Of all the words I share, I seem to struggle writing this story. It’s complicated and it’s simple, and the end result was a beautiful baby boy. ️ I finally want to share some of the journey Taylor and I took before we arrived at the birth of our son.
From the beginning of the second trimester or so I started researching birthing methods and techniques. I wanted to try taking a more natural birth approach with little or no pain relief. I liked the idea of laboring in water, having snacks throughout labor, and doing the bulk of laboring at home. Through my research I discovered hypnobirthing and fell in love with the concept. I began practicing this method months before the due date; training to go deep within myself to relax and breathe into labor contractions, which would hopefully provide a calm birthing experience with or without medicated pain relief.
I was so excited to give this a try, but I also wanted to be realistic. I read and watched every type of birth you could imagine. I wanted to prepare for anything that could happen. From completely drug-free water births, to epidural, to forceps delivery, and emergency C-section. I knew anything could happen and I chose to watch videos of all of these types of births so I didn’t go into my own labor blindly. One birth method I didn’t spend a ton of time on, however, was a scheduled cesarean. That was the last on my list of preferred births and the furthest from my mind.
As my third trimester rolled around I began all the fun little things one might do to help prepare and open the body for birth. I drank red raspberry leaf tea, did squats, and bounced on an exercise ball. I laid in bed every night for 30 minutes practicing hypnobirth techniques and breathing methods. I was ready! Up until this point my pregnancy had been perfect. My biggest complaints had been general discomfort around my stretching body and, of course, always being hungry! I knew that I’d most likely go into labor well after my due date, and even imagined recording a video of me dancing to 90’s music, attempting to get labor started. In my mind, I would share the video online with a caption somewhere along the lines of ‘These hips don’t lie, I’m hurtin’! It’s time to say Baby bye, bye, bye!’ (or something equally cheesy and related to 90’s music.) Even planning for something as silly as that, I was trying to be realistic about my expectations. Yet, when actual reality hit, I still felt unprepared.
At a routine midwife appointment at 32 weeks pregnant the midwife informed us my baby bump hadn’t grown since 29 weeks. She assured me there was nothing to worry about and scheduled an ultrasound to check the size of our baby to make sure all was well. On the day of the ultrasound we learned Elliot was measuring below the safe size range. The midwife let slip the phrase ‘cesarean’ (pre-term), but made it clear it was probably fine. We were sent to a nearby hospital the same day to have his heartbeat monitored. The heart beat was great, but he was small and his growth would need to be charted for the next few weeks. And he was also breech. But I had known that. I had felt his head in my ribs for months, his legs kicking my left side, his bottom down. That position wasn’t ideal, but I wasn’t worried. It was still early enough in the pregnancy, so I wasn’t concerned. He’d turn.
His small size started a cycle of several ultrasounds, heart rate monitoring, and many midwife and doctor consultations. After almost an entire routine pregnancy, I had come to really enjoy having just a midwife to look after me, so all these new doctors and medical procedures were really stressful. You’d think that getting to see my sweet boy on the ultrasound almost every week would be amazing. It wasn’t. At this stage in the pregnancy ultrasounds didn’t catch much of an image. It physically hurt me and bothered Elliot to be prodded and poked. And the results on his growth chart just stressed me and Taylor out even more. Suddenly this pregnancy was mostly questions and not enough answers. Emotionally, I started going within myself, just a little bit. The midwives kept saying it was all fine. But I had a feeling that, though Elliot may be great (which WAS great!), this pregnancy had completely flipped from what I had expected.
We monitored Elliot’s growth every couple of weeks, and though he was small, he slowly began to measure above the minimum range. This was a relief! By this time, however, I was well into my last trimester and Elliot was still breech. The midwives reassured me he would most likely turn on his own, but I had already become so familiar with his unchanging position. Was he stuck?
It was hard to pull myself out of the melancholy. I stopped planning my birth experience, I stopped preparing. I was of a singular thought that couldn’t be expressed in words, just worry. I found myself focusing all day on his kicks, and feeling his head shift and startle against my rib cage. At this point the doctors had again brought up the possibility of a c-section. They all assured me he’d flip, he’d turn, it’d be alright. But now I had the thought of surgery bouncing around in my head.
I wish I could describe the emotional exhaustion me and Taylor had already been through. It was weeks of worry about his size (and whispers of c-section), and just as that was resolved, it was weeks of worry about his position. I began researching my options, and then trying them ALL. Taylor and I would go to the gym and instead of doing squats and bouncing on an exercise ball, I did stretches and yoga positions that turned me upside down. When I sat up from these positions, Elliot would squirm madly, just like the articles I had read said he would. My optimism rose–he was moving and I was helping him! At night I’d lay my head on the floor and prop my legs on the bed at a diagonal, convincing myself he would turn.
So what were my options? First, I could try an external cephalic version (ECV). A doctor would physically attempt to turn Elliot from the outside. There was a 50% chance of it working. Secondly, I could try having a breech birth. This way, I could attempt having the birth experience I wanted, but there were conditions: I couldn’t be induced, the less pain relief I had the better, and there wasn’t much the midwives or doctors would be able to do except let gravity get the baby out. Thirdly, I could just schedule a c-section. C-sections scared us. Taylor and I made pros and cons list between our options. For the baby, c-section was safest. But we didn’t want to go through that. At its best, it was major surgery that would leave me weak and recovering and could cause issues with later pregnancies. Having a natural breech birth would be better for me, but was more dangerous for the baby, and may even end up in an emergency c-section anyways.
Despite my best efforts of turning him on my own, reality was creeping in: I would eventually have to make a decision. I was the most indecisive I had ever been. How would this breech baby enter the world? I couldn’t choose. I found myself drinking even stronger red raspberry leaf tea and eating loads of pineapple. I didn’t want to make a choice. I just wanted to naturally go into labor and have the choice made for me. I wanted my birth experience! The hypnobirthing, laboring at home, experiencing childbirth. Everyday I hoped I would go into labor.
Taylor and I decided there would be no harm in trying the ECV procedure. I watched videos of pregnant women casually sitting in a hospital room while a doctor successfully turned their unborn child. It looked painful, but hopeful. On an early evening in January I lay in a hospital bed preparing for my own ECV, but I wasn’t casually sitting up. Much like the upside down positions I had attempted on my own, the bed was at a steep angle; my head was down, legs up. The room was dim, with a bright, sterile beam of light shining on my stomach. I was surrounded on either side with medical professionals. I closed my eyes and began to breathe deeply. I remembered the hypnobirthing techniques I taught myself and used them for the first and last time. I felt the pain of the procedure, but it didn’t hurt. The doctor roughly moved his hands around the shape of my baby, forcing him to move. It’s hard to explain–the doctor was gentle, careful, but I felt Elliot’s distress. He didn’t and couldn’t move. At one point the doctor stopped. I thought he was finished, maybe even successful? Then I quickly realized he was trying again. It had failed. At this point I was emotionally done. I remember a single tear running down my face–I was silently frantic at Elliot’s discomfort. A switch turned on inside me and I knew I would have the c-section. I wouldn’t put Elliot through more discomfort just for my own preferred birth. Looking back, I realize it was probably all in my head. I’m sure Elliot was fine the entire time. But it didn’t matter–I was no longer indecisive and I would do whatever it took to have him safe and happy. When the failed procedure was finished I sat in the hospital bed crying, and tried so hard to focus on Elliot’s heart rate on the monitor. I remember how quiet he was, how still. I remember how violated it felt to have someone try to turn my baby. The doctor was so nice. He wanted the best for us. But I couldn’t help the feelings I felt. I cried the entire way home; Cried at the loss of my birth plan, cried at the pain I felt after putting my body and baby through the ECV, cried with absolute relief that I had finally made my choice. It was a necessary goodbye to what I had expected out of this pregnancy.
Once I made my decision to have the c-section, things moved quickly. Suddenly, I had a date set in stone for the arrival of our baby. My mom was able to book a quick flight to England, I packed and repacked the hospital bag, and then Taylor and I packed and repacked it again. Suddenly, all melancholy was gone. All worry and doubt had lifted. We would be parents soon and all we felt was excitement.
On an early winter morning my mom, Taylor and I took a cab from a guest house to the hospital. From 7 am to 1 pm we prepared and waited for my turn. I only remember snapshots after that. I remember walking to the surgical table, making jokes with my anaesthesiologist. I remember how it really hit me how real this surgery was when I struggled to stay still for the epidural. Taylor and I were buzzing with nervous energy, or at least I was from the waist up. I felt no pain, no fear, and even some curiosity of what was going on!
Elliot came quickly and cried immediately. It was a foreign sound, almost like I’d never heard a baby cry before in my life. Suddenly he was there, and we couldn’t believe it! He came swiftly and beautifully and then a midwife was laying him on my chest. The room was organized chaos all around us, but the noise all fell away as I stroked his face. He was here. We made this and he was more beautiful than I could fathom. I remember a single tear falling down my face. My boy, my boy, he was mine, he was ours. Taylor and I spent a beautiful moment in a bubble where only the three of us existed.
I will never regret my c-section, the choices I made. I remember even thinking it was all a bit fun. I would do it again. Will I? I don’t know. I know I could never compare this birth experience to any other. It wasn’t what I wanted, but it was. I arrived at it with joy, but only after scaling a mountain of sorrow and doubt. I cried so much when things weren’t going as planned, but I barely remember those tears. The first of February at 1:55 pm we welcomed Elliot Rowan into our lives. Our world became smaller, our priorities more focused, and our hearts have been expanding ever since.