The Gory Details, Part 1: The World Turns Upside Down

Before I get started on this story, I want to make a couple points up front:

  • This isn't intended to be a horror story; it's just what happened to us. (I realized that what I thought of as a fairly straightforward birth experience might sound somewhat horrific when I related the story to my mom.) If you're pregnant and reading this, please don't let any of the details worry you. Overall my experience was pretty darn good, and it really does make a difference that you get a beautiful, healthy baby at the end. Pain and trauma fade the longer you stare at your baby's face.
  • I was cagey about the due date, but I wasn't being as devious by saying "around Christmas" or "during the holidays" as the actual birthdate would suggest. The three estimates I alluded to in previous posts—mine, the doctors', and the ultrasound technician's—were December 10, December 7, and December 5, respectively. As you'll see from the details below, however, there came a point when I knew for sure that Austen would be born in November, not December, and I withheld that information from the blog.

The story really begins on the day that I declared radio silence for a while. What happened at our 38-week OB visit that day is what made me not want to talk about the pregnancy on the site anymore: namely, that we found out Austen was breech. Dr. Beshara, whom we met for the first time that day, did a pelvic exam and declared me 3cm dilated... but then said that something didn't feel quite right. He wanted to do an ultrasound, "just to make sure the baby really is head down." We were a bit surprised, because I'd been under the impression that the baby's head had been engaged since week 35. "It's just a precaution," Dr. Beshara assured us. "It's probably fine, but usually when I do an exam at this stage, I can feel a nose. I couldn't feel a nose on your baby." I'm not sure whether it occurred to us then, but a noseless, head-down baby probably would have been worse than a breech baby whose nose was just pointed the wrong way.

Anyway, we moved on to the ultrasound room, where Dr. Beshara coated me with blue gel, stuck the wand on my belly, and said, "let's see. There's the spine, and there's...a femur. Your baby's breech." It turns out that what had been engaged since week 35 was Austen's butt, not his head. His feet, hands, and head were all over on the right side, under my ribs (which explains a lot, actually). I said, rather matter-of-factly, "we have to schedule a C-section then, right?" The answer was "generally, yes, unless an external version is successful." Unfortunately, an external version requires a certain amount of amniotic fluid, and fluid levels usually start to decrease after 36 or 37 weeks. We didn't have enough.

Since Austen couldn't be turned manually, and at this stage he was unlikely to turn on his own, a C-section would be scheduled for us at 39 weeks. Using the doctors' due date of December 7, 39 weeks was November 30—six days later. Dr. Beshara went to check who was on call that day, in case it was someone we absolutely hated. It turned out to be Dr. Chen, with whom we already had an appointment scheduled (our first with him) on November 29, and whom we'd just seen deliver a baby by Cesarean on an episode of Birth Day. We accepted this slot and agreed to arrive at the hospital by 7:30am on Tuesday.

I think it wasn't until we were walking back down the hall to the front desk that I started to cry. All of a sudden it hit me: Everything I'd been preparing for, with my reading and childbirth classes and breathing exercises, I was going to miss. I wasn't going to need the birth ball or my bag of "labor-saving devices," which was already packed. I wasn't going to be able to labor in water (either in my own tub or in one of the whirlpool baths that had made me choose HUP as my delivery hospital in the first place). I wasn't going to have a C-section at the end of a difficult labor in which I couldn't get the baby out, making surgery something of a relief (and the epidural injection relatively painless compared to the contractions). Every bullet point in my (to my mind) amazingly flexible birth plan was now moot.

I hoped to wake up on Thanksgiving day having gotten over the sadness and shock of missing out on labor; I mean, really, when had I started to look forward to labor? It was probably going to be painful and messy and could quite possibly ruin part of my life. But I hadn't gotten over it: I was still a wreck on Thursday morning, still sad, still angry, still in mourning. I ended up writing an e-mail to our childbirth educator to tell her that we'd be missing the last class, and why. I suggested that in future class series she spend some time talking about scheduled C-sections, and how to prepare for them. I also explained what I'd been having trouble explaining to anyone else I'd talked to.

My friend Stacy said to me, "you know how people say that the way to get through the stress of your wedding day is to think to yourself, 'whatever happens—if the flowers don't come, or the bridesmaids' dresses don't match, or Uncle Fred falls in the cake—at the end of the day we'll be married'? That's the way you need to think about this birth: It may not be the way you expected, but at the end of the day, you'll have a baby." I thought it was a fine analogy... except that what this feels like to me is the officiant coming to our door on the morning of the wedding to say, "the ceremony's cancelled. I now pronounce you man and wife." Yep, we'd be married, but we'd have missed out on something special.

Writing that e-mail made me feel better, and I think it helped me turn the corner. By the end of the day, I was ready to accept and plan for the birth experience I was going to get rather than mourn the loss of the one I'd expected. The only possible wrench in the "start preparing for a Cesarean delivery on Tuesday" plan was that at 10:30 that night, my mucus plug fell out. I was obviously continuing to dilate at a steady pace.

Posted by Lori in austen's birth story and pregnancy at 10:49 PM on December 5, 2004