Stitched, Mended, and Untorn

The Birth Story of Callum David

I could tell it was starting. First, the cramping. It was the day before Thanksgiving 2018. November 21, 2018. Callum’s due date. But I knew it was not his day to meet us. Little did I know his journey to the outside would be long and difficult, unlike that of his older sister.

I quietly rejoiced in my heart at these early signs. The minor discomfort, frequent visits to the bathroom and the much anticipated “bloody show.” The “pains” were not much stronger than braxton hicks and very infrequent. No need to go to the hospital yet. But I was sure that within 24 hours he would make his arrival. Our little turkey on Thanksgiving day.

Thanksgiving with family was a much needed distraction from the laser focus I had on my body and my baby. The early contractions were stronger now but not close together and very manageable. None of my family members were aware of them as I chatted and smiled. I sat, swayed, laughed, and ate through all of them. I ate heartily, thinking that perhaps this would be my “last supper” before all of the action took place. And as the day progressed, there was more discomfort and it was more frequent. Knowing that we were 45 minutes plus away from the hospital, I left with my husband and doula to Knoxville around 4:30 pm. We wanted to be close by just in case things happened quickly, like with my second.

Arriving in Knoxville I was determined to walk to progress my labor. We went to the grocery store then to the hospital to walk. I started using an essential oil blend with clary sage and geranium topically on my abdomen and reflex points to support my early contractions. I felt like things were progressing, but not enough to actually check-in at the hospital. As darkness fell the hospital became eerily silent. After all it was Thanksgiving day so there was minimal staff. The three of us chatted and laughed. We walked, I sat, squatted, stretched and kept thinking things would progress soon and quickly. We started timing contractions and they were so sporadic- some 10 minutes apart, some 5. Some I could practically skip through and some that would make me walk funny. As we faced late hours we also faced a decision: drive back to Sevierville, 45 minutes away or get a hotel and be close by “just in case.” We opted for the hotel.

That night I was very uncomfortable. I used my “pain blend” cream (black pepper, ylang ylang, basil, copaiba, and pink pepper) to help me with the discomfort. I should have taken my pillow to the bathroom because that’s pretty much where I stayed. My bladder just couldn’t hold anything with the weight of the baby. I got one 4 hour stretch of sleep and it was just enough to keep me going the next day- Friday. But not just any Friday- black Friday. Merchandise madness. Maybe I could get lost in all of that and let my body work. We scored a few deals at Walmart and even some shopkick points. And then I found myself at walmart in the middle of the makeup aisle faced with that crucial question all women that are 10 months pregnant must face: to pee or not to pee? Um, really? Who am I kidding? There was no option here. My bladder was on strike. Thankfully the day before I bought monster size pads in anticipation of the most embarrassing moment a pregnant lady could ever face: peeing yourself in the middle of Walmart. There was no stopping it. Can you stop Niagara Falls? Nope. And then, my super maxi ultra absorbent overnight almost-diaper failed me! My doula, seeing the shock and panic on my face, whisked me to the bathroom. I cleaned up as best I could but alas, new clothing was needed. We headed straight for…yes, you guessed it- the stretchy pants and granny panties section. After we bought them I needed a place to change. The bathrooms? Ew. The changing rooms? Unorthodox. I made up a fairy tail story to the attendant at the changing rooms. “Er, I need to um, try these on first and see…er…” She stared at me. Then I puddled. “Look I’m just going to be honest with you…. I’m super pregnant and I just peed myself and I really need to change into these.” I was fighting back tears. In her shock she managed to say “OK” and opened a stall for me.

After I changed into my brand new dry clothes I felt like a new person. In fact, I was hardly feeling the contractions at all now. They had basically stopped. It seemed like my labor had ‘stalled’. After dinner my contractions were so light that I decided a movie would be a great way to distract myself from the fact that my labor was not progressing as anticipated (because any laboring woman knows that sitting for 2 hours during escalating contractions just isn’t going to happen). I could count on one hand the number of contractions I had sitting through the movie and they were not intense. I had to pinch myself….was I really in labor? As we exited the theater, panic started to set in. It had now been nearly 48 hours since I felt the first “twinge” of early labor. My labor with my second went from zero to baby in about 12 hours. This was not what I was expecting.

I felt the tightness in my chest and the racing thoughts through my brain. Was I really not in labor at all? Would Callum ever make his arrival? Would I be in “labor” for another week? What was happening in my body? What was Callum doing? Was he still head down?

Head down….on that note, I have to insert some background information. At our 36 week growth ultrasound we found out that Callum was following in his older sister’s footsteps (or should I say womb-prints)- he was breech. I was devastated but not too shocked. I had expressed a fear that his position wasn’t quite right based on what I could feel. When the tech said the words “frank breech” my heart sank and I couldn’t hold back tears. It seemed like history was repeating itself. I had been confident that since my second baby (Chessa) was head down that somehow Callum would be too. But now we faced a decision: to turn or not to turn?

For me it was an easy decision. We opted for the turn, also known as an ECV (External Cepheliac Verson). This wasn’t my first. I had attempted an ECV with Charis (our first) at 37 weeks but she wouldn’t budge. Hence why I went on to deliver via C-section after going into labor at 39 weeks 4 days. But things were different this time. We caught the position a week earlier. My womb was larger (after having had two babies already). This was important because I was born with an abnormal uterus (unicornate uterus with rudimentary horn– just google it) that resulted in “close quarters” for my babies. It was an easy decision because I wanted to avoid major surgery (c-section) if at all possible. Nowadays most doctors and even many midwives are not trained in vaginal breech birth, although my doctor was (but hadn’t attended one in years and it wasn’t something he encouraged).. Even still I knew that a head down vaginal birth was safer than a breech birth and breech births weren’t “allowed” at our hospital, so we scheduled the ECV.

All my prayer warriors were praying that day. Armed with prayer and sniffing the peace essential oil blend, I focused my heart and mind on my baby. It wasn’t a coincidence that my doctor happened to be an expert at ECVs and had one of the best records at turning babies. The nurse gave me a cc of a drug to help relax my uterus. I held the bottle of peace essential oil blend up to my nose and inhaled it while trying to calm myself. The doctor was curious and asked, “What’s that?” “Oh, just my essential oils,” I said as I inhaled the bottle like the nervous cheerleader chic sniffing her armpits on Saturday Night Live. The doctor greased my pregnant belly with massage oil and searched for the baby’s head and rump. Then skillfully he “lifted” the baby and nudged, scooted, and pushed. It wasn’t a comfortable feeling, but compared to the pains of labor it was pie. When he finally got the baby’s head down the last “turn” made me jump a little. It was the strangest feeling- like someone stirring my insides. A final check with the ultrasound machine confirmed it- Callum was now head down! I was so elated that I wanted to hug the doctor but I kept my distance and settled for a teary-eyed “thank you.” Now we had to stay for a an hour or so to monitor me and baby to make sure we were both doing well. As we waited I rolled onto my right side because I was feeling woosie. The position helped and I was soon back to normal, but I felt Callum move and something just didn’t seem right. When I stood up I felt an initial panic because my stomach seemed to look and feel the same as when I came into the hospital. Could he have turned back to breech? I tried to brush away the feelings as paranoia and I left the hospital clinging to the hope and joy that my baby boy was in the perfect position for birth.

But I couldn’t escape this nagging feeling that he had turned head up again. At my 37 week appointment the midwife felt my belly for his position. “Seems like he’s head down,” She said. “Can we do an ultrasound just to confirm?” I pleaded. She agreed. I waited for the ultrasound tech and held my breath. She put the doppler in the middle of my belly then down towards my pelvis, then went straight up to my ribs. My fears were confirmed with those two words echoed once again “frank breech.” I sobbed on that table. The ultrasound tech tried to reassure me but I was in my own cloud of disappointment.

Back in the exam room the midwife gave me my options via the doctor: a scheduled C-section or a scheduled ECV followed by an immediate induction. More tears. I knew what an induction meant: pitocin. If contractions are painful they can be even worse on pitocin. It seemed my hopes of a medication-free birth were dashed. Not to mention other interventions that often come with an induction and it can sometimes be a slippery slope to a c-section, or worse, an emergency c-section. I sobbed and thought and prayed. I played through all of the scenarios in my mind. There had to be another option. Yes, the option that to me seemed to make the most sense.

“Can I do a second ECV and just wait until I go into labor naturally? Maybe this time the baby will stay head down since I’m further along. And also because of the shape of my uterus I don’t see how he would have any more room to turn at this point because he’s even bigger now.” I said sheepishly. She paused and then said she would check with the doctor and be right back. When she returned she told me the doctor was fine with it, but said he recommended the immediate induction to be sure the baby was head down. I told the midwife I was willing to do the ECV and then wait it out and see.

At nearly 38 weeks we went in for my SECOND scheduled ECV. Here we go again. At least I knew I was in good hands- a doctor who knew how to turn babies. He was good at it. Everyone said so. My prayers were constant and my hopes were high. I was sitting in the bed getting my mind prepared as my husband approached the bed to unhook my IV for a trip to the bathroom. “Ouch!” he yelled. I could tell something was wrong because of the look on his face. He started losing color and looked distracted. “I hit my ankle on the stirrups.” (I knew those things were evil!) As he went with me to the bathroom, my IV bag in his hand I looked at him and I could tell he was about to drop. “Go rest!” I said. I was a little annoyed. Who was having this baby anyway? I carried my IV bag and managed the bathroom by myself, battling the wires and tubes and feeling like a medical octopus.

Upon my return from the bathroom I saw him sitting in a chair with his head down. I knew it was bad but he played it off. “Did you hit it at a bad spot? Are you ok?” Silence. He looked up and the color was gone from his face. He started to pull up his shirt. “Just get me something to drink and eat.” So it was low blood sugar on top of everything, not to mention the emotional stress of seeing me go through these antics a second time. “You need some ice.” I paged the nurse and explained. When she arrived with ice bag in hand, snacks, and a sugary drink we proceeded to tell her the tale. As Chris regained his color and composure I couldn’t help but laugh. Here I was about to undergo an unnerving medical procedure and the birth of our son and he was the one about to pass out. It reminded me of the birth of our second, Chessa.

All the drama aside, the doctor and nurse came in and started the prep. 1 cc. 2 ccs. I could feel the medication taking effect as I became jittery (and yet somehow my womb relaxed). It was more challenging for him this time, but the doctor persevered. It took maybe five minutes but with a final push and twist the baby turned head down and I almost jumped off the table with the otherwordly sensation of something scraping my insides. Done! The doctor confirmed again with the ultrasound. Head down! I was so grateful. We stayed for monitoring and I didn’t budge. I didn’t dare turn on my side again for fear he would turn back. When they discharged us I was cautiously overjoyed. “Please, Lord, let this one stick,” I prayed.

Now, back to my labor. Where was I? Oh, yes, the inevitable nervous breakdown that comes with a 48 hour plus labor. I felt all of it welling up inside me and it had to come out. I had to cry. Ugly cry. Alligator tears cry. The cry that makes your whole body heave and gives you that cathartic release. My husband held me and I sobbed. He and my doula prayed with me  for the second (or maybe third?) time. I layered on some Balance and Serenity oil blends and then finally….I felt peace. This was going to happen. God knew the timing and I didn’t and that had to be ok.

We left the movie theater and it was dark outside. Another decision. But thankfully a friend made it much easier by gifting us a night at a nearby hotel as our baby gift. (Shouldn’t this be on every baby registry?) We checked into the hotel and I started feeling the exhaustion. It was about 9 pm. I tried to lay down to rest but couldn’t get comfortable. At this point I was starting to have contractions again and they seemed different. They were stronger but not necessarily more painful. Then…..what was this?! A pain I had never felt before. It was like someone was scraping my pelvic area with sandpaper. And with each contraction it was worse. How do I describe it? It was sharp, dull, low, high, and INTENSE. It seemed to take over my senses. I tried a few ‘spinning babies’ (see techniques and rubbed on my pain blend and it took the edge off. Around 1 am I felt something shift as if the baby dropped a bit. I knew it was time to head to the hospital. My contractions still weren’t regular, but I knew things could take a quick turn.

By 2 am I was in triage hooked up to a contraction and fetal heart rate monitor. I was peeing every 10- 15 minutes. The midwife came in and suggested that we do a cervical check. I was hesitant (I won’t get into the details here of why, but just know I had good reasons). She said they couldn’t admit me until they knew I was in active labor. (Well, these “pains” were telling me otherwise). No problem… more waiting. I had gone more than 48 hours at this point, so why not longer? By 4:30 am, my contractions started getting longer and closer together, but they were still erratic. Finally I caved and let the midwife check me. I needed to know something was happening. Just something. Even if I was just 1 centimeter. I had to know this pain wasn’t for naught. “Great! You’re 4.5 centimeters!” Relief washed over me. Progress. There was some progress. As I sat on the bed quietly and she went over my options I felt a small pop and slow trickle. My waters. I kept the information to myself, still unsure and second guessing (because things were moving so slowly how could my waters have broken? Was I really having a baby?). I decided to stay in triage and be monitored and have them check me again in an hour or so.

The midwife left and I got up out of the bed and at the same time said “I think my water broke.” My husband and doula stared at the liquid stain on the bed and my doula agreed “Yep, I think it did.”

And then, it was on. My body went into full transition mode. My contractions were so strong, they overtook me. I started going into a haze, a fog, another world. I could hear my doula saying “Cleansing breaths. Breathe through it.” I knew I was in transition but I couldn’t voice it. I was hoping they would see it and act accordingly. But when the nurse came in with a swab to “make sure my water had broken” I about flipped. I was in my zone and in pain and I didn’t want her to touch me with that thing. She insisted. I knew my water had broken. What was she doing? It felt like sandpaper and I snapped “Get it out!” Within a second she was done and I was mad that I went through something so pointless, but again I couldn’t voice because I wasn’t “there.” More surges, more intense pain like I had never felt. I felt the pain of the contraction but then on top of that I felt the additional pain of whatever had started in the hotel room. I held onto my husband and tried to breathe through and “relax into” the pain. Give into it. It took all of me. I was quiet. I was inside myself. Somewhere. I got onto the bed after that contraction and at the next one I felt the room closing in. I knew I was about to pass out from the pain. And then…..the welcome urge to push. This was it! I laid down on my side and my body took over. The involuntary urge to push. When I say “involuntary” I mean like a sneeze…there’s no stopping it. Quietly through the fog I told my husband and doula “I’m pushing.” My doula directed my husband to get the midwife. As he left, my body told me to get up on hands and knees. I knew I needed gravity. One. Two. I felt the baby’s head crown and the “ring of fire.” Three. “Catch the baby!” My doula yelled. The midwife didn’t even have time to put on her gloves. Callum escaped in one big warm slippery push. Did it really happen? Was I really going to see my baby?

I held him skin to skin. Still in shock. My son. My Callum David. I wanted to cry but I felt like I had nothing left. Pain like I had never felt led to love like I had never felt. Suddenly it was all gone. Everything that I had struggled through to this point melted away as I held that tiny 7 pound 5 ounce human. And then some magical words “You don’t have any tears!” my midwife informed me. No stitches this time. And thank you frankincense and helichrysum because without you I wouldn’t have healed so well and so fast! The nurse wheeled me with this new little person down to my room (because yes, I had delivered in triage- that’s how fast I went from 4.5 to baby!) and I shook uncontrollably. Hormones. Shock. Emotion. Adrenaline. My body was shaking but my heart was at peace. He’s here. My son.