Hi. I see you there. You’ve been scouring Google looking for all the “right answers” on whether or not you should go for a VBAC. And, like me, if you’re even considering a vaginal birth after C-section, you’re probably a bit traumatized by the way your previous birth experience turned out. I never intended to have that C-section. I wasn’t trying to be a hero or anything, I just expected to have a vaginal delivery. I’d psyched myself up for it. I took the class. I had a plan.
But, as you probably know now: the first rule of birth plans is that THERE IS NO FREAKING BIRTH PLAN!
So, when I presented with sky-high blood pressure at 37 weeks, I was induced on the spot. Soon after, the epidural was administered and I labored pretty uneventfully for nearly two days. Finally, I surrendered to the C-section and out came a very underdone baby who weighed in at less than six pounds. After enduring a traumatic stay in the NICU and a heartbreaking breastfeeding experience with an unbelievably sleepy baby, when I got pregnant with my second child, I was determined to give him every advantage I could. This is my story (with all the gory details). Maybe it will help you decide if a VBAC is for you. Ulitmately, you are the only one who can make that decision.
The thing with having babies is this: There’s more to it than an adorable bump and building a registry for a bunch of cute stuff you’ll never use. For starters, you’re stuck with that bump for life — and, after only communicating through crying for a year, eventually it walks and talks and throws spaghetti at you. Babies have become a sort of status symbol, an accessory, “baby is the new purse” — and no one gives a shit how they got here. But it’s serious business. And we should be talking about it a lot more than we are. Honestly, I can’t understand why Americans don’t talk about birth more. In other cultures, birth is celebrated, well-attended, and nothing to be ashamed about.
Post-birth, very few people even bother to ask how the birth really went and if you are truly doing ok. They just want to smell the baby’s head and load you up with hollow advice. There’s no mention of the prolonged maxi-pad-only bleeding, the deep-seeded fear of passing your first stool, and all the other fun stuff like the hormonal-let-down bawling you can’t seem to stop, the psychosis you feel from not sleeping, eating, showering and the ice-pick pain you feel in your nipples as your little angel perfects his latch.
Ok, this doesn’t apply to everyone, of course, some people actually show up to help (you know who you are). But, of course, most people cut right to the cuddly baby part. That’s because they don’t know any better. Consider all of the baby propaganda out there, exactly none of it talks about what it’s like to pass your afterbirth or have your perineum, or your abdomen for that matter, stitched up while you lie spread eagle in a freezing-cold delivery room with people making idle small-talk around you (I’ve experienced both). It’s all headlines touting “Celebrity Mom’s Body Back to Normal Ten Days Later!”and picture-perfect, pristine nurseries – without green baby poop and white puke splotches everywhere.
But that’s all total bullshit. I don’t think our culture puts enough emphasis on the fact that women bring babies into being by way of their bodies. As in, every one of the 7 billion people walking this planet is the end result of a woman’s work. Ten long months of work, I might add.
The fact is, birth is both magical and messy. And whether it’s by way of a textbook natural delivery or a more clinical approach with a Pitocin drip, an epidural, a prolonged labor, or a C-section — squeaky clean, sweet-smelling babies don’t just appear in the delivery room — a woman works to get them there. And I can speak for both sides. C-section OR vaginal delivery — neither one is a picnic. Let me say that again: neither one is a picnic. By any stretch. Both are huge undertakings and require strength, bravery and selflessness, the likes of which you can’t even fathom until you’re on that table, that bed, ball, stool, floor, whatever.
Yet, I didn’t feel brave or strong after I had that C-section in 2010. In fact, I blamed me. I assumed I had done absolutely everything wrong. I didn’t even feel like I could check “childbirth” off my bucket list. So when it came time to start “planning” for the birth of my second, I got it in my head that I was going to go for a vaginal and drug-free delivery. (No one said pregnant ladies are rational.)
Early on, I approached my doctor about whether or not I was a VBAC candidate, knowing full well that this topic isn’t really en vogue with doctors or my peers. The C-section is the number one surgery in America. In fact, an article published on HuffPo on the very day I had my VBAC baby cites that a mere 8% of women who have previously had a c-section sign up and show up for a VBAC. Healthy People 2020 calls the VBAC a widely underused procedure and they are aiming to “Reduce cesarean births among low-risk women giving birth with a prior cesarean birth.”
To my surprise, my doctor was very supportive and encouraged me to take the possibility very seriously by watching my weight gain and getting in shape. In the same breath, she did, however, suggest I schedule a C-section so it was on our mutual calendars, if we needed it. And then, she sort of pushed for me to set it up late in week 39 as is customary for a second, planned C-section. “No way!” I said. “I won’t schedule it prior to my due date. In fact, I want it a week later.”
We haggled like we were in a flea market for a good five minutes and finally we ended up with a scheduled surgery two days after my due date. A small victory but one that would ultimately be the catalyst for my successful VBAC.
When I get into something, I get into something. Which is funny because I’m not really a hobbyist. What I do is geek out on new lifestyles (think “runner” or “paleo”or “breastfeeding mom”) and go balls-to-the-wall until the next thing catches my interest or, more commonly, I lose interest altogether. In this instance, I fell off a cliff as a “natural childbirther.” I went to [the best ever] prenatal yoga twice a week. I read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth – twice. I ate all of my vegetables. I went to bed on time. I saw all my doctors when I was supposed to. I carried a huge water bottle everywhere I went. I got a balance ball for the delivery room. I packed Crocs in my hospital bag for after my water broke. And most importantly, I got my doctor to sign off on the fact that I was low-risk enough to not require the fetal heart monitor be inserted the whole time, just once an hour. Which meant walking, stretching, squatting, until the pushing part.
On my exact due date, I woke up to some labor-like activity around 5 a.m. By 9 a.m. I was at the doctor for my weekly check up and the monitor indicated it was indeed labor. I was whisked off to the L&D floor immediately. My intuition had smartly warned me that morning: “Pack all the things!” so Adrian hauled off to the parking garage to get all my birthin’ gear. Fast forward about 8 hours and I had progressed to about 5 centimeters but nothing else was really happening. I was walking and eating and stretching the whole time; what a difference it makes to NOT have an epidural. They broke my water. I put on my Crocs. I bounced on my ball. Still…nothing. Shit. I’d been here before.
The doctor suggested we try a “whiff” of Pitocin to get things going and I consented but, by this point, I was fearful that I would not dilate all over again, just like the first time. Well, not to worry. In less than 20 minutes I was having booming contractions and in such a surreal state of pain that the world had a silver aura to it and I had trouble hearing. By 10 p.m. I could only see my husband’s teeth when he talked. By 10:30, I lost it and paged for the epidural. Screw natural. I was going into shock. Give me the drugs. I couldn’t do this anymore. I signed up for a VBAC — no one ever said it had to be natural. Only me.
At 11, we paged the nurse. “Hurry with the epidural!” She stopped in to check my dilation and, in a sort of panicky voice, said I was 10 centimeters out of nowhere and it was “go time.” At 11:02 she paged the doctor on call.
“Is she in the building? Ok, is she on the floor? Ok, we need her…now.”
By 11:02 I was past the pain, past the shock and nature took over. I was pushing, without the doctor in the room. (Ok, not exactly efficient, textbook pushing…more like writhing around in the bed like Marlena on Days of our Lives the summer she was possessed by the devil.)
It was around this time that I realized I wouldn’t be getting the epidural. And also that I had to live up to my end of the plan — the plan that I created. I had to work for my dream and put in all the blood, sweat and tears you have to put into dreams to make them come true. Oh no, not me…I’m a born quitter. All talk, no follow-through.
And so I pushed. And pushed. And panicked. And stared at my husband’s teeth. And begged to sit up tall, stand or squat, but at this point the fetal heart monitor was mandatory. And so I tucked my chin and I pushed. And breathed. And pushed. And got stronger with each push, and each breath, and each realization that I was really doing this.
Fifteen minutes later, I met my son for the first time. By way of a vaginal birth after c-section, after all. With no drugs. He was 7 pounds, 11 ounces and he latched perfectly in the first 30 seconds he was on the planet.
About 48 hours later, I walked out of there. On my own two feet. On the way home, we stopped for lunch. Two hours after that, I took my two year old to the swings at the park with the baby on my chest. All in all, a very different experience from a C-section. One that I ultimately think was the best choice for me and my baby. Now, I’ve got friends who will tell you a second C-section is a piece of cake. You get to wear mascara when you know it’s going to happen! I believe them. And color me jealous! There’s even a new “gentle C-section” movement where they let you hold the baby on your chest for the remainder of the procedure. (What I would have given for that…and how I wonder if skin-to-skin would have made a difference.)
In the end, the advice I give my friends is this: Don’t let anyone tell you what’s right for you. No one knows your body like you do. Weigh your options. Trust your intuition. Keep an open mind. Above all, keep talking about it. Get your doctor on board with whatever your wishes are. Read this guide. Get an advocate for the delivery room. Having a baby on your own terms far outweighs how that child comes into the world. Besides, you’ve done this before, Mama. You know the cuddly baby part is going to happen anyway.
*Disclaimer: no content in this post should be construed as medical advice. Always talk to your doctor.