I was 8 weeks pregnant at my first OB visit, and I was in shock. My OB, who had been so positive about doing a VBAC after my son’s birth by Cesarean, was now going through the list of “can and cannot’s” about my “trying” for a VBAC. “You can’t be more than one day overdue. The baby can’t be more than 9lbs.” And the list went on. I was devastated. After educating myself about the VBAC realities I knew that it wasn’t the risky danger to me and my baby that my malpractice-minded OB would make it seem. (Read The Thinking Women’s Guide to Birth or Misconceptions for the statistics and facts that reassured me).
So what to do? I called around to a few midwife groups that delivered in hospitals only to realize that many delivered with doctors looking over their shoulder and they too had pretty strict VBAC guidelines. I didn’t want someone reminding me about my previous c-section my entire pregnancy.
Jack’s birth, while a beautiful event, was also a sad thing for me. His head was turned to the side, he wouldn’t descend. I wasn’t educated about that kind of scenario and mistakenly trusted my doctors urging to get an epidural (it’s going to be a long night, or you are going to get a c-section, they told me, you better get this now). The epidural (at 7cm) of course meant I couldn’t walk or move to try and reposition him. So, of course, I ended up with a c-section, and a difficult one, with one doctor pushing him back up inside of me, he was so stuck, and the other with their hands in my belly trying to get him out, for more than an hour, while I vomited on the table. I wanted a peaceful birth this time, with no memories of tears marring the event. And I didn’t need someone treating me differently my entire pregnancy. Like my uterus was some dangerous time bomb. I was strong and healthy and knew I could do this – with someone caring for me and my baby by my side.
I found this in not just one but three incredible strong women – Emme, Clare and Gail. After a few weeks of discussing our options I found myself leaning more and more toward home birth. My mother gave birth to my brother at home with a midwife so I knew she would support me. My husband (coming from a family in the medical field) was more hesitant. But after talking with other families and really pondering the decision we agreed to interview some midwives and go for it. I felt such a release as we sat to talk with Emme, Gail and Clare. Here were women who believed in the strength of the female body, who wouldn’t treat me like damaged goods.
During my pregnancy I forgot about the whole VBAC issue, for the most part. My care from our midwives was so loving, the way they put their hands on my belly and called my baby a sweet girl brought tears to my eyes more than once. Through the pregnancy the pain of not being more prepared – and somehow preventing – our son’s cesarean dissipated. With the preparation of a Bradley class I was ready and excited for this birth experience.
Our son predicted his sister’s birthday. He told me the Monday before she would be born that Saturday, and I kind of felt like he was right. The night before I went into labor we stayed up late watching a movie after a day of errands and cleaning and a special mommy and Jack outing for hot chocolate and library storytime. I woke up at 3:30 in the morning on Saturday wondering if my water had just broke. I could feel something was different. I had endured months of frequent braxton hicks contractions but this was different. I laid in bed for an hour watching the clock, trying to rest, as the contractions got closer and more intense. By 5am they were 4 minutes apart and really intense. I woke up my husband, called my mom, and called our midwives. After a breakfast of eggs, taking bites between contractions the first midwife arrived. By this point I couldn’t speak or move during each surge and she started to get things ready, thinking a baby was around the corner.
My husband went down to our family room and lit a fire. I came down and did squats, experimenting with different positions to ease the discomfort. It was amazing feeling everything so clearly, just what my body needed. With our son I was on the birthing ball the whole time, rocking over my giant belly listening to music. But for some reason I couldn’t sit, I wanted to lean, stand, move, squat a little. Around 8am I attempted pushing in a standing position, leaning against my husband but our team thought it didn’t sound like I was ready. A quick check confirmed, I was only 3-4 cm! Thankfully no one told me – “progress updates” can only serve to disappoint and I would’ve been devastated!
More than the pain it was the endurance mind thing of labor that caught me off guard. It really was like forcing yourself to run another mile on the treadmill, tricking yourself to do another five minutes, another ½ mile, to push yourself to the limit. Instead they told me, lets try to work through them a little longer, maybe a shower. My body, they knew, needed to relax into the pain to open up for the baby to descend. I climbed the stairs in one contraction up to the shower. The shower helped. I lunged from side to side with each contraction, the water on my back. Back downstairs in our birthing area they checked me again. My baby’s head had descended to +1 station and I was dilated to 7cm but her head was cocked to the side, just as our son’s head been. Strangely, I wasn’t panicked. I never once thought, “this is it, I need another cesarean, lets get to the hospital.” We had been working for months on getting my body ready with nightly positioning upside down and cradling my belly with a rebozo and so on. Instead my response was, so what do we do?! My body was trying, so hard, to move her down and reposition her, which is why the contractions had felt intense enough to push so early.
At this point Clare, who had been instructing me in prenatal yoga, made a suggestion. She had noticed my slight lunging into each contraction earlier and suggested we do this five times on each side in a more deliberate way, through each contraction. I lunged five times on the left and then, with the first lunge on the right, I felt the baby shift inside of me, immediately sending a gush of liquid as the pressure increased incredibly. With this added pressure I felt the need to push again, and did a little, but a rim of cervix was still left. I was nearing exhaustion at this point, unable to take the intensity for much longer, and said so to our team. They however had the perfect response. This is the time in labor when hormones flood your body and you start doubting yourself but you CAN do this. That made sense to my rational brain and I was able to keep going. Oh, ok then. Let’s get on with it! For the next hour, I worked through each intense contraction, as I finally transitioned and readied my body for birth. During this hour Emme held one hand and my husband the other, as I lay on my side, talking me through every single contraction. “And you are rising with the wave, and let it wash over you, don’t struggle against it, let it carry you up to the sunshine, and now back down again as your toes touch the sand.” As a former California girl this metaphor really worked for me perfectly! By the end of the hour the urge to push was uncontrollable, and finally I really could. My body knew what to do and had done it to reposition my baby and get her down, with the help of some smart women.
After two hours of pushing, feeling every centimeter of progress in a strangely satisfying way, our daughter came into the world, placed on my chest by loving hands. What a peaceful girl. She was content to look up at my face, as the cord pulsed, and finally, after the placenta emerged, she nursed contently for the next hour. Her big bother met her after waking from his nap. As the afternoon turned to evening and the fire died down, our three midwives gathered around to say goodbye. They stood circled around me and my girl and we all kind of got choked up. “Sara, you are the HBAC goddess you wanted to be!” I started crying. I really had done it. It wasn’t terrifying. It was hard, but it was perfect. I had done it.