A beautiful VBAC birth story, as told by Elspeth Ridout McCormick.
Like all VBAC stories, the story of my daughter’s birth really starts with her big brother’s birth. In 2012, we were expecting our first child. We took Bradley classes, practiced relaxation techniques, followed the Bradley diet, and took yoga classes and nightly walks to stay fit. My water broke at home, and I labored unmedicated at the hospital for 10 hours, until I stalled at 9cm and my cervix began to swell. What followed was a 10-hour cascade of interventions, ending with a c-section. As they wheeled me to the OR, I was already planning our VBAC.
For the next two and a half years, we interviewed OBs and midwives (seven in total) to find the right provider; we attended ICAN meetings, prayed, researched, and I read every VBAC birth story I could find. I had a breakdown at 20 weeks, concerned that only one of the three providers at the OB practice was supportive, and I worried what I would do if he wasn’t on call. This birth was feeling like we were preparing to go into battle – and that isn’t the way it should be. I had several heart-to-heart talks with my doctor, and he assured me his partners were supportive. I cried to my husband. I cried to my mom and my doula (a dear friend who was also our doula for my son’s birth.) And then I had to let go of all the worries and stress. We had done our research, and now we needed to be confident in our choice. We would walk into the hospital armed with smiles (and chocolate) – not with our war faces on and swords drawn.
Then the day finally came to put it all into action.
I had been having prodromal labor for weeks. Every afternoon the contractions would start, and every evening they would peter out. Saturday evening we dropped big brother off with my parents, went out to dinner, and then to a holiday party. The contractions started before dinner, and continued all night until we climbed into bed. I almost started to time these contractions, as they were more annoying and persistent than previous evenings; but nothing resulted. Wednesday evening was a similar situation. I attended an ICAN meeting and heard successful VBAC stories, and timed contractions using the clock on the wall. But just like Saturday night, they stopped when I laid down in bed.
On Friday morning, I lost my mucus plug. I took my time getting ready for work, waiting to see if labor was going to start. Nothing. The three of us got into the car to drive to work/daycare. I kept waiting all day for something to happen. The contractions that I had been having daily never happened. Despite that, though, I had this feeling that baby girl was going to make her appearance soon; but didn’t want to jinx it, so I only told our doula. She said she also thought it would be that weekend. I wrapped up the few loose ends I had at work, and read VBAC success stories on Birth Without Fear every free second I had.
My husband picked me up from work, then we picked our son up from daycare, and I promptly fell asleep in the car on the ride home. We got home around 6 p.m., and the contractions started as soon as I got out of the car. They felt as they had all the other times, though, so I wasn’t ready to proclaim that this was “it”. I cooked dinner, ate, cleaned up, and my husband started to get our son ready for bed. I took a bath, and the contractions continued. I attempted to read, but became too distracted with each contraction. I watched TV (Gilmore Girls; the flashback episode where Rory is born, coincidentally enough), paced in the living room, leaned on the fireplace mantle, and then started to actually time the contractions. Around 7:45 p.m., I texted our doula to let her know I thought it would be tonight. I called our parents to say the same thing. But I told all of them not to come yet.
Big Brother must have sensed something was happening, because he would not stay asleep. I ended up lying down with him for a little bit. While it was hard physically during the contractions, it was very nice to spend some last moments cuddling him as my only baby.
I don’t remember exactly when I told everyone to come, but they all showed up around 10:30pm. My husband packed the car while carrying a half-awake big brother on his shoulder. I tried to wrap up loose ends with my mother at home in between contractions, then our doula proclaimed that it was time to go. Luckily, big brother went easily to my mother – and we were out the door.
The ride to the hospital was very quick. I leaned over the back of the seat, and it wasn’t as bad as I remember the car ride being the first time around. We arrived at about 11 p.m. The hospital was very quiet as we walked in. I announced to the security guard that we were there to have a baby, and then leaned my back into my doula for a contraction while she supported my heavy belly with a rebozo (so awesome). I changed into a gown, was hooked up to the monitors, and consented to the first cervical check of this pregnancy. 6-7 cm. Excellent!
As much as I feared the wired monitors inhibiting my movements during labor, I was actually most comfortable on the bed, laboring on my side or over the back of the bed. (I only remember the tightness of the monitor bands, not the wires; especially when I was pushing.) The monitors revealed that baby girl’s heart rate was steady, but was not fluctuating during contractions like they wanted; so I chugged some apple juice to get her to “wake up”. I threw up the lovely dinner I had cooked. When she still didn’t “wake up”, I sucked down a honey stick. We never heard anything more about her heart rate, so I assume that did the trick.
About an hour later, my water broke. There was some meconium in the water, and I felt the mood change slightly. We worked so hard to just get to this point to “just try” for a VBAC – I didn’t want some poo to get in the way! I tried to focus and connect with baby girl to get her earthside before someone at the hospital tried to stop my VBAC.
But soon I began to lose the ability to relax during contractions; they were coming so fast, without much time to collect myself between them. Thankfully my husband and doula would get into my face and help me control my breath. About an hour after my water broke, I felt like I was spinning out of control; so I asked for an epidural. Everyone knew that was the last thing I wanted, though, and I was told I had to ask three more times. I jokingly snapped back, “epidural epidural epidural!”, at which point the nurse asked to check me again. I was very concerned that I wouldn’t have progressed much or that I would have the same lip as I had with my son, so I declined. It took some persuading from my husband and doula (who later told me I had already been pushing). I couldn’t believe it when the nurse said I was at 10. I asked if she was sure. I didn’t make it past 9 cm (before or after drugs) with our first, so it was wonderful to hear “10” and “you’re ready to push.”
I looked at the doctor and said, “Okay, so now what do I do? I’ve never done this part before.” I’ll be honest – she wasn’t my first choice of the three doctors at the practice, but she was a good pushing coach, and never looked at the instrument tray. It was a lot of work, but it felt great to push.
The contractions slowed down and I was finally able to catch my breath. During one contraction, I reached down and touched her head. I touched her head! We were doing it! And then her head was out, followed by her body (which she turned as she came out, causing a third degree tear.)
We were warned that she may not cry due to the presence of meconium; and she was hurried over to the neonatologist in the room, where they gave her lungs some suction. She never left my sight, and Daddy was right there next to her, talking to her, and keeping her company while I was stitched up. They were still stitching me up when she was given the all-clear and placed on my chest.
I couldn’t believe I had done it! We admired our precious baby, and decided on her name. Cora’s birth was so incredible, and it healed wounds I didn’t even know I had. It was one of the hardest things I have worked for, and the most empowering thing I have ever done. My doula and husband were never wavering in their support and strength, both physical and emotional, and I am eternally thankful they were by my side.
We did it! I did it!