Thursday, January 28, 2010

Turn, Baby, Turn

Almost every day, I lie in bed and feel my belly, trying to recognize body parts, trying to guess how my baby now lies.

For, during the last couple visits to my midwife, my baby has been in the breech position (head at the top). She showed me how you could tell it was the head—it is hard, and when you push at it with two fingers held a few inches apart, it bobbles back and forth but does not move the rest of the body. Whereas, when you push at other body parts, this often moves the whole body, or else the baby pushes back, so you know you must be prodding a leg or an arm or something.

It seemed easy enough to locate, but now, left for weeks on my own, I can never be sure what I am feeling. There are so many body parts, so many hard surfaces—is this the back, the bottom, or what? I feel movements in so many places, and I try to imagine what kind of contorted position my baby might be in that elicits these jabs and rolls from all sides. I palpate my fingers along the sides, bottom, and top of my uterus to try and distinguish a rough shape, and sometimes I think I’m on to something. But ultimately, I have to give up and let go. It’s too hard for me to tell for sure, and it’s too early to really start worrying.

They say that there is still plenty of time for him to turn, and I know this is true. Something like 50% of babies lie in the breech presentation at some point during pregnancy, but only 5% stay in that position for delivery—which these days usually means a c-section. OBs aren’t even trained in vaginal breech deliveries anymore. Some midwives still do breech deliveries, but fewer and fewer have the experience—and in turn, fewer will pass on this knowledge to their students. It is a dieing skill. Breech vaginal deliveries used to be common, until sometime in the 1970s when a study was released that found c-sections to be the safer alternative, although some might contest this. Today, a very small percentage of breech babies are delivered vaginally.

To my surprise, I learned that my midwife actually does breech vaginal deliveries. She speaks of her experience with a calm confidence, and says that they do not scare her. This news filled me with both gratitude and trepidation. I’d simply assumed that if my baby was breech I’d have a c-section like all the other women I’d talked to. (And I seem to know quite a few women who have had breech babies, considering that they supposedly only occur in 5% of births.)

But I haven’t wanted to go here yet. I haven’t wanted to start weighing the pros and cons, tapping into my intuition, and discussing in detail with my husband and midwife what we would do. For everyone tells me we still have plenty of time… I’m at 32 weeks, and it’s usually around 35 weeks or so that babies assume the position that they will stay in. Yet even then, plenty of babies turn at a late date. My friend’s baby, in fact, flipped into the breech position in her last week of pregnancy. Babies know best, some say, how they want to be born.

So, with the exception of a few quickly scanned articles, I have resisted the onslaught of Internet research and statistics for now that would no doubt make me feel stressed out and worried. And I have resisted talking to too many people about this, for fear that talking and thinking about it too much will make me more anxious. Instead, I have tried to concentrate my energy on encouraging my baby to turn.

There are many things one can do, with varying reports of success. For example, talking to the baby or playing music down low is supposed to help, as babies will gravitate towards the sounds. Or doing flips or handstands in a pool. Or lying with your pelvis elevated and feet up against the wall at an angle. Or taking pulsatilla, a homeopathic flower. Or acupuncture and moxibustion. Or visualizations. Or putting an ice pack up high, and something warm down low. Or shining a flashlight down low. Or later, a more invasive procedure where the doctor manually tries to push your baby into a new position.

I’ve tried a few things from the list above, and later on, if my baby still hasn’t turned, I will no doubt try more. But for now I am trying not to obsess over the process; and trying every single strategy on the list would, for me, constitute obsessing. You don’t want to worry about it, my midwife said, for stress itself can keep your baby from turning.

Easier said than done of course. Not worrying about something for me usually means not thinking about it at all. But it’s hard not to carry some worry, however far back it lies in your consciousness, when you are suddenly given this new list of things that you should be doing, in addition to all the things you are already supposed to be doing—like getting 70-80 grams of protein a day, plus all the necessary nutrients, omega-3s, vitamins, and vegetables; like drinking enough water, exercising five times a week, doing Kegels, and prenatal yoga; like buying infant car seats and figuring out where he will sleep, choosing a pediatrician, reading up on childbirth, taking classes, identifying support systems, and a million other little things that one could possibly do to prepare for childbirth and parenthood.

So, my husband and I have made a tape of our voices talking that I can play each night at the bottom of my belly when my husband is away; I’ve been taking pulsatilla; and I bought a maternity bathing suit and have started going to the pool (something I haven’t done since I was a child). Floating, stretching, and moving through the water has felt wonderful, and I am grateful for the way this ‘turn’ in my pregnancy has gotten me to do something so therapeutic that I wouldn’t have done otherwise. I am also thankful for the way this process has forced me and my husband to talk more to our baby, and to think about all the ways in which he is listening.


Faith, acceptance, and hope are tricky mind-heart states to balance. I’m trying to trust that my baby will turn (and I know the statistics are in my favor), at the same time that I’m trying to hold the awareness that whatever happens will be okay. That in the end, he either will or he won’t turn, and there won’t be anything I can do about it. All I can do is make the most informed and most intuitive decisions possible, each step of the way.

Next week, I have a prenatal appointment, one I’ve anxiously been awaiting. My midwife will be able to tell me again what position my baby now lies in. He is definitely an active one, moving all the time, but I don’t think he’s turned head down yet, because I have yet to feel his kicks up real high. But then again, I’m really not sure—for, by now, his legs might be wrapped up around his body, and surely there must be plenty of positions he could be in that I can’t visualize.

For now, I try to remember to breathe and send my baby love. To feel calm, rested, and at peace as I lay in bed with my hands on my belly. To let go of the fears and what-ifs, at the same time that I pray for a gentle birth-- for both me, and my child.

I pray that whatever decisions I may still have to make about this pregnancy and delivery will come clearly and easily.

I pray that I can carry an open acceptance about whatever needs to happen.

And I pray that my baby hears my voice whispering, now, turn, baby, turn.

1 comment:

  1. You're right -- chances are, your son will turn on his own in time. And it's great that your midwife has no qualms about delivering a breech baby.

    I am still sad about having to have a C-section because of my surprise breech daughter — but also relieved that I had no fruitless labor.

    And I'm still stunned by the passage in Ina May Garten's "Spiritual Midwifery" that notes, almost in passing, that a successful breech delivery has to happen within a four-minute window. Four minutes? That's not exactly generous.

    An experienced midwife, though, can probably hack it. More so, for sure, than the OB-GYNs who never trained to do them.



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