A Doula’s Journey to Vaginal Birth after Three C-Sections
I was 20 when I got pregnant with my first child. I made all the typical assumptions back then. I went to my primary doctor for an OB referral. I had no idea I had a choice. I thought that I went to the OB, he would tell me all I needed to know about birth, I would take the “Lamaze” class at the hospital, and I would be on my merry way and have a baby. They talked about c-sections in that class, but I didn’t really listen because it was never going to happen to me… Oh, and don’t forget reading the standard “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.”
I made all the typical first-time parent mistakes, too, when it came to the birth. I ran to the hospital at the first sign of real labor. I was only 2-3 centimeters when I arrived, and instead of heading home–which to be honest I don’t even know was an option–I was admitted. Back then, they monitored constantly and made me lie only on my left side. I had no idea that I was officially on some sort of clock. After laboring through the night, my labor had slowed down and there wasn’t much change in dilation. The doctor says I needed pitocin. Ok, if he says that’s what I need, then I must need it, right? Epidural is now on board; Pitocin is started.
Everything seems fine at first. Then suddenly things are changing fast. The baby is showing signs of distress; we need to do a c-section right now. There are suddenly a lot of people in my room, then running me down a hall to the OR. They saved my baby’s life! Your baby was just too big to fit. Or, so they told me afterwards. I didn’t hear the phrase “pit to distress” until many years later. At the time, I hung on to that idea that they had saved her, that she may have died. I loved the drama of the story I had to tell and, oh, did I tell it!
When I got pregnant with my second child, there was no way I was not going to try to have a vaginal birth. I spent my entire pregnancy being told by my doctor that it was risky and I really shouldn’t do it. No one around me understood why I wouldn’t just schedule my c-section, but it just didn’t seem right to me.
During labor with him, the back labor was horrible. The nurse reminded me on several occasions that no one really ever has a VBAC. It just doesn’t work. Why was I putting myself through this? she would ask. After a few hours of back labor, I decided she and everyone else must be right. Go ahead, there must just be something wrong with my body, cut him out. And they did.
Another big baby. That must be it.
Years later, I would become a doula, and learn the ins and outs of birth. I would suddenly process my births all over again, but this time with the truth. My passion grew like a wildfire. I couldn’t get enough. I wanted everyone to know the truth. “Why aren’t women being told these things?!” I would demand. The anger would come, the frustration and the desire to save everyone.
Reality comes crashing in at some point. I can’t save them all, no matter how passionate I am. I can only help the ones that seek me out. I can’t talk to the random moms in the park about why the c-section they had was not because of something being wrong with them or their body. They don’t get it, nor do they want to hear it. I realized quickly that they have to be ready and have a desire to know.
Like moths to a flame, the VBAC moms started seeking me out. The universe works that way. You attract things. After a while, doctors who supported doulas started referring their VBAC patients to me often. So I became the VBAC queen. I loved helping those families have successful VBACs. I wanted to be that cheerleader telling them they could, knowing they were being bombarded by people who said they couldn’t. It also helped me heal from my own pain.
The desire to have another baby became overwhelming, and it took me three and a half years to talk my husband into having another child. I had married him with two kids and he had two kids–four was a lot already. Eventually, he came around. After six years of being a doula I would finally get my chance. I would fix it all. Heal all the pain and disappointment. I would not only have a vaginal birth, but I would do it at home with no drugs. It had been twelve years since my last child had been born. I had so much knowledge; this would be great! And–my daughter’s birth seemed to be going okay, except my back was really hurting. No matter how much prep work I had done to make sure she was in a good position, she never budged from way back on my right side.
I didn’t care. I was going to do this, back labor or not.
Once active labor began, I didn’t tell anyone about the sharp burning pain in front near my incision sight with every surge. I knew full well that I would be off to the hospital in no time because it was a clear sign that something wasn’t right–but there was no way I was going to the hospital! Besides, I was progressing well. When my midwife arrived, I was already 6 centimeters, further than either of my other two births. I progressed to 8 only two hours later, and the baby was very low. I kept feeling the urge to push. It would come and I would begin to push, but my back, oh my back. Then this sharp burning pain would shoot through me and I would have to stop pushing. It hurt too much. I did this over and over again for four hours. Something wasn’t right. Eventually, my surges spread out from two minutes apart to 20 minutes apart. I told my midwife that something had to change–break my water or something! Out of the water and up the stairs to my bedroom we went so she could monitor the baby while breaking my water. She didn’t even have to; it broke on its own just as she was going to do the exam. When she did my exam, I knew something was wrong. I was thinking, “Oh, my God, I’m still the same.” To my dismay, it was much worse than that. My baby had gone back up and my cervix had closed back down to three centimeters. I’m pretty sure my eyes bulged out of my head. I was so over it. They tried to convince me to stay and rest. I was getting good breaks in between. I knew it was time to share the sharp burning I had been dealing with. Needless to say, there was no more discussion and I was off to the hospital in no time flat.
I would share all the hassle about what happened after we arrived at the hospital, but it seems pointless. The errors were ridiculous and it took from 9:30 am until 3:30 pm before my daughter was born. This time frame alone should give you an idea of how much challenge there was. Needless to say, she was delivered by c-section. I wound up being in surgery for almost two hours because I had so much scar tissue. It turns out that this was the cause of the sharp burning pains I had. The scar tissue was so thick it prevented my baby from moving into a good position and also from allowing me from pushing her out.
I was devastated. My previous c-sections would come back to haunt me after all. I never imagined this could happen. Here I was the VBAC queen. I had all the knowledge. How could this happen to me? No one doubted for a minute that my homebirth vbac would happen.
My birth industry family all looked on the bright side. Now all that scar tissue is gone, when you have another baby it will be different. Only four months later, I would find out I was pregnant again. Had enough time passed for my scar to heal? Everyone supported me and loved me into believing I just had to try again. I wouldn’t just throw in the towel. I would be better prepared for the possibility and the likelihood of another c-section this time. I just had to try.
On my due date, surges started, but I knew it was early and my instinct told me it would still be a couple of days. The next day, the surges were still there, stronger but pretty far apart. That night, though, I knew it was going to be a long one. I was able to sleep for about an hour, when it became obvious that sleeping was no longer on option. I relaxed with my hypno-babies cd and rocked in a chair for a couple of hours alone in the dark. They were still ten minutes or so apart. 3 am came and suddenly they were rocking my world. Strong, powerful and six minutes apart. It was time to call in the troops.
My husband woke up and called my doula. She lives close by, so she arrived less than 20 minutes later. My husband explained how far apart they were, only to have four surges in the first twelve minutes she was there. Things were rocking. The next call went out to my midwives, who would come about an hour later. Everything seemed perfect. I was not having any of the same feelings I had had with my last birth, except my back was beginning to hurt. I knew the baby was in a great position. This must just be because the baby is moving down.
I still worried I would only be three centimeters or something crazy like that. At my request, my midwife checked me right away. I was almost complete! Just a small lip! Oh joy! I cried, I was so happy, there were no words. Back in the water I went. Wait until the urge to push comes. I did, but it just didn’t come. The back, my damn back! It was really seriously hurting. All the feelings from my last birth came crashing in. I felt like I was on this horrible roller coaster ride and couldn’t get off. I was doing the same loop over and over again. Maybe if I just try and push, Oh God no, that hurts even more. Let’s check again. My midwife said, I think I feel scar tissue. Seriously? Scar tissue? Wasn’t I the one who just got all this attention for writing an article about scar tissue and the issues it can cause during labor for my clients? Not considering I had any myself.
I’m pretty sure my exact words were, “Well, rub the crap out of it then!” She explained that it wouldn’t feel very good. I expressed that it couldn’t be worse than what was going on already. There was some cursing and homeopathic involved and off I went, trying different positions and then eventually off to the water again. I’m pretty sure from this point forward I used up a good year’s supply of curse words, my favorite being the F word. I don’t talk this way normally, but for whatever reason the F word was the only thing in my vocabulary that seemed strong enough of a word to express myself. It had power.
Lots of whining commenced as well. “I can’t do this, you guys.” “Seriously, I can’t.” I would say this to anyone who would listen to me. I would change people hoping that one of them would take my side. They all just kept saying I could do it. I needed to stop saying that I couldn’t. This is what you wanted. The “F” I did. I didn’t sign up for this shit! Then I would change and start chanting during the surge, “I can do this”; then about halfway through, I would say, “No, no I can’t.” Please take me to the hospital! It’s not working, just cut him out. Forget it!
I did start feeling pressure a bit so I tried pushing a little. It hurt like hell, but I had to just try. I pushed and pushed, nothing seemed to change. I went back to whining and cussing again. “Let’s go inside and check again. See if the baby has moved down more.” My response is, No! I’m done, this baby is not coming out. I have been pushing with all my might and he is not budging; oh, yeah, and it hurts like a motherf-er! Up the stairs I went anyway, whining all the way. I was ready to drive myself to the hospital, call a cab, whatever it took to get there. “Let’s push past this lip, you can do it!” Everyone is chanting, “Come on, Dawn.” My husband is saying, “Come on, honey, you can do this.” I’m pushing and screaming, because OH MY GOD, it hurts. “Here he comes, you are doing it!”
No, I’m not! He is not coming! I don’t feel him coming. You are all just saying that! I’m gonna be here for 2 more hours pushing and he won’t come! I’m not gonna do it! (I’m still pushing my guts out while saying all this.) I hear my husband beside me: “Honey, I see his head.”
No you don’t!
“Come on Dawn, push! Why would we lie to you? Look, touch his head.”
I don’t feel it!
Push again! Oh, my God, the pressure suddenly! Ok, maybe he is coming.
“Dawn, he is crowning, feel his head again.”
Holy crap, he really is there! I feel his wrinkly head. Wow, that ring of fire is for real and serious.
“Come on, Dawn, nice and slow now. Ease your baby out. Slow, slow, slow, now stop.”
The relief of his head coming out was fabulous but now, what about the rest of him? Is he stuck? What’s up with that? Come on, seriously? I just wanted the rest of him to slip out. I pushed every inch of this guy out. I should have known he was big.
“Dawn, reach down and pull your baby out……..Dawn, get your baby.”
And I did. I reached down and put my hands under his arms and pulled him the rest of the way out, on to my chest with pure disbelief. Only twenty minutes had passed since I was calling that cab to come get me and here he was, in my arms, on my bed at home. Bigger by nine whole ounces than my previous kids. So much for that theory.
It has taken a full day for me to process and wrap my brain around what I accomplished. I think I made it very clear in this story that this would have never happened without my birth team. It turned out that I was the only one in the room at that moment who didn’t believe I could do it. Thank God for that. I find it ironic, the doula, who is always the cheerleader, never imagined she would need that for herself. If it had been left up to me, I would be miserable lying in a hospital bed recovering from a c-section. Not sitting here in my bed feeling a little sore just a day and a half later sharing this story. God bless the passionate people who love birth and loved me and my baby enough not to let me give up. There will never be enough words to express my gratitude.
I have always shared sympathy with my doula clients, especially the VBAC mama’s, but now it will be on a whole new level.