This is the story of my son's VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean) birth. Photos shared in this post are not examples of my professional work. They were taken by family and friends present at the birth.
Our culture has compressed birth into those few moments when the baby is actually delivered into this world. We’re led to believe that as long as the baby is fine, then the rest of it doesn’t matter. As a birth photographer, I’m working to change this view - at least here in Charleston, SC.
I work to show that the journey in birth MATTERS. The delivery itself, while the pinnacle, is but one part in an entire story of a woman’s transition into motherhood. The births of my two children were beautiful moments, but they are made even more incredible by understanding what brought me to those moments.
Today, I will begin sharing the birth story of my second child, lovingly known as Bubba. I’ll admit it’s a long story, so I’m breaking it up into two separate blog posts. Before we begin, I’d encourage you to go back and read Bug’s birth story if you haven’t already. There will be some context there that will help you better understand my mindset going into this second birth.
When I was still in the recovery room after Bug’s c-section birth, my doctor came in and said, “Well, the silver lining is that you’ll get to choose your next baby’s birthday because you’ll just schedule another cesarean.”
I looked at her wide-eyed and simply stated, “No. I won’t.”
The anesthesia hadn’t even worn off yet, but I knew I didn’t want to experience that again unless it was absolutely necessary. I knew nothing about Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC), but it didn’t take long before I started searching.
Before we even began trying to conceive a second child, I was searching for and reading as many VBAC stories as I could get my hands on. After confirming that VBAC is a safe option for most women, I was confident that I wanted to attempt a vaginal birth when we decided to have another child.
A few years later, after some struggles with infertility, I was finally pregnant with a baby who seemed to be sticking around for the full pregnancy.
I continued to read books and blogs about birth in general and VBACs specifically throughout the time we were trying to conceive and my pregnancy. I realized I would need a great team around me to support me in my desire for a vaginal birth. The doctor who delivered my daughter, while a wonderful person, was obviously not going to fit with my wishes for this birth. I started asking in some local mom groups and was pleased to find many mothers who had successful VBACs in Charleston and even more who were on the same research journey with me. There are many doctors here who support VBACs and ALL of the hospitals in the area allow them. The trick for me was finding the doctor with the least amount of restrictions on my labor.
I found an absolutely wonderful doctor pretty quickly. She is well-respected in the birth community, and she was fully supportive of my VBAC plan. She even told me that as long as baby and I were healthy, I would be treated just like any other perfectly healthy expectant mother. Even if complications did arise later on, surgery would not automatically be the first line of response either. My scar did not make me a ticking time bomb.
I also hired a doula to be with me in labor and delivery. I knew I wanted someone with a more objective view to help balance the anxiety coming from my husband and mom (and myself if I’m being completely honest).
I continued reading and researching and discussing my birth preferences with my doctor. At one point, I came across several birth stories of women who were discovered to have cervical scar tissue. Their stories sounded so similar to what happened in Bug’s birth: regular, intense contractions that would normally be indicative of a progressing labor, but little to no cervical dilation. After reading more, I found that I have one of the primary risk factors for cervical scarring (without going into too much personal information). I brought up my concerns to my doctor and she said it was definitely a possibility. If this were an issue for me, I would find that my cervix was effacing (thinning out) in labor but not dilating (opening). *Keep this little bit of information in mind because it comes back later.*
My pregnancy continued to progress normally, and I found myself creeping up on my due date. In the last week of my pregnancy, I often had contractions that were regular, but they always fizzled out after a few hours. I was getting frustrated and tired because these contractions often disrupted my sleep.
I woke up at about 4 am on Friday, January 15th, with what I thought were gas pains. It didn't take long for me to realize that gas pains generally don't come exactly 6-7 minutes apart lasting 45-50 seconds. I didn't get my hopes up though because this wasn’t the first time I had experienced regular contractions. It reached a point where I was having trouble sleeping through them, so I got up and got moving for the day. After a few hours, they still weren't going away, and they were getting more intense. They were still 6-7 minutes apart, but I was often having to stop and breathe through them. My husband stayed home from work, and my mom came over to help with the then 3-year-old Bug. After several hours, I decided to watch a movie and doze off for a while. When I did that my contractions spaced out to every 10 minutes. After resting for a bit, I got up and my husband and I walked for about a mile and a half. Eventually, my contractions returned to 6-7 minutes apart.
Late that night, my contractions were STILL 6-7 minutes apart but pretty intense. I was getting frustrated that they weren't progressing, so I told my husband I was going to eat something and try to sleep for a while. I hoped that sleeping would make the contractions space back out like they had before so I could get some rest. Well, of course, that’s not what happened. Shortly after I climbed into bed, the contractions got closer together. By about 3 am, my husband was begging me to call my doula because my contractions were 4 minutes apart and I was on my hands and knees in bed, groaning through each contraction. I called my doula and told my husband to get some sleep while he could. When I went to unlock the front door for the doula, I found my parents (who had decided to spend the night) sitting awake on the couch. My mom could hear me back in the room and had been timing my contractions based on my cries and groans. She rubbed my back and kept me calm until the doula arrived and then everyone rallied around me to help me through.
The hours dragged on and morning came and went. My dad had taken over Bug’s care. She struggled with seeing me in pain, so he kept her away and entertained as much as he could. My contractions stayed 3-5 minutes apart and intense, but nothing we tried would bring them closer together and progress my labor. Exhaustion was setting in and I was starting to fall asleep between contractions. When I fell asleep, the contractions would only come every 10 minutes, but they were significantly worse than the contractions I had been experiencing. It was as though I had 2 or 3 contractions rolled into one. The contractions would peak 2 or 3 times before coming back down and I quickly realized the little nap I was getting was not worth that pain. I made myself stay awake and keep moving. Around lunch time, we had passed 30 hours of labor and everyone was exhausted. Doubt and defeat were beginning to creep in.
My husband and my mom sat with me and said, "I think it's time to go to the hospital. You don't have to be admitted if you don't want to, but I think we should at least check and make sure the baby is okay.”
On one hand, I did want to check on the baby, but mostly I was frustrated and scared. Frustrated that, yet again, my body couldn't just do what it was supposed to do. Scared that I would be pushed into another surgery. I made everyone leave me alone in my bedroom, and I curled up on the floor and sobbed. I often find that I need to have a big, ugly cry before I can move forward.
Once I had my moment, I talked with my doula about the possible scenarios we might face at the hospital. We talked about what I would do in each situation and what I most wanted to avoid. I am so thankful I hired a doula for many reasons, but in retrospect, that conversation alone was worth every single penny I paid.
Once I made sure that my husband and mom knew my wishes and would support me in whatever I decided, we grabbed our bags, and headed to the hospital.
Read Part 2 here