Our Birth Story

(A quick note: I realize this is a very long post, but it was important for me to tell this story and work through it. It’s been a very therapeutic, healing process to open up about the joys and the challenges of our birth story. With that in mind, while it may be long, this was more for me. Even so, if you decide to venture through it, I hope you enjoy our story.)

Letting Go

For me, Baron’s birth was a lesson in letting go. Not one thing went according to plan. Harlan and I were married for 3 years when we decided to start trying to conceive. Like everyone else, we assumed that it would only take a couple of months. But after 2 years, and no pregnancy, we had basically given up. We started looking into adoption. We didn’t want to spend a lot of money on fertility treatments when that money could go toward adopting a baby who needs a home. In the mean time, we were still talking to our OB, Dr. Tatum, about why I was unable to conceive. At this point there was no explanation – I just wasn’t ovulating. I won’t lie, I was heartbroken every time I took a pregnancy test and it was negative. It was really hard for me because I had 8 friends who were pregnant around me. It seemed as though every time we heard from one of our friends, it was an announcement that they were having a baby. I really wanted to be happy for them, but it just seemed so unfair. In September 2010, Dr. Tatum gave us a prescription for Clomid – a medicine that’s basically supposed to kick-start ovulation. We weren’t sure if we even wanted to take the medicine. At this point, we were pretty set on the adoption. We had finally let go and realized that the whole situation was completely out of our hands. We were thinking, there must be a reason we’re not getting pregnant. There must be a baby out there who God wants in our lives. So we just held on to the prescription and never filled it.

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Could it be??

October came around and something seemed different. I had gotten my hopes up too many times, so I really didn’t want to convince myself that I might be pregnant, just to have my heart broken again. But as the month went on and I couldn’t shake the feeling, I decided to take this extra pregnancy test that I had left over from before. I knew (from lots of test-taking) that you’re supposed to take the test first thing in the morning. So I was going to save it for the next morning. At 3 am on October 20, I was awake and couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I finally snuck to the bathroom, hoping not to wake Harlan. I sat there staring at it for the whole testing time, watching a 2nd little pink line slowly appear where I’d never seen one before. I couldn’t believe my eyes. After all this time, my first ever positive pregnancy test. I kept thinking, I must be reading this wrong… But it’s pretty basic. Not a lot of room for error. Eventually I went back to bed and hid the test so Harlan wouldn’t see it. Of course I couldn’t sleep after that. I kept getting up and using my phone as a flashlight to check and make sure the pink line was still there. I decided that come a reasonable hour in the morning, I’d go buy another test and make sure this one wasn’t faulty. I didn’t want to tell Harlan till I was sure. Well, I bought a two-pack which resulted in two more positive tests.

I wanted to come up with a creative way to tell Harlan. Anyone who knows my husband, knows that he has a thing for shoes. So I thought it would be cute to find a cool pair of baby shoes. I went everywhere I could think of and couldn’t find a single pair of baby shoes that I thought were worthy of this task. Then I remembered a box of Harlan’s baby stuff that his mom had saved and given to us. In the box was a pair of vintage baby Nikes. They’re white with a blue swoosh. So very cool. And hidden in the back of our storage unit… There I stand, in the door of the storage unit looking into the mess, when I spot it on top of everything in the very back. The only way for me to get to it was not exactly safe. But it had to be done. I climbed through the mess, and balanced myself on the handlebars of a bike till I was able to reach my prize.

I headed back to our loft to meet Harlan who was waiting for me so we could go run some errands. As I got in his car, he asked how my day was. I told him “Great. You got me a birthday present. Wanna see it?” My birthday is the 24th, so he thought I bought something for myself to be “from” him. So he laughed and said “Sure” and put the car in drive. I said, “No. Stop the car, this is important.” He rolled his eyes, thinking I was just being dramatic (as I’m known to be at times). So he stopped the car and I handed him a gift box which contained the baby shoes and the three positive tests. He opened it up and a confused look spread across his face. He said, “What is this?” And I said, “It’s three positive tests.” The next part is a little fuzzy. There was hugging and crying. It was really sweet.

And the fun begins…

We decided to keep it a secret for the first trimester. We knew the loft wasn’t ideal for an infant, so during this time we bought a house and moved in about a week before Christmas. At Christmas we finally made the announcement to our family and friends. I started doing research about childbirth classes and decided on the Bradley classes. Bradley is a husband-coached, all-natural, no intervention, no drugs method of childbirth. It’s a 12 week long course, which I would highly recommend to anyone having a baby. During this time we decided to switch from our OB to a midwife group. There are 6 midwives who work together in a hospital setting, alongside OBs in case something goes wrong and surgery is needed.

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We loved Dr. Tatum, but we knew the midwives would be more open to the natural birth that we were hoping for. At 28 weeks, on our first visit to the midwives, we met with Summer. We went through all the normal questions and toward the end of the visit, I was getting really uncomfortable because the baby’s head was pushing really hard against my ribs. So I asked her if my ribs hurt the baby’s head – because it was sure hurting me. She just laughed and said no. Then asked why I thought that was where the head was. I told her that it’s where the head has been through the whole pregnancy. So she had me lay back so she could feel around on my belly. While doing so, she had this kind of odd look on her face. She asked me if anyone has ever told me that I have a heart shaped uterus. I said, “no, but I don’t think anyone has ever had a reason to check for it.” So she dismissed the thought and got a sonogram machine to check baby’s position. Sure enough, the head was right under my ribs as I thought. The baby was in a transverse (sideways) position.

Side note about transverse lie: According to statistics, a transverse lie occurs in only one in every 2,000 births. This is NOT the same as a breech presentation. In this day and age, a transverse pregnancy is rarely fatal to the mother in countries where there is modern medical care. In underdeveloped countries where there is inadequate medical care, this condition can be fatal for both the mother and fetus because there is no availability of C-section. It’s not possible for a transverse baby to be delivered vaginally.

Still only 28 weeks in, there’s plenty of time for babies to flip into position, so I was told not to worry about it. But I should probably check into a chiropractor who does the Webster Technique. Basically this is just a certain adjustment that gets everything aligned so that your body is open for the baby to more easily get in the correct position. As the weeks went on, it was becoming more apparent that the baby had no interest of leaving my ribcage. So we started trying everything possible to get some movement. Without going into too much detail, here’s a list of what we all we tried:

• Chiropractor 3-4 times a week
• Crawling around on the floor on all fours
• Putting something hot near my pelvic bone, and an icepack by the baby’s head (supposedly the baby will want to move away from the cold toward the warm)
• Warm bath with ice pack at the top of my belly
• Play music near my pelvic bone
• Visualisation
• Laying on the floor with a huge stack of pillows under my butt and my head on the floor
• Knees on the sofa, butt in the air, head on the floor (one of the least flattering positions a very pregnant woman can be in)
• Lay on an ironing board that is propped against the bed. So my head is on the floor and the rest of my body is above my head.
• Rebozo (sp?)
• Acupressure
• Massage
• And finally, an External Cephalic Version (ECV or version). This was a last resort if all else failed. This was a medical procedure where the doctor physically moves the baby into the correct position by “smushing” on the belly from the outside. It has to be done at the hospital because there are a few risks involved. I could go into early labor, it could cause the placenta to detach, my water to break, etc. But the risks were relatively low. If this didn’t work, I would have to schedule a cesarean. At this point there was nothing else to try and we were out of time. The version was scheduled for Tuesday, June 7. When the day came around, I was really excited. I knew this was going to work. I was mostly concerned that the baby might turn back around after the procedure was done. Anyway, I get to the hospital on Tuesday, and they give me a muscle relaxer so that the procedure wouldn’t cause me to start having contractions. Dr. Tabor would be the OB doing the version. Before he started, I asked if there was any way for him to tell if I had a bicornuate (heart shaped) uterus. I was curious if Summer’s guess was right. He said that he’d do a sonogram before we got started so he could check the baby’s position, and while he was doing that he could take a look at my uterus. As soon as he looked at the monitor he confirmed our suspicions.

Side note about a bicornuate uterus: A bicornuate uterus, commonly referred to as a “heart-shaped” uterus, is a type of uterine malformation where two “horns” form at the upper part of the uterus instead of being one open area. A bicornuate uterus is estimated to occur in 0.1-0.5% of women in the U.S. It is possible that this is an underestimate since subtle abnormalities often go undetected. Pregnancies in a bicornuate uterus are usually considered high-risk and require extra monitoring because of association with poor reproduction potential.
A bicornuate uterus is associated with increased adverse reproductive outcomes like:
• Recurrent pregnancy loss: the reproductive potential of a bicornuate uterus is usually measured by live birth rate (also called fetal survival rate). This rate is estimated around 63% for a bicornuate uterus.
• Preterm birth: with a 15 to 25% rate of preterm delivery. The reason that a pregnancy may not reach full-term in a bicornuate uterus often happens when the baby begins to grow in either of the protrusions at the top. A short cervical length seems to be a good predicter of preterm delivery in women with a bicornuate uterus.
• Malpresentation (breech birth or transverse presentation): a breech presentation occurs in 40-50% pregnancies with a partial bicornuate uterus and not at all (0%) in a complete bicornuate uterus.

Dr. Tabor told us that the baby is stuck in one “horn” of the uterus. He said that the version probably wouldn’t work because of how the baby was positioned, but he would certainly try if we wanted him to. We said yes. We wanted to know that we had done absolutely everything in our power before giving in to the cesarean.

He tried.

It hurt.

It didn’t work.

I cried.

I’d been so positive up to this point. I KNEW it was going to work. I really thought all the other natural stuff would work too, but if that didn’t, this definitely would. I was devastated. I desperately didn’t want a cesarean.

I had this picture in my head of my beautiful, perfect labor and birth. I knew there would be lots of pain, but I was prepared. I had my amazing husband by my side, my midwives, my doula, my birth plan. I was going to have a water birth with little twinkling candles all around the tub. I’d see my baby for the first time. Harlan would announce the sex. We’d cry. They’d place baby on my chest for skin to skin. I’d breastfeed. Angels would be singing. It was beautiful. No part of my plan included an OR.

This is something that’s very hard to explain to the average person. Most people didn’t understand why I was so upset about it. I didn’t understand why my body would make a baby that it couldn’t get out. If I was born in a different time, this would kill me. Also, hearing the word “malformed” was discouraging. I’m malformed and always will be. I was born this way. And it isn’t something that can be corrected. There were a lot of good intentioned comments trying to make me feel better. Most were along the lines of, “A cesarean is so much better. You don’t have to feel anything. They just unzip you, take the baby out, and zip you back up.” But I had no desire to be “unzipped”. I know they were just trying to be encouraging, but at that point it was just frustrating because I knew that there’s no way they could understand my exact situation.

Photo by Jeremy Enlow

The day following the unsuccessful version was our next scheduled midwife appointment. We knew that we would have to schedule the cesarean at this visit, so we decided that we wanted to request June 27. This is the date that Harlan and his sister Traci were both due (9 years apart). Neither were born that day, but we thought if we get to pick a date, that one would be fun. It was 3 days past our due date so we weren’t sure if they’d let me go that long because I was showing signs of pre-eclampsia. We met with Tania on this visit. She asked what date we had in mind. We told her the 27th … And she laughed. She said, “Yeah, I don’t think you’re going to make it through the weekend.” My blood pressure was getting way too high. So we scheduled the cesarean for the 17th, knowing that it might be sooner. The next day my BP was 135/105, which was bad. I called the office and Tania told me to come in to Maternal Observation and bring my bags. I did. Lindsey was the midwife on call that day. She asked how I was doing with the idea of a cesarean. I told her it was hard because I had spent months preparing for my natural delivery, and now that’s out the window. And I’m just not at all prepared for a cesarean. So she took the time to sit down with me and explain everything that would happen from start to finish. This helped ease my anxiety. After a few hours of observation they let me go home. But they made me come in for observation every day after that for one reason or another.

Tuesday, June 14th

We had an appointment for a blood pressure check in addition to a 24hr urine collection that needed to be turned in. While there, the nurse confirmed our new appointment for the cesarean on the 16th. Then we met with Tania who was concerned about my BP continuing to rise. She sent us back to Maternal Observation. Again. This time Candis was on call. Things weren’t looking good. The baby was doing fine, but she was worried about sending me home and risking a seizure. But she wanted us to talk about it while she talked it over with the on call OB, Dr. Hinkle. At this point Harlan and I were tired of coming in everyday, not knowing what was going to happen. We were as ready as we were going to be. Then Dr. Hinkle came in and said that he really felt like we needed to have a baby today. He was great. Not pushy at all. Explained everything again. Made sure we were ok. He had a great bedside manner that really reassured us.

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The Birth

Everything started happening really fast. I don’t remember it all, but I’m going to write what I do remember. They took me back to a delivery room where I was prepped for surgery. My nurse was named Skipper. She was awesome. There were also 2 nurse interns who had just started that day and they were in and out helping. Harlan and I both changed into our fancy OR outfits. They put me on magnesium to reduce my risk of seizure. Made me take out my nose ring and contacts. And thanks to my now severe pre-eclampsia, I got to jump in line for surgery. Emergency cesarean, here I come! The OR was cold, but no worries, the magnesium kept me warm (bonus!). I got to meet all the staff who would be working on me. Then it was time for the spinal block. The nice anesthesiologist man explained the procedure. Skipper stood in front of me and I held onto her while he proceeded to inflict “pressure”. Maybe it feels like “pressure” to other people, but to me it felt like lightning shooting down my left leg. He was hitting a nerve or something that was causing my leg to jump uncontrollably. He told me it was really important that I stay as still as possible. I felt like I was going to throw up. I asked Skipper how much longer. Then he told me I could relax. Yea, it was done! Nope. Another nice anesthesiologist man introduces himself and proceeds to explain the procedure again … apparently the first one couldn’t get it, so they called in another guy to give it a go. This time it worked. And I got to lay down. I wanted Harlan in there with me for this, which they allowed. But he wasn’t allowed to be with me, just in the back of the room. So instead of being there to hold me, he just had to sit in the back and watch his wife in pain while they dug around in my spine with needles. Neither of us were having much fun at this point. It made us both sick. Anyway. Spinal block in effect. They set up the drape, give me oxygen, and start poking around asking if I could feel it. Luckily I couldn’t. Yea spinal block! Harlan was sitting next to me. I remember the oxygen made my nose cold. Harlan and I were just talking about the fact that we were about to have a baby. We asked the anesthesiologist, who was sitting by my head, how long this usually takes. And he said, “Oh not long. 10-15 minutes from start to finish.” Wow, that’s fast. So I asked Dr. Hinkle and Candis when they’d be starting. Dr. Hinkle said, “Oh we’ve already started. You’re going to have a baby in just a couple of minutes.” Then I remember them saying something about seeing a baby butt. And I said, “Yea, the baby has a booty! That’s important.” A minute later they told Harlan to look over the drape so he could announce the sex. He looked and said, “Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!” and he looked back at me and said, “Do you wanna know??” I laughed and said yes. He said, “IT’S A BOY! We have a son!” and he kissed me and we cried. I heard the first cry. It was beautiful. He was born at 2pm, 6lb 13oz, 19in long. He was having a little trouble breathing because he had a lot of gunk in his lungs. But they got a bunch of it cleared out, wrapped him up and finally I got to see him for the first time. I was in shock. Candis stitched me up while Harlan held Baron up to my face so I could see him and kiss his beautiful face.

He is perfect.

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As frustrating as the last couple of weeks were, I had a wonderful pregnancy. I truly loved being pregnant. Feeling those movements, hiccups. Knowing that I’m growing a human in there. It was amazing. After reading all the statistics about my bicornuate uterus, I realized what a miracle it is that we made it through the pregnancy. And I’m glad that we didn’t know about it from the beginning. If we had, I’d probably have been stressed out the whole time worrying that something might happen to my baby. But nothing did happen. He was and is perfectly healthy.