This wasn’t a quiet pregnancy.
We found out the day after Thanksgiving, on the road in Amarillo, Texas. There’s more to the story, but that’s the beginning. And almost instantly, just after those first feelings of joy, I felt awful. I couldn’t keep anything down, sitting in my bed each day with my laptop and a wastebasket, trying to answer emails and work on curriculum between horks.
Around the time that all started to lift, about halfway through the pregnancy, we were rushed to a genetic counselor because of a feature identified at our anatomy scan, which, after testing, turned out to be unremarkable. Just as that resolved, I started cervical monitoring because of a previous surgery, the results of which hovered just between normal and not-so, tipping toward the latter, the threat of preterm labor dangling over my head. At the last minute, I had to cancel a work trip I’d been looking forward to after the doctor determined the risk of preterm labor to be too high. I stood in a space of anxiety nearly every day. Look, I’m not trying to say the perinatologists I saw were fearmongers but yes, that is precisely what I am saying. But they were super nice! (And also they changed my due date halfway through the pregnancy.)
On a quiet Sunday just after I’d missed my trip, midway through my third trimester, I started feeling uncomfortable. I’d had Braxton Hicks contractions starting at 18 weeks, so I wasn’t about to get too bothered about some tightening and discomfort. Except– it hurt. And it wouldn’t stop. The top of my uterus felt firm, too. I drank copious amounts of water, rested, walked, peed, and it remained terribly uncomfortable. I knew they weren’t labor contractions– at least not like I’d felt before– but I called my midwife anyway. Per her advice, I hopped over to L&D to rule out anything wonky (aside: you know it’s your third kid when you insist on driving to L&D for pre-term labor monitoring alone, sans spouse, even on a Sunday). And lo, I wasn’t even having Braxton Hicks contractions, much less pre-term labor. I was still in lots of discomfort but, hey, pregnancy is weird, so I went home.
A few days later I went in for a routine scan. “How long has your baby been breech?” the nurse asked. WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL. The trip to L&D had been because of the baby turning herself around, it appeared, not false labor. Cool, thx bebe.
We’ll skip over the next couple of weeks of talking to the one doctor in NM who delivers vaginal breech, moxabustion (on our own, I may have burned my toes), hypnosis, laying on a board upside down, handstands, somersaults in the pool, herbal teas, etc. After much effort on our part, she didn’t move, so we scheduled an external cephalic version to manually flip her into a cephalic position.
Y’ALL VERSIONS ARE SO COOL. I laid back on the bed, while the doctor and my midwife located the baby’s head and butt. They each grabbed one and, giving it their all, literally turned the baby from head up to head down in less than a minute. It was wild. I had read that versions are terribly painful, and sometimes require an epidural, but I lucked out. It was barely uncomfortable.
Routine scans that week and the next showed baby was staying head down. I showed up for what I hoped would be my last scan at 39 weeks and a few days. And a different nurse asked, “How long has your baby been breech?”
I yelled. A lot.
The nurse from the midwives’ practice called me before I even got to the car. “Saschaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa,” she greeted me. “You’ve got to be effing kidding me,” I replied. (Aside: I’ve milked goats and mucked pens with this nurse. She rules.)
I saw the midwife the next day. She talked to the doctor on-call, and they asked me to stop eating and drinking and head to the hospital. We shuttled the kids to our friends’ house, where I almost ate a cookie because I am forgetful, texted our doula Crystal, and headed to the hospital.
Here’s the thing with breech babies, and in particular with my breech baby. There are very few doctors who will do a vaginal breech delivery, and even among those who will, there are pretty stringent conditions about who is and isn’t a candidate. And frankly– I didn’t feel comfortable with a vaginal breech delivery. I did, though, want a vaginal delivery, if it could be achieved without major risk to me or to the baby. If my water broke, there was risk of cord prolapse. If I went into labor, contractions might make another version more difficult. So another version it was, and right away! (Plus, see above, they’re so cool.)
When we arrived at the hospital that Friday night, after registering and changing into the fab hospital gown, the doc swept in to let us know we’d narrowly missed our chance to have the version that night, as she had to go into an emergency c-section. We packed up and headed home. Our kids were fast asleep at our friends’ house, so Mike and I got the whole night to sleep soundly. We headed to the hospital the next morning before sunrise.
And away we went! The nurse placed a hep lock, and then the doctor and my midwife crammed into the tiny triage room with Mike, two nurses, and all the monitoring equipment. I declined terbutaline, a medicine used to relax the uterus, because it often causes heart-racing and other side effects that I anticipated would exacerbate my anxiety and because my previous version had gone swimmingly without it. If the version failed without it due to contractions, I gladly would have accepted it.
But the version didn’t fail. After some major exertion on the part of my providers, Hilde was head down. They fitted me with a surgical binder to help keep her in place and advised immediate induction, to get baby out vaginally before she decided to flip back.
HAHAHA I SAID IMMEDIATE INDUCTION. This was at about 7 am on Saturday. Hilde was born at 1:30 pm on Monday. YOU DO THE DAMN MATH.
(It’s about 55 hours.)
But they did start immediately. I moved to a labor, delivery, and recovery room, we texted Crystal again that things might be moving, and they started a Pitocin drip.
I know, I know– interventions. But sometimes interventions are there for a reason and help to enable us to have the births we want. My cervix was three centimeters dilated, 75% effaced, and soft. A Foley bulb would have only gotten me to 4 cm, plus it was a bad idea because, with babe so high in my pelvis, it could have pushed her higher, prevented her from engaging, or caused her to flip again. Cervical ripeners seemed unnecessary (more on that later), given my already favorable cervix. We needed contractions, and pitocin was the logical choice.
It’s here that I stress that what’s important in a birth isn’t what fulfills someone else’s wish for you, whether that’s an intervention free homebirth or a scheduled c section; what’s important is that you are heard, you have agency and choice, you trust and are trusted, and you have access to what you need, including knowledge.
I had those things. And a pitocin drip.
I had been induced with Winnie (you can read her birth story here) so I was no stranger to pitocin. But with Winnie, it hit hard almost immediately. I was nervous when they started the pit, worried about the intensity. But then– nothing happened. I mean nothing. I had contracted for a bit after the version, but the contractions faded. I noshed on popsicles, pudding, broth, jello, and ginger ale, watched some bad TV, updated Instagram, reread my birth prayers. I walked. I bounced. I did Spinning Babies. And everything else. Nothing. Freaking. Happened.
And because the best endings are when nothing happens, we’ll pause here for Part 2.