I have always been a bit more anxious than the average person. I’m the one who learns of a new disease and is quick to respond, “That sounds terrible. I think I have that!”
I’ve lost countless hours of sleep just from watching the news, and when I don’t hear from my loved ones in a while, I’m sure they’ve been kidnapped or eaten by bears. So I when I got pregnant, I knew I would have to work hard to keep my anxiety in check.
I didn’t want to be the type of mother who projects irrational fears onto her child, and I didn’t want to be the type of pregnant woman who worries so much she makes her husband question all of his life decisions up to this point.
With a slew of prenatal catastrophes ready to confront me every time I dared to Google, it was hard not to become overwhelmed. I practiced yoga, walked several miles a day and had a great midwife to ease many of my concerns.
Despite some first trimester nausea, I had a pretty comfortable and uneventful pregnancy. By the end of my third trimester, I was practicing my meditative birth breathing and envisioning a smooth, drug-free delivery at my birth center with my husband and midwife by my side.
I reminded myself that I couldn’t control everything, but remained optimistic that my labor would go as planned.
When I went in for an ultrasound with my back-up physician at 38 weeks, he looked me over and said “I foresee an easy delivery for you. You’re healthy and strong and your baby doesn’t look too big.”
This was exactly what I wanted to hear, and for a moment I felt calm and comforted by his words. But when he looked at my baby in the ultrasound his demeanor changed.
“Oh my dear,” he said somberly, “I’m so sorry. Your baby is breech.” It was the same tone I imagine he would have used to tell me my baby had antlers or an extra head.
“Breech? You mean upside down?” I asked. In that instant, I saw my calm, birth center delivery flush away.
“Yes. We can try to turn him manually, but if that doesn’t work we will have to schedule a C-section.”
I looked down at the body he had just described as “healthy and strong” and placed my hand on the baby he had just said, “doesn’t look too big.” I knew cesarean sections are sometimes necessary, but it seemed like such a shame to not even be given the option to try to avoid invasive abdominal surgery.
“Is there any way I can try to deliver him vaginally?” I asked.
“I know of one doctor who does it,” he grimaced “but I’ve seen mixed results.”
Mixed results. What could be more terrifying to a pregnant woman than being told that her baby’s entrance into the world could have “mixed results?” Those words bounced around in my head over and over, stirring up all the anxious feelings I worked so hard to overcome for the past nine months.
I’d been aware of many things that could go wrong in my pregnancy, but breech presentation was never on my radar.
Over the next few days I tried everything to get my baby’s head down. Acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments, swimming, ice on the top of my belly, heat on the bottom, and lots of upside-down yoga poses.
I scoured the Internet for information about breech babies, but all I found were “Get Baby to Flip” articles and “Recovering from C-section” stories. I was frustrated that the little information I found seemed to echo the doctor’s doomful tone.
He performed an external cephalic version, which means he put me on muscle relaxants, put his hands on my belly and attempted to manually turn the baby. It was painful, scary, and it didn’t work.
I began to worry not only about the prospect of major surgery, but that there might be something wrong with my baby. Why had he been cursed with such a terrible abnormality? I begged my baby to stop being so stubborn and get his head down, but as most children do when nagged by their parents, he ignored me.
My midwife suggested I meet with the one doctor she knew who would try to deliver my breech baby at the birth center. In fact, for insurance reasons, he was not legally allowed to deliver a breech baby in a hospital. A few days later, we met with him.
The doctor went over the criteria he uses to select a candidate for breech delivery, including baby’s suspected size and whether or not he had flexion in his neck. I fit all the criteria and the doctor told me he was confident I could deliver vaginally.
He discussed when and how vaginal breech birth became almost obsolete in the United States and how much doctors and hospitals have to gain financially from C-sections.
I learned that when a baby is breech, a C-section is not necessarily a safer option for the baby, and it is certainly not a safer option for the mother. C-sections are often more convenient for the doctor and that is one of the reasons they have become so common in the United States.
The next day, I was confused and terrified. I wanted so badly to try for the natural, birth center delivery I had planned but the words “mixed results” continued to trouble me. Ultimately, I decided that I did not want to schedule a surgery and I would trust that my “healthy and strong” body could birth my baby the way he was: butt first.
That day around 1 pm, about the time I made my decision, I started to feel some mild cramping. It was two weeks before my due date, and I didn’t expect to start labor this early. I had not yet signed any contracts with my new “breech delivery” doctor, but I called and let him know what was going on.
“If this is labor, would you come to the birth center tonight and deliver my baby?”
He said he would.
My midwife told me to take a warm bath and the contractions would likely stop. So I did…but they didn’t. By 10pm my husband and I realized the contractions were getting closer together and much more intense. I tried to relax and get some sleep, but relaxing was a challenge and sleep didn’t happen. This baby was coming.
Around 3 am we headed to the birth center where we met the midwife and doctor. By this time my water had broke and I couldn’t focus on anything other than the strong waves of pain that caused my body to shake uncontrollably. My memory of this time is blurry. I remember a faint feeling of terror. The words “mixed results” jumped back into my consciousness. Have I made the right decision? I wondered.
I counted to 10 during each contraction and thought If I can just stay calm through a 10 count, it will be over. My counting went something like this: one…two…three…oh my God…four…oooww…five….holy shit…six…seveeeen….eight…nine…GOD DAMN IT!...TEN! TEN! OOOOOOWWWWWW TEN!!
Then I felt the urge to push. This began the most exhausting and intense two hours of my life. I pushed hard with each contraction, first on hands and knees and then on my back. My husband wiped my forehead, squirted coconut water into my mouth, and encouraged me gently.
Between contractions I remember thinking that I couldn’t possibly summon the strength to push anymore, but then another would start and I did. My midwife and doctor continuously checked the baby’s heart rate and told me that everything was OK and I would meet my baby soon.
Despite my doubts, I wanted more than anything to believe them.
Finally, the pushing was over. My son was born at 9:03 am the next morning. They placed him on me and he was blue and still. The doctor rubbed him vigorously, so I did the same. Then I heard him cry. And he got pinker. And he was OK. He was perfect.
I felt complete shock, then relief, then overwhelming gratitude. I found out later the doctor had to gently tuck my baby’s chin down so his head would come out, but that was it. He was born butt-first the way nature had intended him to be born, and I had the natural, drug-free, birth center delivery I had planned.
I know now that while I’m sure that first doctor meant well, using phrases like “mixed results” to describe vaginal breech birth is a way to scare women into thinking they don’t have a choice. I am so lucky that I had an amazing doctor and midwife who gave me that choice.
Most doctors and hospitals have no idea how to perform a vaginal breech delivery, and couldn’t even in an emergency situation. My baby and I are proof that breech delivery can be done safely.
Four percent of babies do not turn head-down before they are born. Breech babies should be looked at as a variation of normal instead of something disappointing and scary. C-sections are sometimes important and necessary, but women should have a choice about how they deliver their babies.
My baby’s birth taught me that sometimes it pays to trust the choices I’ve made. I’ve learned that even if things turn out upside down, that may be exactly how they should be.