Rita shares the story of her daughter’s birth – a healing VBAC.
My first baby was born via cesarean section. Like many women, I never imagined that I would need a C-section; I never thought that would happen to me. Imagine my surprise when after 24 hours of labor, my midwife announced to me that since my baby was in distress and I had not progressed past 8 cm in three hours, the next step would be a cesarean. I pulled my bed sheet over my head and cried out loud like a baby. I wasn’t physically, emotionally or spiritually prepared for this.
The C-section was due to failure to progress and non-reassuring fetal heart rate. I personally think (my non-medical opinion) that the cesarean was the result of all of the drugs that were administered to me during labor (with my consent) and the artificial rupturing of my membrane when the baby was still high up in the uterus in the occiput posterior position. Those drugs included Fentanyl, Epidural and Pitocin. I felt like my baby was drugged (again, my non-medical opinion). I also think that it was due to my ignorance. I didn’t educate myself about childbirth. I did not educate myself about the different pain medications that were available to me and their pros and cons. Heck, I didn’t even take a childbirth class. I was one of those patients who just let the nurses and doctors do whatever they felt necessary. I did not have a plan or even know what I wanted. The cesarean was definitely a wake-up call for me.
When my baby was about 6 months old, I learned I was pregnant with my second baby. The pregnancy was more than a surprise; it knocked the wind out of me. Eight weeks after my first baby was born, I had an IUD inserted to prevent another pregnancy until I was prepared for it, which would have been about 18 months after my first baby was born. I was told that this type of IUD usually lasts for 10yrs and that there is a .08% chance of getting pregnant while on it. I guess I was a part of the .08. I was very upset with the provider who inserted the IUD. I had so many questions that she couldn’t answer. Yes, I even thought about suing her… but that’s a whole other story.
After a few weeks of crying my eyes out and being frustrated, I decided to get with the program. This baby wasn’t going anywhere. I needed to take care of myself physically and emotionally in order to be able to care for my unborn child. Once I came to terms with the pregnancy, I made a promise to myself: the birth of this baby was going to be completely different from the birth of the first child—I was going to have a vaginal birth—and I was going to do everything I could to increase my chances of having one.
The first order of business was to find a VBAC-friendly hospital. All of my research led to one of the big hospitals in my hometown of Tacoma, WA; so I contacted the hospital’s midwifery department.
My first appointment was great. The midwife told me that since my last cesarean wasn’t due to any major medical reason, I should be able to at least try for a VBAC. After my first C-section, the doctor told me that because of the way she had sewed and positioned my uterus, I would have a greater chance of having a vaginal birth the next time around. She sewed my uterus twice. Also, since I was able to go into labor on my own and progressed to 8cm, this would work in my favor.
After finding the VBAC-friendly hospital, the second order of business was to find a doula. While on doulaMatch.net, I found two doulas in my area. One of them, surprisingly, had been my high school music teacher. If I had known that she was a doula, I would have used her for my first baby. I interviewed both of them, and ended up choosing my high school music teacher. There were so many reasons why I chose her. She had a C-section with her first baby and went on to have four vaginal births. She had 15+ years of doula experience. She had a very gentle and calm spirit, which I felt was important. She’s also a birth instructor for one of the big hospitals in our area. My husband and I took a birthing class with her, and she was great! She really knew a lot about birthing babies. During the class, we had to do an exercise that required partnership. One of the girls there did not have a partner. The instructor volunteered to be her partner. After the exercise, the girl said to her, “Wow that was great! You have a gentle, motherly touch.” That statement confirmed even more that she was the right doula for me. I needed that gentle, motherly touch during my labor and delivery.
As my pregnancy progressed, I decided to educate myself more on childbirth. I read two books and watched endless YouTube videos on natural childbirth and successful VBACs. I read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin, and Birthing From Within by Pam England and Rob Horowitz. I watched all episodes of the British TV show One Born Every Minute. I watched a movie called All My Babies: A Midwife’s Own Story. I must have watched this movie about a thousand times. It is also on YouTube. Of course, I watched the documentary The Business of Being Born.
I became a member of our local ICAN (International Cesarean Awareness Network) on Facebook. I also became a member of a Facebook group designated for all cesarean moms who are looking to have VBAC (a very supportive group). I followed Birth Without Fear, improving birth.org Ob/Gyn & midwife associates, and many other childbirths groups on Facebook. My Facebook feed was 90% natural childbirth/VBAC related. Every day of my pregnancy, I read or watched something positive about natural childbirth or successful VBAC. I read almost all of the birthing stories posted on Birth Without Fear’s Facebook page. If others could do it, I could definitely do it, too. I was really encouraged by other women. I made up my mind that I wasn’t just going to try for a VBAC, I was going to have a VBAC. I asked Jesus every day to give me my heart’s desire.
During my second trimester, I started reading a lot about red raspberry leaf tea, which has many benefits. One major benefit is that it helps strengthen the uterus, which helps in preventing uterine rupture. Uterine rupture is a major concern when having a VBAC. I posted a question on our mamas’ group Facebook page; I asked if anyone had experience with drinking red raspberry leaf tea during their pregnancy, and I had a lot of good responses. Some women said that it helped them go into labor. I was a little nervous about that, as I was still early in my pregnancy. I spoke with my midwife regarding this. She said it was ok to drink two cups of red raspberry leaf tea a day, and three cups starting at about 34 or 36 weeks. I was 28 weeks pregnant at that time, so I started drinking two cups a day. I drank red raspberry leaf tea religiously until the day I was in labor. I also started seeing a chiropractor for weekly adjustments from 28 weeks until the week before my baby was born.
My pregnancy was going very well until I went in for my 35-week checkup. While examining my stomach, the midwife seemed a little concerned. She couldn’t tell if my baby’s head was down or not (I had a very large fibroid.) At the beginning of the exam, she thought the baby’s head was down, but by the end she thought that the baby had moved into a breech position. She recommended that I have an ultrasound done to be 100% sure that the baby’s head was down. I started to get very nervous.
I had an ultrasound done that week, and thank goodness, baby’s head was down. I was very happy and relieved. My first baby was breech throughout my whole pregnancy. My OB turned her around through external cephalic version. My 36- through 38-week checkups were fine. My midwife was sure that my baby’s head was down. At my 37-week checkup, I told my midwife that I was getting nervous about having a VBAC. I was afraid something terrible might happen—something worse than a repeat cesarean. She said if anything happened, they would do the best they could to help my baby and me. “However,” she said, “You have to trust yourself, your decision and your body. You had a cesarean. Your body is not broken. Your body is more than capable of birthing your baby.” That stuck with me. I repeated it about a hundred times a day. My body is not broken; my body is not broken. My body is more than capable of birthing my baby.
Things took a turn at 39 weeks! I went in for my 39-week checkup. While examining my stomach, my midwife seemed very concerned again. I remembered that look on her face from previous weeks. I asked, “What’s wrong?” She said, “I am 90% sure this baby is breech. “No way!” I exclaimed. “Please make an appointment to do an ultrasound as soon as possible, probably before the end of this week,” she said. This was on Monday, January 18th. My baby was due on Sunday, January 24th. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The rest of the appointment went downhill from there. I went to the receptionist’s desk and asked her to schedule me for the earliest ultrasound. She scheduled me for 8:00 a.m. the next morning (Monday, January 19th). I was very sad. Worry kept me awake that night. To be totally honest, from the movement of the baby, I knew something wasn’t right.
I went in for my ultrasound the next morning; and lo and behold, my baby was in a frank breech position. Head up, bottom down. I started crying. The ultrasound tech asked if I was okay. I said “No. I can’t believe my baby is breech this late in the pregnancy. Now they are not going to allow me to try for a VBAC.” I was very frustrated. She recommended that I meet with the midwife that same day. She asked me to go wait for her by the receptionist. As I sat by the front office, I really could not contain my sadness any longer. I started crying. The office worker and other pregnant women who were coming in for their appointments probably thought something was wrong with me or my baby. Lucky for me, the midwife was available that morning.
I don’t remember much of my meeting with the midwife that morning. I was just too sad and upset. She asked me to come in later that day at 3 p.m. The OB was available to perform an external cephalic version if I was interested in it; and of course I was. I made the appointment to go in later that day. When I left the midwife’s office, I got into my car and cried/prayed for about 10 minutes. I called my husband and told him the news. He assured me that everything would be ok. He later told me that he felt very sad because I sounded so sad over the phone. I called my doula and left her a message. She sent me a text saying, “Got your message and will be praying. Let me know if you want me to come with you.”
Before I continue with the rest of the story, I want to take a moment to acknowledge a woman in my life; I will refer to her as a birthing goddess. This woman has given birth to seven children. Five of them were probably homebirths. One was via cesarean, and the other was a VBAC. We were pregnant at the same time twice. She was pregnant with her last two kids and I was pregnant with my first two kids. She is very inspiring in lots of ways, but especially when it comes to birthing and raising kids. She has a gift! Now back to the story.
On my way home from my ultrasound/midwife visit, I felt like I needed to talk to someone; someone who would understand what I was going through. I decided to head over to this birthing goddess’s house. She had just had a successful, unmedicated and fast VBAC – just what I was hoping and praying for. As I pulled up into her driveway, I saw her through the window reading what looked like a Bible or a devotional book. My mind was somewhere else. I couldn’t tell. She swiftly came to the door and let me in with a hug. She knew something was wrong just by looking at my face. I told her what was going on. After I was done, she asked me, “Can I pray for you?” “Yes please,” I responded. She sat very close to me on the couch, put her arms around me, and prayed for me. After that prayer, I felt like a burden was lifted off of me. I had hope, trust and peace again.
We went to the hospital for my 3 o’clock visit. I was very nervous. The nurse was very nice. The OB and midwife came in to perform the EVC. You have to sign an agreement agreeing that if your baby becomes distressed after this procedure, an emergency cesarean would be performed. After all the talking/paperwork signing, the OB said to the midwife, “You grab the baby’s bottom, I will grab the head, and we will slowly turn her around!” It was very painful and uncomfortable, but I was very happy that it was successful after the first try. After this, I asked the midwife to sweep my membranes. That was also very uncomfortable, but I was going to do everything I could possibly do to prevent another cesarean. Per the midwife, I was 1 cm dilated.
I went in for my 39-week checkup on Thursday, January 21st at 4:30 p.m. The appointment went very well. My baby was still head-down. I asked my midwife to sweep my membrane again. She did, and I was still 1 cm dilated. I know everyone has different opinions about membrane sweeping, but this was my choice. On my way out of the midwife’s office, a gentleman walked up to me and said, “Ma’am you are very beautiful.” I said, “Aw thank you” with a smile. I thought he was just being nice. Then he said, “Do you have a husband or boyfriend?” “I have a husband,” I responded. “Oh, okay. Have a nice day,” he said, and walked away. I couldn’t believe he was asking me this. How did he think I got to be 39 weeks pregnant and wobbling to my car? That made my day, though.
The text messages between my doula and me explain what happened the next day….
8:34 a.m. me: good morning. I had my membrane swept yesterday. I have been up all night with something that feels like cramping and it is very uncomfortable. I am unable to tell if it is actual contractions. Sometimes it feels like it and sometimes it doesn’t. And very painful too
9:09 a.m. doula: comes and goes? Can you feel if your belly gets tight?
9:10 a.m. me: yes, comes and goes. Belly does get tight a little bit.
9:11 a.m. doula: keep drinking water. It could just be irritable but it could turn into something as well. Time how often you feel it. Sorry you were up.
9:13 a.m. me: I have been trying to time it but very irregular
9:14 a.m. doula: ok that’s alright. Just gives you an idea of what was and then you can compare if things change.
9:14 a.m. me: ok, will do.
9:15 a.m. doula: keep breathing slowly and keep me posted. Are you working today?
9:16 a.m. me: no, I called out today.
9:16 a.m. doula: smart. You should alternate rest with walking.
9:22 a.m. me: ok.
When my husband and I took our then-15-month-old daughter to her 15-month checkup, I was still having “contractions.”
5:10 p.m. doula: how did you do today? Did it settle down?
5:13 p.m. me: I was just about to text you. It has gotten worse. Starting to get a little more regular. Every 5 to 10 minutes between 30 and 45 seconds long.
5:20 p.m. doula: oh ok that’s good. Yes? Have you gotten some rest? And are you handling it ok?
5:23 p.m. me: it is good. Haven’t been able to nap yet. I am handling it ok so far.
5:27 p.m. doula: good, try to get some rest! You may be up again if you are going into labor! (Boy, was she right!)
8:35 p.m. doula: so any idea yet if tonight is the night???!
8:36 p.m. me: I think tonight is the night!! Just got out of the bathtub. Contractions are still coming.
8:38 p.m. doula: alright! What is your progress? Any changes from earlier? And that’s a good sign with the bath, because that will usually slow pre labor stuff.
8:42 p.m. me: (sent her a picture of what seems like a mucus plug) sorry if this is gross but I am also starting to poop a lot.
8:43 p.m. doula: oh yeah change is happening. Good hormones on board causing all that. How long are you wanting to wait at home with contractions? Your paperwork is in the car: as long as possible or more like 3-4 min apart?
8:47 p.m. me: probably 3 to 4 minutes. I am starting to need some help focusing.
8:55 p.m. doula: let me know whenever you want me to come – home first or when you go to the hospital.
8:56 p.m. me: ok.
9:31 p.m. me: contractions are pretty close together. Can you come to my house?
9:32 p.m. doula: sure. (Verified address, we had move into a new house). I am under half hour from it.
9:33 p.m. me: yes correct address
9:33 p.m. ok!
My doula got to my house about 15-20 minutes later. When she came in, I was leaning over the kitchen counter. At this time contractions were closer together, but still less than a minute long. When I had the next contraction, she asked me where I felt the pain. I pointed to my lower back, and she proceeded to give me a back massage. I said, “No, don’t touch, don’t touch!” She stopped massaging me. This was very weird because I love getting massages.
When my next contraction came, she very gently rubbed my back in a circular motion. That felt really good and calming. At this point my 15-month-old daughter knew something was wrong—mama was behaving very strangely. She followed me around the living room and even gave me a massage when I was on my hands and knees. My husband took a picture of her giving me a massage. She was very sweet.
An hour or so after my doula arrived at my house, I started having very intense contractions. They were very close together but still less than one minute long. My doula suggested that we head to the hospital before I got too uncomfortable to get in the car. We got in the car and headed for the hospital. I kept telling my husband not to hit any potholes. “I will try not to,” he responded.
We got to the hospital, which was 10 minutes from our house, at about 11 o’clock. We were in the emergency room for Lord knows how long. The receptionist was asking my husband all sorts of questions, while I was sitting in the wheelchair trying not to embarrass myself in front of everyone in the emergency room. I kept having very intense contractions, and my doula was there talking to me and rubbing my back.
On our way up to the triage, the nurse was pushing the wheelchair really quickly. I ask her to stop for a little bit because I had a very intense contraction. “I can’t,” she said,” because you could actually be having the baby right now.” Both my husband and doula said, “She’s not, just slow down please! She did not slow down. I was in too much pain to do or say anything.
The triage was very nice. It was a large room with a birthing tub. I asked if I could get into the birthing tub. The nurse said no because they don’t do VBAC water births. Plus, they needed to monitor my baby’s heart rate until she was out of the womb. At my previous midwife appointment, I asked her if I could get the mobile fetal monitor. “Yes,” she said, and added that to my file. I asked her to add to my file that no one should mention or suggest any pain medication while I was in labor. She said, “Yes, I will put that in big bold letters.”
For the first half-hour that I was in triage, I was attached to the bed monitor while the nurse went to find the mobile monitor. This tells me that not too many people request or uses the mobile monitor. I think we were admitted around 12:00 a.m. The nurse checked me and said, “You are about 1 to 2 cm dilated.” She said she was going to be back in an hour to check my cervix again. I was so disappointed I couldn’t believe that after all the pain I was in, I was still only 1 to 2 cm dilated. Labor was worse when I was lying in the bed. I kept asking for the mobile monitor so I could move around.
I finally got the mobile monitor, and started walking around the room. I sat on the toilet for a little bit, but was too uncomfortable to sit for too long. While I was in the bathroom, my doula found a little stool – probably what women used to climb into the tub for water births. She asked me to put one leg up on the stool and do squats when I got my next contraction. She said it would help open up the cervix, and would help make labor go faster. At this point I would have done anything to make labor go faster! I did some squats.
While doing squats, the nurse came in and said, “Your midwife wants me to wait for another hour before I check your cervix, so I will be back at 2:00 a.m.” I was in too much pain to comprehend anything. I heard my doula say, “That’s good; they’re giving us more time to labor alone.” I felt like labor got about a thousand times harder after doing those squats. I told my doula that I thought I would need an epidural. I was too tired; I hadn’t really slept in over 24 hours. “Okay,” she said; “Let’s see how far you have progressed. If you are at 4 or 5 cm dilated then we can talk about getting an epidural.” She would have talked me out of getting an epidural if I had been 5 cm dilated. She would have said, “You are halfway there. Let’s wait a few more hours to see how far you’ve progressed.
At 2:00 a.m. the nurse came in to check my cervix. I was in so much pain I did not want to be touched at all. I kept saying to my doula, “Just kill me now please. Just kill me now.” Labor was very, very intense at this point. I wanted it to be done. I wanted the pain to stop. Contractions felt like they were a minute apart and a minute long. Between contractions, the nurse checked my cervix. “Wow,” she said, “the cervix is completely gone and I can touch the bulging bag of water.” I was so out of it, I said, “What? Where did the cervix go? Don’t we need the cervix?” She said, “Let me go get the midwife.” At this point my husband had left the room to go get coffee. I wasn’t happy with him about that.
A few minutes later, the midwife came, checked my cervix, and said, “You are 10 cm dilated and I can feel your bag of water.” “Well, can I get an epidural now?” I asked her. “No,” she said, “You are already 10 cm dilated and about to push this baby out.” “Wait, what? I am about to push the baby out?” “Yes,” she said. As she was talking, I felt the bed start to move. I heard, “Let’s take her to room whatever.” As we got into the room, before they could get the bed attached to the wall and get everything situated, I got on my hands and knees. I felt a VERY intense contraction with an involuntary push and my water broke! As soon as that happened, I felt the baby’s head slide into the birth canal. I thought to myself, Oh crap. There is no going back now. I am about to actually birth a baby through my vajayjay!
There was meconium in the water, so my midwife called the NICU and two NICU nurses came in the room. I felt like the room was a little crowed with the two NICU nurses, my nurse, midwife, husband and doula, but I didn’t care. I wanted the baby out! I started pushing. The baby’s head would come out a little bit and then slide back in. I said, “Oh, the baby is going back in.” The midwife said, it’s ok, it will happen for a while.” Apparently, this was normal. I didn’t know. I only pushed with contractions. I was so tired; I had no energy or willpower to push without the intense force of the contraction. Every 1 to 2 minutes, I would say, “Here comes another one,” and would start screaming—I sounded like an animal! I was VERY vocal!
Anytime I would scream, my doula would come close to my ear and say, “Rita, put all the energy down in your bottom.” She would say this as she gently rubbed my back in a circular motion. Her touch was very comforting. At one point I heard the midwife saying, “Soon you are going to feel the ring of fire; just push through it.” Boy, did I feel the ring of fire, and It HURT like none other!!
I pushed on my hands and knees for a long time, then the nurse suggested I lie on my back. I lay on my back, and with maybe 3 VERY hard pushes, my baby girl was OUT!! My midwife said “YOU GOT YOUR PERFECT VBAC!” I kept saying, “I did it. I did it.” I couldn’t believe I had done it. My labor was not in vain. I really believed that I could, and I did it. The placenta followed shortly after. The baby wasn’t crying right away, so the NICU nurses took her to suction her up. This was surprising to me, because the baby was literally kicking on her way out. I could feel her legs still kicking as I was pushing her out. I pushed for 45 mintues. She was born at 2:45 a.m.
While they were suctioning up my baby, the midwife was giving me a few stiches. After they were done they put her on my chest. Oh, that feeling of having your baby placed on your chest is the best feeling in the whole world! She was and is the most beautiful baby ever (she and her sister!). After an hour of being on my chest, they took her off to weigh her. She weighed 7lbs 11.2 ounces and was 21inches long, with an APGAR score of 8/9. My first baby was 7lbs 9.2 ounces, and 21 inches long – almost the same birth weight. We were out of the hospital within 24 hours.
Why did I decide to right this birth story? I was inspired by the other women who wrote their successful VBAC stories. My goal is to encourage other women who are planning to have a VBAC; it is possible. I hope my story is an encouragement to you.