I had had a textbook pregnancy until 36 weeks and after preparing with a Calmbirth course and putting together birth preferences that centred around a vaginal delivery, I had no reason to think about anything other than manifesting a spontaneous onset of labour at around 40 weeks. At 36 weeks, my baby disengaged from its head-down position to transverse (sideways). Because she felt it was unlikely to turn back, my obstetrician laid out a plan for me to have a caesarean as the safest way of me birthing my baby. I began to worry that I might not get that ‘feeling’ about my birth experience. Against the odds, my baby did turn head down again by the end of the week.
Then, less than a week later and three weeks before my due date, I developed a headache that persisted for five days and my blood pressure elevated out of the normal range. My obstetrician and I monitored it closely with blood and urine tests and while it was not pre-eclampsia, I was diagnosed with pregnancy induced hypertension and my obstetrician once again advised that to avoid pre-eclampsia, I needed to deliver sooner rather than later. She assessed baby’s position, but because of the flip a few days earlier, it wasn’t low enough in my pelvis, my cervix was still closed and baby was sitting quite high. My obstetrician would have attempted an induction if that is what I had wanted or she was happy to go straight to a c-section. She did advise that an induction might not work or might take a long time because baby had a lot of work to do to get into position before being born.
I asked a lot of questions, prompted by my Calmbirth knowledge – how long have I got to make a decision? How long can I afford to wait?- and talked it over with my sister, who was also my birth partner. I decided that I would go directly to a caesarean, because I wanted to feel in control of the decision rather than having a failed induction, being exhausted and needing a c-section anyway.
The only thing that remained was to make it as close to my ideal birth experience as possible, despite being so far from my hopes and expectations.
I put away my TENS machine and pulled out my affirmation cards and birth preferences. I added some caesarean specific affirmations- ‘I am thankful that my baby can be born safely this way’ and ‘sometimes plans change and I am strong enough to adapt’. In a phone call to book in my caesarean date, I revised my caesarean preferences with obstetrician, emphasising how important they were to me, especially since this wasn’t my first preference for delivery:
- my IV in my left arm/hand and monitoring dots on my back to allow free movement
- my own playlist playing throughout
- to discover the sex of my baby myself, not be told
- delayed cord clamping for as long as possible
- my sister to remain with the baby when I can’t be with it
- breastfeed and skin-to-skin as soon as possible following the birth
- be kept informed by all the different teams in the room to understand what was happening as it happened
It was so amazing, feeling like I was a team with her and she was in complete support of what I wanted, while also sharing with me how and why the preferences mightn’t be possible, eg. Delayed cord clamping might not have been possible if my baby wasn’t breathing or moving on delivery. It was so important to have this conversation ahead of time, knowing that it might not be possible for me to ask and talk about things during the operation.
For me, I had an enormous mental hurdle between having a spinal block and having my baby. I had felt certain after Calmbirth that I would be able to switch off my ‘thinking brain’ and go deep into my ‘animal brain’ during labour, but I couldn’t switch off during the spinal block. My sister spoke quietly to me throughout- my affirmations, how well I was doing, how brave I was.
After the spinal block was in though, it was magical! It was only minutes later that my obstetrician said that they had started, followed by her letting me know that my baby had decided to turn transverse again when they had opened me up, that they had caught it with forceps. She kept me informed throughout the whole procedure. Then I heard my baby’s first cry. My thinking brain switched off as soon as the cloth dropped and my baby was held up to me so that I could see and tell the room that it was a boy. I could hear my obstetrician tell the rest of the team around her that they were just going to wait and honour delayed cord clamping. My sister was invited over to be by the baby at the heated crib until he was able to come to me. She even got to trim the cord.
People talk about how time bends during labour- that even though it’s long, they weren’t totally aware of time passing. The same was true for me after my baby was delivered. Even though that’s when the most intensive work of the caesarean begins- all that stitching!
I was totally entranced by my tiny human. I can still feel the enormous sigh of relief I had when he was placed in my arms. I sang to him with my playlist, held his hand, touched his face and generally just drank him in. I was completely unaware of what was happening on the other side of the drape. In those moments, I totally let my animal brain take over. Although I had to wait until I was in recovery, I was able to do skin-to-skin and breastfeed within an hour of him arriving.
I am continually amazed by how powerful and proud I feel about the whole experience. The photos from my caesarean still spark tears of joy. Calmbirth gave me the tools to feel like a warrior woman about my birth, even though it was far from ‘Plan A’. Almost four weeks after Theo was born, my sister and I still relive the whole experience regularly. We owe Amy a million thank yous for helping both of us feel well equipped to have tough conversations in the lead up to the caesarean and to manage a wide range of emotions before, during and after the operation!
Birth story and photographs shared with permission.