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Natural birth has always been my dream, but I never thought it was going to happen for me…until it did. Here’s how my birth story unfolded.
Birth can be beautiful. Or so I’d read in books like Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth, and seen in Hypnobirthing videos and documentaries like “Why Not Home?” and “The Business of Being Born”.
But I always had a knot in my stomach about birth because when I was 19, my Gastroenterologist told me that I would need to have c-sections due to the location of my active Crohn’s disease. At that young age, I figured–he’s the doctor–he must know! And that was that.
A few years went by and I married a wonderful man. As we began to talk about growing our family, I stumbled across the documentary “The Business of Being Born”. I remember wiping away hot tears of grief as I watched the amazing natural births that I knew I could never have. I was literally grieving the loss of an opportunity to birth “normally”–as most women can.
When I became pregnant with our first child, I began the process of desensitizing myself to the reality of a c-section. It was just the way it was going to be. Over and over I repeated to the OBs and specialists what my GI doctor had told me years before. I “had” to have a scheduled c-section.
That first birth was blurry in my memory. The pressure and movement of my insides caused me to become nauseous and require a dose of Morphin, which alongside all the other pain medication, made the first few days a sleepy blur. I can remember snippets of events, but it felt disconnected and difficult.
Breastfeeding didn’t go well, my baby lost 11% of her weight during just four days, they made me start pumping on day 2 and topped her up with bottles of my milk. Let’s just say I didn’t know better to fight back and the rough start dictated our story.
I tried to nurse for 13 weeks but ultimately ended up exclusively pumping for 18 months. It was incredibly difficult, expensive, and many many tears were shed.
Fast forward a few years and we began to talk about how to expand our family. We were traumatized from the first birth experience and initially spent a year pursuing adoption. While we got close, nothing ended up working out, so I began to research.
Turns out, right after my first was born, a research study was being done on my type of Crohn’s disease and how it affected methods of birth. Though it was a small study, the conclusion was that vaginal birth wasn’t as risky as doctors had originally thought. I started digging more.
It ended up taking a year to conceive, and that year was filled with tests, supplements, and endless appointments. Tests showed I had some estrogen imbalance, and my body also had become suddenly extremely hypoglycemic. I completely changed my diet, went on 13 different supplements, and prayed. So many tears, so many prayers.
When I saw those two pink lines, I couldn’t believe it. And my husband and I vowed we would do things differently this time around.
At four weeks pregnant, I hired a midwife. We assumed we would birth at a hospital, and she was willing to do monitrice care there for us (like a glorified doula), while still doing all my prenatal and postpartum care at home. At 13 weeks, I began to see a Webster-certified chiropractor.
A couple months in, my midwife asked if I was sure I wanted to birth at the hospital, or if I wanted to consider a homebirth. I was hesitant but decided to research some more. It took a few more weeks, but ultimately, we decided why not. Let’s go for it, and if we need to transfer to the hospital, that was okay too.
My thought process was fueled by the fact that for a VBAC, you need to labor at home as long as possible anyway. The thought of transferring to the hospital at 6-8cm dilated was not too appealing! But, of course, if any red flags appeared, we trusted our midwife would immediately get us to the hospital for care.
My second pregnancy was similar to my first. Lots of morning (all day) sickness, even though I was taking Unisom and B6 the whole time. This time I also had a good deal of pelvic girdle pain too. However, I stayed low risk, and consented to two ultrasounds just to make sure everything was looking good.
40 weeks came and went with lots of braxton hicks and a few episodes of prodromal labor. All the way to 40 weeks and 3 days. At noon I started to feel some tightening and crampy contractions that began to have a pattern. Every 20 minutes or so. Every 10 minutes. Then some even closer in length. They were far stronger than any I had experienced before.
Around 7pm I felt my water begin to leak and reached out to my doula and midwife. My doula arrived around 10pm and stayed with me through the rest of labor. The first night wasn’t bad. I used my yoga ball and breathed through the surges. But they weren’t becoming more consistent. I walked the stairs, changed positions, and pumped.
Later my midwife told my doula that inconsistent contractions were sometimes normal for a VBAC, so we plodded on. When people say to rest during early labor, they mean it. I was so exhausted that I was nodding off for a minute at a time between contractions.
The next morning I got into the birth pool for some pain relief. I continued to labor all day. My midwife came and checked me. I was 8-9cm dilated with a cervical lip. Hours went by of intense contractions, but no progress. She broke a bag of bulging water and tried to push the lip out of the way. Didn’t work.
She had me get out of the pool and labor on the toilet, but that was excruciating. I was having a lot of back pain, and while my doula did amazing counterpressure, it was pushing me to the brink. I was frustrated and scared.
We moved to my bed and tried pushing on all fours and also on my back to see if we could get past that cervical lip. It was horribly painful and I begged to stop. The assisting midwife checked me and found that I had regressed some and now was very swollen.
They had me take Arnica tablets orally and also put Arnica cream on my cervix. Then I got back in the pool to try to relax.
About 20 minutes later, my body began pushing involuntarily. And 15 minutes later I was holding my baby in my arms. It was incredible. Everything went smoothly and baby latched well during the Golden Hour. I was ecstatic. 36 hours of labor was well worth it!
This experience was night and day compared to my c-section. Getting to rest in my own bed, eat my own food, and cuddle my baby without all the poking and prodding of nurses for days was incredible.
My midwives and doula took exceptional care of us. They stayed for three hours after birth to make sure we were stable and settled. Then they visited us on day 2 and 3 postpartum for exams and follow-up. I love midwifery care so much. I had a combination of virtual and in-home visits over the 6 weeks of recovery and felt completely supported.
Since my VBAC I have felt a deep sense of empowerment. This inner lion has emerged making me feel like I can do harder things than I ever thought possible. If I could roar through 36 hours of labor and push out a baby, what else can I accomplish??!!