Can a C-section be healing? I believe so. Not because I have to believe, but because I experienced one just about two short months ago. Would you like to hear the tale? Let’s begin with the birth of my first child.
Well, it actually has to start about four weeks before he was born. It is September 2011 and I am just about 35 weeks pregnant with my first baby, a very exciting time indeed, when the scariest thing possible happens. I go into preterm labor. Or so I thought. The first thing, of course, that I did was call my provider at the time. I told them I felt cramps that spanned all the way around my abdomen just below my belly button. I was restless and cranky, but had no other signs. They listened to me on the phone and when one 'thingie' as I called it at the time hit, they told me I was having contractions and to come in immediately. So, I did. After spending an hour at the hospital it was concluded that, yes, I was having contractions; but, no, they were not doing anything. My response was SERIOUSLY?!
I was told I was having prodromal labor (no text can do it justice). Prodromal labor is not, as some would tell you, Braxton Hicks contractions. Having had both, I know. Prodromal labor is all the fun of labor without any progress or baby. It sucks because it comes and goes and is as tiring as actual labor.
For four weeks I went through this. Contracting sometimes for six hours straight at a time and then nothing. Nine days into October I went into labor. I was in labor!! I was dilating and everything. Then we were crushed again. After 18 hours in labor I stalled out. Once again at home I would contract for eight or more hours. I was absolutely exhausted but nobody knew of anything that I could do. I was told to just 'tough it out'. Finally, that Friday I went into labor and stayed there. We went to the hospital and were released about six hours later with the doctor saying there just was not enough progression to warrant admission.
Here is where the story gets infuriating for my birth team with my second child.
When we were sent home, still in labor, our doula said she was going home and not to bug her until we were admitted to the hospital. When I told her the reason we hired her was to be with us during this time, while we were laboring alone, she said she was tired and her daughter had a game the next day she wanted to go to. We were horrified but what can you do? We went home and I labored Saturday and Sunday with the blurry help of my tired husband. Finally, with him facing a Monday of going to work as a zombie he forced me to go to the hospital to take them up on a morphine drip so I could get some rest and he could get to work. When we arrived at the hospital I was checked and was found to be four cms dilated. We called the horrible doula, mainly because my husband desperately needed relief, and progressed from four to seven fairly quickly. Then my body gave out. I did not know what to do so I was not moving or changing position. I was just breathing trying to will more strength into my body while sitting on a birth ball. My doula was checking her Facebook and email. My husband was passed out on the other side of the bed, sitting up, with a death grip on my hand. Never once was it suggested that I switch positions or even lie down in the bed.
Another hour later and I was sleeping through contractions. Yup. That was me. My doula took my exhausted husband aside and suggested I get an epidural to get some rest. By this time I had been laboring naturally for over 69 hours on top of the prodromal labor, I was exhausted. I got the epidural and sent my husband to the 'in-room' couch for a nap. My doula disappeared. I have no idea where she went.
The hospital staff did what they could and my doctor violated hospital policy by letting me labor two extra hours. You see when my waters broke there was meconium in them and this meant I had a 12 hour window in which to give birth. However, my baby was doing so well he let me go two extra hours. Finally, with a body that, on Pitocin, had made it to 9.5 cms, I began to shut down. I was swelling shut. Worst of all my baby was crashing. I was rushed into a C-section where my baby came out with an APGAR of 1.1! Warrior that he was he bounced back four minutes later to have an APGAR of eight. At 11:30 pm I was wheeled into my maternity room and left alone to ponder what the hell had just happened.
Fast forward to Thanksgiving 2012, about 13 months later, I am staring at a stick not believing the little blue plus sign. I shake the darn thing like it is one of those old time mercury thermometers. The lines do not go away. Though I am not certified, I have taken all my doula training courses, researched, read and most importantly, located good resources outside the hospital. This time I get a midwife and go with an OB who is not only VBAC friendly and highly recommended by every midwife I interview, but is personal friends with my midwife and she has him on speed dial. I get a new doula, who just so happens to be my mother-in-law. I have prodromal labor, but this time am encouraged to take calcium-magnesium daily and Tylenol when it gets bad. With the exception of the stomach flu every month for seven months straight my pregnancy is about as eventful as watching paint dry.
The day before I hit 38 weeks, a Sunday, I am cranky, achy and generally pi**ed off. Hey, it is July and it is hot where I am. Plus, my husband refused to take me to the pool that day. He remarks on how agitated I am and I tell him I have been achy all day, standing up folding a ton of baby laundry and still have to get the nursery together. Did I mention we had not gotten anything ready with the exception of home birthing items, the crib in the correct location (which was already there because my first born was sleeping in it while we were fixing his room) and the co-sleeper ready? Everything else was in pieces. My hubby jokes that it is good that nothing is really happening. Only a man would call what I was going through nothing. Then at 3 am Monday morning I have show. I yell at my husband, take two Tylenol PM to sleep and think nothing of it. With my first I had a show at 36 weeks and he was born only two days before his due date.
Since work is 60 miles away (and my boss had been begging me for weeks to do this) I telecommute that Monday. I get about two hours of work when I just cannot sit still any longer. I walk. I lie down. I take calcium-magnesium. I tell my midwife I am having some bad Braxton-Hicks and ask suggestions. She is skeptical but contractions are about 20 minutes apart and 45 to 50 seconds long. To be fair to her I tell her they have no pattern. See, I have OCD so when people say they have to be consistent I naturally think they ALL have to be 45 seconds long. I labor the rest of the day away. When my husband comes home he immediately calls the midwife. I really do not believe this is labor at all so go to take a shower. When my midwife arrives she comments, as she is checking us, that she could hear me moaning from the front door. I was moaning? I am two cms dilated and not very effaced but definitely in labor and had been so since I saw the show that morning. Everything looks good and she wants us to get some sleep so I take Tylenol PM and she goes home, which is about a mile from my house.
I get no sleep. The contractions, which had been a breeze, suddenly become extremely painful and my hips shoot with pain during each and every one. My husband, bless his soul, holds my hand during each contraction. At 6 am Tuesday morning he calls the midwife to see if she could stay with me while he went to work. By 7 am my first born is at daycare and my midwife has arrived. I am still 2 cms dilated but I have effaced to about 60% and the baby has moved to below my pubic bone. A lot of progress. Then comes the bad news. He has turned so that he is facing my right hip and therefore his shoulders are at a 90 degree angle to where they should be. That means that every contraction has been forcing his shoulders down on my hips and flexing my hips a bit. However, I feel I am in a good place at home so we stay. My husband gets up to get ready for work. The midwife asks what he is doing and when he asks should he go to work she tells him not to if he values his marriage!
We continue to labor at home until about 2 pm. My midwife is concerned. I have not rested. I have not been drinking much nor have I been eating. In fact, the quarter of a sandwich that I ate was hard bargained for by my husband. She is afraid that my body is going to get too tired to push especially since I cannot stop moving about long enough to rest a little. She is calling my OB, my husband is packing us to leave (I told you I was not ready!) and I am screaming at my back-up midwife to put something waterproof on the bed. She is trying to convince me nothing is needed because I am going to the hospital when my water breaks. All over my bed. With no rubber sheet on it. Excited, I am checked again and again found still to be about a 2 cm dilated. The sheets are then tested with some strip that could tell the midwife if it is amniotic fluid. The strip turns dark purple. Not only is it amniotic fluid but there is a good chance there is meconium in it. Now the hospital is not open for debate. We have to go.
At the hospital I try position changes and the fabulous jetted tub. My mother-in-law arrives (we flew her in from Oklahoma) and I labor a little longer without any pain medications. My problem is that I have lost a hold of the contractions and cannot get back on them. It is not the actual contractions or the baby moving up and down, it is the fact my hips were completely destroyed by laboring so long with the baby so low in an unfavorable position. I am, I will admit, screaming for an epidural but am not allowed one until I am six cms. I am a TOLAC (trial of labor after c-section) after all and that is my OB’s orders to maximize my chances of a VBAC. Though I curse his name I am deeply grateful for that edict. I now had a chance to get on top of the pain. Unfortunately, I could not.
When I hit 6 cm I get the epidural. I can still feel and move my feet. I ask the anesthesiologist if this is normal and am told they do not heavily medicate TOLACs; but I do have my joy buzzer if I need more meds. Here is where things go south on rails. The epidural does not hold. (Psst, no one is worried about my slow progress, they are worried about my epidural not holding.) I get the first dose of the epidural again. My blood pressure tanks. It is so low I am starting to pass out lying down. I get medication to boost my blood pressure. The epidural stops working again. I get a new first dose but I think the doctor is just adjusting my joy buzzer. So, at the same time he gives me the first dose I hit my joy buzzer, effectively giving myself a double dose. It is while he is doing this that my nurse registers that I have a fever and subsequent blood work reveals an infection. I fall asleep, though pass out might be better a better term. About an hour after I fall asleep the nurse comes banging in waking everyone up and shakes me. Freaked out we ask if the baby is okay. She is more concerned about me as my oxygen saturation rate is at 65. I should mention here that my baby is a tank. NOTHING WAS EVER WRONG WITH MY BABY. Go figure.
By now my fever is not responding to medication, my blood pressure is staying way too low and my epidural has worn off again. My OB wants me checked in 30 minutes and if no progress has been made I am to be given a C-section or he is afraid I might have an emergency while trying to push. The anesthesiologist is called in again to re-up the epidural. We can hear the disbelief in his voice. The reason? I am on all fours in my bed laboring. With as many times as I had the initial dosing my legs should be jelly. He cannot put in more of the medication because I am having a contraction. It is 3 minutes long with very little, if any, rest in between. My nurse, bless her heart, is sure that this is transition and I will be pushing soon. I think she is more excited than my husband and I. It was a belly drop then when we found out that no, it was not transition but hyper-stimulation of the uterus. Not only that but my vitals took a dive during that contraction. My tank? He was doing just fine.
Once again the anesthesiologist is called in. He pulls out my epidural line and puts in a brand new one for the C-section. Not only is it a hurry to get me open and baby out because my vitals are not great but because we are not sure if the epidural will hold. Baby comes out screaming with a lovely APGAR of eight. The epidural holds until the last few staples are going in. I felt those.
So, how, you ask, is this a healing experience? Some would say it was worse than the first. It is healing because everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, was on my side. My midwife answered every question and helped in every way. She made my pregnancy easy by helping me identify when I needed to take something and being superwoman would do me no good. She helped me keep my Braxton-Hicks/prodromal labor under control and was with me every step of the way. My OB worked with her to maximize the efficacy of my care. He ENCOURAGED the home birth but informed me of his practices surrounding a hospital VBAC should I need to come in. He told me only his VBAC success stories, medicated and non-medicated. That built my confidence that he’d do everything to see my wishes through should I have to come in. The nurses at the hospital left us to our own devices and only came in if absolutely necessary. They hid all the monitors so we could not worry about numbers or lines. They cheered me on through tough contractions, were excited when it looked like I might make it, comforted me when another C-section was ordered and delayed checking me even when directly asked by my doctor. Our night nurse 'forgot' to check on me at the required 30 minute interval because I was doing alright and baby was great. Why mess with what is working? Everyone was working for me, cheering for me and wanting this as bad as I did. The support I had this time around was not given to me my first go around. It did heal me.
What are my OB and I planning? A VBA2C. Well, in a few years. ;)