“Then came a sound I will never forget, the best moment of my life: Amelie let out an almighty scream and I burst out crying! That was MY baby! She was here and I was a mum! It was amazing!”
Although I gave birth at exactly 39 weeks my birth story really starts at 37 weeks when my husband Mike and I sat in our doctor’s waiting room. At this appointment the doctor would check me over and sign us off as able to deliver at the birthing centre I had my heart set on. I had swapped from an OB/GYN at a big hospital to a midwife at an in-hospital birthing centre at 24 weeks as I really wanted a natural and drug- free birth. I had always known I wanted to strive for a natural birth as I saw birth as a transformative process and didn’t want my experience numbed by drugs if possible, plus I knew the effects drugs could have on a baby and I wanted the best I could do for her. In the UK where the hubby and I are both from, this would have been a run-of-the-mill request, but in the USA, it’s far from the norm. So, at 24 weeks, I made the decision to swap, we found a midwife, made the switch to a birth centre and completed Bradley classes. We were ready and excited for the birth of our daughter who we had named Amelie. We knew as soon as we came out of this appointment I could go into labour at any time and be able to use the birth centre with its jacuzzi, birthing balls, and freedom to move around however I wanted. I was so excited!
We went into the doctor’s room and the assistant asked me basic questions. Then the doctor came in. I already knew what he looked like as he featured in the documentary ‘The Business of Being Born’ which had heavily influenced my decision to educate myself about how the birth process is managed in American hospitals. He was very friendly and joked about me apparently being an extrovert on account of my tattoos as he applied the gel to my belly for the routine ultrasound. He put the ultrasound wand to the top of my belly, looked at me and said, “Well… I’m afraid no birth centre for you. This is her head up here.” The little lump which my midwives had been sure was Amelie’s bum was actually her head – she was breech.
I was immediately terrified and started freaking out, I knew that this meant there was a huge chance that I would have to have a surgical birth, something that terrified me. The doctor tried to reassure me that no matter what happened Amelie was healthy but I was reeling from the realisation that I might have to face something that was the total opposite of everything I had wanted for me and Amelie. He scheduled an acupuncture appointment for me that afternoon (acupuncture has a high success rate in turning breech babies) and I was booked for an external cephalic version at the hospital, which is where they would externally try and turn Amelie to the right position.
The next two weeks were the longest of my life, not only because I had numerous acupuncture sessions, chiropractic work, did hours of exercises meant to turn a breech baby, did handstands in a pool full of very serious swimmers doing laps and had two attempts at external cephalic version, but also because of the emotional side of everything. I’d been so sure that this wouldn’t happen to me that I admit that I zoned out slightly when we covered cesareans in birth class. I’d been so sure that I’d be able to have the natural birth that I’d been working for that we’d bought 50 battery powered candles, massage oils, relaxing music… and now I was presented with the high likelihood of a surgical birth without even having the experience of labour. I felt like I’d been cheated out of this huge experience of womanhood. I felt as if I’d somehow failed as a woman. I had needed fertility help to get pregnant and now I’d need help to give birth. And the fear of surgery was horrible. I was scared this amazing thing would be swapped for a cold and scary surgical experience. Over the next week or so I reached out to so many people for support: I had an appointment with my midwives to talk about how I was feeling, I spoke to people who had had a cesarean birth, read books and web sites and contacted friends who were pregnant or mothers for emotional support. The support I received was incredible. People shared their thoughts and experiences and offered great insights and support. They helped me see that feeling like a failure was silly, I was doing the best for Amelie and although it was very far from what I’d strived for, the birth could still be amazing and so special if I was in the right mindset and all that mattered really was that Amelie was safe.
The second and last attempt at external cephalic version was on Thursday 24th May, and like the first time, they were only able to turn Amelie part of the way around. The doctor said it was likely that there was something blocking her from moving such as her cord or the placenta and I would definitely need to deliver her by cesarean. When I heard that there was likely a reason she couldn’t turn around, my whole mindset changed. I’d wanted a natural birth as I thought it was the best and safest birth for my baby, now it was a cesarean that was the best and safest for Amelie. Once I knew that, all the fear and disappointment left me and I felt determined, responsible and even a little excited that I would know the birthdate of our baby. Her birth was scheduled for the coming Tuesday – only 5 days away!
Mike and I had a lovely three day weekend out and about in the sun relaxing and knowing that on Tuesday we would become parents. The night before her birth we went out for a nice meal and a lovely walk in the park and Mike presented me with a box. Inside was a beautiful necklace with a butterfly pendant (butterflies are on the wall of Amelie’s nursery!). He said it was because he appreciated all I’d done throughout my pregnancy. It was such a lovely gesture. I said I’d definitely wear it the following day!
On the morning of Tuesday May 29th I woke up at 6:00 am after the most bizarre night’s sleep of my life. Getting up and dressed while you know that you are just a couple of hours away from being a mother is a very bizarre experience. I was so nervous and excited that it didn’t really bother me that I hadn’t eaten or drank since the day before and wouldn’t until after I’d actually held my little girl. We had to be at the hospital at 8:00 am and her birth would be at around 10:00 am, so at 7:40 am, after checking and re-checking my hospital bags it was time to leave. We took photos of each other outside our building before we left. We both look sheepish as hell! The taxi ride to the hospital was surreal. It was a beautiful warm sunny morning and it seemed strange that life was just going on as normal all around us while this was the biggest, best and in many ways, scariest day of our lives. I couldn’t keep my hands off my belly and was stroking the little bump that was Amelie’s head knowing that I’d be holding her soon.
When we got into the hospital I was taken into triage and Mike was told to wait in the waiting room until they called for him. Once inside I quickly learned two things: from this point on all modesty goes out of the window and until I got up onto the ward my name was now simply “mommy”! I was taken into a room where I had to strip and put on a very lovely hospital gown, give a urine sample then get onto a bed. I had blood taken, an IV inserted and a million questions asked. After that Mike was brought in and asked to put thin blue overalls over his clothes. He looked like a giant Smurf and we were nervously joking and taking some last pregnant photos. At this point I hadn’t seen my midwife, who was coming with us into the O.R. and I remember asking where she was and hoping she hadn’t forgotten or something. The anaesthesiologist came and asked me some questions and we met the doctor who would be delivering Amelie. He was really happy, funny and calming and generally a really nice person and he made me feel quite calm about everything- I felt happy to be in his hands. At some point during all of that my midwife arrived. I knew we were pretty much set to go and started to get really nervous but so excited to finally be meeting our baby.
When it was time to go I was shocked to learn that I would actually be walking into the O.R. myself, I’d had visions of being wheeled in on the bed I was sitting on and walking there was very weird. Mike was asked to wait outside for a while and I walked down a little corridor with the nurse, midwife and some other staff. It was when we walked into the O.R. and I saw the operating table in front of me that I lost it slightly. All of a sudden the excitement took a backseat and the fear and reality came to the surface, plus I knew it was time for the spinal block- the part I’d been most dreading. I started crying and telling the nurses and anesthesiologists that I didn’t think I could do this. They were so lovely and calmed me down enough that I could sit on the table and lean forward so they could administer the spinal block. I think my heart must have been going the fastest it ever had. I’m very scared of needles and the thought of having one in my spine scared the hell out of me. While I was sat panicking and explaining to the joking-to-take-my-mind-off-it nurses for the millionth time in my life that yes I have tattoos but yup, I still hate needles, I held hands with a lovely lady who I later found out was one of the surgeons, while muttering “I dont think I can do this.” I felt the sting of the injection in my back and it was so quick that I soon felt the familiar silliness I always feel after making a big deal out of injections!
I was told I could lie down now and I felt so much better knowing that bit was over and calmed down considerably. Mike was then brought in as they set everything up around me, including a little curtain in front of me so I couldn’t see what was going on ‘down there’. This is when I found out something very unexpected- I could still feel below my waist! I told the anesthesiologist this in a slight panic and she told me that yes, I would be able to feel things like pressure, but I wouldn’t be able to feel pain. I had expected absolute numbness so this was really strange for me and there was a tiny part of my brain thinking “oh my god, it hasn’t worked and I will feel EVERYTHING and she doesn’t believe me!” I think my midwife saw my slightly panicked confusion and explained, “you wont feel pain but you will feel your baby being born.” This excited me a bit, then she said, “They have just poked you with something very sharp and you didn’t feel it, its OK!” then I felt much better.
Mike sat on my left side, next to my head, my midwife was on my right and the anesthesiologist was behind me with all her machines. I don’t think they told me exactly when they began everything but I remember starting to feel pressure and ‘things’ going on behind the little curtain. I started deeply breathing and just staying nice and calm. I vividly remember telling Mike to “tell me things” to which he started telling me all the good things we were going to do as a family once Amelie was born. Then, as I started to feel more ‘stuff’ going on, I think I started giving him crazy-eyes and said “tell me more things!” and he managed to reel off descriptions of zoo visits and family trips to Central Park. Bless him!
How I was feeling was pretty indescribable: I was now in the middle of the operation so there was nothing to fear, I was beyond excited, so apprehensive and weirdly calm… it was very strange. I could hear the doctors chatting to each other and it made me feel so reassured that this was something routine to them. As the minutes ticked by I got more and more excited. I was close to meeting my baby and becoming a mum!
The midwife kept peeking over the curtain to see how things were progressing and told me they were getting close now and I’d feel some pressure on my tummy. None of the sensations I felt were too uncomfortable at all, it was kind of just a waiting game at that point. Then I heard the doctor ask the time and the midwife told me Amelie was ready to be born and Mike should take a photo. I’m so glad he did. It was 10:23 am and I felt a ‘pop’ as her head came out and my 7lb 1oz little girl was born! I knew it would take a few moments before she cried because babies born via cesarean don’t have the fluid squeezed out of their airway so it would be sucked out for her. Those seconds were so exciting as Mike and I looked at each other waiting. Then came a sound I will never, EVER forget, the best moment of my lif: Amelie let out an almighty scream and I burst out crying out of happiness! That was MY baby! She was here, she was safe and I was a mum! It was amazing! They took her to get cleaned in the corner of the room and Mike went to go and see her and took some more pics. I could still hear her crying and couldn’t wait to see her, then the nurse brought her over to me and I saw her beautiful face for the first time, it was indescribable. I cried and kissed her all over her little face. The nurse gave her to Mike and we sat looking at her and kissing her and laughing with happiness and I totally forgot where I was as the doctors finished up.
After about 40 minutes I was taken to the recovery room where they lifted the head of the bed and I held Amelie for the first time. It was amazing, I couldn’t stop smiling and laughing. I excitedly called my mum who had my nana and uncle at her home in the UK with my brother and sister, and a bottle of champagne on ice waiting for the news! I could hear their emotion over the phone; it was amazing!
The midwife then helped me breastfeed Amelie. After her birth not being what I’d strived for it was even more important to me that I succeeded in breastfeeding her, so I was really excited and determined to do this. Amelie latched on quite quickly and it was such an amazing feeling to be successfully feeding my tiny baby. I felt like I had accomplished something huge and amazing for her and it had made me feel better about my body’s capabilities. I have photo of that moment and I have the biggest grin on my face! After about an hour Amelie was taken up to the nursery with Mike to have all of the newborn procedures done. This was the bit I really hadn’t wanted, to be separated from Amelie. The nurse and my midwife told me I needed a few minutes to recover and even tried to get me to have a quick sleep… yeah right! They said that once I could wiggle my toes I could go up to the ward. I pretty much took that as a challenge. Have you ever threatened a body part? Because I have. Within about 30 mins I could move my right foot and I made damn sure the nurses saw that, and they agreed to take me up to the ward.
Once I was up to the ward they wheeled me to my room, transferred me to my bed (I couldn’t stand by myself until the following day) and brought Amelie and Mike in. I was so ecstatic to see her again and this time knew she wouldn’t have to leave my side for the remainder of my three day stay. The nurse started an IV of pitocin and painkillers and made sure I was comfortable and gave me the go ahead to eat and drink again. My room had a lovely view of the city (during my stay I didn’t close the curtains so that Amelie and I could watch the sunsets and sunrises together). The nurses on the ward were there to help every time I had a breastfeeding question or problem. The rest of the day was a blur of happiness and staring at Amelie in disbelief that I had grown her, she was finally here and we really were parents!
The rest of my stay was pleasant enough, on the second day I was given the go ahead to get out of bed which was painful but also felt fantastic. I had a shower, got dressed and was mistaken for a visitor on numerous occasions by the staff. Breastfeeding was challenging at first but my midwives and the nurses helped me with different holds that wouldn’t put pressure on my incision and helped me with Amelie’s latch when I needed it. Amelie was seen by her pediatrician each morning who assured me she looked the picture of health. I was visited by my doctor who confirmed that Amelie was indeed wrapped in her cord which was stopping her from turning. This made me feel glad I’d overcome my fear and disappointment to perform my first task as a parent- to keep Amelie’s birth safe. On the Friday morning my midwife arrived to sign me out of the hospital and we were finally able to leave as a family and show Amelie her home!
It’s now 12 weeks on and Amelie is an amazing, happy and beautiful little baby. She has jumped up percentiles with her weight. I’m all healed and weirdly proud of my scar. We are still breastfeeding and Amelie is clearly thriving from it and I have no intention of stopping anytime soon. We have discovered the joys of baby-wearing and Amelie loves her sling. We still both stare at Amelie and can’t believe we’re lucky enough to have her. Being a mum is the best thing I’ve ever done, I truly love it. Although I thought I might feel disappointment about the method of Amelie’s birth, I look back on it as the amazing, calm and very special experience it was. I wanted to experience natural birth because I thought it would be a rite-of-passage, the best thing for my baby and an experience that would change me as a person, and that’s exactly what I got with Amelie’s birth- I wouldn’t change it now even if I could.