Cutting the cord on C-section guilt

By April Wallace

Just over one year ago, I was getting ready for the birth of my baby boy, Henry. Around that time, a girlfriend asked me if I had a mantra to use during labor. I did. It was: “My body was made to do this.”

I think that’s where I went wrong. Unknowingly, I had set myself up to feel like a failure if for some reason, even one beyond my control, I couldn’t do this on my own.

My due date was June 15, 2017, but in my heart I felt like he would arrive closer to June 6-9.

My husband’s new job required him to travel every other week, so we were both anxious for Henry to come sooner rather than later. To encourage him, I began eating Indian or Thai food each night and walking for an hour after dinner.

Our favorite waitress promised that this Thai hot yellow curry would get him moving, guaranteed.

The morning of June 8, I woke at 4 a.m. with the earliest, smallest sign of labor beginning. According to the childbirth books I’d read, it could be as long as two weeks before the rest of the process got moving, so I went back to sleep.

When I woke at my usual time, I ate breakfast, went to work (I know, girl. What?) and a couple of hours later noticed some steady incontinence. In the movies, each water breaking is a sudden, dramatic gush. I knew it likely wouldn’t be that way, but would it be this slow? I called the OB, who said she wanted to check me in person just to be safe.

I popped my head into my editor’s office, told him that some weird things were happening and that my doctor wanted to see me, but assured him it was probably nothing and I’d be back in an hour.

Famous last words.

On my drive to the hospital clinic (Yes, mom. I drove myself to the hospital while in labor, even though you made me promise not to do that…) I was curious, but not nervous.

I had my heart set on delivering this baby without surgery— ideally by natural childbirth, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I needed medication to get through it, either.

I was under no illusions that things would go exactly as I hoped, or that a birth plan predicted how your experience would be, but I did educate myself as much as possible about what I wanted.

I read books about the Bradley Method and asked my doctor dozens of questions about natural childbirth. She was on board with what I wanted to do because I’d had a healthy pregnancy and showed no signs of complications.

I went to a childbirth class with my husband. I wrote out my preferences for him, and explained what I’d be willing to compromise on and in what order, since he alone would be my coach.

In the days leading up to Henry’s birth, I built up my self confidence to prepare emotionally for what was before me. I told myself that I was strong, and it was true. I had worked out through my entire pregnancy. I felt ready, physically and mentally.

I had my heart set on an active woman’s labor: changing my position as often as was comfortable, walking the halls or the hospital grounds to let gravity do some of the work, and if I really felt like superwoman, then I could use my husband to steady me as I squatted now and then.

The OB chuckled as she checked me because it was so obvious to her that my water had broken, and immediately sent me to labor and delivery.

Less than an hour later, after cursory monitoring had been done, I was ready to get up and walk around when she explained that Henry’s oxygen levels were low, so they wanted to monitor him just a little longer. Knowing only that, I agreed and thought my agenda would just have to wait until the afternoon.

When the OB returned an hour later, this time sat close to me on my hospital bed. She explained gravely that they were still very concerned about Henry and felt it would be best to watch him with the use of an internal monitor. In the event that he ran out of oxygen, they could intervene faster and give him a better chance at a safe, healthy start.

I agreed, not wanting to put my baby in any sort of risk.

It wasn’t until after the monitor was placed that the staff told me I wouldn’t be able to leave the bed for the remainder of labor. My power to decide for my baby and myself vanished.

The hospital staff was doing their best to give me time to labor and deliver without interventions, but Henry’s oxygen was so low I was instructed to breathe deeply as much as possible.

As I sat there silently, with only the sound of his slow little heartbeat on the monitor, I was disappointed in myself already. But I held fast to the chance to deliver him myself.

Changing positions in bed was limited to a few stances, but it gave me some comfort to use techniques that I knew would help. I requested an exercise/birthing ball and was told that they were all in use.

Of course they were.

Ten hours into my hospital stay (and 16 hours into labor), I finally conceded on the “natural” part of childbirth and opted for an epidural. It took three attempts to place it, and my husband saw needles bent in the process.

Afterward the nurses confided that my contractions were particularly grueling because I was having “couplet” or “coupling” contractions, which means no break between them.

It was another hour and a half before I could prepare to push: 9:45 p.m. and the end was in sight. I’d made it. They told me I was about to give birth.

At 9:55 p.m., the OB and several nurses rushed in for what I thought was my time to deliver. Instead, Henry’s oxygen had dipped too low and they couldn’t wait for me to push him out. I was on my hands and knees as they wheeled my bed into the O.R. without any other explanation. Panic stricken, I looked back at my husband as I wondered what would happen to my baby.

I joined roughly a dozen people in the operating room as they all readied me for surgery. I was thankful to have a bracelet that indicated a medication allergy because it made one of them pause long enough for me to ask what exactly I might feel during surgery, since this is a procedure you’re awake for, and they fetched my husband before beginning the operation.

Henry was delivered at 10:04 p.m. on June 8. He was an incredibly healthy boy, if little. Roughly 19 inches long, five and a half pounds. He’d had trouble breathing because the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck, a condition that could have serious, long-term consequences.

Having a c-section was devastating because I felt like this was Day One of taking care of my baby and I had failed to do the first thing that I could do for him, which was to deliver him myself rather than through a traumatic emergency surgery.

It’s been a year since the c-section, and now as I tell you this story, I’m able to see that I didn’t fail. I was still incredibly determined and I did the best for my baby that I could despite the circumstances.

It’s taken me all this time to release the guilt I carried. I started by listening to the people in my life who were honest and supportive and not giving any weight to those who were not. It’s amazing what people (family, strangers and everything in between) will say to you in your early postpartum weeks.

I listened to my husband, who helped me understand that giving birth was not my Day One of taking care of Henry. I had already taken care of him for nine months by eating healthfully, staying active, educating myself, going to prenatal visits and getting our home and family ready for him.

I listened to my mother, who reminded me that I was also born with the cord around my neck, but she was not as lucky to have technology capable of telling her that my oxygen was low. When they delivered me, my mom said, my skin was blue. It’s amazing that I had no complications from oxygen deprivation, such as a resulting disability or brain damage. Hearing that made me grateful that we had more information and was able to make the right decision for my child.

I listened to our early visitors who were simply in awe of the beautiful, healthy baby before them.

And since then, every milestone that Henry hit has helped heal further because it added to the list of things I had a little part in helping him with, teaching or guiding him.

It’s put the c-section into shrinking perspective when we were able to establish breastfeeding and stomach those first weeks of sore nipples; the first time my husband had to travel for work and Henry and I survived a week by ourselves; the first time we flew together; all those early smiles; the emergence of those initial personality quirks; hearing those gurgles as he tried to communicate with us; the first time he reacted to something we read to him; the first time he…lifted his head, chuckled, bore weight on his legs, tried to crawl, rolled over, ate something other than milk; made a silly noise on purpose; responded to another baby friend; bounced; sat up on his own; kissed me and his dad; scooted; laughed hysterically; developed fondness for a certain toy or a person other than you; crawled; pulled up on something; imitated his brother; got frustrated at us’ unpacked his toybox on his own; been silly or especially cute for attention; squealed when I said ‘I’m gonna get you’; tried something new, got stuck and needed help; cruised furniture; became extremely fascinated with something he encountered; waved a friendly hello to a stranger; climbed on his bubba; pulled books off of shelves and tissues out of boxes; been facetious; turned on the charm for visitors; completely covered himself in carrot puree; played peek-a-boo; been excited for one of us to come home; danced; watched the world from the window enraptured; brought me a book he wanted to read; figured something out for himself; reached for me; took his first steps; came to find me from another room; high-fived us; tried to help or share with us; crawled up onto the couch to be with us; smiled like the sun.

Knowing what I know now, knowing this sweet, silly and smart boy is not just doing fine but thriving, I would make that same call over and over on the day of his birth. I did the right thing. And if you’re struggling with releasing the same guilt and haven’t heard this from the right person yet: you did the right thing, too.

Photo Credit: All newborn shots are by Alyssa White

April Wallace is a stepmom to one smart, funny teenager, mama to a beautiful and curious baby and wife to a very kind and generous man. She spent the past decade as a news reporter, sometimes lifestyle writer, and recently left her job at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to be with her baby while he’s still a baby. When she gets a few minutes to herself, April loves to run local trails and read fiction.