This birth story is probably going to take me a while to write, over several sessions. I am still processing moments of it, and coming to terms with what happened. This was not the birth I had ever envisioned, but it is the birth that I experienced. As someone who has done so much research and has made sure that my choices were respected in my pregnancy and in my birth process, the circumstances of this birth were not something I had ever considered, and therefore when each choice was presented to me, I had to take time to move forward with the next step.
First off, this birth was not one that we were expecting to encounter, ever. A few months before we learned we were pregnant, we decided that we were not ready for a third child, and may not ever be. I cried a lot; I wanted another child but knew in my heart that the time was not right. Well, God laughed at my tears and gave me a positive pregnancy test shortly before the New Year 2016. Although we felt we were not ready, we were joyful about bringing another baby into our family. I was anxious and nervous about the pregnancy, more so than the previous two. Additionally, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes again, which meant going on a low-carb, high-protein diet and testing my glucose levels several times a day. Although I was cranky at first, I expected it after my pregnancy with Audrey, so I rolled with it.
We had non-invasive genetic testing done when I was about 12 weeks along, and found out early that we would be having a boy. Brian had been pretty sure it was a boy; I at first thought it was a girl, but as the pregnancy progressed, I too came to feel that it was a boy. I really wanted a girl, especially if the pregnancy and delivery would be like Audrey’s. But I was still very happy that the genetics testing came back with no red flags despite my “advanced maternal age.”
Because this child was not planned, I was in shock every single time we went to the doctor and heard the heartbeat, or saw the baby on the ultrasound. In fact, part of the reason I changed doctors was because she dismissed my feelings of surprise when I heard the heartbeat. It wasn’t until the 20-week ultrasound that this baby boy became real to me. I thought that this pregnancy was too good to be true, that I hadn’t lived my life well enough to deserve this baby.
When I was 36 weeks along, I started non-stress tests twice a week at the doctor’s office. Basically, they monitor the baby’s activity, do a quick ultrasound, and check my blood pressure. Shortly after the 38-week mark, I had a couple of blood pressure readings that were slightly elevated. My blood pressure was historically slightly lower than average, so the doctor sent me to the lab to have blood drawn and give a urine sample. Later that evening, I received a call that some of my levels were abnormal, so I had to go to the hospital for further monitoring. They advised me to bring a bag because there would be a good chance I would be admitted. Thankfully, my friend was at the house and she was getting ready to anoint me with oil. In my church, when one is sick or in need of healing, you call the elders to anoint you, reaffirming your trust in God to heal your illnesses. She anointed me, and told me to call her even later that night if I needed to be anointed again. I called Brian, my doula Angela, and my mom, and explained the situation.
Brian and I headed to the hospital around 7 pm. I got hooked up to monitors, including a blood pressure cuff that was set to take a reading every few minutes. I had some readings that were extremely high, so after an hour, the staff decided to admit me.
Although the baby was head down only 3 days before, several ultrasounds that day showed that he was in the breech (butt down) or obtuse (diagonal) position. Throughout the pregnancy, I had commented that he was very active, always in a different position at every doctor’s appointment and ultrasound, and even turning during the appointment. I begged the OB on call to try to turn him (manually moving the baby with her hands) so that I could have a vaginal birth, but she was hesitant to do so because of my high blood pressure. We went through all of the options she presented, and I requested a second opinion. The other OB said she was sure we could turn him if I could get my blood pressure down. Angela and Brian helped me relax and we called my friend Cheryl again to anoint me one more time before we proceeded.
The external cephalic version was one of the most intense things I had ever gone through. One OB was monitoring the baby via ultrasound, while the other was pushing on my belly with her hands to try to turn him. He would not budge. I was crestfallen, disappointed, in despair. I needed a few more minutes because at this point, I knew in my head I was having surgery. My instincts told me that having a breech vaginal birth would not be a good option for us. My heart would not accept this thought, though. My body began shivering and I could not stop. I felt that somehow I had failed myself and failed my baby to have the birth we had wanted and needed. Even in the moments before I was wheeled into the operation room, I had the OB check one more time on the ultrasound that he was still breech, and of course he was. I kept telling myself that Caesarean sections were developed for just this situation; my baby would likely be fine and my body, though forever changed, would eventually heal, just as it had the previous two times I had given birth. It was hard to accept, especially in the short amount of time I had to make the decision. Because this was not a birth scenario I had ever imagined, I made no plans or thought about any of the choices that came with a C-section. I wish I had pushed for my doula to be present, and I wish I insisted that my husband be by my side rather than waiting in the hall while the anesthesiologist worked on me. As he placed the needle, I heard the nurses talking and laughing and I felt so alone. I still kept telling myself that it was not happening, as I felt the pressure of my abdomen being pushed and pulled back and forth by the OB. Several weeks, months, years later, I was still not sure I’d accepted that my body had undergone this surgery.
When Grayson was finally out, there was a sound of realization from the OB. It was something like “oh” or “okay …” It turns out that the umbilical cord was wrapped around Grayson’s body several times -- twice around his neck, perhaps once around his torso, and around his leg. That was the reason he wouldn’t turn this last time, and in a small way it made me feel better about the C-section. There was no other way he would have come out safely.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the end of it. I was placed on a 24-hour magnesium IV immediately after birth to keep my blood pressure down. However when my IV course finished, my blood pressure shot back up, and then Grayson had a hard time feeding. I was back in despair again because my baby boy was losing so much weight, my blood pressure was still high, and to top it off, Audrey's 5th birthday was the next day and I wanted to be with her.
The postpartum nurse indicated that she detected a tongue tie in Grayson's mouth. I had suspected it as well because I was pumping milk and I had a ton -- but he was still losing weight. And there was something about the shape of his tongue that tugged at my brain. My lactation background gave me a little bit of information but my course was so long ago -- I doubted my knowledge and it’s hard to think clearly when it applies to yourself. The pediatrician who was consulted said that she did not detect a tie. The lactation nurse was frustrated because she was certain, too, that he had a tie. The ENT who performed tie revisions had gone home for the day. My nipples were painful and bleeding. I felt so helpless and hopeless. I couldn’t see an end to this fight with every situation that presented itself, and I wanted so badly to go home and take care of my baby in the comfort of my home, and celebrate my daughter’s 5th birthday.
That night, I had Brian give Grayson a bottle of formula because he was inconsolable at the breast. He slept well and the next morning I was thinking more clearly. I called for the ENT immediately so that Grayson's tongue could be revised. Unfortunately he was not available until the afternoon. We had our bags and the car seat ready to go all day. As soon as Grayson was clipped, I nursed him and his latch felt so much better immediately. I was mad at myself for not having done it sooner, for not trusting my instinct. I was so sad to have missed the first half of my sweet girl’s 5th birthday. We celebrated with cake at her grandparents’ house that evening.
I learned so much about myself with this birth. Of course with each birth I learned different things about myself, what I could and couldn't handle. With Gavin's and Audrey's births, I learned how strong my body and my mind could be. With Grayson's, I learned to recognize how weak it also could be. I felt very little pain afterward, but my elevated blood pressure told me differently. Apparently this high threshold for pain runs in my family. I have never been the type of person that blindly followed what people told me, but this time they told me to take pain medication and I did. My body felt pain, but my brain didn't. It was very strange to know that I couldn't trust my own body.
After this experience, I knew several things. Despite not working in lactation at the time, I am grateful that I had a more extensive working knowledge of the breastfeeding process. Without it I would have distrusted my body even more. I empathize so much with mothers who are told they can't breastfeed. If I hadn't insisted and called upon the knowledge that I have repeated and studied and imparted to other mothers over the past 10 years, I may have been that mother who gave up before leaving the hospital. I thanked God over and over again that Grayson was not our first birth because I may have been a very different parent. Because I knew all the signs of postpartum anxiety and depression, I consciously worked to keep my mood up. I ASKED FOR HELP. I told my family and friends what I needed, and they were HAPPY to do whatever was needed. And they knew what I needed because I was specific about telling them.
Additionally, this cemented the idea that this would be our last biological child. As much as I yearned for that all natural birth, another pregnancy would likely give me so much anxiety even if I didn't experience preeclampsia again. The first few days after Grayson’s birth, I was overcome with unbelievable sadness, mourning the birth that I wish I had, cursing my body for betraying me, going back in my mind over the past days and weeks wondering if I could have done something different to have had a different outcome.
These feelings and doubts were mixed with an overwhelming joy as well, that we had a new son who was beautiful and curious and everything a newborn should be. His eyes were round and he had a head full of wavy hair, unlike his siblings who were mostly bald, with what little hair they had being straight, and had almond shaped eyes. He was short and round, also unlike his siblings. When his eyes were open, they were alert and observant. Almost everyone told me he looked like Audrey; a few told me he looked like Gavin. The more I stared at his beautiful face, I felt he looked more like someone else totally. Certain angles and expressions looked alternately like his two grandfathers.
Now that two years have passed, he is such a beautiful, happy child. He smiles easily and often, which is a blessing because of my tendency to worry that I had “ruined” him by being so stressed and sick right before his birth. At a few days past his 1st birthday, he was taking a few steps on his own. He had 6 teeth and ate almost everything presented to him. Now at age 2, he is fully running, is my most extroverted child, who says hello to almost everyone and every animal. He still smiles easily and has the sweetest disposition. He loves superheroes like his dad and siblings. He gives the most genuine, heart-warming hugs. I cannot imagine our family without him, and he is the biggest and best surprise of my entire life.