Welcome, Lucy! Our Birth Story
I am overjoyed to announce that on September 13, we welcomed our baby girl, Lucy Carter Marshall, into our family! We are so in love with this little human and are soaking up every moment with her. All of the cliches you hear about babies are true - it is an overwhelming feeling, the time flies by, and every moment is so precious! We wouldn’t change a thing!
The day Lucy arrived was one I will never forget, and I wanted to share every detail, not only for my own memory but also for anyone who might find themselves in a similar circumstance in the future with their own pregnancy or childbirth experience. To give a little bit of backstory, I had a fairly “easy” pregnancy up until about the 6th month and, for the most part, felt super healthy and energetic. I have always wanted to have babies and figured that, because I had a strong urge to be a mama (and because I am very healthy), I would love pregnancy just as much as motherhood. While I can’t say that I hated pregnancy by any means, I definitely understand now why so many women talk about how challenging those 9 (almost 10) months can be, because right around the 6 month mark things got hard.
At the time I started to enter my final trimester, it was really hard to distinguish between what was pregnancy-related and what was stress-related. If you’ve been following along via instagram, you probably know that not only did we move across the country at this 6-month mark, but we also ended up having to unexpectedly live with my parents for 9 weeks while we closed on our home and proceeded to renovate a lot of it prior to move-in. The stress of that process was way more than we had bargained for (a story for another time), and I spent most of my third trimester driving to and from our new house acting as project manager and also attempting to furnish an entire home in about 6 weeks (we sold all of our furniture prior to our move and started over from scratch!). To say that it was a stressful time would be a total understatement - the first 9 months of 2018 were the hardest of my/our life by far.
In the midst of all of this transition, I started to feel a ton of physical discomfort and ended up being unable to practice more than a few minutes of yoga or go on long walks like I was used to. Of course, I had heard that the third trimester was pretty uncomfortable, but I was experiencing a lot of really sharp pain and/or complete numbness along my ribcage, especially on my right side (underneath my right breast). Alas, all of our midwife appointments showed that everything was completely normal and Lucy was perfectly healthy and happy in there, so I went about my business and tried to maintain as little stress as possible about my discomfort.
We ended up moving into our house over Labor Day weekend and, even though my due date was about a month away, both of us had a feeling she could be early so we hustled to get things done and get ourselves settled as quickly as possible. Our goal was to live in our house for at least an entire month before baby (ha! in the end we got about 10 days) Meanwhile, we were diligently practicing our hypnobirthing exercises (we took a 5 week hypnobirthing course and loved it so much!) and preparing for an unmedicated, natural birth in our hospital’s birth center.
Since we chose to work with a midwifery practice throughout the pregnancy (something I highly recommend and encourage!), we had only done two ultrasounds at this point - one at the very beginning to confirm pregnancy and another at our 20-week anatomy scan. At 36 weeks, we went in for our final “routine” scan, the one where they make sure that the baby is head down and properly descending into the birth canal. At this point in the pregnancy, if the midwives notice anything that can be deemed “high risk," they have to transfer you over to an OB-GYN and you are no longer allowed to labor in the birth center (which was our plan) because it is out of their scope of practice. I had zero concerns about this happening and so we drove up to the appointment and figured everything would be “normal” as it had been the whole time. At this point, we had been in our house for a little under a week and definitely didn’t have anything ready for baby - the nursery wasn’t put together and you can bet we didn’t have our hospital bags packed yet either!
Well, during that 36 week scan, the midwife took one very brief look at the screen and immediately got quiet. She called the nurse over and sort of stared blankly at the screen before she said “uh oh, guys…it looks like you have a breech baby in there.” My head started spinning and I took one look at Blair who was wide-eyed and definitely concerned. After a little bit of processing, I realized that I finally had an answer to the extreme rib pain I had been experiencing! Lucy’s head and skull were pressed so tightly into my ribcage and upper abdomen and had completely cut off some of the nerve endings which explained why I had lost feeling in that area and was really uncomfortable. The midwife explained to us that it was super uncommon for a baby to be breech at this point (less than 5%), but we had approximately one week to try everything we could to get her to flip before they would need to transfer our care to an OB. She also mentioned that, unless the baby flipped, they would need to schedule a c-section as it was too risky for both mom and baby to attempt a vaginal birth.
After she told us this particular set of news, I proceeded to bawl my eyes out, call my mom for a pep talk, and then frantically google “how to flip a breech baby” the entire car ride home. As you might imagine, I really didn’t want to get a c-section and, since I had been preparing for a vaginal birth, this news totally threw me for a loop and caught me off guard. I had a “plan” and this was not in it!
For the next week, I dedicated my entire being to doing everything I could to flip her. This included the following: chiropractic care daily, massage, moxibustion (burning a specific herb at the pinky toe twice daily), acupuncture, float spa, headstands, bouncing on an exercise ball anytime I wanted to sit, and a lot of other strange physical movements/positions from Spinning Babies (a website dedicated to helping moms flip their babies into proper positioning).
We were also offered another option by the midwife - to attempt an ECV procedure in the hospital - ECV stands for “external cephalic version” and is often just referred to as a “version.” You can google it yourself or even watch a ton of youtube videos of the procedure being done if you’re curious, but in case that doesn’t interest you here is a brief summary of what it is: you head into the hospital, they inject your uterus with a muscle relaxant to avoid any sort of contractions, prepare you for an emergency c-section “just in case” and then a trained physician attempts to manually flip the baby head down using their hands on your belly. Yes, it is supposedly extremely painful and I had heard horror stories about some of the things that can go wrong. Since the procedure has about a 50% success rate and our midwife had recommended it as a “final attempt,” we took a few days to sleep on it and discuss our options. If we couldn’t flip the baby on our own, the ECV was our only other attempt at avoiding a c-section, but it also came with risks - it really felt like there was no good answer and we were totally torn about what to do.
Ultimately, we decided it wouldn’t hurt to go in to the hospital for an ECV at the end of my 37th week and at least get a second opinion from the physician who does them often. We figured we could always ask some questions, see if we got a good feeling from the physician, and then decide if we wanted to go through with it once we were there.
On the morning of Wednesday, September 12 we headed in to the hospital for our ECV and got hooked up to an IV “just in case” (these procedures pose a risk so they prepare you for an emergency c-section just in case something goes wrong - i.e. the placenta ruptures or the baby’s heart rate drops). The physician came in to do an ultrasound to confirm baby’s positioning and that’s where things really took a turn. She got pretty quiet when she was taking a look at the screen and finally said to us “baby is still very much heads up, but to be honest, you have such low amniotic fluid that I can’t attempt this procedure on you. In fact, I’m not sure I can let you leave the hospital today - this baby needs to be come out ASAP.” She then told us that my placenta was ‘calcified’ which meant that it was lacking proper nutrients and looked “old” - much like the placenta at 42 weeks (keep in mind I was at 37 weeks so it was presenting 5 weeks older than expected).
This is when things got very real. She called in another physician for a second opinion and, she agreed, I needed a c-section right away. I’m rarely at a loss for words, but in that moment I was in complete shock - this was my reality and it was the exact opposite of everything I had envisioned or planned for. After some discussion, and me letting the physician know that we weren’t prepared in any way (we had literally just moved in to our house 10 days prior!), she let us go home for the rest of the day to pack our bags and mentally prepare ourselves for a c-section the next morning.
Looking back, I am so grateful to that doctor who let us go home for the evening - she was so kind and empathetic to our situation and looked me right in the eyes and said “go home, digest this news, and get excited to become a mom tomorrow!” And that’s exactly what we did. We met my mom for lunch, picked up a few last minute items at the mall, got some frozen yogurt, went for a long walk, packed our hospital bags, and then sat around our dinner table with my parents and sister and enjoyed Thai takeout from my favorite restaurant. Our c-section was scheduled for 9:30 the next morning and we needed to be there by 7AM to prepare, so I forced myself to sleep early and reminded myself that it would be my last “good” sleep for a long time. Even though I was nervous about the c-section and initially had a hard time coming to terms with the reality of my new “birth experience,” I finally got to a point during that day where I completely let go of my own expectations and started to trust that this was all meant to be.
We woke up on the day of her birth nice and early - I took a shower, blow-dried my hair, put on makeup and took one final belly photo before we headed out the door. I’ll never forget that drive to the hospital - it was the first time in weeks that we weren’t frantically trying to “fix” something or “do” something (whether that be for our house or for the baby) and instead we really tried to enjoy one final car ride together. We turned on our favorite music (John Mayer and The Head and the Heart) and we chit-chatted about silly things like the traffic and weather to keep our minds off of the fact that I was about to undergo major surgery.
Once we arrived to the hospital, things moved pretty quickly. They put me right into a room, had me change into a hospital gown, hooked up my IV, asked me a million questions about my health history and then walked me through exactly what would happen. My mom and our doula, Sarah, were there for support, and Sarah gave me a foot massage with essential oils the entire time the doctors and nurses were prepping me.
Once the operating room was ready, I headed in by myself to get my spinal, which was the part I was super nervous about (nobody likes the idea of a huge needle going into the spine!). To my surprise, I didn’t feel a single thing! Really though - they numbed the area with some topical anesthesia and before I knew it the whole thing was over with - hallelujah! I quickly started to lose feeling of my feet, then legs, and then abdomen. They ran ice down my neck and chest to make sure that I still had feeling in the right spots, and once I was completely numb, they proceeded with the procedure.
The senior physician, who actually delivered Lucy, was incredible and, funnily enough, was good friends with my midwife in DC who we loved so much. I immediately felt at ease knowing we were in good hands and like this was meant to be all along. A few minutes into the procedure, they brought Blair into the room and he was able to sit next to me and keep me company while the whole thing was happening. We requested that they turn on more John Mayer (duh) to lighten the mood and, while I can’t say the process was enjoyable, it did make things better having Blair there with me and being able to communicate with the doctors and nurses about what was happening (I was fully awake and alert throughout the whole thing).
Blair and I were both anxious to see our baby girl - after learning that I had dangerously low levels of amniotic fluid, we were so nervous about her overall health and really just wanted to know that she was okay. About 10 minutes into the procedure, the team said “Are you guys ready? We’re just a few seconds away!” I started to feel some tugging ( it didn’t hurt at all - just felt super weird!) so I knew they were pulling her out, and then they lowered the drape to make sure we would be able to see her come out (we had requested a “gentle” cesarean which includes being able to see her first thing).
All of a sudden, we heard “here she comes!!!” and they held her up for us to see! I took one look at her little face and immediately lost it - she was perfect and beautiful and totally healthy. I’ve never felt such relief in my entire life - all of the stress and unknowing in the weeks prior to that moment melted away immediately and our little baby girl had made it safely to the other side!
They took Lucy away for a few brief tests (and to get weighed and measured), let Blair cut the cord, and then brought her over to me as quickly as possible so that we could get some skin-to-skin bonding in while they put me back together. Those next 30 minutes were really the longest of my life and probably the hardest part of the entire c-section. I had this little baby on my chest, but I wasn’t really able to hold her or move at all because I couldn’t feel a thing and they still had to remove my placenta and sew me back up. I was shaking uncontrollably from the anesthesia and all I wanted to do was get out of that room and into recovery so that I could hold her with my own two hands.
Once they took us in to recovery, my mom and Sarah (our doula) came to meet us and we spent an hour or so practicing breastfeeding, monitoring my vitals and making sure I was okay (I was really, really dehydrated and for a while it was making the nurses nervous). We had packed a big cooler of food and drinks in preparation for recovery, so Blair brought me bone broth, coconut water and electrolyte water to get me back up to speed which really helped.
That first day was such a blur - meeting her and going through all of those emotions and at the same time trying to recover from a massive surgical procedure was a lot to handle all at once. I think it took me a solid 24-48 hours for everything to register - I didn’t cry the “oh my gosh I have a baby!” tears until the second day, when it finally hit me that she was really with us. I’ve heard that it’s normal with c-sections to be a little delayed in that hormonal surge and that was very much my experience. I remember sitting with my mom in the hospital room on day two and her asking me “so, how do you feel? has it hit you yet?” and I just totally lost it. I was so happy and overwhelmed and was just feeling all of the feelings at once. It’s such a hard thing to describe if you haven’t been through it yourself, but seeing your child for the first time is by far the most incredible, profound, human experience.
We stayed in the hospital for a total of 3 nights and received some of the most incredible care from our nurses and doctors - we are so grateful for their help and guidance those first few days. There is so much I want to say and add about these first 8 weeks of parenthood, but I think that should be saved for another post of it’s own.
What I will say is that, even though my childbirth experience is exactly the opposite of what I planned for or originally wanted, it was actually a very peaceful and beautiful process that I would do over again in a heartbeat. Because the birth was ‘scheduled’ in a way (with a day’s notice), we were able to mentally and emotionally prepare ourselves, Blair’s parents were able to fly in and be there the next day and, most importantly, we were able to deliver a beautiful baby girl without any complications (albiet 3 weeks earlier than we thought!).
A couple of days into our hospital stay, the surgeon who delivered Lucy came in to check on us and let us know that she is so glad we were able to have her early like we did - she said I did indeed have extremely low levels of amniotic fluid and Lucy was very stuck in that breech position. She mentioned that if we had attempted to deliver her vaginally, there is a big chance that one or both of us wouldn’t have made it - it was a truly life-saving procedure. Though I am always drawn towards finding holistic alternatives and doing everything as “natural” as possible, I am so grateful that modern medicine exists.
I am still in awe and slight disbelief that we really have a baby here with us now and am doing my best to cherish and savor every single moment we have with her. The first few weeks were a very intense rollercoaster of emotions and very little sleep, but it really does fly by so quickly. Lucy also just started smiling back at us this week and I’m pretty sure that makes up for every sleepless night and every ounce of pain I’ve felt in my recovery - it’s truly the best!