Mama: Maureen Hunt
Baby: Madeline, born March 3, 2007, at 4:27 p.m., 8 pounds 3 ounces, 20¼ inches
With my first baby, I had an uncomplicated, scheduled Cesarean section at thirty-nine and a half weeks. My baby was breech, and she stayed that way despite the acupressure and moxibustion I’d tried to encourage her to turn.
After the C-section, we were both physically fine, but I felt I had lost my power as a mother. I felt like I didn’t give birth to my baby. The doctors pulled her out of me, and the nurses showed her to me briefly, then whisked her away for what felt like an endless hour while they checked her out and sewed me up. After being one for so long, then being separated and maneuvered around by doctors and nurses, I felt small and weak emotionally. I felt robbed of a sense of accomplishment. I kept telling myself that the important thing was my health and the health of my baby. I thought I should be satisfied with that. But I wasn’t.
Fast-forward six years to the birth of my second child. I was determined to birth my baby myself. I found a clinic that supported vaginal birth after Cesarean (VBAC). I chose the clinic because they had nurse-midwives there, not realizing that I’d have to see an obstetrician for a VBAC. I finally settled on an OB I liked there, but the closer my due date came, the more she talked about a C-section.
“Are you sure you are still planning on having a VBAC?” my OB asked, three appointments in a row. “I think your baby is breech right now; maybe we should think about C-section as a possible option,” she said, and another time: “You know, you’re measuring a little large. Shall we schedule that C-section just in case? Let’s see, let me look at my calendar and give you a few dates . . .”
I needed someone cheering me on, saying, “You can do it!” not someone constantly questioning my decision to pursue a VBAC. At thirty-seven weeks, I switched clinics. Luckily, I live in a big city, and I was able to find a different group of nurse-midwives affiliated with the same hospital.
Immediately, I felt the difference in attitude. The midwives convey their belief that birth is natural, and that there are normal variations in the size of both baby and mother, and in the length of labor. They also seemed less concerned that I was thirty-five years and two months old—in the “old woman” category of expectant mothers.
Don’t get me wrong: OBs aren’t the “bad guys” and nurse-midwives aren’t the “good guys.” It’s just that most healthy pregnant women need the tender-loving, matter-of-fact care of nurse-midwives, while only a minority needs the medical and surgical expertise of an OB.
Having found the supportive midwives I needed, I was ready for a VBAC, I thought. Then, my early labor lasted for seven days, and it was exhausting. For inspiration, my husband and I put up a picture taken the day my first daughter was born.
In that picture, my daughter—who stayed with Grandma while I labored this time—is one hour old, and her head is resting on my chest. Her head is round and healthy-looking, but not particularly large in the photo, despite the fact that it measured in the 99th percentile at birth and contributed to my needing a C-section. So all I could think about during my early labor was “large head.” Subconsciously, I think, I was scared that I couldn’t birth this second baby. What if she had a big head, too?
Although I could say that I felt confident in my body’s ability to give birth naturally, it seemed I hadn’t fully let go of my fear that I’d need a C-section again.
Still, I made steady progress in my labor until I got to 5 or 6 centimeters. But there in the final stages, I stalled out for more than seven hours. My husband, Dan, was unbelievable in the support that he gave me. He never left my side, and he gazed into my eyes through each contraction, giving me a focal point.
My midwife took into account that I’m a big-boned, healthy if slightly overweight, athletic 190-pound woman. She knew I drank my raspberry leaf tea, shopped at the natural food co-op, did my prenatal yoga, and sang and danced and was active throughout my pregnancy. The chances of a uterine rupture were minuscule. Knowing that, and seeing on the monitor that my baby was fine, my midwife let me go on laboring a lot longer than an OB would have.
Finally, I decided to get an epidural. With that relief, my hips relaxed immediately and my pelvic bones opened up. I pushed my baby out a few hours later. I did it!! I finally felt like all was right with the world, like this is how birth was meant to be. I had a successful VBAC, and that feels great!
Pictured: Madeline and her older sister Leina.
Excerpted from Belly Button Bliss: A Small Collection of Happy Birth Stories (Fairview Press, 2010)