Family,  Pregnancy / Birth

My VBAC Birth Story

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From the time I realized that I might be pregnant, my very first thoughts were of what type of birth I’d have.  Might sound silly to some – first time moms or those with “textbook” pregnancies/births – but for me it was a huge part of my daily thoughts.  Would this birth be another chance to have a truly natural, vaginal birth?  What could I do to ensure this was so?  Could I go back to the birth center who pretty coldly dropped me as soon as our third son was confirmed breech?  Could we afford a home birth midwife?  A doula?  Would that even be “safe” considering my history?  (2 inductions/epidurals, a completely natural and unmedicated birth – that ended with a severe vaginal hematoma, hospital transfer, surgery, blood transfusion and hours away from my newborn baby, an ectopic pregnancy and then lastly a seemingly perfect pregnancy up to 39 weeks when our son decided to flip breech and due to lack of preparation/fear/running out of time ending in a C-section)  All I could do was pray and study some more.  Ever since my natural birth with our third, I’ve been fascinated by all things birth and done lots of reading and research on the topic.  Education is key to destroying fear, but birth – just like all of life – is unpredictable and we must be willing and able to adapt and go with the flow.  

After confirming that I was, indeed, with child, I reached out to our birth center and was told that they did not do VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean), but I was welcome to come there until around 32 weeks in which I’d have to switch providers.  That seemed senseless, and would also take months away from me getting to know whoever would be attending my birth.  I was on the hunt.  I called several midwife practices in the area, finding out that pretty much all of them delivered in hospitals.  Not wanting the whole “hospital experience” I kept on searching.  I called a homebirth midwife I had spoken to early in my last pregnancy only to find out that in New Jersey it’s illegal for a Midwife to attend a home birth for VBAC.  Lovely.  Plus, I don’t even know how we’d have afforded such a thing at the time.

I ended up being recommended to a group of midwives about 45 minutes away, who – while they delivered in the hospital – were very gentle and understanding of natural birth, respectful of wishes and overall just came with glaring reviews.  After my first few appointments I felt fairly confident but still unsettled all around at the thought of having a hospital birth.  Even close to my due date I still was torn, part of me hoped for a very quick onset of labor so that making a 45 minute drive would not only be unbearable but also impossible – making an impromptu, unassisted home birth inevitable.  However, as the time got closer I kept thinking about what could potentially go wrong and having my other children to think about I knew that the hospital was our safest bet.  

I had a specific midwife in mind (Jessica), and I began praying for God to allow her to be the one on call when it was baby time.  I also prayed for kind nurses and hospital staff who would respect my wishes and give me the closest possible experience that I was looking for.  I begged God to let me experience a natural, uncomplicated birth where I could give baby and myself a peaceful transition from womb to earthside where we could immediately bond, not be separated at all and be able to truly savor and remember the experience.

My “guess date” was October 9, 2023 and in my mind I kept thinking I’d be 40-41 weeks, waking up to my water breaking early in the morning just before dawn, just like it had with our third, Robert.  

Around 2:35am on Saturday, October 7, I woke up to pee (no surprise there!) and as I started peeing I felt a glugging sensation from up where the sun don’t shine.  Liquid continued pouring out and I attempted to stand up and “shut off” the tap (thank you kegals) but it just kept coming – this was it!

My heart began to race with excitement and anticipation of knowing that we’d finally be meeting our precious baby soon.  The last few weeks for me were increasingly exciting and hard to wait – I felt like a child going to Disney or something, the anticipation was too much… I love babies and I just could not wait to snuggle this little blessing and everything else that the future would hold for us adding a new member to our family.  

I quickly made a makeshift pad out of a glob of TP and went straight upstairs to call my husband and put a real pad on.  As soon as I got upstairs I grabbed my phone to call my husband who was on his third or fourth graveyard shift for his job – knowing that he’d probably think it was a false alarm.  Several times I’d called him in the past few days for things like our refrigerator breaker turning off, a question one of our kids had, etc, so I knew he’d probably not be expecting this!  As I was unlocking my phone and hitting speed dial I loudly called my 8 year old son who had crawled into our bed at some point during the night and was laying in our bed next to our toddler, “Robert, my water broke, go wake your sister!” He immediately popped out of bed and went downstairs.  

My husband picked up pretty quickly and I said “Hey, my water broke, I’m not in labor yet but I want you to come home, take your time everything is fine!” I heard him say to his coworker “her water broke” and the guy said “Oh poop! (words changed for G rating)” and my husband asked him for a ride back to his vehicle, telling me he’d be home soon.  

I began gathering our last minute hospital bag supplies, referencing the list I kept ready on our computer table downstairs, employing the kids to help me gather and pack, all the whilst changing my pads – boy there was a lot of water!  I called my mother in law and she told me she felt like she just fell asleep two minutes ago, but it was actually about an hour once she checked, and that she’d be over shortly.  I called the midwives on-call number and was contacted by one of the midwives currently on call.  She was nearing the end of her 24 hour shift and told me that an OB would be coming in at 8:30am.  Considering how quickly my last natural labor went, I assumed (and prayed) I’d have the baby well before then so tried not to worry too much.

Once my husband arrived home – he stopped and got us some Wawa coffee first, as we knew we’d need the energy – we packed up the car and headed out.  I really wanted to stay at the house for awhile, at least until I started having surges (contractions) but my husband wanted to head in saying he’d feel better if we were closer.  Thinking about a bumpy 45 minute ride in active labor did sound pretty uncomfortable so I decided I was ok with that and could just walk circles around the parking lot once we arrived.

After we arrived I went in the ER to pee and told them I wasn’t ready to be admitted yet.  I walked around the parking lot for what was about an hour perhaps and then sat in the car for a bit too.  We took a ride to a closeby Wawa and grabbed a few snacks as well.  I started watching some Christian Comedy (John Crist) because I’ve heard that the Oxytocin released from comedy can speed up/bring on labor.  My husband continued to ask if we could go in saying that he’d feel more comfortable so I finally agreed to it, deciding that I could always walk the hallways to keep things moving.  

Once admitted, I walked up to the room, using the wheelchair for all of our bags (it looked more like we were going camping than to have a baby, I like to be prepared!) and we got checked in.  I talked with the midwife on call and she told me she’d ask around to see if any of the other midwives in the practice would be willing to come in for a Saturday shift to attend the birth incase I hadn’t had the baby by the time her shift ended.  I didn’t even ask specifically for the midwife of my choice but God in his goodness provided and she came back shortly later to tell me that that very midwife had been scheduled for Sunday but agreed to come in Saturday instead!  Wow!  I was elated.  Now if only labor would start.

We walked, I pumped, I watched comedy, tried napping a bit, did some squats and lunges – but no labor.  Now, most providers have a timeline once the bag of waters ruptures and that’s usually around 24 hours (some shorter, some longer).  They calculate this based on their understanding of the risk of uterine infection.  My midwife was extremely understanding of my wishes to go completely natural/no intervention but she did have to mention the risks to us and her suggestion of an extremely low dose of Pitocin to kick-start labor.  They typically start talking intervention around the 16 hour mark and we were an hour past that.  The biggest concern was the OB scheduled to come on the next morning at 8:30am and how they’d want to manage things.  My midwife was respectful of my wishes either way, but my husband was slightly more worried about risk of infection/even more intervention if I didn’t accept the Pit.  

This began to feel like another cascade of interventions and “failed” birth plans and I wasn’t really sure how to deal with all of these feelings.  My husband, as empathetic as he tried to be, couldn’t understand my reluctance and feeling of loss at the thought of our labor/birth taking such a turn.  He stepped out of the room for awhile and my midwife came in to talk with me.  This was a very special moment for me because in all of my medical history, hospitals and birth centers included, I’ve never really “connected” with my providers.  This was what midwifery care should be, I felt in that moment.  She leveled with me, she empathized with me, she heard me and she understood me.  She assured me that she was on board with whatever choices I wanted to make, but she also validated my feelings of loss, sadness and fear.  I’ll never forget her kindness to me in that very vulnerable moment.  

I gave myself quite the headache by working myself up and crying, and in hindsight I believe my hormones for labor were already kicking in, although pregnancy hormones alone will cause quite an array of emotions.  The headache was awful and even a nap and my trusty oils didn’t take it away, so I ended up accepting a Tylenol.  I agreed to being checked (for the first time my entire pregnancy) and was barely 2cm dilated, although my cervix was softening.  Knowing that the dilation isn’t a great indicator of “when” at all, I wasn’t really surprised, but I will say that I was mildly disappointed.  Finally my head started to feel better and I agreed to a very small dose of Pitocin (1ml increase at a time up to 7ml/hr) to see if it could jumpstart my body into labor, the thought of labor not starting and having to deal with an unknown OB coming on shift in a few hours called even more fear to mind for me.  We also decided to do a preventative dose of Penicillin, which I was against at first but it would buy me more time to go into labor slowly/naturally (both infection-risk wise and the OB on call coming on shift in a few hours wise).  I wanted to avoid harsh inductions at all costs and especially a repeat C-section.

I continued to pray, listen to my Christian hypnobirthing affirmations and change positions as often as I could.  I couldn’t move much now because of the Pitocin and monitoring device they wanted me on now that I was on the Pit.  What felt like hours eventually resulted in some mild surges which increased at a slow enough pace that I felt prepared and able to deal.  As they intensified (I can’t remember the time exactly but it felt both drawn out and like it flew by at the same time).  I began to change positions a bit at the suggestion of my amazing nurse Donna and my midwife, and tried one position called “the throne” which really helped during Active Labor.  Once I got close to or into transition I sort of knew it without being checked.  You’re no longer breathing through the surges, you’re moaning and I remember the very first surge where I naturally moaned I just “knew” I was closer.  Every surge encouraged me and wasn’t nearly as “bad” as it may have been had I looked at it as something to wish away – instead I continually reminded myself that each and every surge was bringing me closer to my precious baby, and this brought me joy and truly kept my spirits and energy up.  I remember joking with the midwife and nurse between surges, even when things were pretty intense.  My husband was using acupressure points off and on and our midwife was applying counterpressure to my lower back, all I had to say was “Go!” when a surge began and they knew to begin, it was an immense help, I needed to feel someone “in it with me”.  A huge part of labor is mental and I kept reminding myself of this, the entire labor.  You can do anything for one minute, waves come and waves go, each wave brings you closer to your baby.  

The “Throne” no longer brought me comfort and my midwife wanted to get me up and moving, I did a few other positions including rocking on the ball, laying on my side with the peanut ball between my legs, the “spiderman” (I hated this one during surges it was extremely uncomfortable for me) and hands and knees.  Keeping myself changing positions as much as I really didn’t “want” to move was key to things progressing quickly.  I wish I had a timeline, but like I said earlier it felt like forever and also like it flew.  During one surge on my side I felt my body starting to push and I told my midwife during the surge “I need to push”, she wanted to check and make sure “the coast was clear” because pushing without total dilation = swelling and none of us wanted that!  The moment she (very quickly) checked and said “yes!  That’s it!  10 cm, let’s have a baby!” was exhilarating!  My husband said up until then he was slightly worried that the baby was going to be huge and I’d have trouble pushing them out!  (Ha! I secretly and in the back of my mind thought this a few times as well!  I declined any and all testing during this pregnancy and was it questioned if perhaps I’d developed Gestational Diabetes and grew a massive baby!  Nope!)   He told me the moment he saw my face change when she said “let’s have a baby” he knew everything was going to be fine!  I was on cloud 9!

I quickly got into position and glanced back at my midwife, she had changed into her blue scrubs SO quickly and I even took a moment to joke with her amidst my jubilation “You have your costume on!” Pushing was the fastest phase although I definitely paced myself (I didn’t want to risk pushing too quickly and getting another Vaginal Hematoma like with my third birth, which was all natural other than this medical emergency that resulted in a hospital transfer).  I remember originally desiring to push on hands and knees, alternating between holding onto the back of the elevated bed and leaning on my arms, but this didn’t feel as productive to me and I also wanted to be at the most advantageous angle to catch this baby in my own hands – so I swapped to side laying and gave it my all.  What seemed like only minutes, with very quick surges one after another that somehow felt perfectly timed, resulted in someone saying “I see hair!”.  It felt surreal to me.  It’s amazing how you can have more than one child but each birth is so very special and exciting (and different!)  Another few pushes and I reached down and felt the (very wrinkly and soft feeling) squished crown of the head of our baby!  The moment was almost here!  Another few grunts and pushes and the head was out!  This stage was completely painless for me and I didn’t experience the “ring of fire” that I remember being spoken of often previously.  I believe this was partly due to my amazing midwife applying Olive Oil and counter pressure, myself pacing myself and pushing just a little at a time, and my mindset this time around.  Another good push, my midwife helped release his arm very quickly (one was up by his face and I’m assuming his other shoulder was hooked inside just a bit) and our baby’s body came out quickly and smoothly.  I instantly reached for him and pulled him up onto my stomach/chest and was in a state of disbelief/pure joy that I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life.  I actually did it, no pain meds – and soon to find out no tears, rips or concerning blood loss!  Amidst all of the excitement, we forgot to check the gender!  A quick flip up of the leg and – it was a boy!  Little Gabe!  Spirits were high, the cord wasn’t clamped until the pulsing stopped, the baby stayed on my chest for the first hour or more just like we wanted.  I had my healing birth, praise God!  

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