Why I CHOSE an Emergency C-section: (part of) My Birth Story
I used to think that a C-section was a worst-case scenario.
I was totally enamored by the idea of a natural, unmedicated birth, and coming away from mine, I felt totally robbed of that experience. I almost felt a sense of grief and loss over "the birth I didn't have".
Late in my pregnancy I was very keen to surround myself by positive birth stories and I got SO angry when women dumped their traumatic birth story on me. I'm so glad I blocked the scary stories out, set boundaries and protected myself in the last couple of months. It allowed me to go into my birth free of fear and open to whatever came up. So if this is you, this is an official warning: DO NOT READ THIS... my birth did not go well! In fact, it was a bit of a train wreck...
At one point, though, I remember reading a birth story from a woman who was planning a home birth and ended up with an emergency c-section. I found it strangely reassuring - like even if it all goes wrong, it will still be ok.
I am still planning to write out my full birth story at some point, but this part is usually what most people want to know.
What made it become a c-section? With all the high hopes I had for my birth, what went wrong?
In the end it was me who asked for a c-section, before it was offered to me. It became blatantly obvious that I was not going to birth this baby.
The background in a nutshell:
I went very far past my due date. My waters broke at 41 + 5 and I wasn't sure I was feeling movements. I rushed straight to the hospital, and while the baby was fine, they weren't happy with the monitor - there wasn't enough variability. I was (reluctantly) given pitocin, and 30 hours later it was clear that the induction had failed: I was only 2cm dilated.
I insisted on doing most of this without pain medication (which some clever buggers have pointed out was probably a waste - everyone's an expert in hindsight). I got an epidural about 25 hours into the pitocin party, when I was well and truly done.
The aim of the epidural was to let me sleep and rest and see if my body would respond and I would dilate (apparently this happens about a third of the time)... but it didn't. Contractions stopped and I was a big, floppy mess. Totally and utterly exhausted I could hardly speak. My husband fed me Sprite through a straw (I couldn't hold it myself) and trying to swallow the damn stuff I felt like the epidural had been injected straight into my lips.
A whole team of doctors and midwives came into my room at that point and had a debrief. The senior doctor told me that contractions had stopped and I was pretty much the same as I was before the epidural - less than 2cm dilated.
(Side note: getting your cervix checked when you are on an epidural is knarly...)
She informed me that they would check back in in a couple of hours to see if I had progressed at all, and if not, we would discuss other options.
But I knew it was over now. Again, some clever people might point out that it was probably over well before that, but I had my reasons for continuing to try for a natural birth as long as I did, but I won't go into that now.
I knew that if I took this route, if I continued to try to have a vaginal delivery now, it would be a vacuum delivery. If I can't even drink Sprite through a straw, I would not have the strength to push this baby out. That meant one thing: feet up in stirrups, cutting my pelvic floor open, attaching a vacuum to his head and pulling him out of me... while I did nothing.
I knew that a vacuum delivery, especially one where I was totally not contributing in any way, presented a really high risk of pelvic floor dysfunction and pelvic organ prolapse after delivery and that, for me, it could be way worse than a c-section.
I knew that this was a worser worst-case scenario than that c-section I didn't want.
And besides, my poor baby had already been subjected to 25 hours of contractions, a great deal of which were only 3 minutes apart. It was great that I was getting a break from the contractions, but he wasn't. He's doing well right now, what if in two more hours he could not be ok? I needed him out now.
And this could have been the ultimate, unspeakable, actual worst case scenario.
I said all this to the doctor and told her that I think it's time to start talking about a c-section. She replied "I didn't want to say that because I thought you really didn't want to go that way... but that would be my official recommendation. If we go now, we will walk into the operating theatre - later we might need to run."
I didn't need anymore convincing.
And it was the best decision that I made in my birth.
For a while after the birth I would have flashbacks, and would break down in tears whenever I thought of or started to talk about what happened.
One thing's for sure: getting wheeled into the operating theatre, I felt the calmest and most relaxed I had felt since getting to the hospital. And the memory of that part of the birth was not the traumatic bit.
The recovery from a c-section is no walk in the park though - in many ways it was worse than the birth itself. Any movement is excruciating the first few days. It starts to become bearable after about a week (with a LOT of pain medication) and at two weeks it was fine unless I was on my feet for a long time.
I also just felt utterly horrified by the incision - it's not easy looking down and seeing a huge wound that's been stapled up on your body.
It's hard to digest that this is part of your body now.
(Not to mention the belly - the 6-months-pregnant-but-saggier-old-lady-belly... but that isn't c-section specific).
But like everything else, you process it, and integrate it. It becomes part of you and the the sting is taken out of it.
And I got this beautiful creature out of it
It does really bother me when people say "you're both healthy and that's all that matters". Healthy mum and baby is absolutely the most important thing in birth. But birth experiences matter. The mother's body matters.
I didn't feel pissed about my c-section - ultimately the c-section saved my life, and my baby's, and I feel very grateful that it was not only an option, but so easily given. I didn't have to fight for it, or even wait. I just asked for it and I was being wheeled in.
I've never felt so grateful for modern medicine.
But I felt hurt by the treatment I received up until that point. I was not treated well by the medical staff. I felt belittled and not at all supported. They poked fun at me for not taking an epidural and for wanting to move around. They ignored requests for help - like adjusting the monitor or bringing me a wireless one.
But more about that in another post...
I also got a lot of stick - a lot of people I knew thought it was naive and dangerous to have a home birth, or even a natural birth. I didn't share my birth preferences with many people because I felt very judged for it. After the birth, I felt a snarky "I told you so" from a lot of those people. I've already written about how it's wise to talk about birth preferences as opposed to choices or expectations, but that to some extent it's legitimate to have all three.
I always knew that I couldn't choose how my birth would go, but I definitely preferred certain procedures and outcomes over others. I didn't expect to have a home birth, or a natural birth, even though I preferred them, because I knew I couldn't control those outcomes. For a lot of people it seems difficult to differentiate those two nuances.
Something that I did expect was to be treated with respect, kindness and compassion. I didn't experience that in my birth until a wonderful midwife called Sophie started her shift and took charge of the situation.
But again, more about that in another post...
I am so grateful that my little boy is here, and that we are both healthy - but I have come away from the experience with a lot of mixed feelings about how my birth went, and a lot of thoughts about birth, pregnancy, midwifery and how women can support each other.