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A c-section birth story was the LAST thing that I wanted. My labor and delivery story was the complete opposite of what I had envisioned and hoped for. I was determined to have a magical, natural birth, but a C-section was in unavoidable. In the end we had a healthy bouncing baby boy and that was the ultimate and most important goal. I was warned that a birth plan was an express ticket to everything I didn’t want, but I didn’t believe it. I’m still glad I went through the process of thinking through all of the options, because I felt that I was a well-informed patient and knew what my options were…. Even though I had very little control over anything that happened.
Group B Strep
At my 36-week appointment I tested positive for Group B Strep (GBS). This is a very common bacteria found in the digestive tract of about 20% of the population. It’s completely harmless, except that it can cause complications for a baby after a vaginal delivery. A baby can aspirate the bacteria during delivery and there’s a 2% chance of very severe infections, some that can be life threatening. Another thing to note is that this bacteria can be present one week and disappear the next. Pregnant women are tested at 36 weeks, but it’s really a crap-shoot if she actually has the bacteria when she delivers?! (I read there’s one test that can be done during labor, but it’s expensive and most hospitals don’t have it; my hospital did not have it.)
The big deal with GSB is that antibiotics must be administered to the mother within a couple of hours of the water breaking, to reduce or eliminate the baby’s exposure. Also, the baby must be born within 24 hours of the water breaking, again reduce the potential exposure to the bacteria. There’s still a good chance of a natural birth if contractions start before the water breaks. I read that it’s quite rare for the water to break prior to contractions starting, but alas, even if a plan is congruent with the likely event that does not make it so.
My water broke at 2:00am on Friday September 4, 2015 without so much as a hint of a contraction. At this moment it had become apparent that my first lesson in motherhood was that there is no such thing as planning! I woke my sleeping husband to tell him the big news, but insisted he go back to sleep and call me when he woke up for work. He’s very groggy when he’s waken at night so he mumbled, “you need to tell me what you want, is it really okay if I don’t go now?” I reassured him and he was instantly fast asleep before I could finish the downward motion of my nod. I honestly didn’t think he’d be able to get back to sleep with all the excitement, but obviously that was not an issue for him. Since contractions hadn’t started I was comfortable driving myself the short 3 miles to the hospital. I also work at the hospital so I’m familiar with the Women’s Center and some of the staff. I figured I could get checked in on my own and Hubbs would be well rested and arrive at the hospital by the time contractions started. It seemed to be a good idea for at least one of us to not be totally sleep deprived before this big event… not to mention he can be a bit grumpy when he doesn’t sleep, so this was ultimately for my benefit.
Journey to the Hospital & Checking-In
On my drive to the hospital I was mostly concerned with the fact that I had enjoyed a light dinner of chicken and broccoli and wouldn’t be getting to eat anytime in the near future. I felt silly waddling into the Emergency Room checking in for labor when I had none of symptoms, besides looking like I’d swallowed a watermelon. I had my employee badge so the admissions clerk asked me if I was comfortable walking myself up to the Women’s Center and I was. I went to the front desk and was ushered into a nice large room and handed an elegant (ha!) hospital gown. The nurses seemed confused that my husband wasn’t there with me. I immediately regretted not having him there because I felt we were being judged harshly for his absence. I was pitied for having a deadbeat husband when in reality he’s a wonderful guy whom I’d told to go back to sleep. It didn’t seem necessary to me for him to be there for the administrative tasks and basic setup. The nurse confirmed my water had broken and I was only 1cm dilated and 40% effaced- not good news. After setting up the fetal monitoring system and IV site, the first dose of antibiotics was administered quickly.
Waiting for Labor
I was determined to NOT let a c-section birth story unfold. After I could be disconnected from all of that nonsense, I walked the dark halls of the hospital hoping for contractions to start on their own. It seemed creepy wandering around in the middle of the night. I got bored quickly, so I headed back to my room to bounce on the yoga ball. Also, I didn’t want to chance seeing anyone that I knew since I was wearing clogs with stretch pants topped with a flowing hospital gown was not my best look. When I got back to the room, I could see on the monitor that I was having contractions, but couldn’t feel them yet. I thought for a fleeting moment maybe I just wouldn’t feel them! Ah, how ignorance can be blissful.
My nurse came in around 5:00am and told me that my doctor said to start pitosen (artificial oxytosen, which is the natural hormone that starts contractions). I declined and gave the excuse that I wanted to wait for my husband to arrive before starting. I was hoping contractions would start on their own. I knew starting pitosen meant an increased chance of additional interventions and I would have to be hooked up to more monitoring equipment. Pitosen is also known to induce more painful contractions than if they occurred naturally and therefore the need for pain medication is also more likely. I knew that being able to move about the room and halls would make me more comfortable and make the labor progress better, but this monitoring equipment would limit my mobility.
The nurse came in again around 7:00am and sat down and explained that my doctor said I should really start pitosen to give my body time to labor. I declined again and called Hubbs and told him he should get to the hospital ASAP because I would need to start pitosen soon. Contractions usually start naturally 12-24 hours after the water breaks; I simply did not have that much time to wait due to the GBS. The atmosphere of the room was still pretty casual at this point and my MBFF (mom best friend) even stopped in to say hi. She was due just one day after me, also with her first baby, also a boy, so we had become very close during the pregnancy journey.
Shortly afterward, the lady who was taking my position at work while I’d be on maternity leave swung by room. She needed to pick-up some materials for several presentations she was SUPPOSED to observe me doing later that day. I gave her a quick tutorial and rushed a bit at the end since my doctor had entered the room. At this point it was around 8:00am and my co-worker left. My doctor had a confused expression on her face as she asked if I was working?! Haha, yup, so far the labor thing was no big deal; I felt like I was just working from a different office. After a chuckle, my doctor insisted that I absolutely needed to start pitosen immediately. I decided that she was serious because she came in to tell me herself, so I conceded. She said we would start it on the lowest dose and hope that my body took over from there. At this moment I wanted my husband with me soon because I was incredibly disappointed that I had to start an intervention. He was trying to sort a few things for work, but assured me he would be there soon.
The lowest dose did nothing and around 9:00am we bumped it up. I texted my husband that he better arrive soon or I was going to be an unhappy camper. (That’s probably not even close to what I said, but I like to think that I was that cool, calm, and collected.) I texted a friend about natural induction methods and she was texing me links to You Tube videos, but was starting to lose focus as the contractions grew stronger. Hubbs had apparently just hopped in the shower when I had texted him that he needed to arrive ASAP, so he made it to the hospital around 9:30am, with my 5 hospital bags in tow. I was quite annoyed with him, but hadn’t lost my mind. He had forgotten my breast pump, which I’d planned to use to help induce contractions naturally, so I made him go home and get it. When he returned I tried using the pump, but it didn’t do much but create a sticky mess. By this point I was starting to feel some pretty intense contractions. Hubbs sat with me while I bounced on the yoga ball and we cracked jokes with the energy of nervous excitement. The yoga ball next to my bed was the farthest I could go with all of the monitoring I was attached to, but joking around with the nurses was a good distraction.
Contractions started getting more uncomfortable and my nurse told me I needed to lay in the bed so that they could get a good reading on the fetal monitor; bouncing on the ball was affecting the monitor. It was challenging to lie still in the bed and especially so since the contractions were making me feel the need to go to the bathroom. It was around this time that my sense of humor disappeared entirely. I waited as long as I could until I couldn’t handle the discomfort any longer and then ventured to the bathroom. The fetal monitor had to be unplugged and the blood pressure cuff removed so that I could stand. Then the fetal monitor cords had to be untangled because I had to bring the cords with me. The IV pump battery had died so it had to be plugged in and the cord kept stopping the wheels at the base of the IV pole as I tried to navigate to the bathroom. It was a bit of a ropes course getting up from the bed and to the bathroom that was only about 5 feet away. Once in the bathroom, maneuvering was a challenge since the nurse had put the IV on the inside of my right (and dominant!) hand and I was often holding other cords in my left hand if the nurse wasn’t helpful. Right after the nurse put the IV in I had thought that where she put it was a bad idea, but was optimistic I wouldn’t be hooked up to the IV except for antibiotics and I didn’t want to be a bother. I later tremendously regretted not being a bother.
Around noon my doctor checked back in and said she liked that I progressed to 5 centimeters dilation, but still wasn’t comfortable with the data she was getting from the fetal heart rate monitor. After one last failed attempt to “lie still” so that they could get a good read, my doctor told me she needed to insert an internal monitor. As my doctors right hand was inserted her left hand was outstretched to receive the monitor as a nurse attempted to open the plastic that contained the sterile monitor. As Nurse Butterfingers struggled to open the packaging I could feel the surge of a contraction building. I started to wonder why my husband hadn’t offered to open the plastic for her….. and then I started to wonder why I hadn’t snatched it from her to open it myself….. then Nurse Butterfingers mumbled something about it being like a potato chip bag as I was hit with the surge of a contraction that stopped me mid-reach from ripping the bag out of her hands. After the contraction Nurse Butterfingers managed to open the bag and my doctor inserted the monitor only to accidentally pull it out when she withdrew her hand. We started the process over again as homicidal thoughts flooded my mind. Thank God Nurse Butterfingers had faster success with the second bag, or I might have been that patient that assaulted hospital staff. (Which would have been more than awkward when I returned to work at the hospital after maternity leave :-P)
Hubbs and I had had several heated discussions over the preceding 9 months because I wanted a doula and he felt that was his role in the birthing process. We came to a compromise and we attended several classes together where he had learned breathing patterns that he could coach me with during labor. I had been clear that the most important thing he could do was help me relax to make it through the painful contractions. As with all my plans, the Husband Plan went horribly awry as well. When the graph of my contractions on the monitor became clear, my husband suddenly became a huge sports fan. Yes, the most enthusiastic sports commentator you can imagine. “Whoa, here it comes!” “Wow! That was a BIG one!” “Oh that one wasn’t so bad.” I didn’t think it was possible for me to be more anxious, but he had accomplished just that. I desperately wanted him to stop, but it was difficult to get the chance to express it. I did like that I got to hold his hand, but it was an awkward comfort because I didn’t want anything touching me, so I had to hold his hand out away from my body. It didn’t help that I was laying on my right side and he was behind me.
Around 1:00pm my doctor returned to my room and said that she hadn’t seen a fetal heart rate pattern like this before and she didn’t know what was causing it, but she did know it wasn’t good. She started discussing a C-section with Hubbs and my heart sank as I overheard parts of their conversation. I pretended not to hear it, hoping that it wasn’t really happening. I noticed my doctor had been in the room a lot and I knew that couldn’t be good. If all was well then the nurses would be taking care of me.
Around 2:00pm my doctor told me “I know you didn’t want this, but I know I can give you a healthy baby now via C-section and I don’t know what will happen if you keep laboring.” Disappointment washed over me, but I managed to squeak out a question asking her if she could give me any more time to labor. She shook her head and said, “okay, just 30 more minutes”. Since I wasn’t strapped down enough *sarcasm*, a plastic oxygen mask was strapped around my head because the baby was in distress. A blood pressure cuff had also been added to the mania at some point and it tightened around my arm at random intervals. When a contraction was surging the oxygen mask seemed to strangle me and when the blood pressure constricted simultaneously I was plunged into a new level of torment and claustrophobia. I would rip the blood pressure cuff from my arm and flip up the oxygen mask for the duration of the contraction and like a good patient I would put the oxygen mask back on, but only because it was for the baby. The nurse had to keep strapping the blood pressure cuff back on. I knew a miracle would be required to change path we were on, but I still hoped against hope that the baby would calm down so he could proceed to the natural route.
With no changes in baby’s heart rate, a swarm of people descended upon my bed and unhooked me from the plethora of cords. My whole body tightened with anxiety and dread. Nurse Butterfingers and Hubbs wiped me down with cold wet wipes to clean me for surgery. I was freezing cold and my teeth began chattering uncontrollably. Hubbs tucked my matted hair, which had become more of a giant dreadlock, into a blue surgery cap. For some reason I had an unnatural fear of my bed being rammed into a doorway or a wall so I was braced for impact for the entire ride to the operating room. The bumpy thresholds seemed to confirm that fear. As we wheeled down the hall, I think I saw my mom in the distance or perhaps Hubbs told me she had arrived.
As we entered the operating room I thought about how I’d hoped to never see the inside of this baby poop yellow room. Hubbs had to leave at this time to get prepped with a bunny suit and I had to get an epidural. Shivering and teeth-chattering now accompanied my surging contractions and I was instructed to “hold still” as the anesthesiologist repeatedly plunged a needle into my spine. I was also instructed to curl forward. My doc was standing in front of me holding my hands as tears streamed down my face. She asked me if I was in pain or just scared. I whimpered that I was a little scared, but mostly disappointed and I clung to her outstretched arms even more tightly.
When I was numb to the anesthesiologist’s satisfaction my legs were swung up on to the narrow metal table. The last sense of feeling I had was right before they inserted the catheter. The unfortunate thing about that is that my legs never felt like they left that widespread position. I was self-conscious about my spread-eagle positioning throughout the surgery, but surely that wasn’t necessary for a C-section? (After the surgery I kept looking at my legs to check that they were positioned normally, even though they felt that they weren’t! That was a rather strange sensation.) The medical staff babbled small talk and made jokes to take my mind off of the impending surgery. A second doc scrubbed in to help.
Hubbs finally joined us and he was positioned on a stool near my head. He held my hand as they positioned a mirror so he could watch the surgery (at his request) and put the drape up as they made final preparations. Tears were streaming down my face; I couldn’t believe what was happening. I didn’t take my eyes of Hubbs and he watched the surgery intently, waiting to see our baby boy emerge from my belly. I heard a faint “you’ll feel a slight tug…” Nope. “You’ll feel some pressure…” Nope. I guess my anesthesiologist did a great job because I didn’t feel a single thing. My doc announced our baby arrived at 3:12pm and the baby went directly on to a table where a pediatrician put oxygen on his face.
Meeting Our Baby Boy
Hubbs and I both gazed at the little miracle that we had waited so long to meet. I didn’t hear any crying and panicked. With all the drugs it took what seemed like an eternity for me to croak out the question, “is the baby okay?” The heads of Hubbs and the pediatrician snapped up in my direction to vigorously reassure me that the baby was fine. I just wasn’t able to hear him crying through the oxygen mask. Shortly after I did see him peeing all over the pediatrician- that’s our boy! I was sewn up pretty quickly and my eyes never left our baby. There was a brief moment where I felt like I wanted a do-over; this labor and delivery wasn’t fair. I had a healthy body that could manage a natural birth. With the GBS I didn’t have the time to even try to labor naturally and with the pitosen the baby was too distressed. Hubbs went to be by the baby and cut… well trim, the umbilical cord.
I was then wheeled into the next room for recovery. I was now attached to even more devices. I was finally able to hold my baby! I wanted to do skin-to-skin and told the nurse she could cut off my sports bra, but instead she offered to help me nurse. That was not what I wanted, but I was too exhausted to tell her no. After that feeble failed attempt to feed my baby I was even more disappointed that my plan was failing me yet again. The IV was on my right arm and SP02 monitor clasped to right thumb and the nurse kept leaning into my tube/wires so I kept having to ask her to move because she was restricting my mobility as I was trying to hold my baby. Meanwhile, the blood pressure cuff on my left arm kept sliding down to my elbow and inflating at random intervals, forcing my left arm to extend. I was also trying to hold my arm at an odd angle so that the sharp plastic edge of the cuff didn’t cut my baby’s face. I had EKG stickers on my chest and baby’s eye was right over one of the nodes. I was starting at Hubbs with desperate panicking eyes begging him to notice my distress and not let our new baby fall. With this new insanity I was submerged in it took all my strength not to rip every cord from my body. I felt like even more of a pinned animal than I had during my labor, which I hadn’t thought possible.
After some time passed I was wheeled back to my own room, baby was wheeled in a bassinet behind me. My mom greeted us and I felt an overwhelming sense of relief and security in this room with my mom, Hubbs, and a beautiful tiny baby boy. I’d made it through the process and our baby had arrived safely. Never mind that I had no idea what I was going to do after that.
On a positive note, after being pregnant for many months and having to use the restroom rather frequently, having a catheter was a delightful side-benefit of having a C-section! Also, my first shower was one of the most blissful sensations I’ve ever experienced. I thought showers after a week of camping and hiking were the best showers. I was wrong. When we made it home after the short 2-day stay in the hospital, I got one last chuckle out of my labor and delivery planning verses experience. I reflected on the fact that I literally brought 6 bags to the hospital with a sheet listing all items indexed in detail by bag. I’d used the breast pump for a few minutes, a set of baby pajamas, and my shampoo and conditioner for my amazing shower. That’s it. I literally even put on the same outfit I’d arrived in because it was too much effort to search for my going-home outfit. (Check out this post so you don’t make the same mistakes that I did!)
My labor was the farthest thing from the cord-free, labor tub floating, hypnobirthing meditation mumbling, calming music filled air experience that I’d wished for and planned for, but it was easily worth it for our healthy perfect baby boy miracle. (If you’re interested, here’s another birth story of a mama who didn’t want a c-section.)
Did you have a birth plan for your birth(s)? What was your birthing experience like?
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