"Offbeat Mama" | May 2, 2012
A Near Death Birth Story
New York Times| May 2012
I started my pregnancy like I imagine most women do - I asked a few friends where they had their babies, chose one of the two hospitals in our area and started going to prenatal visits. Over the next few months, I started researching natural birth. After watching The Business of Being Born, I was disgusted with hospital interventions and very soon had all of my family on board the natural birth train. I read books (a few by Ina May) and allowed myself to be convinced that hospitals were bad. I started to panic about having my baby in one. I had to protect my innocent tiny person from harm by staying away from evil OBs and just trusting my body to give birth. I really wanted a homebirth, but my husband was not okay with that. I needed something in between...
While scouring the internet, I came across a freestanding birth center in Okemos - Greenhouse Birth Center (GBC). It was a bit of a drive for us, but it looked amazing - exactly what I wanted. I talked my husband into going to one of their information nights and, although he was reluctant, I insisted on having our son there. So, at somewhere around 30 weeks of pregnancy we left the hospital practice and started our prenatal visits at GBC.
I fell in love with the birth center and the midwives right away. They took the time to talk to us about everything – even our feelings! We felt so secure there, so calmed to be doing the best possible thing for our baby. I felt empowered and actually excited to go into labor since I had been completely persuaded that my body would know exactly what to do, and because many times I was reassured that there was almost no chance something would go wrong, because, as one handout we received from the birth center put it, “birth is as safe as life gets.” Of course they told us how quickly we could be transferred to the hospital if needed, but the possibility of transfer (especially an emergency transfer) was brushed off as a very rare occurrence. We had such an absolute confidence in the midwives and trusted them to recognize complications quickly. I found myself acting extremely defensive toward anyone who thought going to a birth center might not be the best idea. I only wish I had known then what I know now.
|32 weeks pregnant|
My son was always a bit of a gymnast, spending most of his last trimester transverse (sideways) in my belly. I was told not to worry, that he would turn head-down when he was ready. At around 34 weeks (my best guess) I remember waking up and knowing immediately that my son's head was UP, not down. By the time I went to my next prenatal visit, the midwives told me he had moved back to transverse; although I did make it known that his head had definitely been UP a few days before. At my next couple visits, 2 different midwives spent a lot more time than usual feeling and listening to baby, trying to decide if he had turned head-down. Both of them ultimately decided he had, and even let me feel his head by pressing my fingers down a little on each side and gently rocking me to move baby a bit. I wasn’t entirely convinced - it seemed too small to be the head that had just been in my ribs, but who was I to question it? If they say he’s in the correct position, he must be in the correct position! I was comforted again; my body and my baby knew how to handle birth.
Fast forward several weeks, and my due date had passed. My mom came with me to my 41 week appointment because she just had to ask why I was so huge (thanks a lot mom, ha ha) and hear for herself that it was OK to be a week past my due date. The midwife I saw at that appointment confirmed that my son’s head was down, estimated his weight at 8 pounds, and eased my fears by saying “your body will not grow a baby that is too big for you to deliver.” We believed her – why wouldn’t we? She’s the professional that does this all the time. She scheduled me for a biophysical profile on the day I would be 42 weeks pregnant, although I swore I could not let myself go that far. I was given the OK to try a few things to jump-start my labor, including castor oil and some labor cookies GBC gave me the recipe for. NOTHING happened.
|41 weeks pregnant|
I made it to 42 weeks. I was so frustrated that I hadn’t gone into labor yet, and downright desperate to meet my son. I was constantly wondering “am I broken?” Worry had started to creep in after everyone made comments about how unsafe it was to be so overdue, and even complete strangers asked if I was having twins or triplets. I was to go to my ultrasound on July 20th, then stop by the birth center afterward to go over the results. There was so much excitement heading into the ultrasound, I was about to “see” my baby and make sure everything was okay. It wasn't 10 seconds after the tech began when she announced that my son was frank breech. She showed me his feet up by his face. I immediately burst into tears as I realized my perfect birth plan had just gone out the window – the GBC said that they did not handle breech deliveries. So it had not been baby’s head the midwives were feeling down there, it was his butt! I went straight to the birth center in a complete daze, where I was treated almost like a stranger. They said that they would call Sparrow Hospital for me if I'd like. But since I live 20 minutes from Kalamazoo, I had no desire to have my son in a hospital so far away from home (you leave the birth center a few hours after birth – a hospital stay would be days). They told me they had no contacts at the Kalamazoo hospitals, so I should just call the one I would like to go to and tell them I needed a cesarean section (like, right now). I felt so alone and scared, my fears about a hospital birth were becoming a reality.
I called the hospital and told them my situation. As expected, everyone I talked to thought I was completely crazy and kept transferring my call to someone else. To make matters worse, my cellphone service wasn’t that great on the trip home from Lansing and I dropped the call several times and had to keep calling back. This was about as much stress as I have EVER been under. Finally, one nurse told me to just come in ASAP. I ended up having the C-section that same night. Although a few of the hospital staff expressed some concern that they had no records from my pregnancy, I had a fabulous female doctor (she’s a DO) deliver my son. The first words out of her mouth when she saw my son were "Wow, I didn't know I was delivering a 3 month old!" She laughed a little, but she was actually not kidding. My son weighed 11 pounds 6 ounces, and was just over 22 inches long. His head measured in the 84th percentile. His legs were "frogged" and trying to spring back up toward his face, making it obvious he hadn't recently turned breech. Not that he had room to turn anyway!
|3 days old . . . the newborn socks don't fit!|
My husband and I went through a period of thinking, "WHOA, if labor had started it probably wouldn't have turned out very well at the birth center." We were appalled by how far off the midwives at GBC had been about the position and size of our son. They had made it known that a breech delivery at the birth center was not an option, but they failed to recognize they were dealing with a breech baby?!
When I read the story in the Lansing State Journal about a couple losing their son at GBC after attempting a breech delivery with a large baby, I instantly felt sick. If I had gone into labor prior to 42 weeks, that’s exactly what the midwives would have been attempting again - just 3 months after that baby died - and WITHOUT even knowing it!
So this is the question: is it unreasonable for me to assume that a midwife should be able to, AT THE VERY LEAST, accurately determine a baby’s position? Or determine that a baby is MUCH too large to fit through the mother’s pelvis? And if they aren’t absolutely confident, shouldn't they order an ultrasound? It seems to me that since midwives aren’t held accountable if the outcome of a birth is disastrous, they have no incentive to be 100% thorough.
Magnus's Story | April 2011