued, and then it became time to push. After 3 hours, I was weak and defeated. I wore an oxygen mask because my daughter’s oxygen levels were dropping. The nurses, my doula, my then husband, and the doctor surrounded my hospital bed waiting to catch the baby and coaching me to push harder. Harder?? You’ve got to be kidding. I couldn’t even wrap my head around how to push, let alone harder.
Days later, after we were home from the hospital, my doula described my labor as “gorgeous.” I broke into tears. Then why couldn’t I push her out? The doulas encouraged me to call my C-Section a Cesarean Birth, because even though it wasn’t what I planned, it was still a birth.
It’s true. As I was lying on the operating table, my arms strapped down on either side, spread-eagle, shaking uncontrollably, my then husband holding my hand, I felt the surgeons tugging on my numb abdomen. Suddenly, I felt a concerning amount of pressure gain and then release. There was a moment of silence and my body felt instantly lighter. Then… crying! A baby! Birth.
They immediately cleaned her off and swaddled her in a hospital blanket and cap and brought her to my chest. I couldn’t hold her since my arms were strapped down, and we stared at each other, rather awkwardly. She had a startled, cloudy look in her eyes. And I honestly didn’t know how to feel. It was the weirdest moment. Like I was staring at an alien.
Definitely not the idyllic birth experience I imagined.
For months after Izzy’s birth, I kept telling myself that a happy, healthy baby was all that mattered. But I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that I had somehow failed because I didn’t give birth naturally. Under the full moon. In a meadow. While having an orgasm.
Two years later, when it came time to birth my youngest daughter, Vivi, I felt more seasoned. Wiser. Calm.
This time I labored at home for as long as possible. My doctor assured me this was one of the best ways to ensure a successful VBAC, because once you arrive at the hospital, the intervention begins. I had confidence it would eventually end and I would not, in fact, be in labor for the rest of my life. I trusted myself to handle the labor and contractions unmedicated just like I did the first time.
My contractions stayed far apart throughout my entire labor so that the mood stayed calm and peaceful. During dinner I would pause between bites, put my hands on the table and breathe through a contraction and almost two-year-old Izzy would do the same, pushing air meditatively out through her little lips, gripping the table.
I napped. I slept on and off throughout the night while I labored at home, and intermittently at the hospital, right up until it was time to start pushing. My contractions stayed 5-17 minutes apart the entire time. I was cracking jokes, having regular conversations, chatting with the nurses, checking voice mails. I never went into “labor land,” I was completely lucid and present with my then husband the entire time, and it was such a gift. (Labor land was such a gift with Izzy’s birth.)
I got to try all the positions during labor and pushing that I wanted to try the first time. During labor with Izzy, I was so exhausted and out of it, and my contractions were so intense that I felt absolutely paralyzed to change positions. For months afterwards, I would think, “What if I had tried different positions? Would that have changed the outcome?” Now I know with absolute certainty, nope! It wouldn’t have.
I felt crystal clear about my decision to have a Cesarean birth this time. I was certain that I wanted a VBAC only if it came easily. I did not want to force it. As I lay on the operating table again, I had one distinct thought: “I chose this.” It was healing in a way–I didn’t feel like a victim. I chose to stop pushing this time after 45 minutes (instead of 3 hours) and not to try the Pitocin and the extra fluid flushed into my uterus to see if it would keep Vivi’s heart rate from dropping to a frightening 35 beats per minute during each contraction.
When they later told me the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck, I knew I made the right decision. Vaginal birth just wasn’t in the cards for me in this lifetime, and I’m not sure why. Maybe there’s an energy block in my body, maybe it has to do with Izzy and Vivi’s chosen path to enter the world, maybe it’s the result of a past life trauma, or the chance to learn a lesson about interacting with western medicine.
Or maybe it has nothing to do with anything, it just is.
Today Izzy is seven and Vivi is five, and they continue to surprise my expectations every day. I know now that birth is life, and life is messy, unexpected and beautiful, all at once. Every woman’s birth story is a rite of passage, Cesarean or no Cesarean. Full moon or no moon. Meadows and orgasms are not requirements to earn your “real mother” badge. And no matter what anyone says, I nailed it. Twice.
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