I’ve never really had a significant problem with body image. Oh sure, there have been things about my body that I haven’t really loved or embraced, but overall I think I’ve always been pretty comfortable in my own skin. As a child I don’t recall thinking very much about my body in the superficial kind of way. I was always an active kid who played sports from the time I was 6 until I went to college. During puberty I remember struggling with the fact that I was genetically predetermined to be a slightly hairy brunette, that I had a gap between my two front teeth and the rest seemed crooked, and that one of my breasts was (and still is) slightly larger than the other. But because I was so active and did not have too much trouble finding a date I did not dwell too much on the specifics of my body. It was strong, it was capable, and it worked. That was about all.
When I got pregnant with my first child I was determined to have a healthy, natural pregnancy and birth. I believed how babies are born mattered. My husband and I took two different sets of childbirth classes. I ate a high protein diet and lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. I did prenatal aerobics at home in addition to the yoga classes I had always loved. This kid was going to be healthy because I felt great and my body was strong and capable. So when my care providers began offering an elective Cesarean section at 39 weeks I confidently asked, “Is there anything wrong?” When I was told, “No, it’s just that this is going to be a big baby,” I smiled and said, “No thanks. We’d like to see how things go.” I had every confidence in my body. It was strong and capable. It was going to work.
Twelve days after my due date I woke early in the morning to my water breaking. Contractions started about two hours later so my husband and I decided to wait a little while before calling my care providers’ office, knowing that they would ask us to come in immediately. I labored at home that morning, walking around the neighborhood, taking breaks to save energy. After lunch my husband called the office and left a message to let them know that I was in the beginning stages of labor and that my membranes had ruptured. Sure enough, when the office called us back they wanted me to come in to verify that my water had indeed broken. Knowing what was ahead, we packed the car with all of the things we were planning to take to the hospital. I was admitted to the labor and delivery unit around dinner time and labored through the night without intervention.
By early morning I could feel that something was wrong.
I was making progress, and the baby was descending, but something felt off. My contractions were stronger than ever, but they had started spacing farther apart. The care provider who had been with us through the night came in to check me before the change of shift. She reported that my cervix was swelling and my dilation was going backwards. I asked her what that meant and she would recommend.
She immediately stated that she wanted to insert an internal fetal monitor, start Pitocin, and start an epidural because, she said, “I let you go for this long without any drugs and now you’re exhausted.” I told her that we would not be consenting to the insertion of any internal monitors since my membranes had been ruptured for more than 24 hours and that I would prefer to avoid treatment with Pitocin at this point. She advised us that we would need to speak with the oncoming physician about having a Cesarean then and she left us to discuss our options. I remember bawling to my husband, apologizing for not being able to birth our baby the way my body was supposed to, but that I knew something was wrong and that I needed to speak to the physician about surgery. My amazingly supportive coach of a husband held me and told me it was ok and that I should listen to my body’s voice.
We met with the physician and she kindly said, “Oh, Kait, I’m so sorry. I know this isn’t what you wanted, but we’re going to take good care of you and your baby.” And she did. The medical team worked very quickly to get us prepped and into the operating room. Through all of it my contractions never stopped, they only became more intense until the anesthesiologist administered the spinal and I could no longer feel them. My husband came and sat behind my head, peeking over the blue curtain to watch the operation and get the first glimpse at our baby. When the surgical team delivered my baby my husband oooed and ahhed and said hello to our baby girl from across the curtain. As they ushered him over to assist with baby care the doctor called out to me, “You made the right decision at just the right time, Kait. She was stuck on a Bandl’s Ring in your uterus.” A Bandl’s Ring? What is that? I didn’t read about that in all of my studying during pregnancy. No one talked about that as a possible labor complication. After she had finished putting my organs back in their rightful place and stitched me up, my doctor came around to explain just what she had discovered when she opened up my uterus. “A Bandl’s Ring,” she explained, “develops when part of the uterus stretches and thins out, becoming weaker and rupture becomes imminent. They’re pretty rare and we don’t know exactly why they happen or if it will happen again. But we do know that if a mother is left to labor with a Bandl’s Ring the results can certainly be fatal for both baby and mom. You made the right call. Both you and your daughter are going to be just fine.”
I thanked the team for being so compassionate and sensitive and for essentially saving our lives. My husband snuggled our baby girl while escorting me to the post anesthesia care unit where I held and nursed my daughter for the first time. She was beautiful, all nine pounds, three ounces of her. She nursed like a champion and I cried tears of joy for being able to do something right for her on her first day Earth side.
Everyone in the hospital told me how wonderful my incision and scar looked. It has seemingly healed very well and I am not ashamed or embarrassed by my scar. Even since I’ve lost all of the baby weight and then some, getting myself back down to a healthy place, the scar does not bother me. What bothers me is the fact that I was not capable of giving birth to my first child. I labored with her, I encouraged her, and I tried to do all of the right things but was still unable to give birth to her. She had to be delivered by someone else. It’s not the scar that reminds me of that – it’s just something I won’t forget. I had not planned on being so physically and emotionally exposed for so long after delivery. But our daughter was healthy and strong. She always has been.
Now four years later, at 37 weeks pregnant with our second child, I can’t even see or really feel my scar. I am planning a vaginal birth with this baby. I have a new care team and will be attempting the VBAC in a different hospital with midwives who believe in birth and believe in me. I don’t know exactly how it’s going to play out, but I do feel confident in the team I’ve chosen to care for me at a time when I will feel immensely vulnerable. I need them to believe in my body more than I do. I want to know that my body is as strong and capable as I once believed it to be. This birth is important. All births are important because how our children come into this world DOES matter.
Rachel Mily is a regional photographer for ABB Project based in Pennsylvania, USA. To book a shoot with her visit: http://milyphoto.com/