I was pregnant for the second time.
I had a choice to make: Repeat cesarean or VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean). I had wanted a vaginal birth very badly for my first birth. I wanted one for this birth too. But I was nervous about my uterus rupturing, I was nervous about trying for a vaginal birth and having another horrible experience. There was something very safe and comfortable about a repeat cesarean. I could schedule the date, walk into the hospital in no pain, have the surgery, and walk out with my baby in arms. I did what I always did when faced with a decision: I researched. Quite literally, I got books about VBAC out from my local library. I read everything I could. I learned about how low the risk of uterine rupture was, and how low the risk of dangerous outcomes were for the small percentage of people who actually ruptured. I also discovered something that really tipped me towards trying for a VBAC. When measuring hemorrhage, one of my biggest fears, the amount of blood loss required to declare a hemorrhage during a vaginal birth was only 500ccs. But the normal amount of blood loss during a cesarean birth was double that, at 1000ccs. This tiny fact stood out to me. When people discuss cesarean versus vaginal birth they seem to imply that they both carry the same amount of risk, or that vaginal birth is more dangerous. What I learned was that we weren’t talking about two equally safe procedures, but that the cesarean option was much more dangerous for me. I was armed with information. I decided I would try for a VBAC.
I found a doctor who was known for VBAC. I hired a doula (something I regret not doing for my first birth and felt strongly about doing this time). I went to the chiropractor every week, I did Spinning Babies inversions on my couch to encourage a good position for the baby, I went to an acupuncturist in the days leading up to my due date, hoping it would bring on labor. I had conversations with my doctor at each appointment about my preferences, about how I would rather have a repeat cesarean than an induction, about how she supported me having intermittent monitoring, how I could be pregnant for 42 weeks before we discussed any intervention. I met with my doula. I ate healthy foods and walked everyday. I include all of this in my birth story because in many ways my birth story started during my pregnancy. The experience I had during my first birth had left me feeling powerless, voiceless, and completely discarded by my medical team. This time around I armed myself with information. I was proactive about my health, about preparing for my pregnancy, about building a support team including a doula and a care provider that knew my wishes and discussed my care with me. Before my labor started, and before I went to the hospital, I felt in control and empowered in a way I never had the first time around.
I woke up on my due date. It was 5:20 in the morning, and I was having what felt like Braxton Hicks contractions (non-labor tightenings of the uterus that prepare your body for labor). Except I never had them in the morning before, and at the peak of each one it was tight enough to draw my attention, to require my breath for a brief moment. I looked at the time. Another one came, I wrote the time down. 15 minutes apart. Could this be? Could it be labor?? I had never gone into my own labor before, and I had this strange but very sure feeling that if I could just get into my own labor everything else would work out exactly how it should. I just needed to avoid the induction that seemed to be the beginning of everything going wrong in my first birth experience.
I laid in bed and the waves continued to come, a little closer each time. I woke my husband up and told him I thought I might be in labor. It was Father’s Day, and I was about to give him the gift of a lifetime! We told my mom and dropped off my almost-2-year-old son at her house. I labored there for a little bit. The waves were still pretty far apart, about 10 minutes or so, but they required my full attention when they came. I was calm, relaxed, and feeling really capable of handling whatever came my way. I said goodbye to my son and headed out into the day to see what would come. My husband’s phone had suddenly died that morning, the one day that he would absolutely need it for pictures and communication, so we headed to the most unlikely of places for labor: the AT&T store. It was a busy Sunday and the store was packed. The employee with the Ipad to check everyone in approached us and I told her I was in labor, my husband’s phone was dead, and we needed help. She took us to the side, skipped us to the front of the line, and we were out of the store within 20 minutes–only one contraction in public. I laugh when thinking about this… about the site of a hugely pregnant woman in labor trying to get help at an AT&T store. The mood was light, I was feeling calm and ready for whatever this labor brought. I was determined to stay out of the hospital for as long as I could.
I labored all day in my house. We watched World Cup soccer, I ate food, I moved freely. My husband and I enjoyed a rare day together not caring for our little one. Dare I say, it was actually enjoyable! As the waves came I would go into my hypnosis, using the tools I learned in my Hypnobabies course, I would release the tension from my body, and I would trust that each one would pass in time. I learned about which positions felt good (sitting, leaning, standing, rocking) and which didn’t (laying, anything involving my bed). I learned how to use my breath to send deep relaxation throughout my body. Soon night fell.
There was one part of my labor where I was completely irrational. My mother called to check on me and asked me if my husband had taken off of work the next day. I couldn’t believe her suggestion. I wasn’t sure I was even IN labor at that point. She was annoying me with her question. I let her know that he wasn’t taking off yet, that we weren’t sure that he would need to, and that I couldn’t drive but might want her to drop my son off to me the next day. She lovingly told me that she wouldn’t be doing that and that my partner probably should call into work, that it really sounded like I was in labor. I rushed her off the call and threw the phone on the bed. Leave it to my mother to annoy her daughter by insisting she was in labor. We both laugh at this call now, because it was evidence of my deep denial of where I was in my labor. We laugh at how I had my baby 5 hours after that call. And how I insisted I wasn’t in labor but definitely couldn’t drive because of the labor I was in. Birth is so funny and it doesn’t always make sense.
Normalizing all I was feeling
My doula checked in with me around 10pm. We had been texting all day and she was so helpful in normalizing all the things I was experiencing. I had started to feel like I would vomit, and then did. I knew that this was a sign things were moving along. And yet, I still felt completely in control. I was calm. I was happy and didn’t need her to come. She suggested I call my doctor to check in with her. I told the doctor that my contractions were about 9 minutes apart. She suggested I stay home, and I agreed. I wasn’t ready to come in, I was doing really well at home with my husband. I hung up the phone. How lovely it was to connect with my care provider, to have a discussion about my care, and to be the decision maker.
And then, it all shifted. The power of our minds is just incredible, and the role that our mental and emotional state plays in our labor progression cannot be overstated. When I hung up the phone with my doctor my surges went from 9 minutes apart to 4 minutes apart almost instantly. They become powerful and intense. This was really different from how it was just a few minutes before. I changed locations, this time to the shower. It’s hard to describe just how therapeutic the shower was for my waves. The water changed the way that I experienced them. Standing and rocking and moaning as the hot water hit my back and belly felt so good. I stayed in there for as long as I could until I needed a change. I headed back into my quiet, dark, comfy bedroom. I labored in a few different positions. I looked in the mirror and saw that my belly looked really different. The baby was moving down.
I remember this one wave came and I just couldn’t get on top of it. “FUCK!” I yelled at the peak. My husband looked up from the bed, where he was resting. It was the first sign of things getting serious. The one expletive signaled that the previous peace was gone and we were in a new stage of this labor. I got through to the other side of the wave and told him it was time to call the doula and the doctor back. It was around midnight at this point. I continued laboring as he spoke to them. The doula made her way to us. The doctor told my husband that if I came and I wasn’t ready to be admitted I might be sent home. In retrospect, this was being said in support of my VBAC. She knew better than anyone that a woman who shows up at the hospital too early is subjecting herself to many interventions that more often than not do not lead to a vaginal delivery. It stood out to me after this birth that her best advice to get my VBAC was to stay away from my medical team, to stay out of the hospital. It was a warning I heeded for my third birth.
At 1am the doula arrived at my home. She came in to find me kneeling next to my bed. Taking the waves about every 3 minutes in this position. As she walked in I said, “I wish I would close my eyes and open them and be at the hospital.” It was go time. During the time it took for me to walk from my bedroom to the car in my driveway I had about 4 contractions. And I have a small house! My doula was really helpful in talking me through my contractions, in reminding me to slow my breath. I was working REALLY hard at this point. I remember that before she got into her car she told my husband, “If anything happens, just pull over.” I don’t think either of us realized how close I was to giving birth and what she meant by that. The hospital was about 30 minutes away from my home. My doula led the way in her car, and she was driving FAST. I closed my eyes and learned how to manage my contractions in the car with a seatbelt on. The tools I had developed during the earlier parts of my labor came in handy during this drive. Without the ability to move I had to rely on my hypnosis, on my breath, and on my relaxation to get me through.
We arrived at the hospital and I had a few more contractions outside the entrance as my doula and husband took turns parking the cars. We headed into the admitting office where I complained that it was extremely hot. My doula whispered that it was so hot because I was doing a lot of hard work. I wasn’t really in the room at that point. My body was, of course, but I was somewhere else. Deeply concentrating on the work, eyes closed unless absolutely necessary. I was feeling dampness in my underwear. I remember my doula trying to do a hip squeeze and I recoiled from her pressure. I was on a journey, I was deeply in touch with every part of my body. I needed her voice, I needed my husband’s support, I needed them both to witness me and guard my space (both physical and mental).
It was finally time to go upstairs to Labor and Delivery. They asked me if I wanted to sit in a wheelchair and I said that there was absolutely no way I could sit at that point. I waddled my way to the elevator and then down the winding, twisting hallways. I stopped often to moan and lean on my husband for support through contractions. The pace of the group, my doula, my partner, the aide, and myself, was set by me. I was in charge. I was the person calling the shots. When I finally got to L+D the nurses took one look at me and told me I didn’t need to go to triage, that I was going straight back to a delivery room.
While I write this out I know that it seems obvious that I was moving quickly. I was having intense, almost back to back contractions, my doula told my husband to pull over if the baby started to come, I was hurried past triage, the signs of my progress were obvious. To me though, I had no idea how far along I was. I hadn’t been checked, or even seen by a doctor. Despite the intensity and frequency of the surges I wasn’t actually feeling any pain. I was coping really well with my labor and I thought that we would get settled into our room and have the baby the next day. The disconnect between my labor progression and my knowing where I was in my labor was a theme that would repeat in my third birth as well.
I got into the labor and delivery room and there was a flurry of activity as they set up a table with their tools and readied the room for the baby. I didn’t know that at the time, I just headed into the bathroom with my doula, to pee before I went into the bed. When I pulled down my underwear there was bright red blood. I was so far away in my labor trance, and didn’t feel alarmed by it at all. I had a contraction right then and there, and at the peak of the wave I felt myself bearing down. I didn’t realize it at the time but this was spontaneous pushing. I was in a new phase of labor!
I climbed into the bed and they took my blood pressure and said it was a little high and they’d like me to stay laying on my left side in the bed. This was more than fine with me. Anything but laying on my back. I labored in the bed, ignoring the lights and the nurses going in and out of the room. I remember being in the stars. Every wave was like a spiritual experience. I was going to wherever my baby was, in a dark and faraway place, and everything that was happening in the room was insignificant. The spiritual transformation I was in the middle of was wild, powerful, and I felt like an animal once again. Not a trapped animal, like my previous birth, but instead like a primal being, deeply in tune with my urges, with my body, with my spiritual connection to the universe. When I describe this birth I tell people simply, “I went to the stars.” It was beautiful and powerful and exciting. The intensity of each surge was strong and difficult but not painful. At one point I quite hilariously snapped at my husband for moving the hospital bed up and down in the middle of an intense contraction. Only to realize that he was nowhere near the buttons. Instead, I had mashed my head against them as I clung to the railing, holding on as the wave peaked and crashed. I may have laughed momentarily before descending back into my darkness, reaching new depths, finding parts of myself I didn’t know were there.
Away from the stars
The instructions from the hospital staff, the exam by the doctor, the questions from the nurses, these all punctured my peace. They drew me back into the room and away from the stars. I couldn’t answer questions. They seemed so silly, so irrelevant. I remember having a huge surge, I moaned very loudly and vocalized as I worked through it. A nurse ran into the room and asked me, “How did that feel?” I glared at her. I had so many answers running through my head, “How do you think it felt?! Why does it matter?! It felt really hard! Of COURSE” But instead I stared at her, catching my breath and not finding any energy to offer her, not a single word I had to waste on her. She left the room.
There was one moment I remember so distinctly. A baby had just been born in a room down the hall. I could hear the woman’s screams and then the baby’s. And I was laying there, huge in my body, trapped in my labor, and I told myself in my head I would never, ever find myself here again. As soon as I got this baby out of my body I would make sure to never do this again. I quickly refocused and pushed at the peak of each wave as my body beared down on its own. The doctor had me lay on my back to push. A dreaded position that felt terrible. I had no ability to speak, no ability to fight, I was barely in the room and I did as I was told. After a few series of pushes my sweet, perfect baby FLEW into the room. He was born at 3:01am on June 16th, 2014. He came to my chest, alert and awake. We looked at each other. The relief I felt from all of the pressure the moment before he came out was unbelievable. I was shocked that he was here. I screamed, “I JUST HAD A BABY OUT OF MY VAGINA!!” and the entire room burst out laughing. It was one of the best moments of my entire life. Not only had I managed a vaginal birth, but I managed to do it without an epidural, and within an hour of getting into my hospital room. After some time I moved him to my breast, where he latched perfectly. I was blissful, I was high. I might still be high from his birth, almost 7 years later.
It’s amazing to me how efficient the postpartum hormones are at erasing and softening our memories of our labor. By the time I got to the postpartum room about an hour after my birth I was thinking about having another baby. I did go on to have another baby in my living room, at home, on my terms. I’ll share that story in another post. The funny thing about sharing my birth stories with people is that there is an assumption that my home birth would be my “best” or my favorite birth. But for me this one was the experience I treasure the most. I was primal, I was connected to myself, I found my power, possibly for the first time in my entire life. After this birth I noticed a change in myself. I stopped talking myself out of things. I lost my fear, my trepidation. I pursued doula training, I built a doula practice. I created a doula mentorship program. I launched a game-changing gift registry for support for new moms. This birth turned off the little voice in my head that shut down every ambition and good idea I had and turned on my self-confidence, my power, my curiosity, and erased every bit of fear I have ever had. It was a transformative moment that changed me forever. The work I did during my pregnancy, the support team I built for myself, the active role I took in my birth, it all had impacts far beyond the delivery room, and is the fuel behind my lifelong passion to improve the maternal experience.