Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Emmett's Birth Story

Birth Plan? Ha!
During my appointments with the UNC midwives in May and June, I kept expecting to be asked about my birth plan, and at each appointment they'd just say, "Bring it to your next appointment." Perhaps this was auspicious, for Emmett's birth ended up having very little resemblance to my birth plan.

I'd always pictured us having a cut-your-own-cord, view-and-appreciate-the-placenta type of natural childbirth. Heck, I even attended my first natural childbirth class back in 2002 (yes, 8 years before actually getting knocked up). I wrote three versions of my birth plan--a handwritten version that was homework for the 12-hour natural childbirth class that I took back in May, then a version of that plan that I'd typed up and embellished with important details ("During labor, Adam should distract me by showing me photos of baby animals on his phone"), and then a shortened version with bullet points (after being told by one of the midwives that "we recommend keeping the birth plan to just one page,").

On June 28, I went to my appointment expecting to finally talk about the birth plan. As the midwife gave me that appointment's belly rub, she got concerned about the baby's position and pulled out the bedside ultrasound. As it turned out, the baby was in an odd sideways position.

Just that morning, I'd dropped Adam off at the airport so that he could go to Vancouver for his sister's wedding. After having about the world's most pleasantly boring pregnancy, something unusual just had to happen right when my support system was out of town. I reassured myself that at least it was highly unlikely that I'd go into labor while Adam was away with the current positioning.

The day after Adam got back into town, we had an ultrasound to check position and to make some measurements. I'd felt all kinds of weird movements (weirder than usual!) and was fairly optimistic that maybe the baby had gotten himself into a more birth-friendly position. Ha. The good news was that we got to see lots of the baby during the measuring stage (and, on my request, they confirmed that he was "still a boy"). However, at this point they declared him to definitely be breech.

Back at that natural childbirth class in 2002, I'd learned that breech position necessitates a c-section at our local hospital. I still felt pretty committed to trying to squeeze the baby out, so I tried a bunch of different things to attempt to turn the baby, including spending long periods of time in the bathtub, getting Webster technique chiropractic treatments, burning mugwort near my little toe, and so forth. Most dramatically, I scheduled an external cephalic version at the hospital. This is a technique where they try to turn the baby from the outside by manipulating your abdomen. It's about as pleasant as it sounds. I found the procedure pretty painful, but at least it was quick. After four attempts at turning the baby, we went ahead and scheduled the c-section. (I don't know for sure that I would recommend that others do the version under similar circumstances, but it was only after I did it that I really felt at all at peace with the idea of having a c-section.)

Here's the thing: I really never expected to be having a c-section. I've read a million books about pregnancy and childbirth during the past few months, but I always skipped or glossed over the parts on c-sections, figuring this would be irrelevant. It didn't help that the books I had around the house had this judgy tone about how c-sections are usually unnecessary. Dr. Sears and family ended up on my shitlist for just this reason. I also had a bit of trouble with the idea that I was the sort of person who schedules her child's birth. In fact, in late July as people asked me when I was having the baby, unless they knew the history I'd say something like "last week in July" vs. "July 27, sometime after 8:30 a.m."

It really was a bit surreal on July 27 to realize, "Hey! We're having a baby today!" I still expected something weird to happen to change these plans. For instance, friends would often go, "hey, maybe the baby will flip before then!" I hate to admit it, but I started sort of hoping that he wouldn't flip to head-down. Although I was only 39.5 weeks pregnant on the 27th, I felt like I'd been pregnant forever, and the continuous 100 degree weather didn't make me want to stay pregnant much longer.

Before we headed out to the hospital, we took a bunch of pictures, making sure to include the dog in some of them. My parents even took pictures of the car leaving the driveway!

I found it kind of empowering to just walk right into the hospital rather than having to go up to labor and delivery in a wheelchair. Of course, it was pretty much the last time that I did any walking that day.

Before we got more into the various preparations, we did confirm that the baby was still breech. Indeed it was. At this point, you could probably cut and paste a description of almost any c-section into here to explain how it all went. I imagine that these procedures are all pretty similar. Adam was with me throughout it except when they administered the anesthesia. I started out wanting to know what was going on (and I could see a bit of what was going on in the reflection of the light above the operating table), but at a certain point, that lost its allure and I had to concentrate on just getting through things.

What I remember: hearing them say, "yes, that's definitely a boy!" (apparently, he entered the world groin-first); hearing that he didn't seem to want to come out; hearing that he was definitely out; hearing that the NICU people were in the room but that I shouldn't be too concerned about it; trying to catch a good look at him while he was attended to on that table across the room. The first thing I noticed about him was his hair. It was sticking out in all sorts of directions and it was blonde. Blonde! (This is sort of my own personal equivalent of the "it's a boy/it's a girl" surprise. "Honey, it's a blonde!")

Shortly after this brief period of awareness, I hit a really sucky stage of the birth. As they were removing the placenta and putting me back together, I started shaking a lot and had this terrible feeling that I couldn't quite recognize. The terrible feeling was nausea. I spent the rest of the procedure puking into a basin. I had expected to spend this time at least looking at the baby (if not outright bonding) but truthfully I couldn't concentrate on anything baby-related right at that point. (I suppose that after having a morning-sickness-free pregnancy, I should be glad to have only had about 30 minutes of severe nausea vs. several weeks of it.) I just really wanted it all to be over with. It actually was over with pretty quickly, but it felt like forever.

In the end, I didn't care a whit about not seeing the placenta; it was not the sort of situation where Adam could cut the cord (though I did go ahead and donate cord blood to the greater good, not that I noticed when that was happening); no time for viewing pictures of baby animals, either. I started feeling better fairly quickly once we got back to the recovery room. We finally shared the name with our friends and family. I had to have Adam make all of the calls letting people know the big news.

Beforehand, I was worried that the c-section would somehow make it harder to establish successful breastfeeding, especially because I'd read so many things recommending that moms try breastfeeding within an hour of the birth. Within an hour of the birth, I was just trying to feel human again. It was a delight to find that Emmett is pretty much a natural at this; I think it helps my Earth Mother credibility to be good at nursing. It definitely helped that I'd spent a lot of time beforehand reading about the topic (I highly recommend Janet Tamaro's book So That's What They're For: The Definitive Breastfeeding Guide). It may sound silly, but I love this feeling of being in touch with the rest of the mammal kingdom through nursing. Emmett spent his entire first night with skin-to-skin contact with my chest and it was just lovely to feel his soft skin and to be so connected to one another.

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