Disclaimer: This one’s a bit long-winded. However, I wanted to get in all the details for readers who enjoy and find strength in others’ birth stories. I know hearing others’ stories definitely helped me on my journey!
From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I fought so hard for a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean – I’ll share more of my journey and helpful resources in another post.)
Then, on January 2, I delivered my precious Baby Boy #2 (aka Tank) via unplanned repeat Cesarean. However, because of how everything happened, I feel nothing but empowered and grateful.
I went into spontaneous labor early morning New Year’s Day at 41 weeks, 3 days. We had spent a quiet New Years Eve at home, which ended with me hysterically crying that I would never have this baby and I’d ruined New Years for us just like I’d ruined Christmas. (I was just a touch emotional.)
I had already had one false alarm the Friday beforehand, thinking the mild cramping and general “off” feeling were signs things would be happening. Little Dude had also given me a bigger hug than usual before daycare, almost like he knew he wouldn’t see me that evening. Then…nothing.
As the 42 week mark drew closer (the deadline to “do things on my own”), I was trying to keep my spirits up but getting a little discouraged. (Other than watching the looks on people’s faces when I told them my due date was “a week ago” – that was priceless!)
I had a hunch January 2 was no false alarm, but didn’t want to get my hopes up, so we slowly started getting things ready. We cancelled our New Years Day plans and sent Little Dude to be with family.
That morning, we notified both our midwife and doulas, who advised me to get a little bit of exercise, eat like I was about to run a marathon, and then get some rest. If this was the real deal, it would be a long night. (I was using a private midwife for prenatal visits, and planned to check myself in to triage at the most VBAC-friendly hospital in the area when it was time to be admitted. More on why I made that decision in another post.)
I hadn’t had a “normal” labor experience with Little Dude, so this was my first time having regular contractions on my own and letting my body do what it was designed to do.
Having read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth (which I highly recommend to all moms), I knew the intermittent period-like cramps I was feeling were normal. I settled in to labor at home as long as possible, thereby staying comfortable and avoiding interventions before they were medically necessary.
I enjoyed being in the comfort of my own home as I labored all day, despite knowing I’d be delivering at the hospital. Having the knowledge from all the birth stories I’d read helped me feel comfortable reading my body and holding off on rushing to the hospital.
Following the advice I was given, I took a walk around the block, did some squats and lunges, and ate a huge omelette with a side of potatoes. My husband and I both decided to take a nap and then wake up and watch the UCF game at 1 PM if things were still moving slowly.
I’d had noticeable contractions all morning (again, think period cramps), but by the time the UCF game started at 1 PM, I couldn’t stand watching the game and just wanted to go into our bedroom, mentally check out, and focus on breathing and keeping myself comfortable. The contractions were manageable, but sitting and trying to watch a tense and ultimately disappointing football game wasn’t helping me.
Alone in our bedroom, I turned on a yoga and meditation playlist, focused on deep breathing, and got a little more rest in while my husband watched the game.
At some point during the afternoon, I noticed contractions were getting a little stronger (probably about 5-8 minutes apart and about 45 seconds long), and laying down wasn’t as comfortable anymore. I kept checking in with my midwife and doulas, who encouraged me to take a bath and continue to rest as much as possible.
I was a little worried because my on-call doula was at another birth, and her partner/backup and my midwife were both about 45 minutes away visiting family. (It was New Years Day, after all.) They all assured me I’d have help when I needed it, and to keep checking in.
My husband kept checking on me throughout the game, and made me a lunch of peanut butter smoothie. By the time the game was over, I was definitely feeling the contractions and needed his help to time them.
I had planned for a natural, unmedicated labor, and drew on all my strength from prenatal yoga to breathe through each contraction. (We opted not to take another birth class this time around, figuring I’d just listen to my body and rely on our doulas for help. Not sure if I’d change that, in hindsight.)
My favorite position was kneeling draped over my yoga ball. Sitting and laying down were NOT my friends anymore.
I remember taking another bath, and then at some point realizing the contractions had suddenly gotten a LOT closer together (3 minutes). I remember being a little afraid that we’d overstayed our welcome at home, or that something was wrong, because everyone always talks about the 5-1-1 rule, but we’d skipped right to 3! They were also getting closer to a minute long.
My husband started making more calls. Our doula was still at the other birth, but I said I needed their support soon, so her partner started to make her way back to us.
We also called the midwife again. She said I was probably fine because I was still able to talk through contractions while we were on the phone with her. However, she could tell I was getting a little nervous about the way things were progressing and agreed to make a house call and check on me.
I’m glad everyone started making their way to me when they did, because by the time the midwife arrived, I was not having as easy a time moving and talking through contractions. She coached me on some better breathing, and managed to get me on the bed to check me. (Laying on my back on my cushy pillow top was NOT fun!)
At this point (around 7 PM), I was about 5 cm dilated. She said I could likely labor at home longer, but I was getting to a point where the frequency of contractions was worrying me. I was also experiencing a stabbing/burning sensation through my back with every contraction (back labor, I later learned), and said I’d feel more comfortable making my way in before anything intensified more.
I also decided I would probably need an epidural after all. As much as I’d wanted to avoid any intervention that would inhibit my ability to move and encourage labor progression, I could tell I was tensing up my shoulders. I knew that no matter how well I “tolerated” each contraction, I also needed to fully relax or I might inhibit my body’s ability to progress.
For a while after the birth, I was disappointed in myself for this choice, and wondered why nobody on my support team tried to talk me out of the epidural or make me wait a while longer. I’ve since started reading The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin, and learned that since I was talking calmly about wanting the epidural BETWEEN contractions, they all knew I was making an informed choice rather than letting the intensity get to me. That was a cool realization and made me feel so much better about my choice.
My midwife was so encouraging, as she had been throughout her care for me, and we all celebrated a little: I’d made it to the halfway point all by myself. I was doing it! My body was doing it! The first half of dilation is usually the longest and roughest, and I’d made it.
I’d never even made it this far with Little Dude. I’d never had regular contractions and had needed pitocin to get things going, which led to a series of interventions, a distressed baby, and a C-section.
The midwife encouraged me to take a shower and do my best to relax while I waited for our doula’s partner to arrive. We’d made it past shift-change at the hospital, so we’d be good to go as soon as the doula arrived. (She was already on her way to the house so we decided it would be best to wait for her there).
The doula showed up just as I was getting out of the shower, and just as a particularly strong contraction had me doubled over by the sink in the bathroom. I remember her being surprised at how frequent and intense contractions were, and we told her that had happend only in the time since we’d last spoken to her and she’d headed our way (about 45 minutes ago).
She was absolutely amazing, smoothing my shoulders down during contractions, applying counter-pressure to my hips, and encouraging me to start vocalizing through contractions.
She even helped me dress myself, as the time between contractions was still around 3 minutes and they were lasting longer, meaning I had a much shorter window between them. They were also pretty paralyzing at this point. (Thanks, back labor!)
We managed to get me and all our things into the car, and the doula agreed to follow us and meet us at the hospital.
They say when labor really gets going, you enter “labor land,” and that definitely started happening on the drive. I remember snippets: blasting my labor playlist (“Ordinary Human” by One Republic sticks out in my mind – it captures how elated I felt at how things were progressing), gripping the door handle, watching the lights flash by in the darkness, and vocalizing through every contraction. I’m glad we didn’t wait much longer to make that ride!
We got to the hospital, and I was very antsy and irritable and snapping at my husband about how to handle getting the car unloaded. The doula offered me a wheelchair, and I accepted since it was hard to move through contractions and I wanted to get in and settled as soon as possible.
I was definitely in labor land; I kept my eyes closed, moaning through intense contractions right there in triage, not giving a care in the world who heard me or what they thought. Anyone who knows me knows that is NOT normal me behavior!
The check-in process was interesting. Our hospital had just undergone a rebranding for 2019, so some of the paperwork I’d filled out ahead of time during preregistration was no longer valid. That meant I had to sit in my wheelchair in triage, moaning through contractions and back labor while attempting to re-sign some of the forms I’d already signed. I was not pleased.
We finally got into a triage room, and my husband and doula helped me answer all the questions the hospital peppers you with upon check-in. Medical history. Medications. Etc.
Then they asked me to leave a urine sample. Right. With the back labor, I couldn’t even begin to make that happen. I couldn’t relax while sitting on the toilet.
I love my doula. She came in to check on me, took the empty specimen cup out of my hand, told me they didn’t really need that anyway, and undressed me and helped me into a hospital gown. She was like this calm presence in the chaos of labor land. She massaged my feet with lemongrass (that felt SO good), and coached my husband through comforting me.
When they checked me in triage, I had progressed to close to 7 cm. I was so happy I’d made it almost to transition in the comfort of my own home and en route to the hospital, all the while moving about freely unencumbered by needles and tubes.
I still felt confident in my decision to get an epidural to relax and work with contractions. Although at this point, with how intense things were, I was worried I’d progress so rapidly that I wouldn’t be able to get my epidural.
Not only was the back labor intense, but I was nervous about feeling the pushing part. I’m pretty sure I kept going on and on about how I needed to get my epidural soon – over and over again – to anyone who would listen. But my memory’s a bit foggy.
We got up to my room. More questions. Consent forms. At a certain point, I remember stopping the individual explaining what each form was for and muttering “I know, I know – just let me sign it!” I was done – D.O.N.E. – with paperwork and forms.
At about this time, the on-call doula arrived and relieved her partner. She busied herself giving our room a makeover – dim lights and lavender oils in the diffuser. Such little details, but they made me feel so relaxed and cozy despite being in the hospital.
After the epidural was placed, we chatted a bit, but the doula encouraged my husband and I to take advantage of the epidural and try to get some rest. My wonderful nurses proceeded to constantly turn me every 45 minutes all night long to keep the epidural effective and help things progress.
The only minor annoyance was that my nurse was training another nurse. So every time they checked me, the trainee would check, and then my nurse would have to confirm. At a certain point, my doula noticed their frequency, and we started declining checks unless absolutely necessary. Looking back, I might have even put my foot down and refused a few more – or at least refused the double checks – but it all worked out okay.
By early morning, I was 9 cm and 90% effaced. I was doing it! But I stayed there, and that’s where things started to slowly take a turn.
The biggest concern for baby was the discovery of meconium in my fluid at some point overnight/early morning. However, his heart rate stayed mostly good for so long. He started having dips that morning, so I received a low dose of pitocin and some extra positioning – including spending 20 minutes in a knees-to-chest position on the bed – to see if we could finish things up.
Baby wasn’t 100% liking pitocin, and that was the first time I started melting down, seeing some of the same signs from birth #1 that things might take a turn.
While we tried everything we could to help me reach completion, I started pondering whether a C-section would be such a bad thing, and wondering how much longer I could keep laboring on. (I didn’t realize at the time that part of those feelings could have been transition.)
When the doctor on call realized there was only a small lip of cervix holding things up, I was told I could push. I was so sure they were about to call the surgery, and had even made my peace with it thanks to the kind support of the on-call midwife, my nurse, and my doula, who all recognized when feelings from my first birth came flooding to the surface and allowed me time to process them. However, I got the experience – terrifying and amazing- of trying to push out a baby.
NOTE: I was still definitely in labor land this whole time. I remember starting my labor playlist again, but don’t remember a single song that played during this time. Because our doula kept the room dark and peaceful, I also had no concept of time – it felt like the middle of the night still, but was somewhere around 9 or 10 AM.)
I pushed on two separate tries, with a short (it felt like ages) period in between during which the bed was tilted almost completely upright to get me into a squatting position and try to reposition baby.
My midwife coached me while I held (in a vice grip?) my husband’s and doula’s hands. They even said I was doing a great job with it, despite being able to feel NOTHING thanks to the epidural. I’m proud of that.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t working. Baby’s head kept peeking out during pushes then disappearing again, and decelerations continued.
After 29 hours of labor (at home and at the hospital), we made the decision for a C-section. By that time, I’d made my peace and realized my strength – I really had done it all. I’d been given every opportunity for success and come so close, but baby had other plans.
There was no pressure and everyone on staff was sooo supportive and reassuring. I remember when things first started turning, as I lay there crying, the on-call midwife told me it was okay to be feeling emotional, and reassured me that I had done well. She took the extra moment to honor all the baggage I had brought with me into that room, and I will never forget her acknowledgment of my feelings.
And of course, my doula was right there, along with my husband, holding my hand as we made that final decision, reassuring me that, yes, I could still attend my sister’s wedding in two weeks (apparently that was the first concern on my mind once surgery looked likely).
The fact that everyone acknowledged baby’s safety was #1 while also allowing me every chance to succeed and honoring my feelings made all the difference in the world.
I delivered my 10 lb. 5 oz. Tank a short time later. We still can’t believe he was that big! I remember the nurses in the OR saying “That’s a big baby,” and thinking he’d be in the 8 pound range, maybe 9, then shouting “Holy Crap,” when they finally announced his weight.
This particular OR had a TV on the ceiling, and I got to watch them clean and examine Tank while the doctor finished my surgery. That was the coolest thing, and made up for not being able to do skin-to-skin right away. (His sugars were low, and I shook really badly during surgery and wouldn’t have trusted holding him, anyway.)
Stitching me back up after the surgery seemed to take longer than I remembered from the first time. I know I had an extremely experienced surgeon, and that he was able to use the same scar line from my first C-section. When it was over, some of the original scarring was no longer visible, so I know he did a careful, thorough job.
I was able to feel some burning sensations as they repaired me, so I wonder if the drugs had started to wear off. At the time, I got a little anxious over the burning and the passage of time, thinking something was wrong.
I remember someone – the anesthesiologist or a nurse – saying the fact that they were chatting and singing along to music in the operating room meant they weren’t worried and things were going along routinely. That didn’t 100% register with me at the time, but in hindsight it makes sense. These details haven’t bothered me since, overshadowed by my feelings of joy and accomplishment.
Tank’s sugars were low, and they wanted to give him formula. I mentioned we wanted to try to avoid it, so the pediatric team conferred once more before telling me what his numbers were and where they should be, and at that point I agreed to let them administer formula. With Tank’s care, as with mine, I felt like a participant making informed choices, and it made a difference.
In hindsight, I wish I’d added a C-section contingency to my birth wishes. We were lucky to have that TV, and a really respectful surgical team, but it couldn’t have hurt to have some of our wishes should surgery happen in writing.
I feel absolutely amazing and accomplished. I can rest assured surgery was completely necessary and not something I was pressured into just because I’d already had one C-section. Had Tank been smaller and properly positioned (I believe he was slightly posterior), I would have gotten my VBAC.
Tank’s real name means “healer,” and he certainly healed my heart through this experience. I realized we don’t always get the birth we want; we get the birth we need.
Through birth, we learn that things don’t always go according to plan. We learn acceptance. We learn how strong we can be. We are humbled. And as long as we can look back and say, “I did everything in my power to stack the odds in my favor,” and “I was seen, heard, and respected,” we find peace at the end of our birth journeys.