This past week I went to my local ICAN meeting, as I have monthly for the past year. The ladies there have been a fantastic group that have helped me in so many ways. They are supportive and knowledgable about VBAC and the local medical community in ways that have really helped me prepare for our upcoming birth. This month they also did a blessing way for me!
I’ve topped off my hospital bag with eleven amazing notes filled with affirmations and encouragement as I go through this birth and a necklace to remind me of their words when I am in the midst of my birthing time!
Thank you so much to everyone who has been there through this time of preparation. We are only a couple of weeks away from our estimated due date!
ICAN The International Cesarean Awareness Network, Inc. (ICAN) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve maternal-child health by preventing unnecessary cesareans through education, providing support for cesarean recovery, and promoting Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC).
Three months ago, I had a successful VBAC that was way more than 9 months in the making. In fact, I have to go back 3 years, to the night my son was born. This was my first birth and so I had dreams of how birth would be. I went into labor 13 days past my due date and after hours and hours of labor, I’d stalled at 4cm. My OB was baffled why the baby wouldn’t come down and even though we tried different positions, breaking my water, and walking for what seemed like hours, we decided to go with a C-section. At the time I was too exhausted to be devastated….that came later. I spent my recovery days in the hospital in a sort of denial, refusing to let myself process the birth I had versus the birth I wanted. I was holding it together with the thought that there was nothing I could’ve done because my large, posterior-positioned son (8lb 15oz) had gotten himself stuck and couldn’t come out any other way. But then we prepared to leave and I went to sign my discharge papers…there on the bottom where it said “reason for C-section” were the words “dysfunctional labor”. I know now it refers to the fact that I never got past 4cm and that’s just what they call it. But for someone who wanted nothing more than a pure, natural, drug-free, intervention-free birth….it was devastating. I’d been grasping desperately to the idea that it was my son’s size and position that “caused” the C-section and not anything I did “wrong.” Reading those words crushed me and I fell to pieces on the inside feeling that it was my dysfunctional body that “caused” the C-section. My body had failed me.
My “failed” birth (how I felt…not reality) was followed by a difficult physical recovery and an even more challenging breastfeeding experience. For various reasons I had a hard time nursing my son, but was determined to make it work. (And in retrospect, I suppose I was so determined to make it work because I felt my body had failed me once and I wasn’t going to let it fail me again. We eventually overcame our challenges and 3 years later he’s still nursing.) These difficulties compounded the “normal” baby blues and were made even worse by our upcoming move to Pittsburgh (from North Carolina). With all the difficulties and depression, I remembered my OB telling me the morning after my son was born, that I would be a good candidate for a VBAC if I wanted to try in the future.
Within a couple months of his birth, I was already researching VBACs and trying to educate myself not only on the reasons for my C-section, but what I could do to avoid another one in the future. I knew we were still years away from a second child, but I never stopped thinking about and planning for a VBAC. For me, I wanted it (or maybe needed it) to truly heal from the devastation of the C-section. A little over 2 years later we decided to start trying for our 2nd. We got pregnant quickly and I began seeing a midwife group, as I felt it was my best chance at being supported for a VBAC. My pregnancy was uneventful and smooth but I the idea of a VBAC loomed over me, especially as my due date approached. My due date came and went, and with each passing day, my belly grew with what I was guessing to be a pretty big baby.
At 11 days past my due date, I went for my checkup with a heavy heart that I had not even started dilating or any other signs of early labor. My midwife said I was dilated enough to try a membrane sweep to get things going, but they still put me on the books for an induction 3 days later (42 weeks). I spent the rest of the day having mild cramps and walking a few miles around the neighborhood. By nighttime the cramps had diminished, along with my hope. I went to bed discouraged that this once again would not go the way I hoped.
The next morning (41 weeks 12 days) I woke up with more mild contractions but they were very irregular. I spent the day walking around as much as possible as the contractions slowly became stronger and a little more regular. By mid-afternoon I was sure this was labor and was walking, swaying, and breathing through each contraction. They were still pretty far apart so I knew it wasn’t time to call my midwife or doula yet. For now my Mom would be enough until my husband got home from work. When he got home I told him what was happening, showered, and then called the midwives to check in. While my contractions weren’t close enough together for them to want me to indicate active labor, I do live about an hour from the hospital (and as it was nearly rush hour, they suggested I come in. We packed the last of our things and around 5pm, said good night to our 3 year old son and my parents, assuming when they came to visit the next day, there would be a baby.
The hour and a half ride (yes there was traffic) was uncomfortable to say the least but my contractions were getting stronger and holding a pretty regular pattern. We arrived at the hospital, filled out the necessary forms, and were brought into triage, where I was hooked up to fetal monitors. My contractions were still fairly strong, but the longer we had to wait in that tiny room where I could do little more than walk a few paces or sway side to side, the more irregular my contractions became. By the time the on-call midwife came to check me, the monitor charts indicated irregular contractions indicating I was still in early labor (how was that possible?!). A vaginal exam confirmed this, as I was still at 1 cm (the same as I was at my checkup the day before). Nearly 10 hours of contractions and I was still 1 cm. I felt deflated when she said they would normally recommend sending me home….normally. It was then we learned that I was leaking amniotic fluid. My membranes hadn’t ruptured, but there was likely a slow leak. This information combined with our distance from the hospital convinced the midwife to admit me. It was now after 10pm. Finally, I thought, we’re getting somewhere. Our doula arrived shortly after we moved into our LDR room and we all settled in. I felt calmer just being in there knowing we’d really be able to focus on the labor and get to work….no more guessing “is this it?”
Within a few minutes the nurse hooked me up to their wireless monitors to I could go for a walk in the halls. As she was hooking me up she and another nurse joked that they were surprised the monitors were even working, since apparently they malfunction often. After a few minutes of walking my contractions seemed to pick up a little but I was already tired and thirsty, so we headed back to my room to take a break and use the birth ball for a little while. About 5 minutes after we returned to the room, a nurse came in the room to look at the monitor read-out and said the baby’s heartbeat looked a little irregular. She asked me to get in bed for a few minutes to see if it calmed down. No sooner had I climbed in, than a team of about 10 nurses, doctors, and who knows who else rushed into my room. We (my husband, doula, and I) thought it was a mistake, but when a nurse came toward me and put an operating cap/bonnet on my head, we knew something was up. For a minute there was a lot of “What’s going on?” “Who are you?” “What are you doing in here?” (mostly my husband, who was standing protectively over my bed). I felt fine, the baby was dancing around inside, so this didn’t make sense. My midwife sat down on my bed as the OB came over and said “we need to do an emergency C-section. Sign this form so we can put you under [general anesthesia].” Ummm, excuse me? My shock of how sudden this was happening had me keep asking “why?” “What’s going on?” The OB, who clearly expected me to just say “Ok” and sign the papers, seemed quite put out that she was having to explain to me why I needed emergency surgery. When I insisted I get an explanation before I signed anything, she finally told us (in a very condescending tone) that the monitor was indicating I might be having a uterine rupture and that the baby was in distress. I kept insisting that I was confused because all along they’d been saying how unreliable the wireless monitors are (not just that night, but always). While this wasn’t my plan, all my questions and confusion served as an important delay. After a couple minutes of confused explanations, my midwife interrupted to point out that I was in no pain and asked me if the baby was moving at all. I repeated that I felt fine and that the baby was as active as it ever was. She pointed out that if I was in fact having a uterine rupture I would be in a lot of pain and the baby would likely be quiet. The OB begrudgingly agreed but still recommended I agree to an elective C-section. As she put it “You’re only 1 cm and when [not if] this happens again, we won’t be able to put in an epidural and you’ll have to go under for it.” It was clear she was trying to bully me into an elective C-section so she didn’t have to deal with me (my words, not hers). We asked her to leave a moment so my husband and I could discuss this with my midwife and our doula. We knew it was our decision but it was so unexpected I was still a little in shock. While I might have been shaky on the outside with a racing pulse, I felt strangely calm. In my gut I still felt that everything was okay and I wanted to continue with my trial of labor. The question was how to get the doctors off my back so I could continue doing what I needed to do. Our doula suggested getting an epidural in place at the lowest setting. This way I could move around in my bed a bit and IF they felt I needed the emergency section, I wouldn’t need general anesthesia. While this wasn’t the OB’s recommendation (and she made that clear), she said she could live with my decision to continue and left the room (I never saw her again).
I really have no concept of time past this point, only that it seemed we were in for a long night. After they set up the epidural our midwife suggested we all try to get some rest, as it appeared we were going to be there for a while. At some point we all fell asleep and got some rest and were only awoken when our midwife came in to talk at the end of her shift. A couple hours had passed and apparently that’s exactly what my body needed. I’d finally started to dilate more. She left us quietly with a few encouraging words and we all slept a little more.
When I woke shortly after dawn, I knew I was approaching the 24 hour mark, but still felt calm in my gut. The epidural was taking the edge off, but I still had to breathe through each contraction. I was focusing on my years of yogic relaxation techniques and the voice in my head that said “you can do it”. For most of the day I was pretty unaware of what was going on around me. I was focused on my baby and visualized my uterus opening. The words “down and out” played over and over in my head with each contraction. What I do remember was a nurse occasionally coming in to check on me and ask if I wanted to “up” the epidural (“No thank you”); my husband getting me juice, ginger ale, and ice chips to sip on; the new midwife checking me occasionally and calmly reassuring me that it didn’t matter how slowly I was progressing as long as I was just progressing; and my parents bringing my son (dressed in his “Big Brother” shirt) to hopefully meet his new sibling. Every once and a while I would come out of my “trance” to change position in the bed, interact with those in the room, and apologize for being like a boring filmstrip they were forced to watch in history class. Then I went “inside” again. I’m sure everyone thought I was sleeping during these times (and I’m sure sometimes I was), but more than anything I was turning inward to focus all attention on my baby and my body’s ability to birth it.
At some point in the afternoon, my midwife checked me to see if we could get a sense of the baby’s position and told us I was at 6 cm (2 cm farther than I’d gotten laboring with my son, so I was thrilled). During this exam my membranes ruptured and we discovered meconium (no surprise considering I was 13 days past my due date). My son had meconium too so I wasn’t all that concerned. I knew it would mean I wouldn’t be able to delay the cord clamping or have immediate skin to skin, but that something I could let go of.
A little while later during the next exam, my midwife informed me that 1, I was about 8cm (yay!) and 2, she thought she felt something tear (sigh!). She seemed pretty calm so I wasn’t going to get worked up just yet. The OB came in to exam and confirmed it was a cervical tear but wasn’t at all concerned (that it happened more often than people realize and that it was an easy repair after the baby was born). Phew! As he was leaving the room someone asked about the baby’s size, and without blinking an eye he said “oh, don’t worry, women rarely grow babies they can’t birth.” I loved him for saying that and with this reassurance I went back to work, focusing my energy inward and on my baby and body.
As we approached evening, my parents left to take my son home (I hadn’t seen him and he could only be entertained by the fish in the pond for so long), and our midwife’s shift was ending soon. I had been at the hospital for over 24 hours (though I had no concept of time still) and had no idea if there was an end in sight. After another exam my midwife announced words I’d been waiting to hear: “fully dilated and effaced….you can start pushing.” Having never pushed before, and having the epidural, I didn’t know what the “urge” felt like or what to do, so the nurses and midwife coached me through a few contractions. After pushing for a while (again, no concept of time), I began to feel the natural urge women always talk about, but I started to feel deflated again. I was uncomfortable and tired. The baby was kicking me in the ribs and I couldn’t get a deep breath to really push. Pushing on my side was uncomfortable and they were worried I was too tired to squat (even with support), so on my back it was. As the midwife’s shift was ending, she informed the next midwife of everything happened in the past 24+ hours, including the fact that I had been pushing for 2 hours (I had no idea). I pushed for a little longer and then sensed some concern in the room among my midwife and others. Apparently the baby was getting stuck and moving out and then back in with each push (no real progress). Knowing this was probably my last chance, I summoned all my strength (who knew I still had some left?) and gave a few pushes that could have moved mountains and prayed they worked (I knew I only had a few of those kinds of pushes in me). A few pushes later baby girl was here…..all 9 lbs 10oz of her. (And they said my son was “too big to fit”?)
I knew I couldn’t have her on my chest because they needed to check her lungs (meconium), but I was quite frankly too exhausted from 34 hours of labor to be that upset. “I did it!” was really all I could think of. I was so relieved, so excited, and so exhausted….and the night was far from over.
While the nurses check her over (she was fine), the room was still buzzing over me. I had apparently lost a lot of blood between the cervical tear and a 3rd degree perineal tear and they were worried about my blood pressure. The room was too crowded to repair the tears so they asked if they could bring me to the OR, but not before I had some time to hold my new daughter and nurse her for the first time. She latched immediately and nursed like an old pro.
As I held her and watched her nurse so expertly, I felt not just the stress and exhaustion of a drama-filled lengthy labor melt away, but also the pain and disappointment I’d felt for nearly 3 years because of my first “failed” labor. It certainly wasn’t anyone’s dream birth, but I’d done it. I kept calm throughout the labor, even through the 4 times when other’s thought we might be heading for a section. I’d trusted my body’s ability to birth the baby it had grown. And while there was still some drama to come (difficulty repairing the tears, inability to stabilize my blood pressure due to blood loss, worry over my uterus not contracting (until I suggested I go back to my room to nurse my baby for a while to see if it helps….it did)), I look back at those first few hours of nursing her and holding her in my arms, and felt peace and healing. Whatever was going on in the room was all peripheral. We looked into each other’s eyes and I could hear her spirit telling me “I knew you could do this, Mom.”
In the hours, days, and weeks that have passed, I have reflected on this experience. I needed time to process it all and let it sink in. And while I feel many, many emotions, one stands out: gratitude.
I’m grateful for everything I learned following my C-section, as it empowered me to learn more about birthing options AND gave me the drive to not give up on breastfeeding my son in the beginning.
I’m grateful for our move to Pittsburgh, as it gave me access to a great midwife group in a great hospital.
I’m grateful for a loving and supportive husband who saw me struggle through depression over my first birth and helped me fight for the VBAC I wanted.
I’m grateful for my support team during this labor and delivery, who stayed calm when others wanted to rush into big decisions.
I’m grateful for the midwife who spoke up to the surgeon who wanted to rush me off to emergency surgery and told them to stop and look at the patient not the charts.
I’m grateful for my doula suggesting the epidural to get the OB off my back about a C-section and let me labor in peace.
I’m grateful for another midwife quietly encouraging me and not becoming concerned that my progress was painstakingly slow.
I’m grateful for another OB who didn’t panic over a possible cervical tear and added that he was confident my body would be able to birth the baby it grew.
I’m grateful for yet another midwife not giving up on me after 2 hours of pushing and telling me she knew I could do it.
I’m grateful that after great blood loss, I was allowed to hold, nurse, and bond with my daughter for over 20 minutes before I went to the OR, a bonding time I never got to have with my first birth.
And I’m grateful for this opportunity to share my story and finally let go of the pain of my first birth and find peace.
Finding the right VBAC provider is a daunting task for me. As my husband and I start talking about trying for baby #2, this decision weighs on my mind a lot. Even putting aside the fact that I am not currently stationed in the same area as we will be when we do start our second pregnancy, the enormity of the task is intense. The more birth stories that I read, and the more resources that I find, a common thread is that it is absolutely positively essential to have a supportive team that you trust and can depend on to be there for you during your VBAC experience.
I usually try to be as impartial and methodical as possible when I pick our medical providers, but finding a VBAC supportive provider is so much more than that. Of course, there are checklists that I can use and questions that I can ask like:
How many VBACs have you attended? What is the success rate? How many uterine ruptures have you seen?
What is your philosophy on going past 40 weeks? If I were to go post date, what options would you offer and at what time? 41 weeks? 42 weeks? 43 weeks?
Do you have any standard VBAC protocols that you follow that differ from non-VBAC birth?
What kind of pain management techniques do you encourage? Do you support water birth? Will you support a home birth?
But I think the biggest factor in picking my VBAC provider will be how well we “click” together. This is why I am nervous. During my first pregnancy, I participated in a new program offered at my hospital called “Centering Pregnancy” where appointments were held in a group setting (aside from the height and weight check, checking the fetal heartbeat and fundal height). During these appointments, I felt relatively comfortable. The same midwife, OB and nurse were there each month as well as four other couples participating in the program. We discussed different topics each month, and while I felt like I learned a lot during these appointments, I didn’t establish a good enough relationship with the Midwife. She did happen to be the one on duty during the second half of my labor, and she wasn’t as supportive or present as I thought she was going to be. In fact, I can only remember for sure seeing her twice during my labor and in both instances she was insisting that my baby was too big but I could “go ahead and try to push.” Followed by her walking out of the room.
So, I worry that my ability to pick a supportive provider might be weak. Fortunately, there are a few organizations available to help find supportive providers for mothers who are seeking VBAC. The first one that I learned about is called the International Cesarean Awareness Network or ICAN. ICAN is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve maternal-child health by preventing unnecessary cesareans through education, providing support for cesarean recovery, and promoting Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC). There are ICAN chapters all over the world, and each one has mothers that have experienced VBAC and can provide recommendations of midwives and obstetricians in the area. Connecting to a local chapter on Facebook, I have been able to interact with other moms from that area. I’ve learned more about the providers, what their quirks are, who they work with well, who they don’t work with well, what hospitals are more supportive than others and much more.
What did you look for in your provider? What resources did you use to find a provider?
Please welcome our guest writer Tracie! This week’s birth story brought a smile to my face as Tracie described how she stuck to her guns during her long labor, and how her OB stuck up for her to those who were on call when she went into labor. Tracie also said, “I found my OB through recommendations of my local ICAN chapter. So many moms seem to be unaware ICAN exists, and it was an invaluable resource for me.” Enjoy her story!
Ayla’s Birth Story
I’ll start from the beginning so there is an idea of how long everything was from start to finish.
A little back story… Ayla’s big brother, Cooper, had a stomach virus Friday, July 20. The rest of the family got it on Saturday evening just before bed. It was one for the record books. Lots of yuckiness mostly out of the top end, but occasionally both ends. 39 weeks pregnant and having a virus like that is NOT fun. Sunday afternoon, we had all stopped being sick but were incredibly wiped out. We did as little as possible for a few days.
Now for the baby related stuff. I had a routine checkup on Tuesday where the amniotic fluid level was the highest it’s been – 24. I was spilling ketones into my urine so while Ayla had too much fluid, I didn’t have enough. :). I spent the rest of that day and evening trying to rehydrate myself. About 2am Wednesday morning I woke up with excruciating pain in my lower abdomen. I attempted to go back to sleep but couldn’t. I suffered until about 9am when the constant pain lessened, and I started having mild contractions. They weren’t regular, but pretty frequent. We were meeting our potential doula at 11, so I managed to get out of the house and do that. When we got home around 12:30, the excruciating pain was back. I laid down and tried to rest but around 2pm decided to call my OBs office just to be sure I didn’t need to come in. They of course told me to come in. I went in and they found that my fluid levels had increased from 24 to 34. They said the pain was at the bottom of my uterus and likely due to the excess fluid. They kept me overnight just to be sure nothing was wrong and the next morning fluid was back down to 22 and everything looked so I got to go home around 9:30 am.
We went through the day with mild contractions and went to bed Thursday evening. Around 9:30pm I wanted to roll over and couldn’t because of the abdominal pain. (a different pain from the previous day.). Then I needed to pee. I got my husband to help me up, but even with his help, I still couldn’t get up. My husband picked me up so that I could go to the bathroom. I decided that even if it wasn’t real labor that my entire abdomen shouldn’t hurt like that so I decided to head back to labor and delivery. I was greeted by a physician who told me that I should go ahead and get a section because with a previous section, my unproductive labor, the pains I had been having, and too much amniotic fluid that is where I would end up anyway. I tried to ignore those negative thoughts. I refused pain meds at first but then decided I would take some anyway because I wanted to be able to sleep as I was anticipating a big day Friday. I had regular (every 2 mins contractions, but was not dilating.). The doctor on call didn’t feel comfortable sending me home even though the excruciating pain had become bearable because of all of my minor issues that were stacked together. I was okay with that since I seemed to feel better when I was in the hospital anyway.
Around 5:15, my amniotic sac ruptured. The doctor on call (a different one from Thursday evening) said I needed to deliver within twelve hours because of my GBS status. I knew that was unreasonable and asked her to call my doctor. She called him and I guess he calmed her down because it became “let’s see how you are doing by 5am instead of you must deliver by 5am. My contractions had gotten more intense but were still ineffective as by 11pm (6hrs later) I hadonly progressed .5cm from Tuesday. I made the decision to ask for an epidural because I was in pain, and at the rate I was going, I was headed for a section anyway. In my mind, I had nothing to lose, and maybe with the pain gone, I would relax enough to allow my body to do its thing. They kept trying to start a very low dose of pitocin, but baby was not tolerating it very well. That shift decided to leave it alone. My OB came in Saturday morning (on his day off) to check on me. He had them start pitocin and she was tolerating it fine until it got to 4mL/hour. Baby’s heart rate dropped, but I didn’t realize it. All I saw was three nurses and my OB rush in and start doing stuff trying to aggravate her and raise her heart rate. They left pitocin off for a bit and started it again. They got it to 4 and her heart rate dropped again, but they were on top of it that time. They cut off the pitocin again. Got her heart rate up again and started pitocin a little bit again. They got it to three and decided to leave it there.
Around 2:30, my OB had to leave for a prior engagement. He checked me and I was at 8cm. He said maybe I’d have a baby before he got back. I had been fighting the urge to push since shortly after my OB left. The nurse checked again and said I was around a 9. I continued to get the urge to push, and a bit later the nurse checked again and said I had a tiny bit left on the top. Around 4:30-5 the urge to push became unbearable. The nurse checked me again and said I was complete. I started pushing with the nurse attempting to coach me, but the epidural had worn off and I was telling her when I wanted to push. :). A little after 5, my dr came in and said he was going to get in scrubs. Before he got back the nurse coaching me told me to stop pushing. I told her I didn’t care if she caught the baby – I was NOT going to stop pushing. :).
My OB came in and said he wanted to check to see which way her head was coming out. It felt like he pushed her back in a little. I told him I’d worked hard to get her there not to push her back in. Then we started pushing again. Shortly after that, he told me he needed to give me some more room (an episiotomy) and asked if I knew what he was talking about and if it was okay. We had talked about how i would prefer to not have one. At that point, I’d have consented to anything. I told him it was fine. He started cutting and I could feel it. Then, I started feeling what I thought was cutting at the top. I said you are hurting me! Please stop! Everyone told me she was almost here – just one more push. I pushed and there she was. Such a surreal moment, but why in the world was he cutting me at the top??? He didn’t. LOL. In addition to the 2nd degree episiotomy, I had a tear on the top left side. I apologized at him for yelling at him. He told me it was not the worst he had heard. It was okay.
Baby Ayla Ivy Rowe was born at 5:47pm on July 28, 2012 (her guess date.) She weighed in at 8lb7oz and was 21″ long. The only thing that happened the way I had planned was that I did have a VBAC and healthy baby girl. Everything else was completely different than I had imagined, but the end result was a beautiful, healthy baby girl, and that’s all I really wanted anyway. :)”
Story and pictures are courtesy of Tracie Rowe. Distribution and reproduction is not authorized without the written consent of the original author. If you would like to share your VBAC birth story, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org
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.