I was 20 when I got pregnant with my first child.
I made all the typical assumptions back then. I went to my primary doctor for an OB referral having no idea I had options.
I thought that I would go to the OB and he would tell me all I needed to know about birth. I would take the “Lamaze” class at the hospital, and then I’d be on my merry way and have a baby.
They talked about c-sections in that class, but I didn’t really listen because it was never going to happen to me.
The only reading I really did was the obligatory “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” and was way more focused on the nursery and what kinds of gadgets I needed for this little human.
I made all the typical first-time parent mistakes, when it came to the birth. Like running to the hospital at the first sign of labor. I was only 2-3 centimeters when I arrived, and instead of heading home–which to be honest I didn’t even know was an option–I was admitted.
Back then, they monitored constantly (in some hospitals they still do) and made me lie ONLY on my left side. I had no idea that I was officially on some sort of clock.
After laboring through the night, the contractions slowed significantly and there was not much change in my dilation. I wasn’t really in labor yet, but I didn’t know that. The doctor came for his morning rounds and said I needed Pitocin.
Well, he’s the doctor. If he says it’s what I need than I must, but little did I know that it was the beginning of the snowball.
Pitocin, Epidural, no change in my cervix, break the waters, baby in distress, fetal monitor on her head, wires and cords everywhere.
Things are changing fast suddenly. The baby is showing signs of distress; we need to do a c-section right now. There’s a lot of people in my room, then running me down a hall to the OR.
OH! Halleluiah! They saved my baby’s life!
“Your baby was just too big to fit”. Or, so they told me afterwards.
“You are lucky you were here. Back in the day, you would have been one of those women who died in childbirth”. Those were the exact words from my doctor.
It would be many years later that I would hear the phrase “pit to distress”. At the time though, I hung on to the idea that they had saved her, that she and I may have died if they hadn’t intervened. I loved the drama of the story I had to tell and oh, did I tell it!
When I got pregnant with my second child, there was no question about whether I would try for a vaginal birth.
I spent my entire pregnancy being told by my doctor that it was risky and I really shouldn’t do it with no real facts to support what he was telling me.
No one around me understood why I wouldn’t just schedule my c-section. But recovering from a cesarean was no joke and I didn’t want to experience that again.
During labor with him, the back labor was horrible. Then to make matters worse, the nurse reminded me on several occasions that no one really ever has a VBAC. “It just doesn’t work.” Why was I putting myself through this? she would ask.
After a few hours of back labor, I decided she and everyone else must be right. Go ahead, there must just be something wrong with my body, cut him out. And they did.
Another big baby. That must be it. I just can’t birth big babies.
Years later, I would become a doula, and learn the ins and outs of birth. I would suddenly process my births all over again, but this time with the truth about a broken system that bases decisions more on liability and financial concerns than what might be best for mom and baby.
My passion grew like a wildfire. I couldn’t get enough. I wanted everyone to know the truth. “Why aren’t women being told these things?!” “Why aren’t they being given all the information to make decisions?”
The anger would come, the frustration and the desire to save everyone.
Reality comes crashing in at some point. I can’t save them all, no matter how passionate I am. I can only help the ones that seek me out. I couldn’t talk to the random moms in the park about why their c-section may not have been necessary. They didn’t get it, nor did they want to hear it. I realized quickly that they must be ready and have a desire to know.
But on the other hand, like moths to a flame, the VBAC moms started seeking me out. The universe works that way. You attract things and after a while, doctors who supported doulas started referring their VBAC patients to me often.
I became the VBAC queen. I loved helping those families have successful VBACs. I wanted to be that cheerleader telling them they could, knowing they were being bombarded by people who said they couldn’t. It also helped me heal from my own pain.
After six years of being a doula, I would finally get my chance. I would fix it all. Heal all the pain and disappointment. I would not only have a vaginal birth, but I would do it at home with no drugs.
It had been twelve years since my last child. I had so much knowledge; this would be great!
When my labor finally started, everything seemed to be going great except my back was really hurting.
No matter how much prep work I had done to make sure she was in a good position, she never budged from way back on my right side.
I didn’t care. I was going to do this, back labor or not.
Once active labor began, I didn’t tell anyone about the sharp burning pain in front near my incision sight with every surge. I knew full well that I would be off to the hospital in no time because it was a clear sign that something wasn’t right–but there was no way I was going to the hospital! Besides, I was progressing well. When my midwife arrived, I was already 6 centimeters, further than either of my other two births.
I progressed to 8cm only two hours later, and the baby was very low. I kept feeling the urge to push. It would come and I would begin to push, but my back, oh my back.
Then this sharp burning pain would shoot through me and I would have to stop pushing. It hurt too much but I did this repeatedly for four hours.
Something wasn’t right and eventually, my surges spread out from two minutes apart to 20 minutes apart.
I told my midwife that something had to change – break my water or something! Out of the water and up the stairs to my bedroom we went so she could monitor the baby while breaking my water.
She didn’t even have to; it broke on its own just as she was going to do the exam. When she did my exam, I knew something was wrong. I was thinking, “Oh, my God, I’m still the same.” To my dismay, it was much worse than that.
My baby had gone back up and my cervix had closed back down to three centimeters.
I’m pretty sure my eyes bulged out of my head. I was so over it! They tried to convince me to stay and rest because I was getting good breaks in between. But I knew I had to tell them about the sharp burning I had been dealing with.
Needless to say, there was no more discussion and I was off to the hospital in no time flat.
I would share all the hassle about what happened after we arrived at the hospital, but it seems pointless. The errors were ridiculous and it took from 9:30 am until 3:30 pm before my daughter was born via cesarean.
I wound up being in surgery for almost two hours because I had so much scar tissue. It was so thick it prevented my baby from moving into a good position and the pulling of the scarring was what caused the burning.
I was devastated. My previous c-sections would come back to haunt me after all. I never imagined this could happen. Here I was the VBAC queen. I had all the knowledge. How could this happen to me? No one doubted for a minute that my homebirth vbac would happen.
My birthy friends all looked on the bright side. Now all that scar tissue is gone, when you have another baby it will be different and only four months later, I would find out I was pregnant again.
I worried. Had enough time passed for my scar to heal? Was I crazy for wanting to try again? Would I hurt myself or my baby?
Everyone supported me and loved me into believing I just had to try again. I wouldn’t just throw in the towel. I would be better prepared for the possibility and the likelihood of another c-section this time. I just had to try.
On my due date, surges started, but I knew it was early and my instinct told me it would still be a couple of days. The next day, the surges were still there, stronger but pretty far apart. That night, though, I knew it was going to be a long one.
I was able to sleep for about an hour, when it became obvious that sleeping was no longer an option. I relaxed with my hypno-babies cd and rocked in a chair for a couple of hours alone in the dark.
The surges were still only ten minutes or so apart but by 3 am, they were rocking my world. Strong, powerful and six minutes apart. It was time to call in the troops.
My husband woke up and called my doula. She lives close by, so she arrived less than 20 minutes later. My husband explained how far apart they were, only to have four surges in the first twelve minutes she was there.
Things were rocking.
The next call went out to my midwives, who would come about an hour later. Everything seemed perfect. I was not having any of the same feelings I had had with my last birth, except my back was beginning to hurt again even though I knew he was in a great position.
I still worried I would only be three centimeters or something crazy like that but at my request, my midwife checked me right away.
I was almost complete! Just a small lip!
Oh joy! I cried, I was so happy, there were no words. Back in the water I went.
“Wait until the urge to push comes”. But it just didn’t come and my back, my damn back! It was excruciating.
All the feelings from my last birth came crashing in. I felt like I was on this horrible roller coaster ride and couldn’t get off. I was doing the same loop over and over again.
Maybe if I just try and push, Oh God no, that hurts even more.
Let’s check again. My midwife said, “I think I feel scar tissue”.
Seriously? Scar tissue? Wasn’t I the one who just got all this attention for writing an article about scar tissue and the issues it can cause during labor for my clients? Never considering for a moment that I had any myself.
I’m pretty sure my exact words were, “Well, rub the crap out of it then!” She explained that it wouldn’t feel very good and I responded that it couldn’t be worse than what was going on already.
There was some cursing and homeopathic involved and off I went, trying different positions and then eventually off to the water again.
I’m pretty sure from this point forward I used up a good year’s supply of curse words, my favorite being the “F” word. I don’t talk this way normally, but for whatever reason it was the only thing in my vocabulary that seemed strong enough of a word to express myself. It had power.
Lots of whining commenced as well.
“I can’t do this, you guys.”
“Seriously, I can’t.”
I would say this to anyone who would listen to me. I would change people hoping that one of them would take my side but they all just kept saying I could do it and that I needed to stop saying that I couldn’t.
“This is what you wanted”. The “F” I did! I didn’t sign up for this shit!
Then I would change and start chanting during the surge, “I can do this, I can do this”; then about halfway through, I would say, “No, no I can’t.” Please take me to the hospital! It’s not working, just cut him out. Forget it!
I did start feeling pressure a bit so I tried pushing a little. It hurt like hell, but I had to try. I pushed and pushed, nothing seemed to change. I went back to whining and cussing again.
“Let’s go inside and check again. See if the baby has moved down more.” My response is, No! I’m done, this baby is not coming out. I have been pushing with all my might and he is not budging; oh, yeah and it hurts like a motherf-er!
Up the stairs I went anyway, whining all the way. I was ready to drive myself to the hospital, call a cab, whatever it took to get there.
“Let’s push past this lip, you can do it!” Everyone is chanting, “Come on, Dawn.”
My husband is saying, “Come on, honey, you can do this.” I’m pushing and screaming, because OH MY GOD, it hurts. “Here he comes, you’re doing it!”
No, I’m not! He is not coming! I don’t feel him coming. You are all just saying that! I’m gonna be here for 2 more hours pushing and he won’t come! I’m not gonna do it! (I’m still pushing my guts out while saying all this.) I hear my husband beside me: “Honey, I see his head.”
No you don’t!
“Come on Dawn, push! Why would we lie to you? Look, touch his head.”
I don’t feel it!
Push again! Oh, my God, the pressure suddenly! Ok, maybe he is coming.
“Dawn, he is crowning, feel his head again.”
Holy crap, he really is there! I feel his wrinkly head and WOW, that ring of fire is for real!.
“Come on, Dawn, nice and slow now. Ease your baby out. Slow, slow, slow, now stop.”
The relief of his head coming out was fabulous but now, what about the rest of him? Is he stuck? What’s up with that? Come on, seriously? I just wanted the rest of him to slip out like I’d seen 100 times.
But No, I had to push every inch of this guy out. I should have known he was big.
“Dawn, reach down and pull your baby out.”
It took me a minute. I couldn’t wrap my brain around what they were saying.
“Dawn, get your baby.”
And I did! I reached down and put my hands under his arms and pulled him the rest of the way out, on to my chest with pure disbelief.
Only twenty minutes had passed since I was calling that cab to come get me and here he was, in my arms, on my bed at home. Nearly a full pound larger than any of my other children.
So much for that theory.
One of the things that frustrates me the most about the high cesarean rate and low VBAC rate is when women are discussing their options, its focused only on the immediate risks of surgery. We don’t tell them about the long-term risks to both them and their babies. They aren’t being told about the significant increased risk for obesity, asthma and gut issues in our children when they are born via cesarean.
We are not being given all the information to make an informed choice and that is an inexcusable shame.
In addition to that, there was not a single hospital that would have “allowed me” and supported my informed decision to attempt a vaginal birth after three cesareans, even though the safest place for me in case of emergency, would have been the hospital.
To those deciding on a VBAC or not. The fear never really leaves you until that baby is in your arms but the more you know, the less scared you are. Information is power. VBACFacts is an incredible resource with handouts and workshops for both families, birth workers and professionals.
I think I made it very clear in my story that this would have never happened without my birth team. It turned out that I was the only one in the room at that moment who didn’t believe I could do it.
Surrounding yourself with the right support team plays a significant part in a successful VBAC. You can read the 10 Steps to Finding a VBAC Supportive Provider to help guide you.
So was I nuts? There are people who would say so, but in the end, my son is by far the healthiest of all my children, now nearly 8 years old. His immune system is robust and I feel deeply connected to him.
VBAC is a deeply personal choice and its certainly not for everyone. Unfortunately for many, it’s not even an option because so many providers don’t even offer it as an option which goes against all major health organizations suggested guidelines.
So please, if you are considering a VBAC, weigh all your options and information and make the best decision for you.
About the Author:
Dawn Thompson is the proud mother of 6 children, having birthed 4 of them. The vaginal birth of her son Luke was so profound and empowering that she went on just a year later to found what is now the most active consumer advocacy group for maternity care in the US, ImprovingBirth.
She believes that when families are fully informed about their birth options, that they will make the best decisions for them and their baby’s. She also believes that providers have the responsibility to understand all the options and educate their patients without being coercive or manipulative and support their decisions making even if it goes against their personal opinion.
You can get more information about Dawn at www.DawnThompson.me