Let's suppose for a moment that everything had gone as planned. That you had arrived on Halloween, at four days past due and just a day past the full moon. That we labored for no more than twelve hours and that I breathed you out painlessly, without a single tear. That your sex had remained a secret until the moment of your birth, when Papà called out your name in a joyous reveal. That I enjoyed a tall glass of orange juice while you latched on wide-eyed to nurse. I had written such a wonderful story for you in my head and on paper in our birth plan. But I should have known: of course you would want to write your own.
You have always been a willful little man. You made your presence known in the womb as early as a first-time mom could possibly feel, swimming what was surely the butterfly stroke in my belly at 16 weeks. As you grew, you would shock Papà with the force and volley of your kicks that quaked across the surface of my skin. Everyone kept telling me that you’d run out of room soon enough, but you never slowed down. You wouldn’t be told what to do. And you still won’t.
But we had a good pregnancy together, didn’t we? You never disagreed with anything I ate. You encouraged me to enjoy waffles with pecans and bananas whenever the opportunity presented itself. And yet we progressively gained just the right amount of weight. You spared my feet and ankles from the dreaded swell. You stayed mostly still during our prenatal yoga classes. Sure, you danced on my bladder throughout the night, but I’m convinced you were doing it for my own good--a sort of “mommy sleep training” for the wakeful months to come.
We both enjoyed rolling up to the dinner table on our birthing ball, and making a few trips to the chiropractor in our eighth month to ease mommy’s back. Though Papà could have done without the no-holds-barred birth videos, you seemed to be fully on board with the 12-week Bradley Birth Course I dragged us to on Tuesday nights. One could argue that the first books I ever read to you were Susan McCutcheon’s Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way, and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. Whether by nature or nurture, I fully intend to pass my studious gene on to you.
Suffice it to say that by early October with your due date on the 27th fast approaching, we were as ready as we could be to welcome you into the world naturally, without the use of any drugs or unnecessary interventions. We’d studied the positions. We knew the stages. We’d ordered our non-hospital birthing gown and our honey sticks online.
The midwives at our practice were supportive. The OBs were tolerant. Our favorite midwife, C, really seemed to understand our goals. So at a routine checkup with her, I let my insatiable curiosity and insufferable perfectionism get the better of me.
“Does the head feel like it’s centered to you?”
We were confident you were head down, but that wasn’t enough. I wanted to know just how perfectly positioned you were in my pelvis. It was October 13th. I should never have tested my luck.
“I could do a quick sono, if you’d like,” C offered.
We hadn’t had a sonogram since your 21-week anatomy check. 21-week because at your 20th week the technician hadn’t been able to get a good reading on the placement of your placenta. But we’d sailed through both those scans with flying colors and without anyone revealing your sex. (I would later steal that surprise from myself, while leafing through my medical records halfway through September. But I digress. Papà still didn’t know what you were.)
“So long as we don’t see the sex,” I answered C, tossing to the wind everything I’d learned in my natural birthing studies about avoiding unnecessary interventions and monitoring. Because it was C. I trusted her with both of our lives. What harm could a quick peek possibly do?
But it was also the 13th. And I should never have tested my luck.
You might have noticed while you were hanging out in my womb that it had a rather modern, unconventional interior design. Before you moved in, I’d had it remodelled precisely with you in mind. It’s a long story, involving a former tenant who up and left all too soon, after just seven short weeks of calling it home. But it wasn’t her fault. (Though we never could have known, there is no doubt in mommy’s mind that she was a beautiful she.)
You see, before you arrived, my womb was partitioned in two. I know what you’re thinking--a duplex would have been great! But it wasn’t quite a duplex. It was more like a studio apartment with a poorly-chosen, low-hanging chandelier that didn’t receive enough electricity (aka blood flow) to properly light up. After months of visits, exams, and every sort of scan under the sun, it was determined that I had a uterine septum, and until it was removed, I would be at an increased risk for miscarriage. Case in point, my womb’s first tenant.
Knowing even then that we hoped to one day give birth naturally, we received every assurance from our doctors that the surgery on my uterus would have no negative impact on our ability to carry and give birth normally. Barring unrelated complications, we would not be considered high risk as a result of the fix. So in October of 2015, we did a little remodelling. And in March of 2016, we first heard your heartbeat. Extreme Makeover: Womb Edition, FTW.
And then we had to change medical practices. And our new doctors weren’t so convinced that all was well in womb-land. Or at least, one of them wasn’t. Dr. Worst-Case Scenario.
Consider her the Debbie Downer of doctors. The “Let’s explore everything that could possibly be going wrong before we so much as entertain the vaguest inkling of a thought that things might be going JUST FINE” doctor. The doctor who would be the only cause of my shedding a single tear throughout my entire pregnancy and that’s including the 28 hours we labored together without medication.
When I first transferred us to our new practice, I booked out as many appointments as I could with the group’s staff of midwives. After one meeting with Dr. WCS, she told the office’s scheduler to rebook all my appointments with OBs instead, and she did this without either discussing or so much as informing me of her decision to hijack my pregnancy care. She was convinced that our remodelling work put me at high risk for uterine rupture and likely necessitate a caesarean.
I contacted my previous providers, obtained a letter from my surgeon specifically stating that there was “no reason I could not give birth naturally”, re-booked all my appointments with midwives, and avoided Dr. WCS like raw meat, large fish, coffee, and alcohol. She was, in my mind, equally as dangerous for our pregnancy.
So there we were on October 13th, stepping out into the hall with our dear C to enter a room with the sonogram machine, when Dr. WCS randomly decided to join our happy little party. As if that weren’t enough, she also barged forward to take the controls at the machine.
I should have stopped her right there. It was my right. I had scheduled our visit with C, and I had invited C to do the scan. But despite my control freak nature, I sometimes fail to be assertive when it really counts.
“We don’t want to know the sex,” is all I managed to say as I forced myself to stay calm.
“Huh…” came Dr. WCS’s inevitably wrinkled brow. “I’m not seeing much water here.”
You probably felt my heart rate increase at that point.
“Oh, there’s a pocket.”
Neither C nor Papà spoke a word. We were all holding our breaths for her next prognosis of doom and gloom. Not that we had to hold them long.
Dr. WCS rolled the scanner down toward my pelvis and your head. Her frown furrowed further.
“Do you see that?” she asked C, without taking her eyes off the monitor.
C didn’t reply.
“That looks like the cord.”
Apparently, ‘looks like’ is a professional assessment synonymous with ‘THIS IS A CODE RED EMERGENCY SITUATION.’
“The cord looks like it’s trapped between the head and the cervix.” Dr. WCS turned to me. “Have you had any leaking?”
“No.” Besides the tears you caused me when you first hijacked my pregnancy, no. Besides the tears on the verge of falling now, no.
“You don’t have much water, and the cord looks like it’s trapped near your cervix. Are you familiar with the risk of cord prolapse? If your cervix is dilated, you could be at serious risk. I’m going to check.”
Granted, mommy was just shy of panicking at this point, so perhaps don’t take my retelling as verbatim. But that more or less sums up the Dr.’s thinking-out-loud process.
At some point she acknowledged the fact that C was our scheduled provider, not by offering to let C check my cervix but instead by ever so kindly declaring, “If anyone’s going to break her water, it’s going to be me.”
Poor C was forced to step back, murmuring quietly in her defense, “I wouldn’t have broken her water.”
No, C certainly wouldn’t have. We would learn that firsthand later on. But today, I wasn’t dilated, and nobody was coming anywhere close to breaking my water or prolapsing my cord.
CODE RED EMERGENCY AVOIDED! Right? Amiright?
Wrong. Dr. WCS wasn’t satisfied.
“If that cord is near the cervix, your baby could be in serious danger. We’re going to call the hospital to let them know you’re on your way to have this checked out properly. If you feel any leaks or anything dangling between your legs before you get there, curl up into the fetal position and call 911.” Thanks for visiting Gloomsburg, and have a wonderful rest of your day!
Setting aside the fact that Papà and I had arrived from work in separate cars and would therefore be driving the 20 minutes to the hospital in separate cars, making it difficult for me to assume the fetal position ifandwhen necessary. Setting aside the fact that it wasn’t so much a “would you like to go to the hospital to have this looked at more carefully?” but rather a “you MUST go to the hospital immediately or you are ALREADY a delinquent mother who is NEEDLESSLY PUTTING HER UNBORN CHILD’S LIFE IN DANGER.” And setting aside the fact that I harbored a major trust issue with Dr. Worst-Case Scenario and any medical opinion she could ever have to offer. When she finally left the room, I felt unspeakably miserable for one very simple reason: it was all my fault.
If I hadn’t been so meddlingly curious, so pathetically perfectionist about knowing just how your head was positioned that afternoon (because, let’s face it, you were moving about so much, by dinnertime you could have been making a nosedive for my shoulder blade for all I know), if I hadn’t flatout requested an unnecessary medical intervention, Papà and I would have already been half way home.
C, Papà, and I exchanged glances in silence until the small room’s door closed. But even with the door closed, poor C could only echo her colleague’s suggestions: ‘we strongly recommend’, ‘to be on the safe side’, ‘we don’t want the cord there’, ‘the nurses will take care of you’.
The tears almost came in the elevator on the way out. Papà is always so good to me, you know that better than anyone. He didn’t blame me or even accept when I said it was all my fault. Sure, he cursed Dr. WCS for stepping in where she wasn’t welcome, but he didn’t once suggest that I shouldn’t have gone and created the situation for her to step into.
He couldn’t stop me from cursing myself though.
On the way to my car, I crossed paths with C, who was leaving the office for the night. She saw the tears in my eyes.
“Are you alright, Chiara?”
“I just--I wished I hadn’t asked--I’m afraid I’ve created a problem where there wasn’t one. I don’t want this to lead to a cascade of unnecessary interventions.”
“Chances are, everything is fine,” she reassured me. “After seeing what she saw, the doctor--we--can’t send you home without being sure. Don’t worry. You haven’t done anything wrong. Ask for the midwife on call when you get there. They’ll send you home in no time.”
I wish I could have asked C to go with us. Truly, I trusted C with our lives. But of course, I couldn’t ask her. What I could do was call M.
You know M. Our dear friend, who also writes stories like mommy. The second person in the world to hold you after you were delivered. The labor and delivery nurse at the hospital we chose to deliver you at precisely because she works there.
“Are you working tonight?” I asked her on speakerphone from my car as I drove to the hospital trying to keep my voice steady.
“No. Are you in labor?”
“No. But I’m on my way to the hospital all the same. Dr. Worst-Case Scenario sent me.”
I told her all about my stupid request and the stupid fallout and the stupid anxiety, and it being nothing but my stupid, stupid fault. And wonderful M eased my worries. (Nothing and no one could ease my sense of guilt.)
“The nurses will roll their eyes when you get there, trust me. Sure, they’ll check you out. But they’ll also tell you that the cord moves around all the time. At this point, it probably isn’t even wherever it was when the doctor did the scan. She’s just covering her ass. You’ll be fine. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
Papà didn’t blame me. C didn’t blame me. M didn’t blame me. Did you blame me?
You could have, you know. Thanks to me, we were soon hooked up to a fetal heart rate monitor for a non-stress test, and you were subjected to yet another sonogram by a bewildered technician who didn’t even know what she was supposed to be looking for. (“Just don’t tell us the sex, please!”)
But despite the three hours wasted at the hospital that night, taking a healthy bite out of my deductible and dealing a healthy blow to my natural-childbirth pride, perhaps everyone was right.
I hadn’t done anything wrong. Nothing permanent, at least. Not yet.
To be continued, in: Ignazio McKay’s Birth Story, Part 2: The Second Thing I Did Wrong