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.
At the end of Part 1 of this birth story, my support team was packing up and heading to the hospital.
I continued to have contractions all the way to the hospital and during the long walk up to labor and delivery. I was hooked up to a monitor and relieved to find that my baby boy was handling all the chaos perfectly.
Because it was a Saturday, I was assigned to whatever resident was on call that weekend. A medical student was sent in to question me and check my cervix - almost fully effaced, but only 1 cm dilated. It felt like a punch in the gut to hear that after all I had been through in the last day and a half, but then I remembered what my doctor had told me. I mentioned my concerns about cervical scarring to my nurse. She quickly browsed my medical history and said, “You know what. I think you might be right.”
We sat in a small room for a while waiting for the on-call resident to arrive. During that time, Bubba was moving and dancing in my belly. At one point, he rolled so drastically that everyone in the room saw my belly shift and the monitor dropped his heartbeat for a moment. He was back on the monitor pretty quickly and we continued to wait.
The resident arrived and almost immediately launched into her plans to admit me and start a pitocin drip. I stopped her and told her I wasn’t sure I wanted to be admitted yet. I simply wanted to discuss my options if I were to choose to stay.
I expressed my concerns from my first birth where pitocin was unable to make the necessary changes to my cervix. The nurse relayed my thoughts about cervical scarring in relation to my medical history. The resident simply waved away our concerns and continued to push pitocin. I finally had to tell her that I would not consent to jumping straight to pitocin because I didn’t believe it would address the actual problem. I told her I would rather go home. This turn of events did not sit well with her. It was clear she was used to women who came in and blindly did as they were told. She didn’t know how to handle someone who actually expected her to answer questions and explain her reasons for the choices she made.
She resorted to scare tactics at this point. She pointed out that my blood pressure had been slightly elevated when I arrived and tried to tell me I might be in the early stages of pre-eclampsia. It took all my strength not to laugh at her. She had clearly not looked at my chart at all or she would have known that I had experience with that particular condition. I simply smiled and told her that I had no swelling, no headaches, no dizziness, no prisms in my vision, and my blood pressure had been perfect throughout my entire pregnancy. I believed my blood pressure was more likely due to the fact that I had been awake for almost 36 hours laboring, and I was anxious about being in the hospital. I also reminded her that I had already given a urine sample when I arrived, and she was welcome to test it for protein. Of course, my urine sample was perfectly healthy.
I had gotten under her skin and she went for the low blow. She looked at the heart rate strip coming from the monitor. She said, “The good news is it looks like your baby is handling all of this well… except there’s one reading back here that concerns me. He could be showing signs of distress.”
The nurse in the room turned and looked at her like she had three heads. She said, “The baby rolled over. We all watched her belly shift. The monitor just dropped him for a second. The whole rest of the strip is perfect.”
The resident replied, “Maybe. But what if it’s not? What if he’s in distress and you go home and something happens to him? You’ll never forgive yourself and we don’t want that to happen.”
I just stared, incredulous. I imagine my mouth was probably hanging open. I had heard stories of doctors preying on the most vulnerable part of a woman’s spirit - implying that she was endangering the life of her baby in order to coerce her to follow orders, but I thought these stories were rare. I never imagined it would happen to me, yet there I sat. I wondered what would happen if I had been a frightened first time mom who automatically trusted anyone with a medical background. To what would I have consented? What would I have allowed that resident to do to me had she convinced me that I was putting my baby's life on the line? However, this was not my first rodeo, and I was furious.
At this point, the resident stepped out to speak with her attending. I talked with my husband, mom, and doula about everything that had just transpired. I probably should have fired that resident on the spot and demanded another doctor, but I didn’t. I stood up to her instead.
When she returned, I informed her I would only consider staying and being admitted if I were given an opportunity to eat and if we used a foley bulb instead of pitocin. A foley is a catheter with a balloon at the end. It’s inserted into the cervix and the balloon is filled with a saline solution. The balloon puts pressure on the cervix, forcing it to open. I was hoping it would break up any scar tissue present.
The resident, of course, tried to argue, but I held my ground. I also informed her I wanted to speak to her attending myself. The attending was wonderful. She thought the foley was a great solution, but she just wanted to make sure I knew we might have to revisit the pitocin discussion if my contractions didn’t progress after the bulb was out. I was fine with that.
My husband ran downstairs to find some food; I was admitted, and the foley bulb was placed. My doula went home to rest, and my best friend came in to be an extra support person. Thankfully, another resident took over after that. She was younger and seemed a little anxious, but she was, at least, kind. The nurses absolutely saved my birth experience. They were all lovely and supportive. I felt like I had my own personal cheering squad.
I was not anticipating the blinding pain the foley added to my contractions. Ripping through scar tissue is every bit as painful as it sounds. I think I could have handled it if I hadn't been so exhausted, but I was starting to lose control. My sweet husband did a great job talking me through contractions. He was trying to talk me out of an epidural because he knew how much I wanted to do this naturally even though it was killing him to see me like that.
In a calm moment between contractions, I told him I appreciated what he was trying to do, but it wasn't even about the pain anymore. I needed sleep. There was no way I was going to make it through this birth without some sleep. The anesthesiologist had just gone into surgery though, so I had about 2 hours of coping with the foley contractions before he came in. After a total of 38 hours of natural labor, I got an epidural and was able to take a nap.
An hour after the epi was placed, the foley bulb came out and I was dilated to 5 cm! The epidural had slowed my contractions though, so I consented to a low dose of pitocin to get them moving again.
I stalled a little at 5 cm, but the baby continued to descend. My doula came back, and I let my epidural wear off some. I could still move my legs; they were just heavy. With the help of my support team, I was able to get into some more upright positions to help labor along and then the doctor nicked my bag of waters to get it started trickling. After trying some different positions, I told everyone to get some sleep. I pushed the button to give my epidural a boost, and I went to sleep a little after midnight. My mom and doula later told me they don't think the epidural did much because I continued to groan through contractions in my sleep, but apparently exhaustion just took over.
The second resident woke me up at 3 am to tell me that I was at 10 cm and +3 station. It took a few seconds to register what they had said and when it hit, I began to cry. I was actually going to get to push!
Little did I know, I still had a ways to go. The horrible resident returned for the pushing phase much to my chagrin. The first hour of pushing was mostly trying to get me into different positions to move the baby down. The epidural was wearing off again, but at first, I couldn’t feel enough to push effectively.
The second hour of pushing, I was delirious. I was so tired I kept drifting off between contractions. God only knows what kind of weird stuff I said. I vaguely remember something about a horse and a bikini. I’m hoping I didn’t say anything out loud. If I did, no one told me.
In hour three, I could finally see his head and that gave me renewed energy to keep going. It was about this time that I was informed I was developing a low grade fever. I knew I needed to get my little guy out so I pushed with all the energy I could muster.
Fifty hours after those contractions woke me up at 4 am, three of those hours spent pushing, my sweet baby boy was born on January 17th. Despite reminding the resident that I didn’t want to cut his cord right away, the first thing she did once he was out was grab a clamp for his cord. My doula and I were both yelling at her not to clamp it. She rolled her eyes before putting the clamp down.
I immediately started yelling, "GIVE HIM TO ME! LET ME HOLD HIM!"
My mom and husband both later told me that was the moment when they realized just how much anxiety and brokenness I had been holding onto from Bug’s birth. It wasn't the joyful cry of a new mother wanting to see her baby, but one of desperation. I needed to hold him first. I needed to have him placed on my chest still slimy and fresh. I needed to be the first to welcome him to the world.
A nurse grabbed him from the resident and plopped him onto my chest. I was the first to see his beautiful face and announce to the room that he looked just like his big sister. I could never put into words the emotions running through my body in that moment. I felt victorious. I had conquered my own anxiety, my damaged body, and that terrible bully of a resident. I stood up to someone trying to abuse their power. I stood my ground and refused to allow my voice to be drowned out. I kept going when I wanted to give up.
My precious, perfect Bubba was worth every single second of that 50 hours. Despite all of the struggles, I think back on his birth with a sense of accomplishment.
He has been a whirlwind in our lives from the moment he was born. He is wild, stubborn, loud, smart, funny, and sweet. He tears through our house at full speed, only occasionally braking to climb in my lap and steal my food.
Happy birthday to my beautiful, blonde-haired, blue eyed boy, who adds grey to my hair and joy to my soul.