I am excited to share my first guest post! Nellie and I are oceans a part yet found ourselves anxiously pregnant at the same time after suffering multiple losses in need of support. Since the birth of our daughters, we stayed connected through our passion for breastfeeding, intuitive parenting, and helping other mothers. Below is an essay she wrote for a Birth Educator course she is taking that I thought was beautiful and enlightening. When I asked if I could share her story, she gracefully obliged. She continues to inspire me, support me, and keep me going on this journey! Enjoy – Tara
Long before I ever became pregnant, I knew I wanted to have a natural birth and throughout my pregnancy I was borderline obsessed with the idea. I over-educated myself on the subject and felt very strongly against the over use of cesareans these days. Knowing that Vietnam has a very high C-section rate, we chose a doctor based on his support for natural deliveries.
My husband and I had some issues conceiving our daughter. We started trying in 2012. My cycles were long and irregular and it took a few months of acupuncture to get them sorted out. I was so frustrated during the early months of trying because I felt that my body wasn’t doing what I wanted it to do and I was really just powerless over it. I was conscious of my ovulation, diligently taking my temperature every morning. Then the miscarriages began. It seemed like every other month or so I would get a positive pregnancy test, only to get my period a few days later. The pregnancies lasted 5 or 6 weeks, one making it to about 9 weeks before we found out that it wasn’t a viable pregnancy. I was crushed each time I had another loss. I felt like my whole being revolved around getting pregnant, every waking thought and action was towards my final goal of having a baby. After each loss, I felt more determined then ever. While my determination never waivered, it was one of the loneliest and depressing times of my life. I felt like no one understood what I was going through, and everything that was said to me was insensitive. I was open about our struggles after the third miscarriage as I felt that it was too hefty of a burden to keep to myself. Upon opening up, I received much love and support but also a great deal of alarmingly uninformed and insensitive comments.
While suffering from recurrent miscarriages was excruciatingly painful both physically and mentally, I did have the advantage of meeting with several doctors at top maternity hospitals in our city. By the time I found myself several weeks into my first successful pregnancy, we found the doctor who we believed to be the most accommodating to natural deliveries. However, while we felt that our doctor supported us, we did have gaps in communication. Our Vietnamese doctor was trained in France, so while he was fluent in both Vietnamese and French, his English was sometimes lacking. I really started to kick myself that I hadn’t learned Vietnamese over the past 3 years I had lived in Vietnam.
When I am interested in something, I tend to completely immerse myself in it. In the case of pregnancy and natural childbirth, I was fascinated and totally engrossed. My idea of a good Friday night while I was pregnant was to watch a few natural child birth videos and read Ina Mae! This ‘over-education’ comes with challenges. While it was good I was aware of every scenario and knew my options, I really felt like I knew more than the doctors taking care of me did. It made me very defensive during appointments. I felt like I was up against the hospital at times, debating them and challenging them after my Strep B test came back positive. I felt like my doctor was frustrated with me as I wasn’t just going with the flow and being a model passive patient.
When we were finally in the home stretch, I was so happy – this was it! I might actually get to have a real baby. As the weeks of my pregnancy marched on and my baby grew, it seemed more and more likely that all would be fine. And then we found out I had polyhydramnios (excess amniotic fluid). From the start of my pregnancy my bump was bigger than average, but it didn’t seem to be a cause for concern with my doctor early on. It was only at my 35 week check up, that my doctor became concerned about the rapidly increasing amniotic fluid. By 38 weeks, my doctor told us it was time to get things moving and we should try home remedies to get contractions started. We tried everything, but our baby didn’t want to budge.
It was a like a punch to the gut, a dark cloud of self-doubt and fear grew over me. Maybe I didn’t deserve to have this baby either. Those final weeks were really hard. After finding out about the excess fluid, I read a number of articles about my condition online. I read about all the potential problems that could arise and I was nearly in a panic for the last few weeks. I was so scared that if my waters broke, that I would have a prolapsed cord or placental abruption and lose my baby. It didn’t help that in the final weeks I actually had two acquaintances lose their babies to placental abruption. I knew that while I was able to continue trying to have a baby after my early losses, I didn’t think I could do that again after the loss of a full term baby.
However, the longing for a natural birth overrode my fears and I tried everything I could do to get the labor started.
Finally at the 40 week check up, my doctor suggested that we try an induction the following week. He explained that because of the extra fluid, my baby wasn’t able to engage in my pelvis, and I would most likely never go into labor on my own. He explained that there was only a 20% chance an induction would work, but since I really wanted a vaginal birth, he was willing to try. Although my doctor was willing to wait a few more days, I asked to be induced the next day.
At this point, I was so tired of being pregnant. I had loved every moment of it, up until about 35 weeks. My belly was just SO huge. People thought I was caring twins or even triplets. I could hardly get up and down the stairs of our apartment and needed help doing everything. I felt like I was going to burst. I felt lonely; I couldn’t really get up to let anyone in, and was home alone for most of the day and night (I stopped working due to the polyhydramnios and after an incident at school when I was pushed into a table belly first). I couldn’t go out because it was so hot and I was so swollen. I could hardly get flip-flops on my feet. I cried a lot: in pain, in discomfort, about the unknown ahead of me. When my doctor suggested the induction, I felt such a sense of relief knowing that things would be OVER soon, whether via vaginal or cesarean birth. At that point I just KNEW that we would end this in a C-section, and I while I was disappointed, I felt somewhat ambivalent and resigned.
I felt like a failure – like my body and mind had failed my baby and I. I couldn’t wait any longer mentally and my body wasn’t preparing for birth like it should. I felt like I was disappointing my partner as well, as I had drilled him for months on the benefits of a natural birth and discussed our birth plan in such detail.
I also felt so much guilt – guilt that I had dragged my partner through several miscarriages, through so many doctor appointments, so much baby drama. Of course MY pregnancy had to be a rough one, filled with so many ups and downs, swollen feet and sleepless nights. I felt guilty for leaving my job early, I felt guilty for not being able to keep the house tidy even though I had nothing to do all day, and now I felt guilty that my C-section would drive up the cost of our birth.
The next day I was induced and spent 10 hours with a drip IV. I never dilated or started labor. Our doctor agreed to try for one more day. The second day of induction was shorter, only 5 hours before they told me I would need a C-section. I was prepped and brought into the operating room. My doctor pumped out over three liters of fluid from my uterus before delivering my baby feet first (unbeknownst to everyone, she had turned breach during the induction). I saw my daughter for a few seconds before she was taken to a recovery room with my husband.
After a successful operation with no complications and two hours in ‘recovery’, I was able to hold and breastfeed my baby. We stayed in the hospital for a total of six days (normal for my hospital).
I had so much ‘fight’ in me from the beginning – making sure I was getting the medications I knew I needed in early pregnancy due to the miscarriages and changing doctors a few times when I saw that they were not supporting me in the way I needed to be supported. But by the end, I just got tired. While my goal of a natural childbirth was at the forefront of my mind, I just couldn’t get myself there.
A few days after the birth, I went for a walk around the maternity floor. It was so painful to take each step, and I was so scared that I would never feel the same. While walking, I actually ran into my doctor, who was on the ward that night. He told me he had delivered twins naturally the same day as my daughter’s birth. He made a comment about if I had waited, then maybe I too, would have had a natural birth. I remember that my heart dropped, had everything been a miscommunication? Had it all been lost in translation? Had I jumped the gun on the C-section? Would my doctor have let me go longer? Could I have let myself go longer? I thought back to the weekly appointments at the end of pregnancy – I remember feeling like each successive appointment felt more grave than the last – had my doctor been the one concerned, or was I the one who was stressing out about the numbers and externalizing my fears?
But, the things I feared most about having a C-section never came to fruition. From the strictly anti-cesarean literature I had read, I had convinced myself that all C-sections ended badly: baby and mom would never bond, breastfeeding wouldn’t happen, infections would occur, epidurals would leave you in chronic pain for the rest of your life, and postpartum depression would be inevitable. Maybe I was a lucky one, but NONE of these things happened for me. My daughter and I left the hospital smitten with each other. By day three, my milk came in and she was (and still is 19 months later) breastfeeding robustly and exclusively. Although recovery was hard and very painful, the baby blues never hit me and I felt like I always had the energy and stamina to care for my baby. My surgery was completely complication free.
While I had moments early on where I felt like my body failed me, the feelings quickly faded as I took on my new full time job of being a mother. At some point a few months after the birth I told a friend who used to be a labor-and-delivery nurse in the US my story. She told me that if I had given birth in the US, most hospitals wouldn’t have even let me go as far as I went with the excess fluid I had. And because of the high risk, many midwives wouldn’t have been willing to take my case on. Somehow knowing that made me feel better about my C-section.
I had a good friend who had a very similar birth experience just a week before my daughter’s birth. Nearly a year after the birth my friend still regretted her inability to experience a natural birth and still felt pangs of embarrassment over her “failure”. Only then was I able to see how far past the guilt I had come by seeing how much she was still haunted by her C-section..
In the end does it REALLY matter how my baby got here? Yes and no. I would have loved to have had a natural birth (and now dream of a VBAC if we decide to try for a second baby). However, my baby was born alive and healthy. She was able to stay with me for the duration of our hospital stay. During the 2 hour separation we had post op, my husband was able to stay with our daughter and do the skin to skin contact I had hoped to have had. Above all else, breastfeeding was the most important goal, and we were (and still are!) very successful in our breastfeeding relationship. I was in a lot of pain and unable to care for my baby the way I would have liked to in the first few hours and days. However, because of this pain, my husband was enabled to play a bigger role in our daughter’s life during that time. He changed every diaper while we were in the hospital! He still refers to himself as Lucy’s first friend.
One of the things that I regret doing was spending so much thought and energy on obsessing about my birth. With all I was up against – nowadays’ efficiency-obsessed hospitals, living amongst a different culture here in Vietnam, and the obvious language barrier – things were bound to not happen as I had hoped and expected.
Our unwanted C-sections are a result of a number of factors that are completely out of our hands. First and foremost, a hospital system and maternity culture that favors the C-section as a safe, modern, and effective birth method. However, as individuals we can make educated decisions and choices for our newborns – feeding them right, keeping them near us, and using intuitive parenting to calm then during their transition from the womb to the real world. Part of my hope as I become a birth professional, is to help moms not just focus on the birth, but to help them prepare for what happens AFTER the birth. Even more important than the birth itself is actually caring for your newborn post-partum. Rather then worrying about the effects of having an epidural, I wish I had instead been researching the best breastfeeding positions after a C-section, and watching videos on latch techniques instead of obsessing over the induction process.
Looking back, yes, I wish things had been different. However, there isn’t any point in dwelling in the past and regretting. Like most events in the past, the memory has faded and the strong emotions I once had are no longer as intense. I am able to objectively gaze upon that time and see all of the choices that were made under a clear light. While I was so anti-cesarean before I had one, I don’t think I am so against this procedure these days. I now see that maybe I didn’t NEED one, and if I had had a clearer mind and explored my options better, I might not have HAD one. However, I DID have one and it wasn’t THAT bad in the end. While I didn’t meet my natural birth goal, having a C-section didn’t prevent my other goals from happening – exclusively breastfeeding and successfully bonding with my baby. And for that, I am proud.
Nellie resides in Vietnam with her husband and 19 month old little girl. She and her husband left the states to seek adventure and teach English and have been residing in Vietnam ever since. She has chosen to dedicate her time supporting other women on their motherhood journey by becoming a breastfeeding and birth counselor. She also runs a business venture selling baby slings that she personally handcrafts. She is one amazing mama, to learn more about Nellie you can find her blog here and her business Saigon Slings on facebook.