When VBAC is Not Enough

‘But at least you have a healthy baby!’

That seems to be the go-to statement to new mothers who have just had a cesarean. This is especially something we hear when all we want to do is share our feelings regarding what we may consider a ‘failed birth’. But what happens when you DO get that VBAC and not a second cesarean? What happens then?

‘But at least you got your VBAC!’

2nd heartbeatI’m hearing this more and more in various birth and support groups. But what if a VBAC isn’t enough? What if the VBAC was traumatic? What if the VBAC was more harmful than the original cesarean? Where does that leave the mother? We are told we should be happy and excited about the VBAC we worked and planned SO hard for! So where do we go for support when it isn’t what we envisioned? We don’t fit into the same groups as a CBAC mom, or a RCS mom or even every VBAC birth mom. It’s a different mental recovery. Yes, we did get the vaginal birth, but it’s not always the healing and empowering birth we desired.

I found myself in this space after my first VBAC. I was so excited, I was a success! I got the vaginal birth I wanted! Yet, I found myself struggling in the days after to process everything. For my first VBAC, I planned to go as far in labor as I could, but never ruled out meds or an epidural. In fact, I was pretty sure I was going to want an epidural at some point. I was checked at 9:15 am and was 5cm, so I was admitted. That’s when things went crazy. In an hour and a half my body was bearing down. I had gone from 5 to 9.5 in an hour and a half. At this point, it was too late for me to get any meds (except Nitrous, but that’s another post!). I HAD to go natural. The problem was, I hadn’t mentally prepared to go completely natural. I wasn’t prepared for the intensity of the sensations, pain, pressure, emotions. While yes, I was ecstatic to have just had a vaginal birth and to be holding and snuggling my new baby girl, I was having trouble processing the entire experience. You see, my cesarean was easy. My labor, surgery, recovery, everything was easy. Yes, it was unnecessary, but I was young and satisfied with the process. My VBAC was overwhelming. My emotions were all over the place. The friends I sought out wanted to celebrate my ‘success’, but I wanted to discuss how daunting it felt to me. It was hard to find that safe space and support when my feelings went against the grain.

So, how DO we support these mothers?

I was blessed and had an amazing group of friends who had a range of birth experiences themselves and allowed me to share and process in my own time. That is how we start, just like with a cesarean mother, by listening to their stories. Ask them how they felt about their birth. Let them share. Rather than trying to put your opinions of how you believe they should feel, listen. Was it safe? Were they supported? Was their birth plan followed? Or was it harmful? Were there unnecessary interventions? Was there a severe tear? Will it be a long recovery? Is the baby in the NICU? A cesarean mother IS thankful for their healthy baby. A VBAC mother IS thankful for the vaginal birth. None of those feelings takes away from them being unsatisfied with the birth process. These mothers need a safe place to hear it’s ok to not be happy with the birth. It’s ok to feel good about your cesarean. It’s ok to not be happy about your vaginal birth.

Birth is not one-size-fits-all. A cesarean can be healing just as easy as a VBAC can be traumatic. We need to get away from these go-to statements for both. These only discount the mother’s feelings about the birth and about the process, but focuses more on the outcome of the birth. It’s not up to us to decide if you had a healing or traumatic birth. We aren’t in your situation. We aren’t making the decisions you are making in the heat of the moment. Besides, traumatic can look different on each person, and a healing birth can look different for each person – regardless of cesarean birth or a vaginal birth. Someone can be more happy with a cesarean because they had a traumatic first vaginal birth. They can find that cesarean a healing and empowering birth while the thought of another vaginal birth is still traumatic.

​Let’s start listening to these mothers. Help them to find the beauty in their births, and get away from these go-to statements that aren’t supportive at all.

By Ann Marie Walsh from ICAN of Nashville, originally posted at NashvilleVBAC.com.

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