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Bronte Birth Story, Part Two

October 3, 2010

Disclaimer: All the disclaimers from Bronte Birth Story, Part 1 apply here as well.

Ok…so where were we? I was pregnant for the third time, and as I live on a small rural island in the middle of a big ocean was informed that my hospital was unwilling to risk me pushing a baby out of my lady bits. The risk was of my previously c-sectioned uterus splitting open like an overripe peach during childbirth. The rational given was that my small rural island’s small rural hospital had no 24/7 OR team on site so if my uterus indeed tried to cobbler itself they’d be facing a medial crisis w/out appropriate staff or neonatal intensive care on site. That’s all fine and reasonable until one looks at the facts and discovers this whole uterus peach cobbler thing happens none too often.

I was stuck at a murky crossroads of unenviable choices. I delivered Jarah via c-section. A c-section that while potentially preventable…maybe if I didn’t get an induction, maybe if I didn’t worry so much, maybe if I tried standing on my head…had been a decision I felt more than comfortable having made. Instinctively I really knew that was the best choice. In this case, the rationale just wasn’t jiving. The risk seemed super low and I really wanted to give my natural childbirth vision an all-star try. I wanted to move away from the fear that had hijacked much of my son’s pregnancy and stumble toward the direction of hope.

Once I knew my hospital wasn’t feeling my wishes, I turned to Kapiolani Women and Children’s Hospital in Honolulu. This was THE big kahuna place to have a baby out here. The place where occasionally women with uterine scars would be welcomed to push new babies out old school. At first I was sold on the concept. I spent a few months sold because I decided this time I was going to chuck out my anxiety. The easiest way to do this was simply sort out the pesky details later.

Finally when I had forgotten what my toes looked like, considered a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Dulce de Leche an appetizer to Haagen Daz’s Banana Split (hands down the best flavor of this pregnancy) and was starting to have a hard time balancing into a pair of pants in the morning I realized the time to sort the pesky details had at long last arrived. And these details were none too pretty.

Pesky Detail One: I’d have to fly over to Honolulu at 37 weeks pregnant because that was around the beginning of when the babe would realistically come. Given the fact that Jarah was pried out at 2.5 weeks OVERDUE, I was potentially looking at a long haul 5 week wait in the big city. This would mean renting a condo. While still paying rent on our home on Kauai. And thus eat into a substantial portion of our savings. Savings I have high hopes will at some blessed day do something like help us actually buy a house.

Pesky Detail Two: For me I find that the closer I move to having a baby, the closer I want to stick to home. Not in a condo in Waikiki eating nearly expired lychee Meadow Gold yogurt from the corner ABC Store. I wanted to be able to let loose the whole nesting instinct in my own space, not just mindlessly fold and refold hotel towels.

Pesky Detail Three: Jarah would not only have to deal with the discombobulation of a new sister/brother. He’d also be totally uprooted from home adding to the overall stress of the situation.

Pesky Detail Four: Nick’s parents had offered to come over a stay w/ us for the birth to help with Jarah, cooking, cleaning, general support. Where were they supposed to stay, the lobby?

Pesky Detail Five: What if I ended up having another c-section? But this time rather than being released from the hospital for a rather uncomfortable 5 minute ride home, I’d have to navigate a busy (and germ ridden) airport, with a 3-4 day old.

Pesky Detail Six: The sheer size and beauracracy of the hospital was daunting to navigate. There were dozens of doctors, none who I knew or would have any relationship with and that made me hesitant. After my miscarriage I learned the value of decent bedside manner and positive doctor/mother relationships.

I finally decided screw the peskies! I needed to stick to my friend the Ockham’s razor  or the idea that “simplest solution is often the best.” Kapiolani and Honolulu was not simple. Time to move on.

Homebirth was the next choice. My home? Dear God no. It did a mean impression of Dante’s inferno during the hot, dry leeward-side-of the-island summers. I was not overly attached to the house, the neighbors were far too close to make me feel I’d have any privacy and part of me secretly knew I’d probably worry unnecessarily at home. I felt secretly guilty about that last one, but them’s the apples. There is a small birth center run in the East Side hills by a local midwife that gets great feedback. However, if something did go awry (again with the worrying and risk management, i know) by virtue of location I’d end up in the hospital I miscarried in. And I really do loathe that place and most of the OB doctors.

Than I ended up at a La Leche League meeting. It was meant to be a way to connect with some other like-minded mamas, build some sense of community and turn my thoughts towards this new baby as I was often quite distracted by my very distractable toddler. Besides, I had a great breast feeding relationship with my son, and felt like it was a skill I was born to do.

I was ready to kick back, relax and enjoy myself for a few hours.

Instead I ended up driving home in tears (you’ll note the waterworks flow free and easy during my pregnancies. Pop a dam up and you’d probably be able to power half the county on a good hormonal surge). Every single woman there had a home birth. The meeting convener was a midwife who when I expressed my c-section dilemma launched immediately into a legalese laden rant against the medical establishment, demonstrated reasonable contempt at my leaning towards just going through with a 2nd c-section and urged me to refuse a scheduled caesarean at all costs. I wanted to say “look here awesome earthy mama whose cervix  dilates wide and who is apparently not afraid of tackling the medical establishment while in the throes of contractions, don’t judge me too hard. I really do respect the hell out of you but I can get a frantic hungry newborn to get a perfect latch in seconds. I must be worth something? Anything?”

Suddenly the issue seemed to get a lot bigger than simply me and my as of yet untested vaginal canal. I lost sleep while worrying I was letting down the women of Kauai. Was this my Rosa Parks moment and I was choosing to slink to the back of the bus? Shouldn’t I be preparing to launch a one woman crusade against the hospital. Advocate loud and strong for revision of hospital policy. Be a leader not a stay at home moaner? Had I finally faced an issue that required me to get in, get dirty and make a difference but instead was waffling? I wasn’t a woman running with the wolves. I was a woman who was hand wringing on the couch in the dark.

I started to despise myself a little. I didn’t want to show up at the hospital in the middle of contractions and say I refused a c-section, to touch me would be assault and battery, stand back I’m ready to push and ready or not here I go.  It may sound cowardly, and part of me really does feel cowardly but I wanted to give birth in an environment that felt welcoming. Peaceful. Relaxed. I didn’t want to make a political statement, I just wanted to do what women have done since, well, they evolved into women. Plain and simple.

Except it wasn’t plain and simple. At 37 weeks I was sitting in my doctor’s office listening to him telling me yet again why the hospital wouldn’t recommend VBAC (the vaginal birth after c-section). He stated while he supported VBAC’s as a general rule in locations like the major mainland hospital he recently relocated from, he didn’t in a rural setting as he had seen things go wrong before. Further, he said that if something was to go wrong, it would probably go less wrong for me than for the baby that would have to wait until a plane could arrive to take it to the NICU in Honolulu.

“Oooooh, trapped by the old save the baby ploy” I thought. I’m a sucker for it every time even if I do recognize it’s advantages to preying on the weakened will of a pregnant mother. Curses.

But even while thinking this, I studied my doctor’s happy hobbit like face. I’ve been with him for nearly 40 weeks. He’s a good guy. Nice to chat to, sympathetic, capable, kind and  I find myself suddenly thinking, “I just need to trust.”

I’m still not totally sure if I succumbed to pressure or common sense or maybe both. I’m still not totally sure if that’s ok. But in that moment in the little white clinic room with the huge pregnant woman poster and the Norman Rockwell calendar, I finally thought, “just trust this guy. He’s not a con man. He’s making sense to you. He isn’t trying to claw at your womb with surgical tools to disempower you as a woman, he’s trying to minimize risk, even a low risk, and maybe it’s time to let go”.

And so I did. I let go of my VBAC plan and finally agreed to move forward with the scheduled c-section. September 9th. A Thursday.  A Virgo. A New Life. A Growing Family.

Now at the home stretch of pregnancy a common ask is the innocent, “when are you due?” In my situation it became a little odd as my answer was more definitive than most. Suddenly other women began to confidently weigh into my situation. The three most common remarks from complete strangers included (I got a versions of one of these numerous times while grocery shopping, playgrounding, taking out the garbage, walking at the beach, etc):


“Oh I had one too, we decided to take it the easy way huh?” Really lady? You felt like undergoing major surgery then getting to care for a newborn, doing a hunched over 102 year old lady shuffle, no driving, no lifting,  still hurting on a hike 6 weeks later was easy? Damn, I’d hate to see your hard.

Fight the Man

“Just wait until you feel the need to push and then go in, what are they going to do then?” After this conversation I’d always imagine myself delivering the baby while chanting “no justice no peace.”

Better You Than Me

How awful, I hope that never happens to me.” Mmmmm, me too. Any thing else you can identify about me to make yourself feel better? Or wait a sec, awful? Yo,  I’m still having a baby here. A highly wanted and welcomed baby…

So I tuned it out. Sort of. I realized I had been getting so caught up in the politics of my birth, I was running the risk of missing on out on the fact this was a birth. I had to start getting ready.

First I thought I’d do some some reading. I had Jarah after nearly 72 hours without sleep in the middle of the night. Many of the details on how this birth was going to go down were really fuzzy. My birth class back then had blithely skipped over the subject of c-sections. The instructor had stated she didn’t want to focus our attention on undesirable outcomes.

If you’re ever curious, I found these most helpful:

The Essential C-Section Guide: In the overstocked shelves of birth books, there is a serious dearth of literature on caesareans. I found this book to be the best for simple, straightforward and refreshingly nonjudgemental info about the belly birth.

As a general FYI, other books with helpful c-section information included: Birthing from Within and Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy.

The date drew near. Nick’s parents flew in a few days prior in a flurry of grandparently enthusiasm. My sister Megan came in from Honolulu the night before. I found myself discovering that having this date was actually kind of…exciting. We spent the evening of the 8th taking pictures, playing with my gigantic belly cast, casting final bets on the sex (given I knew I had a strong chance of knowing the baby’s birthday, I thought we’d get a surprise with his/her sex). Incidentally the verdict was 4 girls to 1 boy. I was the lone dissenter.

The morning of the 9th I walked back into the unit where we had our son. The two nurses finishing up a long night shift greeted us and directed me into a room where I could change into hospital gown and hop onto the bed for some fetal monitoring and antibiotics.

The mood was calm, almost peaceful with the little horsie gallop of the baby’s heartbeat in the background hung steady at about 120bpm. Almost peaceful because one nurses in trying to get in the saline IV hooked in somehow managed to leave my hand looking like Freddie Kreuger tried to give me a hand massage. Possibly even less peaceful was the nurses station radio set to a classic rock station that kept threatening to get Kansas’s seminal, Carry On My Wayward Son stuck into my head….”they’ll be peace when you are done, lay your weary head to rest…” oops too late. My sister Megan braided my hair.

Nick was stoked with his scrubs arrived and I could tell he was secretly pretending to live vicariously as a cast member of House. I could tell by the way his eyes were darting he was looking for the crash cart and resisting the urge to incorently blurt out things like “stat” and “lupus.” In this highly ritualized process, we were moved from the labor room to the (where else) waiting room. While I tried to meditate I could hear my sister and Nick discussing the dubious healing properties in the choice in the room’s garish blue wall color.

Just as I seriously began to get an attack of the nerves, Nick was able to calm me down. “Picture our babies in a year from now, playing in the grass together. That’s where we’re going. That’s where all this is headed.” I choked back tears until the nurses came in announcing it was showtime. I had to go in the operating room without Nick to get prepped. Tears became unchokable and out they came in leaps and bounds. Some were happy tears, some were frightened, some were hormonal and some were regretful that here I was, about to be in surgery yet again against all my hopes.

As I was wheeled into the same operating room where I delivered Jarah, I remember clearly thinking through the waterworks “holy unreliability of memory, wasn’t this place was the size of a football stadium?” Nope, more like my kitchen.

I got the dreaded needle in the back and as the spinal block started to take effect my legs grew warmer and warmer before a seeping numbness began to rise up my body. I tried to wiggle my toes. Nothing. I tried harder. Nope. Rather than ponder my disconcerting paralysis, I tried to issue cheerful greetings to the familiar faces. Both my Ob-Gyn and the doctor that delivered Jarah were in attendance. I knew the nurses. There was our pediatrician. It felt nice to be among people I liked and trusted. Less clinical and more personal even as I was literally strapped in a crucifixion pose, arms tied out at my sides. The anesthesiologist was new, but seemed nice enough from what I could see of him sitting to the left of my head asking me chirpy questions like “what day is it,” “do you know why you are here,” I thought to make some saucy jokes but then realized I didn’t really feel like kidding around. I was about to throw up. Literally.

Cue Nick’s entrance. The surgery was just getting underway as he came in, camera in hand. He leaned in to kiss my cheek and I said something to the effect of, “I’d like to try and talk to you but I can’t turn my head in your direction or I’ll puke.” The friendly anesthesiologist propped a purple bedpan near my lips and pumped some sort of anti nausea meds into my IV. Almost immediately the feeling was blessedly gone and I flipped through my mental Rolodex to locate a mantra, settled on quietly repeating in my head om mani padme hum. Now was the time to let go of my ego. Let go of any suffering. Let go and give compassion for myself, and this tiny life about to begin. And I got there, I found that headspace. And just in time because they had reached the baby. My previous scarring was thankfully light, according to doc over the blue screen, “good news if you want the baby number #3.

We heard something subterranean. A throaty growl like an angry kitten gargling. It was the baby, inside me just as they cut open the amniotic sac. Then the kitten cry grew louder and we heard….it’s a girl. A girl. A little Bronte girl.

Then suddenly she was beside me. My awesome pediatrician brought her right over as soon as the cord was cut. I could feel the vermix smearing on my nose as I burrowed against her skin and spoke to her until her crying whimpered out and she lay still. I saw she had hair. Dark hair. She kept her eyes tightly screwed up but turned her face against me to press her cheek to mine. And then she softly sighed. She knew me. I knew her. And I was in love.

Now having a daughter I have since wondered frequently if I did make the right choice. If I should have fought more to have a vaginal birth. If I have somehow let her down because someday I’d like her to look up to me as a strong woman who set an example for her not who caved in fear. At my rawest, worst times I am nervous she will judge me and find me somehow lacking. At my best times, I hope I will have raised her to look at my decision with compassion.  With the respect that women should be honored (and honor themselves) if they choose to take on mothering in whatever form. Be it pushing one out of your body, welcoming it from your belly, celebrating an adoption, expanding a family through marriage/remarriage, or nurturing a friend’s child . In whatever form you choose, or that chooses you, or maybe it’s always a bit of both.

I once read something to the effect of being a mother means to forever live with your heart walking outside your body. And so we do. And so we must be brave. Even if sometimes we don’t always feel it.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Keren Gundersen permalink
    October 3, 2010 9:08 pm

    Beautiful, Lea. I am so happy for you and Nick (and Jarah and Bronte). Welcome, little one! Your story is one of fear, anxiety, hope, and joy (with just the right touch of humor). Thanks for sharing it.

  2. October 4, 2010 9:43 am

    What a beautiful story. I’m wiping tears away as I type this comment. How I admire the strength that empowered you to turn down the background noise and “go with your gut” (no pun intended) and your brain! I am happy for your fantastic outcome and would encourage you to tell that inner judge to STFU! You are a strong, awesome, brilliant, loving, discerning mama! I have so much respect for you!

    A note on the La Leche League. I was a member for a number of years and a leader for quite a few of those. I firmly believe that breastfeeding is the best choice in most situations and I nursed my kids for a long time. I was happy to feel the support of the LLL for this practice. I also enjoyed bonding with other women who had nursing children and helping people who were struggling. Overall, I think the LLL is a great organization that promotes a practice that is beneficial to the health of mothers and babies.

    However…and it’s a big HOWEVER…I found the kind of behavior you experienced…behavior that makes mothers feel completely demoralized and self doubting…to be all too common, especially among leaders. Women who come to LLL meetings for information and for the support and acceptance of other women… the LLLLove they promise…. are often surprised when they learn how conditional LLLLove is. In order to receive it, there are rigid party platforms, not only on breastfeeding, but on topics tangentially related to breastfeeding, like birth practices, immunization, discipline, giving vitamins, nutrition to which one must, at least claim, to buy into and adhere. If not, one must be prepared to feel the very heavy hand of JUDGMENT; to visualize oneself as the new figure molded onto Rodin’s Gates of Hell.

    Here’s the thing…LLL platforms are based on secondary source information provided by LLL medical professionals. These experts are hired by LLL to interpret medical studies and publish their analyses and recommendations in LLL literature…at least that’s the way it was when I was a member. There’s an inherent researcher bias there because these experts have been hired by an organization that wants a particular spin put on the analysis; that is, to support doing everything the natural way. Leaders use these subjective secondary source documents, along with articles from non-peer-reviewed popular journals/magazines in such as Mothering to support the hard line position they take in discussions. Meeting attendees are encouraged to chime in and present their anomalous supporting arguments to support the LLL position. Let me highlight another weakness here…LLL leaders and meeting attendees are generally lay people with no medical background or expertise. I would venture to say that most would not know how to evaluate the “studies” they cite for reliability and validity even if they did bypass the LLL secondary documents and go to the primary sources. Also, most leaders/members bring tremendous bias to the argument (like predisposition to wanting everything to be natural or a bad c-section experience, or even just being disappointed about having had a c-section at all), BUT unlike doctors, who are also biased in their own way, they do not bring expertise or experience to contextualize these studies. Finally, they do not have the individual woman or baby’s history as the doctor would. In a way, they are kind of dangerous in their insistence that all women should follow one path. Women are, therefore, absolutely right to be wary of what they learn at LLL meetings about topics such as VBAC and to say…”Okay, this is one opinion, let me look further…; let me discuss this with the experts I’ve decided to trust.” I think you were VERY wise to consider other inputs in making your decision despite the crummy way they made you feel for doing it.

    Personally, I think the LLL should stick to breastfeeding and stay out of other areas. Further, I think that if they are rigid on one point it should be that they are a support group above all else.

    • October 4, 2010 8:58 pm

      Thanks for sharing…it is way to easy for us as mothers to pass judgement isn’t it? I REALLY try not too and still catch myself doing it with alarming frequency. I do think LLL is an amazing organization and provides vital support, but we women can all use a good healthy reminder to spread the love, even if we don’t always agree.

  3. libby c-g permalink
    October 4, 2010 12:27 pm

    Way to go Lea!!! I’m so proud of you! I do believe, and I think it’s clear from your story that you didn’t make your choices out of fear. You made your choices, standing as a mother, knowing what was going to be best for both you and your babes! You could never ask for more than that!!! and of course, in about 15 yrs, your children will find plenty to judge you on…. that’s when shit starts getting scary!
    Much love to all of you

    • October 4, 2010 8:52 pm

      Thanks for the reality check Libby. I remember being 16 and telling my dad I hated him in a fit of teenage rage. He confessed later how it broke his daddy heart. Now I get it and feel bad but someday I’ll get mine…sigh.

  4. Sarah permalink
    October 5, 2010 6:11 am

    I loved reading your story. It is so honest and touching and heartbreaking too in some ways. Being 25 weeks pregnant now and having my own demons to wrestle with, I can really relate to your feelings. Though your story is different to mine, I too am surprised at how hard it has been for me to get my mind around the fact that my experience is not what I thought it would be…. But there is a lot for me to be grateful for and I will keep your story close to my heart when I am lying here (in bed with my iPad!) worrying, wondering,…and forgetting just to enjoy the moment.

    I will keep being brave, even when I don’t feel like it.

    You have a beautiful girl who will love you to bits and will be very proud to have such a wise, thoughtful and strong woman as her mother.

    Love and hugs, Sarah

    • October 6, 2010 4:39 pm

      agh sarah, your comment got me weepy. you are on a challenging and transformative path, but this is where your life experience and wisdom will get put to good use!

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