VBAC: Vaginal Birth After Cesarean
Let me start by talking about c-sections. They can save lives; yours or your baby’s or even both. Sometimes, a c-section is the only safe option for giving birth. Thank God for smart, skilled doctors who are able to do what needs to be done to deliver your baby safely. I had one almost 3 years ago and it gave me the most precious, beautiful, smart, funny little girl who ever walked the earth. I don’t believe that anyone who chooses a c-section is weak, afraid, or incapable. I think each woman must decide what is right for her personally (sometimes we don’t even get the choice). This story just happens to be about me and MY choices and MY body. All mothers are incredible. However we deliver our babies is right for each of us. Period.
A bit of background on my c-section: I was your typical induction failure. My doctor absolutely refused to let me go past 41 weeks, so I was induced at exactly 1 week overdue. I wasn’t dilated at all. My body was nowhere near ready to give birth. I went in at 8:00am, they gave me the epidural, then broke my water. At 8:00pm, after pushing for 2 1/2 hours, my doctor suggested the c-section. Cassidy was born and everything was ok; however, I never really realized what kind of emotional scar her birth would leave on me.
When we got pregnant this time, we had long since moved to a different town, so I had to choose a new doctor. I ended up using a midwife this time around. The hospital in our town is super VBAC friendly, and I considered it briefly. Believing a repeat c-section would be safer than a VBAC (I was almost completely ignorant of and uneducated on the entire matter), I ended up choosing a repeat c-section. Our hospital does what they call a ‘gentle c-section’ or ‘family-centered c-section’, where the infant is immediately placed on the mother’s chest, cord clamping is delayed, and the infant never really leaves the mother’s breast until much, much later. It sounded pretty good to me! I honestly believed I wouldn’t be tough enough to endure a vaginal birth. I didn’t believe in myself and thought that my body had failed me once before and would probably do it again. I probably just wasn’t meant to give birth vaginally. I found myself making excuses for my repeat c-section to others to make myself feel better. “Well, the doctor told me last time that I never would’ve gone into labor on my own, so I probably wouldn’t this time either…”. But there was still a nagging voice in my head- “are you sure you want to do this?”
The months went by and I tried to prepare myself mentally for another surgery. I wanted to solidify my decision and feel at peace with it, so I decided to watch a couple of videos of vaginal births to scare me into it. THAT would make me feel better! Only it didn’t. I ended up watching a video of a mother giving birth, unmedicated, in a birthing tub. I somehow finagled Joel into watching it with me and we watched with our mouths agape as this woman endured all kinds of pain and embarrassment and made horrible grunting noises. We sort of chuckled and made a few immature jokes. Then after all her struggles and pain, the woman gave birth to her baby; and as she held it up to her chest, she and her husband cried and she said over and over, “I did it…I did it.” with so much joy and pride and emotion. As I watched, I realized there wear tears running down my cheeks and I knew deep down I wanted that too. That night, I asked God to show me what to do.
At my 37 week appointment, upon expressing my doubts to Shannon, my wonderful midwife, she told me I could do a trial of labor IF I were to go into labor on my own before the scheduled c-section. Yeah, ok, sure. Why not? That made me feel a little better. She asked if I wanted her to check me just to see if I was dilated at all. As she checked me her eyes got wide and she said, “do you want to know?!” Um- YES!
2 1/2 – 3 cm. already! Woah. We were so blown away we just laughed and decided right then and there we had some big decisions to make. She told me my body was favorable for labor and if I did a few things to prepare, VBAC. WAS. POSSIBLE. She told me to go home, pray about it, talk to Joel and decide if I wanted to try for a VBAC. When I got home I was practically dancing- I was elated. All it took was one look at me for Joel to know that we needed to go for the VBAC. I had asked God to show me the right path to take and He had smacked me in the face with it. I was incredibly scared, but I knew if I had faith and trusted in God, He would bless the birth of our baby boy. I just knew it in my heart. So I stopped worrying. And I got down to business.
I researched. I read books. I got on baby discussion forums and read about 3,000 birth stories. I read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth (an amazing book- I learned so much and was so empowered after reading it) and bought essential oils to help strengthen contractions. I saw a chiropractor to make sure my body and the baby were ideally aligned for labor. I became totally committed- not only to VBAC, but doing it med-free. I knew exactly what I wanted, and I knew that with help and support from Joel and faith in God and in my body, this was going to happen.
We were all convinced the baby would come early. But my due date came and went with only a few braxton hicks contractions here and there. The 4th of July we decided to have the family over for a cookout. We ate burgers and watermelon, went swimming, and watched the fireworks (Cassidy was mesmerized!), hoping for a firecracker baby. Nope. No baby. The next day, Joel and I noticed my contractions were actually really close together, so we decided to start timing them. They were about 4-5 minutes apart, lasting about 45 seconds to a minute. That went on all afternoon. In the real world, to normal people, that means labor. But I was in total denial. Joel was starting to really flip out, especially since I was so stinking calm and nonchalant about the whole thing. I casually strolled into the baby’s room and browsed his closet to pick a cute coming home outfit, all while Joel is following me around on pins and needles. I called our friend/nurse Rachel and she came over to sit with me for a few hours. We visited while I bounced on my birthing ball and folded towels. I was getting really discouraged and doubtful that I’d ever go into labor; I knew I was about 5 cm and my body was ready, but still- nothing. Rachel and Shannon (my midwife) both told me to relax and rest for awhile and Rachel left and said she’d most likely see me later that night. Yeah, ok…whatever.
We watched a few episodes of Seinfeld and played in the floor with Cassidy. Then Rachel texted me and said I could try rocking back and forth on hands and knees to try and kickstart labor. So I got down on all fours and rocked. Cassidy thought I was playing ‘horsey’, so Joel had to get on the floor too and play horsey with us. So there we were, the 3 of us, all on hands and knees in the floor. When I went to stand up- “POP”. I looked up at Joel and said, “Water…broke……..OOOOOOOOWWWWWWWW!!!” and waddled as fast as I could to the bathroom. Cassidy thought it was funny that mommy “tee-teed in her pants”. After that- intense, searing, blinding pain. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t talk. We called our parents and Rachel and as soon as our parents got to the house, Joel loaded me into the car and we flew to the hospital.
The rest was a blur. It all happened so fast. The car ride to the hospital was probably the worst part; each bump was excruciating. We got to the emergency room where Joel threw me into a wheelchair. The lovely ladies at the front desk were clearly in no hurry and began asking us all kinds of unimportant questions (“what’s the nature of your visit?”. “Um, I’m in LABOR!!!”). A middle aged couple sat staring at me as I panted and writhed in pain. An elderly woman hobbled on one leg in front of me. Another lady was rolling around on the floor moaning and puking into a large plastic cup. “Just get me the heck out of here!” I kept thinking. The pain was unlike anything I’ve ever felt before; I even bit Joel a couple of times, not even thinking. And suddenly, my body started pushing on its own. “I’MPUSHINGI’MPUSHINGI’MPUSHING!!!” Joel then went into Angry Joel Hyper Mode and started yelling at everyone, “get her into a room NOW!”. You better believe those ladies kicked it into high gear then! They got me to triage and a nice, calm looking doctor came in to check me. His eyes got huge and he looked totally surprised and said, “woah, she’s complete! The head’s right there!” I didn’t care about anything at this point; I just wanted this baby out!
Rachel got there in just enough time to insist that I wouldn’t give birth in the ER. They had just enough time to wheel me to an L&D room. Even with the intense pain I was in, I still had the presence of mind to remember all my research on optimal labor positions- I switched over to hands and knees and started pushing. Pushing provided some relief, but all the doubt and insecurities all came back to me as I remembered the last time I tried to push out a baby. I kept crying out, “I’ll never be able to push him out!” But Joel was right there by my side telling me he believed in me and how proud he was of me. He was truly amazing. I gathered all the strength I could and pushed. It was amazing how my body just knew exactly what to do; I just surrendered to it and did what felt right. I found myself making noises I’ve never made before- low and growling. Again, I was just doing what my body told me to do. It was amazing.
3 pushes. Three. And our sweet baby Elliott was born weighing 8 pounds, 10 ounces; 21 inches long. 37 minutes from my water breaking to holding Elliott in my arms. I’ll never forget seeing my perfect little boy for the first time as the nurses slid him underneath me. I scooped him up in my arms, rolled onto my back, and held him on my chest. Joel was crying and saying, “you did it! You did it!” There was so much joy and happiness in those first moments after his birth. I’ve never felt more proud in my life. I was just like the woman in the video…I had done it. Words can’t express the kind of elation I was feeling that night. There’s not another feeling like that in the world. I felt like superwoman. After I got stitched up (2nd degree tear- ouch), Rachel rewarded Joel’s and my hard work with a big, gooey, chocolaty brownie she had made. After that, she took us to a room where there was a wonderful hot herbal bath waiting for us. There was soft “spa-like” music playing and the whole room smelled like lavender. She brought us cheese, crackers, and juice to snack on while we soaked. We felt like we were at a resort! Such treatment! We gave Elliott his first bath and relaxed and soaked for an hour or so. I was so wired and happy I couldn’t sleep that night. I just held Elliott on my chest and kept reliving his awesome, awesome birth.
The next day, Elliott got to meet his big sister for the first time (what an emotional moment that was!). Of course I cried like an idiot when Cassidy climbed up into my arms- those postpartum hormones are NO joke. I was so happy to see her and have her meet her little brother. She was perfect with him and still is. She loves to give him kisses and hugs and “help” mommy and daddy when we change his diaper or give him a bath. She’s an amazing big sister. My heart is so full these days…these kids are just so stinking awesome. Joel and I are very happy with our little family of 4.
The past month hasn’t been easy (duh), but we learned quite a bit our first time around, so this time hasn’t been nearly as hard for us. The good news is, I’m able to breastfeed this time, which is a HUGE blessing! It was insanely hard for the first 3 weeks, but I powered through and I’m so thankful I stuck with it. It’s not perfect yet, but I know it’ll only get better from here. Joel and I are working together as a team and we’ve got a pretty good routine down now. I’m so proud of him and the amazing father he is. I’m not saying it’s a cakewalk to have a newborn at home- there are hormones and mood swings and sleep deprivation to consider- but anytime I feel myself starting to get “blue”, I just think back and remember Elliott’s birth and smile. His birth was such a blessing to me- a truly healing experience. I am so thankful to God for leading us down this path.
Jesus said it best- “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.” John 16:21
I’ll always cherish the birth of each of my children; they are both so very different, but both gave me the exact same thing- a healthy, beautiful baby. That’s all any mother can ask for. It doesn’t matter how a child comes into the world, it’s an experience each mother should remember forever and cherish in their hearts. I’ll never forget this very special VBAC and the amazing blessing it was in our lives.