Texan mom Vanessa Fisher knew that her pregnancy had almost run its course at the end of 2017. She also knew that there was something wrong. With only two weeks to go until her due date, her baby was still in breech. Instead of being in the customary head-first position, her precious load was the wrong way round. Nothing she had tried at home had righted the baby and she knew that attempting to deliver the child in that position would be painful and dangerous. But then a doctor decided on a hands-on approach to flipping the baby in the womb. And soon after, it was the turn of more than four million people to flip when they viewed the filmed results.
Delivering a baby, and witnessing the miracle of life, is well known as one of the most magical and memorable things that a female can experience. True, it can be excruciatingly painful and downright terrifying for many women – especially the first time. But after the event – sometimes well after the event – plenty of mothers claim the act of giving birth to be the best thing they have ever done.
Nonetheless, this certainly cannot be said for all women. There are, of course, countless things that can go wrong during pregnancy and childbirth. No matter how detailed the birth plan is, or how far in advance the hospital bag is packed and kept at the ready, having a baby is still an unpredictable process. As Vanessa Fisher of Fort Worth, TX, knows only too well – she has done it twice. Fisher already had an 11-year-old son, JoJo, but that didn’t prepare the mom for her pregnancy in 2017.
Fisher and her husband, Nick, had fixed ideas about her pregnancy from the start. They wanted to keep things as natural and straightforward as possible, including a home birth. But there was a snag. Towards the end of the second trimester, at about the 28-week mark, doctors had discovered that there was something wrong with Fisher’s baby. And, if the problem wasn’t addressed, it would mean trouble when it came to delivery. Trouble which may have necessitated a medical intervention, scuppering any hopes of a natural birth.
The issue was that Fisher’s baby was not in the correct position. It was in breech, which means that her baby was lying the wrong way up; its head at the top of the womb and its feet at the bottom. Although relatively common in the early stages pregnancy, at 28 weeks the number of babies in breech is down to 22 percent. However, figures show that some three percent of babies are still in this unfortunate position in pregnancies that go to term.
Most babies manage to get themselves into a head-first position by the end of the pregnancy. That is because as they grow, there is less and less room in the uterus. So babies tend to get themselves more comfortable by naturally moving into a cephalic – or head first – position, ready for delivery. Needless to say, this is a lot more comfortable for the pregnant woman too.
But when this doesn’t happen, as in Fisher’s case, it can be a bit of a problem when it comes to delivering the baby. A newborn emerging feet or butt first can cause pain, complication and danger. However, there are a few things expectant moms can do to try and remedy the situation. It can take something as simple as doing a few exercises at home to turn the baby around in the womb.
But if the baby does not change position in time, the birth may still be able to go ahead naturally. But this comes with risk and sometimes harmful distress to both mother and baby. Because the head comes last in a breech birth, it can become stuck because the birth canal has not become sufficiently loosened. There is also the danger of the umbilical cord prolapsing. This would lead to the baby being starved of oxygen with perhaps fatal or developmental implications. Needless to say, the majority of obstetricians prefer to opt for a cesarean delivery in such cases.
But a C-section would throw Fisher’s birth plan into disarray. So, still hoping for a home delivery, she set about doing some exercises to right the wrong. But it was all to no avail; at 37 weeks, the little Fisher was still in breech. The expectant mom took to her and her husband’s joint Facebook account to share her feelings. “Ultimately our goal is to avoid a cesarean section by any means possible,” she wrote in December 2017.
But a midwife had referred Fisher to obstetrician Dr. Frederick Cummings of Denton, TX. He recommended a technique with the medical name external cephalic version. In layman’s terms, this is an effort to get the baby into the favored head-down position by literally moving it using hands directly on the pregnant belly. Dr. Cummings visited Fisher at home to try and work his magic. Sadly it was not successful, Fisher was just too nervous and tense. The obstetrician then suggested they try again in hospital, where he could help his patient relax with some medication.
So the day arrived on December 18, 2017, and husband Nick decided to document the occasion by filming Dr. Cummings once again attempting to adjust the baby. Afterwards, the Fishers uploaded the resulting footage to their Facebook page, and the video went totally viral. In fact, in just a little more than a month, the remarkable clip garnered more than four million views. In the words of one amazed Facebook commenter, “Can’t believe that’s possible.”
The video footage opens with the heavily pregnant Fisher lying in a hospital bed with her bump exposed. We hear her talking to Nick as he films and questioning Dr. Cummings. The obstetrician talks calmly to his patient, attempting to soothe her nerves with his easy bedside manner. Then he starts performing the external cephalic version. He begins by pressing down on Fisher’s stomach.
As the doctor uses both his hands to try and get to grips with the problem, we see something astonishing. As he goes to manipulate the baby’s position, it appears as though the little fella is kicking back at the same time. All the while, Fisher does not give the impression of being in any pain. That is until Dr. Cummings changes his position slightly and goes a little too far.
When the medical man places his hands a little higher up on her bump, Fisher winces. At one point in the video, she almost makes a grab for the doctor’s arms, but she manages to hold herself back. The patient and forbearing Fisher allows Dr. Cummings to continue unimpeded with the procedure. The mom-to-be is shown staring straight up at the ceiling.
After a short while spent pressing all around Fisher’s belly, Dr. Cummings stops his manipulations and asks for some ultrasound gel to be spread across his patient’s stomach. A nurse liberally applies the gel and then the doctor gets busy with the hand-held scanner. Within seconds of looking at the baby on the monitor screen, the obstetrician declares something awesome.
“Head’s down,” Dr. Cummings declares triumphantly, giving a thumbs up. The nurse remarks on how impressively quickly the whole procedure has passed. “She’s impressive,” the doctor says in response, indicating Fisher. “It’s over?” the incredulous patient asks, to which Dr. Cummings simply says, “Yeah, we’re done.” Then, as the video comes to an end, Fisher is heard saying a heartfelt “thank you” to her doctor.
The footage makes an external cephalic version seem as straightforward and agony-free as a walk in the park. But when social media users saw the video on Facebook, they just could not believe it. “Mom doesn’t look to be in excruciating pain. I’ve heard this procedure is unbearable,” wrote one viewer who was impressed by Fisher’s resilience.
Another expectant mom found some reassurance in the video, possibly identifying with the breech problem. They wrote, “I’m so scared to have to do this! But you looked so calm and relaxed. Thank you and God bless!” But Fisher did admit afterwards that the procedure was indeed “unpleasant,” although anyone watching would agree that she made a pretty good job of hiding it.
The mom-to-be later spoke to the pregnancy and parenting website Babycenter in early 2018. She said, “Physically, there was a lot of pressure, it was unpleasant. But… the peace of mind that came with the success of the procedure was priceless.” And thankfully, after the successful position change, the Fisher’s birth plan was back on and they made their preparations for a home delivery. Fisher’s baby boy, Ashton, arrived happy and healthy on January 16, 2017 – some two weeks late. Fisher subsequently described his arrival as a “blessing.”
It may have been an unpleasant journey to get there, but happily it seems it was all worth it. Furthermore, Fisher hopes other expectant moms with breech babies see that external cephalic version is not so bad and a good alternative to a cesarean. She told Babycenter, “It was important to us to share the video to make others aware that there are options available to them, as well as professionals who are dedicated to seriously considering and honoring the desires of mothers through pregnancy and childbirth.”