Little Zeke was breech in the womb, and despite all our efforts to turn him, he insisted on staying head up (asserting his personality early), so we knew in advance that he would be born by cesarean section. However, we were allowed to wait to go into labor naturally, and finally, six days after his due date, it happened.
The following account includes all the gory details of labor and delivery. If you just want the happy outcome, skip to the next post.
I woke up at 4am Wednesday morning feeling crampy – like regular menstrual cramps – but just figured it was yet another sign that labor could be “any time now.” I slept on and off until the phone rang at 9:30am, and right after that, I lost my mucus plug. Yet another sign of imminent labor, but one that could mean labor within 24 hours, or 2-3 days. I called our midwife, Lindy, who said we should just come in for our scheduled appointment at 2pm that afternoon, and I called Dave to tell him what happened, but that he should stay at work. I spent the rest of the day sitting on the couch – talking on the phone, playing word games on Facebook, feeling about the same as I did that morning.
At 2pm Lindy checked me, saying my cervix was thinning, but since I’d had no contractions, I should just go home and wait. (Sigh.) I expected it to be another few days, but we got home at 3pm, and by 4pm, the cramps became timeable contractions – first about 10 minutes apart, then closer and closer until 7pm when they were about 5 minutes apart and Dave insisted on calling Lindy again.
Side note: I was in complete denial at this point. First, the contractions weren’t what I expected. I thought it would feel like a braxton hicks contraction – a tightening of my whole belly – only painful. This felt like really intense menstrual cramps, very deep and low. And I felt perfectly fine in-between each one. Second, I really did not want to go to the hospital. I didn’t feel ready for surgery. And I had only started laboring a few hours ago… I figured it would be days of contractions before we’d be ready to go.
I have to interrupt the story here to say that I felt very strongly about experiencing some amount of labor even though I knew I would be having surgery. First – I believe in the benefits of labor for both mom and baby – among other things, special hormones are released that are good for both and the contractions help prepare the baby’s lungs for its first breath. Second, I believe that labor – in all its forms, medicated and non – is a kind of rite of passage for women – and I wanted to experience that at least a little bit.
However, Lindy warned us that it would be challenging to recover from both a long labor, and surgery, and once she convinced me that this was actual labor, we headed to the hospital, arriving at 7:45pm. I was very, very scared and thought that we were managing quite well at home using the techniques we learned in our birthing class, but despite my misgivings, the timing turned out to be perfect.
We checked in and were sent to a labor and delivery room – the same place we would have gone if I was having a natural childbirth. Lindy checked me and I was about 1.5 centimeters. I was put on a fetal heart monitor (standard procedure) and told that we would wait there until 10pm – 8 hours since I had last eaten. (They want you to have an empty stomach for surgery.) So I had 2 more hours to labor naturally. The nurses asked me if I wanted anything for the pain and I turned it down. I wanted to feel everything. And it was hard. But I did it.
In those two hours, my water broke. And it was filled (I mean completely filled) with meconium. Apparently this is very common with a breech baby as the contractions squeeze the baby’s butt. Gross. (I’m very glad I was in the hospital for that part.) The contractions got really strong after that, and when Lindy checked me one more time before surgery, I was between 4 and 5 centimeters. I never expected to get that far, and I was proud of myself. And I have to admit that as the nurses were prepping me for surgery and the anesthesiologist told me it would be my last contraction, I was just a bit relieved.
I wish I could say I handled the surgery well, but I didn’t. I can’t remember ever being so scared. (It didn’t help that the surgeon came our room ahead of time and gave me the run down of everything that could go wrong – protocol I guess.) I was shaking uncontrollably, I absolutely hated the feeling of going numb from the ribs down, and once the spinal took effect, I felt like I couldn’t breathe and started hyperventilating. Dave had to be out of the room for all this, so Lindy was by my side, trying to calm me down.
It was better once Dave came in, and then it was only a few minutes before they asked if we were ready to meet our baby. I felt some tugging and then they lifted him over the curtain and
Dave said “it’s a boy” and I felt so many things all at once I can’t really describe it here – shocked, amazed, happy, relieved, still scared…
Side note: Lindy suggested we bring a CD to play in the operating room. At the last minute, as we were walking out the door, I grabbed Dar Williams The Honesty Room. I noted three songs during surgery – first Alleluia – which helped remind me that this was a happy event despite my fear, The Baby Sitter is Here – which made me cry (in a good way) and The Great Unknown – which I commented to Dave was so appropriate for what was going on at that moment. Good stuff that Dar.
Once Zeke was out (we hadn’t chosen a name at that point – more on that later) they put him on my chest for a few minutes. I really didn’t know what to make of him and I remember wanting to touch him but feeling completely restricted by the blood pressure monitor that kept making my arm fall asleep. Then they took him away to be checked and cleaned. Dave stayed with him and Lindy stayed with me. I was so happy that he was finally here, but we still didn’t know if he had downs syndrome – a question that had been in the back of our minds since we turned down the amnio many months ago. Lindy said she would go check (which probably took about 30 seconds but felt like an eternity), and when she came back and said that he was perfect, I finally let myself feel the true joy of the moment.
It probably took another 20 minutes for the surgeon to finish sewing me up. Lindy had written her midwifery thesis about the role of the midwife in non-emergency cesarean births, and in these last moments in the operating room, I finally asked her why. Her first son was born via cesarean and she wanted to make the experience better for other women than it was for her. Despite my fear and disappointment in not being able to have a natural childbirth, she certainly made it the best experience it could have been.
I met up with Dave and baby in the recovery room where we had to wait until I could move my toes and bend my knees. I’m not entirely sure, but I think this took 3-4 hours, and while I was thrilled to be reunited with Dave and Z, it was not the most pleasant experience. I didn’t feel great after surgery. I hated the feeling of being numb and I had the shakes. I couldn’t relax and was desperately trying to wiggle my toes and couldn’t do it. (I kept thinking of Uma Thurman in Kill Bill… she’s a stronger woman than I.) I was also super itchy. I was strapped to so many monitors: three EKGs on my chest and side (I think that’s what they were), a blood pressure monitor that did a reading every 5 minutes, an IV, an occasional pulsox monitor on my finger, and these crazy leg things that would squeeze my calves every few minutes – apparently to help prevent blood clots. I felt like the bionic woman.
Finally – around 2am, we left recovery and went to our postpartum room where were spent the next 3 days healing, and getting to know our baby.