When I found out I was pregnant the first time, I didn’t know much about the process or the world of birth. I did know that I would like to birth with as few interventions as possible. After all, women have been birthing for thousands of years, it should be no big deal, right? A woman’s body was made for this task. Childbirth is so beautiful to me and I love the pictures and videos of women and the pure bliss on their faces when they are handed, or catch their own, baby for the first time. I was young, healthy, and active so I assumed that would work to my advantage. I read a few books during pregnancy, but none specifically dealing with birth.
My first labor started on a Monday evening just after midnight. By early the next morning, we decided to head to our birth center an hour and a half away. Contractions had slowed down at that point and I started to feel nervous about having made a false alarm. Both of our families were already headed there too. As the day went on, I made a little progress and went from being dilated to a 4 at arrival to a 6 a few hours later. I ended up staying there for several hours. I started feeling pressure to “hurry up” although I had no idea how to make that happen, I also didn’t know how those feelings could play into labor in a bad way. Eventually, my midwife wanted to break my water and I consented. When she did, she also helped me dilate to a 7. This totally changed the way I was able to manage labor. It felt like there were no breaks anymore and it was just one long, continuous wave of a contraction. A few more hours passed and I was still at a 7. My midwife suggested we transfer to a hospital and I get an epidural, to which I ultimately consented. In my mind, I went right past the epidural and thought I was basically headed straight for a c-section. At the hospital, they gave me nitrous oxide for pain management and hooked me up to monitors. At this point, I slipped into another world and was only vaguely aware of what was going on around me. Everyone was focused on my son’s heart rate on the monitor; this was the first time in my entire labor that his heart rate showed any sign of concern, so I assume it was an issue with the nitrous oxide. The doctor came in to check me again, still a 7. To my knowledge, an epidural was never even suggested, although there was still no emergency. She mentioned a c-section. I would dare to say that at the height of labor, a woman is in the most vulnerable position possible and unable to even think coherently. I was so exhausted, at this point we were in the early hours of Wednesday morning and I hadn’t slept since Monday afternoon. I consented almost immediately. I was done. My record shows my first c-section was performed as a result of “failure to progress.” Of course, there isn’t much that can ruin the first time you hear your baby cry, and I definitely still treasure that moment. My healthy, full-term baby was taken to the NICU and multiple family members got to hold him before me. He was finally brought to me two hours after the surgery.
I had a really hard time processing that birth. I questioned everything from start to finish. I didn’t know that birth trauma was a thing. I told myself the surgery was necessary. The doctor had held up my placenta and said there was a little meconium in it and also said the cord was around Ryan’s neck. So I chalked it up to an emergency. I didn’t know until later that there are a lot of misconceptions between both of those “problems” during the birth process. I walked away from the birth that I anticipated being so much different feeling battered, scarred, and defeated. And I didn’t know that it was okay to feel that way.
I was told about ICAN while I was still in the hospital. I joined a Facebook group for a local chapter and started to learn that I wasn’t the only one who felt the way I did after my birth experience. Once more time passed and my memories weren’t as hormonally charged, I started to recognize times when I should have been more supported during labor. I also started working on making peace with the way things had gone.
When I got pregnant the second time, my due date was just three years shy of my c-section. I started searching Facebook groups for VBAC stories in my area trying to find an OB who would be supportive of that option. I had read facts and statistics and I knew that was the route I wanted to go. I ended up finding a fantastic doctor who was very supportive of my choice. I had seen some books suggested and around 20 weeks I started to read about birth. Again, I went to Facebook to search for a doula. I found a name and started messaging her. It turned out she was also planning a birth class series to start not long after that. I met her in person, for something totally unrelated, a few days after I had messaged her, and I knew I wanted to hire her pretty much immediately. That decision was further solidified once we started our class. I could tell how knowledgeable and experienced she was.
Moving forward, I had a typical, healthy pregnancy with a few more aches and pains than the first, but nothing major. I started drinking red raspberry leaf tea at least once a day in my second trimester. I also started going to the chiropractor regularly. I did as many things as I could think of to increase my chances of a successful VBAC. Then I got to my 36-week appointment. The doctor went to check the baby’s position and he was transverse. His head was up under my rib cage and his feet were dangling down my side. At that point, there was still plenty of time for the baby to turn, but it spiked alarms in me just due to the fact that I was a VBAC patient. I wanted him to turn ASAP. I went to Spinning Babies website and read about what to try. I folded up a baby blanket to put behind my back in the car so I would be able to sit with good posture and have my spine in the correct position. I also went to the chiropractor. At my 37-week appointment, baby was head down. I sighed in relief. After that point, I avoided lounging in a chair or reclining. I sat on my birth ball frequently and got in several different positions that were supposed to help with positioning.
I started to get antsy as I approached 39 weeks. I think I knew intuitively that he wouldn’t be coming that week, but I was hopeful because my sister-in-law had gone into spontaneous labor at that gestation just two months earlier. I went in for my 40-week appointment and wasn’t dilated. At this point, labor was all I could think about. Although my doctor was in no hurry to talk about induction, I was still anxious because I didn’t want it to come down to that. He even told me I could go as close to 42 weeks as possible before we did anything to induce. The night of 40 weeks and 1 day, I lost a large portion of my mucous plug. I’ve never been so excited to see bodily fluids in my life. I still didn’t have any other signs, but the next day I could tell that part of the barrier between the baby and the world was gone. That day was mostly uneventful. I woke up on Thursday, 40 weeks 3 days, and had even more mucous. This time it was pink-tinged. I was elated again. I knew this meant something. The morning went by fairly normally. Just before noon, my son and I went for a walk down our street, which we had done several times in the weeks leading up to my due date/labor. About 30 minutes after we got back, I started to have some mild contractions. After I got him put down for a nap, I got into my bed to do the Miles Circuit that my doula had shared with me, as well as take a nap. I had a massage scheduled for that afternoon with a therapist trained in pressure points to induce labor, talk about good timing. By the time I got up from the second position of the circuit, I was having some regular but mild contractions. I asked my mom if she would come and drive me to the massage because they were just strong enough that I didn’t think I should drive myself. After the massage, we picked up dinner. While we waited for our food, the contractions got stronger but I was still able to act normal. Once we made it home, I got on my birth ball and sent a text to my doula to let her know what was going on. I ate quite a bit of pizza, drank a ton of water, and took a shower. All of those things will help pre-labor contractions stop. They didn’t stop. I went on about the evening as normally as I could. Once we got in bed, I was planning to try to get some sleep. I determined after a while that sleep wasn’t happening so I started on the circuit again. Once I got into the second position, the contractions started to get much more intense. I decided to go take a bath to try and take the edge off because I was wanting to labor at home as long as possible. I let my husband know that I was unable to sleep and I was fairly certain we would need to leave somewhat soon. I got in the bathtub and I was having more intense contractions every 4 minutes with more subtle contractions 2 minutes between them. I wasn’t entirely sure how to gauge that pattern. I lost the ability to carry on casual conversation and I was focusing on contractions, so we knew that was about the time to head to the hospital. My husband called our doula and she agreed to meet us outside of labor and delivery. My contractions didn’t change with the change of environment, luckily. I was so afraid to have a “low number” when they checked me. I was a 4, which wasn’t what I hoped for, but I also didn’t have the mental capacity at that time to really think about it. They got me into a room and got my IV line in. I requested no Pitocin or saline at that time, so aside from the fetal monitor, I wasn’t hooked up to anything. It was probably about 4 am by then. A little after 5, they said my doctor had wanted me checked again and I had gone to a 5.5, which I was happy about! After that point, the time frame is a complete haze. My doctor came in fairly early as he had two surgeries scheduled for the day. He checked in with me before the first one and the nurse said I was dilated between a 5 & 6. He said he would just let me labor and would be back to check after the first surgery. I surprised myself and actually did spend most of my labor in bed. One of the more comfortable coping positions I found was sitting on the edge of the bed and melting into my husband’s arm. The toilet and the birthing ball were torture. When the doctor made it back in, I was an 8. I don’t honestly remember even hearing this part. I do remember he said he would “try to make it back from surgery to deliver.” I also recall crying and saying “Why does it hurt so bad?! Make it stop!” Which, if you know anything about labor, you might recognize this lovely stage as transition. Subconsciously, I knew I was in transition, so I just let it all out, plus, one of the birth books I had read said that crying can actually help the body relax because of the release it provides. My doctor’s second surgery was scheduled for 9am. Before he came back, he had called the nurse and wanted to break my water. I really did not want to because I had done that in my first labor and it drastically changed my coping ability, I was already feeling so much intensity, I didn’t want to make more. When he actually came back to my room, he checked me again and I was a 10 and my water broke while he was checking me. At that point, I didn’t have the urge to push. No one tried to make me push either. I actually started dozing off between contractions. Every now and then I would catch a glimpse at the clock on the computer and was always surprised that it was still so early in the day. Somewhere in my distant mind I thought, “We’re going to have a baby by noon!” Well, time went on and I still had no urge to push. I was still feeling every bit of the intensity with the contractions though and I wanted to try to help get it over with in any way I could so I asked if I could start pushing. My doula let the nurse know and she came in and they set up the squat bar at the end of the bed. During the contractions, I would sit straight up on the edge of the bed and hold the squat bar with my hands and bare down. Between some contractions, I would lay back against the bed. When I felt one coming on again, I would reach out my hands and my husband and my doula would help me sit back up. Eventually, my doctor had come to tell me he was going to have to leave for a surgery at a different hospital that he had that day. Luckily, I was totally unaware of the time, because the pushing routine went on for 4+ hours. The baby was still just not quite as engaged as he needed to be. The nurse who was with us all day and the doctor who came in were great. Ultimately, they starting asking if I would agree to some Pitocin to help make the contractions more effective or else we might need to consider another c-section. I really didn’t want to use Pitocin for a lot of reasons. Once surgery was suggested, I kind of just shut down, I laid back on the bed. I asked my doula what she thought and I ultimately just started saying I wanted surgery. It was so hard to think I was fully dilated and having a baby early in the day and to still be in labor 6 hours later. I was exhausted. I just wanted some relief. The nurse asked if I wanted anything for pain, which I had said no to until this point, and I told her I did. She started morphine in my IV line. After that I was basically on a countdown in my mind to when I would get the spinal tap. I’m sure no sane person would ever think such a thing about major surgery, but there isn’t much that I could compare an unmedicated labor to. You close off everything and enter your own world and remain so vulnerable on the outside. Hearing a c-section being mentioned was like waving a carrot in front of me. Did I want to have one again? No way. But I knew what to expect and I knew that there was a time limit on that. Otherwise, I didn’t know how long we would go on. I don’t think I would have come to that conclusion as easily or quickly had I not already had a previous surgery. Finally, they came to get me for surgery. Once I got in the room, a friend I had grown up with greeted me, she was a surgery tech, which may have been more awkward if I wasn’t sky high on morphine, considering I was stark naked on a table. She may have even been the one who put my catheter in, I have no idea, but it was nice to see a familiar face. We talked throughout the surgery. She actually informed us when they pulled my son out that he had a ton of hair! They let me do a few minutes of skin to skin on the table, a new experience for me, and then took him to the NICU to be checked over. Levi left with him and I kind of dozed off while they were putting me back together. They wheeled me to my recovery room where my doula shortly found me and we talked while the nurse finished up some of my chart. Levi came wheeling Nate in probably 45 minutes later and they brought him to me and we did more skin to skin and I started trying to help him latch. A few family members stuck around for a little while and then headed home. While we were in the hospital, I rested as much as possible. If the baby was asleep in his bassinet, I went to sleep. I had been down this road before and I knew the more I let myself heal, the faster I would heal and the faster I would feel better. Once I got the baby to latch, he was great at nursing. I had some struggles the first time, so this was a welcome relief. I had forgotten how physically difficult the surgery was the first few days afterward. When they took out my catheter and I got to stand up for the first time, my legs barely worked, but I was just happy to be unhooked from almost everything. We got discharged pretty early on the day we got to leave, which was fantastic. I made sure to rest as much as I could within the first days I went home. I had the good fortune to recover from both labor and a c-section, but it wasn’t too bad. Mentally, I was in a completely different place postpartum. I’m sure that is due in large part to resting, but also in being able to more easily accept the end result of my labor.
Although a repeat c-section was the last thing I wanted, I learned that it isn’t only surgical births that can cause trauma. I also learned that it isn’t exclusive to surgery to require extra healing time after birth. Postpartum hormones are not any more difficult as a result of a cesarean, they vary for each person and each situation. Having or choosing a c-section is not taking “the easy way out” and I am not any less of a woman or a mother. I walked away from my first c-section questioning everything and feeling defeated. I walked away from my second labor and c-section feeling victorious for what my body was able to accomplish. I felt loved and supported during the entire process. It was a very healing experience for me, which is something I never dreamed I would feel. Sometimes we make plans, but God has different plans that He uses to teach us with.
Post contributed by Brooke McInerney