I'll start with how I had a C-Section the first time around. My baby boy was due Christmas Day (2010) and it was a week away. I had intended on having a totally natural birth, I attended Lamaze classes, making sure my husband came too, I was really looking forward to the experience. This was until I ended up at the emergency room because I thought my water had broke....I know, I know, it didn't mean I had to go in, I wasn't even having contractions yet, but I was surrounded by friends and family who were getting nervous and it was contagious. My own doctor was not on duty that night, it was her partner, and he recommended me have a scan to make sure everything was ok.... at which point he advised me have a C-Section because my baby was so big (I'll make a little side-bar here and tell you I'm a 6ft tall woman). I was against it and let him know I was wanting to have a totally natural, drug-free birth, but he kept on about the baby getting bigger and me running into problems... then he threw in a "dead baby comment" which totally freaked me out. I went ahead and did as he advised, I mean he's a doctor right, what do I know?
Needless to say, later on down the road I couldn't help but start thinking that I was robbed. Why didn't I at least try? Smaller women have 10lb babies all the time. I'm 6ft tall with a great family history of birthing babies. I think if I had been more aware of this "baby too big" excuse and understood about the incredibly high C-Section rates in the area I would have been more likely to stick to my guns! I didn't even know what a contraction felt like and I know some people would find it strange but I really wanted to experience that miracle. Not that I had a bad experience having a C-Section, really it wasn't all that bad, but it was very clinical. The worst thing I remember was the epidural, I had the shakes horribly for about 2 hours after surgery and I swear I feel where it was in my back still today, my back stays terribly sore. My baby (Chase)was placed in a little cot by my bed, although I was not really able to move around so much, I had to have someone take my baby out of the cot to put him in my arms. It hurt so bad just to try to stand to get to the bathroom. My recovery was about 2-3 weeks, which isn't so bad, I was still tender for a while longer but I could at least get around. Thank goodness Chase was my first and I didn't have another child I needed to tend to.
Four years later I joyously found out I was pregnant again and this time I was adamant - I was going have my baby naturally. My OB told me she was VBAC friendly, and "of course we could plan for that.... but of course we'd have to closely monitor the size. Chase was 10lb 3oz so I'm obviously prone to having big babies". That was my first bad feeling that it was not going to go as I wished, and more comments kept being made as the weeks went by that enforced this belief. This was when I started to research VBAC statistics and more about what I could expect. I am originally from England and so am more familiar with the healthcare system over there, it is very different from here - it is Government run. From pre-natal care, through labor and post-partum everything is on the tax-payer including daily at-home visits to help with breastfeeding. Births are attended by midwives and in most cases pregnant women never even see an obstetrician unless there's a complication or health concern. When you are first confirmed to be pregnant by your GP everything else is managed by midwives. They are also in charge of managing the labor wards and birthing centers. Women are now encouraged to have home births, attended by a midwife as childbirth is considered a very normal natural bodily function.
I was surprised when I was first pregnant and my whole pregnancy was managed by an obstetrician. It seemed kind of over-the-top and expensive, with a lot of unnecessary procedures. Definitely not affordable if you don't have full health insurance. I believe you can have a home birth in Louisiana, however it is illegal in some states believe it or not!
A statistic that was most interesting to me was that having a Doula decreased your chances of having a cesarean section by 50%, overall length of labor by 25%, the use of oxytocin by 40% and requests for an epidural by 60%. I had not heard of a Doula before, so I did some homework. A Doula, a Greek word for "Women's Servant", is a professional trained in childbirth. She advocates for the mother helping her fight for her wishes. She is there for emotional, physical and educational support and helps with pain relieving techniques, birthing positioning etc. I went straight to work to find a Doula. Of course, there was not one in my town (Houma, Louisiana) so I ended up widening my search to Baton Rouge (about 2 hours away). I located a Doula who I immediately contacted to arrange a meeting, and when we met I knew right away that it was the best decision I could have made. There was actually two ladies who work together to ensure 100% that one of them would be on call when needed. They were both fantastic, from a company called "Louisiana Birth" - I couldn't have asked for better support. In fact I would go as far as to say there is no way I would have had a successful VBAC if it were not for them!
I was one month away from my estimated due date (EDD) and at my scan the baby was in the breach position. Immediately they started talking about C-Section without even discussing possible ways of turning the baby. All I could think was that there was still a month to go, that's plenty of time for the baby to turn a whole bunch of times, surely!? My doula recommended I try a chiropractor and discuss the "Webster Technique" - this was something I had never heard of and definitely not discussed by my doctor. I went that week and sure enough I felt the baby turn right away at that visit, it was amazing. All they do is align your pelvis to make everything optimal for the baby to be head down. That last month of my pregnancy I had so many scans I don't remember how many. Each time my doctor and her staff were "oooing and aaahing" about how big my baby was. Then I was one week away from my due date and my doctor was out attending a birth I think, I found out I was to see her partner only at the point of walking into the room. He actually is a very personable guy, with a great bedside manner, that's probably one of the reasons he was able to talk me into a C-Section the first time around. I just wish I had recorded his conversation this time around. I had been having irregular, middle of the road painful kind of contractions on and off for about a week or so. I knew they were not the real deal, that they were just preparing me for what lay ahead, so I was not worried. The doctor checked me for dilation, I was at 1cm (and had been for a few weeks), I was 75% effaced though.... so things were heading in the right direction. He gave me this look though like he was worried. He actually said "I heard you were hoping to VBAC, I hate to tell you this but it looks like you have another huge baby and you do know the risks of uterine tearing and it's not just your life you're risking, but the life of your baby too. And also, you have a cervix of steel".... yes, he actually said that! A Cervix of Steel!! At that point I switched off, and just nodded along to get the appointment over with. I was furious when I left, like I had already done my research and knew there was absolutely nothing wrong with my progression, I still had a week to go for goodness sake! I paid no more mind to what he had said. I know he was just setting the stage for the sabotage that was coming.
So I reached my due date, saw my doctor that morning. "What do you want to do?" she asked. "About what?" I answered. "About going past your due date, you know every day you go past the baby is getting bigger and your chances of uterine rupture is increasing" she told me. "I want you to come back on Thursday (3 days later) so we can check you again as you're still only 1.5cm dilated". Let me tell you how I started walking, and walking, and walking trying to get things to move along. Thursday came and I went to that appointment where she told me she was absolutely not going to let me go past one week over and that if I made it to Monday that we would have to start thinking about pushing it along a little. She had my birth plan, she knew that that was not what I wanted. Of course all through this process I was talking with my doula about what was happening, she was also worried about what was going to happen with the doctor as they are famous around here for scheduling C-sections and "big baby" is their favorite excuse. That weekend I bounced a lot on my birthing ball, did a lot of walking, even started using my breast pump to try to get things moving without medical intervention. It was working because I started having more regular contractions, plus I lost my mucus plug and had some bloody show that weekend, I was so excited as I knew I was really close.
It was Monday morning, the day of my last doctor's appointment and one week past my due date. I had been having some really strong contractions, still only about 15 minutes apart but definitely the real deal. They were regular and strong. I went to my appointment where the doctor wanted to give me another scan to make sure I hadn't lost any fluid from the water bag, she then put me on a fetal heart rate monitor for 20 minutes or so, but nothing unusual. Once I was done there she came and checked my dilation, I was at maybe a 2cm, 80% effaced, but her next comments astounded me. "I am really worried about the fact you saw blood". I looked at her very confused, as I know the percentage of women who have a bloody show/mucus plug right before labor starts is really high. I told her I knew that what I saw was normal, and that I just knew that everything was progressing as it should, but she said she wanted me to go straight to the hospital and be hooked up to a monitor to keep an eye on the baby. I knew I wasn't close enough to be going to the hospital yet, I could be in this state for days, but she was adamant. She then told me that if nothing had progressed like she wanted it to before the afternoon that she wanted to break my water to try to get things moving along faster. That her partner would be on duty the next day and that if he were to be the one on duty when I went into the hospital that he would refuse to let me VBAC (this was the first time she had told me this very important fact!).... Then she threw in the "dead baby" comment. I was now panicking. I felt like my whole dream of a normal, natural birth was being yanked away. "I need to get some air! Let me go talk to my husband" I told her.
I immediately called my doula to tell her what was going on. "Wow", she said "these doctors are really something, it's like they're totally disregarding your wishes!" I was getting really upset. "I don't know what to do" I cried, "I feel like if I do go into the hospital like she wants, then she's going to break my water too soon, and I'll end up in a C-Section again. I just know that the best thing to do is to let things progress naturally if I'm going to succeed!" She calmed me down and reminded me that I have a choice, that I don't HAVE to do anything I don't want to, but I reminded her that it's so hard to go against a doctor, they have that look you know, like you don't know what you're talking about. She gave me another option. Oschner Medical Center has a birthing unit in Baton Rouge, and they take last minute pregnant women who want to VBAC. Apparently they take people all the time in the same position as me, where their doctor has flipped on them at the last minute. It's more common than you'd think I'm told! OK, so now to convince my husband James. I'm at home and have gotten down to 8 minute apart contractions that are really strong. I managed to convince him to take the 2 hour drive so we start packing and making plans for our boy. We're about to leave and I'm in 3 minute apart contractions. I knew I would slow down once I sat in the car, so we set off, the funny part about this is my husband is not the kind of guy who likes last minute surprises so you can imagine his reaction at this point. My contractions slowed down to 5 minutes apart while we were driving, the whole way I was moaning and James, I could tell, was freaking out inside. My doula was meeting us there (thank God for GPS, we made without getting lost) and we ran into each other parking. It turned out perfect. It took no more than 15 minutes to get checked in and all paperwork completed.
Really and truly what happened next was the best birthing experience I could have possibly wished for. I was in a huge room with a birthing bath big enough for two people (for if James would have wanted to get in with me). We were able to create any atmosphere we wanted. My doula immediately went to making it just right, she set up the music which played through speakers in the room (I am a fan of Enya and Enigma which created a beautiful mood), she dimmed the lights and set about lighting some essential oils in the diffuser. Whenever the midwife, or a nurse would come into the room they would creep in and keep their voices down real low as to not disturb the atmosphere. I was able to shower on a birthing ball, which I managed to plug up the drain with! They had every kind of birthing accessory you could need, the first thing they asked me was "can we have a copy of your Birth Plan?" - then they followed it to a T. A doctor came in during those first few minutes there, she introduced herself and told us she would be on duty that night but that unless we needed her we probably wouldn't see her again. Then a midwife came in - and she was wonderful, she never once asked me if I wanted to try some medication.... she basically just kept her head down and let me do most of my laboring by myself.
I was very surprised at the effectiveness of the essential oils, in particular smelling peppermint to help with nausea. Whenever I felt nauseous my doula would wave a bottle of peppermint under my nose and the nausea would subside.
It was so strange, I had seen women in videos giving birth in all kinds of positions and had been joking about giving birth on all fours if I wanted to.... never did I think that I would end up most of my labor standing and actually giving birth while standing up. I tried getting in the bath for awhile, I tried kneeling on the bed, sitting on the birthing ball but none of that felt good - For some reason I felt the most comfortable standing up, swaying my hips. The midwife quietly sat on the floor next to me while I was pushing, and when the time was right she was there to catch the baby (literally, lol). My doula and my husband were on either side of me steadying me as the contractions would come, I actually think I pulled a muscle in my shoulder because I would hang at times as my knees gave way.
I can't say for sure how long I was in early labor for, it was quite drawn out (like days I think). Then once active labor started that lasted about 12 hours, transition was only about half an hour and finally I only really pushed for about 20 minutes until my beautiful 9lb 10oz baby girl McKenzie Rae was born. Delivering the placenta was easy, I think that happened like 5 minutes later, I barely noticed as I was already feeding the baby, she was basically on the breast within 1 minute of being delivered.
Not one part my labor and delivery do I regret, it was the most amazing, empowering experience of my life and I would recommend a natural birth with a midwife to anyone who'll listen. What do I think was the big game-changer for me during my pregnancy? Finding a Doula. I truly believe that if it were not for her I would have ended up in a C-Section for sure. That would be my first advice to people trying to VBAC or have a natural birth.
I continuously hear the same things being said - "My doctor told me my baby is too big", or "My baby is too big so they're going to induce one week early", or even "I just don't have the hips for it". The doctors around here are just so quick to jump to a section because it's better in a scheduling sense, it's quicker therefore more patients can be seen. It's all a matter of business and money from what I can see. I feel sorry for the ladies out there who are none-the-wiser, that go along with anything their doctor tells them without question - they are truly missing out on one of the most beautiful miracles there is. This is what we were meant to do.
For those of you who are interested to delve further into this, see below list of resources I used during my pregnancy to stay informed:
vbac pro my vbac story
Also, a must-see documentary with Ricki Lake is "The Business of Being Born"