My VBAC Birth Story
After 6 months of trying to get pregnant, including one disappointing chemical pregnancy, I saw that beautiful pink line on the pregnancy test! I was pregnant, excited, and ready to begin my journey to a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean).
Side note: remember that fun trip to Vegas I took, full of spa time and boozing? Yeah, turns out I was pregnant then. I definitely worried for a while that I had poached my baby from my time in the hot tub.
The first notification went to the hubby. The next was to my would-be doula, as well as the homebirth midwives I hoped to deliver with (because no way was I going back to a hospital). I had done my research on providers, so I wasted zero time notifying the people I wanted to help me have this VBAC.
My midwives didn’t begin prenatal visits until about 10 weeks. I’m incredibly impatient, and honestly a bit sensitive about early miscarriage, so I took that time to go visit my last practice and get confirmation of the pregnancy via sonogram at 7 weeks.
The visit was fine but completely confirmed that they were not the right providers for me. The entire appointment, aside from the sonogram, was spent focused on irrelevant numbers. My advanced maternal age (because I would be 35 when giving birth), my weight (they recommended I only gain 15 lbs), and my deadline delivery date (they won’t let a VBAC go past 41 weeks). No way was I going down the road of negativity again. I was going to build myself a birth bubble, and I knew better than to listen to anyone telling me that ANY of those numbers have anything to do with my ability to give birth vaginally.
My pregnancy this time around was relatively easy, physically speaking. I was going to see my chiropractor every other week, and I was weightlifting or running almost every day. I only gained about 20 lbs in total, and I was really proud of that. I knew I was in good enough shape to take on whatever my labor would be like this time.
It was my emotional state that was a bit of a mess. This time around, I had a new job that I actually liked, so I didn’t have work stress involved. I did, however, have a lot of anxiety over my previous birth, and I needed to work through that with a lot of therapy.
Halfway through my third trimester, there was a concern the baby was breech, which of course sent me off the deep end. If the baby was breech, I wouldn’t be able to deliver with my midwives as they don’t do breech deliveries. It would be back to a hospital, which to me equaled surgery, and I couldn’t have that. All of my energy went towards daily mantras like “my baby is in the optimal position for birth”, and doing inverted poses found on spinningbabies.com.
Thankfully, she was confirmed head down at my 36-week appointment. She was posterior, but she was head down, and that was enough to settle my nerves. Little did I know how much that posterior position was going to influence my labor and birth.
In the weeks leading up to my due date, I was still wrestling with the demons in my head. Thoughts about “what if I don’t go into labor” and “what if my body just doesn’t do this” were constantly popping up. Thankfully, the hubby was always there to recite some mantras with me, and help me stay in a positive mindset.
Between 39 and 40 weeks, I started to have Braxton Hicks contractions, and I couldn’t have been more excited. I had never experienced them at all during my first pregnancy, so each time I felt my belly tighten, I knew my body was getting ready to go into labor. I would just sit and enjoy this feeling, especially since there was no pain involved with them.
My due date came and went, but I know those dates mean basically nothing. It’s an approximation, and I wasn’t going to worry about it this time around. Thanks to having providers that didn’t have a deadline for how long they would “allow” me to be pregnant, all I had to do was sit and wait for the baby to decide when she was ready to meet us. I won’t lie, I was impatiently waiting, I was ready to have this baby.
I woke up on a Saturday morning, two days after my due date, and had a small gush of fluids and what looked like the beginning of the bloody show. It wasn’t anything too exciting, but I knew my body was getting another step closer to going into labor. I was PUMPED. My body was working how it was meant to, and I was going to have this VBAC.
That day my football team had a game, so I threw on a pad and went on my merry way. Sitting, watching the game, I started having some small contractions. Everyone would ask me how I’m feeling and if I thought I would have the baby soon. Knowing that I didn’t want anyone involved in my labor, aside from the selected few I had on my “birth team”, I just replied, “hopefully soon”.
Meanwhile, I was telling my close friends that were planning on helping with child #1, that they may be on call in the next few days. The contractions had become stronger during the day, enough to the point I had to start closing my eyes and breathing through them.
The contractions were about 10 minutes apart during the day. As night came, they were getting to be 6 minutes apart, and I had a hard time sleeping thanks to them. I was starting to believe that active labor was imminent, and Sunday could be the day we met our baby girl.
Sunday was not the day. Neither was Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or even Thursday. Those days were spent having contractions, with lots and lots of pain in my back. This posterior baby wasn’t moving no matter how hard my body was working to make her. Every 6-10 minutes my contractions would come, leaving me incapable of functioning during the day or sleeping at night. I was miserable and in so much pain.
The hubby had to take over all childcare and household activities, because I was spending all day in my bed, either on hands and knees or attempting to sleep in between the contractions.
By Friday I felt so broken down. It had nearly a week of these contractions and I wasn’t going into active labor. “What was wrong?”, “Should I go to the hospital?”, “Maybe this means I’m just not meant to give birth?” I was fighting the demons in my head more than ever, but I knew I didn’t want to give up on this VBAC.
This is when I called my doula. I was crying, I was tired, I was frustrated. She came over the next morning (now a full week since my fluid leaking/contractions began) to get me refocused and re-energized. She rebozo-ed my belly, tying a thick knot on the spot in my back that feeling the worst.
We attached the Tens machine, in hopes of some physical relief. The biggest thing we did was get my head back in the game. She had me write down all my motivational sayings on pieces of paper and hung them all over my bedroom. I was strong, and I was capable, and I needed to see that everywhere I looked, so I could stay focused on my VBAC goal.
That night the movie Bridesmaids was on tv, and in the end, there is a scene with Wilson Phillips singing their song “Hold On”. I began singing along, holding tight to the lyrics “hold on for one more day, things’ll go your way, hold on for one more day”. I needed to hold on, for one more day and things would go my way…right?
I went to bed that night after taking some Tylenol PM in hopes I could get some sleep between my ongoing contractions. Sunday morning I awoke from a dream feeling like I needed to push the baby out. I knew I didn’t really need to push, but the sensation was so strong I woke up my husband and said: “fill up the pool, I’m having a fucking baby today”.
We filled up the birth tub, and I spent the day with my painful back labor contractions. Friends came to take the boy to allow me to focus on laboring. Being that it was a Sunday and my favorite football team the Buffalo Bills were playing, the hubby set up a mirror so that I could watch the game from the birth tub in the reflection. Honestly, my contractions were regular enough and intense enough that I didn’t watch the game (but really the game was wretched and not worth watching anyway). As the day went on, it became another Groundhog Day, with no baby making an appearance.
Going to bed after being so sure I was going to have a baby that day left me frustrated and impatient. I wanted this labor, I did. I wanted to let my body do what it needed to do, so I was thankful, but man I was over it. At about midnight I woke up to some painful contractions that were even more intense, and seemingly closer together. After timing them for an hour, and having consistent waves at least a minute long and 5 minutes apart, I called my doula and my midwife. The midwife advised us to continue timing them and call back in a couple of hours if things stayed consistent. They did, so I asked everyone to come over. It wasn’t showtime, but I really needed more support and reassurance everything was going well.
3 am Monday morning my birth team arrived. Everything was going well until the sun came up. I was distracted by getting my son out the door; he was being taken by a friend to play and then to school. This would be the last time we see him until after the baby is born. I lost all momentum in the transition and was sent outside to take a walk to see if we could get contractions going again. It didn’t really work, and when I got back I cried to my team that I was worried if I didn’t start having contractions more regularly they would leave until I was more active. They reassured me they were all in until I had the baby and that made me feel so much better.
The entire day Monday was spent doing everything under the sun to get some real progress happening. I was in the tub in a variety of positions, I was on the floor on hands and knees. I walked, I crawled, I cried…and cried some more.
My greatest challenge during the day was back labor. The pain was so intense in my lower back, and it started wrapping around my hips so much so I felt like I couldn’t move my legs to walk. I had to reach my arms up in the air to engage my abdominal muscles just so I could walk to the bathroom.
After hours of this (and listening to me whine) my midwife sat me down and told me about an option I had to alleviate the pain in my back. I was so desperate I was willing to try anything. It would be something that only stopped the pain for about an hour, but I could get some relief and use that time to either rest or try and get some good contractions going. The catch, because there is always a catch, was that it is an incredibly painful option. She explained it would be 4 injections that would feel like incredibly bad bee stings. Saline would be injected into my skin around the area I was experiencing the back pain. I really thought there was nothing that could be more painful than what I was feeling in my back. WRONG. I screamed bloody murder and crushed my husband’s hands as my midwife and doula each injected me simultaneously, two times. But you know what, that shit worked.
Immediately after they injected me I looked at them and asked if either of them has experienced that before. My midwife said “yes, I have” and I said “good”. It made me feel better knowing that she knew how awful that felt before inflicting it on me.
I was able to spend about an hour relaxing in bed with my hubby. What a difference it made not having pain radiate through my whole back and hips when having a contraction. Labor felt easy during that hour…I may have even dozed off in between contractions.
Now, I was very adamant that I didn’t want cervical checks during my labor. My team knew I wanted them there for support and positive reinforcement, but I did not want to be handled the way I had my first birth. They fully respected that. There were points that they thought it would be a good idea to be checked, but they asked me what I thought and how I was feeling, and if it would help me go on to know how far I had dilated. I knew I risked being discouraged, but at the same time, I also needed some motivation. Around 3pm I was checked and was 7cm dilated. Not far to go!
As we approached the evening hours I knew things would pick up as they had every night before. I even overheard my doula saying she felt confident I would have the baby that night. By 11 pm I was having some crazy contractions that were so different than what I had experienced thus far. They really caught me off guard and I had an incredibly hard time breathing and figuring out how to adjust to deal with them.
One of the positions I found comfortable was to have the hubby be on hands and knees on the bed, and I draped myself over him like he was a table. There were some other acrobatic style positions I made him suffer through during that time, but he was a trooper and gave everything he had to support me.
Around 1a Tuesday I decided to get checked again. I was still at 7cm, only now my cervix was swollen. Knowing, but still wanting to hear it from her, I asked my midwife what that meant. She said that even if I dilated more a baby won’t make it through a swollen cervix. Our next move was to try and reduce the swelling. I got back in the tub, as that was my safe space and where I was most comfortable.
I had to focus on letting the contractions come and go without pushing or putting any pressure or energy downward. Real easy when a watermelon is sitting in your pelvis, right? For two hours, I sat in the tub and I let each wave wash over me, thinking about being soft and holding onto how important all of this was to me.
The other thing I was thinking about was how tired I was. I hadn’t slept in days, my body had been working on moving this baby out for 10 days. I had to acknowledge to myself that even if I could reduce the swelling and dilated fully, I may not have the energy necessary to push out the baby.
That’s when a very important conversation happened. I asked my doula Ursula “hypothetically if I were to go to the hospital, what would that look like?” She asked on a scale of 1 to 10, how much did I want to go to the hospital. In my head, I was a 10. I wanted an epidural and I wanted a nap, but I was afraid of the hospital. I was afraid they would say I had been in labor too long, so something must be wrong and I would need to have another cesarean (I was being monitored regularly, and the baby was fine). I was afraid that the moment I walked through the doors I would lose my chances for a VBAC. I told her I was a 6 on the scale. She got my midwife so we could have a real conversation about my options.
Side note: we had a conversation about my options. She did not tell me what to do at any point, and I could tell was very careful to make sure she was not emphasizing one option or another, allowing me to evaluate and decide all on my own. All women deserve this respect from their providers.
We discussed the different hospitals I could go to. One was 5 minutes from my house, and incredibly convenient should I need another cesarean (I did have to accept this was a realistic option), but was not known for being VBAC supportive. The other was a good 40+ minute drive, but had a great VBAC supportive midwifery group. It would have been hard if I ended up with a c-section, as I would be there for at least 3 days, and my husband would need to go back and forth in order to take care of the boy. I was actually torn on what to do. I didn’t want to be in a terribly inconvenient scenario after a potentially emotionally challenging repeat cesarean. I also didn’t want to hand over all of this hard work to a hospital that wouldn’t value my wishes for my birth. My husband looked at me and asked “do you still believe you can push this baby out of your vagina?”. I answered “YES” and our decision was made.
At 3 am Tuesday morning we packed up and headed to the hospital. Because I was working very hard to believe in my planned home birth, I hadn’t packed a hospital bag. Needless to say, packing while having contractions every few minutes is not easy, so I ended up with the most random collection of my clothes and toiletries.
After spending a few hours in triage (yeesh!) I was admitted into a room and received my epidural. I was SO THANKFUL for that epidural…even though they had flubbed it the first time and had to redo it. For the hours leading up to it, I kept telling everyone I just never wanted to feel another contraction ever again. EVER. Once that epidural kicked in and I stopped feeling like someone was smashing my lower back with a sledgehammer, I was relieved. My husband, doula, and midwife joined me in the room and we turned down the lights and relaxed. The hospital staff did their best to let me be, and I was able to get some much-needed rest.
When I was admitted, the midwife on call gave me a cervical exam. The plan was that I would be given low dose Pitocin and be monitored for a few hours, as would the baby. Once I had developed a strong pattern of strong contractions they would check me again to see how I was progressing. Well to my surprise, she would come back every few hours and tell me everything was going well, so she would come back later to check me. We were into the 4p hour and I hadn’t had another cervical check. I greatly appreciated that I was being left alone. I was good, the baby was good, so no one felt the need to do any checks yet.
At a certain point, the hubby and I started having a conversation about what would happen once I had the cervical exam. There was a chance that I would still be at 7 cm, and what that would mean for me. We had some really good conversations about the entire situation, and how far we had come. I acknowledged that if I was still at a 7 after all of this, there was a strong chance that I would need a c-section. It didn’t make me happy, but I felt at peace with it. I knew I had done everything I could. I had surrounded myself with a supportive birth team, I had stayed in great shape, I had learned tools to manage my pain, and I had spent time healing from my prior birth so I could accept this next birth as it would be. I had labored for 10+ days, so I had to accept my scenario, however, it played out.
Around 630 pm the midwife came back and asked if I wanted to be checked by her before she left her shift, or the midwife coming on next. We decided to let her check, as she knew what she felt earlier. I did clarify with her that she was just looking for progress, and as long as there was some change and that baby and I were good, I could continue to labor without a conversation about what’s next.
So this was it. That moment in time that feels like it lasts forever because you’re so anxious to get to the end, the answer. Did any of this make a difference? As the midwife examined me her face showed no emotion. I was worried, normally they say something while they’re doing the exam. She removed her latex glove and looked at me and told me, I was fulled effaced and completely dilated, and the baby was moving down. I was going to get to push. This news was everything to me.
I was very aware this didn’t mean I was getting my VBAC. So many women get to pushing, and for one reason or another still end up with a cesarean. I was excited to even have this opportunity to push. I was going to give it everything I had. Because I had a doula that took the time to get to know me and understand what makes me tick, she knew to tap into my inner fire. We put on the workout playlist I had on my phone, full of Lady Gaga, Britney, and Beyonce. I sang and sang. Anytime I started thinking too much, my doula reminded me to start singing.
The midwife came in, along with several nurses, and I believe several students. Originally I set out to have this birth at home, with the only people there being my husband, doula Ursula, and midwife. Now I was in a room with like ten people, but you know what, it was everything I needed at that moment. These people rooted for me and cheered with each push. They told me I was doing great and that I was a rock star. To me, it was like being cheered for on the football field after making a great play or catching a touchdown.
I was done with being pregnant. I was done with being in labor. I was getting that baby out of my body and I was doing it right fucking now. It took 26 minutes, but I did it. I had my baby on my belly, and I had pushed her out of my body myself.
I don’t think I can fully articulate my elation in having accomplished my Vaginal Birth After Cesarean. I fought through so many doubts, so many fears and a complete draining of my physical self. I climbed my Mt Everest, and I felt incredible. I was walking soon after birth. I was even sent to bed by the hubby after he caught me rearranging the furniture in the hospital room.
My postpartum period was one of joy and bonding with my new baby. We slept, we nursed, we enjoyed getting to know each other. Sure, I was in pain, birth is no joke whichever way it happens. This time though, this pain was one I was prepared for, one I welcomed. I was able to walk, to laugh, and most importantly, I was able to care for my baby.