Layla, January 19 2014, 7 days old
This weekend, as the husband and I were starting to get organized to prep for the arrival of Baby #2, it occurred to me that I never actually shared Layla’s birth story after she was born. As I thought about giving birth for the second time, I started reflecting on Layla’s birth and how I’d like this birth to be different.
So, what was Layla’s birth like?
The words you might normally associate with a birth are not ones that come to mind when I think of Layla’s birth process. And that might be the reason why it’s taken me 3 years to post about it! Initially, I think I was so traumatized by her birth that I couldn’t bring myself to write about it, and then the inertia of life took over and I forgot to share my story. And now, as we prepare for our baby boy to arrive in August, I’d like to talk about Layla’s birth and more importantly, share some thoughts on why I think we should stop using the term “natural” to describe births, and why “natural” births should not be differentiated from c-sections.
Me and Layla, just hours after giving birth, and once I had finally come-to post c-section drugs wearing off
Here is the short story about Layla’s birth: I was in labor for almost 60 hours and then ended up with a c-section.
Here is the longer story:
Around 3am, early Friday morning, I went into labor. My contractions were strong enough that I could feel them and that I couldn’t sleep, but not so strong that I couldn’t do other things (like eat, or talk on the phone, etc.). They were far apart (10 min) so I knew it was just the beginning and that it might be a while.
The husband and I spent all day Friday super excited about finally getting to meet our daughter. We went for walks, joked around, watched a couple movies, called our doula, etc. I had always envisioned having a vaginal birth and trying to get to at least 5cm without an epidural, but also knowing that eventually I’d probably want one and felt no shame in that. On Friday night, the contractions began to get stronger and closer together – but still not regular enough to the point of being in active labor. The husband did everything he could throughout the night to help me feel comfortable (massage, hot/cold packs, etc.) so that I could rest, but the contractions were just strong enough that it prevented me from resting.
Friday night = no sleep. (Preceded by basically no sleep Thursday night).
Saturday morning: The contractions were about the same, about 5-7 min apart, and I was definitely getting uncomfortable and exhausted. Our doula came over that morning to help speed things along naturally and help me try to get some rest. (Our doulas – they were a team of two – were incredible. They were with us for about 48 hours straight and we absolutely could not have gotten through the experience without them!) She gave me a bath, massage, applied counter-pressure during my contractions, etc. She also was able to be with me so the husband could get some much needed rest, since both of us had basically been awake since 3am Friday morning. This went on for about 12 hours. Throughout all of this, I have to say the husband and I were in great spirits. We were still joking around with each other and with our doula in between contractions. I was tired but knew all of this was happening for an amazing “cause,” and we both just really couldn’t wait to meet Layla. The husband was with me every step of the way, doing everything he could to give me the support I needed.
Saturday night: Contractions were FINALLY super strong. 3-5 minutes apart, definitely active labor. And around 8pm on Saturday night, we went to the hospital. I had labored at home the entire time before that – which I can’t recommend enough. Going to the hospital when I was in really active labor was a great decision too. Because after that, just knowing myself, I don’t think I could have been comfortable at home – I wanted a medical professional with me from that point forward.
We got to the hospital and they told me I was 5cm dilated! The husband and I literally high-fived; we were pumped for two reasons: 1) It was official, I was in active labor and 2) I could get an epidural without worrying about slowing my labor down at that point!
Saturday night, around 10pm: epidural. AHHHHHHH. Oh my gosh. The glory of having an epidural after being in labor for over 30 hours – I cannot tell you the bliss. I know lots of moms don’t want epidurals and I’m not here to advocate for one position over the other. All I can say is, I would not have survived this birth without that epidural. I also felt like I had done my birthing duty by not using drugs for 30 hours, and this was my reward 🙂 I also knew I needed to sleep and rest. All of these things made the epidural the right choice for me, and to this day I’m glad I did it (you’ll see why as you keep reading!)
The husband and I both were able to nap a bit (the nurses come in to check on you a lot, so sleep was intermittent but better than nothing). And at around 8am Sunday morning they told me I was 10cm and it was time to start pushing!! The husband and I were super pumped and ready to go. I couldn’t believe how much energy we both had given how long we had been up – but we were just SO excited, adrenaline goes a long way 🙂
Hour 53: 8am Sunday morning: Time to Push! Everything started off well. They brought in a mirror and I could see the top of Layla’s head in it. My doula and nurses were amazing. The doctor said I was doing well and was a “good pusher,” whatever that means!
But then … nothing happened. I kept pushing, and Layla never progressed farther than just seeing the top of her head in the mirror. After 3 hours of pushing, my OB came in. And I knew things weren’t good.
She basically said that Layla’s chin was stuck in the wrong position, and that was impeding her from getting past my pubic bone. She had a “couple ideas” on what we could do.
First, she tried manual manipulation. That was somewhat uncomfortable, and didn’t work.
Then, around 11:30am Sunday morning, she suggested we try the vacuum.
Now, I’ll just stop here, and say that personally, I wish we had never done it. The vacuum is barbaric and violent. It’s also somewhat risky (which I didn’t know when it was offered to me). It’s also extremely painful WITH an epidural. It feels like someone is ramming a knife into your lady parts, and ripping it out 3 times in a row. And I’m not being dramatic here. I have a super high pain tolerance, and it was agony. It also causes injuries that can take longer to recover from than a c-section. So at this point in my labor, I wish I had said no to the vacuum and just moved on to the c-section.
But my OB really sold it – she was optimistic that it would work and that it would be better than a c-section. So 3 times in a row, she shoved the vacuum up into the birth canal, attached it to Layla’s head, and when a contraction came I pushed like there was no tomorrow. 3 times in a row, the vacuum snapped off of Layla’s head and ended up getting pulled back down through the birth canal without Layla coming along for the ride. 3 times in a row, I was in excruciating pain. It was torture. And emotionally, it was also unbearable. Each time that vacuum came out I became more and more worried about Layla, more and more concerned and anxious about what was going to happen next. It was demoralizing.
Hour 57: Failed vacuum. It was official. At around 12pm Sunday, the vacuum had failed and our only option was a c-section. It was at this point I finally cracked. I broke down in tears. I basically felt like I had failed as a mother, that I couldn’t even get my baby out after 57 hours of positivity, perseverance, and tenacity. I had done everything “right” with my labor to that point, had remained happy and positive despite the long labor, done everything “right” with my pregnancy, and couldn’t believe I was in that position. The vision I had for 9 months about pushing Layla out and immediately having her on my chest was ripped away. Now I felt like I had no idea what was going to happen, and I was worried I had harmed Layla before she was even born because of the vacuum. Everything after that was a little bit of a blur. They rushed us to the c-section room, the doctors pumped me full of drugs, and they operated.
Hour 58: 12:54pm, Sunday January 12th. Layla was born. Luckily, she came out with a great set of lungs, crying loud and clear. She never had any decels throughout the entire process, even post vacuum, which was also lucky. She did come out with a giant hematoma on the back of her head because of the vacuum – which caused her to have pretty significant jaundice and landed her in the NICU the day after she was born (she was in the NICU for 2 days, and then luckily was ok after that). When she was born, the doctors and nurses kept congratulating us, but I was so out of it and emotionally drained that I couldn’t even process why I was being congratulated. And then later, I was still so stuck on the fact that I had ended up with a c-section that I didn’t feel like I deserved to be congratulated, as crazy as that sounds now.
I don’t remember much for the 2 hours after Layla’s birth. I was so, so out of it and drugged up that I think I just passed out. I don’t remember how I got to recovery, I missed all of Layla’s first bath/post-delivery stuff (the husband did all of that). I think an hour or two after she was born I came-to and finally got to do skin-to-skin and nurse for the first time.
The husband and I were both so traumatized from the birth process, we agreed to not talk about it with anyone except immediate family after we got home from the hospital (mainly because we couldn’t bear to keep repeating the story over and over). It was obviously, not even close to how we thought it was going to go. And for him, it was unbearable having to watch me go through that experience, while only being able to do so much to help. We both also felt ridiculously guilty about Layla’s hematoma, which took a few weeks to heal (which she wouldn’t have had if we had just chosen to forgo the vacuum). We just wanted to try to forget it and focus on the present with our healthy baby girl.
The c-section recovery was tough (I felt more normal 4 weeks post-partum), but what really killed me was the scarring from the vacuum, which took 6 months to heal. 6 MONTHS. wtf. That was the worst part. For 6 months, it hurt when I peed, every single time. For 6 months, I wondered if I’d ever feel normal again. And for 6 months, I was reminded multiple times a day of what Layla’s birth was like. It was, the worst.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the entire first 6 months wasn’t “the worst.” We had plenty of amazing, happy, first-parenting moments even in the hospital and definitely when we got home.
Me and Layla, Day 4 in the hospital, when she finally got out of the NICU, ready to go home.
But overall, I felt robbed. Robbed of a birth experience that I had envisioned, and robbed of the “badge of honor” women who have vaginal deliveries receive. I felt so many emotions, none of them positive, about my birth experience. Embarrassed, ashamed, like a failure, undeserving, scarred, traumatized, saddened, demoralized, upset, angry, are a few that come to mind.
Frankly, it just sucked.
I think if there wasn’t so much value placed on vaginal births in our society, I wouldn’t have felt that way. But I think I felt implicit pressure to have a vaginal delivery: that it was better for the baby, better for the mom, more valued, more normal, more natural, healthier, etc. It felt similar to the pressure women have to breastfeed exclusively after babies are born. That if, for some reason, you can’t do it, you have failed.
When I told people I had a c-section, I’d usually get a sympathetic, “ohhhh, wow, you did, ok.” Or I’d get “oh, so you didn’t have a natural birth, that must have been tough.”
Most of the time, when I’d talk about my c-section, it would immediately get compared to a “natural” birth, either explicitly or implicitly.
When I told people I had a c-section, all of the work leading up to that point, the ~60 hours of labor, the mental toughness, the vacuum, the literal blood, sweat, and tears, were all discounted. Or, if they weren’t discounted, I was pitied. Whereas, if I had that exact same experience but delivered vaginally, I know I would have gotten more of a “wow you’re a warrior” type of reaction.
And why is that?
Because when we classify vaginal births as being “natural,” we immediately, implicitly, categorize c-sections as being “unnatural,” or “other.” Natural is good, other is bad. Natural is applauded, other is dismissed. Natural births are amazing, inspiring, and warrior-worthy. Other is treated as a procedure.
This is despite the fact that many women who end up with c-sections labor intensely before. Despite the fact that c-section recovery is usually much more difficult than a vaginal birth recovery. And despite the fact that many vaginal deliveries have “unnatural” elements to them too (epidurals, interventions, pitocin, inducement, vacuum extractions, etc.). What makes one more or less natural than the other?
So as I reflect on Layla’s birth, and think about our baby boy’s upcoming birth, I’d like to advocate for a world where we stop using the term “natural birth.”
There are two types of births: vaginal deliveries, and c-section deliveries. That’s it. Women who birth babies, no matter how, are all warriors in equal rights: whether they had an epidural, whether they had a c-section, whether they had no drugs and delivered at home — pregnancy and birthing is deserving of warrior status. Women who have c-sections shouldn’t feel embarrassed, or be pitied. Vaginal births are not “better” than c-sections.
To my c-section sisters, you are all amazing!! If you have just had your first c-section – just know that there is NO shame in a c-section and you should feel proud. It took me a while to get there, but now I do see Layla’s birth experience as a “badge of honor” vs. something to be ashamed of. And once you get through the recovery period you will feel a lot better and more like yourself.
For our baby boy’s birth in August, I have scheduled a c-section. If I go into labor before, I’ll see what happens but I won’t hesitate to move to a c-section asap if it looks like things are going in the direction of Layla’s birth. And when I go into the operating room, I’ll go with pride, feeling strong, and excited to meet our son. I’ll go knowing that my birth is just as natural as any other birth. Because no matter how a baby comes into this world: via vaginal delivery, c-section, surrogacy, or any other process — a baby is being born, and there is nothing more natural than that.