21 Dec Coping with an ECS
When your homebirth ends in the operating room
I had planned a homebirth. I wanted a calm, natural, undisturbed journey with my babe – without drugs, without medical doctors, without the beeps of machines and monitors and bright lights and other women screaming through the halls. I wanted to leave those other women to birth their way, and I wanted to do it my way, in my home, in a birth pool my husband put up in the living room.
That’s how it started. Calmly, at home. I enjoyed my contractions – great surges of energy forcing through my body and then releasing. The tightenings, bringing me to my knees, making me sway my hips and rock back and forth, clutching my husband, and the closeness with my baby knowing he/she was on their way.
My midwives came and sat with me, silently in the night, with just the light of candles, the crinkle of the plastic sheets, and my deep focused breaths.
Marie Mongan’s hypnobirthing played on repeat in the background, becoming a rhythmic white noise.
Then after 10 hours of gentle labour, the waves subsided – my babe was not ready.
The midwives left us, the sun rose, and I spent the next day pottering around the garden on tenterhooks. I should have been eating, sleeping, resting… but every time I tried, a new wave required my attention. I rode each one, in and out…
Deep down, I knew things were not going as we hoped – that when my waters broke and I lost blood, nearly 24 hours before labour began, it wasn’t a good sign. I was nearly a week before my due date – and whilst I always imagined I would birth early, what I imagined wasn’t like this.
I was calm, ready… stalled.
I wanted this so desperately. More than I have ever wanted anything. It was something primal, a deep desire to be left alone, to absorb every sensation and moment of this journey with you. I took so much time to select the right midwife and educate myself with the process and it was literally all I thought about for the whole duration of my pregnancy. Your birth.
I still feel that way. I still have that deep longing, and a sense of loss at what I did not have with you – but what I also have now, is a sense of what I‘ve gained. More than anything. I would not change a single thing about how it transpired. I would do it all again in a heartbeat, again and again, to get you. Every time. I got you. You were always the one inside of me. And no matter the journey, you came. You were strong, resilient, and so calm despite what you endured. You amaze me. Humble me. You have made me whole.
We were advised to go into hospital to be checked over – something I did not want and tried to avoid, as I feared intervention – but will forever be grateful that I did. It was found that my baby’s heart rate was declining at an alarming rate. It was also found that my baby was in the wrong position. My waters had released but my baby was not quite ready – but it was too late, and we needed to move things along.
Tears fell silently down my face, as my midwife and doctor alternately held one hand, and my husband the other. They looked at me gently, eyes full of compassion and understanding – ‘we need to do what’s best for baby’ they said. They were right. From that moment on I gave myself to the guidance of the medical staff, trusting, and remaining empowered in the process. I knew my plan to birth at home had passed, but, more than that, that my plan to birth naturally – an ache that I felt deep within to the heart of my babe – had passed too, at the moment they inserted the first needle.
Over the next 24 hours, I was pumped with hormones to induce labour, fluids to keep me hydrated, antibiotics to help my little one fight infection…
I roamed the hospital room, bowing down with every slam that my body took, breathing hard… 5 hours after I was heavily induced I simply had no more left to give. It was relentless, exhausting, crippling… this was Thursday morning, 2am, 2 days since my labour began at home. I needed help. I was courageous enough to ask for it. But too proud to not feel defeated. I hadn’t opened up any more, despite the best efforts of science.
I don’t remember crying, but I remember reassuring your daddy as they inserted the epidural.
I remember the electric shock that buzzed down my spine, into my legs.
I remember laying in bed for another 12 hours, being denied food, but allowed to sip water. I remember your daddy going to get breakfast… and lunch… and not wanting to tell me what he ate. I remember he bought me magazines, and I couldn’t turn a page. I remember watching every hour on the clock slip by. I remember my beautiful midwives, tending to me.
They kept pumping me with hormones, drugs, fluids… and they kept checking me… slowly, steadily, I was opening up.
Then suddenly I was fully open and my midwife could touch your head – it was surreal, and I desperately wanted to touch you, too. I chose to let the epidural wear off, in order to feel you being born. I didn’t want to experience your birth through being told about it – I wanted to claim you myself. They talk in hypnobirthing about ‘breathing out’ your baby. I wanted to do this. I wanted to breath you into your life, and roar with all the essence of mine.
The epidural wore off quickly, the surges kept coming, and then I had a contraction that peaked for over an hour. The gas and air helped me at this point. It helped me to go within, remain calm, and to breath in and out, in and out…
You were stuck. Your face was presenting, not the crown of your head… I remember my midwife asking permission to try and turn you. I remember the desperation on her face and the muscles of her forearms. Then all I remember is meeting a surgeon. An incredibly lovely surgeon who called me by name, looked me in the eyes, and had taken the time to read my notes. I remember having stockings put on, my nail polish removed, and a kind anaesthetist tell me that he had clocked off already, but would walk with me to the theatre.
I remember how lovely your daddy looked in his light blue scrubs, and how I made an attempt to brush my hair, with my fingers.
We were a large party! Me, your daddy, two midwives, two anaesthetists, and three surgeons.
It was not quiet, not peaceful, there was no relaxation of warm water, soothing music, gentle touch – there were bright lights, lots of chatter, loud music, sharp knives, and sliced muscles.
And then there was you.
When I saw you for the very first time, the world closed in. It didn’t matter where we were. There was only you.
We rubbed noses, and had kisses, and felt each other’s breath on our cheeks. Soft, gentle, and resolutely strong – life in my hands. I had never felt more calm.
It did take me a while to process your birth. And to accept the loss of my homebirth. One of the affirmations I recited daily, in my later weeks of pregnancy, was: “I am prepared to calmly meet whatever turn my birth may take.” And I did. I was calm every single step of the way. I didn’t fight the process. I did what I needed to do. I was open to the turns we had to take. And I was connected, empowered, embracing the journey. I felt proud, and accomplished, after I birthed you. But I still grieved the loss of my natural birth. People told me that the main thing is that you arrived safely. Of course I knew that. But I still grieved the loss of my natural birth.
Caught up in the whirlwind of newborn days, breastfeeding, late nights, early mornings, snuggles, smiles, your sweet caramel breath, and all of the firsts…. there wasn’t a huge amount of time to stop and think about your birth in detail, but it was always there in the back of my mind. That feeling of loss. Of failure.
Then one day, it passed. Just like that.
I felt the grief and the guilt float away in a balloon, until I could no longer see it. I finally accepted that what happened was what happened. I finally believed myself when I said ‘I wouldn’t change a thing about it.’
And a strong pulse within me reminded me of that primal need: to give birth again.
Next time, if I should be blessed to have another baby, I will still prepare for a natural birth. I will once again write down my ‘birth plan’ – the vision and intentions which will guide me, and the staff at the hospital if I find myself in need of them.
And, if next time I need to go under the surgeon’s knife again… then I will once again allow my new baby to heal me.
I will hold my head high, breath deep, and let love lead the way.
[If you are experiencing feelings of grief following an unexpected caesarean section, please know that it is ok to grieve this. And please speak to your partner, doctor, or post-natal caregiver for support. You still gave birth.]