My third child was found to be breech during my pregnancy in the summer of 1980. Very little literature was available on turning breeches at that time, but I found suggestions for the “breech-tilt” position in Ina May Gaskin’s, Spiritual Midwifery. I spent an hour or so each evening lying on an ironing board which was propped against the couch. The baby did not seem to make any noticeable flipping movements. Each time I went back to my OB, he would palpate and say, “I think the baby has turned.” He would then attempt to confirm this with the small, office ultrasound machine. But, no, each time the baby was still breech.
As I neared term, we began to discuss the delivery options. As an older doctor, he had experience with vaginal breech births. The “community standards”, however, were already shifting to cesarean for breeches. I had already birthed two babies, one of them over eight pounds, so he felt confident that I could deliver vaginally. My doctor, knowing that I was a proponent of natural childbirth, agreed that we would attempt a vaginal birth. At the onset of labor, I was to come immediately to the hospital and we would confirm the position with ultrasound and then (he said) do an X-ray to assess the pelvis. I would agree not to use the birthing room, but to go to the delivery room and have an IV, etc.
The primary problem with this plan was that he rotated call with two other doctors who did not agree to a vaginal breech. One of them specifically told me that he would not let his own wife have a vaginal breech and would not be involved in mine. My own doctor agreed to try to be on call for my birth if at all possible.
On the morning of August 21, I awoke with some contractions and bloody show (the only one of my three births in which there was a noticeable bloody show.) We arranged for the grandparents to take care of our two children, and Kramer and I set out for the hospital. My best friend, Ruth, was also coming along to take video pictures. When we arrived, the “right” doctor was on call and I was well into labor. My labors have always progressed fast, so it only took a few hours. Never during this time did my doctor mention the ultrasound or the X-Ray, and I sure wasn’t going to remind him! I had taught childbirth classes for several years, and had attended many births in this hospital as labor support, so I was familiar with the hospital staff. As soon as we arrived, I asked for a specific nurse who had been a foreign trained midwife and was comfortable with vaginal breech deliveries. She was not allowed to work as a midwife, but I definitely wanted a nurse who was supportive of the idea.
When I was completely dilated, the doctor showed up and we went to the delivery room. My husband and my friend were both allowed to come, and no one even questioned the video camera even for this “high-risk” delivery! (It was actually a precursor to the video camera, a sound-move camera, and the film had to be changed every 15 minutes). I was on the delivery table, legs in stirrups, and only a tad nervous about the impending exit. Pretty soon she began to crown: the butt crowned first, then she smoothly slid down until her legs released. Everyone could tell she was a girl before she was all the way out! I called her by her name, Lily, as she emerged to the neck, her arms dangling down. Ruth exclaimed, “Oh, Ida, she’s moving her hands!” Then there was a pause as we waited for the next contraction. My doctor held her body, waiting patiently, and commented, “This part always seems to take forever.” I wondered if I would have to push really, really hard, or if we were all going to get frantic trying to get the head out. And then, barely noticeable, she slipped right out. It was the easiest birth I had ever had.
The funny part was when they laid her on the warming table to dry her off, and her legs sprang right up to her ears where they had always been. They stayed that way for several days, which made it hard to dress her. Fortunately, it was very hot that summer and she didn’t need much in the way of clothes!
During my first pregnancy, I had been fairly afraid of what birth would be like. We took classes but I still expected to have an epidural. My husband wasn’t allowed in the labor room that year (1974), but my supportive doctor let me labor in a post-partum room so we could be together. That was a great idea, because we did not have a lot of interference or offers of “help” while tucked far away in another part of the hospital. With the support of my husband, I used the Lamaze breathing to go deep into the labor and was not afraid. His was a beautiful birth, a true miracle, and I was awed and changed by the experience. I had begun teaching Lamaze by my second pregnancy, and was a strong believer in the natural process. The second child, a daughter, we birthed in the labor room bed, with my doctor standing in the corner, ready to intervene only if needed. I lifted her out of my own body with my own hands. That experience deepened my trust in birth and expanded my confidence in my body’s ability to birth my babies. These experiences were great preparation for the third, the breech, because it would have been very easy to fall prey to the fear of breech that most of the medical community held at that time.
About a year after the third birth, I met in my Lamaze class a couple who were going to have a home birth. I had heard of home births, but had not attended one. I was invited to their birth, and met their midwife, Mary. I had been attending hospital births for many years, and had seen the gradual increase in dependence on technology and the pathological view of birth.
Witnessing the home birth changed my life as much as my own three births had. I knew this is what birth was supposed to be like, and I began apprenticing with Mary immediately. We have now worked together since 1982. We became licensed in 1985, and our regulations do not permit breech births at home. Several of our clients have had breech babies in the last few months of pregnancy. Some have turned on their own, some have turned with some external encouragement, and some have not turned. Of these, most have opted for the hospital cesarean birth. One was referred over to The Farm in Tennessee, where she birthed breech after several hours of pushing. Another client, found to be ten centimeters and breech at home upon our arrival, birthed into our hands easily. This was not a planned home birth breech, but worked out beautifully. A third client planned to deliver breech in the hospital after finding a doctor that agreed to allow her a “trial of labor”.
She had not birthed a baby before, but both she and her mother had been born breech. She seemed like a good candidate for a vaginal breech birth. We labored at home with her for a few hours, then she began to dilate rapidly. We hurried to the hospital, where she was ten centimeters on arrival. Nothing more happened for a couple of hours; no urge to push, no descent. Suddenly her water broke, and a foot emerged with a cord wrapped around it. She was rushed immediately to the OR for a cesarean.
So, I have seen breeches go really well, and I have seen one that could have had a bad outcome if an emergency cesarean had not been so readily available. I continue to believe that most births can and should occur at home with midwives, and am grateful that medical assistance can be obtained when appropriate.