Today I scheduled a C-section to bring our daughter into the world.*
(*No, I’m sorry, I will not be announcing the C-section date.)
Of course it wasn’t as simple as just that. This is my third baby, so I carry with me a pretty complicated personal history of childbirth. It’s led me down some interesting and unexpected paths, and so I don’t guess I’m surprised at all that I’m going down this one: the scheduled C-section path.
Charlie’s birth: A pretty typical Cytotec/Pitocin induction at 41 weeks 3 days because I was “overdue.” Not something I really wanted, but something I felt I had no choice but to do. My epidural didn’t work. It caused me great distress to be in so much pain and to have no real way to deal with it, to be stuck in bed on my back, to feel so humiliated and helpless. I began pushing before I was fully dilated because it was really the only thing I felt I could do to relieve the pain. My cervix got swollen and I stopped progressing at around 7 centimeters. The OB on call told me that I probably wouldn’t progress any further and recommended a C-section. I jumped at the chance. They put me under general anesthesia. When I woke up, I was no longer pregnant, and the first thing I remember seeing was Roy holding Charlie. It was one of the most alienating and traumatic experiences of my entire life, for many reasons, and it absolutely changed the way I viewed the world.
Simon’s birth: When Charlie was 8 months old, I found myself unexpectedly pregnant with Simon. Still reeling from the sadness, anger, and trauma surrounding Charlie’s hospital birth, Roy and I went down a totally different path for our prenatal care and delivery. We signed a contract with a local midwife for a water VBAC. I had done my research and knew that the best way to avoid another C-section was to stay out of the hospital and go all natural. My prenatal care was stellar and I’m still so very proud of myself for all the emotional and physical work I did to prepare for Simon’s birth. Things got somewhat complicated during my labor; Simon was posterior (sunny side up) and my midwife told me I could start pushing when I felt like it (without checking my dilation). A couple of hours later, there was still no baby and a vaginal check revealed that I wasn’t fully dilated after all. So we did more things to try to get Simon to turn into a more favorable position, and then after a few hours of that, my midwife told me I was almost fully dilated and I needed to go ahead and push past the last little bit of cervix. That time I pushed for SIX HOURS. I finally reached the point of complete exhaustion and we went to the hospital. I requested a repeat C-section, and this one I was actually awake for, which made it a much more positive experience for me than Charlie’s birth had been. However, there were complications: the OB accidentally lacerated my bladder, I had a spinal headache from hell, and I developed a nasty UTI.
Charlie’s birth and the emotional aftermath were both pretty straightforward, in that they unfolded pretty quickly, allowing me to grieve heavily and then re-emerge into the light of hope by the time he was a year old, still fragile but a woman warrior. Simon’s birth was not straightforward. For the first six months afterward I felt positively about the experience. I didn’t really recognize that things hadn’t been handled well while I was laboring. I felt that I had called the shots and that I had been in control, and that helped me to feel empowered. I was disappointed that I had ended up with another C-section, but I felt that I had given it my all.
Then we began to have issues with our midwife, who received a reimbursement from the insurance company for her services (which we had already paid her for). I received part of the reimbursement and never saw any of the rest of the money, even though we went to small claims court and won our case. Sometime during all that, I read an article about posterior babies and how it’s better to wait and let them turn before trying anything like pushing, and it hit me that my midwife had made a mistake in telling me to push. We should have waited. I started asking other birth professionals I knew, and they echoed what the article said. I began to understand that my second C-section, the one I had worked so hard to avoid, could have been … well, avoided. And yet I still thought it was an honest mistake.
Around Simon’s first birthday, I began to get bombarded with birth stories from other clients of the same midwife. It became clear to me that it was practically routine for the midwife to have laboring mothers begin pushing before they were fully dilated, that some were actually lied to about how far dilated they were. These other women also ended up transferring to the hospital and having C-sections.
I thought the anger and sadness, the feelings of betrayal, would swallow me whole. I had been duped. I had been taken advantage of. The person we’d chosen to trust my body, soul, and our baby with had screwed us over: financially, physically, and emotionally. I had to sit with the anger for quite awhile, and then I forced myself to let it go.
So, all that? All that is what I carried into the office with me today as I sat down with the surgery coordinator to schedule my third (and hopefully last) C-section. It feels like many people undergo C-sections with no feelings of trepidation whatsoever, but I am unable to do so. I know the risks; I know a C-section is major surgery; I know I will have an increased risk of not being able to breastfeed, of not being able to bond with my baby, of developing postpartum depression and/or anxiety; I know I am more likely to suffer complications, even life-threatening ones, even death. This whole pregnancy I have been facing the possibility of my own death. My mortality. I cannot count the times I have turned to Roy during this pregnancy and said:
“I don’t want to die.”
For many reasons I can’t bear the thought of having a third C-section. But my alternate options are few. I will not attempt a homebirth, for financial reasons and because my views on out of hospital birth have changed. Our insurance does not cover the hospital in the area that allows VBACs. We seriously considered challenging the VBAC ban at the hospital we’ve chosen but it became almost immediately clear that it would be a stress-ridden battle, and we are up to our ears in stress. Our one real viable option is scheduling a C-section. I have known it for my entire pregnancy and it’s still practically impossible for me to accept.
I will never push a baby out of my vagina. I will never know what that’s like. I will never know if I actually am physically capable of having a vaginal birth, since both of my attempts at having one weren’t handled very well by the medical professionals we chose. I will never be the glorious and beautiful birth goddess I envisioned myself being. If my kids have health problems in the future, I will always wonder if their C-section births were a contributing factor. If I have health problems in the future, my C-sections could very well be a contributing factor.
I know that it’s going to be okay. That my own childbirth story is still being written, revised, rewritten. That when Blueberry Girl is born, there will be a new chapter on childbirth, a new story to tell, so much more to learn. I’ll have another scar on my uterus and my abdomen, I will know what I went through to bring my babies into the world, and I will be proud of that. I will be proud of myself. I will embrace my fears. And I will give myself over to trust, not such an easy thing for a person who’s been through what I have.
Trust. It’s all I’ve got. It’s what I’m choosing. Everything else, even death, especially death, is out of my hands.