ON JULY 17th OF THIS YEAR, I accomplished the greatest feat of my life thus far – an all-natural VBAC!
If you don’t know what that is, you do now: Vaginal Birth After Cesarean. Yes, I just said vaginal, as in vagina. And it gets a whole lot more graphic as we go on, so if you’re not up for all the TMI birth details, feel free to jump ship now!
A natural VBAC is a huge undertaking and achievement for any woman, but I am so head-over-heels in love with Birth that if I didn’t get the opportunity to actually get down and dirty in the trenches of real labour for myself I thought I might. just. die.
My first birth ended in a c-section after a long labour with a breech baby. Rowan loves to hear that he tried to come out bum-first – full moon! Having to surrender to a c-section after 24hrs of natural labour was very painful for me (physically + emotionally), and so this time I was over-the-top cautious to make SURE I didn’t end up in the O.R. again.
I did all my labour + birth prep for the 4 weeks leading up to my birth. At 38wks, I started with the labour induction techniques to make sure I had the baby before my mom left to fly home to Nova Scotia.
But after a week of induction techniques… nothing had happened. At 39 weeks (one week before my mom left), I really started laying the labour induction on thick. I had six stretch & sweeps over those two weeks and was trying every single trick I had up my sleeve, and although I had ALL the signs that things were moving and shaking down there, labour did not ensue! I was shocked because I went into labour without any induction steps with Rowan at 39 weeks on the button.
I was having signs of impending labour all week. I lost my mucous plug a WEEK before, bloody show and diarrhea for 7 days straight.
Oh and hey, in case you didn’t know this yet, there’s no modesty or shame here. I’m pretty much shameless. I’m going to tell you like it is, because that’s what you need to hear. No more fear mongering or catastrophizing about labour + birth. Just straight up goods on the real deal.
Three nights before Harvey actually arrived, I went into false labour – but it didn’t feel very false at the time. It was going pretty strong at home, but as soon as I got in the car to go to the hospital everything – stopped. My labour halted dead in its tracks. When we got to the hospital my midwife said that happens sometimes and sent us home. Wah wahhhh!
One of the parts I was most looking forward to this time around was labouring at home. During my first labour, we planned a homebirth but instead I was transported to the hospital (by ambulance! Ro loves that part of the story too) when we realized he was breech. This time around, I was craving that intimate labour environment I missed out on last time.
When we officially declared that I was in NON-false labour, it was 10pm on a Thursday night. We laboured at home together for four blissful hours. Quiet, dark, cozy. It was nice to have that time alone together with my hubby to get our mojo flowing together before we transferred to the hospital. Or maybe I just loved being pampered and having him wait on me hand and foot!
My mom was downstairs “watching TV” the whole time. She gave us our privacy and let us do our thing together upstairs, but I know she was just standing at the bottom of the stairs eavesdropping and silently rooting for me. Just knowing she was there bearing witness to this sacred time among women was so comforting to me.
We arrived at the hospital, and this time did not get sent home. Labour was heavily underway and I was 6cm dilated. Booya! All that work I did at home paid off and it was time to set up shop, get comfy, and settle in for the main event.
Bumps in the Road
Overall, I would say my labour went absolutely swimmingly… except when I was in the tub. I had always LOVED the idea of labouring in the water. So when my midwife offered the labour tub as an option, I jumped (or waddled) at the chance.
Before I got into the tub, my midwife checked my cervix: between 7-8cm. Awesome. Progress. Then I got in the tub and thingsssss….. slowwweddd…….. dooowwwwnnnnn.
Contractions spaced out from every 2-3 minutes to every 4-6 minutes and I kept falling asleep. This is now 4am and I’d been labouring all night AND I’m soaking my big tired bod in a nice warm bathtub, what do you expect?
So they took me out of the tub. We check my cervix again: still 7-8cm. Dangit, no progress in two whole hours.
This was the first time I heard the little shadow of doubt whispering:
“A-HA! I knew you couldn’t do it, you’re getting another c-section.”
My midwife suggested we break my water to get things moving again. At first when they broke my water everything was fine. But as my labour went on, my midwife noticed that my amniotic fluid was blood tinged! She was afraid that my c-section scar may be coming apart. Then there was that shadow of doubt again:
“See I told you, here comes your c-section.”
Eventually we determined that breaking my water caused a lot of change to my cervix (I was 9cm at this point!), and that was the source of the blood. Phew! Dodged a bullet there. Ok keep on truckin.
At next check I was 9.5cm dilated with a swollen cervical lip, which was making it veryyy difficult to dilate that last 0.5cm. I have had friends who have laboured all the way to 9.5cm, been stuck with a cervical lip and ended up with a c-section. Shadow of doubt for a third time:
“You can’t avoid it now, c-section time!”
I find it amazing how quick the Ego is to jump in and rain on your self esteem. Every time I had even a whiff of a setback in my labour, my ego was like haha you suck.
My midwife showed me specific positions to labour in to move the cervical lip so I could begin pushing. I really cannot say enough about my labour team, I am so impressed with the calm, knowledgeable, competent care I received from my midwifes and my husband. I credit them for my natural birth as much as I credit myself. Elise was my midwife for Rowan as well, so she knew how devastated I was by my c-section and how important this natural VBAC was to me.
Natural, but not Intervention-Free
For Harvey’s birth, I was basically planning to have a home birth in a hospital setting. I wanted a birth free of intervention of any kind, because ANY sort of unnecessary medical intervention threatened my chance to experience natural labour + birth and achieve my ultimate goal of a VBAC.
But as always, sometimes mother nature has other plans for you and your labour, and surrendering to that is part of the huge lesson of birth. So in the end, I had three (very gentle) interventions in my birth once I arrived at the hospital:
The first was when we broke my waters manually. Artificial Rupture of Membranes, or AROM, is a gentle way to augment labour that seems to have slowed or stalled. Although this is a form of medical intervention, the increased risk of c-section is next to nil and it is routinely performed at home births as well.
I had originally refused to have Electronic Fetal Monitoring (or EFM) during my labour. Instead I opted to have my midwife manually check the baby’s heart rate every 15 minutes. There is research that says sometimes continuous fetal monitoring can increase the risk of interventions, and my sole focus in this labour was to labour naturally in order to avoid having a c-section.
However, the second intervention I encountered was getting hooked up to an EFM machine. Which, as far as interventions in labour go, is very mild. After we ruled out my scar coming apart, we compromised in the interest of safety, to continuously monitor the baby’s heart rate.
And the third intervention was my least favourite: an episiotomy. TMI, baby. You’re getting it all! If you aren’t sure what an episiotomy is, it is a tiny cut into your perineum to make room for baby to be born. Now normally we try to stear clear of episiotomies – it is much easier to heal a natural tear than an episiotomy.
However, I had been pushing for 2hrs and poor Harvey was crowning for a number of contractions with no movement – THAT. WAS. NOT. FUN. for either of us! Harv’s heart rate was dropping and I was in a lot of discomfort! The worst part of my labour was the final 10 minutes. The agony before the ecstasy.
After having the ring of fire for as long as I did, I welcomed the relief of an episiotomy with open arms. Or legs!
Meet Sweet Baby Harvey
But then after the episiotomy… he was here. My husband was able to deliver him and put him on my chest and cut the cord. What. a. thrill. Such a huge accomplishment for me, for us as a couple, and for sweet baby Harv who also worked very hard to make his big appearance.
Although I was so happy he was finally here, that was THE most exhausted I have been, ever in the entirety of my life. It had been 36 hours since I had last slept, so I kept randomly falling asleep. Mid-sentence, mid-meal, mid-text message – Postpartum narcolepsy.
But after I got some food into me, had a long solid nap and rehydrated, I was somewhat back to myself. Well – a wobbly legged, soft bellied, puffy eyed, head-over-heels in love with a brand new tiny human version of myself.
Harvey’s birth wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t perfect. But it was easy in hindsight, and it was perfect to me. I got my VBAC. I set a goal, I trained for it, I worked my friggin butt off, and I conquered it.
Now next time around we’ll try again for that home birth!
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