Three years ago, I sat down and wrote out all the details I could remember about my cesarean birth. I was just a month away from facing my VBAC attempt, and I used this as an exercise in catharsis to process everything that happened during my first labor. I’m not sure why I never published it on my blog before, but I ran across the document as I was sifting through some stuff on my external hard drive. Readers have often asked me for my cesarean birth story so I think now is a good time to share it. I’ve learned a lot in the years since my birth, AND since I wrote this, so take this as a snapshot of where I was then.
Jonas was due July 27th, 2006. All 40 weeks of my pregnancy had been as normal and healthy as they could be. But in the brutal Chicago summer, as I went sailing past my due date without so much as a tiny bit of effacement, I was ready to get that baby out. Labor was nowhere in sight, and I felt that my body needed a little reminding of what was supposed to be happening here.
My OB scheduled my induction for Monday, July 31st. I checked into the hospital at 5 pm. They immediately hooked me up to an IV of antibiotics, and strapped the fetal monitors around my belly. I was bed-ridden, which made me very uncomfortable and anxious. At 10 pm the doctor explained that they were going to start me on Cervadil. He explained that Cervadil would only help soften my cervix, so in 12 hours they would check me again to see what kind of progress I was making.
Well, at 11:30 pm, just an hour and a half later, I was in labor. I was already starting to dilate, but the pain was manageable. It felt like intense period cramps, which is about what I expected. Things seemed to sail along pretty smoothly until a nurse came in around 2 am to check my cervix. As she reached in to test my cervix, the pain was excruciating. It felt like she was stretching my cervix open, and as she pulled her hand out I felt a huge gush. I said “My water just broke.” And nurse responded “No it didn’t.” So I said “I’m very serious, please look again, it just broke.” She finally agreed to check me again at which time she said “oh yeah, it did break.” She then immediately walked over to the IV and started Pitocin. My husband and I looked at each other, confused, and both asked her why I needed Pitocin if I was progressing. She said the doctor ordered it, so we both just kept our mouth shut after that. We felt like we didn’t know what we were talking about, so maybe we should just let them do their job.
But the Pitocin was the beginning of the end. Within the hour, I was in such horrific pain that I couldn’t breathe. I was having several minute long contractions with almost no break in between. The only way I could catch my breath was to sob. I felt like someone was holding me underwater and I was gasping for air. I begged for the Epidural, but they wouldn’t give it to me until I was at least 3 cm dilated. At 6 am, the anesthesiologist finally came in, and to this day I have no idea what he looked like. I was crying so hard, I couldn’t see anyone in the room. It took him a few tries, but the Epidural went in, and within a half hour I was able to fall asleep.
At 9 am, I woke up to a few doctors standing around me. They all looked concerned, and said something about the baby’s heart rate dropping too low with each contraction. They said they needed to do an amnioinfusion (where they put fluid back into the uterus) and see if that helped reduce the fetal distress.
Over the next few hours, my Epidural stopped working, and I could feel all the Pitocin-induced contractions again. They kept losing Jonas’s heart beat no matter which way I laid, so they decided to insert an Internal Fetal Monitor, which was a monitor that is literally screwed into the top of the baby’s head.
By 3 pm, I could feel everything, and they couldn’t get the epidural working again. Jonas’s heart rate continued to suffer, so they tried turning the Pitocin up to see if it would move me along quicker. All that did was cause Jonas to try to squeeze through my cervix which was only half dilated. This formed a large bubble on the top of his head. By 5 pm, my uterus gave up. I made it to 5 cm, but wouldn’t dilate anymore, so they started talking about a c-section. As the doctor left the room, I turned to my husband and sobbed. He held me and told me not to feel bad, that I had done a great job, and everything would be okay.
The doctor agreed to let me keep laboring until he could finish his appointments, then he would come back to do the c-section at 7 pm. For the next two hours, I prayed that labor would pick up again, and I thought I might be able to will my cervix open. That didn’t happen, so at 7 pm they wheeled me into the OR. I was okay as long as my husband was at my side, but as we went through the doors they made him stay behind. The moment he left my side, I was in hysterics. I cried uncontrollably. I was terrified. I had never even broken a bone, let alone had any sort of major surgery, so I was completely overcome with fear. The nurses and resident were nice enough to calm me down and try to soothe me.
Ten minutes later they allowed my husband into the room, but he had to stay behind the curtain with me and was not allowed to watch the surgery. My arms, neck, and back were convulsing from the Epidural, so he focused on trying to ease my upper body pain.
At 7:27, Jonas was pulled into the world, and as he started to cry, my husband and I both cried too. Hearing my son’s voice for the first time was overwhelming and beautiful, but also terrifying because I couldn’t see him. They took him to the table to be measured and weighed. I could only see the nurses standing around him. They brought him over for a second and I saw his little bottom lip curl up, the same way it still does when he’s upset. Just then, I started vomiting on myself, and I was terrified that I was going to choke on it because I was still strapped down and couldn’t turn to my side. That was the last thing I remember before waking up in recovery at around 10 pm.
After spending an hour or two in recovery, I was taken back to my room to wait for Jonas. It was after midnight when I held him for the first time. He was perfect. Absolutely beautiful. Yet nearly 20 months later, I still cannot get over the pain of not being the first one to meet my baby; to hold my baby. For many months afterward, I’d get terribly depressed any time a woman around me was pregnant because I felt like she was about to have the opportunity to do something that I didn’t get to do, and I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get the chance again.
I’m now 8 months pregnant with our second son, and planning an un-medicated VBAC. After nearly two years of research, I now feel empowered to take control over this birth. I will resist unnecessary interventions. I will be an advocate for my own safe, natural delivery. And most of all, I will not look back on this birth with any regrets about what might-have-been if only I had been more informed.
A month later, I did get my VBAC, but man, there were certainly a lot of regrets. While getting my vaginal birth remains one of the most important things I’ve ever done in my life, what I had to go through to get it was truly unfortunate. Every time I re-read my VBAC story, I still can’t believe it ends in a vaginal birth. Since then, I have seen a thousand stories just like mine end in a CBAC. I talked to my doula last weekend about my VBAC birth, and she told me for the first time that, at one point during my labor, she went home and cried because she was convinced I was going to end up with another cesarean. The fact that I didn’t still seems like an unreal miracle, especially knowing what I know now. And if that had happened, I wonder what kind of a different story I’d be telling today.
Ultimately, I am glad that I went through that experience because A.) it propelled me into the career goals I have now and B.) It convinced me to plan for my next birth to take place right in my own home. So, I guess I can’t really regret what happened, in either birth. However, I certainly would not wish for any other woman to learn things the way I did. I’d give just about anything to be carrying this baby in an un-scarred uterus, and without all the emotional scarring that came bundled with it.
In my next lifetime…