Little Two was conceived the very night Husband and I decided we were ready to have another baby. How lucky can we get? Apparently very.
Like my first, I had an uneventful pregnancy this time as well. I remained very active until the very end. The morning of the day I went into labor, I ran after Ruby in the park and rode my bicycle with Ruby strapped to my back to get groceries.
Midway through this second pregnancy, our doctors at Tokyo University Hospital (Todai Byoin) discussed our birthing options. Ruby was born via c-section after over 70 hours of labor. While I met the eligibility requirements of a vaginal birth after caesarian (VBAC), our doctors recommended a scheduled c-section on the 38th or 39th week of my pregnancy. They warned of a 1% chance of uterine rupture if I attempted a normal delivery. While the risk is small, the consequences can be fatal for both me and the baby in a matter of minutes. Of the women who attempt VBAC at this hospital, only one is successful per year. Most women opt for a c-section. Those who do attempt a vaginal birth end up having a c-section when labor doesn’t progress as expected or when the doctors have even the slightest suspicion of a uterine rupture.
I admit that I find the thought of another c-section appealing. I had a positive experience with my first c-section: the surgery itself took less than an hour, was relatively painless (thanks to the anesthesia) and I recovered fairly quickly afterward. It would also be more convenient to plan around a scheduled birth date rather than submit to the “drama” of a natural birth. In addition, the nurses informed us that the cost of a scheduled c-section is exactly the same as a normal birth.
On the other hand, it didn’t feel right for us to pick our baby’s birthday. Couldn’t that be one of the first gifts that we give our child, the gift of picking the day he’s ready to meet the world? I wanted him to stay in the womb as long as possible to maximize his development in utero, plus I admit I was probably influenced by research that assert that smart babies stay longer in the womb. I also know that there will always be a part of me as a woman that will wonder what it’s like to give birth as nature intended and whether my body can do it (note: Two c-sections lessen the eligibility for a VBAC for the third birth, not that we’re thinking of a third already!).
So we decided to go the VBAC route. I will be allowed to wait for natural labor to commence until my due date (December 7, 2012). If this doesn’t happen, I will be scheduled for a c-section sometime during my 41st week of pregnancy because the risk of a uterine rupture increases as the baby gets bigger and stretches my scar. While they said “schedule,” this is actually considered an “emergency c-section” since the hospital’s c-section days are already fully booked and this means that the cost will be higher.
Two weeks before my due date, I felt the baby descend lower into my pelvis and felt some painful contractions. Husband decided to cancel his trip up north. Nothing happened. By the end of that week, my check up revealed that yes I was soft down there but only 1 cm dilated. The nurse recommended that I press on some acupressure points above my ankle, massage my nipples, and do some squats to encourage contractions. My next check up was scheduled on my due date and I thought for sure, baby will be born before then. That weekend, I felt some painful contractions again and braced myself for labor to start. Again, nothing happened. At my check up on my due date, I was still 1 cm dilated. I even sat at a lecture at Sophia University that evening. I thought for sure the doctor was going to schedule me for a c-section already but since everything was going well with the pregnancy, I was only told to come back for another check up on the 12th during which the c-section will be discussed.
“Wouldn’t it be cool if baby was born on 12-12-12?” Husband said. I was, at that point, tired, impatient, and frustrated. “I just want him out,” I told him. Not only was my body tired of carrying all the weight but it also felt like our lives were on hold for the longest time. We can’t plan much before, nor can we plan much after (as the days pass, the birth and the subsequent hospital stay are eating into our holiday plans). I was annoyed to be using up the food that I stocked up on two weeks ago. I was also getting more worried as our neighbor whom we planned to leave Ruby with will be heading to Germany on the 13th.
I became resigned that I’ll be seeing the doctor on the 12th and was looking forward to scheduling a c-section. Then suddenly on the evening of the 11th, right after dinner, I started having painful contractions. They came every 15 minutes then 10 minutes. I still had the presence of mind to buy two onigiris (rice balls wrapped in seaweed) and a red bean filled sweet bread at the convenience store near our house as we have been warned that once we step into the hospital, they won’t allow me to eat (just in case I need a c-section). I didn’t sleep at all that night but didn’t feel like going to the hospital either.
At 7:45 a.m. of the 12th, we hurriedly left Ruby with our neighbor and drove to the hospital. The contractions were getting stronger, closer together, and more painful. We got to the delivery room at 8:40 a.m. and I was already 5 cm dilated. The doctor said that at this rate, it will probably be another 5 hours before I would be ready to give birth. Five hours!
Husband said that he has never seen me in this much pain. He said that the 70+ hour labor with Ruby was protracted but did not look this intense. He is right. I was alternately squeezing his hand and clawing at his arm. I think at some point, I actually bit him. I can only find so much relief in the short lull in between contractions. Husband tried to soothe me but I was too disoriented with the pain to respond. I desperately wanted to drink water: my mouth was so dry from breathing through my mouth. About two hours into my labor, I screamed at Husband, “Tell them to cut me open! Tell them I want a c-section now!” Husband wisely ignored me and told me I was doing a good job. Every time the nurses checked on me, they said I was progressing well, so a c-section seems less and less of a possibility. I comforted myself saying, surely, there is an end to this and it can’t be worse than my 70+ hour labor with Ruby.
Shortly before 12 noon, I was 10 cm dilated and the contractions felt different… like they were the kind that helped me push the baby out. I looked at the clock and thought it would be cool if baby was born at exactly 12 noon, or maybe 12:12. That didn’t happen. The sac with the baby would descend and then slide back up again. “Try to push more,” said the nurse. I tried. When I pushed, I held my breath and screamed in pain. I was so noisy. “Don’t let out any sounds,” the nurse said, “and use that energy to push the baby out.” The baby was starting to get distressed because I was holding my breath and there wasn’t enough oxygen so they hooked me up to an oxygen mask. At 12:34 p.m., my waters broke. I don’t remember at what point I decided consciously to just let go. My friend Kheira, who had a successful VBAC a few months ago, said, “Trust your body and remember that it can’t be harder than the first time.” I let my body do the work and resisted fighting it. It was still tough though – in addition to the pain from contractions, I suffered from cramps on my thighs and my hands and Husband had to run from the right side to the left side of the bed to massage the cramps away.
Sometime after 1 p.m., the nurse said she could see the head of the baby. She called the doctors in. Seeing all those doctors and the bright operating room lights turned on actually gave me a boost of energy… it will soon be over. A few contractions later, they instructed me to say “Ha ha ha” (during which Husband heard the snip of the scissors: the episiotomy. Luckily, I didn’t feel a thing!) and that’s the only time I felt the baby’s head pass through my pelvis and slide out with the rest of his body. Husband was in awe and in tears. “He’s got your dad’s nose.” I can’t find the words to describe how I felt at that very moment – relief, triumph, sheer amazement at what my body could do and the miracle of this beautiful baby boy that came from me (somehow, the c-section misses that last step). Another contraction later and I felt a huge blob (the placenta) slide out too. I cannot believe I actually pulled off a VBAC, and with absolutely no painkillers at that. I claim the honor of being the one successful VBAC at Todai this year.
“Isn’t it cool that you are now one of the few women who can speak with authority and experience on both a c-section and a vaginal birth?” says Husband. I am still healing from the stitches… it stings to sit down or go to the toilet and sex will probably have to wait for a couple more years. I will be waddling out of the hospital. I never experienced these pains with a c-section. But I’m so glad to have trusted Wild Woman on this. I remember an episode of the sitcom The New Adventures of the Old Christine in which Christine’s secretary says, “I once had a therapist tell me, because I was born via c-section, I’m always looking for an easy way out.” Having experienced both (although my first c-section was “earned” after a 70+ hour labor rather than conveniently scheduled), a c-section may indeed be the easier, “neater” option but I certainly am very grateful to have gone through a vaginal birth and discover the wellsprings of strength that I have as a woman.
P.S. I asked Husband to read this before I posted and he wrote back: