Warning: this is a birth story, and I kept it very real, including all the rather gritty aspects of birth. Proceed at your own risk! It is also very long. So you might want to warm up your coffee before you begin. 😉
We walked into the hospital: my eyes red from crying, my husband on crutches, and my Mom toting the hospital bag.
They say the course of true love never did run smoothly. I would say the same applies for birth stories.
I never would have imagined the circuitous path my VBAC birth story would take, but despite the fact that I didn’t get the natural labor and delivery I had planned, I feel no regrets when looking over the decisions I made in bringing my baby girl earthside.
Ever since my first birth ended in a c-section (because of complete placenta previa) I had been researching, planning for, dreaming of, and praying for a VBAC. I desperately didn’t want to have a second c-section: my husband and I want a big family, and didn’t want to be limited based solely on the number of c-sections I should/should not have. On top of that, I have also always been a bit of a birth junkie (even before having my babies, I would listen to birth story podcasts, read books about birth, chat with people about birth), and had always dreamed of the day that I could roar a baby into the world, with my husband at my side.
This pregnancy went fairly smoothly (especially compared to my first). I was exhausted and miserable my first trimester, was diagnosed with hypothyroidism (easily managed with a low dose of thyroid meds) in my second trimester, and sailed smoothly on through my third trimester.
As far as vbac preparation goes, I listened to birth stories every day, I read a huge stack of birth books, I walked 2-3 miles a day, I drank tons of red raspberry leaf tea, ate a bunch of homemade date bars, went to the chiropractor for a month or two in my third trimester, and I always avoided reclining (so that baby wouldn’t be tempted to settle into a posterior position).
I was approaching 40 weeks pregnant, feeling strong, and starting to get anxious about when baby was going to show up.
In Which I Go To The Hospital
During that last week of pregnancy, I had started to notice a bit of–ahem–what I thought was leaking pee, occasionally. Perhaps once every other day I would feel a small trickle. This was out of the ordinary for me, but my baby had been incredibly low for weeks, and putting so much pressure down there that I figured it was probably just a symptom of late pregnancy. But at my 40 week midwife appointment, I just happened to mention it, just to be safe. The midwife wasn’t concerned, but did take a swab to make sure it wasn’t amniotic fluid, and sent me on my way.
I drove an hour back home. Half an hour after getting home, I got the call that the test came back positive: it was amniotic fluid. My midwife, Katie, was kind and sweet, but I started sobbing as she explained that since I had possibly been ruptured for a week, I needed to go into the hospital right away to start the birth process.
Katie explained that she would have to talk to her overseeing OBGYN in order to figure out what options I would have (certified nurse midwives legally have to practice under an OBGYN in our state). She said that IF I was dilated (I hadn’t been checked at all so far) that they could start a low dose pitocin drip, but they couldn’t do anything else (no foley bulb) because I was GBS+. I asked if I’d need a repeat c-section, and she said we’d just have to check my dilation and talk to the OB, and go from there. She said, honestly, I didn’t have a lot of options based on being a VBAC, my water being broken so long, and being GBS+.
I stumbled around our little house sobbing. None of this was what I had hoped for: it felt like my chances for a VBAC were quietly being taken away from me. I was going to have to leave my toddler for longer than I wanted to (I had hoped to do most of my laboring at home, and only leave him for a few hours to push baby out in the hospital), I wasn’t going to be able to go into spontaneous labor, which is what I had planned, and knew was the best chance of getting a successful VBAC. And to make matters worse, my husband was having a terrible gout flare up and couldn’t even walk. It all felt so tragic.
We went and met my parents to drop Gideon off, and they brought us some crutches for my hubby to use to walk. Then Mom hopped in our van, and we went to the hospital.
In Which The Hospitalist Tries To Scare Me Into A C-section And Fails
Once there, they had the hospitalist (the OB who is on call around the clock) come in and check me. This was one of the worst parts of my entire experience. This lady was about as anti-VBAC as they come. She strode into the room, full of power and charisma, flashing a toothy smile. She checked me and said I was “grossly ruptured”, and said she was hoping that I would be at least 2-3 cm dilated, but I was only 1 cm and 70% effaced.
My eyes still swollen from crying, I listened as she told me in no uncertain terms that while she was happy to let me try for a vbac that if it ended up taking too long, or if baby was in distress, or if we have any other warning signs that we would have to have a “conversation” (she italicized it, just like that, ha!). She told me our goals were the same–we both wanted a healthy mama and healthy baby. She talked, at length, about uterine rupture. I listened for awhile, but then I got tired of her throwing her weight around, and started pushing back.
I told Toothy Hospitalist Lady that I knew the risks of uterine rupture were only 1-2%, and that it felt like she was spending an awful lot of time drilling that into my head, and not even touching on all the risks that come with repeat c-sections. That made her pause for a minute. She replied loudly that the 1-2% statistic is what “they tell you” (who is “they?!?), but that she had personally seen two ruptures in the last year, and it doesn’t matter what the percentage is, if you (she stared at me, pointedly) are the one with the rupture.
I replied that I felt like she was fear mongering by focusing so much on uterine ruptures when there were a million risks for other things that she didn’t bring up. I said that there were myriad things that could go wrong that had a higher percentage than 1-2% so why were we focusing so much on uterine rupture?
This made her angry: her head snapped back, and her eyes narrowed. She absolutely did not like that I was questioning her. She drew herself up to her full height, and then told me that if she was fear mongering then she would come in and tell me she wouldn’t support me trying for a VBAC. She said that she was going to be sitting up all night just so I could try for a VBAC (ummm…isn’t that HER JOB to be in the hospital all night? She made it sound like she was doing me this BIG favor), she said she used to be anti-VBAC, but now she is more than happy to support VBACers as long as everything went well. Her parting shot was that I wouldn’t see her again until I needed her because “after all, I’m the one with the scalpel” and then she LAUGHED as she left the room.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t appreciate someone who might potentially be performing surgery on me, laughing about wielding the knife.
My talking back to her, and not allowing her to scare me into a corner is one of the things I am most proud of in this entire birth story. I am a people pleaser, and it is very hard for me to stand up for myself. But I am grateful that I had done hours upon hours of research, and could spot an anti-VBAC provider the minute she opened her mouth.
I, also, decided that if I would need a repeat c-section that I would not allow her to operate on me. I would request a different surgeon. There was no way that smiling angry lady was going to use her scalpel on ME. No sir. I knew I was the one with the power and control over my own body, and I was not about to let her use her knife on me.
In Which We Make a Plan
My midwife showed up a short time later, and I felt my whole body relax when she entered the room. She told me that the best plan was to start a slow drip of pitocin, and go from there. She said we couldn’t use cytotec because I was a VBAC (which I knew from my research), and that we also couldn’t use a Foley bulb because I was GBS+ and the bacteria could use the Foley bulb to migrate up to the baby. My only option was pitocin.
We tried a few natural methods of induction for an hour or two, that resulted in a few sporadic contractions, and then started a low dose of pitocin around 5 pm.
My Merry Band of Nurses
Throughout my labor I had THE BEST nurses. When my sweet friend (and sis-in-law) Catie (who also happens to be a labor and delivery nurse) found out I was in labor, she hopped on her phone and asked all her nurse friends–to please take good care of me. Because she did that, all of these specific nurses traded shifts so that they could be the ones caring for me.
Every time there was a shift change, the nurse would whisper to me conspirotorially : “I work at the birth center too. I’m a friend of Catie’s”. They were all so incredibly wonderful. They never doubted my ability to birth this baby vaginally, they supported my back during contractions, and talked me through all my options. One of the nurses was SO good at quietly talking me through contractions that alarms went off, because my heart rate dropped down into the 50’s. She was shocked, and asked if I was an athlete, because when I relaxed my heart rate dropped so low. She was just that good at calming me down.
If they had their own opinions about the way my birth was going, they didn’t show it, but told me again and again that they would support whatever I decided to do.
I loved them so much. I want to send a huge gift basket to each and every one of them.
So Much Back Labor
Once they started the pitocin, the evening of the 23rd, I started doing all the things I’d read about in the birth books. Mom and I walked the halls of the hospital (dragging the IV pole along with us), I bounced on a birth ball, and I leaned on the hospital bed. The contractions were very mild those first few hours.
My midwife told me to be sure to sleep that night, so I had energy when it came time to push, so around 10 I finally layed down and closed my eyes.
That’s when they upped the pitocin, and I suddenly started feeling pain. A lot of pain. In my back, and legs.
There was no way I could lie down or even talk through contractions anymore. Throughout that long, long, LONG night I did everything I could think of to move this labor along: I worked through contraction after contraction with my hubby and Mom taking turns supporting me. The contractions got worse and worse.
My nurse said, based on my back labor, that baby’s positioning might be a problem, and so I tried a bunch of Spinning Babies exercises that hurt something awful. During contractions I did lunges, and we tried pelvic tilts and many other things, and nothing altered the back pain I was experiencing.
At about 5 AM the nurse checked me, and I was 3 centimeters dilated and 80% effaced. That was so disheartening–to labor for twelve hours and only go from a 1 to a 3. Everybody told me that it was good progress, and I knew that dilation can change so quickly, but I felt disappointed all the same.
All morning I continued to labor, my midwife checked me at 10, and I was still 3 centimeters and 80% effaced. At lunch, I took a few bites of pancakes, but couldn’t stomach much food.
They upped the pitocin, and I was in an incredible amount of pain: I was shaking, my legs were cramping with every contraction.
This is when I started feeling incredibly exhausted.
The pain just kept coming, and I was not dealing with it well. I had been in labor for 22 hours, and every contraction felt like I was being torn in half. The back and leg pain was terrible.
I had tried every trick I’d learned from all the books I read to stay calm, relaxed, and cool during contractions, but not anymore. I started crying, yelling “ow, ow, ow” and “no, no, no”, because I just couldn’t handle the pain anymore.
So About That Epidural
At this point, the midwife came and chatted with me about pain options, and after conferring with the hospitalist, sent the nurse to talk to me. Then the nurse sat down with me, she told me that I had been in labor a long time, that I had worked just as hard as any woman who would’ve already birthed her baby by now, and that the midwife’s best recommendation was to get an epidural so that I could rest.
They needed to DOUBLE my pitocin in order to get the contractions close enough to increase my dilation, and with as tired and as much pain as I seemed to be in they felt like the epidural was the best option.
I asked if the epidural would increase my chances of having a c-section, and the nurse told me that in most cases she would say yes, but in my case she believed it would increase my chances of having a VBAC. Because it wouldn’t slow down my labor, since they could just up the pitocin, and since I was so tired they didn’t feel like I would have any energy left once we got to the pushing stage. She also said that while the baby had tolerated the pitocin contractions really well, that the baby couldn’t handle them forever, and eventually would get stressed out at which point I’d have very few options left.
I talked with my support team (Saia and Mom) and we decided to have them check me to see if perhaps I was already in transition, because maybe we were close to the end.
The nurse checked me: I was still 3 centimeters and about 90% effaced.
That’s when I chose the epidural.
The only other option was for me to try to get into the tub, to see if the water would help me relax and dilate, but in order for that to happen, they would need to replace my wired monitors with the waterproof ones, and I’d have to lie down for twenty minutes in order for the wireless monitors to work.
At that point, I couldn’t fathom lying on my back for twenty minutes. There was no way I could work through those contractions that way, and I was utterly exhausted. I knew, in my gut, that the epidural was my best option.
I got the epidural, the nurse put me on my side with a peanut ball in-between my legs, and we all went to sleep.
An hour later my midwife checked me, and I was 5-6 centimeters, and had a bulging bag of waters. She broke my water. I can’t describe to you what joy I felt at FINALLY dilating past a 3.
I woke up shaking, and I knew I was in transition. My nurse checked me, and I was 8 centimeters. More rejoicing! Could this actually finally be happening?!
I felt my body start to push. They checked me, and I was 10 centimeters. Within two and a half hours of getting that epidural I had dilated from 3 to 10 centimeters. I think my body just needed to relax in order to dilate, and the pitocin contractions were just too much for me to handle.
I told my midwife that I would like to let my body labor the baby down as long as possible (I knew it decreased the risk of tearing), and so she gave me half an hour to just labor down.
Pushing That Baby Out
Baby’s heart rate started looking a bit worrisome, and I suddenly spiked a fever, so they said it was go time.
I could still feel the contractions, but not the pain (although TONS of pressure), and I was really good at pushing!
After an hour of pushing, Eloise Fiefia’anga came into the world. My first words to her were: “It’s a girl! Baby, thank you for coming out!”.
Saia was crying, Mom was crying, I was so glad it was all over.
I had a second-degree tear, and lost 3x the amount of blood they normally see in a vaginal delivery, but everything turned out well in the end.
One of the most beautiful moments of my life was holding my baby girl as they cleaned everything up. I had so many wires attached to me: the pitocin, the baby heartrate monitor, the wire to monitor contractions, the antibiotics, the epidural, the catheter: and the minute Eloise came out, they started disconnecting everything, and I became me again. I cannot describe to you the amount of relief I felt. That was one of the best parts about having a vaginal delivery: when you are done, you are done. With a c-section there is so much more recovery work left.
The blessed relief of having all those wires taken away combined with holding my baby girl was the best feeling in the world.
To Sum Up
Pushing Eloise into the world will always be one of the most powerful moments of my life. I believed that I was capable of having a VBAC, but there was always a fear that something would come up and I’d end up having to have a c-section. It wasn’t until those last few pushes that it hit me that I was actually going to get my VBAC!
I spent so many hours researching VBAC statistics, reading birth books, and researching providers and every minute was totally worth it, because I got my VBAC in the end.
I have another post in the works detailing what I plan to do differently next time, and answering VBAC-related questions, so keep an eye out for that to hit the blog within the next week!
But for now, all I can say, is: Veni Vidi VBAC! I am so grateful.