By Ana Soulia, PT, DPT | Inertia Physiotherapy | Missoula, MT
The following is my birth story. I’m not sharing this to pass judgement or make a political statement about what kind of birth is best. I am writing my story because I doubt that I am the only mamma who had a cesarean birth and has struggled to recover fully. I doubt I’m the only one who has felt like they somehow did something wrong when they couldn’t keep up with friends who had uncomplicated vaginal births. I doubt I’m the only one who has felt like their body somehow let them down when they weren't back to a fitness program in 6 weeks, jogging with a stroller at 3 months and hadn't yet shed the baby weight by 6 months.
I also bet there are other mammas out there that are struggling with post c-section gastrointestinal issues like bloat, gas, reflux and IBS. I bet they don’t know there are things that can help them heal and get their life and body back in working order. I'm sharing because I want them to know that they can regain the freedom to do the things they want and need to do like keep up with their kids and enjoy hikes, bike rides, walks and runs without pain. I want them know that abdominal surgery is hard on gut health and that they can heal that too. I don't want mammas suffering in silence and thinking that they just have to live with their symptoms. I want them to take the power back and feel more like themselves again. I want to arm them with knowledge and help them find their path toward healing.
The Birth Plan:
I had a birth plan. It wasn't overly elaborate, more of an outline of what I wanted the birth of my daughter to look like. I was going to avoid drugs if at all possible. I was open to trying nitrous oxide, but I really wanted to avoid an epidural unless I just couldn’t take it anymore or labor was just too long and I was too tired and needed a break. As a mother of advanced maternal age we had decided on a hospital birth. We hired a doula to coach us through labor and help me advocate for what I wanted. She was also there to support my husband because it was his first time too.
I read the books and talked to friends. I was trying to be as prepared as I could be. At the time I was pregnant, my husband and I worked until 6 pm or later so we were unable to attend the weekly birth classes. Instead, we went to the condensed 1 day intensive a whopping three days before my daughter decided to come earth-side, 3 weeks and a day early.
Early Parenting Lesson #1: "Expect The Unexpected"
Monday night my back was sore. I blamed the uncomfortable chairs at the birth class the previous weekend. My husband had complained of the same. I didn't have back pain during my pregnancy, but I was 36 weeks and 5 days pregnant so I just thought, well at least it’s only happening now. At about 4 am on Tuesday morning I got up to pee for roughly the 7th time (also a treat of being very pregnant) and I felt like I couldn’t quite fully empty my bladder. I decided to go back to bed and try again later. When I returned to bed, I threw my leg up to get in, and felt a sploosh.
Anyone reading this probably just thought, "oh, her water broke." That would be the obvious conclusion however...that was not my thought. I thought, oh great I just became incontinent, at least I only have 3 more weeks or so. I know, I know, but remember this was my first child, it was weeks before her due date and I had just finished birth class where they made a strong point to say your water breaking isn’t a sploosh. I had just experienced a definitive sploosh!!
After the initial sploosh I experienced small fluid leaks and had changed my underwear a few times. I was however, still in denial. I got up feeling a little weird and confused when my alarm went off at 7:00 am. I took a shower and went about slowly getting ready for work. My husband asked me what was wrong and I told him the story. His reaction was, “did your water break?” Predictably, I said no, I didn’t think so, but I decided to stay home from work and call the doctor when the office opened at 8 am. I sent him off to work and said I’d call him when I knew more.
As you probably expect, when I talked to the nurse at my OB’s office she suggested I go to the hospital. Still not really facing reality, I called my husband to let him know that they wanted me to go get checked. He came home and we went to the hospital (without any bags packed). The triage nurse was very kind and after checking me out she said, “well, you won’t be leaving the hospital pregnant.”
And so it began....
The nurse hooked me up to the monitor. By now, small contractions were visible on the screen. Shortly after that I started to feel them. Holy moly, this was really happening! We got settled in our room, mobilized the grandparents to take care of our fur baby and pack our bags. Everyone was excited, and nervous but mostly excited.
Labor was progressing as expected. My OB was on call and she came in to check on me early in the day. She told me that I had not dilated very far, but that she’d check back with me later. I ate some lunch and they brought me a ball to bounce on when I didn’t feel like pacing or lying down. As the day progressed contractions predictably got stronger and closer together. Around 3:30 pm I had to breathe through them, no more laughing. My doctor came back asking if I wanted her to check me out before she left for the day. I hesitated. I didn’t want to find out I had barely progressed just when the contractions were getting more intense. I didn’t want to lose my resolve to avoid using drugs. After a pause I said yes, I’d like to know. I ultimately make better decisions with more information. She got in position to take a look, felt around a bit then mumbled something like, "wow, she's really low," and was up and out the room then quickly back with an ultrasound machine.
Circle back to Lesson #1
My OB quickly assessed the situation and quite matter-of-factly stated, “your baby has gone transverse and since you can’t push a baby out sideways, you’re having a c-section.” I remember nodding, ok and the next half hour or so is a blur. It all happened so fast I barely had time to be scared. The team mobilized to prep me like a well-oiled machine. I remember realizing that the contractions suddenly hurt a lot more when they were no longer serving a purpose. I remember wondering how they were going to get that needle in my back between my contractions. I remember the most bizarre feeling of my whole lower half slowly going numb. I had a mild moment of panic of as the O2 mask was put on my face and the anesthesiologists asked if I could feel anything as he was pinching me. Then they brought my husband Jeff in and I was able to relax.
Jeff did a good job distracting me. He held my hand, cracked jokes with my surgeons and kept a really straight face about what was happening to me on the other side of the drape. When she was out and I heard her cry for the first time it was like nothing I can describe. They put her on my chest and I held her and it was nothing short of magical. I knew her name was Eleanor and she had curly blond hair. I don’t know why the physical details were there, especially because she didn’t have any hair to speak of, but those were my first thoughts. I was grateful, nervous and relieved to have her in my arms.
And then there were 3 well, actually 4: (Remember our fur baby)
Eleanor was 3 weeks and a day early and weighed 5 lbs 13 ounces. You could see where her fat was supposed to go had she gone to full term. However, she was bright eyed and ready to be out. In the weeks following her birth, we had to overcome some hurdles with milk production, transition from donor milk, latch and treatment for jaundice. The learning curve of parenthood was steep but fast. We made it through and I was just thankful that we were both safe, I was healing and my little girl was thriving.
My daughter just turned 4. A lot has changed in my life since then both personally and professionally. I am still thankful that we're both here to tell this story and I am grateful for modern science, but it hasn't been easy. Recovering from a c-section is no joke. Stay tuned for that in part 2.
About the Author:
Ana Soulia is a Dr. of Physical Therapy and founder of Inertia Physiotherapy in Missoula Montana. She specializes in treating persistent pain and nagging injuries. She is passionate about helping her clients move well and enjoy an active Montana Lifestyle. Her Integrative Approach to PT emphasizes the need to evaluate the whole person to effectively treat stubborn problems. If you are in the Missoula area and you'd like to know more about Ana and how her practice is different please visit www.InertiaPhysioMT.com and schedule a FREE Discovery Session
1001 S 4th St W Suite, 4
Missoula, MT 59801