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 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.