A Beautiful and Tranquil Planned Caesarean Breech Birth
Having always dreamt of a home birth, and having friends with beautiful experiences of home birthing, we planned to receive our baby at home from early on in my pregnancy. I couldn’t wait. I started yoga with Janet at 14 weeks and embarked on educating myself on active birth, reading the books of Ina May Gaskin and other pioneers, revelling in the preparations. I imagined that natural birth was a rite of passage as a woman, and a small part of me secretly considered caesarean births as a lesser option and a failure.
I had a great pregnancy and felt well and strong, almost supercharged, throughout. However, at 35 weeks my baby was found to be breech. Determined not to make this a ‘thing’ in my mind, and inwardly sure that he would turn anytime, I did little that week to change things. When he was still head up at 36 weeks, I started doing yoga inversions known to help turn babies and did all the research I could. Acupuncture sessions and reflexology sessions at the Active Birth Centre, although lovely, did not have the desired outcome. I did moxibustion at home for 5 days which also seemed to have little effect.
I apprehensively went into an ECV at 37 weeks, not wanting to force something that was not to be, and indeed our baby evaded the surgeon’s hands like a little fish and settled back into his preferred position with his head just below my right rib. The consultant explained that our baby was a ‘footling’ breech, meaning he was feet first rather than bottom first, and that a natural birth was unadvisable due to the risk of cord prolapse. He said in no uncertain terms that they would not attempt a natural birth for a footling breech at the Royal Free, and he whisked out his agenda to book me in for a planned C-section at 39 weeks. It felt surreal seeing my name on his surgery list, and I felt incredulous that something that I had so immaculately planned for could take such a different turn. A little shaken after the ECV, that evening I decided that for my own wellbeing I needed to detach myself from the idea of my baby turning, and instead become open to the possibility that he may remain a breech. I decided to stop the moxibustion, yoga inversions and google searches, instinctively knowing that at this point it wasn’t doing any of us any good. Instead I focussed on grounding and resting as much as I could, and to open up to the sweetness of the coming birth in whatever form it took.
The (fantastic) consultant that undertook the ECV saw us at his clinic the following week and together we went through our caesarean birth plan. We explained that we wanted the C-section to mimic a natural birth as far as possible, with dimmed lights, immediate skin-on-skin, no unnecessary noise or speech, our own music and for the surgical team to wait as long as possible to cut the cord. The consultant was attentive and respectful of our wishes and made careful note of everything discussed.
During the preceding week I had gone through an intense psychological process of self-blame, guilt and frustration that my baby was breech. I thought that, on some subconscious level, I was doing or projecting something that was keeping my baby from turning himself. Was I subconsciously evading the natural birth that I had thought I so desired? Or why, through sheer force of will and intention, could I not make him turn? Was I letting my baby down by not attempting a vaginal breech birth? After a few days of feeling pretty low, I had a dream that put these thoughts to rest – I dreamt that a dear and trusted friend was operating a huge roller-coaster, with a track that went far into the blue sky. The end point was not visible. I trusted the friend, so agreed to board the roller-coaster car, but when it set off at speed, I realised that it went far higher and faster that I had anticipated. Knowing that I was already in it for the ride, and that resistance was now futile, I allowed myself to relax and enjoy being catapulted into the great blue sky, destination unknown. This dream allowed me to let these negative thoughts go and to sit more comfortably in the uncertainty, trusting that the course of this birth would take me not down, but up – in whatever form it took.
My husband and I spent a beautiful and meditative evening together before the caesarean and I visualised Nature rejoicing at the birth of my son. After a surprisingly restful night, we arrived at the Royal Free early and to our great relief we were the only ones there and were first on the list. Within 15 minutes of arrival I was in my gown and stockings and by 8.50am was being taken into theatre. I had been really nervous of the preparations, especially the anaesthetic in the spinal cord, and had expected some discomfort, but actually I felt cared for by the team and I found the preparations for the surgery painless and easy. My yoga and breathing exercises really helped to keep me calm and I was able to remain peaceful throughout, which I was really happy about. The team had been briefed on our birth plan and were extremely respectful of everything we had asked, even ceasing to speak once the surgery was underway. My husband stood up and looked over the partition to see our baby emerging foot first, and within a few seconds the surgeon lowered the curtain and held up our little one, yelling, wrinkled, covered in vernix, and absolutely perfect. He was placed next to me and our faces met on the blanket. A beautiful feeling of peace descended as I explored his little face with my lips and heard his sweet voice for the first time as my husband cut the cord.
In recovery, he began breastfeeding as rays of sunlight streamed through the ward window, overlooking Hampstead Heath and the red rooftops of Highgate, and I felt profound gratitude for such a positive and tranquil birth, so different than initially planned, but so very beautiful and blessed all the same.
I realise now that the true rite of passage is not the way in which you birth, but is in becoming a mother, and in the pure love that arrives with your baby and shapes the world anew.
Lírio Emanuel, born 7th Feb 2018.