Saturday, March 10, 2007

An Alternative Birth Story

An Alternative Birth Story
Stephanie Chockley

Some time after the “stuck-at-nine-and-a-half-centimeters-so-you’re-going-to-need-a-C-section” birth of my first child, I retroactively educated myself on the whole process. One night I explained to my husband all of the things that had gone wrong. “. . .and so basically without the pitocin my labor would have progressed more slowly so my body would have had time to dilate properly and I probably wouldn’t have needed the C-section,” I concluded with conviction. “So you will want to try the VBAC next time we do this?” my ever-supportive husband asked. My reply was just as full of certainty as my diatribe, “Of course not!”

It’s fair to say that I do not thrive on uncertainty and spontaneity. I try really hard to go with the flow, but even when it appears I’m doing a good job of it, the inner me is struggling to relax. Waiting on the baby to arrive was pretty hard on me in that regard. It wasn’t about my physical discomfort or the anxiety of what was in store- it was about not having it on the schedule. Not being able to plan my maternity leave to perfectly maximize my paid time off. Not knowing what day relatives would come to my house. Not knowing. So while I’m officially opposed to scheduling unnecessary C-sections just for purposes of planning and keeping order in your life, I was not about to turn down a semi-reasonable excuse to do so when I got pregnant a second time.

Also, I am a total fraidy-cat. I’m scared of everything. During my first labor experience, I had already told my husband that at the first hint that anything might go wrong, I was willing to be cut open. Because what if the baby got stuck? Umbilical cord around its neck? Upside down? Sideways? What if I ripped open to my tailbone and pooped out of my vagina for the rest of my life? Add to those fears the (admittedly small) possibility that the scar tissue from my first C-section might rupture, and I’m knocking on the surgeon’s door before the pee has dried on the EPT. Even though surgery should be infinitely scarier than the amazing, natural act of childbirth, I was willing to give myself over to it in a heartbeat. Probably because it can be planned for. They draw a line where they’re going to cut. They control the pain. They have a better handle on the baby’s condition. The certainty of the decision to plan a repeat C-section wrapped around me and made me feel safe. That was definitely something I needed amid the craziness of pregnancy.

I found myself disappointed, though. Not that I had made this decision - I was relieved and actually happy about that! But why was I willing to settle? I know people who work with midwives or have their baby at home in the bathtub or at the very least don’t get an epidural. I wish I was the kind of person who wanted that experience, but I’m just not. I wondered if maybe I would regret the decision later. “I hear second babies come out pretty fast- maybe if I go into labor before my date, and if I’m pretty far along by the time we get to the hospital, then maybe. . .,” I limply threw out one night over dinner. Chip just looked at me and smiled his knowing smile. “Whatever you want to do,” he replied, knowing better than I did that it wouldn’t happen that way. And it didn’t. And it turns out I’m perfectly fine with that.

My due date was March 22. We scheduled the C-section for the afternoon of Thursday, March 16. The Saturday before, I suddenly had high blood pressure. Since it was the weekend, my doctor’s office was closed and I had to go to the hospital. At one point I heard the nurse talking to the on-call doctor, “. . .since she’s already scheduled for Thursday. . .” “No!” I said to myself, and then to everyone within earshot. I had concert tickets for that night, and stuff to do around the house on Monday after Connor and Chip left for the day. I hadn’t even had a day off work! I didn’t have the cushions on my glider rocker re-covered yet! Many tears later they let me leave, promising to see me Thursday. I stayed home that night sulking while Chip went to the concert without me, but I was glad to be back on schedule. I cleared my to-do list by Tuesday afternoon, and looked forward to relaxing all day Wednesday.

But Tuesday night when I got in bed, I realized I was in labor. I tossed and turned for a few hours, checking the time of my contractions and making sure it was really happening. I had an unreasonable fear that I would cause a lot of commotion getting my mom over to stay with Connor and heading to the hospital, only to be embarrassingly sent home with some Tums. I felt I needed to be sure. Pretty soon I was, but I let Chip sleep awhile. I figured it would be good if one of us did. Around 1:00 a.m. I shook him a little. “It’s time,” I whispered. “Really? You ready?” And I was. I had a fresh mani-pedi (Don’t judge me-it was a gift!), there was a newly upholstered chair in the nursery and clean sheets on the guest bed. We called Mom to come stay with Connor, and she arrived in minutes. I felt bad that I hadn’t been able to warn Connor, but I knew it was best to let him sleep. He knew it was happening this week and he was excited about it. He’d be happy to wake up in a world where he was a big brother.

We arrived at the hospital and I was monitored in all the appropriate ways. The contractions were strong and closer than I had realized, but I hadn’t dilated much at all. We called Mom and Chip’s parents to let them know it was happening. The on-call doctor came to see me. Dr. King! He did my first C-section. “Um, doc? Not to knock your work, but my previous scar is somewhat asymmetrical. Dr. Miller said we could fix that?” No problem. One more thing checked off my list. (My list of neuroses, that is!)

They wheeled me in, alone, to administer the spinal block and get me ready. I concentrated on trying not to move my immovable legs and asked repeatedly, “When can Chip come in?” I found myself more frightened of the surgery than I had been the first time, when it all happened much faster. I narrowly averted a panic attack after giving in to my instincts and trying to move my leg- the nurse talked me down from it and reminded me that it would all be worth it in just a few minutes. In came Chip, and it was on. No, I don’t want to watch. Yes, I know I’ll feel pressure. Just do it! In that moment all you want is to hear that baby cry, no matter how she’s getting out of you. And minutes later, she did. I exhaled and begged them to get her to me. “Hi Chloe! I love you!” I said through my tears. Although I wish I could have nursed her right then, I knew I would be able to soon enough. So, I relaxed a bit and watched them go about the business of welcoming a newborn. Nine pounds four ounces? At 39 weeks? Suddenly I was really glad I hadn’t tried that on my own. It wasn’t long before the three of us were in a room together, watching Chloe gleefully suck the skin right off my nipples. I hadn’t done it in my own living room, but I had done it and I was proud. And it was nothing to be ashamed of.

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