From Epidemic to Epic
by Anita Woods
Cesarean sections are an epidemic in this country. I know, I've had one. Physicians who do not trust birth and cannot trust women are a plague to us, killing our confidence and faith in ourselves. We have been betrayed, misled and lied to. I bought into those lies, but my eyes were opened, and I experienced a beautiful, purebirth.
January 3, 1993 I went into labor five days early, with spontaneous rupture of membranes, meconium stained. Like an obedient patient, I went to the hospital, got hooked up to an electronic fetal monitor, and was told "doc will be here in 20 minutes for your emergency c-section." I freaked. My sister had one of those! I screamed that they had better get an anesthesiologist up here pronto for the epidural, because I refused to be gassed. In the time it took the anesthesiologist to stick me, the doc to get there, the nurses to shave me, I had a bowel movement on a bedpan in a room full of bustling, loud, rude nurses, and my son's heartrate stabilized. I was "allowed" to continue to labor.
After 12 hours (the hospital's "magic hour" for c/sec after membrane rupture) I was sliced and trimmed, muscle and tissue yanked back with a metal spatula, and the doc in my belly near up to his elbow, tugging and pulling my babe out by his neck. I remember catching a glimpse of his face as they paraded past me out the door with my son. While I was closed up. My mother taped his first bath, shampoo, weigh-in, and he was left alone on a warming table for eleven minutes screaming his poor lungs out to be held. Not the way birth is supposed to be; I am mad that this happened to me and my son, and angry I allowed it to happen.
November 16, 1995 after an uneventful pregnancy, I was attended by a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) specialist who induced me with artificial rupture of membranes, five days early. After nine hours of pitocin, I was told I could push. I was velcroed into stirrups in lithotomy position, nurses announced when to push while instructing me to hold my breath. Then I was given oxygen because baby needed it. Where do there ideas come from? As his hairy little head crowned, I was given an episiotomy without my consent. His cord was wrapped around his neck, but instead of somersaulting him through it she chose to cut it on the perineum. One more push, ripping the remainder of the way,end to end, and Eli Harrison was born gray and floppy. They took him to a warming table and after about 90 seconds he let out a faint, weak, cry. They wrapped him and whisked him away for the next four hours for observation. (Why couldn't they observe him as he laid on my bare, 98.6 degree chest to be warmed?) He developed colic which persisted for 18 months, and he continues to be high-need, at two. The doc stitched for the next 50 minutes. I had skid marks in the birth canal and two holes instead of one. I was given a "husband's knot," an extra little stitch in the perineum to make me "a little tighter" than before. (Our sex life was impaired for the next eight months due to this absurdity.) But I had VBAC'ed!!
June 5, 1998 This time, I had learned. I chose a direct-entry midwife and planned a home waterbirth. I was having mild contractions I identified as merely patterned Braxton Hicks, eight minutes apart, and I was able to sleep through them. They continued through the night until right after dinner, then went to five minutes, and then four. Still painless, I figured it was just getting close to due date, and I would probably do this for another couple of weeks. After all, my midwife predicted I would be late. I had called my midwife the day before, and we agreed I could handle these gentle contractions quite a while! Walking didn't do anything so I hit up my husband, Russ, for a "jumpstart" to see if we could change things by lovemaking. The midwife said : "What gets 'em in there gets 'em out!" Shortly after that "jumpstart" I started having intense contractions, now three minutes apart. Russ had already fallen asleep, so I handled it by myself for about 30 minutes before I knew I needed some help. I woke him at midnight; they lasted 45-60 seconds.
I called my midwife to put her on alert, and my mom as planned. Russ and I went downstairs where the birthing area was set up, and he started readying the futon. Contractions continued in intensity and speed, and I trusted my body and just let it happen. At one point, my moaning through contractions turned into a grunt. Am I pushing? Nah. I was really moaning through contractions while Russ rushed to set up the hoses for the birth tub and finish the bed, racing back to me every two minutes to help me through a contraction. Contractions were one on top of another; I told him to call the midwife and have her come. Contractions were non-stop! The tub wasn't full yet, my mom wasn't here yet, and contractions were really intense! I was moaning really loudly, grunting at times, "Am I pushing?", and begged to get into the water. It wasn't quite full yet, but I didn't care. Russ helped me get off the chair and I practically fell into the water. It instantly helped, but almost as instantly, I was definitely pushing!
Russ said, "Are you pushing?!? Don't push!"
I told him to page Carolyn, our midwife, and she called back from her car phone. "She's wanting to push!" he said.
She said, "Don't waste your energy telling her not to." My body had taken over. Russ was saying, "Don't push!" I was saying "I don't have a choice!" I could feel the baby moving down; I felt down and the head was right there. I'm really having this baby! I was on my knees, holding on to the side of the tub. Russ didn't panic, just kept talking to Carolyn on her car phone. My moaning and screaming, at that point, had woken up our other two boys, and they were crying upstairs. My mom showed up finally and calmed the boys down. I screamed for her to get the camcorder, the baby was coming! All of a sudden, the head was out.
Contractions spaced out, and I could feel hair. I sat calmly in the water amazed at this little hairy head between my legs. I called to the boys to come see the baby be born. Nick and Eli stood beside the tub, my mom standing there with the camera and the phone, Russ beside the tub. After a minute of calm, I felt another contraction, a short little push, and wow, out squits baby. I just had a baby! Russ scooped him up from the water, and handed him to me; and it's a boy.! He was very quiet, he didn't even seem to know he'd been born. He was sound asleep, breathing, we could see his chest moving, but he made no sounds, just laid against me. We rubbed his back, and he moved and whimpered a little, then went back to sleep He was beautiful and perfect.
Carolyn arrived 15 minutes later, and the placenta came out soon after that. I did not tear. John McKay Woods weighed 8 lbs. 12 oz., with auburn hair and dark blue eyes. Nick cut the cord, and Eli wanted to cut some of it too! The older boys went back to bed, and we sat around and got to know our new precious one. From the first active labor contraction to his birth was about 2 hours, 15 minutes.
I was told the complications of my first birth, which ended in a cesarean section, were "failure to progress" due to "cephalopelvic disproportion." My second birth was induced to keep him from getting "too big." My beautiful, unassisted home birth is now listed technically as having the complication of "precipitious labor." I am thumbing my nose at the system, and crying inside for what my other two boys and I missed before. As I sit here typing this story, my sweet, home birthed water baby sleeps soundly in a sling at my breast. My life is complete, my quiver is full, and my cup overflows.
Leader, International Cesarean Awareness Network
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