My VBAC True Story
We'll get to the VBAC facts in a little bit, let me start with how I had a C-Section the first time around.
I need to state that I do know there are women out there that truly can not give birth naturally and they really do need that C-Section. I believe these are the women that should be undergoing this operation. I am not denying this, and the doctors that perform those surgeries are wonderful. Those women are not the point of this post.
My baby boy was due Christmas Day (2010) and it was one week away. I had intended on having a totally natural birth, I attended Lamaze Classes, making sure my husband James came too. I was really looking forward to the experience. This was until I ended up at the emergency room because I thought my water had broke… I know I know. It didn’t mean I had to go in to the hospital, I wasn’t even having contractions yet, but I was surrounded by friends and family who were getting nervous and it was contagious.
My own doctor was not on duty that night, it was her partner, and he recommended me have a scan to make sure everything was 'ok'… at which point he advised me to have a C-Section because my baby was so big (I’ll make a little side-bar here and tell you I’m a 6ft tall woman with big hips). I was against it and let him know as much. I wanted to have a totally natural, drug-free birth, but he kept on about the baby getting bigger and I would run into problems.. then he threw in a 'dead baby comment' which totally freaked me out.
I went ahead and did as he advised, I mean he’s a doctor right, what do I know?
Needless to say, later on down the road, I couldn’t help but start thinking that I was totally robbed. Why didn’t I at least try? Smaller women have 10lb babies all the time! I’m 6ft tall with a great family history of birthing babies. I think if I had been more aware of this “baby too big” excuse and understood about the incredibly high C-section rates in the U.S. I would have been more likely to stick to my guns!
I didn’t even know what a contraction felt like and I know some people would find it strange but I really wanted to experience that miracle. Not that I had a bad experience having the C-Section, really it wasn’t all that bad, but it was so clinical.
The worse thing I remember was the epidural. I had the shakes horribly for about 2 hours after surgery and I swear I still feel where it was in my back today. My back stays terribly sore.
Baby Chase was placed in a little cot by my bed, although I was not able to move around so much, I had to have someone take my baby out of the cot to put him in my arms. It hurt so bad just to try to stand to get to the bathroom.
My recovery was about 2-3 weeks, which isn’t so bad for major surgery. I was still tender for a while longer but I could at least get around. Thank goodness Chase was my first and I didn’t have another child I needed to tend to.
Four years later I joyously found out I was pregnant again and this time I was adamant – I was going to have my baby naturally! My OB told me she was VBAC (vaginal birth after C-section) friendly, and “of course we could plan for that…. but we’d have to closely monitor the size. Chase was 10lb 3oz so you're obviously prone to having big babies,” she said. I gave her a copy of my Birth Plan (click to see).
That was the first red flag that it was not going to go as I wished, and more comments kept being made as the weeks went by that enforced this belief. This was when I started to research VBAC facts and more about what I could expect. As you know, I am originally from England and so I'm more familiar with the healthcare system over there, it is very different than the U.S. – as it's Government run.
From pre-natal care, through labor and post-partum everything is on the tax-payer's dime, including daily at-home visits to help with breastfeeding. Births are attended by midwives and in most cases pregnant women never even see an obstetrician unless there’s a complication or health concern. You are first confirmed to be pregnant by your GP, then everything else is managed by midwives.
They are also in charge of managing the labor wards and birthing centers. Women are now encouraged to have home births, attended by a midwife as childbirth is considered a very normal natural bodily function.
I was surprised when I was first pregnant and my whole pregnancy was managed by an obstetrician. It seemed kind of over-the-top and expensive, with a lot of unnecessary procedures. Definitely not affordable if you don’t have full health insurance. I believe you can have a home birth in Louisiana (where we live), however it is illegal in some states, believe it or not!
Preparing for VBAC
A statistic that was most interesting to me was that having a Doula decreased your chances of having a cesarean section by 50%, overall length of labor by 25%, the use of oxytocin by 40% and requests for epidural by 60%.
I had not heard of a Doula before, so I did some homework. A Doula, a Greek word for 'Women’s Servant' is a professional trained in childbirth. She advocates for the mother helping her fight for her wishes. She is there for emotional, physical and educational support and helps with pain relieving techniques, birth positions etc. I went straight to work to find a Doula. Of course, there was not one in my town of Houma, Louisiana, so I ended up widening my search to Baton Rouge (about 2 hours away).
I located a Doula who I immediately contacted to arrange a meeting, and when we met I knew right away that it was the best decision I could have made.
There was actually two ladies who work together to ensure 100% that one of them would be on call when needed. They were fantastic – I couldn’t have asked for better support. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there is no way I would have had my successful VBAC if it were not for them! One of the first pieces of advice they gave me was to drink plenty of Raspberry Tea - that it's good for strengthening the uterus.
I was one month away from my estimated due date (EDD) and at my scan the baby was in the breach position. Immediately my doctor started talking about a C-Section without even discussing possible ways of turning the baby. All I could think was that there was still a month to go, that’s plenty of time for the baby to turn a whole bunch of times, surely?
My doula recommended I try a chiropractor and discuss the “Webster Technique” – this was something I had never heard of and definitely not discussed by my doctor. I went that week to a local chiropractor and sure enough, I felt the baby turn immediately… at that visit! It was so amazing. All they do is align your pelvis to make everything optimal for the baby to move into the head down position.
That last month of my pregnancy I had so many scans I don’t remember how many. Each time my doctor and her staff were “oooing and aaaing” about how big the baby was. Then I was one week away from my due date and my doctor was out attending a birth (I think). I found out I was to see her partner only at the point of walking into the room. He actually is a very personable guy, with a great bedside manner, that’s probably one of the reasons he was able to talk me into a C-Section the first time around! I just wish I could have recorded our conversation this time around (without getting into trouble)! I had been having irregular, middle of the road, painful kind of contractions on and off for about a week or so, I knew they were not the real deal, that they were just preparing me for what lay ahead, so I was not worried, but the doctor gave me this look like he was worried.
He checked me for dilation, I was at 1cm (had been since my last visit) and 75% effaced… to me I was headed in the right direction, but here’s what he said…”I heard you were hoping to VBAC? I hate to tell you this but it looks like you will have another big baby and you do know the risks of uterine tearing right? You know it’s not just your life you’re risking? Oh, and you have a cervix of steel." Yes, he actually said that! A cervix of steel!
At that point I switched off and just nodded along to get the appointment over with.
I was furious when I left, like I had already done my research and knew there was absolutely nothing wrong with my progression, I still had a week to go for goodness sake. I paid no more mind to what he had said. I felt like he was just setting the stage for the sabotage that was coming!
So I reached my due date, saw my doctor that morning. “What do you want to do?” she asked. “About what?” I answered. “About going past your due date, you know every day you go past the date the baby is getting bigger and your chances of uterine rupture is increasing,” she told me. “I want you to come back on Thursday (3 days later) so we can check you again as you’re still only 1.5cm dilated.”
Let me tell you, I started walking and walking, and walking trying to get things to move along. Thursday came and I went to that appointment where she told me she was absolutely not going to let me go past one week over and that if I made it to Monday that we would have to start thinking about pushing it along a little. She had my birth plan. She knew that that was not what I wanted. Of course, through all this process I was talking with my Doula about what was happening, she was also worried about what was going to happen with the doctor as they are famous around here for scheduling sections and “big baby” is their favorite excuse.
That weekend I bounced a lot on my birthing ball, did a lot of walking, even started using my breast pump to try to get things moving without medical intervention. It was working because I started having more regular contractions, plus I lost my mucus plug and had some bloody show that weekend, I was so excited as I knew I was really close!
McKenzie's birthday has arrived
It was Monday morning, the day of my last doctor’s appointment and one week past my due date. I had been having some really strong contractions, still only about 15 minutes apart but definitely the real deal. They were regular and strong.
I went to my appointment where the doctor wanted to give me another scan to make sure I hadn’t lost any fluid from the water bag. She then put me on a fetal heart rate monitor for about 20 minutes or so, but nothing unusual was happening. Once I was done there she came and checked my dilation, I was maybe at 2cm, 80% effaced, but her next comments astounded me. “I am really worried about the fact that you saw blood,” she said.
I looked at her very confused, as I know the percentage of women who have a bloody show/mucus plug right before labor started is really high. I told her I knew what I saw was normal, and that I just knew that everything was progressing as it should, but she said she wanted me to go straight to the hospital and be hooked up to a monitor so they could keep an eye on the baby. I knew I wasn’t close enough to be going to the hospital yet, I could be in this state for a while still, but she was adamant.
She then told me that if nothing had progressed like she wanted before the afternoon that she would break my water to get things moving along and that her partner would be on duty the next day. If he were the one on duty when I went into the hospital that I would not get my VBAC (this was the first time she told me this very important fact!)… then she threw in a 'dead baby' comment just to top it all off.
I couldn't believe it.
I was now panicking. I felt like my whole dream of a normal, natural birth was being yanked away. Again.
“I need to get some air! Let me go talk to my husband,” I lied.
I immediately called my Doula to tell her what was happening. “Wow,” she said, “these doctors are really something. They are totally ignoring your wishes!” I was getting really upset. “I don’t know what to do,” I cried. “I feel like if I do go into the hospital like she wants, then she’s going to break my water too soon and I’ll end up in a C-section again. I just know that the best thing to do is to let things progress naturally if I’m going to succeed!”
She calmed me down and reminded me that I have a choice, that I don’t HAVE to do anything I don’t want to do, but I reminded her that it’s hard to go against a doctor, they have that look you know, like, you don’t know what you’re talking about!
She gave me another option. Oschner Medical Center has a birthing unit in Baton Rouge, and they take last minute laboring women all them time. It’s more common than you’d think, I’m told. OK, so now to convince my husband James. I’m at home and have gotten to 8 minute apart contractions that are really strong. I managed to convince him to take the 2 hour drive so we started to get ready. We’re about to leave and I’m in 3 minute apart contractions, I knew it would slow down once I sat down in the vehicle, so we set off.
Phew. They do slow down to 5 minutes, but James tells me today, that was a very looong 2 hour drive. Every time I had a contraction I was holding onto the ceiling of the truck... and he was making jokes. I wanted to punch his head through the window.
My Doula was meeting us there (thank God for GPS, we made it without getting lost) and we ran into each other in the parking lot. It turned out perfect. Amazingly It took no more than 15 minutes to get checked in and all paperwork completed.
Really and truly what happened next was the best birthing experience I could have possibly dreamed of. I was in a huge room with a birthing bath big enough for two people (for if James would have wanted to get in with me). We were able to create any atmosphere we wanted. My Doula immediately went to work making it just right, she set up the music which played through the speakers in the room (I’m a fan of Enya and Enigma which created a beautiful mood). She dimmed the lights and set about lighting some essential oils in the burner.
A doctor came and stopped by, she introduced herself and let us know she was on the floor that night, but that we were in very capable hands with the midwives and that hopefully we will not be seeing her again! Wow. Mind blown.
Really and truly what happened next was the best birthing experience I could have possibly dreamed of. I was in a huge room with a birthing bath big enough for two people (if James would have wanted to get in with me). We were able to create any atmosphere we wanted.
My Doula immediately went to work making it just right, she set up the music which played through the speakers in the room (I’m a fan of Enya and Enigma which created a beautiful mood). She dimmed the lights and set about lighting some essential oils in the burner. Whenever the midwife, or nurse would come into the room they would creep in and keep their voices down real low as to not disturb the atmosphere. I was able to shower on a birthing ball, which I managed to plug the drain up with, lol! They had every kind of birthing accessory you could need, the first thing they asked me was “can we have a copy of your Birth Plan? They then followed it to a 'T'. A midwife came in and she was wonderful, she never once asked me if I wanted to change my mind about the medication… she basically just kept her head down and let me do most of my laboring by myself with my doulas.
I was very surprised at the effectiveness of the essential oils, in particular smelling peppermint to help with nausea. Whenever I felt nauseous my doula would wave a bottle of peppermint under my nose and the nausea would subside.
It was so strange. I had seen women in videos giving birth in all kinds of positions and had been joking about giving birth on all fours if I wanted… never did I think that I would end up most of my labor standing up and actually giving birth standing. I tried getting into the bath tub, I tried kneeling on the bed, sitting on the birthing ball but none of that felt good – for some reason I felt the most comfortable standing up, swaying my hips.
The midwife quietly sat on the floor next to me while I was pushing and when the time was right she was there to catch the baby (literally, lol). My Doula and my husband were on either side of me steadying me as the contractions would come, I actually think I pulled a muscle in my shoulder because I would hang at times as my knees gave way.
I can’t say for sure how long I was in labor before going to the hospital. It was quite drawn out (like days I think). Then once active labor started that lasted about 12 hours, transition was only about half and hour and finally I only really pushed for about 20 minutes until my beautiful 9lb 10oz baby girl McKenzie Rae was born.
Delivering the placenta was easy, I think that happened like 5 minutes later, I barely noticed as I was already feeding the baby, she was basically on the breast within 1 minute of being delivered. Not one part of my labor and delivery do I regret, it was the most amazing, empowering experience of my life and I would recommend a natural birth with a midwife to anyone that will listen. What do I think was the big game changer for me during my pregnancy? Definitely finding a Doula. I truly believe that if it were not for her I would have ended up in a C-Section again for sure.
That would be my advice to people trying to VBAC or have a natural birth.
I still continuously hear the same things being said “My doctor told me my baby is too big,” or “My baby is too big so they’re going to induce one week early,” or even “I just don’t have the hips for it.” The doctors around here are so quick to jump to a section because it’s better in a scheduling sense, it’s quicker therefore more patients can be seen. It’s all a matter of business and money, from what I can see. I feel sorry for the ladies out there who are not aware of the VBAC facts, that go along with anything their doctor tells them without questioning – they are truly missing out on one of the most beautiful miracles there is. This is what us as women were designed to do.
For those of you who are interested to read further into this, see below list of resources I used during my pregnancy to stay informed;
Also, a must-see documentary with Ricki Lake is “The Business of Being Born”
Am I a good example for my kids?
Do you have any VBAC stories? Please, I love to hear your comments (below)