MY VBAC HEALED ME: 2ND BIRTH STORY
When I found out that I was pregnant with my second baby, I was filled with emotions.
Joy. Excitement. Fear.
More specifically, fear of birth. I had always feared childbirth, and this time I also feared a repeat C-section.
Thoughts of another major surgery, another difficult recovery and not being able to pick up my 2-year old flooded my mind.
I’m a VBAC Candidate?
We had recently relocated from Tampa to Chicago and I was seeing a new OB.
At an early prenatal appointment, he mentioned that I was a candidate for VBAC. “A what?” I had no idea what VBAC was at the time!
I spent the next several weeks researching VBAC and comparing the risks of VBAC vs. CBAC (Cesarean Birth After Cesarean).
I decided that planning a VBAC was the best option for me and my family. For the rest of my pregnancy, I did everything that I read about to prepare my mind and body for birth. (More on how to prepare for your VBAC here)
At my 31 week appointment, the OB made a comment that if my baby was estimated to be over 7lbs., he wasn’t confident that I’d be “successful” with a VBAC. If you read my first birth story, remember that my son was 8lb. 15oz., so there was a good chance that this baby would be more than 7 pounds. I felt discouraged and at the same time, determined.
That afternoon I called several providers, desperate to find a truly VBAC friendly provider that wasn’t doubtful of my ability to birth a “big baby.”
I was able to secure a 32-week appointment at a well known, VBAC friendly midwives’ group. Divine Intervention.
This was my first experience with midwives and barring any future complications beyond their scope of practice, I’ll never go back.
For the first time in my ‘women’s care life,’ I felt heard, supported and encouraged.
As my due date approached, I grew increasingly anxious. What if I go past 41 weeks? What if I need a repeat C-section? What if I go through TOLAC (trial of labor after cesarean) and fail? What if I experience complications?
At my 40-week appointment, the midwife reminded me that a lot can change in a week. Her encouragement helped me to trust my own body.
At 40 weeks + 2 days, I wasn’t feeling well and was working on my laptop from bed. Around 11:00am, my water broke.
I felt relieved, knowing that spontaneous labor increased my chances for a “successful” VBAC. I hate using the term “successful” in birth by the way, since it suggests that the opposite is “failed.” I don’t believe that you can “fail” at birth. I’m using the term for familiarity.
I called my husband, midwife and doula. If my contractions began anything like those from my first labor, I figured I had about 30-45 minutes before things got real. I took a shower and shaved, since I knew that there would be lots of eyes on my girl parts. Because, priorities.
My contractions began within about 30 minutes and were strong and consistent, very similar to the start of labor with my first baby. I used a contraction timing app and they averaged one minute, with about one minute of rest in between.
My husband came home shortly after, called my doula and midwife again, and both were pretty sure that I was already in active labor. I couldn’t talk through contractions, which were still averaging one minute long, one minute apart. My midwife was comfortable waiting 12 hours after my water broke until I had to come in, but I was pretty sure I’d be in before then.
Since my plan was to labor at home for a while, I got in the bathtub, dimmed the lights and listened to my labor playlist.
Being in the water helped me to remain comfortable through contractions. It allowed me to focus on visualizing my birth.
The hormone release that occurs during labor put me in an altered state of consciousness. The best way that I can explain is that it felt like I had a few glasses of red, without the slurring. I groaned through contractions - super primitive and natural.
By about 2:30pm, my contractions had been consistent for about three hours and we decided to head to the hospital.
When I stepped out of the tub, I felt a rush of hormones and the contractions’ intensity increased from a 7 to 10 - instantly. It took me a while to get dressed, as I was stopping every minute or so to rock, sway and moan through contractions. (Learn more about Coping With Contractions here)
The hospital was in downtown Chicago, about three miles away from my house. It was a Friday afternoon during Lollapalooza and traffic was pretty intense.
It was just my husband and I in the long car ride. Mental note: next time bring my doula along for the ride.
We reached the hospital around 4:00pm. I was moaning and breathing through contractions, and spouted off a few crazy comments. Please don’t judge me for what I said in labor!
The triage nurse checked my cervix and I was 4.5cm dilated. I was relieved to hear that my body was opening up, but I was also uncomfortable and ready for the epidural.
Partners are not permitted in the room while the epidural is being administered. My midwife sat with me and held my hands, as I had seven (or so) contractions during the process. I was distracted from the discomfort for a moment when I noticed how little her hands were. I figured that tiny hands were preferred if they were going to be all in my girl parts. I said something along the lines of “...you have really tiny hands, that’s ideal for a midwife, huh?” Cool, I still have my sense of humor.
The contraction pain went away immediately after the anesthesiologist administered the epidural. I checked the time - 4:45pm. I was proud of myself for delaying the epidural that long and allowing my labor to progress.
Since you’re confined to bed with an epidural, I used a peanut exercise ball to help my pelvis open, switching sides regularly. We dimmed the lights in the room and I tried to get some rest. I wasn’t able to sleep because I was thinking about my son at home and I was anxious to meet my baby girl. After the last five hours of work, I embraced this quiet ‘rest’ time.
Over the next few hours, I visualized my body opening up and talked to my baby through my belly. Something along the lines of, “feel free to take your time coming out… you’re coming into a safe space… I’ll be here… you can come out gently and carefully… thank you for leaving mommy’s goodies intact.”
The midwife and the nurses checked on me regularly. Contractions remained consistent, my cervix continued to dilate and my baby was making her way down the birth canal. I never felt rushed or pressured by my support team. Rather, they were patient and believed in my body’s ability to labor.
By 9:00pm, I was almost 10cm dilated. The midwife asked if I was ready to start pushing, or would I prefer to give my baby more time to descend. I opted for more time.
Around 10:00pm I felt ready to start pushing. The midwife and doula sort of guided my breathing and pushing, since the epidural was still working and I couldn’t push instinctively.
Pushing was exhausting and I coughed with each deep breath. I had what I thought was a cold for a few days. It progressed into pneumonia, but that part of the story is for another day!
There were a few moments during the pushing phase that I felt queasy. I was given medication for nausea and my doula had ice chips and a cold compress for my forehead. She had a calm and nurturing demeanor, and was exactly what I needed during labor.
After two hours of pushing, my midwife said, “Nichole, she’s right there… do you want to Kardashian style reach down and pull her out?” You KNOW I did! It was glorious. I pulled her right up to me and held her on my chest - blood, vernix and all.
I DID IT!
My baby girl was born at 12:13am and weighed 9lb., 4oz! My perineum was intact - she heard mama’s request. I did have minor hairline tears… that I didn’t feel during birth or recovery.
I delivered my placenta and bagged it up for placenta encapsulation. Happy pills were on the way!
I felt… Strong. Proud. Powerful. Relieved. Grateful. Joyful. Healed.
Yes, I felt healed when my daughter was born.
My second pregnancy was a roller coaster of emotions - family trauma, the mind-eff that can be preparing for VBAC, fear of childbirth and so on.
My 21 year old brother Jarrett was killed in a motorcycle accident when I was seven months pregnant.
I had a hard time coping and worried about my stress affecting the baby. I began going to therapy when I returned to Chicago after Jarrett’s funeral. By the way, I highly recommend therapy for anyone on the fence.
When my daughter was born, I felt Jarrett’s presence with us. Her birth felt like it healed the pain that I carried from his loss. I felt like he stayed with me through birth to make sure I was okay.
Now for the mind-eff that is preparing for VBAC… the mental preparation for VBAC is much more challenging than the physical preparation!
To the positive, there are facts and statistics that support the safety of VBACs. There’s an entire community (small, but growing) of VBAC advocates.
On other side, C-section moms experience scare tactics, bait & switch providers, and uneducated opinions that instill feelings of fear as they prepare for a VBAC.
Planning a VBAC requires a daily practice to find a balance between staying positive and confident in VBAC… and being prepared for the possibility of a repeat Cesarean. Every day, every moment, is a different combination of excitement, confidence, preparation, fear, worry.
Pushing out a 9lb. 4oz. baby with an intact perineum made me feel like Wonder Woman. It healed my fears of childbirth, vaginal tearing and of “big babies.”
For so long, I was lead to believe that my body couldn’t birth a “big baby.” The baby wouldn’t fit, I could experience serious damage trying, and would likely be “unsuccessful.” Proving them wrong was such an empowering feeling!