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Why I Had an ECV to Turn My Breech Baby

Photograph by Michelle G. Lopez

No one was as surprised as I was to learn I have something in common with Kim Kardashian, and no—it has nothing to do with breaking the internet. We both experienced an external cephalic version procedure (ECV) to attempt to turn our breech babies.

Like many people, I had never heard of “versions.” It’s probably a good thing I hadn’t—I didn’t need one more thing to be paranoid about during my pregnancy. During my 20-week ultrasound I remember the technician saying the baby was in a breech position. I immediately tensed up, but was quickly assured that it was too early to be concerned. Looking back, I almost wish they hadn’t told me that at all. This small nugget of information nagged at me for weeks.

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In my later appointments, my nurses and doctors would feel my belly to see where the baby was and check that he was head down. They always struggled. I lay there, silently hoping they would find him, but they would just say it’s too early or that he was “hiding.” We’ll try next time, they would promise.

At my 35-week appointment the nurse practitioner finally felt him. “Hmm. Feels too soft to be the head. Could be his butt.” My heart sank. What was his butt doing down there? Maybe this is why it felt like a tiny foot was always stepping on my bladder.

They ordered an ultrasound the next week to find out for sure. I was a little panicked, knowing these results would determine the fate of my labor. My fears were right—the tech told us the baby was breech.

My doctor explained that I had two choices. Try a ECV, which she said had a 70 percent success rate. Or do nothing and hope the baby turns on his own.

The choice may seem easy to some, but I struggled with it. If I went through with the version and it wasn’t successful, that meant I’d have to have a scheduled C-section for sure. If I didn’t do it and he stayed breech, I’d have to have an emergency C-section if I went into labor. Then, there was always the chance that if anything went wrong during the version (with me or the baby), that would also mean an emergency C-section. Plus I had an anterior placenta, which put me even more at risk.

After discussing my options with my family and closest mom-friends and non-mom friends, I felt a lot better. Their support and encouragement was what I needed to stick with my decision to go through with it.

I had the weekend to emotionally prepare myself. After all, the baby could unexpectedly arrive, if something went awry. I had to calm down and try not to get anxious about potential complications, or the fact that I hadn’t finished washing all of his clothes, or completed the gallery wall in the nursery.

I knew what I wanted to do but was still second guessing myself. I was scared of all the negative things that could happen, but I also knew that if they did, I’d be in the ideal place and get the best care. Plus, the possibility that I could end up with an emergency C-section wasn’t truly a con. I’d get to meet my baby early, and that’s one heck of a silver lining.

The day of the version I was strangely calm. I was tired of worrying, and realized that it wouldn’t help the procedure if I was a mess. I focused on my baby and how I was in great hands. Every step was thoroughly explained, and everyone seemed optimistic that we were going to succeed. The first thing they did was perform another ultrasound to make sure he was still breech. I held my breath but they quickly told me he hadn’t moved.

I had to get an epidural, which wasn’t as bad as I imagined. I was oddly comfortable when everyone was ready to begin. They were going to attempt to turn the baby three times, if needed. The baby and myself would be constantly monitored—someone was watching the ultrasound for his position, someone else was checking my vitals and a nurse was monitoring the baby’s heart rate. My doctor and a resident were on either side of me. They put their hands on my belly to start the first attempt.

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It was bizarre watching them wrestle with my body. I didn’t feel any pain, but I definitely felt the pressure from their hands pushing in a clockwise direction. The baby didn’t budge, so they moved onto the second attempt. I could see how hard they were trying to move him in their strained faces. I squeezed my eyes shut and silently reassured my baby that everything was OK. The second attempt failed. The doctor even hoisted his leg onto the hospital bed to support himself for the last try. This one was tough to watch. I knew the baby was fine, but watching them twist the same bump I’ve cherished for 9 months brought tears to my eyes. The baby’s heart rate started to drop so they immediately stopped. Stressing out the baby wasn’t worth it. And yep—he still didn’t move at all.

Even though I know it wasn’t my fault, I felt like I failed everyone. I instinctively apologized, and everyone was quick to reassure me. “He’s going to be a stubborn little guy,” they joked. My fate was sealed—I would be getting a scheduled C-section.

I don’t regret doing the version, even during the next couple days when my entire body was pulsing with soreness. I found out later the baby was positioned in a way where his head was resting on my placenta, like a pillow. Learning that my little baby was so comfortable inside me warmed my heart. He wasn’t stubborn, he was just cozy in there! It helped the disappointment I felt in being robbed of a “traditional” labor. Two weeks later, when I held him in my arms for the first time I didn’t care how he came out, only that he was perfect and all mine.

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