Birth Story: The Induction, the C-Sections and the End of Second Guessing
Rory turned two on Saturday. While many people have commented “I can’t believe he’s already two!” I keep thinking “Wow, he’s only two?”
Yes, this is partially because he’s as big at two as Noah was at 3 1/2. But it’s also because I can barely remember our family before he was here.
I remember the night before he was born, sitting on the couch, snuggling Noah as much as I could against my giant belly, wondering and worrying how our life would change when Rory arrived. Would Noah be jealous? Would we be able to give him as much attention as we had in his first three years? Could I possibly love another child as much as I love him?
Two years later, I can definitively answer those questions: “No;” “No, but it’s okay;” and “Yes, yes, yes.”
Having Rory certainly has made our lives harder, but infinitely sweeter. Noah may have lost our undivided attention, but he gained the undying adoration of a little brother. (Not to mention someone to practice negotiating life with. Noah’s favorite four-letter word right now is “RORY!!!!”) And I found out that while my patience is limited, my love for my children is infinite.
Last week, the night before Rory’s second birthday, we went to dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. We were enjoying chips and salsa and margaritas when my mom said “You should tell your birth story. I love hearing birth stories. You always had me tell yours on your birthday.”
It’s true. I always liked to hear my birth story: the hot night that had my parents sleeping in the basement, the back labor, the hot fudge sundae my mom requested when I arrived after 24 hours of labor. Always the joke about how they were going to give me the middle name “Stubborn.”
But when my mom suggested that I tell Rory’s birth story, Pat and I immediately exchanged glances. While it was a perfectly innocent request, it was a loaded one. Fortunately my mom moved on to something else and the moment passed.
Rory’s birth story is not something I’m ashamed of. It’s not a sad story; it had nothing but a happy ending. But I am sensitive about it, sort of like I am about the diastasis that resulted from my pregnancy with him.
I’m sensitive about it because Rory, like his brother, was delivered via C-section. And my feelings about it are complicated.
Part 1 – The Induction
My pregnancy with Noah was uneventful. Aside from my feet swelling up like two chunks of Tempurpedic mattress, he and I were healthy all the way through. But my due date, December 22, came and went. The days dragged on. I was miserable, but he was thriving. Ten days past my due date, my doctor suggested scheduling a C-section. I said no. I really wanted to try labor, I told her. She suggested an induction. It was scheduled for the next day.
Knowing what I know now, I would not have been so quick to schedule an induction. I would have waited longer, until either I went into labor or Noah was no longer thriving in my belly, whichever came first. But at the time, ten days seemed like a long time to be overdue. I didn’t know much about being induced, but I knew people who had done it, and it seemed like a good compromise. I trusted my doctor.
I was was hooked up to a Pitocin drip (which can best be compared to the torture machine in The Princess Bride) the next morning. After 14 hours of labor (and learning that yes, I am one of those women who wants an epidural after all – a complicating factor, itself) I was dilated 8 centimeters, but Noah was not progressing. His heart rate kept dropping. The doctor came in and told me they recommended an emergency Cesarian.
I immediately threw up.
I’m sure the vomiting was because of was exhaustion. And nerves. And, you know, being hooked up to the torture machine for 14 hours. Though maybe there was a mental component to my physical reaction. Nonetheless, I said okay. At this point, all I wanted was a healthy baby. I was really not in a position to question her recommendation. Noah was born via C-section at 10:36 that night. He was healthy. I had a fairly easy recovery.
An easy recovery physically, at least. In the weeks and that followed, I couldn’t shake a sense of sadness that I hadn’t been able to experience a vaginal delivery. The full monty of birth, so to speak. Don’t get me wrong: I was thrilled that all my lady bits were left intact. But I felt like I had missed out on the equivalent of a Girl Scout badge of womanhood because I hadn’t suffered the pushing and the tearing and the pooping and all the other stuff vaginal births entail. As I read more, I also started to wonder if I had been too trusting of my doctor, too quick to follow her recommendation – both in scheduling the induction and immediately agreeing to the C-section.
Part 2 – The Abandoned VBAC
When I got pregnant with Rory, I decided to go a different route. I changed practices so I could work with midwives. They knew my birth story with Noah, and while they couldn’t say for certain that I could have avoided a C-section, they thought the doctors may have intervened too quickly, and they supported my desire to try for a VBAC (vaginal birth after Cesarian) with my second baby.
From fairly early on in my pregnancy with Rory, I was measuring about two weeks ahead. Suspecting he was going to be a big baby, an ultrasound was performed at 37 weeks to check his size. The ultrasound confirmed his hearty size; they estimated that full-term, he would be close to ten pounds.
This did not seem to phase my midwife. We continued to plan on a VBAC. I bought evening primrose oil and ate pineapple and did all the things the midwives recommended to bring on labor. (Yes, even that, very awkwardly.)
Then, on the Monday of the week I was due, my midwife called me at work. She had taken another look at my ultrasound with a doctor over the weekend, and she just didn’t feel comfortable with me trying for a VBAC with such a large baby. While the choice was still mine, she strongly encouraged me to schedule a C-section.
I told her I had to talk to Pat. Then I hung up the phone and cried. I already knew what Pat would say. And honestly, I already knew what I would do. Of course I was going to schedule the C-section. Not because I wanted to. But because it felt reckless to go against my midwife’s recommendation. I had no reason not to trust her; she had supported my VBAC goal all along. I had tried to do it “right” this time. But it wasn’t meant to be.
The C-section was scheduled for that Thursday, April 19, my due date. I packed my bag and got a pedicure and attempted one last time to maneuver around my giant belly to shave my legs. My friend Chevon stayed at our house Wednesday night to take care of Noah in the morning. Pat and I drove to the hospital before the sun was up.
In the pre-op room I sat on a bed watching the Today show with Pat. Dick Clark had just died. I joked that he was going to be reincarnated as our son. Then I was wheeled into the operating room.
Compared to the first C-section – an unhappy surprise after a grueling day of labor – Rory’s delivery was a snap. The doctor and midwife chatted as Rory was cut out of me. This time, Pat peeked over the curtain to watch as they pulled from my belly. He declared his arrival with a lusty bellow. I cried, just as I had with Noah. Our Rory. A big, healthy baby.
“You did the right thing,” my midwife told me after he weighed in at 9 pounds 10 ounces. “He was so high up, he wasn’t going anywhere on his own.”
And that was that.
That is Rory’s birth story, and it’s a fine one. But my midwife’s reassurance didn’t stop the old guilt from creeping back in. What if I had waited longer? What if I had been more careful with what I ate, and Rory had been smaller? What if I had never agreed to be induced with Noah in the first place?
Rationally, I know this line of questioning is pointless. I have two healthy children. Aside from one scary complication two weeks after delivering Rory (one that I imagine is more common with vaginal births than C-sections anyway), I had a good recovery.
But still I felt vaguely like I had failed. Those feelings all came rushing back with the recent buzz about the excessive amount of Cesarian deliveries – over 30% of births – and the introduction of new guidelines to reduce those numbers.
Rory’s birthday week happened to coincide with one of these articles running in our local paper. I couldn’t read it for a couple days. Because even though I think these new guidelines are great – of course I would like to see more women avoid serious abdominal surgery when a vaginal delivery is possible – every time I see these articles, all I see is “Too many women getting C-sections: Like you, dummy!“ As if because I had a C-section, I must be a fool. Able to be duped by the medical establishment. Less in touch than other women with the miraculous phenomenon of birth. Unnatural.
It’s that last one that gets me. It always raises my hackles to hear someone talk about how they practically willed themselves into a “natural” birth. And though I know it’s technically correct, I always grit my teeth when a person uses “natural” when they mean “vaginal” to describe the way a baby was delivered (as opposed to “natural” meaning “drug-free”). I know that “natural” is an easier word to use in polite conversation, but because I’m already struggling with all these feelings, it hits a nerve.
Because while a C-section may not be the way nature intended for a woman to have a baby, it sure as hell beats bleeding to death, the only “natural” alternative available to women for thousands of years.
I know this is my issue; I’m sure other people aren’t judging me as much as I assume they are; this is more about self-judgement than anything else. But regardless, just as some women feel the need to explain why they formula-feed, or work outside the home, or only have one kid (or don’t want kids at all!), my two C-sections are something I always feel like I need to explain and apologize for: “I was ten days overdue! My kids have giant heads! His heart rate was dropping! Who am I to question medical advice?”
I’m ready to stop apologizing.
Because I did the best I could with the information I had. I was fortunate enough to have happy outcomes with both deliveries, which is more than many women can say. In spending too much time worrying about how they arrived, I take for granted the fact that they did arrive. Safely. Strongly. Healthily.
My friends have birthed babies every which way: with and without pain medication, in hospitals and birthing centers, after days of labor and so quickly they couldn’t get a hospital gown on, in a tub and on the floor, terrifyingly early, agonizingly late, and precisely scheduled to be right on time.
All of these births are amazing.
So from now on, on April 19, I’m going to tell Rory his birth story. Tell him about his loud wail and his perfectly round head matted with dark hair. Tell him how he just might be the reincarnation of Dick Clark. Tell him how lucky I am to have him, and how happy I am to have had him just the way I did.