Turning My Breech Baby With External Version Was A Painful Waste Of Time
Pregnancy is full of warnings that you are about to say goodbye to control. The timing of conception, what and when you can eat, when you can pee, when you are inconveniently horny, your baby’s gender — this is all your body and your unborn child saying, “Oops! Your life just stopped being your own, buddy!” And you often don’t heed them. Even when there are complications in your pregnancy, and you might have to have a C-section, it’s hard to let go of the concept that you can make things go your own way.
Considering the tragedies other women go through, I’d say finding out my kid was breech was a pretty minor bump in the road (heh, sorry). I was absolutely positive I had it in me to overcome this problem, anyway. I had already studied all the extra reading material my birthing class teacher assigned. I was mentally drafting my birth plan months in advance: Traditional hospital delivery after as much time at home as possible, hopefully time to walk around unmedicated until the last minute, at which point, epidural the heck out of me. In my head, this was the perfect balance between embracing science and nature, exactly how I wanted to raise my son. (Oh, yes, I had already ignored the foreshadowing of “disappointment” number 1: the beautiful, strong little girl I was determined to raise was, in fact, a boy.)
So I did more homework. I watched all my TV upside down in prescribed baby-turning positions, bounced around on yoga balls, sang songs, played music to my uterus. That kid just wouldn’t budge. Though he did get the hiccups a lot. Finally, my OB said I should go in to the hospital to see this doctor with magic hands for an external cephalic version. “Oh, good!” I though. “I can pay science can fix this for me!”
ECV is actually an ancient practice in which a midwife or doctor grabs the baby’s head from outside your belly and pushes it around to the bottom. It’s only successful about 58 percent of the time, and not everyone practices it, though it’s had a resurgence in recent decades. (“If anyone can do it, Dr. X can,” my doctor assured me.) The risks to the baby aren’t all that bad, especially if you do it in the hospital, where you can be rushed into an OR for an emergency C-section if the placenta is ruptured or a compressed umbilical cord causes distress to the baby’s heart. So it seems like a pretty good deal — without ECV, that C-section is looking pretty likely anyway, right?
The whole thing went down in the triage room, where I could have the pleasure of listening to other women in labor while they wait to be admitted into delivery rooms. After signing all kinds of papers, getting hooked up to all kinds of monitors, and getting a shot to relax the uterus and make sure it didn’t get the wrong idea about why we were there, I got to wait, and wait, and wait, long enough to realize that it was just week 37 and I was in no way ready to welcome home this kid if something went wrong. Then the doctors finally arrived.
You know how gently you treat that bump of yours? ECV is the opposite of that. Other than labor, it was the most uncomfortable thing that’s ever been done to my body. To make matters worse, this revered Dr. X decided to let a RESIDENT give it a go first. And let me tell you, you do not want an unsure newbie hesitantly wrenching your baby around. “Happy to mess around with my unborn child so that the next generation can learn,” said no pregnant woman ever. Fifteen minutes later, when she couldn’t move the kid all the way, Dr. X took over. Twist, twist, twist, I nearly pull my husband’s arm off, twist, twist, and done. Another ultrasound and voila, baby’s head was heading south. There was much rejoicing. Mostly, there was me sighing with relief and going home to lie on the couch for the rest of the day. (Also, on the drive home, we passed by a dolphin dying in the Gowanus Canal. These events are forever connected in my mind.)
Some five weeks later, after my due date but on the morning I was scheduled for induction if nothing happened on its own, I went into labor. Blablabla, pain, pain, drive to the hospital without any dolphin casualties, pain, pain and there I was in the hospital with an epidural as soon as they could slide one in me. Oops, another plan gone amiss. Many hours later, the doctor tells me she doesn’t like the way my son’s heart keeps decelerating. “What did I do wrong?” I thought, blaming myself for not focusing on keeping his heart beating. With the help of husband and nurse, we shifted my numb body in different ways, trying to move the kid into a less stressful position. I directed all my brain waves into this mission. No go.
So, in the end, we were in the OR after all. They cut me open and pulled the kid out with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck twice, hence the dangerous decels. We’d flipped him over all right, but once he was down there, it appears he decided to do some dancing on his own. (Maybe that happened before the ECV, maybe it was caused by the ECV; you can’t tell, and it doesn’t really matter.) But when I realized I went through the whole ECV procedure AND 19 hours of labor for no f—ing reason at all, I was pissed.
I’m not here to go against the advice of anyone’s doctor or midwife. ECV is a viable option for many, and it could work. I’m just saying, I wish I’d let go of the idea that I was driving. Instead of planning on a “perfect” birth, I wish I’d spent my time and energy on something more realistic, like making playlists for the many, many dance parties I would have with my crazy little guy.
That kid LOVES to be upside-down now. Go figure.