Helpless

Something happened yesterday to somebody I don’t even personally know, really.  I never met her, just her boyfriend.  It’s something that happens every day, to millions of women, almost 1/3 of all mothers today in fact.   Most people don’t consider that a big deal.  But just the knowledge that it happened, the sight of the pictures amidst cheers and congratulations, was enough to send me nearly into a panic attack, one that I drowned with beer and scary tv and scary stories that were old friends.

Somebody had a c-section yesterday, and I was powerless to prevent it.

That’s what my reaction really comes down to.  Powerless.  Helpless.  I couldn’t figure that out at first, couldn’t understand my over-reaction.  Why do I care?  As I said, I don’t know her personally.  I could say, “I told you so,” to her boyfriend, because I did.  I don’t want to, though.  I want to cry, to scream, to beat something up in frustration.  But why? Why does it bother me so incredibly much every single time I hear about another mother getting cut?  I realized the answer today as I strove to knock out my bike ride as fast as I could, pumping my heartrate up to its max while the song “Celebration” ironically played on repeat in my head.  It’s because I feel so helpless.

And it’s odd to feel that rising back up, so many, many years later.  My first c-section was 14 years ago tomorrow, my second 11 years ago next Tuesday.  “Damn, woman, why can’t you just get over it already?”  I thought I had.  I thought the PTSD was put behind me when I had my vaginal births.  I haven’t been active in the birth community since Kender was born, haven’t been on the VBAC and c-section boards and forums online.  I left all of that behind.  So this rush of intense emotion was startling.

You see, I tried.  I tried to help.  I tried to offer what I knew, to share the risks and statistics with the dad, to point them in the right direction.  I tried so hard to do it without being pushy, without sharing my horror stories, to present the good sides to the best decisions.  And it was all for nothing in the end, as it always is.

Helpless.

There’s nothing quite so helpless as the feeling of a c-section.  Half your body is turned into nothing more than a slab of meat on a table.  The operating room is set up to separate you from that slab of meat as much as possible.  They even hide it behind a curtain.  You’re not supposed to feel or see anything, just suddenly see a bloody baby being passed around the room, followed by a cleaned-up baby burrito being shoved in your face for pictures before being whisked away.  To lie there, helpless, unable to move, arms actually strapped down, paralyzed, feeling tugs and pulls and not knowing why, not knowing what’s being done to your very being.

And then to have the anesthesia wear off, to feel the incision, feel clamps being placed, asking what’s going on and being told not to worry, being told that I can’t possibly feel what I’m feeling.  To know that I warned the doctors going in that I had a history of spinal anesthesia wearing off too early, and I was ignored, and now I was paying the price, not the doctors, me. I’m the one who had to live through unmedicated major abdominal surgery, not the doctors who ignored me.  I’m the one who has to live with the memories still, years and years later, bringing tears to my eyes.

Helpless.

It helps a little to be able to watch, even though you know that everybody in the hospital thinks you’re certifiable for asking for a mirror in the operating room so you can see your own damn baby being born.  It helps to be able to connect those tugs and pulls with visible motion and action.  It helps to have anesthesia that can be topped off, not complete but adequate to get the job done, adequate to prevent more nightmares and screaming.  But still, helpless, watching somebody else carry that baby out of the room, that baby that you carried for nine months in your body.  Helpless, lying in recovery, in pain and exhaustion, begging to see your baby that nobody will bring to you.  Helpless, knowing when you look back that it was all avoidable, it was all unnecessary, all the pain and blood and scars, if only a few things had been done differently.  Remembering the control the midwife had over me, the pain she put me through, and maybe she didn’t even realize how terrible it was, how little control I had, how much I feel violated when I remember that time.

Helpless.

In 2011, the U.S. c-section rate according to the CDC was 32.8%.  In 1965, it was 4.5%.  Studies have found a rate between 5-10% to be optimal for babies and mothers.  The WHO recommends a rate no higher than 15%.  Following evidence-based practices and allowing women’s bodies to function as they were designed can easily result in those 5-15% rates.  It’s not hard.  But modern obstetrics does not operate on evidence. They do not follow the research and the numbers.  And patients do not know this.  As a society, we tend to believe our doctors are always doing the right thing, are always operating from a base of science and statistics and reality.  We believe our doctors are the best, that they know more than we do, that they don’t make mistakes.

And I’m helpless to change that.  No matter what I do, I can’t change minds.  I can’t change another’s path.  I can’t convince anybody.  I can’t stop another mother from being sliced and diced.  I can’t stop any of the blood and pain and tears.

Completely helpless.

Kender — another perfect VBA2C, unassisted attended homebirth

July 22, 2008 — Kender Allyn Hunt

Kender was a surprise baby. Not like a birth control failure surprise, more like a “we got lazy with the birth control” surprise…but unplanned, nevertheless. That’s how he got his name. Kender love to play tricks on people, and we like to say he tricked us into letting him in! His middle name comes from my mother’s ancestors, the Allyn family, who actually came from the Vermontville area, just up the road from where we were in Michigan.

I stuck with the same group of midwives that I used with Jarod. At my first appointment, I found out that they do homebirths occasionally, and that they would be willing to do so for me. I was absolutely elated to finally get the opportunity (again!) for a homebirth. I had the same Symphysis Pubis Disfunction as last time, lots of pain. Now that we had a hot-tub, I spent more and more time in it as my due date approached, trying to relieve my aching joints.

I went into prodromal/early labor about a week before my due date, which was July 14. I was having very irregular contractions. Whenever I was up and about, doing my usual chores, they would become worse, bringing tears to my eyes and making me stop in my tracks. When I rested, they went away. About every other night, they would wake me up in the middle of the night and continue for several hours, making me exhausted from intermittent lack of sleep. This went on for two weeks.

The day Kender was born, I had another midwife appointment at the birth center. I asked for a cervical exam, something I rarely do, just to check…and of course, “nothing was happening”. We ended up stuck at the birth center for over an hour while my mom took the kids out for breakfast, and I spent it on a birth ball in one of the birth rooms, just trying to forget that I existed. On the way home, I had several contractions in the car, and they were worse than usual (up until that day, I had still been able to drive myself). I got home and went straight into the hot tub…and ended up staying there most of the day. I’d float for an hour or so, then get out and sit on the birth ball for a while. I tried to take a nap in the early afternoon, but the contractions would wake me up every time, hard enough for me to vocalize through. Still, they were relatively far apart and irregular, ranging from 6 to 15 minutes apart. Because of this, I was still convinced that, although things seemed worse than they had been, I still wasn’t in “active” labor yet.

Brian and my mother both had taken the day off, and were asking me all day long if they could call the midwives. I finally consented around 3 or 4 in the afternoon, still convinced it would be a waste of time. Right about then, a thunderstorm moved into the area, and I had to get out of the hot tub. The skirt I had been wearing suddenly became unbearable, too much pressure on my tummy. Modesty just gets thrown out the window in labor, though. I ended up in just a shirt and panties, leaning against the open doorframe to the side porch, listening to music and watching the thunder and rain. The midwives showed up while this was going on, and made themselves at home, taking a quick listen to Kender and getting out their knitting and books. Once the storm passed, I got back in the hot tub. I stayed there the rest of the time, coming out about once an hour to use the bathroom and once to eat dinner. I had my books, but didn’t feel like reading much. Contractions were still very, very irregular and far apart.

Around 8:30 or so, I realized that my body seemed to be trying to push a little. Right up until this very moment, I still had not believed I would be having a baby today. I investigated this feeling and went with it, and suddenly felt much better during contractions. I checked myself after the first good push, and I felt a squishy sac instead of a hard head. My water had not broken yet, but he was coming down anyway. I commented to the midwife that he might be lucky and be born in the caul, and she suddenly hopped up from her bench and started scrambling with the other midwife to get their birth kit set up. (Poor things, I didn’t give them much warning!) I started pushing in earnest.

For the first couple of pushes, I was feeling this horrible, sharp pain, which felt like it was somewhere between my right hip and the front of my pelvis. This concerned me a little, but for the next couple of pushes I got into this very odd position, with one leg up on a seat in the tub and the other leg stretched out to the side and behind me. After that, no more pain there. My water broke with the next push in an explosive gush that would have created a huge mess if I hadn’t been the tub. I asked Brian to get behind me so I could lean back on him a little bit, feeling like I needed that position next. He got in, but didn’t understand what I wanted and was trying to play catch instead. I was not very verbal while pushing, so it took me a bit to get my wishes across to him! I didn’t really lean against him so much as just feel him behind me, and it was a very comforting presence.

At some point in all of this, I had a sudden thought. I was in a hot tub with a constant circulator and ozonator. The heat was being maintained at 98 degrees, but the ozonator meant there were bubbles in the water coming out. I remember reading about how babies born in the water are safe because they don’t get the breathing reflex until they feel air on their faces. I thought, oh no, what if those bubbles could trigger the reflex? And they were pointed right at me! So I hollered for somebody to turn the tub off, without saying why, and somebody went over and threw the breaker switch.

After about 30 minutes or so of active pushing, Kender crowned, and then his head was born. Unlike with Jarod, where my hands were busy holding me up, the bouyancy of the hot tub gave me more freedom of movement, and I was able to reach down and feel Kender’s head coming out, and feel his face and his ears after his head was out. Once his head was out and he was rotating for the final bit, he started wiggling. I could actually feel him kicking and wriggling inside my vagina, pushing to get the rest of the way out! I had to push really, really hard to get his shoulders out, but once they emerged, the rest was easy and out he came.

The midwives had been ignoring me up to this point, just watching from the side of the tub and taking pictures. Once I lifted Kender out of the water, one of them came over and quickly assessed him in my arms. He was a little too limp and blue for her, although no different really than Jarod at first, and she encouraged me to rub his feet and wiggle him a bit until he took a nice deep breath and started to pink up. They put a hat on him and wrapped a blanket around him, which I still think was a bit silly since he was submerged in the water, but whatever. They turned the hot tub back on so we could have some light, snapping pictures the whole time, and we hung out for a bit. About five minutes after Kender was born, the kids got back from going out to dinner with my brother. They missed the birth, but got there right afterward.

I always hate the third stage. I hate the contractions leading up to the placental birth, I hate pushing out the placenta…the whole thing is just pointless extra pain and effort. Ugh. But it happens. We got the placenta into a bowl, and Tamara led the other kids in cutting the cord. I got out of the tub pretty quickly after that, before I did too much bleeding into it. They set me up on my reclining chair on the couch, with lots of chux pads and blankets and towels. Kender started nursing right away. What a champ, he was my best nurser! One of the midwives got out my last bottle of dandelion wine, and we all shared a glass. Finally they took him for weighing and measuring. I thought I would fall off my chair when I heard the results: 10 lbs 8 oz, with a 15.25″ head!!! He was even bigger than Liam, my failed HBAC baby that got stuck! Amazing!

Up for my first trip to the bathroom, and by the time I got back to the living room they had pulled out the sofabed and made it up for me. Got myself checked out, and no tears, not even a skid mark! The midwives packed up pretty quickly after that, and right before they left, one came over and whispered in my ear, “Fucking awesome!” She later told me that even she considered my birth to be unassisted. All they did was watch.

Everybody was gone, and birth was over. Really? That fast? Weird, strange, bizarre. No coming home, no trip in the car while I’m still woozy, no hospital food. Just roll over and cuddle the baby and fall asleep, and wake up at home. Wow. How cool is that?

Jarod — a perfect unassisted birth center VBA2C

February 12, 2006 — Jarod DeMar Hunt

It took me a long time to really process my second c-section. At first, I was totally okay with it, because when the call was made I was at the end of my rope and there was no other option. But when I broached the subject of another baby with my OB, and he said it would be an automatic c-section, I started thinking hard. I realized all the ways that my second birth could have gone differently, and I was determined to make it happen this time.

First step when I got pregnant was to find a provider. Obviously, my regular doctor was out. I never even told him I was pregnant, he had no clue until I showed up for my regular pap at 6 weeks postpartum (that was fun!). I started calling around to doctors, because I just assumed that no midwife would take me on as a VBA2C. I never did find a doctor to even talk to. Either they didn’t do VBACs at all and were willing to say so over the phone, or they wouldn’t tell me anything until I’d come in for a complete prenatal check and physical. I am not about to let somebody examine me before I have the chance to interview them! I was even willing to pay the full exam fee just for the privilege of having the interview, so the doctor wouldn’t be wasting time, but still no dice.

I tried calling a group of homebirth midwives that my best friend used for her births. They were located in Ann Arbor, but were willing to drive to Lansing for the birth as long as I was willing to drive to Ann Arbor for the prenatals. But after interviewing each other, they refused to take me on. At this point, I had more than done my share of research, and I was willing to have an unassisted birth no matter how much my husband disliked the idea. But I made one last-ditch effort and visited the local Greenhouse Birth Center. I went for their weekly tour for expecting moms. After the tour, I spent a couple of hours just sitting on the floor and talking with the head midwife. We talked about my last births, what went wrong, and what I planned to do this time. They took me on.

My birth plan was pretty simple: “Leave me alone.” They made me flesh it out a bit, made me write this long two-page story about my ideal birth. But honestly, I didn’t much care if I got my ideal, as long as they left me alone until I requested assistance. No suggestions, no advice, no coaching, no exams. All I allowed was intermittent (about once an hour) monitoring with the handheld Doppler. I also spent the pregnancy educating my husband. We read several Bradley books together, I read him a new birth story almost every week, I shared with him all the pertinent emails from my UBAC group. We discussed my second birth in detail, and I explained to him very clearly what I needed from him. I needed him to be my defense, to run interference. If the midwives had a question, they needed to ask him, then he would ask me and relay the answer. If I needed something, I would tell him and he would ask the midwife. I wanted total isolation.

I went way overdue. It was very stressful, because my mother had come to stay when I was 38 weeks, but her vacation was going to be up soon and she’d have to go home, no matter what. I had contractions constantly starting at 17 weeks, same as before, and by term they were full strength and would frequently stop me in my tracks to breathe through. Every time, my mother would panic, wondering if I was in labor YET. Then the midwives, despite our previous discussions and my clearly stated intent to do absolutely nothing unless there was a medical indication, had to start giving me my options, covering their own asses sort of thing. They knew I didn’t want to hear it, that I knew it all already, but they had to repeat it anyway. I had to schedule ultrasounds and NSTs to start at 42 weeks. I was completely fed up!

When I was 41w4d, I went with my husband to spend a night at the local Sheraton. They had an indoor 24-hour heated pool, and I wanted to go swimming and be weightless for a while. So we left the kids with my mom, went out for dinner, relaxed in the room, went swimming, hung out in the bar, went swimming some more. It was wonderfully relaxing and pressure free. Sure enough, at 3:30am that night, I woke up with full-blown labor contractions coming every 7 minutes or so. I waited about an hour before waking up Brian, to make sure I wasn’t imagining it. We left by 6:30am. I wanted to get out of there and get home before I was incapable of driving. Driving was easier than I expected it to be, but I’m glad I didn’t put it off. We got home, and my mom helped cook me some breakfast and finish packing while we waited for our friend Dave to take us to the birth center (we wanted Mom to have the van so she could bring the kids up later, and because the midwives didn’t want me to drive myself home after).

I finally got to the birth center about 9:30am. Contractions had backed off a little bit, with all the fuss and commotion of checking out of the hotel and checking into the birth center. Brian went back to sleep once we were settled, and I went into the meeting room and stuck Charlie and the Chocolate Factory into the DVD player and sat knitting. The contractions were still regular, or I would have gone home, but not too bad yet. I had already discussed with the midwives that I would probably come in very early labor, and they knew I’d been in labor for 4 days the last time, so they didn’t say a word, I could stay as long as I wanted. I putzed around all day with contractions about the same. Brian fetched lunch from Steak ‘n Shake for us, we walked around the parking lot and up the street several times, we sat in the room and read Good Omens (birth is the only time we ever read that book!). About 4:00pm, the contractions backed off even further, and I was actually able to lay down and nap for an hour.

When I woke up from the nap, the contractions were still almost gone. 10-15 minutes apart and not very strong. I went for another walk, a longer one, and it didn’t change anything. So we started reading again and I started doing some nipple stimulation. After about an hour of that, labor suddenly shifted into the active phase. I asked Brian to get the tub filled and got in. I tried to keep reading, but I very quickly lost all interest in doing so. Brian turned on my music, and the timeless work began. It was about 5:30pm when I went into active labor.

(I am glad I was not in the hospital at this point. I would have been told that my labor had stalled, and either sent for a repeat c-section or given pitocin. In fact, I probably would have gotten that sooner, because I’m positive I had not dilated much at this point. I probably would have been labeled failure to progress way before 4 o’clock. But in fact, my body was simply tired. I had not gotten a full night’s sleep, and so I was getting a chance to rest before labor went into high gear.)

I spent active labor moving around. I was in the tub for some of it, but I could not stand any pressure on my genitals, so I couldn’t sit on the floor. But the tub wasn’t deep enough to completely support my body floating, so I would either be on my knees (ouch, unpadded tub) or squatting, which also wore my knees out a lot. Walking around was good, but then I’d get tired. I tried lying down, but just like my second labor I just couldn’t, it hurt too much. I tried making a nest out of one of the superpillows, but even lying on my tummy hurt too much during a contraction. The birthing stool worked better this time, but it would make my sit bones ache after a while. So it was just a matter of keeping moving, all the time.

My water broke while I was in the tub. That was weird. I felt the pop, almost heard it internally, like you can hear yourself swallow, and I felt the water come out and saw it swirl in the tub. It was clear, no meconium staining, but you could see the rush of fluid from the little bits of vernix that were in it. I told Brian to let the midwives know, since they’d want to write down the time, but I don’t know what time it was. I was probably around 7 or 8 cm; that would fit with the timing, and that’s about when it broke the last time.

At 8:00pm, I went through transition. I was exhausted from having to be moving all the time, I still felt sleep deprived from getting woken up so early and I wanted to rest. At one point, I whined to Brian that maybe I should give up and transport, just to have something to whine about. Bless him, he completely ignored me, just like I told him to! About 8:15 or so, everything stopped. I was sitting on the birth stool, leaning on some pillows stacked at the foot of the bed, listening to Chumbawamba. I started singing along a little bit, not because I felt good but to try and make myself feel good; it was a miserable attempt. The contractions slowed back down to about 15 minutes apart, and they were very mild again.

(Once again, I am glad I was not in a hospital and was not being monitored. I was probably fully dilated at this point, but my contractions had stopped almost completely. I would definitely have been given pitocin and/or sectioned at this point. Or, I would have been told to start pushing NOW, regardless of how I felt, and worn myself out way too fast again.)

This break lasted for about an hour. Halfway through it, I got back in the tub. I was able to sit on my bottom for a little while, and the rest was lovely. While I was in the tub, the contractions started up again. They started slowly, building very gradually in intensity and frequency. For the first time, automatically, I began vocalizing with them. I would let out a long, loud “Ohhhhhh!” as each contraction peaked and faded. I was very self-conscious, because I knew anybody in the entire building could probably hear me (and probably the parking lot!), and I knew Dave had brought dinner for Brian a while back and for some bizarre reason I thought he was still out there (because Brian was still with me), but I couldn’t help myself. This went on for about half an hour, with my vocalizations gradually getting louder and deeper as the contractions built.

Suddenly, right at the end of a contraction, my entire body just gathered and pushed down, hard. I felt his head move down with it, noticeably so, and the pain of the contraction completely went away while I pushed. It absolutely took my breath away. I thought, so THIS is how it’s supposed to be, and it worked beautifully! I noted the time on the clock (about 11:15pm) because I wanted to know how long I pushed. Then I forgot about the clock. Pushing built gradually, just as these second-stage contractions had. At first, I didn’t push with every contraction, and when I did, it was only at the end. But soon, I was pushing with every contraction, all the way through. The contractions became a little shorter and farther apart, but not much, and the pain was still completely gone when I was actually pushing. After a few pushes, I reached inside myself and felt this huge glob of mucous, which was probably my mucous plug. I cleared it away with my fingers, it seemed huge, tons of bloody snot, gross. But then, there was his head, I could totally feel it, just a single knuckle away. I told Brian that I could feel his head, and I think he told the midwives, because they started fussing around, getting the cameras out (I had requested pictures of the birth) and getting all the emergency stuff ready in case it was needed. The head midwife tried to check the heartrate between every contraction, and I finally snapped at her, probably practically bit her head off but I just couldn’t handle the distraction; she left me alone after that. I had to be completely down between contractions, resting and enjoying the endorphins and preparing for the next push. I did constantly remind myself to breathe deeply, so that baby would have plenty of oxygen. I gradually came up onto my knees, leaning on the side of the tub for support, and this was how I ended up birthing, in a modified hands-and-knees position. When he crowned, I remembered that I needed to push through the pain, although it didn’t really feel like the “Ring of Fire” everybody talks about. He crowned, and then he actually ended up being stuck for minute, only out to his eyeballs, because the contraction stopped and I just could not push in between contractions because that actually hurt! So he was a little swollen. Also, when the head was out, it didn’t feel as much like the total relief I’d heard described, either. His shoulders were pretty big, and I didn’t feel any lessening of the stretching and fullness until his shoulders were out.

Although I didn’t get the crowning and birthing pictures I really really wanted, because my butt was facing the corner of the room, somebody reached over my head and shot one picture just as he was caught by Brian, with the midwife directing his hands a little bit since he couldn’t see what he was doing.

As soon as he was out, I straightened up and looked over my shoulder. He was limp and splotchy, all purple and white, nestled in Brian’s arms. I turned and reached through my legs, and they passed him through. Then they helped me sit back and recline in the tub. He started crying very quickly, and pinked up quite fast after that. I tried to nurse him, but he wasn’t having any, he was just plain pissed about the whole thing and cried for almost two hours (bonus APGAR points for that!) The umbilical cord was so cool, gray and very rubbery. I’d never seen one before. About 15 minutes after he was born, I was feeling lots of painful cramps, and I actually had to be reminded that it was probably time for the placenta to come out, I was so busy checking out Jarod and trying to soothe him. It came out in one push, and they placed it in a bowl next to the tub for the time being. After a while longer, Brian cut the cord. At my request, they clamped it about 4 inches away from his skin; I wanted to wait until it didn’t need clamping to cut it short, because Liam’s cord had been permanently flattened by the clamp and constantly poked his skin. We stayed in the tub for about an hour, then got into bed to rest. The midwife checked me out (first vaginal exam they ever gave me), and told me I had two skid marks and one first-degree tear. Honestly, those skid marks hurt more than the tear did. I declined any repairs, and that was it. We got back into the tub for an herbal bath after they’d rinsed and cleaned it out, and sat there again for about an hour. I have pictures of that time, Jarod was BRIGHT RED, comically so. It was because of the extra blood he got by delaying the cord clamping, and it was normal. Then back into bed, and mom brought the kids up to visit, even though it was past 1 in the morning. They climbed into bed with me, held the baby, it was wonderful to have everything be so normal so soon, just a couple of hours after the birth. Mom went to fetch some IHOP pancakes for me to eat, and the midwife cut up some of my placenta and stir-fried it for me with some garlic and soy sauce. We went to sleep, and didn’t leave until about 11:30 the next morning, 12 hours later.

I’ve said since then that comparing VBAC and c-section is like comparing running a marathon to knee replacement surgery. This is so totally correct. I was tired for several days, but just to where I would feel a little light-headed if I did too much. I could still walk around, get up and sit up, go to the bathroom, roll over in bed (!!!!), climb the stairs. I even went shopping about 3 or 4 days out, no problem! The difference was just night and day, and I will never, ever willingly be cut again for anything less than a life-threatening emergency.

Liam — an attempted HBAC transported to an emergency repeat c-section for maternal exhaustion and CPD

October 15, 2002 — Liam Trevor Hunt

When I got pregnant the second time, I wasn’t even trying. We’d been trying to conceive for months, but illness had put us off it that month. But we got pregnant anyway, and I was due on the triplets’ birthday! We still believe he was the lost number 4.

My second birth, fourth child, was a planned homebirth after c-section (HBAC). We had intended to have a homebirth the first time, before we found out it was triplets. In fact, we’d already selected a midwife and had our first visit with her. So we called her up and asked if she’d be willing to take me on as a VBAC, and she said yes. The pregnancy went well. I had an ultrasound at 7 weeks to count babies (only one!), and I had a little fear left over from the triplets that kept cropping up. I’d panic whenever I had contractions (which started up at 17 weeks, just like the first time), and I was concerned about whether my damaged cervix would turn out incompetent. Then when my cervix stayed closed, I worried about whether it would open properly during labor. I went to work the last few months because my husband had gotten laid off, so I started to swell up in my feet pretty badly from being stuck in office chairs all day and not moving around enough.

I went into labor on my due date. Started with contractions that woke me up at 10 minutes apart, then seemed to move closer together. I called the midwife, and since she was just leaving another birth that had kept her up all night, she said she was going home to sleep and to call her when things got moving along a little more.

They never did.

Contractions became extremely variable, from 5 minutes to 15 minutes apart, never the same interval for three contractions in a row. It was definitely labor, full contractions. I had a lot of pain in the front of my pelvis, because Liam was actually hanging in front of my pelvis instead of being inside it, and every contraction slammed his head into my pelvic bone. I also had back labor because he was posterior. I had trouble eating again because of feeling like I would choke if a contraction came on. I couldn’t sleep, and I couldn’t lie down because every time I had a contraction while laying down I had excruciating pain and had to immediately roll out of bed onto all fours. It was definitely labor, but it wasn’t progressing. I visited the midwife that afternoon, and got an internal exam, and I was still closed, dilated only to 1 (which seems to be my default now).

This went on for three days. I couldn’t sleep at all, only catnap between the contractions. By day four, I was a mess. We had a massage therapist come by. We’d met her at our childbirth class, and she volunteered to do a diaphramatic release on me, no charge, to see if Liam would slip into my pelvis. It worked! Within hours after she left, the contractions finally became regular, about 8 minutes apart. We visited the midwife again, and when she checked me I was at 4 cm. I broke down and cried. I was so tired, and so exhausted, and so frustrated, I just couldn’t believe it was finally moving along. She sent me on home and told me to call her when I felt I needed her.

I labored at home with my mom and Brian until about 7 or 8. My friend Ariel came over. She wanted to watch the birth, and she was going to take pictures and video. By 8 o’clock, I was really feeling like I was in active labor. I couldn’t pay attention to the TV or talk much anymore, so we called the midwife back. She came in and starting setting up to stay. She checked me and said I was about 7 cm.

I continued to labor. I felt like I wanted to sit on the toilet a lot. At one point, I went upstairs and stood in the shower for a while, until I ran out of hot water. I tried sitting on the midwife’s birthing stool, but it was too painful for some reason, it just didn’t feel right. My water broke, and there was some slight meconium staining, not enough to worry about just a light yellowish-green color to the fluid. I was completely spaced out at this point, endorphins running full steam. I made the comment once that this was the best high in the world, better than drugs, and I meant it. I really enjoyed laboring during that time. It was hard work, but it wasn’t torture or anything, not like the last time. But because I was so high, I pretty much lost track of time.

Sometime in the middle of the night, the midwife checked me and said I was 9 cm but that I had a lip. She tried having me push while she held it back, but that didn’t work. This is where I really feel she started to screw up. She decided that, if there was a position that hurt, it must hurt for a reason, and it was something I needed to work through. Somewhere in her twisted brain, she decided that the only way I was going to get past that lip was to stay in whatever position hurt the most. And, being in the throes of full labor, probably in transition and definitely higher than a kite, I couldn’t fight back. I just did whatever I was told. So for what seemed like hours (I don’t know how long it was), she had me lying on the couch (which we had flattened into a bed), curled onto my right side. I screamed. I literally screamed. Every contraction in this position felt like I was being sliced open. And she just nattered on about how good I was doing, don’t move. Bitch.

Finally the midwife said I was past the lip, fully dilated and ready to push. I didn’t have the urge to push, though. So she rolled me over onto my back and got me into the classic lithotomy “stranded beetle” position and had me start purple pushing. Purple pushing is where you push when you are told, to the count of 10 or whatever, as hard as you can. You are ignoring your body, and it is called purple pushing because it tends to turn you purple in the face, breaking blood vessels, bruising your eyes, etc. THIS WENT EXPRESSLY AGAINST MY BIRTH PLAN. During pregnancy, when we discussed the birth, I SPECIFICALLY stated I would not push in this position, and I would only push when my body pushed. But again, in labor, I do what I’m told, I can’t say no, and because I didn’t educate/train my husband enough, he didn’t step in and do anything, he just went along with her. So I ended up on my back, purple pushing after 4 days of labor and no sleep, on my back with a posterior baby. I was doomed from that point on.

I pushed like that for four hours. He moved down some. I could just barely feel his head two knucles in. But he got stuck with his head under my pelvic bone and wouldn’t go any further. When the midwife started talking about transport, I finally came out of it a little bit and said that I needed to switch positions. But I was so worn out, I could barely stand. My legs were like noodles. I simply could not push any longer in any position. I was finished.

We transported to the hospital. I rode in my mother’s car; I don’t know how everybody else got there. I certainly had the urge to push now, with every contraction, but the fear had kicked back in. I was no longer high on labor, I was scared to death because I was heading for another c-section, and the fear turned everything into pain, nothing but pain. That car ride was hell. Then we got to the hospital, and I was being admitted while my body was trying to push with contractions, I was exhausted to the point of collapse, I couldn’t see straight because my eyes were so swollen…and they wanted me to sign papers!!! I don’t know why, because if I changed my mind later I could just say they were signed under duress. My signature wasn’t even legible! I started out in a little back room because L&D was full. They put in the IV and a scalp monitor. Then they got a regular room open and moved me there. They put in an epidural.

The epidural was the weirdest feeling in the world. On one hand, I was getting some relief, a break from all the work and pain. But on the other hand, I was completely disconnected from my body. I could barely feel the contractions any more, and I couldn’t move my legs. I was just a thing, a piece of meat on the bed. I hated it.

The idea was that I would rest for an hour or so with the epidural in, then try pushing some more. The rest was to give me the strength to push again, and the epidural would be kept in place hoping that relaxing my pelvic region would give Liam the room to slip through my pelvis. It didn’t work. I pushed for another hour with that damned epidural in. The doctor said he’d never seen anybody push that well, especially after already pushing for four hours, but Liam just wouldn’t budge. They said he was just a little too far in for extraction…so we were doing a c-section.

The c-section went better than the last one. Anesthesia was the epidural, topped off to a complete block. Because it was an epidural instead of a spinal, they were able to keep topping it off as it wore off (which it did about every 5-10 minutes). So I didn’t have any pain this time in surgery. They honored my request for a mirror, and I got to see the whole birth. It was a good thing, too, because if I hadn’t actually seen that dark, red-skinned, black-haired baby pulled from my belly, I would never have believed he was mine (and would you believe he is a pale-skinned blonde now???). They brought him by to say hi, then took him over to the warmer to check him out and clean him up a little. They brought him back to me to hold for a minute, then took him off to the nursery for a bath. Brian went with him. My mother stayed with me for the rest of the surgery. I dozed off after Liam left. I remember watching them clean and stitch my uterus, and thinking that it looked like a plucked chicken. Other than that, I just passed out and slept.

When I got back to recovery, it seemed to take forever until they brought me Liam. When they did, he had a scab on the top of his head from the scalp monitor, and bruising on his forehead from where he got stuck. Also, the entire back of his head was swollen, and he screamed when it was touched, which made him a very mad baby when he was held. This was from his head slamming into the front of my pelvis those first three days, before we got him to engage, and it took a good week for all the bruising and swelling to go away.

In the end, at the time we made the call to cut, it was a necessary c-section. But there are so many places where we could have gone down a different path, and I will never forgive that midwife for betraying me the way she did.

Brenden, Tamara, and Caitlin — part 2

October 12, 2009 — Brenden Connor Hunt, Tamara Elayne Hunt, Caitlin Alyssa Hunt

It was starting to look like we might get the full 48 hours on the steroids, maybe even more. Then my water broke. I rolled over to go to the bathroom and felt a bit of a gush, and felt it again when I rolled back. The nurse couldn’t really see anything, but she called my doctor in anyway, and he did the little litmus paper check and sure enough my water had broken. That was at about 9:30 or 10 in the morning. So he scheduled the surgery for 11:30 and the ball got rolling.

I got shaved from the top of my belly down past my clitoris, and let me tell you, that’s a bit scary having somebody you don’t really know wielding sharp objects around that part of your body! After that, the anesthesiologist came in to talk to me. I made sure to tell her about how fast my spinal wore off when I had the cerclage done. She thought it sounded odd, but she said she would have some stuff on hand if the spinal did wear off too soon. Unfortunately, the records of that surgery were not with my current admission papers, so she had no way to check.

I got lucky in one respect. My labor and delivery nurse for Tuesday had a student nurse assigned to her for the day. The student nurse couldn’t do anything, she just followed the regular nurse around and watched her. So she was in the operating room for the surgery, just observing. We found that out and decided to give her my mother’s camera, so she was the one who took the pictures I have of the birth.

It took the anesthesiologist several tries to get my spinal in. She was about to give up and had actually called for assistance when she finally got it through. I guess I was just too tense; she said the anti-anxiety meds I was getting at the cerclage probably made it easier then. But it took effect real good and I was pretty numb by the time they laid me down. Put the oxygen mask on me, set up the drapes, wiped down my belly with the iodine and stuff.

Brian finally came in, all decked out in scrubs, even a mask, so all I could see was his eyes. I didn’t even notice when they first got started; I asked my doctor what was happening and he said they were already cutting. It took them a while to get to my uterus, but when they did, everything happened at once.

The nurse behind me said they were at the babies, and just a few seconds later they had Brenden out. He cried really good. They rushed him out of the room pretty fast, and I didn’t get to see him; Brian’s head was in the way as the doctor was carrying him out. No sooner was Brenden out of the room then they had Tamara out. Her they brought by for me to see and touch before she left the room. The same with Caitlin. She was still bent in half with her feet up by her head when I saw her! So Brenden and Tamara were born at 12:09 and Caitlin was at 12:10.

BrendenBirthTamaraBirthCaitlinBirth

Right after Caitlin was born the spinal started to wear off. Where I had just been feeling pushed and pulled around a bit, I started to feel more distinct movements. This moved to achiness, then cramping, then finally by the time they were stitching me up I could feel everything. The doctor kept pumping various drugs into my IV, and I was getting a little groggy, but nothing was really killing the pain. Finally they gave me something called Versed, I think, that causes short-term amnesia, and I don’t remember them taking the cerclage out, and I barely remember going to recovery.

I did get to see the babies one more time before they went up to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). They brought them in to me in isolettes and I was able to put a hand in and touch them for a minute before they were taken away. Brian was able to be in the room while the girls were being tubed and stuff, and he got to touch them then.

Brenden was 2 lbs, and the girls were each 1 lb 13oz, and they were all about 13 inches long. The doctors said that singleton babies would have been that size at that age, so the triplets have a head start there. It’s a long road ahead!

Brenden, Tamara, and Caitlin — part 1 — an emergency c-section at 26 weeks after preterm labor and PPROM

All night Sunday night I tried to sleep, but I was woken up every seven minutes by these horrendous contractions. The pain level just kept getting worse and worse. By six o’clock in the morning, I had pretty much had enough. I got my mother to fix me something for breakfast, because they never let me eat when I go into the hospital, and then I called the doctors back. It was after seven by that time, so I didn’t have to deal with the doc on call, I got to talk to my doctor, and he said definitely come back in.

I went to change clothes again before leaving, because I was still having that incredible discharge and I was soaked. It was then that I saw that I was bleeding, rather profusely. Then I got scared. I called the doctor back before we left to let him know I’d seen the bleeding, and he said he’d meet us at the hospital.

So I got to be driven to the hospital, through rush hour traffic, in labor. That was not an experience I’d care to repeat, and I definitely don’t recommend it!

Got to the hospital, got hooked up to the monitors, same old routine. My doctor got there shortly after I was hooked up and took a look a my cervix. Turns out I was dilated to 5 cm and he couldn’t find the cerclage stitches at all. I had completely blown it. At that point, he said we were probably going to have babies within the next week or so, and in fact he’d be really happy to get another 48 hours. Because the babies were so small, they could theoretically be born within my having to dilate any further, and he didn’t want to risk that. So he started me on steroids to help develop their lungs, and started tocolytics to try and stop the contractions so the dilation wouldn’t get worse and the water wouldn’t break.

The reason he really wanted that 48 hours is because that would give us the maximum benefit from the steroids. There is a very important factor in lung development called surfactant. It is a substance that the lungs secrete to coat the passages and keep the sides from sticking together, so that the lungs can actually be inflated. The babies don’t start making this themselves until 32 to 36 weeks. The steroids induce secretion of the surfactant so that the babies can breathe when they’re born. They give me two steroid shots twelve hours apart, and then the treatment goes to once a week, if I last that long.

Monday morning I got a shot of terbutaline in the arm (tocolytic), betamethasone in my butt (steroid), a fluid drip, an antibiotic drip, and a magnesium stearate drip (another tocolytic, the infamous mag drip). Then the waiting began. I got a little sleep that morning because of the mag drip; that thing was not pleasant at all. It makes you feel really really hot. They started the mag drip at a very high concentration, and then maintained it at a lower level. So I got the worst effects immediately; my face felt like it was about to self-combust. My mother was putting cold wet washcloths on my face, and I would heat up the cloth in about 30 seconds. But fortunately the mag also made me feel drowsy, so after about half an hour or so I fell asleep for a couple of hours. The rest of the time on the drip I felt warm, but not nearly as bad.

By the time I woke up that afternoon, the contractions were better, not nearly as strong, and they were starting to become erratic. It still tended to be about seven minutes apart, especially if I was alert. But since they were getting a bit better, my doctor decided I could eat. I was restricted to fluids, though, just in case something happened and they needed to take the babies in a hurry. So I got “full liquid” for lunch. Lunch was orange sherbet, cream of mushroom soup, butterscotch pudding, red Kool-Aid, milk, and a popsicle. That was the best food I ever got out of the hospital!

At dinnertime, though, things started to look worse again. My doctor came by in the middle of dinner, and after hearing the latest and seeing that I was now dilated almost to 6, decided to not even let me finish dinner. So at that point we were wondering if we were going to have babies overnight. I wound up being able to sleep better Monday night, though; the contractions were no longer painful enough to wake me up. So by Tuesday morning I was allowed liquids again.