Recently, in a Facebook group that I’ll call Sheer Llamas for the sake of anonymity, a member asked what she should tell a friend who had just had an unexpected and traumatic c-section.
“I would tell her,” another member responded, “that all births are beautiful”.
This answer hit a nerve in me, and I responded vehemently. No, no. Not all births are beautiful. All babies? Maybe, arguably. But not all births.
Bingo’s birth wasn’t beautiful. Of course it was messy: filled with blood, vomit, shit, and sweat. It was also painful, with Pitocin-fueled contractions tumbling over each other until I accepted the offered epidural. And, let’s not forget, it ended in an unexpected trip to the operating room where Bingo was removed from my body by what my midwife referred to as “the sun roof”. But those factors aren’t what made Bingo’s birth other than beautiful. In fact, I have no doubt that those features could have disappeared into a hormone and exhaustion fueled delirium, rendering her birth beautiful in the aftermath.
What made Bingo’s birth not beautiful was the fact that it was blanketed by my own fear. I was afraid of having a great big overdue baby and not being induced, I was afraid of being induced, I was afraid of how much pain I was in, I was afraid to tell the people around me what I needed, I was afraid of all of the needles, I was afraid that I wasn’t pushing right, I was afraid of surgery, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be okay, I was afraid that Bingo wouldn’t be okay. As a group of strangers cut me open, I watched the red reflection of my abdomen in the metallic light shade above me. I began to shake: from a reaction to the anesthetic and/or my own fear and exhaustion. I waited for Bingo’s first cries in a state of anxiety, not joyful anticipation. My midwife lifted her over the curtain and brought her to me, asking if I wanted to hold her. I shook uncontrollably and said no. I was afraid that my arms couldn’t hold her.
Yes, there were beautiful moments: the presence of so many people that I love, the incredible calm of our magical midwives, Bingo. But no amount of finessing will make Bingo’s birth beautiful. For the past two years, the best that I’ve been able to say about birth is that it was distant– something far removed from my daily life, trumped by the constant reality of parenting.
But now October is coming. The decor of local stores has changed: summer has become back-to-school, back-to-school has become pumpkin spice and Halloween. While I’m certainly not one to complain about fun-sized candy bars, their presence on store shelves is a clear reminder that Powerball is also coming and that Bingo’s birth story soon won’t be the only one I have to tell.
I adamantly avoided a birth plan the first time around, convinced that the unpredictability of birth made planning pointless. But when you’re having a second baby, particularly when the first one came out “through the sun roof”, everybody wants to know how you’re going to do it. It’s a difficult question to answer, especially given the number of possibilities currently in front of us. Right now those possibilities are:
- Powerball stays breech (oh, by the way, Powerball is still breech*) and is delivered via planned c-section. Because I’ve had a c-section, they won’t do an ECV and try to flip Powerball from the outside. Instead, s/he would be born via scheduled c-section in late September.
- Powerball flips, either on their own volition or with my gentle encouragement and I try for a VBAC. A vaginal birth after cesarean, a practice now so common that it comes with its own acronym. Bingo flipped after I lay inverted on an ironing board with frozen vegetables pressed against my uterus, and it’s a party trick I’m willing to try again. If this happens, Powerball has until mid-October to be born on their own schedule and I’ll aim for a VBAC with the odds of success, the OB informed me, being somewhere around 50-70%.
- Powerball flips but refuses to exit and is delivered via planned c-section. If Bingo doesn’t show up within two weeks of their due date, they’re being evicted.
With three possibilities, each with their own timelines and contingency plans, how can I have a birth plan? I don’t even know what Powerball’s astrological sign will be. Still, I do know that I want Powerball’s birth to be different than Bingo’s was. Because of that, even if I can’t muster up a birth plan, I do have some birth intentions. (I can almost feel Herbal Tea, who is on my team of midwives again, smiling beatifically as I write that.) In no particular order they are:
To be less afraid. As I said, a lot of my decisions and reactions surrounding Bingo’s birth were based in fear. I’m going to try really, really hard this time to trust that both Powerball and I will be okay and that we can figure this birth thing out.
To say what I need. If I have a question, I’ll ask it. If I want something to happen, to not happen, or to happen differently I’ll name that. When Bingo was being born, there were a lot of people in the room and there was a lot of talking. I wanted quiet, desperately. During each contraction I would cover my ears. But I didn’t say anything. This time, whatever that anything is, I’ll say it. If I have to apologize for my rudeness later, fine. I won’t be shy about what I want or need.
To not be tied to one exit strategy. Despite not having a birth plan for Bingo, I felt pretty traumatized by the c-section. There was the physical reality of it- the pain, the immobility, the gaping cut across my abdomen- but also just the sense that things hadn’t gone the way that they should. Honestly, I felt like I had failed at birth. I hope that I won’t need a c-section this time and that option #2 plays out, but it might not. I’m trying to prepare myself for this and reminding myself that all births are legitimate, not just the ones involving vaginas. Regardless of how Powerball is born, their birth can be a good one.
To hold Powerball. Obviously I’ll hold Powerball eventually, but I don’t want to put it off until somebody shoves a baby at me. Even if Powerball is born in the most highly medicalized c-section ever. Even if Powerball comes out through my right ear (not currently listed among the list of birth options), I want to hold that baby as soon as I can. For Powerball and for me. Just to know that I did.
Birth isn’t always beautiful. Bingo’s birth wasn’t beautiful, Powerball’s might not be either. But, even if it’s ugly and messy, I want this unpredictable, wild, emotional second in time to be one that feels like my own. It’s the only birth plan I have.
*I wrote most of this post a couple of days ago. Yesterday afternoon, after Diet Coke couldn’t tell whether Powerball was bum or head up, we were sent for an ultrasound. Powerball is no longer breech, making option one much less likely. Hurray!