A Tale of Two Births- My Journey to a VBAC
I was around 26 years old, in Chiropractic school, when I saw my first natural birth. Our obstetrics teacher showed us a movie that included actual footage of a planned homebirth. Up to that point, I had never seen birth portrayed in anyway other than how the movies show it- a woman’s water breaks, her husband drives them like a madman, through traffic, to the hospital. Then the woman is shown sweating, swearing, and hysterically crying- while she demands an epidural- moments later the baby is born in a hospital room, surrounded by nurses and doctors. That was pretty much what I had seen in every movie that had shown birth, so that’s how I thought it was- until that revolutionary day in obstetrics class. My eyes were opened to the possibility of something drastically different. I remember unexplainable tears streaming down my face as I watched the highlights of this beautiful, real birth unfold. The woman was laboring in her t-shirt, with the support of her husband, and midwives- in the comfort of her own home. It all looked so natural and intimate- this woman welcoming her child into the world, in the quiet serenity of her home, as the morning light streamed in through the windows. I made up my mind in that moment that I wanted to bring my babies into the world in that type of peaceful way, in my own setting. Innately I resonated with the idea of a woman’s body knowing what to do to and that birth was a organic process that didn’t need a bunch of machinery and medical procedures (in most circumstances).
I graduated Chiropractic school when I was 27 and met my husband a few weeks after I finished school. When things looked like they were getting serious, I gave him the litmus test question- “Would he be okay with having our babies at home?”
I think he probably thought I was nuts, but had never really given it much thought, and love being on our side, luckily, he agreed. He passed the test, so we continued dating. A couple of years later we were married and we became pregnant with our first child a couple of years after that. I intuitively knew I was pregnant right away, so I took a pregnancy test a day or two after my missed period. Then I took two more to confirm it! I joyfully started my search for our midwives.
My pregnancy with our first child was the object of my full attention- it received the curiosity, devotion, and discovery that a first pregnancy can bring. I like to write, so I immediately bought two journals- one for my personal thoughts and one for me to start writing to our child. I dove into learning and exploring everything relating to natural holistic pregnancy and birth. The first book I read was “Spiritual Midwifery” by Ina May Gaskin, the famous homebirth midwife. It was written in the 70’s, so I had to get over the languaging a lot of the women used about “getting high off the love” when feeling each “wave” (contraction). What I loved and what intrigued me in her book, were the spiritual and transformative threads that ran through all of the ladies’ birth stories. I hadn’t really thought of pregnancy and birth being a spiritually transforming gig- but that was something I identified with wanting it to be. I gobbled up more books and started to watch birth documentaries as well. I improved my diet and took regular long walks. I received regular body work (chiropractic, acupuncture, and massage). My focus was on doing everything I could to create a healthy environment for my baby to grow in. My only pregnancy related symptoms were some sacral pain at the beginning of the pregnancy and some nasty heartburn near the end.
The biggest bump we encountered was that our baby was breech at 36 wks, and our midwives scheduled an ultrasound for 38 weeks to confirm her positioning. So we basically had 2 weeks for her to turn to ensure a homebirth- that was a stressful time! We had come so far, it seemed cruel to lose our chance of a homebirth right at the end. I was leaving nothing to chance, I followed all of the advice from the Spinning Babies website, got moxibustion, acupuncture, and had my chiropractor do “Webster’s Technique” and she turned head down by the ultrasound appointment! We sailed right past her “due date”, and headed quickly towards 41 weeks. My midwives assured me not to worry, a due date was just a date, and not the baby’s birthday.
At 41 weeks my midwives recommended that I go to the hospital for a non-stress test to make sure that everything was okay. Everything was okay with the baby, but my blood pressure was slightly high (I think I simply had white coat syndrome). They had me stay to rule out pre-eclampsia, which was ruled out. That was a Monday night. After being in the hospital all afternoon, we headed back to our midwives’ office so that one of them could strip my membranes. That was the day I began to feel my dream start to unravel, like a sweater thread that gets snagged on something sharp- it felt like the first step towards a hospital birth. A few days later, after receiving daily chiropractic and acupuncture, having my membranes stripped a 2nd time, and a round of castor oil, my blood pressure was slightly high again, so my midwives wanted me to go to the hospital to be induced. I was crushed. After all of my preparations and care, I was going to the one place I really didn’t want to be.
I had a good cry and we went home to pack a hospital bag. I passed by all of our birth supplies neatly stacked and unused, on our dining room window seat. I was prepared to give birth at home, not at the hospital. I imagine most women put some time into packing their hospital bag- thinking about their clothing and supplies to bring, have carefully packed it by 38 weeks. Not me. I didn’t think I would need to pick out clothing to wear to labor in (I was not wearing a hospital gown) and the “I just had a baby” outfit. I forlornly looked at my closet. I managed to get some things together, grabbed copies of our typed “just in case we have to go to the hospital” birth plans, and threw our coconut water into a cooler. We drove to a restaurant and had our last meal- it all felt so surreal.
The nursing staff at the hospital was on strike that weekend, so there was a bit more waiting around and confusion than normal. After a couple of hours we were checked in. That evening (a Thursday night), they started my induction with cervadil. (An interesting note is that my blood pressure was not high once after I was checked in, through my entire labor.) After two days of labor, and a cascade of medical interventions, I was physically weak and emotionally wasted. Each step along the way, I had to give up a piece of my vision for birth, a piece of my dream. After each time I had to let go of something that was really important to me, I would try to give into my current labor circumstances. One of the hardest things for me was to be put on pitocin. The contractions became even more intense, and would often slam upon each other, with no rthymn or regular breaks sometimes. I kept trying to hold onto whatever aspects of a natural birth I could in the environment that I was in. With the support of my doula, husband, and mother I labored through Friday night on pitocin and by the morning I was starting to lose my ability to cope with the pain. I started to seriously consider an epidural. I started to vomit and the physical demand of being in labor for a couple of days, paired with not sleeping and not eating was causing me to crumble. When my water suddenly broke on its own Saturday morning, I thought excitedly maybe that was the turning point! I thought I could probably hold on if my labor was nearing its end. But no, it wasn’t even close- I think I was only 5cm dilated at that point. My hope of hanging on fell apart and I asked for an epidural.
By Saturday afternoon I had started to develop a fever, and that coupled with me plateauing at 7cm dilation, led me to acquiesce to having a cesarean. I was devastated, but also resigned. I had no fight left and felt a bit numb from the whole experience. Our daughter was born at 9:24pm on 9/24/11. We were told she would probably have to go to the NICU immediately after she was born, as they suspected she may have an infection because of my fever. Luckily, she was okay, and my husband got to stay with her the whole time and accompany her to the recovery room while I was stitched up. I was very thankful that she latched easily and started breast-feeding right away. By the time we got to our room it was after midnight, we did not get to bed until after 2am. I was hooked up to an IV and a blood pressure cuff. I had a catheter in until the next afternoon. It was painful to move from the surgery. That was not the way I pictured my experience would be after having my baby.
The next morning family started to come in to meet the baby, and doctors and nurses were in and out of our room all day. I felt physically exhausted and emotionally raw. I did not want all of that commotion. People were animatedly discussing the football game on the tv- another layer of static to my frail nervous system. I just wanted to be able to pick up my baby myself, without it being such a painful procedure. I wanted a shower to wash off all of the blood, sweat , amniotic fluid, and tears. I wanted the darn catheter out, and I wanted some solitude and some silence.
I am not surprised that I became very ill when we got home from the hospital. My throat was covered in pus, and I could barely swallow. Thankfully, my mom was there to help and took care of all of us. To me, it was no surprise that it was my throat chakra (the area that symbolizes self-expression) that had become symptomatic after such a traumatic experience. I felt like the nightmare of her birth bled into the nightmare of me being so sick afterwards. I know if my mom had not been there, and had I not had the support of my doula and others, I would have surely suffered from post-partum depression. I was severely sick for two weeks (and I am generally a very healthy person who rarely gets sick). It was hard for me to enjoy my precious newborn daughter. I was so appreciative that I was somehow able to keep nursing her, despite barely being able to eat or drink. Although I was grateful to finally meet our daughter, I felt emotionally beaten-up and traumatized.
I felt like I had failed and like my body had failed. I felt ashamed that I had asked for an epidural, when it was so important to me to have a drug-free birth. I knew rationally that I had not failed, but it was hard to erase that emotion. I began to reconsider wanting more children. I didn’t feel like I could go through another experience like that again. Many people in my life did not understand my desire to have a home birth and they certaintly didn’t understand my disappointment at the way my birth turned out. After all, I had a healthy baby and lots of people have cesareans! Of course, I think it goes without saying, that any parent feels grateful to have a healthy child.
Two days after my daughter’s first birthday, I found out that I was pregnant again. By that time, I again felt I wanted at least one more child, but I would still cry and feel shame and saddness whenever I talked about my daughter’s birth. I was petrified to go through another bad birth experience, and yet I still held onto the hope to have our next child at home. My new midwives suggested some EMDR therapy to help my body release the trauma of my first birth. I got to work with a therapist who specialized in birth trauma, and I believe that my work with her was pivotal in my recovery and also in being able to birth our second child at home.
My second pregnancy was a little more challenging than the first, because now I had a toddler to take care of. Gone was the freedom to take leisurely afternoon naps, as I’m sure veteran pregnant moms can relate to. I was still focused on my well-being and taking steps towards healing. I listened to more positive affirmation pregnancy CD’s, and continue to journal to both children and also my private journal to continue to process everything. I invited a small circle of supportive girlfriends over for a birth blessing party, to use collective feminine energy to set the intention for a positive safe birth for me and my baby.
I lost my mucous plug at 39 weeks when I was at my office on a Friday morning. I was thrilled, as it was clearly my mucous plug! I excitedly called my midwife, convinced I would be going into labor that day and would be meeting my baby very shortly. I remember her saying it could still be awhile. I called my husband, and he stayed home from work. I went to the grocery store and picked up some lavender spray I wanted for my birth and a few groceries. We cleaned our house, and waited. I had early labor signs for 2 weeks! Each time I would get some type of bodywork, I would start to cramp up afterwards. I would have a little mucous in my urine sometimes. Each time I would think, is this it??
My labor started “for real”, almost two weeks after losing my mucous plug, on a Wednesday morning at 3:30am. A sharp contraction awoke me from my sleep. My contractions were steady and pretty intense for a few hours, but they were only lasting for about 30 seconds each. We had our nanny take our daughter for the day, so that I could really focus on my labor. Things started to die down by 8am. We spent the day taking a few long walks and trying to rest. I couldn’t quite sleep. The contractions lost their pattern, but could still be pretty intense. Sometimes there would be 10-15 minute gaps between contractions. My mom flew in Wednesday night, and my midwives advised rest. We went to bed early, but I had a hard time getting comfortable. I ended up out in the living room in our rocking chair, and was able to sleep a little bit in that chair. Again, I was awoken at 3:30am by a strong contraction. I began having regular contractions until around 7am, when they died down again. We all went for a long walk along the water, and that’s when my labor kicked into gear. When we got home, my mother took our daughter for the day. I told my husband that he needed to call the midwives and that one of them needed to come over right now! They thought they were coming over to help calm me down, and to perhaps give a pep talk- they didn’t realize I was in the thick of it! We were in and out of the shower. By the time one of our midwives arrived I was 8cm dilated- further than I had gotten with Savannah! I started sobbing in relief when I heard that! Thank Goodness all of that intensity had been causing progress. That was around noon, and our second child was still not born for another six hours. We had a dance of labor that afternoon that included me getting into many different positions and it even included me stopping to rest and to eat for about 45 minutes during pushing. (My contractions decreased in intensity, and I was even able to fall asleep between contractions during that break of pushing!) After 39 hours of labor, Johann arrived at 6:20pm on 6/20/13, one day before I would have been 41 weeks pregnant.
Birthing my son at home, especially after my previous birth experience, was so empowering and healing! I felt strong during his birth and so grateful to be able to get to labor naturally in my own environment. I got to walk around, to rest, and to eat.
It was not easy (he weighed 11 lb 3 oz and was 23” long!), but it was so much easier for me than when I had been in labor, artificially induced, with our daughter. The contractions were intense, but I could handle them. I got to be in my own flow and rhythm. I was working with a team of experienced midwives who trusted in birth and trusted me. They let me birth the way that my body needed to. I could relax into labor because I felt held by them. I got to experience my body’s release of endorphins that help with the intensity. Never in my life had I been so completely present in my body or in the moment. I felt 100% alive. I was able to drop into my non-thinking primitive self. I was able to sink into the feelings of birth. I work with innate intelligence and the power of the body every day as a chiropractor, so it was so healing to get to experience that in giving birth the way I knew that my body could.
My two very different birth experiences gives me lots of understanding and compassion for what we can go through as women in having our babies, and what we can go through in post-partum. I know what it’s like to have a cesarean and I know what it’s like to have a home birth. I have experienced a traumatic birth and an empowering one. I am filled with gratitude that I had the opportunity to be pregnant twice. I am especially grateful for experiencing a great birth, as I know some women never get that chance after a traumatic birth.
I think it’s so important for pregnant women to educate themselves as much as possible about pregnancy and birth. I think what’s even more important than education, is choosing a birth team whom aligns with the mother’s philosophy and vision for her pregnancy and birth. Things will not always go perfectly, and sometimes cesareans are unavoidable, but we can experience all types of situations in an empowered way when we have the right type of support. I love to provide nurturing perinatal care for women so that they can not only feel good during pregnancy, but also feel empowered during their birth. I have been able to draw upon the memory of my son’s birth during times when I needed a reminder of my own strength, and my hope is that each woman’s birth will be a positive inspiring experience that she gets to carry with her for the rest of her life.