Birth | Alexa Mudaly-Chetty | Johannesburg Birth Photographer
“[Motherhood is] the biggest gamble in the world. It is the glorious life force. It’s huge and scary—it’s an act of infinite optimism.” — Gilda Radner
Having your well-laid natural birth plans go wrong can be heartbreaking for a Mom. It can take a woman some time to process all of the events surrounding a non-elective C-section. Below is one of the best accounts of how a mom felt after a birth plan changed that I ever read. I hope it brings comfort to anyone who has gone through the same.
“It has taken me 12 weeks to write this story, partly because it took me this long to process everything, but also because there are still parts of the story I don’t remember.
My story starts after 8 glorious years of marriage, doing what we wanted, when we wanted, living between Ghana, Zambia and Johannesburg, making ambitious and audacious career decisions and just having us time. Then we finally decided it was time to bring a life into this world. Mainly for selfish reasons – creating something that was a reflection of us, but also because it would be the best legacy we could leave.
We fell pregnant after our first attempt and for the most part, I had a picture perfect pregnancy. I was adamant even before I fell pregnant that I wanted this pregnancy to be as natural as possible, with minimal medical intervention. I wanted to do everything “right” to make sure this baby would come into this world in the way that she was “meant to”. Oh, how naïve I was…
By 20 weeks Alexa had turned. All my scans showed she was in an optimal position and by 36 weeks I was even told I should prepare myself for an early due date and an even quicker delivery. So much for that idea.
When 40 weeks hit, I was still enthusiastic and in high spirits. Bouncing on my pilates ball like a crazed yogi, and even doing inversion (almost) head stands in the hope of getting this little baba to engage and come already. By week 41 I had tried it all: acupuncture, reflexology, jeera tea, red seed tea, evening primose oil, spicy food, walking, stairs, sex, meditations, dates, stretch and sweeps… you name it I had done it. But by 41 weeks and 4 days, still no baby. I was adamant that I would not be induced and despite my midwife having a strict policy of not going past 41+3 she allowed me to continue, because all my exams and scans showed everything was fine. Heartbeat, size, position – this baby was just snug as a bug and didn’t want to budge.
At my exam on 41+5 days my midwife tried to discuss an induction option with me, but I was having none of it.
I left the appointment in tears. Why is it that the medical fraternity have this idea that induction is necessary even when your body is showing no signs of stress or distress? Where does this created idea of a woman birthing by 40 weeks on the dot even come from? We place so much pressure and stress on the system, especially at the time women need to be most relaxed and stress free. I did not consent to the induction, but after much conversation with friends and family and many second opinions I decided to take a diluted form of cytotec to “trigger” labour if my body and baby were ready. Boy, were we ready!
I’m not sure what I was thinking but I showed up to Genesis at 6am, casually strolling in, not realising I would be leaving with a baby. Until I was put on the NST, I was convinced the drug was not working, but the machine showed I was in labour and having good and regular contractions. I was having contractions and they weren’t even that painful. “This is going to be a breeze,” I thought.
I started some light walking and my doula was there reminding me to breathe through the contractions and all seemed well.
But the NST showed other signs that perhaps this baby was not doing as well as I thought we were. Alexa’s heart rate became irregular and there were signs of her being in distress. I remained calm, talking to her, telling her she better stop playing games, start calming down and get ready to make her way into this world. All babies go into distress during labour, right?
Then I was alone in the room and the monitor started beeping. I slowly turned over to it and saw Alexa’s heart rate spiking. At that moment my husband walked in panicked at what was going on. I can remember saying very blankly, “Maybe you should get the team because I think something is up.” Even in that moment I don’t think I fully comprehended what was going on. The next thing I know the entire medical team is in my room. There is talk of C-sections. There are tears from me, my midwife, my husband… and then I was being prepped for surgery. I remember Marie, my friend and the hospital manager at Genesis, explaining to me what to expect with the spinal block and the operation and trying to calm me down. And then I was walking to theatre.
I sat on the theatre bed holding onto a cushion for dear life because this position gives one the proper c-shaped curve for the needle, I was told. “Who cares?” I thought, “Just get on with it.” I had never had surgery before and I realise now how incredibly scared I was. I had had no time to process the fact that I was actually undergoing a major operation and the fact that my baby was entering this world in a way I did not want for her. All I kept thinking about in this moment was the words Sam had said, “You get pregnant not for the delivery, but to have your baby, so it doesn’t matter how she is delivered.”
I was told to sit extremely still. “Easy enough while having a massive contraction,” I thought.
And then the needle entered my spine… that wasn’t too bad. Then the second one came, the one I was not meant to feel. I remember hearing this deep visceral shriek in the silent theatre and feeling a shock in my right calf. “Oh that shriek was me,” I thought. The anaesthetist expressed surprise that I had felt anything and when I explained, he chuckled and said, Oh yes, that happens sometimes if there is a caught nerve or something.” Here I was thinking that, in addition to undergoing a procedure I never wanted, I may end up paralysed. But hey, the baby needed to be out and at this point I was just the vessel.
Then it all happened, I heard my midwife examining me and wistfully telling me I was 7cm dilated and that I would have delivered this baby vaginally in another hour if it wasn’t for the decelerations in her heart rate. I remember the feeling of the doctors pulling the baby up (because clearly she was already on her way out), the doctors exclaiming that the cord had wrapped itself around my baby’s feet and it was this that probably caused the decelerations. As wonderful as my team was, no one was saying this stuff to me. They were talking to each other, and I felt like an uninvited guest at (actually, on) the table.
I vaguely remember the doctor showing me this baby.
It didn’t feel like my baby at that point. I heard some crying, and then everyone was around the baby doing the exams and making sure she was ok. Of course, she was now, and I remember thinking, “So maybe I could have delivered naturally.” That thought has stuck with me ever since and will forever be in my mind. As fortunate as I was that we were both okay, after all the drama and stress that ended up in the emergency C-section, the fact that the baby was perfectly fine, did make me doubt whether the intervention was necessary.
I was wheeled back into the room, the baby was placed on me, everyone was around me watching her latch my breast and cooing and aahing because she was such a natural at this. Then I looked down and I thought, “Wow, I actually made this.” Our eyes locked and she knew who I was, and I knew who she was and then life continued. I couldn’t feel my legs at this point, but who cares? “I’m just the vessel and this baby needs me now so stop feeling sorry for myself,” I kept reminding myself.
It took me a long time to process what had happened and I don’t think I will ever be able to be at peace with how the day played out. In the subsequent conversations with my medical team, we did go through the possibilities of what could have happened if I insisted on delivering vaginally: haemorrhage, brain damage, placental abruption.
There was a lot of bad stuff that could have happened, but it didn’t and I will forever wonder if I made the right choice.
But yes, we have a healthy baby and I very dramatically learnt the first lesson of parenting in that moment… planning is great, but sometimes things are just meant to happen the way they need to and you can’t actually control it all.
Coming out on the other side and being 12 weeks in, I realise now I never fully comprehended what being a mother actually entailed. You give up your body for 42 weeks to grow the baby, then you may have to undergo a HUGE operation that involves cutting through many layers of skin, muscle and tissue and then you’re just supposed to wake up and get on with keeping this human that’s emerged from your body alive. All in a few months.
During my pregnancy I did a lot of research on matrescence (the transition into motherhood) and how society just expects women to seamlessly and instantaneously become a mother and enjoy it (check out this TED talk https://youtu.be/jOsX_HnJtHU). Whilst my pregnancy really made me rethink my identity and come to terms with the soon-to-be loss of my pre-child life, the way Alexa entered this world really forced me to re-evaluate my priorities.
Why was I so desperate to have a natural birth?
Yes, it would have been a most empowering experience for me and yes my next one will be a VBAC, but was it really that important in the bigger scheme of things? At the end of it all we got what we set out to achieve – a human being that we could guide and mould and set free into the world for her to make her own impact. Maybe that trauma she and I both endured in getting her Earthside happened exactly how it was supposed to. That’s birth and even more so parenting – you set off on a course with big plans and that’s great, but there has to be flexibility and acceptance in changing course depending on whatever life (or your kid) throws at you.”
My dearest Nicolette, your story is real, raw and filled with truth.
You are a brave mom for speaking out what you really felt in those moments without any excuse! You inspire me and I know it will inspire many others.
Love you, Vish and my darling Alexa always
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The next hour was the hardest for me, it felt like torture. It had gotten dark and we lit candles around the bath. I was trying all different positions, but struggled to find something bearable. I had worked so hard on breathing and relaxing, but when the contractions came it was so crushing, all I could do was ride it out and wait for it to be over.
An emergency C-section is exactly what it says – an emergency measure. You will have to discuss any risk factors that you have for that happening with your gynaecologist. Common reasons are obstructed labour, failure of labour to progress, placenta praevia (development of the placenta in an abnormally low position near the cervix), foetal distress, gestational diabetes mellitus, and improper positioning of the foetus for delivery.
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