The Birth House
Just finished reading The Birth House by Amy McKay.
This book started off as a slow read for me but eventually picked up steam and I became increasingly absorbed in it until every last page was devoured.
Before I found out my son was in the Frank Breech position @39 weeks pregnant, I had been determined on a physician led, hospital birth with no interventions. I am comfortable in hospitals and saw only positive signs about the way they would support natural labour- such as encouraging you to stay home during labour as long as possible, birth balls in the L&D rooms and even a few rooms with bath tubs.
My physicians were part of a maternity practice that shared patients and were located very close to our then home. The doctors were all very supportive of my plans but in retrospect they were brusk in our appointments and did not discuss with me in advance what scenarios I could end up facing that might effect my labour outcome.
I did read many pregnancy and labour and delivery books during pregnancy, including one special order book for medical students on the physiological phases of embryo-fetal development. I read it bit by bit during trips to the toilet. As far as exciting literature goes, that book was relegated to bathroom confinement only reading material. Groan.
I thought myself quite educated on birth outcomes and breastfeeding but found myself totally unprepared for the news @39 weeks that my son was breech. My only given choice was to try ECV (external cephalic version, physical manipulation of the baby through the abdomen, sometimes resulting in emergency birth and excruciatingly painful) at the hospital. However the OBGYN and also my soon to be c-section surgeon- told me upon ultrasound that the ECV would be too risky because he suspected the cord to be around my son’s neck (which it was, multiple times). I was pretty much sentenced to a planned c-section from that moment on (unless I went into labour before my section date, in which case I would have an emergency c-section).
I was so upset. I visited the spinning babies website daily combing its pages for tips on turning a breech baby. I watched breech vaginal births on youtube, crying tears of hope, fear and loss. I found a hospital a few cities away with a breech birth program, however they had many strict criteria for being accepted and required physician’s referral. My physicians had not suggested this program to me and although I knew if I really wanted it I would have to fight for it… Ultimately I decided that there were too many barriers and risks. I made peace as best as I could with the planned c-section. My stress levels were getting so high that I felt making peace was the best thing I could do for both me and my baby.
I never went into labour. I had a relatively cheerful c-section on a beautiful sunny morning in November 2011. My son was born with quite advanced hip dysplasia on both hips and subsequently went into a Pavlick harness for three months on day two of his life. This did show me that he was truly a ‘stuck’ breech however, and not one of those flip-floppy kidos that sometimes turn to the ideal position during labour. No. He was big (8.8lb) and he was stuck. Natural labour probably would have been dangerous and likely would have ended in an emergency c-section anyways. (Doctors and even midwives are seldom trained these days for delivering breech babies, although I have heard this may be evolving).
Some would say I am lucky to have avoided the pain of labour. I feel like I was that player that suffered an injury before the final game of the play offs- we still won the cup, but I didn’t get to shoot the puck. I didn’t sweat. I didn’t feel it in every muscle of my body, every ache of my bones. My breath was cold from the fear of surgery, not warm with the heat of blood rushing through your veins.
Recovery was painful and difficult, even more so because I tried to cut down the pain killers after hearing they could effect breastfeeding babies drive to nurse. Regardless, my son and I would still end up having a low milk supply situation and need to supplement by the time he was 1 month of age. We battled through that, me like a mad scientist trying to constantly construct the perfect scenario for making more milk. He is a week shy of 18m today and we are still nursing, and there is no longer anything mad at all about it. Thank the mother of god.
I never went into a depression although I haven’t had an easy time emotionally either. I am a resilient person and am so grateful for this fact (a hard childhood pays off?) but my perspective has definitely been altered and whether that is for the stronger or for the weaker I am unsure. I’m unsure of a lot of things. I second guess myself more than before. Nothing will ever be as simple as before.
Since going through my own unique birth story, I have become passionate about reading of other’s birth experiences. Especially reading stories about midwifery. At my 6 week PP checkup I asked my maternity physician why I wasn’t able to attempt vaginal breech delivery, and she said it was because this was my first baby, and my pelvis was ‘untested.’ Why didn’t they tell me that @39 weeks? Why didn’t they give me a choice? Why didn’t they spend more time on my emotional health? Would a midwife have treated me differently- even if the outcome ended up being the same?
Reading The Birth House made me feel that a good midwife like ‘Dora’ or ‘Miss B.’ would have made all the difference. What I needed was a strong, feminist woman who knows how to make other women feel strong, powerful and in control of our own body. Yes, I would still have like a hospital birth. Yes, I still would like the benefits of good science (the kind that learns from kind, careful, meticulous observation of the natural world, sometimes enhancing the recipe with the art of a clever chef)… And yes, my birth story may still have been one of those dangerous situations requiring surgery. But wouldn’t it have been nice to be treated like a woman with dreams, feelings, fears and a lifetime of remembering that beautiful November day to look forward to? To be cared for like a sister, a daughter or a neighbour? Midwife trained or doctor trained… This tradition of caring for the woman as much as the baby comes from the midwife tradition. Not the patriarchal field of obstetrics medicine.
This is what I got out of reading The Birth House… In addition to it just being a beautifully told story. As they say… this book spoke so much to my truth.