by Danielle BoByk
Danielle was born and raised in Vancouver, BC, before moving to Kingston in 2013 to be with her now husband. She has a degree in kinesiology from the University of British Columbia and worked in various positions as a registered kinesiologist before shifting her focus to a career in editing. She is now a freelance editor who works primarily with self-publishing authors as well as the editor for a vintage car club magazine.
My daughter was pretty opinionated right from day one. After the anatomy ultrasound, we found out she was head up instead of head down – frank breech, to be specific. We were told not to worry, that she had plenty of time to turn around, but at the end of every appointment my midwives would find her in the same spot: head up, bum down, feet to the right. By 30 weeks, I started researching ways to help her turn and implemented every technique I could. At 34 weeks, we scheduled an External Cephalic Version (ECV). And at 37 weeks, two doctors tried – and failed – to manually turn my baby into the correct position. She would not budge. My midwives told me she just wanted to be up close to my chest so she could listen to my heartbeat; my husband and I joked that she had inherited his poor sense of direction.
Once the ECV failed, we were presented with two options: attempt a vaginal breech delivery or schedule a C-section. My midwives were very positive about the outcome of a vaginal delivery, but the obstetric resident was less so. It quickly became clear to my husband and I that the staff at the hospital were not overly comfortable with that option, especially where I was a first-time mom. It seemed highly likely that I would end up with a cesarean regardless – only now with higher risks due to it being unplanned. So, we opted for the scheduled C-section and were booked in for two weeks later.
Making this choice was surprisingly emotional for me. I am very pro-intervention when needed, and I had long since accepted the potential of a cesarean birth. But in all the times I had imagined how the birth of my baby would go, I had always pictured myself at least attempting a vaginal delivery. In fact, I had put a lot of effort into preparing for one. I had taken a prenatal class to learn strategies for managing pain, with the intent of attempting to go without an epidural. I had eaten six dates per day for the entirety of my third trimester because my midwife had said it might help make labour go faster. I had gone to yoga classes and on walks to keep my body in the best shape possible. Hearing my C-section described as “elective” was like a knife in my heart – I didn’t want to have one, but it seemed to be the safest option for both me and my baby.
Over the next few days, I mourned the loss of the birth experience I thought I would have, as well as what I perceived to be the loss of my birth story. For years, I had watched my friends connect and bond over their stories of going into labour, giving birth, and everything that happened in between. None of my close friends or family had had a C-section, so there was no one who could relate to what I was going through. And what kind of story would I have to tell when this was over? There was going to be no empowering tale of giving everything I had to bring my child into this world. I was simply going to go to the hospital and they were going to take my baby out of me, with very little involvement on my part.
The day arrived, and to some extent my worries came true. On paper, my delivery was very clinical. I showed up at the hospital on the allotted day at the allotted time and was prepped for surgery. I was given a lumbar puncture that numbed me from the waist down, leaving me able to feel pressure but not much else. My husband has a history of fainting at the sight of blood, so they put the curtain up high and we chose to leave it up throughout the procedure – we did not want to risk having a second patient in the operating room. I did not see, or even really feel, my daughter being born.
However, that description does not do justice to how everyone in that room made sure to involve me in the birth of my child as much as possible. The anesthesiologist stayed standing throughout, watching over the curtain and letting me know when a hand made an appearance, and then a foot, and then the rest of our sweet little baby. The doctors immediately started describing her to my husband and I, telling us how alert she was and how big her eyes were. One of my midwives used my phone to take pictures so I could witness her birth after the fact; the other let us know where to look so she could show us our child before she was whisked off to be weighed and examined. The midwives placed my daughter on my chest for skin-to-skin as quickly as possible, and one of them stayed close to hold a protective hand over her so she did not get bumped by the surgeon's elbow.
When I tell my birth story, I do not simply say that I went to the hospital and they took a baby out of me. I talk about the whole medical team coming together to make a plan just in case my husband passed out. I talk about my midwife holding my shoulders and coaching me through the lumbar puncture. I talk about the anesthesiologist giving me his fingers to hold on to when things got intense. I talk about the bizarre feeling of my baby’s limbs and the surgeons’ fingers moving around in my abdomen – like an octopus flailing all its tentacles simultaneously. I talk about how I started feeling pain towards the end, how the anesthesiologist eventually put me out for a few minutes using nitrous oxide, and what a weird trip that was.
When I tell my birth story, I share how incredibly alert my daughter was right from the start – something every single person commented on that first day of her life. I share how she tried to root the instant she was set on my chest. I share how she held onto her toes as she breastfed for the first time, still preferring to hang out in that frank breech position. I share how her legs would shoot up just about over her head when she was unswaddled.
When I tell my birth story, I explain how I navigated breastfeeding while still numb from the waist down and the incredible amount of positioning it took – pillows to hold me in place, rolled up blankets to hold my daughter in place, one hand supporting her and the other hand keeping my breast in the right spot. I explain how the wonderful nurses helped me with everything from breastfeeding to using the bathroom. I explain how my amazing husband supported me throughout the surgery and took over almost all of the baby care in the early days of my recovery.
When I tell my birth story, I relive the incredible and unique experience of bringing my daughter into this world.
In the end, I view my decision to have a C-section as one of my first true acts as a mother: letting go of what I wanted in favour of what was best for my child. But when it comes down to it, I had mourned the loss of something that I will never truly miss. I may not be able to bond with friends over whether or not our waters broke and what labour was like, but I can bond with them over the feeling of finally getting to meet our babies and the struggle of adjusting to life with a newborn. I carried my daughter within me for nine months, and I underwent major surgery to birth her as safely as possible. And I was so fortunate to be surrounded by people who went above and beyond to make that experience the best it could possibly be.
I may not have a “traditional” birth story, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have one at all. I still have a story to tell, and it’s one that I’m proud to share.