“So, how big was your first baby?” My doctor was trying to make some small talk while we waited for the nurse to pull an ultrasound machine into the small hospital triage room where I had just been admitted
“8lbs 11oz,” I said through my labor haze.
“Do you think this baby is bigger or smaller?”
“I don’t know…”
“Just take a guess! I won’t be made if you are wrong,” my doctor responded, trying to keep the mood a little light.
“Well…..” I wavered. I knew what I thought, but I didn’t want to be wrong and I knew that everyone looking at my belly definitely thought this baby was bigger. “I actually think this baby is smaller.”
Later, a few of the people who were in that room confessed that they didn’t believe my answer was right, including my doctor. But one should always trust a mama’s instinct, especially the mama herself. Malachi was 7lbs 5oz at his birth barely an hour later, a whole LOT smaller than his sister.
I wasn’t surprised. I had been spending weeks and months tuning in to myself and learning to trust my instincts as I prepared for birth. I knew I looked huge on the outside, but I remembered being a lot bigger with Olivia almost three years earlier.
Those same instincts were that ones that guided me through my labor and ultimately, the choice of setting for the birth of Malachi Jude, although it didn’t go entirely as I had planned or expected.
I was a week overdue when I finally went in to labor. It was a Saturday, my mom was in town, and we were planning to send my daughter home with her that next day if we hadn’t had a baby yet so I wouldn’t have to worry about finding a last minute babysitter if I went into labor while my mom was 3 hours away and working. I had really hoped to have the baby before she left, though, so she and my daughter could be there, AND because on Monday I had a dreaded ultrasound appointment to see how things were progressing since I would be 41 weeks plus 1 day.
I spent the morning doing some grocery shopping with my family in tow, and started to notice some light contractions. I had had some off and on for a whole day a week earlier, and had been having Braxton hicks for months, so I didn’t want to pay too much attention. But by the middle of the afternoon I was noticing that they were pretty regular, and we started to time them, around 2pm.
Finally, around 5pm I was ready to believe that this might really be it. I asked my doula and midwife and her assistant to start making their way over, figuring that even if I wasn’t really REALLY in labor, at least having them there would put my mind at ease.
They arrived and settled in to my living room, while I tried to rest in my room. Around 7pm I called my mom and asked her to bring Olivia home from church and get her in bed. I just knew that part of me was holding out from letting labor progress until I had all my ducks in a row, and that last duck was knowing my baby was all tucked in to bed with a goodnight kiss.
By 7:30pm I was cuddling up with Olivia to read her a goodnight book with Mike. I was having to pause to catch my breath with each contraction as we read. Then I snuggled up next to her on her mattress in our basement next to my mom’s bed in our guest room while my mom went upstairs to quickly eat dinner before retiring with Olivia for the evening. As Mike and I lay with Olivia I sang her songs, and enjoyed these last few minutes of being all hers.
Sure enough, as I crept up the stairs after tucking Olivia in, my contractions started to pick up to an uncomfortable point, and I settled in to just being in labor.
Hitting a Wall
I am not certain how long I had been in labor. I wasn’t looking at the clock, but just trying to go with the flow, and move in whatever way felt right at the moment, humming and singing along with my contractions. I am a big time believer in the power of water as a pain reliever in labor, and used the shower and a birth tub that was blown up in my room, keeping the lights low and just a candle burning.
After a while, however, I started to feel discouraged. I was most aware of the fact that I was still feeling very modest, and I remembered keenly how I lost all inhibition as my labor progressed with Olivia. In my mind, my still intact modesty wasn’t a good sign. I also noticed that my contractions were still kind of sporadic with long lulls in between sometimes. They weren’t getting longer and stronger and closer together in a real pattern.
I did NOT know how I was going to go all night like this, soooo slow. Olivia’s labor was 54 hours long, and I feared doing that again. Internally I was in turmoil, while everyone else in my home just slept or read, peacefully oblivious.
Finally, leaned up against the wall of the birth pool in my dimly lit room, I spoke up.
“Mike, I need help.”
“What do you need dear?” he asked groggily from his post, conked out on the bed.
“Can you just… get someone?”
Moments later both my midwife and doula were kneeling beside me.
“I just don’t know if I can do this. Nothing is happening. It’s going so slow.”
I don’t even know what they said to encourage me, but somehow just admitting my feeling of weakness in that moment was enough to lighten the burden. They suggested I hop out of the water (it is known for having such a relaxing effect that it can slow labor) and try something else.
The Part Where I LOVED Labor
One of the pieces of wisdom I received from Ina May Gaskin, a world renowned midwife who wrote “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth,” was that sphincters are all connected. That may sound totally bizarre, but she related that one of the best ways to get the cervix to open in labor is to relax and open your mouth and throat. She also suggests that sitting on the toilet is helpful, because you are already “trained” to loosen up there anyway!
So, bathrobe still wrapped tightly around me (still modest!), and feeling a tiny bit weird, I hopped backward on the toilet with a pillow resting on the tank for me to lean in to.
Boy was Ina May right. It didn’t seem like long before I was really having some roaring contractions. One in particular I related in an earlier post that had my midwife running, and me beaming with joy to be in the throes of labor!
After that it seemed like I blinked and my midwife was telling me that she thought I was complete and probably ready to start pushing. Really?? I was having HUGE contractions, but also some smaller ones in between, and some long lulls still. And I was STILL modest. My midwife checked and said I was pretty much complete and that she could feel the bag of waters bulging, but that she felt what might be a little lip of cervix.
Oh man, another blow to the psyche. I had had a lip with Olivia too, and that was part of the issue I had with pushing her out.
Time to Go
I got back in the tub at that point to start pushing. After several contractions I was really feeling down again. I could feel that the baby was not descending further, and my pushes felt fruitless. My midwife checked me again and seemed a little bit unsure as to where in the descent the baby was, especially with the bag of waters still in tact.
Later I learned that she was actually afraid that there wasn’t any room for the baby to come out at all, and she was worried about how to tell me that. First, though, she had to figure out a way to get me out of the tub and get a real good check without arising any of my suspicions (although, honestly, at the point I could tell she thought something was off anyway; I just didn’t know what).
However, everyone breathed a big sigh of relief when she checked me again with me in a good position, out of the water, and could tell there was PLENTY of room for this baby to come on out. She said so with great joy, and encouraged me to try to break the water with the next few contractions.
I got into a deep squat in my living room by my couch, another good labor position I had learned in my Bradley Labor Classes, and pushed with every last fiber in me.
And then my water broke.
And it was filled with dark green meconium. Baby’s first poop. Usually a sign that baby is in some sort of distress (although, his heart tones had all been perfect on the doppler).
“We need to go to the hospital now, right?” I said.
“Yes, honey. I think so. There are some pretty big pieces.”
I was suddenly in a different zone. I snapped in to gear and ordered Mike to get the camera and emergency bag, and I found my rattiest old pants to throw on. Boom. Out the door, with doula in my car, Mike driving, and the midwife and assistant to follow behind.
The Big Surprise
This is the part of my labor where I basically left mentally, and became entirely focused on my labor. Specifically, I was focused on keeping this baby IN, against nature, and keeping this baby healthy. As Mike sped through the night (it was 3:01am when I climbed in the car), my doula kept saying, “We are not going to the hospital because this is an emergency. We are going in order to keep this from BECOMING an emergency. Just keep breathing and talking to your baby. Tell him it’s ok.”
Meanwhile each new contraction would send another gush of meconium. It just would not stop coming, and at one point I totally freaked Mike out by saying that I thought the baby might be coming. He wasn’t. Just more meconium.
I started singing Psalm 23 softly to myself and my baby, a Psalm I had sung to Olivia almost every night before bed for the last few months. It was so deeply ingrained in my mind it just sort of welled out of me. I also kept saying, “You’re ok….we’re ok…” over and over in a sort of chant. I felt overwhelmingly at peace. I knew that it would be ok. All along I had just been saying yes and stepping wholeheartedly into the next thing set before me in this pregnancy and labor, and this was just the next obvious step.
I felt Malachi kicking around inside me, and I knew he was ok.
Meanwhile my midwife called my obstetrician to update him and tell him we were on the way, and then he called my doula because he knew I was in the car with her. As he headed to the hospital to meet us, he gathered some of my information from her. He asked if I would cooperate with him and whatever he asked to get the baby out. Whether I wanted to have a c-section or try with an epidural. I related that I would do ANYTHING anyone asked me to do if they said it was the best thing for me and my baby! Who needs to ask about cooperating??
So anyway, what felt like an eternity later, we arrived at the hospital. My doula popped out of the car at the emergency room entrance and grabbed a wheel chair for me. The lady at the front desk took, I’m sure, half a glance at my disheveled, zoned out, pregnant self, and directed us to the Labor and Delivery triage.
My obstetrician met us in the hall as we rounded a corner. We also passed some visitors in the elevator and I remember wondering what in the world they thought of me in my crazed looking state, and hoping a contraction wouldn’t come on so they would REALLY have something to stare at.
Triage. I tore, literally ripped, my pants off and got on the table and in my gown. More meconium went flying across the room. I did catch the concerned look on my doula’s face. What in the world was up with all this meconium?
My obstetrician did an internal exam. And that was when he dropped the bomb. Without the cushion of amniotic fluid concealing his position, it was now apparent that this baby was breech. Bottom down. Literally having the poop squeezed out every time I had a contraction. Light bulbs went off in everyone’s head as my midwife and her assistant breathlessly joined us in the room.
That explained why things had just felt a little off to her. It also explained the inconsistent pattern of contractions- common in breech labors.
In fact, for 3-4 weeks I had been telling EVERYONE that I thought this baby had moved position. I told my midwife, my OB, my chiropractor, Mike. Everyone kept saying that he still felt head down! We will never know 100% for sure when he turned, but Mike will tell you that literally every day I was feeling my stomach and just thinking something wasn’t quite adding up.
I was right. He was breech, and no one, amid half a dozen appointments with several different professionals in the preceding weeks, had caught it. Which was fine with me. If they had caught it earlier, chances are very likely I would have had an immediate c-section. I would not have been able to go in to labor on my own, and would not have had the wonderful experience I had going through my contractions to get to this point! Even if I had been allowed to go in to labor, I don’t think that I was mentally in a place where I could have handled doing a VBAC plus a breech delivery.
This is the point of the story where the nurse wheeled in the ultrasound machine to confirm what was obvious: Malachi was breech and my obstetrician had not been trained to deliver a breech baby. Only a few percent of babies present themselves breech (bottom down instead of head down) at birth, and it is considered a complicated delivery because of some of the risks of things going wrong, particularly the head getting stuck.
My OB offered to call the other OB in the practice who has way more experience with delivering breech, but we all knew there just wasn’t enough time. My body was beginning to convulse with each contraction, literally pushing my baby out without any help from me while I was holding on for dear life, trying to keep this baby in. I didn’t want to birth a breech baby in the care of someone with no experience and who was obviously not comfortable with the situation.
Also, at this point Malachi’s heart rates, which up until now had been perfect, were starting to dip low, and there were a few that were really scary. Like sounded like his heart basically stopped and took a while to climb back up to a good rate.
Time for a c-section. I knew that that was the safest and best choice at that moment. Not that I could not have birthed him breech in other circumstances, or that I think all breech babies require a c-section. But in that moment, given the way everything else was lining up, it was 100% the right decision to ensure a healthy outcome for everyone.
What followed was the worst. First, the hospital staff were slow as molasses to get things going, so I spent over an hour writhing through contractions while trying to work against nature and hold my baby in. Then they wouldn’t allow my midwife or doula in the operating room with me, or even Mike while they did the spinal and got me prepped, although my OB tried really hard.
Thank heaven for my sweet OB, though. He held my hand and coached me through several tough contractions on the operating table, including one that occurred as they had the big needle in my spine and I was not allowed to move at ALL. He told me that he would treat me the same way he would treat his wife if she were in my situation. That little bit of grace went a long way in a hard circumstance.
I had been anticipating sweet relief once the numbing effects of the spinal block kicked in, but I instead traded convulsive contractions for a new kind of awful: convulsive shakes and shivers that left my upper body tense and sore for days after.
As they started the first layers of incisions, Mike finally was allowed in the room. That was when I felt most excited, knowing Malachi would soon be born!
It took a while to get him out. My OB was sweating with effort as he pulled Malachi out of my pelvis- by the time he got to him, Malachi was crowning (or, more appropriately, butting), and he had to be pulled quite a way back up into the uterus to come out through the incision. It took some muscle and 2 nurses pushing on my stomach to get the guy out.
Then he was out, 5:06am. And I saw him for the first time in my OB’s hands, not crying at all but just staring quietly. I noticed his red hair immediately. His round little face, dark eyes. I loved him instantly.
Later I learned a sweet little fact: weeks earlier I had told Mike that if we did end up with another c-section, I wanted him to ask the OB if he would delay cutting the cord to the placenta. There is up to 50% of the baby’s blood volume in the placenta and cord at birth, and it takes time for that blood to pump back in to the baby’s system, so the immediate cutting of the cord performed in most hospital settings is actually not very ideal and can even lead to issues for the baby.
Dear Mike, he remembered my request and had asked my OB as we were heading in to surgery. When the time came to cut the cord, my OB held up his hand to stop the nurse for a few moments and waited before cutting it. More grace.
I told Mike to follow him over to the neonatal warmer where a team of pediatricians were waiting. Malachi had indeed taken in some meconium, and was having trouble starting to breath on his own. He was deeply suctioned, and then transferred to Special Care for observation and care. I said goodby to him, briefly laying eyes on him as he lay in his little plastic bassinet, before he was whisked away and I settled in to be stitched up.
It was 3 hours later before I saw him again and was able to hold him and nurse him for the first time. Poor little guy. He had received a small laceration during the hurried surgery, and then he had to have an IV put in because one of their tests malfunctioned and everyone thought he had extremely low blood sugar until they retested and realized the mistake.
Needless to say, it was not the friendliest of welcomes for little Malachi Jude. But he was a real champ, and latched on immediately when the finally brought him to me to nurse. I didn’t let him out of my sight or arms for more than a few minutes at a time the rest of the stay in the hospital.
As I look back on that day, I am struck by the incredible swing of dynamics. From the calm, joyful time spent at my home in labor, to the frantic, fearful time spent at the hospital. It changed so quickly and completely, but I know I made the best decisions for each curve ball that came our way. It was so obvious what the next right step was, all I had to do was say yes.
I am sad I did not get my VBAC, but I also have no regrets or feelings like I missed out on anything. In fact, this birth was incredibly empowering despite the c-section. I learned a lot about myself, and that I am capable of a lot of hard work! My OB and midwife have both told me they are confident he would have been born vaginally in any other circumstance.
And that is what I have to live with. The c-section outcome was entirely out of my control. A reminder that that is the reality of most things in life. It was out of anyone’s control really. It was the way things lined up. It was obviously the way Malachi was meant to be born. As I have mourned my VBAC, I have asked that age old question, “God, why?”
I won’t ever know the complete answer, but I do know this. That everything He gives is good and that it is grace. I can be thankful for my c-section, even if it was unwanted, because I can trust that the path that was laid before me was good and right. I can never know what could have been if things had panned out differently. But I said yes with everything in me each step of the way, and that is all that was ever asked of me.
Beforehand, I was convinced that if I had another c-section I would be completely devastated. But the way things went, I actually feel way more confident and at peace about my first birth AND this birth than I did prior to the experience. Only The Lord could take such messy circumstances and birth such beauty in my heart out of it. This is the only way I could have had a c-section AND an empowering birth at once, and there is no way I could have orchestrated it myself if I had tried.
And I am so in love with this little boy. He is such a delight. He is so healthy and strong. Growing like a weed. Smiling and sweet. My sweet, much anticipated, much prepared for son. His birth has forever changed me, challenged me, and made me grow in ways that could not have happened any other way. Each moment of my pregnancy, labor, and delivery was infused with God’s goodness and perfect plan for me that has awakened my heart in new ways. I would not trade a moment of that away, even the hardest parts.
My son, Malachi: he is a gift.