On August 29th, I gave birth to my son, Surya Elijah Bell-Chakrabarti, by cesarean.
Like many of you, I wanted a natural childbirth. I’d read Ina May Gaskin’s Spiritual Midwifery and drooled, imagining making out with my husband to stimulate contractions in a candle lit room with a giant jacuzzi birthing tub. My husband was not comfortable with a home birth, so we chose to give birth at a birthing center. We hired an incredible birth team: the highly rated midwives of Midwifery of Manhattan and Mary Esther Malloy, a doula who had attended over 200 births. My husband, Jai, read Penny Simkin’s The Birth Partner in preparation. I went to prenatal yoga class three times a week, did the prescribed exercises to make sure my baby was head down and occiput anterior. I walked daily, swam, ate organic food, took probiotics and prenatal vitamins and fish oil. As our due date approached, I swallowed evening primrose oil and ate dates to soften the cervix. I was working toward my vision of a natural childbirth, what I saw as my rite of passage.
Prior to my own birthing experience, I held a subtly condescending attitude toward women who had “medicalized” births, especially those who had given birth by cesarean. Without necessarily knowing the details of their experience, I imagined they had been misled by cold doctors on the clock, without the patience to see the natural labor process through. In my head I thought, that will never be me.
Fast forward to August 27th. I was admitted into the hospital after an ultrasound earlier that afternoon which revealed low amniotic fluid. This was not the first time I had encountered this issue. At 36 weeks, I had also been diagnosed with low amniotic fluid, but with rest, acupuncture, and the consumption of copious amounts of coconut water, my fluid had returned to normal and I was now just a few days away from my due date. At the hospital later that night, my midwife determined that I was leaking amniotic fluid. My water had broken.
After 36 hours of labor— 24 of them on Pitocin– and my cervix still only three centimeters dilated, with the baby’s heart rate decelerating when the contractions got too strong—my midwife and I decided it was time for a cesarean. I started to weep. I told her I knew it was necessary, but I still felt sad; I had wanted so badly to deliver vaginally. She understood. When the attending OB, a lovely woman with a warm smile and presence, came in, I said to them both “This is my birth. I want this c-section to be sacred and powerful and a rite of passage.”
I asked for delayed cord clamping if baby was doing well. I asked for skin to skin. I brought in my crystals and music. My husband sat with me behind the drape. My midwife was there stroking my hands and hair. I told the anesthesiologist, doctors, and attendants that this was a sacred birth for me and to please not discuss anything which was not relevant to the procedure. I hummed along with the electronic tempura. I pictured each of my close women friends in a circle around me praying. I called in my ancestors.
Before going into the OR my husband, doula and I had several hours to prepare–we reviewed my birth vision which a friend had helped me create, and saw how much of it had come to pass, though not at all in the way I had imagined ahead of time. We spoke of our gratitude for each part of the process, for the moans as I labored through the Pitocin, for the slow wind of my hips as I leaned on the bed through each wave of contraction, for the sweet private moment of nipple stimulation with my husband which brought on waves of contractions and had the nurses running in, and finally for the baby telling us that this was the safest and best way for him to come through. We talked out loud to him about how different things would be in the world outside my body and how long we had been waiting for him to come. We made our time sacred. And when we were all finally gathered in the OR, his first room outside the room of my body, when he was finally coming, when I birthed him, we literally sang him into this world with the song a dear friend had written for him in utero.
Although I would never have chosen a C-section, although my recovery has been painful and hard, I feel proud of my labor, proud of the choice I made to bring my son safely into the world, and proud of the way I was able to be present and in my power and advocate for myself with the support of my amazing birth team.
I now know in my body what my doula told me early on – there are no second rate births. Every birth is sacred.
Tags: c-section, cesarean, Elana Bell, gentle cesarean, Mary Esther Malloy, Midwifery of Manhattan, mindful cesarean, natural birth, natural cesarean, natural hospital birth, Roosevelt birth center, sacred cesarean