Backwards baby- A birth story
At 28 weeks, my baby was head down so I was more than a little surprised to find out that she was breech at my next midwife appointment a few weeks later. My first two babies were head down and engaged pretty early on and I didn't think my third baby would be any different. At 32 weeks I knew I still had time for her to turn so I immediately started doing what I could to encourage her to flip based on advice from my midwife, (as per the Spinning Babies website) and booked myself for an acupuncture appointment. I was stressed. I prayed a lot.
My naturopath used moxa sticks in addition to the needles during my acupuncture treatment. Later that night I felt more movement than I had my entire pregnancy and woke up the next morning feeling movement up near the right hand side of my rib cage. My midwife told me that my baby was head down again and I breathed a sigh of relief. I went on with life and my pregnancy continued to progress normally.
At 40 weeks to the day I asked my midwife to do an internal check to see how things were going and to try and do a membrane sweep if possible. My cervix was high and closed; nothing was going on. She said that I could come back in a few days and she would check me again if I wanted or I could simply wait for my next appointment the following Thursday.
On Sunday, May 12, my husband took my son and daughter to church and left me at home to relax. I didn't want to see anyone and figured I would take advantage of the time alone. I did a bit of cleaning but mostly sat on the couch and read and indulged in a piece of cake. That afternoon I noticed my Braxton Hicks contractions seemed to be developing a pattern. I didn't want to say anything to my husband but ended up mentioning it later than night while we were watching a movie- they were about 10 minutes apart and had been for a few hours.
At 3am on Monday morning I woke up to go to the bathroom. My Braxton Hicks were still coming regularly, now about every 5-6 minutes apart. I couldn't fall back asleep and wondered if I should wake up my husband and let him know. At 4:30 I did and told him that I didn't want him to go into work that day just in case. At 5am we decided to call his parents to come to our place as they lived two hours away and we wanted to give them plenty of time to arrive (our second baby was born very quickly and we barely made it to the birthing center in time). After that I also called my student midwife to give her a heads up I told her I would call back in a few hours to let her know if things were progressing.
My son and daughter woke up at 6am. We snuggled in bed a little while and then got up, dressed and had a good breakfast. I showered. My Braxton Hicks were still about 5-6 minutes apart and lasting about 30 seconds. They weren't at all painful. My husband's parents arrived by 8am and suddenly I felt stressed and anxious that I had made the wrong call to have them come when nothing was progressing. My body responded by slowing things down and my contractions became less and less frequent. I was even more discouraged and near tears. My husband told me we were leaving and loaded me and my bag into the car and we headed to Chapters for a walk as it was cold, wet and windy outside.
At Chapters I walked. I walked every aisle. I read comic books while walking. I texted a friend. I tried not to think about my contractions, which were still anywhere from 6-10 minutes apart. After a couple of hours I was ready to call it a day and go home but called my midwife first to see if I could come by for a check and another sweep since were close to the birthing center. We were there by 11am.
I was encouraged to find out that my cervix had thinned, was softer and lower and that I was 2cm dilated so at least the Braxton Hicks were doing something. My midwife was concerned, however, about the position of my baby. She decided to send me for a quick ultrasound at the hospital to verify things after doing a membrane sweep. Right away I noticed my contractions were closer together again, either due to the sweep or due to the fact that I had relaxed a bit. We headed to the hospital for the scan.
It was noon and the tech was going on her lunch break but took me in anyways. In a few seconds my stress level shot back up upon hearing that my baby's head and feet were under my ribs on the right hand side and her bum was firmly in my pelvis. My husband and I got in the car, called the midwife and drove back to the birthing center to talk about what to do next. My contractions were still 5 minutes apart and felt like they were turning into something more than Braxton Hicks.
Midwives here (in Quebec) are not allowed to deliver breech babies except in emergency situations, like when a mother arrives in active labour ready to push. Since we now knew my baby was breech my plans for having a birthing center delivery were disappearing. My first baby was born at the hospital and my second was at the birthing center. I didn't want another hospital birth. My midwife told me that she had already called another hospital and there was a doctor on call who would be willing to try a version. She told me he wasn't her first choice and that if he couldn't turn the baby or if my water broke he might not let me try a vaginal delivery, which was now the option we were going for. But she told me that I could ask and that I could also ask for a second opinion if he was unwilling. He might not let me, but I could ask.
At the hospital I was put in a consult room and hooked up to a monitor. Again, the stress of everything all but stopped my contractions. The doctor came in and made three attempts to turn my baby. The pain was awful. She was engaged and he tried everything to get her bum out but she wouldn't go far before popping back into place. On the last attempt the doctor was kneeling on the bed with one hand under her bum and the other hand gripping the bed rail while telling me to breathe. I was trying to keep it together and not burst into tears.
After the third failed attempt to turn my baby the doctor asked me what I wanted to do. I told him I wanted to try a vaginal delivery. To everyone's surprise he said, "We do vaginal breech deliveries here. I do them." He then went on to tell me about the studies that were used to stop vaginal breech deliveries in favour of c-sections in North America years ago and how newer studies showed that vaginal deliveries were actually better but that I needed to know the risks. I was a good candidate due to the size of my baby, my level of amniotic fluid and my 'proven pelvis'. He told me that if he was on when I came in to deliver there would be no issue with a vaginal delivery but that I needed to push when he told me to and that a c-section was a possibility if things didn't work out. When the doctor left my midwife told me she had never seen that particular doctor in such a good mood and so enthusiastic about a vaginal breech birth. Praise God.
I had to stay another hour to be monitored and make sure the baby's heart rate went back to normal after the stress of the attempted version. My midwife left. When I checked out the doctor told me to call and make an appointment to see him at the end of the week to check the baby and the amniotic fluid level and discuss induction if I hadn't gone into labour. My husband told him we would see him later- he just laughed and waved. Back into the car and into rush hour traffic.
The ride home was long. I went into active labour pretty much as soon as we started driving. It was 4pm. I had painful contractions every 5 minutes for the entire hour it took us to get home. We went inside and after saying hi to my kids and in-laws I went and laid down while my husband ate some supper. I called my midwife and told her and she said I could come to the birthing center and she could check me and I could labour there a while until we decided it was time to go to the hospital. Back into the car.
A few minutes into the drive my contractions intensified and went to 4 minutes apart. I called my midwife again and told her my husband was going to take me straight to the hospital. She said ok and that she and my student midwife would meet us there. Rush hours traffic had eased up and the drive was thankfully short. I cried the whole way there. It wasn't from the pain, though that was intense. I cried because I was trying to wrap my head around the change in plans. I was worried about giving birth to a breech baby. I was worried she would get stuck or that I would end up with a c-section. When we arrived I was still trying to pull myself together.
It was 6:45pm when we checked in. The nurses were all surprised to see us back so quickly. I was monitored for 20 minutes; I was 5 cm dilated. The same doctor was still on call. He came in and told me I had to decide if I wanted a catheter put into my back in case of an emergency c-section. If I declined the catheter and a c-section was necessary I would need to be knocked out. At that moment I knew I was going to delivery my baby vaginally no matter what. I did not want a catheter and I was not going to have a c-section; I told him no.
I met my nurse, Kamie, and was taken to a room. She asked if I wanted a birthing ball and showed me how the jets worked in the tub. She left to get the ball and two contractions later my water broke. It was full of meconium. My midwife went to get Kamie after having me check myself to see if I could feel the cord. I couldn't. Kamie came back and told me that I would need to be monitored again and checked since my water had broken. I was 7cm. The contractions increased in intensity right away and I remember saying, "This is going to be fast."
A few minutes later I wanted to push. The doctor was back along with Kamie, another nurse and a respiratory therapist. He checked me again and said that I was fully dilated during my contractions but was going back to 9cm after so I should wait a couple of contractions to push. Right. My midwife whispered in my ear to push if I wanted to and that's what I did. After the first push I hear someone say, "There's the bum." I pushed again and yelled, "I want her out now!" One more push and her head came out. My husband said it happened really fast. I just didn't want to her to get stuck so I put everything I had into those pushes! My little backwards baby was born at 7:59- a little more than an hour after checking into the hospital.
Like most breech babies born vaginally, Aurelia's first Apgar score was low, only 5, but after five minutes she was 8. I had a second degree tear but my 7lb 7oz baby was perfect. It was the first vaginal breech delivery my nurse and student midwife had ever seen (they were both very enthusiastic witnesses). Two hours after Aurelia was born at, we checked out of the hospital and went back to the birthing center to recover and rest.
I didn't get the second birthing center birth experience I wanted but I got the closest thing possible- a natural, unmedicated vaginal delivery followed by a wonderful stay at the birthing center with follow-up care from my midwife. It wasn't what I expected. But then again, childbirth usually isn't what we expect. Embrace what comes your way.
Stefanie Bittner is a birth and postpartum doula with Karis Doula. She didn't know what a doula was until after the birth of her third baby but she's now passionate about supporting women through pregnancy, birth and beyond. To find out more about how she can support you during your birth, click here.