I was 38 weeks pregnant with my second baby boy when the doctor said the dreaded words, “Your baby is breech.”
I started this pregnancy with one OB/GYN and for weeks I had been asking her about the baby’s position and every time she stated that she wasn’t sure or that it was too early to matter. I was frustrated because this was a very different experience than my first pregnancy where I saw midwives at a birthing center (in Berkeley, CA).
This lack of care about the baby’s position and the “1 in 12 chance” that my doctor would actually attend my birth were the primary reasons why I changed providers at 34 weeks.
I felt weird changing so late in pregnancy but my partner, friends, and doula totally supported my decision and I was relieved that my new doctor was almost guaranteed to be at the birth, especially since it was going to be in a hospital.
Like many pregnant women, I wanted to avoid the “cascade of medical interventions” that can derail a normal low-risk labor and delivery. I feared it so much that for my first pregnancy, I planned to birth at a birthing center to avoid any temptation or persuasion. At each hour-long prenatal visit the midwives would note the baby’s position and guess his weight as we thoroughly discussed my concerns and planned my out-of-hospital birth.
My labor with my first baby lasted 3 exhausting days and after 1 hour of pushing while sitting upright on a birthing stool, my baby boy was born naturally without IV or drugs, or physical interventions (such as forceps, vacuum, episiotomy, etc.).
After moving to Madison, I was disappointed that the birthing center here had recently closed, so for my second pregnancy, I hired a doula early and prepared for my hospital birth. Part of my preparation included revisiting several exercises from the book “Birthing from Within” by Pam England and Rob Horowitz.
My essential question for my second pregnancy was: Can I overcome the added fears and stress of birthing in a hospital in order to have the birth I want and know that I am capable of having? This question led me to poll every mom friend who had birthed at St. Mary’s Hospital and also influenced my decision to change doctors.
And with all that mental and emotional preparation, and carefully choosing a new doctor, here I was at 38 weeks faced with the possibility that I would need a C-Section to safely deliver my baby since doctors are wary of breech babies.
It was a Thursday when we heard the news. I tearfully walked to my car outside the doctor’s office and called my husband. Then I called my doula, Miranda.
After a bit of processing the feelings of fear, disappointment, and anger, Miranda helped me create a plan of action: schedule chiropractic visits, do exercises from the spinning babies website, then have an ECV (External Cephalic Version) if needed.
On Friday evening I experienced my first Webster Maneuver at the chiropractor. The doctor was hopeful because we could feel the baby’s head move on my right side from just below my ribs to just above my hipbone. “We’re making room for him,” she said as she massaged my round ligaments.
His head was like a pendulum moving back and forth along my side. I would see her again Saturday morning and Monday morning for the same adjustments. Meanwhile at home, I was doing forward-leaning inversions and breech tilts, and researching the ECV procedure.
On Tuesday, after 4 unsuccessful days (of trying to get him turned), we headed to the hospital for our ECV. We were hopeful, but prepared for the worst (i.e. that the baby would respond poorly to the ECV and I would have an emergency C-section). My older son (3 years old) was with our next-door neighbor who was willing to stay the night if needed. My in-laws were on their way to Madison, 2 weeks early. My hospital bag was packed – but left in the car.
When we arrived at St. Mary’s Hospital, we headed toward labor and delivery. I was admitted to the hospital and assigned a room in triage. A nurse wheeled in a portable ultra sound machine to confirm the baby’s position and she placed fetal monitors around my belly to collect a baseline for the baby’s heartbeat. Someone else came in to take blood for tests and place a catheter in my arm for the medication that would relax my uterus.
Then we waited, and waited, until a time when 2 doctors and a nurse were all available at the same time to do the ECV.
We were grateful that Miranda was able to accompany us. She provided the perfect balance of reassurance, entertainment, and education as we experienced the ECV process.
After what felt like an eternity (it was like 2 hours), the ECV started. The nurse administered the medication, which took effect almost immediately – relaxing the uterus and raising my heart rate to that of a very over caffeinated state. One last quick check with the ultrasound to confirm the baby’s position, and then everyone took their position.
I was lying on my back with my eyes closed, focused on breathing and staying relaxed. My husband stood by my head, the nurse moved to hold my feet, and the doctors stood on either side of my belly – one for the baby’s head and the other for the bum. With their feet braced on the floor like spotters, their hands pushed towards each other and up, gathering the baby. Then with all their weight, they spun him counter clockwise and placed his head in my pelvis.
Although I felt the doctors pushing on me with all of their weight, I did not experience any pain. The whole procedure took less than 30 seconds.
I sipped on some water as my heart rate was returning to normal and the ultra sound showed that the baby’s head was now down. I remained in the room for another hour while the nurse observed the baby adjusting to his new position.
Then we went home and waited for labor to start naturally.
At home I felt some soreness and cramping as the medication wore off, but otherwise felt normal, or as normal as one can feel when 38 weeks pregnant.
Two weeks later I woke up at 5am with cramping and knew that labor was starting.
We went about our normal day, cooking, grocery shopping, playing, and napping, until dinnertime when I could no longer ignore the contractions.
I noticed an unusual contraction pattern – when I was standing up, my contractions were short, came quickly, and were very uncomfortable. When I was lying down, my contractions lengthened and spaced out. Miranda joined us in the evening while I labored at home and helped us determine when to head to the hospital.
Once at the hospital, my exam in triage showed that I was 7 cm dilated with a bulging bag of waters. I was then transferred to a birthing suite. Miranda smartly suggested that my husband request the baby monitor straps be removed before transferring since she knew that I wanted unrestricted movement while in labor.
In the birthing suite Miranda filled the tub with warm water. At first the warm water seemed to intensify the contractions and I wanted to get out, but Miranda encouraged me to stay with it for a few minutes.
Miranda did her best with adjusting the lights and playing nature sounds on her phone to transform the sterile hospital bathroom into a cozy labor cell.
While in the tub, I felt my water break after a particularly strong contraction. Miranda called in the nurse to check the fluid. The nurse wisely called in our doctor because with a bulging bag of waters, she knew that the baby would be coming soon.
On my very next contraction the baby’s head forcefully moved into crowning. The doctor and nurses picked me up out of the tub and almost had to carry me from the bathroom to the bed. Once on the bed, I was surprised when my doctor suggested laying in happy baby pose. But it worked – Miranda and Grant each held a leg, the doctor was able to support my perineum. After 20 minutes of pushing, my second natural birth was complete and Ezra was born!