Elliott’s Birth Story (Kelli’s homebirth transfer low tranverse with tear)
Before I got pregnant, I was a birth junkie. I love reading birth stories, and I looked forward to labor and birthing my baby probably more than the baby itself. I had a deep trust in my body’s ability to birth, and looked forward to doing the most powerful thing I was capable of. I planned a home birth, because I wanted to be in the most comfortable environment possible, and wanted this to be a spiritual opportunity, not a medical event.
My due date was January 2, and first time moms (who are not induced) are on average 8-10 days late, so I planned on being late and making it past the holidays, so little one’s birthday would get the attention it deserved from friends and family. I had an awesome pregnancy, and was in no hurry to be done with it. Just as long as I wasn’t a week early, I said countless times, because that would be Christmas and that would be awful for my little boy.
Well, on Christmas Eve, 38 weeks and 5 days pregnant, I started having more regular contractions, but they were not at all strong – they felt like mild back pain that wrapped around my whole lower back and came in waves, but they didn’t require any of my focus or attention. I started timing them for fun, and was somewhat alarmed to find that they were coming every 3-5 minutes, for 45-60 seconds each. But I was sure I had read somewhere that the frequency didn’t matter unless they were strong, so I drank a glass of wine, soaked in the hot tub, and went to bed. I mentioned it to Eric, but told him that contractions like this often come and go for days or weeks, so it was probably nothing.
I woke up at 2am to contractions that were just as frequent and a bit stronger, just strong enough so that I couldn’t quite sleep through them. I laid in bed, resting between them for an hour or so, and then decided to have another round of hot tub and wine, in the hopes of getting them to stop and sleeping some more. I found Eric, still awake in the office watching TV, and mentioned that he might want to get to sleep soon, as we could have a big day ahead of us. I was starting to realize this could actually be labor, like it or not. This time they kept coming strong, despite the hot water and wine, so I gave it up and went upstairs to labor in the bedroom. I even enlisted the advice of some friends online on how to slow down a labor, but the consensus was that when baby is ready, there’s no stopping it.
Now that I was consenting to the idea that this was labor, I became very aware of the back pain which surely indicated a posterior (“sunny side up”) baby. I had been obsessed with not having a posterior baby – I had done all the right things, spending tons of time on hands and knees and never reclining backwards. He was always in perfect position at my appointments, but there were days when I couldn’t find his heartbeat as well, so I suspected he’d been flipping back and forth, but assumed he would flip the right way when it came down it. Anyway, I started doing all the exercises I knew of to flip him anterior, including the abdominal lifts during contractions (those aren’t really fun) and lots of cat and cow, but the pain in my back never ceased.
The contractions steadily grew in intensity, and got a little closer together, and eventually I was vocalizing through them, swaying my hips from side to side and moaning. I had a rhythm going, and felt very “in my zone.” I was starting to get kind of excited, realizing that I was really doing it. I was laboring, I felt strong and capable, and everything felt very intense, but totally manageable and fluid, just like I’d always imagined.
It was close to 8am when I texted my doula (Julie) that I might need support soon, and I felt just horrible taking her away from her family on Christmas morning. Shortly after that, Eric woke to the sounds of me laboring, and he got there just in time, because the contractions were getting stronger, and I had him give me counter pressure by pressing into my back during them, and that felt so great. I would drop to my hand and knees or lean over the bed and say “here it comes” and he would rush over to support me. We put on my Bluesy Laborland playlist and got a great rhythm going.
I got a hold of my midwife (Laurie) soon after that, but she had another momma in labor as well – a girl who happened to be my friend, and who had been in labor for a few days – we had been messaging each other all night about our respective situations. So Laurie went to check on her, and sent an apprentice midwife I had worked with before (Nina) to check me. It was probably around 9:30am when Nina got here, and I hopped up on the bed to be checked. I was in really good spirits, and still thought I was in very early labor. When she told me I was dilated 4 or 5 centimeters, I was shocked! I couldn’t believe this was going so fast. My hopes of drawing this labor out to December 26th were pretty dashed; it looked like we were going to have a Christmas baby.
Eric called my mom, who came over right away, and started helping around the house, cleaning things up and taking care of the kitties. Julie got here and started helping with the counter pressure, while Eric cleared room for the pool and got the birth supplies together. Julie also pulled out some tricks with her rebozo to try and turn baby anterior, but they didn’t seem to make a difference. I was handling my contractions just fine, so I wasn’t too bothered by him being posterior. I could take the back pain, and I was in a very it-is-what-it-is, just-roll-with-it place.
Laurie called her backup midwife (Brielle) to come over, who I had yet to meet, but knew of my reputation, and she came over rather quickly. We had a friendly introduction between contractions, and I welcomed her into my little team. Right as she walked in, my water broke while I was on hands and knees on the bed, and my contractions kicked it up a notch. This was the first time I remember labor feeling difficult, and I quickly recognized that I was in transition. Immediately, I remembered the birth pool, and really wanted to be in water. Unfortunately, Brielle had not brought her pool, but she said my garden bath tub would work fine. This irritated me, because I had really looked forward to birthing in the pool. My tub was in my white tile bathroom, against the wall, made of hard porcelain. The inflatable birth tub was supposed to be in the bedroom, where I could be surrounded by support. But I kept those thoughts to myself, because it is what it is, what can ya do?
I spent some time leaning over the birth ball, rolling my hips around in between contractions. I remember at one point saying “you know what I love about these contractions? I love that they END.” I was still laughing and talking in between them, and I was really appreciating the breaks that made the peaks seem so manageable. It was a sweet relief every time the pressure in my back subsided.
They got the tub ready, and I excitedly hopped in the water. It wasn’t quite as great as I imagined, or as the pool might have been, but it felt nice. But pretty soon after getting in, I announced that I was “feeling pushy.” It was a subtle feeling, but there was definitely an urge to bear down in each contraction. I was checked and declared complete! It was around 11:30. I had the presence of mind to marvel that this was all going so fast. I always thought the fast labors were the kind that slam you with intensity, and this had so not been like that. Go figure.
I started pushing, which felt really good, and there was an excitement in the air. We were going to meet our baby soon. The timeline gets a little fuzzy after that, but I pushed in the tub for a bit, and then my midwives suggested I change positions, so I did as they said, and pushed for a while on the birth stool, and for a long time on the bed, on my back, which I was surprised to find myself doing. Laurie arrived at some point, so I had three midwives, my doula, my mom and Eric there with me. One or two people would support my head and another person would hold on to the rope or rebozo, which I would pull on while I pushed, and they yelled for me to tuck my chin and round my back – I had no idea which people were where, I was deep in my laborland. I pushed with all my might, using all the strength I could muster, and I could feel his head moving downward. I reached in myself and felt his head and this helped me push harder. It was so close, maybe a couple of inches in, for so long. The midwives would get really excited, saying “that’s good! He’s right there! You’re doing great!” and it felt like his head was going to break through any moment … but it didn’t. I kept expecting a ring of fire or for someone to say “he’s coming, I see his head!” … but it never happened.
I didn’t really realize it had been that long – time loses proportion when you’re pushing. But the midwives started ramping up their efforts to turn him, I guess because it was taking so long. They made me change positions a few more times, which I hated, because moving was uncomfortable and the supported squat they kept wanting me to do was difficult and did not feel good to me like the bed had. I tried pushing on the stool, but it wasn’t very comfortable either.
When we got back to the bed, Laurie started trying to manually turn him, which involved her whole hand inside my cervix between contractions, and was the first time that day that I was truly in pain. It was horrible. I trusted her, and let her do it, but whenever she started, all logic left my mind and I howled at the top of my lungs and begged her to stop. Nothing existed but pain in those moments. Contractions felt like a relief, like a pleasant break between the excruciating pain. I got no rest, no recovery time, just hard work, then intense pain, then hard work, then intense pain. Then she changed her approach and had me roll to side-lying, and she shook my hips during and between contractions, and that was nearly as bad as the manual turning. I screamed bloody murder some more, and cried for her to stop. I felt like I was being tortured, and I knew it was all for the best, but it was almost more than I could take.
Soon after that, at 4:00pm, I learned the sobering news. Laurie said something like “Ok, here’s what’s going on. He’s posterior, with his neck extended, and he can’t come out this way. The only way he can come out is if he tucks his chin. I suggest we drain and refill the tub, and you spend an hour in there – relax, visualize him tucking his chin and communicate with him. If there’s no change in an hour, we have to go to the hospital.”
My world froze. I couldn’t believe this was happening; everything had been going so well. I lay in the tub and relaxed, and tried to talk to the baby and see him tucking his chin, but I kinda knew it wouldn’t happen. I pushed enough to satisfy the urges, but didn’t worry about them being productive pushes. I started to feel weak and tired. I felt alone and sad, as everyone had left me, and I called for Julie or Eric. No one answered. I started to get scared, realizing that no one could hear me yell. After a few minutes, Julie came, and I said I didn’t want to be alone, so Eric came and sat with me. I confessed to him that even if baby turned, I wasn’t sure that I had the strength left to push him out. I started to get comfortable with going to the hospital.
Laurie came back in at 5:00pm, and declared there to be no change. We talked about what hospital we’d go to. I learned that the doctor on call at the farther hospital (20 minutes, rather than 8 minutes, away) was an OB with a great reputation for working with midwives and avoiding unnecessary interventions, and decided we would go there. I asked her if it would automatically be a c-section, or if there was a chance that with an epidural and manual manipulation, they could get him out vaginally. She thought there was a chance they might try that.
The ride to the hospital was horrible. At the midwives’ direction, I tried my hardest not to push, to breathe through the contractions instead, but this was not possible. Pushing was involuntary, and not doing so felt so wrong and difficult. I leaned over my mom’s lap in the backseat while Eric drove. I kept asking how much longer. I had to get out of that car. I was done and I was ready for my epidural.
Being wheeled through the hospital was surreal. I stripped down and laid on the hospital bed, asking for my epidural. I had to sign papers and answer questions, and the lights were so bright, and strange people were all around, and they kept telling me not to push. I will stop pushing when I get my damn epidural! What did they not understand about this? They ran an IV and finally, the doctor checked me. He declared the baby’s presentation to be undeliverable and called for a c-section. I consented, and asked for the spinal block. I couldn’t think about the cesarean right now, so I just stayed focused on the pain relief that would soon come.
I got my spinal block, and my mind went blank. I didn’t care about anything anymore – I couldn’t think about all that I was losing, not then. Eric stayed by my side and (with Julie’s help) remembered all the important stuff from my cesarean birth plan, about Julie switching out in the OR so Eric could go with the baby, about not bathing him right away, about keeping my placenta. I don’t remember much about the operating room or what conversations went on while they cut me. It was cold, and I remember shivering. I remember thinking what a horrible place this was to begin life, with all the bright lights and men wearing masks.
When they pulled him out of me at 6:52pm, he cried, and I swear, he sounded like a cat to me. They took him to the NICU team, and Eric went with him. He had some fluid in his lungs, and a little trouble breathing, but Eric’s tone of voice was excited and reassuring, so I didn’t worry. He calmed down as soon as Eric touched him – he knew his Daddy right away. I felt some joy and relief in that, and was excited, but still felt surreal and emotionally numb. They brought him over to me for a moment, but said he would have to go to the NICU for a few days. I kissed him and let him leave with Eric, while Julie took his place at my side.
I’ve heard people proudly proclaim that cesarean birth is still birth, and they still birthed their baby, but I didn’t feel like I had birthed a baby. When people asked me who delivered my baby, I had always imagined answering that I had delivered my baby, my midwife had just caught him. But the doctor had delivered my baby, and I had had nothing to do with it. It was supposed to be the most powerful thing I would do, I was supposed to be a birth goddess, and I was numb, immobile, powerless. I wanted to be excited that I was a mom, that my baby was here, but I wasn’t sure how yet, because I wasn’t really able to make the connection that that had happened.
While they sewed me up, I talked to Julie about VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean) options. That was the only thing that got me through the c-section, was knowing that I would get to VBAC one day. Natural birth may be awesome, but nothing compares to the triumph and elation of a VBAC momma. This was my silver lining.
They took me into recovery, and I asked everyone about when I could see my baby. I had to see him, I had to hold him, I had to nurse him. He had lived in me for nine months, he was supposed to be skin-to-skin, we were supposed to initiate nursing, he needed his momma. And if I could just see him and hold him, I would finally feel like a momma, I would finally get to bond. They told me I had to wait until the drugs wore off and I could stand on my own, which turned out to be eight hours. Eight long, horrible hours.
Eric spent most of that time in the NICU, and visited me when they made him leave. He was apologetic for leaving me at all, but I wanted him to be with the baby, he needed one of his parents there. I asked Eric what he was like, what it was like seeing him, and he said he was so cute, the cutest baby ever, and that he held on to his finger and didn’t want to let it go when they made him leave. He said he was amazing and perfect, and that he couldn’t believe or express how much he loved him. It was so hard for me to not have that, but it was so amazing and tender and wonderful to know that Eric got it. He got that immediate bonding, that I-suddenly-love-you-more-than-I-ever-knew-possible feeling that I had been looking forward to, and I felt such joy and love for him, such amazement and bliss at his description of it.
At 3am, they let me go to the NICU and meet my baby. I didn’t recognize him or feel a connection, and I tried to grasp that he was my baby, that he had just been in my belly. It was hard to bond because we couldn’t hold him; he was attached to too many wires. He had suffered a subgaleal hematoma, meaning blood was pooled under the skin on his head, probably from the prolonged pushing. No one was worried about long-term damage, but they needed to monitor him as his body absorbed all that excess blood, in case he got jaundice or needed additional care.
We visited him as much as they let us, and rested while the NICU was closed. The next afternoon, they let us hold him, and I started to feel like a mom. He was sweet, and sleepy, and soft. I think that was when I started to love him. It didn’t hit me all at once, like I thought it would in my natural birth fantasy, but the love grew every minute, every hour, and I expect it will continue to do so. We decided to name him Elliott, and our family began to become real to me.
That day I saw the doctor, and he explained that Elliott was so far down the birth canal that they had a hard time getting him out, and though I had a bikini line incision, my uterus had torn down one side. I asked if this would hurt my chances of a VBAC, and he said it would eliminate them. This was the first time since my home birth unraveled that I lost it. I sobbed and mourned without any reservation. This was going to take me a long time to get over. I was losing so much. I was losing the most awesome thing about being a woman, the ability to birth my babies and experience this thing that I had dreamed about for so long. I didn’t know that I could ever get over this loss.
Four days after his birth, we took Elliott home, though getting him out of the NICU is another story in and of itself. I felt like a prisoner getting released when they let us leave that hospital with our baby. The first couple of days at home were rough, and then a fog lifted, and I found myself laughing, and the three of us having fun together, genuinely enjoying our new family. Eric’s love and excitement was contagious, and I was in awe of how much I loved him. Our relationship felt stronger than ever, as I marveled at his amazing bond with Elliott, and he complimented me on how amazing I had done, both in laboring for our baby, and in accepting the reality of his cesarean birth.
I have since decided that I am not taking the doctor’s word for it, and I will get second and third and fourth and fifth opinions on my VBAC options. I will go to Dallas if I need to. If there is a way that I can birth my next baby myself, I will find that way. For now, I’m going to focus on healing, physically and emotionally, and move forward with my wonderful baby.
When people hear my story, they seem so apologetic that I had to spend all that time laboring “for nothing,” but that’s the good part of my story, and I’m so glad I got to experience it. I may not have gotten to push my baby out, but no one can take my labor from me.