Allison’s Story

December 18, 2014

A Different Birth Story:

Healing from a Traumatic C-Section

by Allison Korn

The day after she got married, Andrea flew down to Ecuador with new husband in tow, to be at my side during the last two days of my four-day labor as I tried to birth my son, Lucas. She pressed my hips together through my contractions and let me squeeze her hand to the point of almost breaking it. When I thought I couldn’t do the having-a-baby-thing anymore, she looked me in my eyes and told me I was doing great, and I kept on going. She held on to me in the backseat of the doctor’s small car as we sped down the empty streets of this Andean city at 3am for my emergency c-section, after we all had to accept that a home birth wasn’t happening. Five years later, Andrea, now a midwife herself who is nine days past her own due date with her first baby, just called to tell me that she is about to be induced because of low amniotic fluid, a total change to her birth plan.

I hear the sadness and the anxiousness in her voice and I want to make it all ok, but I know it doesn’t work that way. How do things get so out of our control? In about an hour, she will be induced. I don’t know how her birth will go. I am hoping her body responds easily to the induction, and she is able to birth her baby naturally. In reality, I know that it is at this point when we just have to let go and let the birth take over.

It took me three years to begin to understand how the birth of my son, Lucas, went from expectations of a beautiful, peaceful home-birth, to a traumatic emergency c-section during which I was unconscious. How did it come to happen that I had to be woken out of that deep, far-away sleep brought on by general anesthesia an hour after Lucas had already been pulled out of my belly?

Why wasn’t I present for my own son’s birth?

After the birth, people would tell me, “At least he was born healthy. That’s the most important thing.” And it is. I am eternally grateful that Lucas was born healthy as can be, that I eventually recovered my health, that despite the c-section, breastfeeding came easily for both of us; and I cannot fathom the pain and trauma of families whose children are not born healthy, whose children die, or whose mothers die during childbirth.

But that statement of “at least he was born healthy” always masked the rest of my reality that nobody liked to talk about and that I didn’t know how to talk about. How did I fail as a mother by not giving him a beautiful and peaceful entrance to this world? How did I fail as a woman for not being able to give birth naturally, when I was fit, healthy, and “should have been able”? This was my subconscious train of thought.

In Ecuador, women birthed their babies at home with midwives until about 25 years ago. Now, with the medicalization of every part of society, homebirths were now unheard of and everyone gave birth in hospitals. The few midwives that were still alive had not had clients for years. With Lucas’s birth, I was going to show people that homebirth really was still possible and that childbirth did not have to be excruciatingly painful, but could be a sacred moment to celebrate. But I failed in doing that. After my c-section, people actually came up and told me, “I told you you wouldn’t be able to do it!”

So, with the chaotic bliss that comes with newborns – bathing in that sweet infant smell; learning to change diapers twelve times a day; being smacked with engorgement and constant breast-feeding; discovering the joys of waking up at three in the morning because you get to gaze at your precious new baby, and then discovering the dismalness of never ever being able to catch up on that lost sleep; rubbing your cheek against that soft newborn fuzz on the top of your baby’s head –  I went along with life and wrapped my birth experience up tight, sticking it deep inside myself. I knew it needed tending and caring, but who had time now? After the first few months, my bouts of “being emotional” about the birth subsided, and life moved on. I still didn’t understand Lucas’s birth, and still felt angry and heartbroken about it. I also had no idea how to work through it. So I didn’t.

Two and a half years later, I found out I was pregnant again. After my whole world came crashing down around me and after I then picked up the pieces, I realized I couldn’t stand a chance of birthing my new baby naturally if I didn’t process Lucas’s birth first. I wanted to get to the bottom of why his birth had ended in a c-section so that I could make sure it didn’t happen again. What I learned though, is that you can only educate yourself and control life up to a point, after which, you just have to open up and let go.

I decided I would prepare myself and plan for the birth in a way that truly reflected my reality and my needs, rather than what I imagined would be a perfect birth. For Lucas’s birth, I had envisioned what an ideal birth would look like, but it didn’t reflect the fact that my circumstances didn’t fit that image. I loved the idea of a woman being surrounded by family and friends as she gives birth to a child, so I went along with the Ecuadorian tradition of having everyone in the family wait in your house for the birth of the child. I did not consider that I hardly ever feel totally comfortable in large groups, especially when I am half naked and roaring. I also believed so strongly that birth did not have to be excruciating that I was unprepared for the intensity of those contractions. I have never felt as much pain as I did when giving birth to Lucas (to clarify: I don’t believe birth has to be painful. It was for Lucas’s birth and wasn’t for Asha’s birth. Some of this we can control; some of it we can’t). And I really wanted to use midwives, because I believed that traditional knowledge should be valued and because I didn’t believe in the medicalization of birth. The reality was that I was so concerned about being culturally sensitive with these “traditional” midwives that I made their wellbeing a priority, rather than my own needs. And as it turned out, the two midwives who attended my birth were impatient with my slow progress, didn’t let me move into the positions I felt most comfortable in, and refused to give me water, instead, giving me rue tea.

Rue tea was my downfall. Little did I know, the tea caused my uterus to start having spasms. What I experienced were nonstop killer contractions that felt like I was being ripped apart. They were so strong and overwhelming that the midwives, who did not know how to measure my dilation, assumed it must be time to push. I pushed for hours. I was exhausted and writhing in pain. At some point I fell on the bed with a scream and we decided to tell the midwives to leave. We realized this just wasn’t working. I remember Andrea looking at me and saying, “This is your birth.” We called a doctor I had met with in the beginning of my pregnancy – she was the only doctor in Cuenca who supported natural birth, but I had not felt a connection with her, which is why I decided to use the midwives. Without any hesitation, she came to our house at one in the morning. Though I had initially distrusted her during our first encounter, she was amazing during the birth – totally present, firm, encouraging, and respectful.

She measured my dilation, told me that I was dilated a mere 3 cm., and explained that the rue tea was what had given me such agonizing and endless contractions. I took an antispasmodic pill, and had to start labor over. Two more days passed. I was exhausted and overwhelmed, but determined to birth Lucas. My water finally broke. I pushed during two separate periods of time, for what seemed like hours each. Eventually, my cervix dilated to 10 cm., but Lucas seemed stuck. There was a lip on my cervix, making it difficult for his head to fit through. Four days after my contractions had begun, the doctor, who had been using a Doppler, told me that Lucas’s heart rate was accelerating – it was time to go to the clinic for a cesarean. In that moment I didn’t hesitate. I wanted more than anything for Lucas to be safe.

The doctor drove, Marco sat in the passenger seat, and Andrea, who at that point was studying to be a midwife, sat in the back with me, just in case the bumps in the road did the trick and she had to catch my baby. But Lucas stayed put. We reached the clinic. I remember hanging onto Marco and Andrea while dragging myself from the car to the clinic door, spilling amniotic fluid all over the sidewalk. They took me upstairs and gave me an epidural. For the first time, I felt relief from the pain of the contractions. I was alone with the nurses and doctors and was worried they would not let Marco into the room. I remembered my sister-in-law telling me that they had not let her husband in the room when she had a c-section, so I yelled, “I want my husband here! I want my husband here!” Finally Marco and the doctor who had brought me to the clinic entered the room. I lied down and they began.

But then I screamed. I felt their scalpels cutting through me. The anesthesia had not worked. The last thing I remember was seeing a nurse in blue garb running towards me and putting something over my mouth. And I was gone.

I remember being gently shaken out of my slumber. I was dreaming and so deeply asleep. I wanted to stay asleep forever. In the distance, I heard a voice echoing, “He’s here, he’s here! I slowly woke up in a haze and saw Marco handing me a little bundle. I took it in my arms and, shaking off my sleep as much as possible, looked down. It was our little Lucas! There he was! My baby! Had he already been born? My finger touched his little mouth and he started sucking, so I brought him down to my breast. He started nursing right away, a pro from birth. Then I realized the room was filled with people. Andrea was there. My mom was there. The doctor was there. It was over. Lucas was in my arms. I had had a c-section.

I fell in love with Lucas instantly. But I was sad, too. It had all gone so wrong. I hadn’t given him the beginning I had wanted. Lucas, this little sweet boy, had also worked for four days with a uterus spasming around him. He must have been exhausted. I felt like I had failed.

Two and a half years passed and I was now living in Canada. I still didn’t understand exactly where everything had gone wrong with Lucas’s birth. But I knew I had to feel in control for my second baby’s birth. I began reading about birth again in preparation for this new baby’s arrival. I emailed the doctor who had been with me in Ecuador during the second two days of my labor and during the c-section to hear her perspective on why I hadn’t been able to give birth at home. She told me she thought it was the rue tea and the midwives’ impatience that had disrupted the natural flow of my birth. I learned more about baby positioning, and now believe that Lucas had actually been in a posterior position (head down but facing my belly, not the ideal positioning), which made the labor that much longer and more painful.

I came to be honest with myself, and realized I had been more concerned with pleasing other people by trying to be culturally sensitive, than with respecting myself and my baby and his entrance to this world. This took a long time for me to swallow. I should have told the midwives to leave after their first impatient comments, and especially when they didn’t let me labor in the positions I wanted! But I didn’t want to offend them. I should have been firm about having the house to ourselves, but I didn’t want to offend Marco’s family. Looking back, I realized how much I had lost because of my ingrained ready-to-please habits.

I decided that could not happen for my second baby’s birth. For Asha’s birth, which would take place in Ecuador again (read his birth story here), we decided not to do a homebirth, not because we didn’t want to, but because we knew we would not be able to completely control who came to the door during the birth, and we didn’t want that added stress. So we decided to give birth in the doctor’s birth center, where she knew we wanted to be by ourselves, and would not let anyone else in. And, I decided to study Hypnobabies and learn self-hypnosis for childbirth, with the hopes of having a more positive birthing experience.

In the end, I had an amazing and empowering VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean). Asha came into this world with so much peace, and this enabled me to heal so much from Lucas’s birth. I did everything possible in order to birth him vaginally. But I also know that despite all my efforts, life could have taken another path. I feel incredibly fortunate I was able to have the healing birth that I had hoped for.

Through my two very different birth experiences, I have learned so much about pregnancy, birth, and myself. Most importantly, I have learned that there comes a moment when we just have to let go, and let life live us. I learned that we need to do everything we can to make things right; then give that to the universe, let go, and experience whatever it has to give back. And sometimes, it’s not what we expect.

My birth experience with Lucas was painful and traumatic, and left me doubting myself in a million different ways. But without it, I would have never learned to stand up for myself later in life, to take charge when things really mattered, and most importantly, to love myself, no matter what.

Over the three days that I have written Lucas’s birth story down, Tim, Andrea’s partner, has been sending me text message updates about their birthing time. The birth has gone so slowly. And I know, different from me, Andrea did do everything she could to set herself up to have a natural birth. But as I am writing these last sentences, I receive a message that Andrea gave birth to a baby girl. I am so happy she is finally here! The birth started Monday and ended Wednesday, and went very slowly, just like mine. Both of our births ended up being so different from what we had hoped and expected. I still don’t know if she birthed vaginally or had a cesarean. Regardless, what I want to tell Andrea right now, is this: you are powerful, beautiful, whole, alive, wise, and so strong. That is who you are, no matter what path life takes you on. Life is a mystery, and we’ll unravel all the parts down the line. But for now, know that you are loved. And let that sink deep down.

~Allison Korn


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