This is my daughter Katherine’s birth story, as written in August for my own blog Fat and Not Afraid. It’s amazing how sometimes things can go so right even though you think they’ve gone terribly wrong.
Trigger warning for surgery, birth/labour trauma.
As many of you know, my water broke last Monday morning, sometime early before the sun was up. I didn’t get excited right away as being wet/damp had sortof become a normal state of being. This was different though; it didn’t stop after a little while and I actually had to change my pad! Woo! This was it! I called my midwife Rhonda and she said to keep busy, and that yes, Ryan could go to work since I wasn’t experiencing any other early labour symptoms. If that kept happening we agreed to meet at the hospital for 6:30pm; you can’t go around leaking amniotic fluid for too long because of risk of infection. Fine by me! I gave Ryan a big kiss and a hug and told him not to go far (he sometimes has to drive 100KM away for his job during the day) and got busy around the house.
By six thirty nothing was really happening despite housework and a trip to the park with Gabe, so once our fantastic babysitters arrived we left and met Rhonda, my midwife, at the hospital. Labour wasn’t going anywhere so we decided to go with oxytocin to kick-start things. From the monitors we knew Kat was happy (a sentiment repeated many times by various staff throughout my labour) and went ahead. By 11pm things were really coming along, and by 3am my body was telling me PUSH! but there wasn’t yet room enough to push Kat out. I was only halfway there, which is sort of a big problem. The bathtub was a life-saver but even it couldn’t help when suddenly and infrequently I would get terrible back-labour pain. Nothing helped; not Rhonda’s quiet commands to stay ‘soft’ and keep my voice deep, to ride the wave of pain from start to finish, not Ryan’s hands on my forehead or pressure on my back, nothing. Maybe memory has blurred in the six years since Gabe’s labour but this was worse, a hundred times worth. I thought I would crawl out of the tub and die on the floor. Thankfully Rhonda had discussed an epidural ahead of time with us, to give my body a chance to rest and do the work on it’s own for a while, and after an hour or more of the most pain I’ve ever been in in my life I agreed to it. If it hadn’t been back labour I probably could’ve kept going in the tub indefinitely it was *that* nice.
Nothing at all so far about this birth was going how I wanted, again. As soon as we got to the hospital I was put on an IV and had to walk around with it attached to my arm. Then the carry-along fetal monitors weren’t working well enough (because I was trying VBAC I had to have them) so I had to stay in the room instead of touring the hallway. The nurses and Rhonda were constantly fiddling with the monitors which was uncomfortable and distracting. Now the slow, long labour and an epidural, which I knew had a good chance of slowing down my labour despite the oxytocin flooding my system. Before drifting off thanks to the peace the drugs brought I poured all this out to Ryan and he gave me one of his soulful, eyes full of love looks. He understood. We got some sleep and waited to see what dawn would bring.
So, 3am, epidural. 6:30-7am checkup right before shift change; 9cm dialated! Time to push this baby OUT! I was elated. FINALLY something was going to go right. I was stuck in bed thanks to the epidural and IV but we were creative with my position and over the next couple of hours, once we got the OK from the new doctor on shift, Dr. Lajoie (I love her name), we started pushing. The epidural made it hard to figure out *when* to do it, but I got the hang of it and gave it my all. At one point I reached down and touched Kat’s head, covered in long beautiful brown hair (or so Rhonda told me). Pushing wasn’t easy, even with the epidural, because in order to ‘help’ my body decided that vomiting was an *excellent* addition to everything else I was experiencing, and I’d been doing that on and off since the tub the night before. My husband is my hero for so much, but especially for grabbing and holding a big blue bowl next to my face every time I’d croak ‘bowl’. I was also experiencing adrenalin + epidural all over body shakes so hard I got a headache from clenching my jaw against them. I was a complete mess but I didn’t care; soon my daughter would be in my arms.
And then it fell apart again. Dr. Lajoie came in to examine me again around 1pm (I’d been pushing hard for about 2 hours now) to tell me that Kat was stuck. All my pushing couldn’t get her ‘around the bend’ and into the birth canal. The tiny part of her head I’d felt was just the tip-top, and because she was still so far up the bones in her head they needed for foreceps or vaccuum extraction were out of reach. The doctor made it clear that I was looking at another c-section. Rhonda agreed and I cried while Ryan held me as best he could in the bed.
As we were all getting prepped for surgery my shoulders started to ache horribly to the point where I couldn’t lay flat, but I couldn’t change position; we figured it was because of the strain of pulling myself for pushing, and all the vomiting. It wasn’t, and we would discover why very soon. While waiting and shaking I muttered “Anyone who tells me ‘these things happen for a reason’ is getting a punch in the face.” It was so disappointing to be staring down a surgery again, and I’m ashamed to admit I was bitter. I was wheeled into the OR and given more epidural but the pain in my shoulders wasn’t touched. Ryan sat next to me and held my hand while Rhonda stood by and watched things over the curtain, and then as they were getting ready to retrieve Kat we heard the worst thing from Dr. Lajoie; “We have uterine rupture.” It was like lightning in the room. Ry and I stared at each other and before I could say anything to him, or him me, he was ushered out. We knew this was bad but the chances of it happening had been so slim that only a few months ago I’d been seriously considering a home birth. And here it was, pushing the staff in the room to give me another IV, to throw my husband out, to rush and push and prod and cut and dig inside me and pull my daughter out before she could be harmed. She came out with the promised full head of brown hair and hollering, and despite my pain and shakes and everything else I was relieved. Then Dr. LaJoie announced that my uterus was ‘shredded’ and got to work fixing that too. I listened to my own heartbeat on the monitor and fought with the pain in my shoulders and shook so hard my teeth rattled in my head. Ryan was allowed to come back in after a while, he’s not sure how long between being shooed out and allowed back in, to hold Kat and show her to me before being ushered back out into the hallway. All told a half hour surgery ended up being 2 hours and I definitely wont ever be having more children. The pain in my shoulders I mentioned was revealed to be due to fluid build-up in my abdomen.
It turns out that for a while now there’s been a worn-out spot, a hole in my uterus, where Kat’s luckily had her elbow jammed. It’s been slowly leaking amniotic fluid and could have ruptured at any time; out for a walk with Gabe around Little Cobble Lake this last week when it was just us and the woods, at work 2 weeks ago, at the grocery store, anywhere. Any time. It’s very likely that Kat’s stubborn little elbow and refusal to turn despite all my efforts has saved both our lives. What’s really really odd is that during my labour there was zero indication anything was wrong. Kat’s heartbeat was steady; remember the ‘happy baby’ comments? No clue anything was wrong. Sure, I’d had a tender spot just above and to my right of my bellybutton for a while, but we didn’t know why and Rhonda had gotten pretty good at not pushing on it during appointments and while I was in labour. Up there at that spot is where the rupture was, not down near my old scar tissue where anyone would expect the trouble to be. Amazing.
Recovery has been slow; I’m weak as a kitten but at least I’m here. These things DO happen for a reason, even if it’s not clear at the time. If I had refused the c-section at first and asked for more time, and managed somehow to push Kat out, my uterus would’ve ruptured and I wouldn’t have already been prepped and laying open on the OR table where Dr. Lajoie could quickly work to save my life. If, if, if. Ryan and I are both haunted by what could have been, the what if, and while it doesn’t exactly lay between us, the spectre hovers about, colouring everything with a special light of What Might Have Been, and how awful. But it isn’t. Knowing this I get through the 2, 3, 4 am feedings without anger or resentment because at least I’m HERE to do it. I’m here to play with my son and hug my husband and talk with my sister and other people, to go outside on the balcony and listen to the wind in the maples. We’re all here, together, and it’s more than enough. It’s a miracle.