A Breech Baby
Since the moment I found out I was pregnant I had grand plans for a natural, vaginal childbirth. No epidural. No pain medication. Definitely no cesarean section. I wanted to feel everything.
But at my 36-week appointment, the doctor ripped the rug out from under me.
“If things don’t change in the next week, we will need to schedule a C-section.”
“No no no no no no no,” was all I could say. I wasn’t having a C-section. My baby and I were going to experience birth together and feel everything together. I was scared of surgery and scared of what the recovery would look like. A C-section was simply not an option.
Even though we think we’re in control of our lives by setting goals, checking off lists, and filling in our calendars, things always come up that force us to adapt. We have to adapt because if we don’t, we’ll be depressed or angry or sad or unable to function. We have to find a way to move forward. Life doesn’t stop and neither can we.
I had a plan for my birth story and my plan had been derailed. How would I move forward?
I really hate change. I like the comfortable and familiar. I’ll change if necessary but not without resistance. Upon receiving my first text, I thought, “Why not just call me?” Now I’m a serial texter.
American economist Tyler Cowen echoes my feelings on change:
“I don’t doubt that over very long time horizons [improvements are] better. Like, Microsoft Word IS better than Wordstar, which is what I wrote my first pieces in, and I’m glad that shift has been made, but there’s no step along the way when I was happy.”
I can relate. Even when change is good I resist. When change is bad or unexpected I spiral. Panic sets in. I can’t think straight, can’t catch my breath, can’t process the news. There’s an overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia and my mind refuses to believe what is happening.
I couldn’t even understand what was happening with the baby. The doctor said he was breech (head-up), which apparently meant he couldn’t be delivered vaginally. I wanted the doctor to tell me what I could do to fix the problem. But all she could tell me was to drink plenty of water, which would hopefully create more amniotic fluid for the baby to have an easier time turning.
Humans Are Adaptable
The most recent example of human adaptability is the pandemic that’s been sweeping the world. Everyone has had to adapt in some ways. My life looks very different than it used to: I wear a mask everywhere I go, I wash my chapped hands thoroughly at least 20 times a day, I haven’t had my hair cut in 2020, I haven’t been to a restaurant or seen any friends or family since February. If you would have told me in January that my mom wouldn’t be there for the birth of my baby in August I would have told you to fuck off.
I’ve adapted to this new world. I had to. I only had two options: risk getting myself or my unborn child sick, or follow all the protocols for safety. Easy decision.
Now I’ve been presented with bad news but don’t feel like I’ve been presented with clear-cut options. When the doctor told me the baby was “breech” I didn’t know what it meant or why it mattered. I’m sure I read somewhere that hospitals don’t deliver babies vaginally unless they’re head-down but I never worried about it for myself. My pregnancy had been easy. Smooth sailing except for some expected nausea in the first trimester.
Even when the doctor explained that they don’t deliver breech babies I remained unphased. “So?? I’m only 36 weeks pregnant. I’ve got a whole month to go. He could turn any time. Right?”
But the doctor wasn’t so sure. He’ll be growing half a pound a week from here on out, and the bigger he gets, the more difficult it is for him to turn.
How would I adapt to this?
Hating change goes hand-in-hand with meticulous planning. I’m not a spur-of-the-moment, spontaneous, go-with-the-flow type of person. When plans change I don’t handle it well. I want to be in control.
This news left me feeling out of control. I felt completely helpless yet at the same time responsible. What could I do to make things right?
My doula sent me links for inversion poses. Basically, flip upside down and hope gravity helps Baby turn. But if the baby did turn would I be able to tell? I don’t know. I felt him moving and kicking all the time. Sometimes he seemed like he changed position, sometimes he felt like he was in the exact same spot. Sometimes I thought it was a kick, other times a punch. What if he turned and then I did another inversion pose and he flipped back to breech??
I was frozen. Afraid to do anything to mess this up or make it worse.
My husband, Sam, tried to console me. He knew I had a plan this whole time. He knew how much it meant to me to have a natural birth. But he gently reminded me of something important: “This is the baby’s birth story, too.”
Sam was right. This was just as much my son’s story as it was mine. Maybe he had a different plan all along.
Is this my first lesson in parenting?
In order to adapt, I need to accept what is happening. This is a process. I can’t snap my fingers and say, “Okay, I got this, I’m going to have a C-section and it’s going to be totally fine.” It isn’t totally fine. It sucks. I need to cry. I need to vent. I need to feel all these feelings. And then, only then, can I start to make a new plan.
I listened to a story about a woman named Anya Cutler who had a breech vaginal birth. She — like me — thought if she understood the process and read all the books she’d be able to control her birth story. But she couldn’t:
“[I had to just let] go that this process was under my control and [learn] to feel positive, and feel like it was still my birth and my experience despite these changes.”
I spoke with a very kind woman on the phone named Rhonda who scheduled me for an External Cephalic Version (EVC). During this procedure a doctor manually massages the stomach to try and turn the baby. Rhonda promised me that the doctor had “special hands” and would do everything she could to turn my baby. This was comforting, but what she said next was surprisingly even more comforting: “Sometimes they’ll turn the baby — and he’ll go right back to where he was.”
If Baby Boy gets turned and goes back to breech, then I’ll know that that’s just where he wants to be. And if he’s anything like his mama, he’s stubborn and he doesn’t like change. So I shouldn’t be too surprised.
At the end of this, it’s not important how this baby comes out. What’s important is that the baby and I are healthy. That’s really all that matters. How I feel during the birth process IS in my control. I can’t control what kind of birth I have, but I can focus on how I want to feel. I want to feel safe, empowered, and loved.
I’m not exactly sure how to feel all those things if I’m going to have a C-section, but I can sure as heck try.
Face the Inevitable
I had my EVC appointment with Dr. Gardner. I had never met her before but loved her the moment she walked through the door. “This is all about good mojo so I’m bringing in the good mojo.” I took a shaky breath. “Are you nervous?”
Yes. I was very nervous.
I was so grateful to have Sam with me. Because of COVID, he hadn’t been to an appointment in six months. They allowed him to come for this because there was a less than 1% chance that when they tried to turn the baby I could go into labor. We packed our hospital bags — just in case. It was an added stress to think I could possibly go into labor, no matter how small the chance.
The nurse put something on my belly and we could hear Baby’s heartbeat loud and clear. I’d been hearing his heartbeat for weeks at every appointment, but Sam hadn’t.
He gasped. “That is the best sound ever.”
The doctor talked me through how the procedure would go. But first, she’d do a scan to see where the baby was, just in case he had decided to flip in the past week.
Dr. Gardner put the gel on my stomach and the screen to the right of me came to life. I can never tell what they see on those screens. They tell me it’s my baby but all I see are grainy images. I could only count on her voice and I braced myself.
“This baby turned. He’s head down.”
My arm went up to cover my mask-covered face as I immediately started sobbing. I couldn’t speak. A flood of relief. “Oh you really were nervous, huh?” I blubbered a response and Sam held my hand and we both laughed and cried.
I wanted so badly for this to happen but didn’t want to get by hopes up. I wanted to be prepared for the worst. I felt so grateful to Dr. Gardner even though she didn’t actually do anything except bring her good mojo into the room. But maybe that’s all Baby Boy needed.
There are eight possible doctors I could have for the birth of my baby. I hope I get Dr. Gardner.
But that’s out of my control so from here on out I’ll just focus on feeling safe, empowered, and loved.