My first born son was only four months old when I discovered I was pregnant, again. To be honest, I both laughed and cried when I found out, mostly in disbelief but also in fear and excitement.
I had plenty of thoughts and emotions all at once as test after test formed two pink lines. I immediately made an appointment with my midwives at The Midwife Center to discuss diet and health risks. Knowing how much pregnancy takes out of a woman, I had already been recommended a longer time period between pregnancies, especially after having had a c-section.
Starting care at The Midwife Center
I was elated to meet with Kathy for that first visit and extremely happy with her encouragement and excitement for the coming baby. There was no judgment or criticism for getting pregnant so quickly.
After the somewhat traumatic birth of my son that ended in a cesarean, I hesitated to get my hopes too high for a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean), but I still wanted a vaginal birth and, if possible, I hoped to have it medication-free. After months of seeing a therapist to prepare myself for another potential c-section, I felt ready to meet my daughter any way she chose to come. And wait we did.
I had my 41 week appointment with Emily, who was new at the time and had quickly become one of my favorite midwives. At that appointment, we decided to schedule my induction for September 26th at 8:00 a.m., which was the last possible day I could wait, two weeks after my due-date. I had to deliver at Mercy anyway, since this was my attempt at a VBAC, and after waiting another six days was resigned to the induction (though, in my heart of hearts, I felt strongly that I would not successfully VBAC with all the medical intervention that goes with an induction).
Going into labor
The night before the scheduled induction I went to bed around 10:00 p.m and woke up sporadically from midnight until 2:00 a.m. with some contractions. I didn't take them seriously because I had been having contractions for what felt like MONTHS at this point. Around 2:00 a.m. though, five hours before I was supposed to be at the hospital, I had bloody show and the contractions were coming about every five minutes. This was it!
I called my mom and sister to meet at my home. My mom was going to watch my son, and my sister, a natural birth pro, was going to be my birthing coach and support along with my husband. I called the midwives and Abby was on call until 7:00 a.m. She told me it would be great to labor at home as long as possible. I learned from my 33 hour labor with my son that it's much better to labor at home than anywhere else.
Around 5:00 a.m. my contractions were getting intense and I started wishing secretly for an epidural every time a contraction rolled through me. I started to get nauseated and worried about the quickly coming weekday morning traffic through the city. While I wanted to labor at home, I also wanted to avoid rush hour and I did NOT want my son to wake up and see me in pain. We decided to leave at 6:30 a.m., right before the midwife and nurse shift changed. By this point, labor was getting intense!
Arriving at the hospital
I got to Mercy at 7:00 a.m. and was taken to a birthing room by a nurse. I was already begging for an epidural, even before I was checked.
I was overjoyed to see Kathy and Emily walk into my room with huge grins on their faces. Throughout my pregnancy, I met with them the most and considered them my "dream team." Emily checked me and I was seven cenimeters. I could hardly believe it. It took me almost 24 hours with my son to get to seven. Needless to say, I was shocked. But the joy quickly disappeared as my water broke (all over Emily) and another contraction seized me.
Around 7:30 a.m., the anesthesiologist came into my room to ask me questions and prepare me for the epidural. I was writhing in pain and just wanted the drugs! After two questions, much to my astonishment, I had this overwhelming urge to push. I was at 10 centimeters and ready to go! There wasn't enough time for the drugs.
It was at this point that I realized, "We're doing this the way I originally wanted - naturally and medication free!" I felt a rush of energy and confidence at this point. I let go of my desire to be numbed and allowed my body to follow its natural instincts.
I pushed. Hard. And pushed. On my back. On my knees. Holding a bar squatting. On my back again. Her little head could be seen, but wasn't really moving. She was stuck in my pelvis, much like my son, and was sunny-side-up. After an hour of pushing, I was exhausted and losing confidence. My baby girl needed me to wear an oxygen mask between pushes, but, otherwise, was doing well. Still, she would not move down and out.
Around 9:00 a.m., Emily and Kathy started talking about a c-section and two things happened at once. My heart broke just a little bit and I asked for my husband to help me. And I began to silently pray and plead, actually, and begged for the strength to get this baby out.
I did not want to come this far, only to be cut open again. I just knew this baby girl was coming vaginally and so, as the next contraction came, I prepared to give the last big push I could possibly muster. I tilted my head back and with every last fiber of my being roared and pushed until I felt something happen. A little popping sound came along with an odd burning and everyone was silent for just a few seconds. I asked what happened and then there were smiles and gasps and little laughs. My sister told me, with an odd tone of disbelief, that my baby's head was almost out. She had crowned, much to everyone's shock and surprise.
I probably should have been all smiles and excited but the reality is, I was in pain and was yelling at Emily to just get her out! Emily calmed me and told me this baby was coming in the next push, but that it would be intense. She told me that the stretching that was happening was good and healthy and that I needed to be calm and ready to listen to everything she told me to do. That part was difficult because my body wanted to push hard, but Emily was holding the baby in, allowing my muscles and tissues to stay intact and not tear.
As the next contraction came, Emily and Kathy guided me in gentle pushes and, within less than a minute, my baby was out and on my chest. (Along with another gush of water that soaked Emily, again. I have to get that girl new pants!)
There are a few things I remember clearly in that moment. How good it felt to have her out. How wonderful it was to hold her on my chest. How precious her little sounds were.
How prayers and wishes do come true. It was everything I wanted. And my little girl, Selah Shalom, was perfect!
Emily was tearing up with joy, my husband was still a little stunned, my sister was goo-ing over the baby, and I was just simply, blissfully dazed!
Selah Shalom was born September 26, 2011 at 9:17 a.m. She was 9 pounds, 21.75 inches and perfectly healthy. She breastfed almost immediately and I could not have asked for anything more.
I am convinced of a few things that enabled me to have a successful VBAC as I reflect on this beautiful experience.
First, I believe the expertise of midwifery care was fundamental. Their encouragement and belief in the natural process and my body's ability to do what it was designed to do gave me the confidence I needed to push each time. Also, their skill in helping stretch and position myself in useful ways was a God-send; I was confident in their ability to keep me from being cut or tearing too badly - so much so that I was free to push without fear or reservation.
Secondly, a sure hand to squeeze (my sister) when the pain became too much was so important. Having someone who loves me enough to allow me to divert my pain onto them by crushing her hand every three minutes for a few hours was priceless. I also believe, had I gotten the epidural, I would not have had a successful VBAC. I truly think I needed to feel the baby and the positions and strong urges to push. I could never have pushed that hard with numbed legs and no feeling in my pelvis. I don't deny the pain or the intensity of the birth process, but it was the only way that worked for me to bring her into the world. And it really was worth every second.
It seems there are so many life lessons that take place with each birth. With my son, I learned to hold things more loosely and to give grace and allow grey in my planning and expectations. With my daughter, I learned the importance of giving all of myself to my desired outcome, trusting my instincts, and fighting like hell to achieve what I believed was our blessing to have and hold. I walk away from this birth with so much confidence in how God created me, woman, to manage pain and experience profound life-giving beauty.