Originally published 2012; View Shara’s birth video here
My first two labors began with natural birthing dreams, each lasted 24 hours long and for different reasons (neither were medical emergencies) ended in the birth of our boys via c-section surgeries. After my second c-section, I had a very difficult time finding peace and healing from the emotional pain I felt—having “failed” twice. I decided that if at all possible, I would do everything I could to have a vaginal delivery after two c-sections (VBA2C) for my next baby.
I found out I was pregnant with baby #3 in early April; my 2nd baby boy was only 7 months old. As the surprise faded into excitement, I began the hunt for a good provider who would be supportive of a VBA2C. After many phone calls and questions, I realized it would not be possible to find willing midwives or OB practices who were willing/able to support my birthing goals. The awesome midwives that I saw with our last baby could not legally take on a VBA2C patient.
I met with a local OB and talked to him about my options. Their policies expected a woman to schedule her third c/s at 39 weeks, not go into labor, and follow their prescribed routines. I asked him what would happen if I waited to go into labor, or if I went into labor before the scheduled c/s. He shrugged and suggested that he would then be helping me deliver a baby instead of performing a surgery. I relinquished myself to the reality that was going to be as good as I could find.
Within a few months, my husband received a job offer in another state and we moved our little family. Again, I began my search for a supportive birthing team for my upcoming birth. By this time we found out we were having a girl and I had decided I needed to be mentally/emotionally ok with another c-section since it appeared as if that is what my options were. As I searched online, the local ICAN group had lots of suggestions for me. One suggestion was a home birth, which sounded lovely, but really wasn’t an option for us (my husband’s career is in risk management—you can imagine how those conversations would go).
I was impressed with the ICAN group’s support, interest, and willingness to share ideas. I quickly learned that we had moved to a VERY mother-focused birthing area of the country. I got in touch with a local doula, and she was very eager to help me sort out my thoughts, fears, concerns, questions, and feelings. She encouraged me in my search and suggested I travel 45 minutes to an OB who is known locally as “an OB in midwife’s clothing.” I was told he would be my best option if he would be willing to take me as his patient. At that point, I had almost resigned myself to c-section being my only option, but I was curious to see what this OB thought and run through my main concerns with him.
My main concerns were: 1) the length of time between births, 2) very long labor only to end in c/s, 3) getting past 6 cm (since I never had before), 4) pushing, 5) my mother’s ruptured uterus (causing an emergency c/s & resulting in my brother’s disability), and 6) avoiding interventions from “hospital policies.” My fears had, at this point, outweighed my earlier determination to experience a natural, vaginal delivery.
When I met with Dr. H, he listened to me share my previous two birth stories; he nodded through my concerns and fears and asked questions to assess my situation. He responded to my concerns and explained that every birth includes certain risks, but there was no reason that I shouldn’t attempt a VBA2C. He also told me that a top reason for the failure of attempted VBACs was the laboring mother losing her mental/emotional focus. His challenge for me was to figure out what I really wanted and then channel that desire into my focus. He said he would support me in whichever birth was my goal—given that my pregnancy continued to be problem-free and the baby was ok.
I left his office with renewed energy and interest in my VBA2C goals. I still was hesitant because of my fears but I was hopeful—this was my opportunity—this doctor was completely positive and supportive! I felt a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders. I had options and support—it felt amazing.
I told everyone about my “amazing OB in midwives’ clothing” and raved about the possibilities. During subsequent visits, I found out I could labor in a tub, have freedom of movement (with monitoring), eat what I wanted, wear what I wanted, delay the cord cutting, breastfeed immediately after birth, and…have a water birth! I toured the hospital facilities and found them to be fantastically supportive of VBACs, water birth, and other natural birth friendly options. They did require regular monitoring, but besides that, I was free to do as my laboring body wished. I was so excited, I felt like all of my labor & delivery dreams were coming true!
I found a doula trainer and trainee who were willing to join our birthing team and we began the work of getting my mind really, truly on board with my VBAC goals. I skimmed through my collection of birthing preparation books—about birth plans, midwives, doulas, hypnobirthing, Lamaze, Bradley, etc. Upon my doula’s suggestion, I promptly ordered & read Ina May Gaskin’s book, Ina May’s Guide To Childbirth. I believe this book really helped to take me to the next level—the place I needed to be to turn my natural birthing dreams into reality. In her book, Ina May explains the importance of the mind-body connection and the beauty and abilities of a woman’s body. I highly recommend the book for anyone preparing for childbirth.
I read dozens of successful VBA2C stories online, watched birth videos, and started visualizing my own successful labor and delivery. I talked with my doulas about pain relief options and positive affirmations. I typed up a list of affirmations (some from online lists, some from my own heart), printed them, and laminated them. I studied them the weeks before our due date so I could have them on my mind and ready.
I can do this. I will do this. I am doing this!
The night before our baby’s due date, I experienced some strong contractions. My husband packed the car and prepared things for us to leave. I was still able to laugh and talk, I knew it wasn’t time to rush to the hospital. I thought “I’d really love to get a good night’s sleep first” and so we went to bed around midnight.
I was able to sleep until the contractions startled me awake around 8 am! I said a few prayers of gratitude for a good nights’ sleep and pleaded for things to go smoothly during our potential “birth day.” My husband was busy with the boys’ breakfasts and morning routine; I spent some time laboring in bed. I got up and found the app online for timing contractions and started keeping a record. I wondered—would this baby really be born on her due date? I noticed that the day was St. Lucia day and made a mental note of it.
I finished packing a few bags, ate breakfast, talked with my boys—and paused for each contraction. Now they were starting to take my breath away. I breathed through them and held on to whatever I could grab when they came. When each contraction was over, I continued with what I was doing. After a few hours, I retreated to the shower. The water was incredibly relaxing, so I started to fill the tub for a bath. My husband had to warm water on the stove because we ran out of hot water (lots of morning laundry), which I thought was humorous and reminiscent of the generations of women who needed someone to heat water for them to prepare for labor & birth.
In the bathtub, the contractions continued and increased in intensity—I smiled between them, encouraged that my body was DOING THE WORK it knew how to do and that I would meet my baby girl that day. I visualized a gift box—opening slowly, perfectly…the crisp edges fanning out to a wide-open space. I imagined a warm, bright, golden-yellow light swirling around my laboring belly—giving me strength and motivation to breathe deeply and relax. These two visualizations were very helpful as I labored at home.
While I was visualizing, breathing, and focusing—my husband made phone calls to get our boys taken care of, cleaned the house, and called our doula. He checked on me regularly, I was grateful for the work he was doing to prepare for us to leave. When the contractions became strong enough, I asked him to stay in the bathroom with me—to give me counter pressure. I have had back labor through each of my labor experiences and the counter pressure makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE when breathing through that kind of intensity.
My husband breathed with me, counted the contractions and minutes, pushed on my lower back to offer relief, and gave me small kisses. His presence and support were amazing during those hours laboring at home. We thought my water had broken and felt confident things were moving quickly, so we sent text messages to both doulas to meet us at the hospital. The bumps, curves, and quick stops were a challenge, but overall it wasn’t a bad drive…and we were there!
When the registration desk realized that I was in active labor, they shooed us down to the labor & delivery wing of the small hospital. I muttered something under my breath about how I was planning to pre-register that week while Trevor briskly pushed me down the hallway. We left everything in the car so we could quickly get in and get settled. Our previous experience included 24-hour labors so we thought we were far from finished.
One of my doulas was already in our room; it was great to see a familiar face. The nurses pulled up my information; I was checked and signed a few forms. I went to the bathroom and came back to more nurses—they needed to take some blood work. I moaned deeply through the contractions, they took blood, and Trevor gave counter pressure each time. My other doula arrived and put her hand gently on my shoulder when she greeted me…it felt like magic, I instantly relaxed. I thanked her for coming and apologized to everyone in the room for the things I might say or do over the coming hours. They laughed…but I was serious.
I told my doulas how great it was, I knew the contractions were doing hard work and I was focusing on my positive affirmations. A nurse asked about the group B strep antibiotic and on a whim, I refused it. They had me sign a paper and had nothing more to say about it, I was grateful. I didn’t want any extra thing to keep me attached with tubes. They had the monitor set up for continuous monitoring but I tried my best to ignore it and moved as freely as I could. I was back and forth from the bathroom and then on a birthing ball when they came into put in my IV line (hep-lock). It was hospital policy—I didn’t mind since I knew they would put it in and it would be ready if we needed to hook it up for any reason.
Unfortunately, it took several nurses and more than several attempts to find the right vein (both hands, multiple sticks), which was challenging to labor through. My doulas kept cool cloths on my head, my hands massaged, and soothing words in my ears. I kept my eyes closed nearly the entire time.
I can do this. I will do this. I am doing this!
After my water broke (we were wrong about it breaking earlier at home) all over Trevor’s pants (sorry, honey!), the work of labor kicked up a notch (or two, or three!) and I had no idea (I requested not to be told my centimeter-measured progress) I was in transition. The pain was fast, sharp, full and overpowering. I breathed hard and fast. I felt the need to push but my dilation was not so far that it was pushing time (this same thing happened with my last labor after my water broke—contractions PLUS resisting the urge to push). I remembered that it was the beginning of my lack of focus last time. I looked at my doula and she said, “relax and breathe.”
I trusted them. I trusted my doulas, my husband, and my doctor. I knew they wanted me to have a positive birthing experience. I felt the warmth of the contractions and I couldn’t even think of the gift box opening anymore. I could barely imagine the swirls of light around my birthing body…it was crowding in. I told them I wanted in the water. I needed in the water. The nurses scrambled and then reported back that they were missing some wire or connector for the fetal monitor to go in the water.
I asked if I could still get into the tub, and they said ‘no.’ I said “seriously?!” The pain was taking over…and I said it: “Can I have an epidural, then?” They all looked shocked and dismissed my request (Trevor was behind me motioning the DO NOT DO IT sign). I asked again, this time with a more demanding voice. My doulas swooped in with words of encouragement and gentle reminders. I couldn’t really think about it, all I wanted was some relief. I had lost my focus, the water wasn’t an option, and I wanted to be soothed. Another contraction came and left with intensity—I breathed hard and loud—and then one of my doulas said: “she wants a water birth…can she have a water birth?”
I remember it as a swirl of commotion—‘what? She wants a water birth?…we have to check her chart to see if she took the blood test…oh yes she did, she can do it…let’s fill the tub…’ We had left our typed up birth plan (and a basket of chocolates for the nurses) in the car…along with my labor outfit, our camera, video camera, labor food, etc. They didn’t know, and I couldn’t even THINK to tell them. Thankfully, our doula was focused and quick. Before I knew it, I had several people helping me gracelessly get situated in a wheelchair to be carried to the water birth room.
I kept my eyes closed most of the time, but I can visualize the few times I opened them during labor. I remember opening them randomly during the drive and initial hospital set-up, during the blood draws, the change in labor positions, the trips to the bathroom, the first IV poke, and as I stepped into the water birthing tub.
The lights were low, there were battery powered tea lights all along the rim of the tub, and there were soft glowing color lights under the water. The water was warm (a balmy 97 degrees) and as my body relaxed under the comforting blanket of the water, I looked around the room and said with the energy of triumph: “I’m having a water birth!”
I can do this. I will do this. I am doing this!
I have been told that when I stepped into the water-birthing tub, my entire countenance changed. I felt it. The pain was still there, the pressure was still intense, the contractions kept coming, and the hard work of labor & delivery was still present—but there is something about the water—it changes the nature of the experience.
The birthing tub offered a sense of security—I felt covered, clothed in water and a kind of privacy, even though I was wearing nothing. I think there is something divine about water—the way I feel around oceans and waterfalls—a feeling that seems to pass through my skin all the way to my soul. I was able to move around in the water—opening up my pelvis in ways I could not do if I was on “dry ground”. It was very liberating. I found myself coming back to the same place though—on my hands and knees—my forehead near the front of the tub.
The nurses worked hard to keep a good read on my baby’s heartbeat (not easy since they still were missing some connecting wires)—they took turns leaning over the tub to keep the monitor in place and finally resorted to just checking in between contractions. Dr. H came in and greeted everyone, he checked me and showed with his hands how far along I had progressed. I had no idea how close we were, so when he said: “Ok, you can push now!” I couldn’t believe it. I said “really!?” and then something like “I don’t know what to do now!”
I knew the work of labor from my previous births but I had never pushed and had no idea what to do to get this baby out! I tried to remember what I had read and discussed with my doulas previously…mind-body connection…and that I didn’t have much more work left before my baby would be in my arms. I still needed counter pressure on my lower back, so Trevor and our doulas took turns behind me with pressure and in front of me with support on my shoulders and cool cloths on my neck/forehead. I started pushing and felt grateful for the security and comfort that the birthing tub gave me.
After a few pushes, I realized that wimpy pushes would just mean I would be pushing and contracting longer—so I decided at the next contraction, I would push with all of the energy I had left. I pushed and groaned a loud, deep-throated primal sound. I did the same thing again and this time I felt a burning pressure—my doula told me this was great and that I would continue to feel that as I birthed my baby. Within a minute or two (it’s all kind of a blur), and after another forceful push, I sat up and opened my eyes.
I looked down and saw a figure floating in the water below me—what I didn’t immediately realize was that my baby was born and my doctor (who really had just stood back and let me do my work) was gently guiding her in the water up towards me. I placed my hands around her little body and pulled her out of the water up to my chest. Our eyes locked for the first time and I couldn’t believe it. Trevor hugged my shoulders and between tears told me what an awesome job I did. All I could think was –“ really?! Did I just DO that?!”
The moments after her birth felt so surreal. I was able to sit in the warm water, cradling my newborn baby for as long as I wanted. I stared in awe at the completion of my first natural birth & my first baby girl. I told her that I loved her and kissed the top of her head. I do not remember every specific detail of those early postpartum minutes—but I will always remember the feelings of joy, triumph, and gratitude.
Trevor cut the cord while my baby girl and I enjoyed skin-to-skin cuddling. I nursed as soon as she wanted to latch on, and all of the extras were delayed until we were ready. We found out a couple of hours after delivery that she weighed in at 10 lbs 3 oz! I sustained one small internal/external tear that required no stitches and we were able to return home after a little over 24 hours of her birth.
My labor lasted around nine hours and I was only in the hospital for about three hours before she was born. Her birth was everything I had always hoped and wished for my babies and myself. This birth experience has given me a renewed sense of self, a healing balm, and a feeling of empowerment. I have felt very close to divinity as I have pondered the emotions, people, and events leading up to my VBA2C.
We named our baby girl Noelle Lucia and she is my dream come true.