A wee note before you launch into this one: if you are pregnant with your first child then you may not want to read this. I got my VBAC but I did not enjoy the process one iota and I am brutally honest here about how god awful I found natural childbirth. Was it worth it? Yes…but it isn’t a picnic. So proceed with caution. I don’t want to put you off but I am a bit pissed at all the “oh birth is amazing” stories I read before I had this baby. Labour is not amazing. It sucks. My baby is amazing, my body is amazing for what it can do and my support team was amazing. Labour though, it sucks balls.
There is plenty in this post that is TMI so I’m just going to put a nice big fat warning up here and be done with it. If you don’t want to hear about my vagina and baby coming out of it then perhaps this read isn’t for you. Just sayin’.
On Friday, 3 June 2016, we welcomed our daughter Holly into the world. She was 4.5kg (9lb 15oz) and a hard little sucker to push out but I did it. I can tell you right now, I would not be here telling a successful VBAC story if I hadn’t done my best in the lead up to get the right team of people around me. I wasn’t brave, I wasn’t strong and I tried to fold countless times but my team, they knew what I wanted and they had my back. Here’s how it all went down.
We arrived at hospital two days before the big day (although we didn’t know it was going to be the big day at the time) because I’d had a slow leak that I was getting concerned about. Little did we know but I would not be going home from that visit. Thankfully we had the foresight to just pack all the hospital stuff in the car “just in case”. Essentially my OB was concerned about infection with continually leaking waters and I was having some pretty solid regular contractions on the machine which I could barely feel so they just wanted to keep me monitored.
Also, to be honest, my OB was certain she was a big baby so I think he was keen to get the show on the road and get her out. He never said that but I just had an inkling. Given she was 4.5kgs I am glad I birthed her when I did.
Anyway, he wanted to break my waters the following day (should have let him as then Tanya from The Sky and Back and I would have had our babies on the same day! One day apart is still pretty spesh though) but I turned up my nose at the idea and asked if we could wait just one more day so we waited until the Friday morning. The hospital gave me a leave pass on the Thursday so the extra day gave us some time to get organised and also synced up well with my mum and her hubby arriving as that meant they could take over the care of Monkey and this made me happy.
I was really nervous about the whole thing though as it had a very ominous ‘history repeating’ feeling about it. Monkey had been induced unsuccessfully on a Friday due to a slow leaking of waters and when they actually broke the waters I had laboured for 6 hours and progressed only half a centimetre. I was so worried my body would do the same thing this time. But I just had to remind myself that this time was different and there were factors that were different. This time I was 2.5 cm and fully effaced which was a great place to start. My body had already been kicking off on its own and getting prepared.
I tried to make an appointment to see my acupuncturist but she wasn’t at work that day but offered to come to the hospital to do a bumper session for a small additional fee. I didn’t actually ask what that fee was so she charged me like a wounded freaking bull but anyway, it was a great session and helped my mindset so it was worth it. And I’m so done with acupuncture now. Weekly or even bi weekly sessions for over 2 years. I’m over it.
8:15am – Friday morning rocked around and my OB popped on in all cheerful and ready to get the show on the road. They put a cannula in as a just in case (a lot of VBAC peeps are against this as they see it as intervention but they taped mine down good and then never went near it again except to give me an anti nausea shot that I was desperate for) and popped my waters. It was all done really quickly. They popped me on the CTG to do a 10min trace and make sure all was ok with baby and then sent me off on a walk to get things going. Back for review by 11am.
Well, the walk didn’t last long.
9:30am – I was back in my room in full labour. Eric had requested the doula make her way in (she was a 1.5 hour drive away) and I had vomited twice. I was using all my Juju Birth Skills tricks but I was struggling with the pain. The thing about having your waters broken is there is no nice padding there between the baby’s head and your cervix. The sponge has gone and it is all just bang bang bang on the cervix like a hammer.
10:30am – they decided to check me as I was labouring pretty intensely. I was around 4cms. At this point I started BEGGING (insisting?) for a c-section and this went on all day.
“Where’s my obstetrician????” “I want a c-section” “Where is he? I’ve been asking for him for ages? Isn’t that why I’m in a private hospital to get these things when I want them???”
(ahem, yes I sound like a spoilt demanding brat. I was. My OB was in and out of theatre all day and popped up between every case btw – he was great)
Unbeknownst to me baby had also had a bit of a dodgy trace around that time that had alarmed them so they decided that maybe c-section was for the best. The theatre was prepared for a section as was I, it was on. But then the trace cleared up and Eric explained to the midwives that I had orchestrated this whole thing: I’d chosen the doula, the VBAC friendly OB, the hospital and everything because I wanted the natural birth and he really felt that in my heart I’d want to give it more of a go. So when the theatre nurses arrived the midwife sent them away and asked me if I’d like to try pethidine. I thought why not. My OB said to give that half an hour and see how it made me feel and he would check on me again. Around this time the doula also arrived which was a good change in the vibe for me. Later on she would admit to me that she didn’t know if she could turn it around as I was so adamant for the c-section but she cracked on and tried some tricks and the distractions seemed to keep me going.
The pethidine helped a lot. It just took the edge off but that’s all I needed. I had a shower and then they ran me a bath. While in the shower I had the wireless monitoring on and it worked fine. It didn’t work too well in the bath and they made me get out which wasn’t good.
1pm – around 5cm and another dose of pethidine. It was working for me. I continued to beg for a c-section with almost every contraction and insist they get me the consent forms NOW. My midwife grabs my birth board full of affirmations and family photos and shoves it under my face. I growl at her: “That’s not a fucking c-section consent form”
2pm – 7-8 cms dialated. Even though I am demanding a c-section whenever my OB isn’t there, every time he pops his head in I am never certain and I don’t go.
“Why do you always come when I’m feeling a bit better?” I shout at him. Seriously, the guy never grumped back at me once. He was amazing.
Once I get to this point he says to me that he believes I am going to make it to 10cms no problem and I should really just take the c-section off the table.
3pm – I ask for one final dose of pethidine and they say no as they think I will deliver soon and baby will be too drowsy. I tell them pethidine or c-section (that old chestnut again). They let me have it.
By this time they have also let me get back in the bath and my OB has told them to just use a portable Doppler and check baby intermittently (as wireless monitoring wasn’t working in the bath earlier). He could see how much the bath was helping when I was in it previously so I am so grateful he let me do this – it is against hospital policy so I appreciate that he took on that risk. It was actually my doula who orchestrated this. She begged the midwife a few times to petition him for it. I wasn’t in the headspace to be my own advocate so I am grateful to have someone there who was.
Once that final pethidine dose kicked in I went off to a different place for those last few cms and transition. People normally talk of transition being pretty vile but this was the one part of my birth that I actually enjoyed. I was laying back in the bath doing deep breathing, my doula had put electric candles around me and the lights were off. It actually felt nice. I almost went to sleep!! I think the difference for me at this point was that I’d finally surrendered to the process and once I did that the contractions just didn’t hurt as much anymore.
430pm – OB checks me and says I am 10cm. I ask him “am I really 10 or do you mean almost 10 and are just saying really 10 so I can’t turn back now?”. I’m a treat of a patient. Such a delight. Ha! Anyway he says I can start pushing if I like and I ask if I can wait half an hour as I am in such a great place in the bath. He agrees to this.
5pm – We go out to the bed to start pushing. I ask to go on my hands and knees. I know it is likely that I am having a big baby and I had read that it is a good possie to get baby out. Well we had a crack at that for awhile and then something popped in my lower back which they said was likely the ligaments around my sacrum. It was not pleasant and I could not stay on my hands and knees anymore at that point.
So then I move to my side and the midwife and doula took turns holding my leg in the air while I pushed. Between those 2 positions I was pushing for an hour and it felt like I was getting nowhere. Part of the problem was that I was really afraid of the pushing, the crowning and possible tearing so I think I was holding back quite a bit for a good first half hour of this process.
6pm – my OB wants me to go on my back and let him help and by this point I just want to try and get her out and I consent. It actually went better than I expected. They had my legs up on stirrups and he used the vacuum to help bring her down but I couldn’t actually tell it was happening. I could feel him stretching me around the head with each push so he was doing his best to get her out without a tear. And her head (36cm) didn’t tear me. But she had the shoulders of a linebacker apparently and there was a bit of trouble getting them out. Rather than the one push you hear about for shoulders it was a few and a bit of twisting on his part as well as exclamations of:
“My god, what is going on with these shoulders. She’s a beauty”
My doula was quite impressed by my OB’s skill in manouvering her and getting her out. A less skilled OB could have cause me a far worse tear or even shoulder dystocia for Holly. For me this part was worse than the head and when I got my 2nd degree tear (not that I felt that actually happen although I did feel the twisting).
6:13pm OB starts shouting – Emily look down! Emily look down! And I do and he pulls the baby the rest of the way out of me and hands her to me and the whole process is worth it for that one moment.
One magical moment.
If I half close my eyes right now I can still feel it, the magic of the moment I met my baby girl. I was so relieved. So relieved she wasn’t stillborn which I had been silently dreading right up until that moment. So pleased she was healthy and 100%. I had also been so worried she was going to come out with something terrible wrong with her that couldn’t be healed. I had never been able to bring myself to speak of these awful outcomes while I was carrying her for fear it would tempt fate but I carried them with me the whole way through my pregnancy. And there she was, all squishy and fat and perfect and gazing into my eyes and it was LOVE.
All day I had been telling Eric that if we have a third it is straight to c-section and then there is that one moment and I’d do it naturally all over again. It was worth every pain.
The next day my body felt like it had run a marathon. Recovery was harder than I anticipated but I will write a postpartum post about this. However I had the pleasure of feeling an instant bond with my baby, something that all the intervention and the c-section under a GA (general anaesthesia – the one where they knock you out) robbed me of last time.
Getting my VBAC was hard. Labour is brutal – for me anyway – and I hated it. I wanted to give in so much and if it wasn’t for an awesome OB, doula and partner I totally would have gone under the knife that day and been done with it. If you are aiming for this for your birth then I highly recommend you do everything you can in the preparation to get you through one of the hardest things you will likely ever do physically. Things can still go outside of your plan as there is no way you can control all the variables but you can control you and your ability to get through it by setting your team up well. I loved my team and if I was ever to do this again (probably not) then I’d choose the same group of people.
My other recommendation is to explore a wide range of birth coping skills. I was always pretty blasé about water labouring and thought that all the Juju active birthing stuff would be what would work best for me but it was actually the other way around. So you need to be open to the fact that you will need/enjoy something outside of your usual framework.
Birth is extraordinary so it stands to reason that they way you cope with it might be extraordinary too.
And even though it does all suck at the time, as my mum says, it is only temporary. Eventually, it will be over and you will have a healthy happy bouncy baby in your arms to love and cherish. Regardless, I think we might be done. I’m not sure I want another baby coming out my vagina, no matter the high in the moment or their absolute cuteness.
Here are some photos from our first week together. That one of Monkey grinning at the phone is of him seeing the pic of me and Holly taken right after she was born. As you can see, he was absolutely thrilled. The joy on his face makes my heart brim over with love.