Several women recommended Cut, Stapled and Mended by Roanna Rosewood to me in the past few months. It is a deeply moving book for those of us that have encountered Cesarean Birth and long for a natural birth. She tells her story in a very relatable and realistic tone. Her description of the fear and pain of cesarean were detailed and helped me to know that I am not alone in how I feel about my birth experience.
But more than just telling her Cesarean Birth story, she tells the story of how she explored her options and did anything possible to try to have a vaginal birth. Including going to a natural healer who used magnets and put his hand down his pants (um, yeah you read that right.. and she thought it was just as strange!) She shares her fears and doubts with the reader as well as her joys. Her quest was to accomplish what many thought would be impossible, a VBA2C!
My emotional response to this book was very strong. It helped me to think more about how I felt about my sons birth, as well as ways for me to start healing from my emotional scars. Just knowing that there are women out there who were as traumatized as me, and went on to have a VBAC, made me feel incredibly connected and hopeful. This is the first book that I read after starting my recovery journey and I am so glad that I did.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who has experienced a Cesarean Birth!
Sharing stories of inspiration is one of the goals of Combat Boot Mama. I believe that sharing birth stories that are raw and real can help women everywhere reclaim the trust in their bodies and make birth a natural and beautiful event again for those who have faced traumatic birth. Today, I’d like to share a beautiful VBAC story with you. But not just any VBAC, a beautiful home birth!
The oh-so-incrdibly healing HBAC birth of Evren Agnes “Aggie”
“I’m laying in bed beside this angel, and it is hard for me to believe that it happened – just like that. Everyone tells you that your body knows what to do – that you will know what to do. But after our first birth, there was so much doubt in my own body and its ability to birth a baby. I had so much doubt in myself.
I cannot share Agnes’ story without first sharing a little about our son Davey’s birth:
4 years before Aggie was born, in a hospital waiting room, my husband and I were recovering both mentally and physically, from the traumatic birth of our son. It was now six days after his birth, and although I had been released, our newborn boy had not. He had spiked a fever the day we were to be released, and when they tested his blood, the blood sample grew and they began antibiotic treatment for an infection (they were not yet sure what). Our birth had already been traumatic, culminating after days in a cesarean after being diagnosed with “cephalopelvic disproportion”. I had gone to the hospital at 5cm and quickly moved to 7. I got on the toilet and had contractions there, threw up and felt pushy. I asked my husband to call the midwife and tell her that I was ready to push. When she arrived, however, I was checked and told I was still “only 7cm”, and that I was “probably going to stay at 7 for hours and of course I couldn’t be feeling pushy…lets talk pain management ” – they called into question my ability to read my body’s cues, and made me doubt myself. 13 hours later I was still 7cm and had lost the urge to push or to continue, but I was stubborn. We labored another 16 hours when my care provider told me that as midwives they could no longer care for me, and that the doctor on call would have to take over. He came in ready for a cesarean. After days of labor, my husband was the first to hold our son. When he was handed to me I couldn’t sit upright – I couldn’t feel myself, and so began months of hard work to gain back that important time we lost in those first hours to connect. Our stubbornness helped to get us through those first 10 days in the hospital, where I pumped every 2 hours to feed him my breast milk that he refused to take from my breast. When we refused to allow our newborn to be moved to the nursery to get his antibiotics rounds and made them come to us in the waiting room where we were “living”. When we refused to allow the medical staff to use scare tactics every time we questioned what they were doing, or refused the spinal until we had more proof of an actual infection (the second blood sample came back normal, which meant that the first sample that “grew” was contaminated and he was being treated for an infection he never had).
Our hospital experience left my husband and I heartbroken. It took over a year for us to talk about our experience, and much longer to even consider the idea of more children. The ONLY reason we decided to start trying was we both knew we didn’t want an only child – but we also knew we didn’t have another birth like Davey’s in us. I knew that if we were going to do it again, we were going to do everything in our power to have a HBAC. My husband, while a little worried, was completely on board. He couldn’t go back to the hospital, either.
Fast forward 3+ years later:
Once I got pregnant, I worked hard to find the midwife right for me. I was worried though – I had thought I made the right choices with my last care providers – how could I rely on my gut feelings when I had been so wrong before? I did my research, talked to other homebirth moms and felt confident in the midwife I chose. I am a runner, completing my first marathon a month and a half before I got pregnant. I believe this marathon was a test to show myself that I could go mind over body – that I could do something hard – and that my body was not broken. When I got pregnant, I didn’t stop running. Every run was proof that I was healthy, and my body could do anything I wanted it to do. At 26 weeks pregnant I finished my 2nd 26.2 marathon, proving to myself that if I could do that, I could do anything.
Every urine sample, every blood draw, every run was replacing doubt with the confidence in my ability to birth the baby that was growing inside of me. I read birth stories and looked for other ways to ensure success. At 32 weeks I started drinking red raspberry leaf tea and at 36 weeks started to eat 6-8 dates a day (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21280989). I went to a chiropractor, a cranial sacral therapist, and took prenatal yoga. I took my vitamins everyday and ate right. And of course, I continued to run…
37 weeks, 6 miles
By 37 weeks I was starting to feel confident. At least I knew that whatever the outcome of this birth, I had done EVERYTHING in my power to have a successful HBAC. Sunday (2/10) we celebrated our son’s 4th birthday. I quietly told baby that it would not be very nice to crash his or her brothers birthday, and that I would be thrilled whenever he/she joined us, but not that day. After the party, I cleaned everything up – took all the thomas the tank engine stuff down, and shared with baby that I was now ready for birth whenever. I had no expectation that it would happen soon – just that I was ready for it (due date wasn’t until 2/18) – The following morning (2/11- 39 weeks) I began to lose my mucus plug, and lost it throughout the day. Knowing that this didn’t mean anything, I texted my midwife to let her know, and immediately put it in the back of my head. Tuesday (2/12) I had an appointment with the back up OB. We scheduled another appointment for a week later (which I fully intended to be pregnant for). I then kissed my husband goodbye, and went back to work. For fun, I decided to start timing the surges I was having on my way to work, and was surprised to see that they were consistently 10 minutes apart. But, they were not bothersome, so I felt like it was a waste to even be timing them and decided to stop. When I got back to work I had a couple that jostled me, but overall they were manageable and I was able to finish up my work and left at 3:30. I traveled about an hour to pick up my son, and we headed to target where I had another good surge. Still, though, I felt they were not long enough or strong enough to be the real deal. I called my doula and told her I was going to have dinner and tea in bed with my son, and thought it would all settle down. We made plans to take a walk the next morning. At 7pm I called my husband home, still thinking it was against my better judgement. I told him that I didn’t think it was anything, but was feeling kinda crummy and needed him to come and hang out with our 4 year old and just be close. At 9pm I started putting our son to bed, and he fell asleep at 9:30. I read Cat in the Hat AND Cat in the Hat comes back through some surges without trouble. I would check the clock and noticed that they were still 10 minutes apart or longer, and not consistent in strength, so I shrugged each one of them off. When he fell asleep I went back into our bedroom to make a phone call. While I was on the phone I had a surge and POP, felt a gush between my legs. When pregnant with our son I thought my water had broken, but it was a false alarm. This was in the back of my mind when I called my midwife, and I know my husband was getting worried that I was getting my hopes up, or getting excited that this might be it. I told her I thought that my water may have broken, but I wasn’t sure. She told me to call her back when contractions got closer together and stronger. She said she would probably see me tonight, and I remember rolling my eyes at the thought that this was really it – yeah right! I turned my hypnobirthing CD on and crawled into bed, still not willing to believe that it was time. In bed I had 3 surges that were no fun in bed, and would end in my needing to use the bathroom (for 1 and 2) immediately after. After the third one, I decided something was probably up – but the contractions were still so far apart! I was convinced I was going to call everyone out to the house for NOTHING. My midwife and her apprentice had an hour travel time, and I was so worried to make them drive all the way to me and have to turn around because it was nothing. I refused to call them before I was certain I was in labor. My husband seemed just as skeptical. But then I vomited. As I watched my sypathetic puker husband gag as he cleaned my vomit through another contraction, I decided it was probably time to call the midwife (11pm). “Are you sure?!” he asked, knowing how worried I was about calling everyone too soon. I nodded, but I still wasn’t sure! He suggested that he time some of the contractions so he had some “data” to share with her, but all of a sudden I couldn’t tell where one stopped and the next began. All of a sudden they were right on top of each other, and I was finding it difficult to tell Sam when to start and stop the clock. He finally gave up on getting data and made the call. He shared with her what we were experiencing and she told him she would be there as quickly as she could. SHE knew that the baby was coming. We were still in denial. While we waited for her, I asked Sam to fill the birth tub. He immediately got to work, leaving me to labor alone. As soon as he left I had a couple really strong surges and didn’t like being without someone close by. I called our doula who lives about 20 minutes away. She listened to a contraction and I heard her tell her husband she needed to leave right away. After hanging up with her I was continuing to have surges and started to feel pushy. I called our midwife who was in the car on her way to us to share the information, and put her on speakerphone while I clung to the kitchen counter where I stopped for another strong surge. I was confused – how could I be pushy if I wasn’t in labor? “I was afraid of that,” she responded, and said, “Honey, if you are feeling pushy you are ready to push!” She stayed on the phone and listened to another surge. She told me to reach up inside and tell her if I could feel anything. With my middle finger inside the birth canal I could feel something hard – It was the head!! She yelled for Sam and told him to abandon the birth tub, there wasn’t time for it. She told him to get towels, and prepared him for the possibility of us delivering the baby without her. I kept telling her this wasn’t happening. I’m not in labor! Okay, at that point I knew I was, but I have LOOONG labors – the baby couldn’t be coming yet! I started pushing, and for about 30 minutes I eased the baby down with every surge. My doula arrived 15 minutes before baby came. She helped me to breathe lower and find a more efficient pushing tone. 5 minutes later our midwife arrived, and 10 minutes later, at 12:04, I reached down from the high squat position I had been in since my first major surge in my own kitchen, reached down between my legs and caught my baby with help from my midwife’s loving hands. I was in complete shock. My husband and I looked at each other and I couldn’t stop saying, “Oh, my god!” and marveling at what had just happened.
It took a couple minutes to realize we didn’t check the gender yet. I opened the blanket we covered her in and were surprised to find that we had had a girl!! Evren Agnes was born at 12:04, just over an hour after calling our midwife to come, and less than 3 hours after my waters broke. She weighed 7lbs, 7 oz. We are over the moon with love, but also with the joy of how our little Aggie made it into the world on her own terms.
And, of course…I GOT MY HBAC!!!!
First photo taken less than 18 hours before birth, 2nd taken on my due date, 5 days post partum.
From Aggie’s Proud Papa:
It is important to note that the birthing experience with my son did not go according to plan. We had wanted Natural Childbirth. The Hospital and “Midwives” there did nothing to help us get what we wanted. Instead, they found every way in the world to defeat my wife’s spirit, and deny us the gift of having our son born naturally. I was the first to hold my son; he was delivered via C-Section. While I wish that he had not been born this way, and that this was not what we had wanted, it left my wife with an emotional scar that I feel responsible for.
When my daughter was born, I felt that this helped to partially heal that wound for her. This proves, without a shadow of a doubt, that my wife can do whatever she sets her mind to. Run a marathon? No problem. Run a marathon pregnant? No problem. Give birth to a baby in our kitchen? No fucking problem. The female body is an amazing thing. My wife is an amazing woman. I am proud of her, and our family. This experience was great. I recommend Home Birth. Check it out.”
Story and photographs courtesy of the beautiful and strong Sara Gage Danks. Reproduction and distribution of the story and photographs is not authorized without the consent of the original author.
Most people wouldn’t associate PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, with child birth. In fact, it’s so uncommon that I don’t even mention it to people. Ever. Who would believe me? Most people I know with PTSD have it from combat, from fighting for our country. Or maybe a car accident. But birth? No one would believe me.
But that’s what it feels like. I can’t escape it. I love my son and he is my entire world. Most people think (and usually say) that isn’t that what’s important? A healthy baby? But there is so much more to birth than that!
During my pregnancy, I did everything that I could to get ready for my birth. As a Soldier, I did PT with the other pregnant Soldiers even running up until I was 28 weeks. My husband and I went to prenatal classes. I went to all of my appointments. I watched my diet and my weight. I even did a birth plan. It was full of every detail that I hoped my birth would be. Quiet and dark room, the midwife helping me find positions to help, no epidural, no pitocin, no drugs, delayed cord clamping, immediate skin to skin and breastfeeding. It didn’t seem like too much to ask. I longed for feeling connected to my child and birthing them, holding them close, feeling the birthing high as I embrace the very thing that a woman is made to do!
As soon as we arrived at Labor & Delivery, I excitedly started telling the nurses of my birth plan. They smiled and nodded, “uh-huh” “that’ll be nice dear”.. and then it all went out the window. They constantly wanted me monitored, I felt apprehensive but they are the experts, right? They wouldn’t do it if I didn’t really need it, right? I did labor naturally until about 1am. I started to feel tired, I started to think that maybe I couldn’t do this. And that was really the turning point. Knowing what I know now, I was entering transition! I was nearly there! But at the time, I asked for the epidural.. even using the safe word that I told my husband I would only use if I were desperate.
And that is when the “If only…” things start to take over. If only he had encouraged me and told me how strong I was and that I could do it, then maybe I wouldn’t have gotten the epidural… If only I hadn’t gotten the epidural, then maybe DS wouldn’t have turned sunny side up with his head slightly tilted.. If only they hadn’t started pitocin, he wouldn’t have gotten stressed out… If only they hadn’t tried to manually turn him (um, ouch!!) then maybe he wouldn’t have had meuconeum…have come down on his own.. If only, if only, if only..
But those things did happen.
So I was told I had no choice, they had to do a Cesarean. I remember DH holding me close as I sobbed into his shoulder when they told us. The contractions still wracking my body because the epi didn’t really work for me anyways except that it made my legs tingle and feel limp. The nurse quickly shaved me, DH got a gown, and they wheeled me through the bright hallway to the OR. From there it is a blur. It was so bright, they made a joke about us not knowing whether it was a boy or girl. The anestheziologist changed out my epidural for something stronger, it made my lower half disappear, my arms felt cold and tingly, i could hardly breathe. I couldn’t see DH, but I know he was there. I was crying. I could feel them tugging on me, it was moving my whole body. This wasn’t right, this wasn’t supposed to be how it was. This wasn’t supposed to be how I met my.. son. It’s a boy! The surgeon holds him high above me so I can see before he is whisked away. I asked to hold him, to see him. No one was hearing me, it was hard to talk because it was so hard to breathe. There was something wrong with DS. They brought him next to my head, wrapped tight in a blanket and with a cap on. I ask if I can nurse him. But some doctor is there telling me that he has to take him and that something is wrong. So DH goes with him too. And I’m alone.
The surgeon is closing me up. There’s a student there too, so he’s explaining as he goes.. “put the intestine there.. the appendix looks good.. no just place that on there.. now we stitch the next layer…” I can tell when they get to my skin, as the conversation changes.. “it was nice enough to golf this past weekend… yeah we were able to go up to the mountain…” It felt like forever, laying there with my arms tingling, tears streaming down my cheeks.. it’s probably the worst thing you can do to a claustrophobic. Strap them to a table and make it impossible to move or feel anything.
In recovery, the spinal began to wear off. I desperately wiggled my toes and legs to get it to go away.. they wouldn’t let me see my son until I was able to stand and then sit in a wheelchair since he was in the NICU.. Six hours after my amazing son came into this world I got to hold him in my arms. He was beautiful. He was amazing. And that’s the first time I heard it, from the nurse, “well as long as you and baby are healthy, that’s all that matters.”
Today as I started off on my first run after a month long, self-imposed “break” from running.. one of my first thoughts was… bug spray. I forgot to use bug spray. As I swatted away the bugs that convene along the rural Virginia road at dusk, I started to imagine myself as She-Ra, fighting my way through them. Weird? Yes. Empowering? Absolutely.
This was my first run of many that will come to prepare for my first marathon next January. A bucket list item, that at 29, I started to worry that I wouldn’t get to. Despite reports of 93 year olds completing them “all the time.” I wonder most days if I am crazy. But a few years ago, before my son was born, I ran a half-marathon. And I still remember that absolute elation as I crossed the finish line, tears streaming down my face as I quietly celebrated finishing as well as finally feeling the massive blisters and my bruised toes.
It’s the same elation that I had hoped to feel after birthing my son. You see, in the next six months, I’m not only training for my fist marathon. I am also embarking on a journey of healing my soul after a traumatic birth experience. I am preparing to try to have another child, and I desperately want to birth the way that millions of women take for granted every day. My fears of another cesarean make me paralyzed sometimes. Nightmares of my birth experience haunt me, and until I can face my fears and my experiences I won’t be able to move forward and embrace pregnancy and birth again.
This is going to be my journey.. It’ll probably get rough. It’ll probably get emotional. But I hope to emerge as a She-Ra, battling my way through fears and comfort zones to be a marathon runner and a kick ass mama who’s ready for anything.