When I found out that I was pregnant I knew I wanted a natural birth and for me, this would be a vbac. (Vaginal Birth After Csection)
My first experience - an emergency csection
My first birth 3.5 years ago left me with a whole lot of unanswered questions and feelings of dissatisfaction. My son was born 10 hours after being induced at 40wks+5days, which ended in an emergency cesarean because of fetal distress in spite of me being 10cm dilated. They gave me the epidural at around 4-5pm (I screamed for it because the contractions were washing over me every second without a pause), my waters broke simultaneously as the anesthetist was inserting the tube into my back (awesome hey). About an hour later, I was told to push on my back but I could not feel anything and at that moment I knew I was in the wrong position. It had gone against everything I read and learnt about active birth. I did not know (I only knew at that point when I asked the nurse) that I could not get up and walk with an epidural contrary to the birth videos I had watched. Later I was told there are no mobile epidurals in Australia.
Then it was (stupid) hospital policy I could not hold my son or do skin to skin when he came out. He spent the next hour and a half rooting and waiting for me in dad's arms. He had a bath too; I can't believe (now) I let them keep him from me. I often wondered, and I think, this is the reason my son is highly anxious. He is fixated on one fear - he's afraid of losing mummy and daddy. I did not know better then.
I know better now.
Fast-forward three years on, after doing my own research and questioning myself, and after my miscarriage a year ago, I knew, deep inside, it was not possible that I could not birth naturally. By then, we had moved to an area with better support services. I had read up about different pelvic sizes, uncooperative cervix, c-section dangers, skin-to-skin etc. I even asked the chiropractor I started seeing if it is possible my pelvis was malformed? I also met an acupuncturist who was also a midwife. I saw her to help me pass my miscarriage naturally and she later became my midwife for my birth. It was also during my miscarriage that I tried acupuncture for the first time.
In truth, it was my natural miscarriage that made me believe in myself. I was offered a d and c, which I flatly refused. I told my husband I did not want another surgery. Surprisingly, the hospital was very supportive of me waiting for me to pass the baby naturally. When it happened I was alone, everyone else was asleep. We had gone for a long brisk walk when my cramps started. I bled profusely and I felt my body contract
to pass my baby at 12-13weeks. In that moment, I knew I was stronger on my own. This is my body and I can trust in my body to do what it needs to do.
A few months later I found out I was pregnant again!
I had options this time. See an obstetrician or use a private midwifery model of care. I wanted to go the private midwife route but my husband and I were left with less than satisfactory experience after our miscarriage. So I chose an obstetrician again. The first obstetrician I met told me he only does cesarean and warned me about the risks of having a vbac. The decision to have another major surgery did not sit well with me. I spent a number of sleepless nights agonizing over it. After a few visits, I sought a second opinion from another obstetrician who specializes in vbac at the same hospital. But after a few visits I questioned her overall philosophy based on her response to something I mentioned in passing. When I said I was considering getting a doula. She said something to the effect of, "Why? It's a waste of money in my view."
The Birth Centre
We had gone overseas while I was 4-5months pregnant and when we got back, I heard that my friend, who has been on the waiting list for most of her pregnancy, received news that she got in the birth centre. I decided to ring my acupuncturist to find out if I stood any chance in the public system with her as my antenatal midwife. Surprisingly, she told me that the birth centre is starting to admit high-risk patients and she would find out if I could get in. I knew I wouldn't stand a chance. The waiting list is very long.
A week later she rang me with news. “You're in!” I was ecstatic! I couldn't believe my luck. She said, "I get to be your midwife! Isn't that great!" At that point, it felt as if everything that was happening to us at that time was happening for this very reason. This lady whom I had a connection with, was willing to fight for me – her initiative to help me was the turning point in my birthing journey. It was as if the universe was trying to push me in a certain direction.
A water birth vbac?
I always wanted a water birth. I was told I could have it. I knew it was possible I had watched videos of vbac water births albeit they were mostly in America. But I didn't get the water birth I hoped for (hospital policy again). My acupuncturist midwife was off duty that day too. The hospital staff told me that even if I could have had the water birth, I was 10cm upon presentation at 6pm and there was no time to fill the birth pool. I spent an hour pushing and my baby girl was born 7mins past 8pm.
The day started out with me waking up with contractions 20 minutes apart. I wasn't sure if they were the pre-labour contractions (as I never experienced natural
contractions with my first and that's why I was induced). So I set out going about with my planned day. I walked to yoga and my yoga instructor, Lou, was also my doula! This time round I have been doing a lot more walking, going to the chiropractor regularly, eating dates, drinking red raspberry leaf tea... And going for acupuncture (something I didn't attempt with my first). I had only undergone two sessions of acupuncture involving mild stimulation of the labour points. I was two days shy of my expected due date. After yoga, I walked back home. Lou and I joked that my baby would come maybe later that week. At 1pm that afternoon, I went to meet my midwife for a routine check at the birth centre. She downplayed my contractions and said possibly later in the week. So, I downplayed my expectations and told myself not to get too excited. After all, my contractions could be Braxton Hicks. We had agreed the birth plan was for me to do most of the pre-labour at home anyway.
At home, around 3-4pm, I decided to time my contractions, which felt like mild period pains taking my breath away. I was surprised they were 7mins apart. I still didn't think I was in early labour so told hubby we could go for a walk on the beach after he picked up my son from school. He left. I took out some garlic to prepare dinner and it was then I realized I could not cut the garlic. I had to pause to catch my breath.
I rang my husband and told him that the beach was out of question. We still didn't think it was happening, so I joined them at the nearby park. I timed my contractions again at 5pm, which were now 2-3mins apart. OK, maybe I should text Lou to find out what’s going on. She was like, “Just go with the flow, run a bath... Call the midwife”. I rang my midwife and it was then I found out I would get her partner that evening. The midwife had just got home from work and she tried to downplay my contractions. So I thought, OK I'll relax and run the bath. Got in the bath, it was getting harder to move around. The bath wasn't very comfortable. Husband was making dinner. He came and checked on me and I told him to bring the hospital bags to the car and ring Lou and the midwife. I started to realize if I didn't leave soon I wouldn't be able to physically walk to the car!
True enough when Lou came over at 6pm, I was on my knees upstairs. The walk to the car then, from the car to the birth centre, to say the least, was super challenging! I was moaning and groaning loudly, making sounds I didn't think I would make normally! I sat in front facing backwards without the seat belt and my son was concerned I should wear my seat belt or I might fall!
Finally, we reached the hospital and I was screaming down the hospital corridors every few minutes, I had to stop. A hospital staff offered a wheelchair halfway and Lou raced me all the way to the birth centre. It was quite relaxing in the chair for awhile. The midwife took some time to come so she couldn't clear me for water birth suites in spite of me protesting that was where I should be.
Lou said it was quickest birth she had been. Although it didn't feel like it when I was pushing. Each contraction felt like forever. I felt it took ages for her to descend and I wanted it over with! I could feel myself getting tired. I was sweating heaps and smelling like I've never smelt before - raw and stinky! With each contraction I would clenched my fists and groaned through my teeth in one breath. I couldn't relax or stay quiet unlike the calm birth videos I had watched! But I let myself roar, I let myself go. I had read Ina May's book (once 3.5years ago and again a month ago) that if I pitched my voice lower, it would help baby descend. So I growled in a lower pitch and true enough I could feel baby descend and it felt right. It felt good.
My husband had my son all the way from when we got to the hospital. Later my son told me he was scared. He told my husband, "Let's walk Daddy." But they came in just in time to see baby's head pop out from the entrance. My husband later told me there was a lot of blood. It was not an easy sight for my son even though I had prepared him for it (watching water birth videos). By then, I had ditched the shower (since I couldn't have the bath they tried to coax me to the shower). It just felt odd and slippery! So, I was on the bed on my knees facing the headrest and clutching the pillows with every powerful contraction.
At that moment, I knew, in my head, I was going to do this. I told myself there was no turning back. When I had the thought I could not do it anymore, I knew I was going to have to. There was no other way! My body had taken over. I did not want another opportunity for fetal distress because I was in the wrong position. So I remained on all fours on my knees. I could only focus as much as the next contraction. Finally I felt like bearing down. I went with it - I focused on the sensation of doing a giant poop!
The midwife told me “I can feel her head!” I felt it was soft. My only concern was not to have a repeat of my first experience - fetal distress. No one told me when baby was in the birth canal that there would be no heartbeat. I asked in between contractions how was she and the midwife said I was doing fine.
Just before the final push, I remember this clearly, my mind cleared. In that one moment, there was a sudden clarity in my mind. It was like the sun came out pushing all the foggy clouds away. In all my life I never had such a moment of complete clarity in my mind - I can only describe it was a crystal clear epiphany.
Then the contraction came and out she came into the world. I was in kind of a shock and did not catch her (as I should have now on hindsight). The midwife asked, "Do you want to hold your baby?"
I did. And she was calm. She had her first brief cry. And she lay in my arms and never left. If you asked me whether I would do it all over again like this? The answer is yes. I did not regret I chose to do it my way. If I could birth my baby again, I would, and I wouldn't do anything different.