You've recovered from your c-section and you're ready to welcome your next baby into your family. You've been researching your birth options, and you have decided you want to go for a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean). Maybe your c-section birth was traumatic or maybe you just don't want to go through another abdominal surgery unless absolutely necessary - it doesn't really matter WHY you chose a VBAC; the question you're facing now is, "What do I do next?"
Well, I'll tell you, and you should listen carefully. This could be the decision that makes or breaks your VBAC. A quick Google search would produce tons of recommendations for activities, birth classes, diets, supplements, chiropractic care and pretty much anything else you could imagine to help you along in your VBAC journey.
As a successful VBAC mom myself, however, I think there is one vital piece of the puzzle that will make all the difference in your VBAC plans -
A Supportive Birth Team.
You can do everything "right" and have the healthiest pregnancy ever, but if you don't have a birth team that supports your VBAC plans, you will have a much harder time following through with those plans.
First on my list were my mom and husband.
Of course, they both said they wanted to support me in whatever I decided, but it was also important to me that they know the research and the reasons behind why I chose to have a VBAC. I knew that when the exhaustion and hard work of labor took over, I would need them to know my wishes and be able to speak for me if I couldn't.
Next, I needed a new OBGYN.
In the state of South Carolina, there are limitations on VBAC moms. It is against the law in this state for a midwife to attend a VBAC birth outside of a hospital. That rules out homebirths or birth center births for moms like me who are uncomfortable with an unassisted birth. Here in Charleston and throughout the lowcountry though, we are fortunate that the majority of our hospitals do allow VBACs. Only a small number of OBGYN practices ban them altogether.
Unfortunately, I discovered that the obstetrician who delivered Bug via c-section was a part of one of the few practices with a VBAC ban. I knew I would have to break up with my doctor if I wanted to move forward with the birth I was planning. I'm not going to pretend it was an easy "Bye Felicia" to leave that practice. Most of the doctors I had experience with there were kind, wonderful people. My decision to leave was solely based on the fact that their practice did not align with my beliefs about my birth and my care. We women sometimes need to be reminded that we are the decision makers in our own births and health care. We have a right to ask questions or seek other opinions or break up with doctors who may not line up with our preferred standard of care.
If you aren't sure what to look for in a VBAC care provider, VBACFacts.com is a great resource and they have a list of questions to ask your care provider.
When I met with the doctor who would eventually care for me throughout my pregnancy with Bubba, I talked to her in depth about her feelings about VBAC and the success rate at the hospital where I would be delivering. She assured me that as long as baby and I were healthy, we would be treated like any other perfectly healthy mom and baby in the practice. She also told me that even if some special circumstance were to arise, they would not automatically push another c-section before exploring other options first.
Finally, I hired a doula.
A doula is someone who is trained to assist a woman and her family in labor. I knew that the hospital where I would be delivering is a large teaching hospital, and I would most likely end up with whatever on-call doctor was available when I happened to go into labor. I wanted to make sure I had someone with me who understands the labor process and would help me advocate for myself in the hospital.
People often tell me they are surprised that my doctor or hospital "allowed" me to labor as long as I did with my VBAC baby. I always tell them that's the value of a supportive care team. Even though I strongly disliked the resident who ended up delivering Bubba, I will say one thing in her favor - she never once tried to bully me into another c-section. By surrounding myself with a strong, supportive birth team, I was able to have a successful VBAC despite my long, exhausting labor.
There's one person I wish I had on my team though...
A birth photographer. I'm not saying that just because I'm a birth photographer either. We saved up in order to hire a doula, and I wish I had found a way to save more - sold stuff I didn't need - whatever I needed to do - in order to hire a birth photographer. I would give anything to have photos of the look on my face when they put that beautiful baby on my chest.
If you need a birth photographer for your "I did it" moment, click here to learn about my birth photography services.
So you’ve had a cesarean and now you’re considering another baby (or maybe already expecting another)… Now you have to decide what route to go for your birth this time around. Do you plan another c-section or do you plan a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean)?
As I mentioned in my C-Section Recovery Tips post, April is Cesarean Awareness Month. Continuing with that theme, I’m addressing another concern that is unique to c-section moms. Often the choice whether to plan a VBAC or a repeat c-section is an emotional one. For moms who had a long labor leading up to their first c-section, the fear of attempting a vaginal birth only to end up in surgery again often weighs heavy in this decision. For others, avoiding major abdominal surgery is the primary concern.
I could write an entire post about the research that led me to choose a VBAC for my second birth. For example, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends VBAC as a safe option with very low risk for most women with one or two prior cesareans. Also, a c-section is major abdominal surgery, and as such, inherently carries risks - many of which increase in likelihood with multiple surgeries.
However, this post is primarily about my personal experience with these two deliveries. As someone who has experienced both a c-section and a successful VBAC, I can share first-hand experience with the pros and cons of both types of delivery. After all, statistics can only tell you so much.
Every family has to make the choice that’s best for them based on their own experience and needs, but for me, it came down to one major deciding factor.
I knew that recovering from a c-section was difficult and long when I only had to take care of myself and a newborn. With my second, I was going to have myself, a newborn, and a toddler. I didn’t want the then 3-year-old Bug to be upset that I suddenly couldn’t pick her up and take care of her the same way I usually did. I wanted to make our transition into a family of four as easy as possible.
Usually when people hear about Bubba’s VBAC birth story, they either tell me it scares them into not wanting to try for a VBAC or they ask if I regret not scheduling a repeat cesarean instead.
I can see why they would think that. From an outsider’s perspective, my c-section was complication free. As far as surgeries go, it was pretty textbook. I healed well and honestly, my scar is barely even visible now. My vaginal birth was long and exhausting. Medical interventions were needed. I pushed for 3 hours. There was tearing (I’ll spare you the gory details). However, even taking all of that into consideration, I would STILL choose the vaginal birth every time because the RECOVERY experience was like night and day.
With my complication-free c-section, I struggled to walk normally for the first week. Even beyond that first week, if I was ever on my feet for too long, the soreness would creep in and I would often find myself hunched over, shuffling like a little old lady. I continued to take pain medications for at least 6 weeks, and many of my earliest memories of motherhood are foggy as a result. I needed help getting in and out of bed and generally struggled to take care of myself and the baby the way I wanted. Now, over five years later, I still have areas around my incision that are completely numb and certain waistbands on clothing cause discomfort and irritation.
With my “scary” vaginal birth, I’ll admit that first day was rough. I was exhausted and sore and generally felt like I had been beaten with a stick. However, I quickly started feeling better. I was walking around within 24 hours after birth - slowly but upright. The only pain medication I needed was ibuprofen and after the first couple of days, I only took one dose at night before bed to help me sleep. I stopped taking pain relievers completely less than 2 weeks after birth. As a matter of fact, Bubba was only 2.5 weeks old when I first took both kids on a fun outing by myself. I’m not sure I can truly express in words how much better and more capable I felt after my vaginal birth. My VBAC was two years ago, and I have had no long-term effects from the tearing or any other part of my vaginal birth.
All births are different, and, as I said before, all women need to make the decision that’s best for themselves and their family. In some cases, that may be a repeat c-section. No matter what priorities and criteria a woman uses to make this choice, her concerns are valid and she needs the most accurate information available to support her decision-making.
No matter what kind of birth you choose, you’re going to want a birth photographer there to capture the story of meeting your new baby for the first time! You can see some examples of my birth photography here.
If you’re considering a VBAC for your next birth, check back later this week for my last Cesarean Awareness Month post: The #1 Thing You Need For a Successful VBAC.
Each April the International Cesarean Awareness Network sponsors Cesarean Awareness Month. According to their website, ICAN is "a non-profit organization whose mission is to improve maternal-child health by reducing preventable cesareans through education, supporting cesarean recovery, and advocating for vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC)."
As a birth photographer and a rockstar c-section mama myself, I know that cesarean births are just as beautiful and powerful and miraculous as any other birth. I also know that c-section moms have a unique struggle in the early postpartum weeks as they try to recover from major abdominal surgery while also adjusting to life with a newborn baby.
I was very fortunate to have a smooth c-section recovery after Bug's birth, and I attribute some of that to a few pieces of great advice from other mothers who had endured this surgery before me. I have compiled the top 3 recovery tips I found most helpful, and whether your c-section is scheduled or unplanned, I hope you find them useful as well.
1. Schedule Your Pain Meds
I am the queen of not taking medicine. I generally hate taking medicine of any kind but especially pain relievers. However, I learned very quickly after my c-section that all of my friends who told me to stay ahead of the pain knew what they were talking about. I still vividly remember one night when Bug was about 5 days old. I woke up in the middle of the night to feed and change her and realized it was time for another dose of my pain relievers. I had left my pill bottle in the kitchen and was feeling okay at the moment, so I decided to go back to sleep instead and take my dose later. It was only a few short hours later that I woke up screaming for my husband to bring me the medicine.
After an informal poll of my fellow c-section mom friends, the general consensus is to set an alarm and take your pain medication on a schedule for at least the first week. After that, you can slowly start stretching out some of the doses and start weaning yourself away from the meds. In my case, it took a full six weeks after Bug's birth before I was able to go a full day without any medication at all.
2. Embrace The Granny Panties
I know. I know. You are a young, amazing, sexy new mama. Granny panties are not your thing. Well, guess what? They're going to be your new best friend. Make sure they're soft and the waist band comes well above your incision site (you don't want to risk them rolling down onto your incision). For the first several days post c-section, I wore the mesh panties you get from the hospital. However, it eventually becomes unreasonable to wear those, but your incision will be tender for quite a while. I honestly can't tell you how long it was before I felt comfortable wearing panties with a lower cut waistband, but it was months. Honestly, even 5 years later, I sometimes find certain types of elastics irritating on my scar after wearing them for a long time. The good news is that high-waisted bikinis are totally in fashion right now, so at least bathing suit season will be one less thing you have to worry about!
3. Give Yourself Grace
Honestly, this one piece of advice could be applied to ALL new moms, but it's particularly important for c-section moms. You are recovering from MAJOR. ABDOMINAL. SURGERY.
You might see Jane NaturalBirth down the street taking her six-day-old baby out for a short walk, but you still can't even stand up straight and need help getting out of bed. That's okay though because...
MAJOR. ABDOMINAL. SURGERY.
It's so important to remember what your body has been through and not try to push yourself to do what you "think" you should be able to do at any point. So you actually have to take people up on those offers to help or clean or cook? That's great! After Bug was born, we had so many friends and family members bring us food that I swear I did not touch my kitchen for a solid month. That meant even more time for me to rest and recuperate and snuggle my perfect new baby girl. My mom usually helped out by cleaning up a little when she came over, and I had friends and cousins who folded loads of laundry while I sat nursing the baby. I give you full permission to pull the "I had major abdominal surgery" card whenever needed - diaper changes, dishes, anything. Honestly, I think we c-section moms should be able to use that card for the full first year - but maybe that's just me.
Now I know you may be struggling with a wide variety of feelings about having a c-section - I know I did - and that's okay! You are allowed to feel however you feel about your birth. I just want to remind you that no matter what happened in the events leading up to your cesarean, you are an amazing mom! You literally laid yourself out on an OR table and allowed yourself to be cut open for the sake of your baby. There's a special kind of beauty and strength in that.
I hope these tips are as helpful in your recovery as they were in mine! If you're a veteran cesarean mama too, share your best recovery tips in the comments!
Are you located in the Lowcountry and currently expecting?
Is your due date in either May or June 2018?
Are you interested in having the birth of your new baby artfully photographed to capture the story of this very important day?
If you answered yes to the questions above, I have an amazing, limited-time offer for you! I am in the process of creating some new promotional material, and I'm looking for 2 or 3 Charleston-area moms who would be willing to sign a model release in exchange for a 50% discount on ANY of my birth photography packages.
It does not matter what type of delivery you are planning: hospital birth, planned csection, home birth, birth center, etc. I think birth is beautiful in all of its forms, and want to represent all moms in my work.
I will not offer a discount like this again in the future, so now is your chance! Keep in mind, I'm only choosing a limited number of moms, so contact me now to make sure you don't miss out on this opportunity!
To apply, click here to go to my Contact form. Please enter your name, email, due date, and where you plan to deliver. I will then email you more information about my packages and planning your consultation.
If you have any questions, you can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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
A door is closing on another year. When each year begins, I always feel like I have a long stretch of time in front of me - a long chapter of my life yet to be written. Then at the end of the year, I always end up thinking to myself, What happened? Where did the year go?
This year has been busier than most for my family. I decided that I wanted to really pursue photography as a career - more specifically, birth photography. I spent this year going to school at night to complete a photography certification program, building a portfolio and website, preparing all of the legal aspects of my business, and finding new clients. If building a business weren't enough, we moved twice this year! My husband and I decided to sell our first home in the spring and build a new house. We are still living in the Charleston, SC area, but we had to move into an apartment between selling our old house and closing on the new. We've been settled in the new house since September, but I just now feel like I'm getting to sit and breathe for a minute. It's been a wild ride.
I wouldn't change it for anything though. I love this crazy life.
This year, I've spent time with several amazing families...
Some of those families were expanding.
Some had recently expanded. I photographed some of the most beautiful babies and kids!
One of the biggest highlights of my year was capturing an unforgettable birth.
Despite the chaos, 2017 has been an amazing year for my family. I hope you close this year with fond memories, but most of all I pray 2018 is full of joy and blessings for all of you... and, of course, I hope you'll consider inviting me in to capture some of those memories. Happy New Year!
This post contains the story of my first child's c-section birth. The photos contained here are NOT examples of my professional work. They were taken by family members, doctors, and nurses who were present at the birth.
I became a mom five years ago today. It seems so strange to me that five whole years have passed since Bug was born. No, Bug is not her real name. It's just a pet name that slipped out one day when she was a tiny baby and it stuck. Her first birthday party was even bug themed (cute girly bugs - not the creepy, crawly kind).
If you read my first blog post about why I decided to become a birth photographer, you already know a little bit about my daughter's birth. It was my first pregnancy and I assumed I would have a natural birth. I wanted a natural birth. I read several books. I watched videos. I took a birth class. I thought I was prepared. The problem was I had prepared for a normal, healthy delivery. It never occurred to me to prepare for major complications or something to go wrong with my pregnancy. I wasn't nearly as ready as I thought.
Almost as soon as I entered my third trimester, my blood pressure started spiking. It didn't stay elevated, so my doctor advised me to stay off my feet as much as possible at work and rest whenever I could. I was an elementary school teacher at the time though, so options for resting were limited.
I also started to notice swelling that continued to get worse as the weeks went on. When I was about 35 weeks pregnant, I suddenly had a horrible headache with prisms in my vision and dizziness. I put in a call to my obstetrician, who advised me to take Tylenol and lay on my left side. I did as I was told and even managed to take a nap for about 2 hours. When I woke up, the prisms were gone, but the headache and dizziness were still present although lessened in severity. I decided to take my blood pressure and discovered it was the highest reading I had ever had even after medication and a nap. I called my OB again, and she told me she would meet me at the hospital. That was the first of what would ultimately be three hospital visits.
Over the next two weeks, I went through a battery of tests from blood and urine tests to NSTs (non-stress tests) and ultrasounds. It was determined that I was right on the borderline for a pre-eclampsia diagnosis. Overall, my daughter seemed to still be healthy in utero, but sometimes showed early signs of distress (hence the second hospital stay which lasted four days). I was on bed rest with regular doctor visits for NSTs and ultrasounds to check on my baby girl.
Once I was back on the ultrasound table, the tech and my husband pushed and poked my belly and talked to her, trying to coax her into moving. She still didn't budge. My OB came in and told me I was being sent to the hospital next door. If my baby didn't start moving in the time it took them to get the paperwork and send me over, I was being put under general anesthesia for a crash c-section.
I called my mom and told her to call everyone and tell them to PRAY AND PRAY HARD. I've never been so thankful to be part of a praying family because it worked! I got to the hospital and as they were hooking me up to the fetal monitors, my baby girl started dancing. She was wiggling and kicking so hard, the nurses couldn't keep the monitors on her. The doctor said the csection wasn't needed immediately, but my induction was starting that night. I hadn't eaten in several hours because we were waiting for the official call on whether or not I would be heading into surgery. I was finally allowed to eat dinner before a nurse came to insert Cervadil. I tried my best to sleep that night, but I was anxious. I woke up early in the morning and had a shower and breakfast before the pitocin started around 7 am. I was only about 1 cm dilated at this point.
Over the next several hours, I managed contractions with support and foot massages from my mom and my best friend, Ashley. My husband was there too and he was as supportive as he could be, but honestly, he was overwhelmed and anxious. He had already been nervous about the birth in general, and now that everything was out of control, he just didn't know what to do.
Around lunch time, the on-call OB came into my room to check me and found that I had progressed to 2 cm. My baby's head was still pretty high in my pelvis though. The doctor thought maybe breaking my water would encourage her to descend and put more pressure on my cervix. Having my water broken intensified the contractions significantly, but I continued on without pain medication. My ability to cope with contractions became more and more difficult as I was limited in my options for moving around. Each time I sat up, my blood pressure would start to rise and a nurse would inevitably come into my room telling me to lay on my left side to bring my pressure back down.
A few hours later, my contractions were coming strong and rapid. I was getting very little, if any, break in between. The doctor came in to check me again, and I remember thinking I can keep going if there's progress. I just need to hear I've made progress.
Nothing. My cervix hadn't budged past 2 cm and my daughter's head was still high in my pelvis. The doctor and nurses tried to joke that I had a "cervix of steel," but I was heartbroken. The doctor told me there were a couple more things she might be able to try to get things moving, but she was limited in her options because of my blood pressure. She said we could keep going and I might still have a vaginal birth or I might end up in an emergency situation ending in a crash csection where my husband and I would both miss the birth of our daughter. My other option was to go ahead and move forward with the csection now. Of course, I was continuing to have back to back contractions while she explained all of this to me. The thought of being under general anesthesia for my daughter's birth terrified me, so I chose to go ahead with the surgery.
This was the one moment when my husband knew exactly what to do. He knew I didn't want surgery. He wrapped his arms around me and let me sob on his shoulder.
Once I had a good cry, I took a deep breath and got ready to meet my baby. I told the hospital staff that I wanted my mom and my husband to be with me in the OR. I wanted someone to be able to stay with me in case they had to take the baby out for some reason and my husband needed to go with her. The nurses brought scrubs for both of them and then wheeled me off to surgery.
I struggled to keep my anxiety in check as I waited to hear that cry. Finally, the doctor said, "Anyone who wants to see her come out, stand up."
Only moments later, I heard the most miraculously beautiful sound. My baby bug announced her presence LOUDLY right from the start. My tears of joy quickly turned to laughter when my husband announced, "She just peed all over you!"
Then the doctor said, "Correction: she peed IN you. We haven't sewn you up yet. Don't worry - it's sterile."
A nurse gave me a brief peek of my daughter past the curtain before they took her to the warmer to clean her up and check her out.
They swaddled her up, brought her over to me for a quick kiss...
Then the nurse announced, "We're taking the baby to the nursery. Anyone not necessary to finish the surgery has to come with me."
We were all stunned. I told them before the surgery that the reason I wanted my mom present was so I had someone who could stay with me. Bug was perfectly healthy and my surgery was moving along normally. There was no reason for the sudden change of plan. My husband and mom hesitantly followed the nurse out of the room, and I was left alone surrounded by strangers talking about a Halloween party during what should have been some of the most beautiful moments of my life.
After my surgery was complete, I was moved to recovery where I was attended by a nurse who seemed annoyed that I constantly asked where my baby was and when I could see her again. After what felt like hours (but was most likely about an hour), my husband walked through the door wheeling my new precious girl in a hospital bassinet. I finally got to properly meet my girl.
In the years since, I've struggled to explain my disappointment in Bug's birth to friends and family. It's not the c-section that really bothers me. Don't get me wrong, recovering from major abdominal surgery when you have a newborn is tough, but I would lay myself out on that table over and over and over again if I thought it was best for one of my babies.
However, I will never be okay with the fact that I wasn't the first person to hold my own daughter. I will never be okay with the fact that I wasn't there to see my husband hold her for the first time. I will never be okay with the fact that my very first moments as a mother were lonely. And you know what? That's okay. I'm allowed to feel both overjoyed with this perfect, healthy little human I created and also disappointed with the events surrounding her arrival.
If I knew then what I know now, I never would have let them take her from the OR. I would have demanded that they put her on my chest for skin to skin time while they finished the surgery. If for some reason I was unable to hold her myself, I would have had my husband hold her until I was moved to recovery. I acted like a prisoner doing as she was told instead of a patient with rights to her own body and her own baby.
For a while after Bug was born, I hated my scar. I hated my body for failing her - not just in birth but before that with my blood pressure and pre-eclampsia. Breastfeeding helped heal some of that. I nursed her for two solid years and it gave me an opportunity to forgive myself.
Bug and I have an incredibly close bond despite my feelings about her birth. She's my quirky, little fairy with a heart of gold, and I thank God every day that I get to be her mommy.
Happy Birthday Bug.
I got into birth photography because I love birth. The act of bringing a new life into this world, no matter how it happens, is always breathtaking for me. Capturing someone's birth story leaves me floating on a cloud for days. It is always an honor to be invited into one of the most sacred moments someone will ever experience.
There are some births, however, that are extra special. This is one of those times. This beautiful mama, Charity, is a friend from my very first teaching job almost 10 years ago. We attended each other's weddings and saw each other almost daily for two years. When I got married and moved, we kept in touch here and there through social media. My heart broke for her as she shared some of her journey through infertility and ultimately, IVF (in-vitro fertilization). I prayed for her and her husband many times, and I was thrilled (I may have squealed) when they announced their IVF cycle was successful. You can only imagine my excitement when they invited me to photograph the birth of this long awaited little girl.
I texted with Charity the night she checked into the hospital to prepare for induction. I had my mom on call to watch my kids when I needed to head to the hospital, and we waited. And waited some more. It seemed induction wasn't working right away. They stayed a second night in the hospital and early the following morning, the doctors were finally able to get things moving.
I sent my kids to grandma's house for the day and planned to run a couple of errands while I waited for "the call" letting me know it was time to head to the hospital. I had just walked through the doors of my very first stop when I got a call that things were moving pretty fast. I was a little nervous because I live and hour and a half (without traffic) to the hospital where she was delivering. Thankfully, I made it at the perfect time!
When I arrived shortly after 11 A.M., Charity had opted to get an epidural and was trying to get some rest before the main event. She had been checked recently and was dilated 9 centimeters.
I chatted with her husband, Mark, and caught up on life since we had last seen each other. Mark's mom was also there. She sat with Charity most of the time holding her hand and watching the monitor.
About an hour after I arrived, a nurse came in to perform a cervical check and declared it was time to push!
After about 45 minutes of pushing, the beautiful Arabella was welcomed earthside at 1:01 P.M. I was struggling to hold back my own tears, so I was just praying my photography skills were enough to work through blurred vision.
Being a birth photographer has its challenges: on call life, never knowing how long you'll be present at a birth, marketing in a culture that doesn't always view birth with the same reverence I feel... It's all hard, but being a witness and capturing the miraculous never ceases to overflow my cup with joy.
"Whenever and however you intend to give birth, your experience will impact your emotions, your mind, your body, and your spirit for the rest of your life." - Ina May Gaskin
When I first started thinking about becoming a birth photographer, I received a variety of reactions.
Oh! That's interesting!
The reaction from everyone who knows me well, however, was pretty much the same.
Oh my gosh! That's perfect for you! It makes so much sense!
If you've read my bio on my website, you know that I have always been the person with a camera ready to photograph life. Photography seemed like a no-brainer, but figuring out WHAT to photograph was my sticking point.
Even just 5 years ago, when I gave birth to my daughter, I didn't really know birth photography was a "thing." I had seen beautiful photographs from births in all of my research and reading during pregnancy, but I just assumed those mothers were lucky to have friends or family present who happened to be photographers. It wasn't until later that I realized there is an entire industry of professional photographers who specialize in capturing birth stories.
That's when this idea started growing. You see, when I was younger, I had a fascination with birth that was unusual for my age. When aunts or cousins were pregnant, I always asked a lot of questions and was enthralled when I was invited to feel a belly with a baby rolling around inside. In a class in high school, we were required to watch a birth video. While the rest of the class cringed, I sat in awe of how perfectly the female body was designed for birth.
Then in 2012, I had my first child and I realized just how important birth photography can be. The end of my pregnancy became complicated very quickly. I developed gestational hypertension in my third trimester which was rapidly heading into pre-eclampsia territory. I was in and out of the hospital for a couple of weeks before doctors decided it was time for my sweet girl to meet the world. The induction was a pretty spectacular failure, and I ended up in the OR.
I was completely unprepared for this turn of events. I had spent my entire pregnancy planning and mentally preparing for a normal vaginal delivery. Surgery just wasn't on my radar. As a result, I was at the mercy of the hospital staff. My daughter was born perfectly healthy. They showed her to me briefly before they whisked away my husband, my mom, and my daughter. I was left alone in the OR with a bunch of strangers begging for someone to tell me what was going on with my baby.
I missed so much. My husband held our daughter for the first time (the first baby he had ever held) while I was still in the OR, and I don't have a single picture to show for it. Our families watched through the nursery window as she was weighed, measured, and foot-printed, and I missed all of it.
I finally met my daughter about an hour or so after she was born, and I'm so thankful my doctor grabbed my camera and began snapping pictures because I honestly don't remember it. I have some fuzzy memories from those first moments holding my daughter, but most of them have been lost in the haze of anesthesia.
By the time I was pregnant with my second baby, I had quit my full time job to stay at home. We couldn't afford both a doula and a birth photographer. Since I was planning a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean), I really wanted a doula to help me navigate this birth. However, I still desperately wanted pictures. I sat down with my mom, my husband, and my doula during my third trimester and expressed to them how important photos were to me. I told them my camera would be available to any one of them at any time. I told them to take pictures of everything.
They listened. They took turns with the camera throughout my labor and delivery. Unfortunately, I went through a long, exhausting 50 hour labor and delivery.
I am so incredibly thankful for the pictures I do have, but I often wish I had been able to hire a birth photographer. Someone who hadn't been awake with me for 2 straight days. Someone with a fresh perspective.
The births of both of my children changed me. They taught me about myself: my strengths and the lengths I would go for the sake of my babies. They were the two most life-changing experiences of my life, and I will forever wish they had been captured with the same reverence I feel when I think back on those days.
I chose birth photography because it combines two things I'm passionate about: art and motherhood. However, I also don't want anyone else to miss moments like I did. I want every mother to be able to look back and see the combination of her own strength and vulnerability. I want her to look back on the way her partner stroked her hair and stared at her in adoration. I want her to be able to see the look on her own face when she laid eyes on her precious baby for the first time. I want to capture all births with the reverence that bringing new life into the world deserves.