“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry” – Robert Burns
The initial attempts at planning, especially for new parenthood, are often when a woman finds out that she is pregnant for the first time. So many thoughts will go through her mind stemming from her new found curiosities, anxieties, and experiences; it is never ending. Questions pervade her thoughts such as: Will I carry to term? When is my due date? Is the baby’s development normal? Is it a boy or a girl? How will I decorate or prepare? How can I afford a child? How much time will I take off from work? How much weight will I gain? Will I be nauseated? Where will I deliver? Who will be my birth provider (OB/Midwife)? Or Where (Hospital/Birth Center/Home) and finally: How will I deliver (vaginally/c-section)? Yes, even with all of these and myriad other questions and decisions, very few women start their pregnancies intending to or planning to deliver their babies via cesarean section. And still, so often, the best laid plans (i.e. a 100% natural un-medicated vaginal birth) are often altered because of one reason or another.
For me, a self-proclaimed organizer and planner, as well as a conscious and committed health care professional, more specifically, a pediatric and pre-natal chiropractor, the experience of pregnancy to date had gone far from the plans. From the time I was a little girl, I have wanted to be a mother; I have always wanted to experience pregnancy and have children. In fact, I felt I had done such a thorough study, especially on how to prepare my body to have a natural and organic pregnancy and have a non-medicated home birth attended by midwives and my husband, and many many other plans. Yet, as fate would have it, or plans gone awry, my husband and I struggled for almost 5 years to get pregnant. My plans had already changed.
In 2010, I felt brave enough to discuss a previously “forbidden” topic with my endocrinologist (who was medically managing my autoimmune Thyroid and Diabetes conditions): When could my husband and I start trying again for a family? Considering carefully my labs, and overall health status, she confidently said we could go ahead and try, but to not get too frustrated, as I was over 35, and it could take some time.
At a follow-up visit 6 weeks later, she changed my treatment plan to once every 3 months; unless I found out I was pregnant sooner. In that case, my care would be more frequent. Ten days later, the day before racing a triathlon, to my incredible surprise, I had a positive pregnancy test!! Needless to say, my endocrinologist was surprised to see me the very next week with this news. While my doctor was surprised, I had a core belief that as long as my body was healing, and I was pursuing a wellness lifestyle, that I would be able to get pregnant.
My pregnancy had been an interesting experience: I realized that now, more than ever before, once can have hopes, and plan a little, but you have to be gentle and flexible with the overall plan. Everything in my house and life prior to pregnancy had been organic, natural, and sustainable as possible, including green cleaners, mostly vegetarian diet, and 4-5 days per week of exercise. It all went out the window – almost all. This wasn’t what I had expected, or PLANNED FOR…I was horrified! In these later weeks, the healthy habits had slowly resumed, my diet had improved, and my doctors’ visits and labs all continued to be normal.
Despite the fact that I risked out of midwifery care, which thus ruled me out of a home birth, or birth center birth as originally planned for long ago, I knew deeply, in my soul, that I would be able to have a very positive birth experience, in a hospital, with my support and birth team, and in the spirit of balance and flexibility with my plans. I would try to avoid a c-section and any medicines, conceding only to unavoidable things such as an IV port for me for glucose/insulin and a heel prick for the infant to check blood sugars.
My attitude was: I’ll do whatever I can do and not beat myself up for what I can’t. While medicine may be controlling and planning for a lot of my pregnancy, once the baby is here, my family and I can nurture the balanced wellness lifestyle, planning when we can and trying to smile when we can’t.
It’s often been said: “When people plan, God laughs”…
By the last weeks of pregnancy, everything had been going really well, even beyond my expectations considering my “high risk” status. I had taken 10 Sunday classes of natural childbirth, a breastfeeding seminar, a cloth diapering workshop, had prepped all my supplies at home and had packed my bags. I had accepted that an OB delivery would be the safest and healthiest for everyone involved. But things took a turn; one minute I was coasting along, the next I was being sent to the perinatologist/maternal fetal medicine specialist to rule out a problem with the baby’s cord. While there was ultimately no issue, just alarm, thus began the invasive and frequent checks. From that point forward I had weekly biophysical profiles with non-stress tests “just to make sure” everything was ok. Though I knew in my gut everything was ok, because of my strict compliance and adherence to a healthy pregnancy as a diabetic, I was presenting in a manner that was uncharacteristic; so when I had low amniotic fluid, I wasn’t given an option for bed rest. I was instead instructed to report for an induction immediately. This was no ordinary pressure. It was the impossible to resist kind. If you chose the wrong answer, the long awaited for baby could die because your placenta could fail, and you’re already almost 39 weeks, and on and on. Never mind that I had the wrong “due date”. Never mind that I wasn’t dilated or effaced. Never mind that I felt great, had sugars in perfect control, and was still practicing and exercising. And of course, never mind that a lot of literature states that induction for oligohydraminos (low amniotic fluid) isn’t warranted.
After staving off the inevitable 4-5 days, I checked into the hospital on Monday, February 28th, 2011 for cervadil insertion (and painful IV too), and continuous fetal monitoring too due to the induction (no laboring in the tub for me). No changes happened by the next morning; or with the Pitocin (even without the epidural). I labored and labored for hours on high doses of Pitocin with the assistance of my doula and husband who cared for me, helped me to use the ball, and get up as frequently as I could. 12 hours later there was no dilation, so the OB and we decided to rupture the bag of waters (AROM). It turns out the fluids were plentiful, but my baby’s head got stuck further in a wrong position unbeknownst to us. By the next morning, my doctor was no longer on call, and I was exhausted and desperate after 24 + hours of Pitocin without relief. I spoke with her by phone, and she offered either an epidural to see if we could still get to the vaginal birth, but that I’d need rest or she’d come in and section me then. I opted for the epidural which was equally awful; as I was now a caged animal with numbness on one side of my body and chest. You can imagine my sadness when they checked me close to the 24-hour window after a bag of waters ruptured….I was still less than 2 cm. No real change in those 8 hours. I was spent. I was exhausted. I knew then that I would have a c-section. At the time I was relieved that this agony and defeat would be over.
But here is where the domino cascade began: I had an allergic reaction to the antibiotic used to prep me for surgery, which led to fetal tachycardia, which pushed me to the front of the line for an immediate c-section. My son Xavier was born at 4:02 p.m. on Wednesday 3/2/11 at 6 # 8oz and perfect blood sugars and APGARS of 9. Not at all what one would expect from a diabetic mother. His head had been stuck sideways (OP/OT), but on a happy note, I was a perfect candidate for a VBAC.
We continued to strive for a holistic situation: Xavier perfectly latched to begin breastfeeding; we avoided antibiotic drops in his healthy eyes, declined vaccines at that time, and asked to room – in. It seemed we could breathe a sigh of relief.
Not 24 hours later, our son was wheeled off to the NICU essentially against our will, which began an 8-day hell for us all. All the progress we had made towards breastfeeding, though every attempt to support me was there, backfired. We’d wanted to go home as soon as possible, which would be sooner than most, as I had made a formidable recovery post surgery. My milk never let down. He had a spinal tap/lumbar puncture, 8 days of ototoxic antibiotics, IVs, leads, constant lights and activity, bilirubin lights, etc. When we finally got home, 10 days after I had been admitted, to be only breastfeeding at less than 5% despite every attempt, and lactation help, as well as herbal and prescription medicines, left me feeling as if I had failed, and the depression began then.
I was now home living the reality. I had my baby, yes, but what an awful way to experience his arrival and first weeks of life. I became a zombie. I had to return to my practice at 5.5 weeks postpartum, which I relished because I saw it as a place I could succeed as well as escape where I had “failed” at home. I was crushed to not be cloth diapering, not breastfeeding, etc. I had stumbled into PDD and PTSD.
It didn’t happen in the first few weeks, even months; that was mostly shock at what had happened, and lack of sleep. But then, sleep was possible, but it didn’t come. Mental health therapy, exercise, rescue remedy, chiropractic adjustments all helped, but at 3 months post partum, I had a panic attack, which landed me in the ER, with a flurry of tests to rule out Pulmonary Embolism and Deep Vein Thrombosis. A contrast CT scan, with an allergic reaction, and an Ativan later, I was headed home. The weeks and months that followed were rough. Time helped to heal the wounds. I slowly transitioned from conflicted feelings and denial to recognition, anger & frustration at my perceived “failure”. I had been so focused on the c-section and failed breastfeeding, that I had missed out on the most beautiful moments in my life.
Over a year later, I found myself in a different place. I worked with many healthcare practitioners, traditional and holistic alike to returned to a healthy state and regain my fitness. I learned that I can absolutely have a plan, hopes, and desires, but that things may not always go my way; to be flexible. I learned it was never too late to start good and natural living habits. We baby wore, cloth diapered 75% of the time, made our meals with mostly local and organic produce, and practiced “attachment” parenting and we still live as holistically as we can.
I still continue to care for amazing patients in my practice. Because of my birth experience with my first son, I gained a whole new, more balanced, and realistic way of caring for and educating my pregnant patients. I also knew that God had allowed me this experience, so that I also go pursue and eventually have a VBAC and very different experience with my second.
As i sit here on the eve of his 6th birthay, I wonder that if I could go back in time and tell the 2011 version of me anything, it would be that mindfulness, flexibility, and surrender are all key traits in an optimal birth and parenting experience.But, alas, hindsight is 20/20, isn’t it? And I am all the stronger for it.