“It’s time to push.”
I almost couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
I made it. After 32 hours of labour, I was finally going to get the one thing I’d been striving for since the moment that line turned pink.
I was going to get my VBAC.
I had done everything right. I read the books, and attended the classes. I opted for a midwife, and hired a doula. Hell, I even refused drugs for 28 hours, just so I could give myself the absolute best chance.
And it worked. At 5:30 a.m. on July 15th, 2017, surrounded by an incredible support system, I got what I wanted.
I got my VBAC.
But it wasn’t the birth I pictured.
It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.
So You Want To Destroy Your Baby: My VBAC Journey – Part 2
It wasn’t an easy delivery, I knew that.
I knew because I watched the nurse obsessively study the baby’s heart monitor with a furrowed brow. I knew when a team of specialists suddenly came pouring into the room moments before he was born. I knew by the looks on the doctors’ faces as they strained and struggled to help me get him out.
Whatever euphoria I felt after achieving my goal of a natural delivery was immediately trounced by panic, confusion and urgency as my newborn was whisked away to the special care nursery for observation and pain management.
Only a few words sunk in as I lay there dazed and confused in the unsettlingly calm aftermath.
“His shoulders were stuck…cord around the neck…had to act quickly…we think his arm is broken…”
“…I’m so sorry.”
Shoulder dystocia is a rare complication in labour and delivery (between 0.3% and 1.5% of births) where one or both of the baby’s shoulders get “stuck” behind the mother’s pelvic bone as the baby descends into the birth canal. As many as 20% of babies will suffer some sort of injury as a result, either temporary or permanent. The most common of these injuries are damage to the brachial plexus nerves, fractured clavicles, contusions and lacerations, birth asphyxia, and fractured humeri.
Aidan suffered a broken arm, or a fractured humerus, during delivery. This occurs in approximately 4% of infants with shoulder dystocia.
We are told that broken bones in infants heal exceptionally quickly.
I wish that offered even an ounce of comfort.
Three days after he was born, we brought our new baby home to a sea of brave faces.
“He’s perfect,” whispered my mother-in-law as she gazed down at him, sleeping peacefully still buckled safely in his car seat.
“He’s a perfect baby boy.”
No he isn’t! I wanted to scream at her, at all of them.
His head was covered in bruises and lacerations from his urgent vacuum delivery. His skin was tinged a dull yellow from what was clearly a nagging case of newborn jaundice as a direct result of the trauma. And his right arm, purple, swollen and lying limply at his side, was most certainly broken.
No, he wasn’t a perfect baby boy.
He was fractured and bruised. He was exhausted and in pain.
He was broken, and it was all my fault.
When Birth Is Traumatic
For most women, childbirth is not a serene, blissful experience consisting of one or two easy pushes, resulting in a precious pink bundle. Even for women with straightforward and uncomplicated births, it’s far from a walk in the park.
Unfortunately for some, birth can also bring physical and emotional trauma, and the effects can have a lasting impact on bonding, feeding, healing, health and future family planning.
As I continue to process my experience, I’ve taken note of a few things I’ve learned along the way. Here is what I’ve found so far:
1. Childbirth complications are difficult to predict. My labour was long, but relatively uneventful. However, even the most routine labour can be disrupted by unforeseen complications which can occur within a very short timespan. With Aidan’s birth, there was no cause for alarm until the last few minutes, but fortunately, with the help of experienced doctors and immediate interventions, serious complications were avoided.
2. Blaming yourself doesn’t accomplish anything. Sure, there are moments when I wonder how different things would have been if I had opted for a repeat cesarean section instead of a VBAC. It took me several days, but I eventually accepted that my son’s injury was not my fault. I made an informed, educated decision based on what I thought was best, and just because it didn’t work out the way I had hoped, doesn’t mean that I failed. Or that I failed him.
3. Postpartum support is everything. New parents should never have to wade through the murky postpartum period alone, especially new parents who are dealing with a medically complicated child. We could not have gotten through these last few days without the incredible support of our birth team, friends and family. In addition, our community also offers significant resources to help new parents cope, such as postpartum drop-ins for new dads, breastfeeding clinics, counselling services and more. We will certainly be using these in the coming days.
4. Healing – for all of us – will take time. Unfortunately, a difficult birth makes for a difficult recovery – both physically and emotionally. Accepting this, and most importantly, letting other things slide – such as laundry, cooking, dishes and cleaning – so we can focus on the healing process, is the best way for all of us to recover. Does McDonald’s do delivery in Canada, yet? Asking for a friend.
5. She was right. He is perfect. The cast just makes him look even tougher than he is.