Having learned from my midwives and online sources like spinningbabies.com the difference fetal positioning can make in labor and birth, I began regular chiropractic care with Nancy who specialized in working with pregnant women. From 28 weeks along through the rest of my pregnancy I saw her twice a week. I took vitamins and fish oil supplements, Floradix when my iron count dropped, and drank strong infusions of pregnancy tea (red raspberry, nettle, etc.). Given my demanding work schedule I did not eat quite as well as I wanted, but I kept a pretty healthy diet. The one thing I didn't manage was regular exercise--I was simply too exhausted from work to take walks; I just wanted to lay down.
A change in management at my job tripled my already high stress levels, and that's my guess why my systolic pressure escalated in the last months of my pregnancy. (Testing for pre-eclampsia was negative.) Then, about two weeks before my estimated due date, I caught the worst flu I've ever had in my life. Nothing stayed in but saltine crackers--I could barely keep down water--for ten days or so. I lost five pounds was worried the baby was not getting enough nutrition. My husband fell ill too, and for a while our home was a disaster, our recovery was slow. I went on maternity leave and prepared for the arrival of my mom and sister and niece Emma. My blood pressure was still high, so the caution flags were raised.
Friday, December 15th 2006 was my due date--fairly meaningless in my opinion, since I never remembered the exact date of my last period. I'm preparing to leave for the airport when Jan from New Dawn calls to inform me that she had an ultrasound scheduled that afternoon. Because we were planning a home birth, the consulting OB wanted to be sure I didn't have a closet case of pregnancy induced hypertension. So I pick up my family and drop them off at my house with hugs and kisses and we'll catch up later and Shad and I speed off to Mission Hospital for the appointment. The first thing the technician says is that the baby was breech. I thought she was joking! He had been in a great position for months. But earlier that week I did have a strange and intensely painful sensation of pressure moving up my spine--that is probably when he flipped. And at that week's check up, Kirsten did have a harder time picking up his heartbeat, like it was not in the same place. So there we were--surprise breech and my fluid levels (which took the technician a good 20 minutes to measure) were low at 4--too low for the doctor to consider a version. We left with orders to return that evening for a non-stress test and were told the c-section would be done that evening or first thing in the morning. From this point I felt that things were set in motion and I was no longer at the wheel.
I was in shock, and I wanted to spend time with my family, so we went out for dinner. Emma was probably a little stir crazy from a long day of travel and she spilled her coke all over me. It was a welcome diversion--we all laughed. I just couldn't get my mind around the situation. I had done everything I could to prepare for a natural birth--I had been SO determined to NOT have a c-section. How could this be happening?
After dinner we went for the NST, and the baby was fine. I was having regular Braxton-hicks contractions, which I would have never felt if we hadn't watched the monitor. It was just a slight pressure--like a rubber band snapping but without any sting. I wasn't dialated or showing any signs of labor, so they sent us home with instructions to skip breakfast and be in by 6am to prep for surgery at 8.
I suppose I was just too stunned and still too drained from my illness to take action. I could have asked for more time to just see if he would turn despite the odds. Nancy would have been happy to perform the Webster-technique. I might have set up an acupuncture treatment--I knew about using moxa on the pinkie toes to turn breech babies. I could have even tried the breech tilt described in Birthing from Within. But instead, I sat there in a daze and surrendered to it. That's just where I was at the time.
Poor Shad was coping with shock himself--he had an hour of sleep that night at best. I managed to get in only about four hours. We were not prepared to be in the hospital, so we hastily threw a bag together and I armed Shad with a list of "demands" like no Hep B, no circ, no artificial nipples or supplements, breast only, etc. The fear of surgery was setting in and I fretted over how well I would bond with the baby, since plans for the optimal skin-to-skin and delayed cord clamping were out. But oddly I also felt peaceful--surrendering to the "accepting things I cannot change" part of the serenity prayer, and when Jan arrived she commented on how well I was handling things. Of course, part of it was that I was still numb, but part of me felt that this was somehow meant to be.
The staff at the hospital were considerate, and I liked Dr. Sherr who was to perform the surgery, especially when I found out his children were born at home. It felt like he was in my corner somehow.
Jan was assisting with the operation, and she held my hands as the spinal block was set up. I was terrified, but it was just a tiny prick and cold feeling, then nothing. The room was blazingly white--floors, walls, ceiling, everything, but there was some natural light, which I appreciated. I felt better once Shad was able to be at my side--he was freaking out a bit I'm sure, but he kept it together and was so sweet and supportive. Once things were underway I remember not feeling well. I must have reacted to the medication, and I'm pretty sure my BP crashed. Shad said I turned gray at one point.
We didn't know we could have a CD playing for the birth and there weren't any in the car which felt right to me, so I agreed to listen to a guitar lullaby one they had in the operating room. Right before Charlie entered the world the song "Simple Gifts" played--a song which is near and dear to my heart. "Tis a gift to be simple/tis a gift to be free/Tis a gift to come down where you ought to be/And when you find yourself in a place just right/Twill be in the valley of love and delight./When true simplicity is gained/To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed/To turn, turn will be our delight/Til by turning and turning we come round right." I remember feeling so comforted and happy to have that spiritual tune welcome my little guy. (Although as I write this I'd say the turning bit is ironic!)
We heard an irate screech and Jan announced, "What a handsome little fellow!" and Charlie was held up over the curtain and Shad cut the cord. I could not move to get a good look at him, and it still saddens me that all I saw before they cleaned him up was an arm and a leg.
Shad asked if I needed him or if he should go be with Charlie, and I told him to go, absolutely! I wanted Charlie in his father's arms since he could not be in my own. It wasn't long before he was brought to me. I remember his little pursed lips opening and closing and wishing I could nurse him even though I wasn't sure how. I felt so helpless with my arms in restraints and unable to move. But I spoke to him and could not take my eyes off him. Those moments are fuzzy in my recollection--these intense shakes started and I didn't feel fully present in my own skin for some time. Somehow I did have the presence of mind to request that our placenta be kept for us, so we could plant it later to honor Charlie and this special time we shared in one body.
We settled down in recovery and despite my continuing convulsions, Jan and the nurse managed to get Charlie latched on for his first of countless nursing sessions. Soon my mom and sister came in to see him. I felt touched my the tears in my sister's eyes as she saw Charlie for the first time. Then my in laws had a turn to share in the joy. I was the only patient in the recovery room and we had the royal treatment, with the nurse bringing ice chips and answering questions. Before long we were wheeled into our own room and the exhausting, sleepless weeks of life with a newborn began.
Ironically, my son's birth being the opposite of what I had intended was just the introduction to motherhood that I needed. Being the sort of person who searches for meaning in my life, I took away from this experience a spiritual lesson which has changed me deeply and made me a better mother as a result. There was a moment when Shad returned to the hospital room after a needed break and he told me of a strong deja vu feeling which prompted a memory of a dream with the image of the antique dresses framed in the foyer by the elevators. This, from someone who is not remotely new-agey, inspired chills. At the very least, Charlie's last minute acrobatics may have been his own way of determining how he was to be born. And so, while I continue to take seriously my responsibility as a parent, educating myself, being conscious and informed, I also realize than I am not "alone" in this endeavor--Charlie's life is also nourished and supported by our family and friends, our culture, and in the grand scheme of things, the universe. Who knows what myriad of influences and experiences will shape his unique, individual process of becoming? It is certainly not all up to me! My desire for control and tendency toward perfectionism have been strongly tempered by this understanding, and, if I daresay, I have gained a measure of trust and learned to let go.