At the time, I was a wreck.
In our third trimester, we discovered that Oscar, the lanky giraffe that he is, had decided to wedge himself in the frank breech position, with his butt down at the bottom of my belly, his head and feet rattling against my ribcage. Little man did not want to move.
We tried everything. Already late in the game, we scheduled an appointment to have the doctor attempt to turn Oscar manually—called an external version—but in the meantime, it was a veritable three-ring circus of baby-turning stunts. I went thrice weekly to the chiropractor for magical baby-turning chiropractic adjustments. I did inversions at least three times a day (a feat unto itself with a belly as big as mine, though I did break the coffee table—not my proudest moment.) I did forward bends several times a day, of course, and I also paid the daily fee to visit the local gym several days a week to do handstands and flips and other nautical gyrations in their salt-water pool. No potatoes.
My [least] favorite? My beloved, patient, cheerleading husband and I did moxabustion. A form of acupuncture wherein moxa (an incense containing mugwort) is burned over a specific acupuncture point on the outside of each baby toe, the practice is reputed to have extremely high rates of success in baby-turning. An acupuncturist friend of ours was kind enough to give us a moxa stick and show us how to do it ourselves. Every night for twenty minutes, I would lie on the bed contemplating my navel, sometimes playing music to my belly, while Damon burned the moxa down by my pinky toes.
Just thinking of the smell makes me cringe. At first it wasn’t so bad, sort of earthy, but the longer it burned the more rank it got, and after days of doing the moxa every evening, the house smelled like old moldy gym socks and cheap cigars. Couple that with the fact that mugwort has a well-earned reputation for bringing very vivid, intense (and bizarre) dreams, after about a week of poor sleep and smelling like a swamp fire, I had to veto further attempts. We were (and are still) trying to sell the house—I could just picture a prospective buyer dropping in and wondering what the heck we’d been smoking. For that matter, although Oscar did wiggle around some while we were doing the moxa, I’m fairly certain at this point that he was trying to get away from the noxious vapors by pushing his head even further up into my womb.
The day came for the external version, and despite the best efforts of our doctors (I’m surprised my eyeballs didn’t pop out at the amount of pressure they used), Oscar remained adamantly ensconced in his chosen posture. Lying in the hospital bed after the doctors had given up, I tried to make light of it, but any attempt at smiling just ended in a grimace, tears leaking steadily down my cheeks into my ears. I had no brave face. I had no words. We had done everything we could. Each technique was supposed to work. Oscar was supposed to have turned. Our story was supposed to be different, I told myself. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
None of our doctors or local midwives would perform a frank breech vaginal birth at this stage in the game. We had wanted to have a natural birth, no medication, and we had signed up to use a local birthing center. We had learned about pain management techniques, positions, breathing, etc., and we had dreamed together of what it would be like, what Damon would do to support me through labor, how magical it would be. We had made a freaking playlist!
It sounds so silly to me now, but it’s true. I had to grieve the birth we had so carefully planned. Our son had other plans. Despite thinking that Damon and I knew what was best, what needed to happen, how it ought to be, we ultimately had to let it all go and trust Oscar’s wisdom that this was how he needed to come into the world. I was so sad and scared. Our focus on natural childbirth had made me pretty fearful of having a hospital and/or cesarean birth, and it took some struggle to move past the feelings of guilt that I somehow hadn’t done enough to try to get him to turn, that something in me had failed, had prevented his turning, or had even manifested the situation.
The morning Oscar was born, I was terrified—cold sweat, shaking, deathly pale, on the edge of panic—terrified. When he was born, all of that fear, uncertainty, and yes, even guilt, was washed completely away in the magic of that moment. His strong body and adamant spirit were birthed from my body and into the world. I was finally able to hold him in my arms and look into his clear, blue, unblinking eyes.
If I could go back and do things differently, I know I would still jump through all those hoops (just because the baby-turning regiment didn’t work with Oscar doesn’t mean it isn’t highly effective in other instances). I would still want a natural birth. But I would not hold myself hostage over it. All that stuff you read when you’re pregnant about your emotional state affecting your pregnancy and every superlative known to man regarding birth options and dangers and everything else—yes, it can be good, empowering, transformational; but when it doesn’t go that way, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. It just means it didn’t go that way. And maybe, in the natural intelligence of the process, this is how it needs to be.
Even while I was pregnant, in the moment of his birth, Oscar was teaching us. He had a voice even then and he demanded to be heard. We as parents needed to learn to let go of our best-laid plans and listen to him. In that short-lived but profound disappointment, we were humbled, and that humility was a great gift to us in the months that followed, and I’m sure it will continue to benefit us in the years to come. That much-dreaded circumstance became the best day of our lives, filled with joy, hope, and clarity, surrounded by loving family and warm caregivers.
It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be right.