This is the year for VBACs in my doula practice. I love supporting VBAC mamas; they have this special zing and purpose about them. I suppose hindsight is 20/20 and so these women approach birthing, the second time, being more informed and prepared.
In 2010, The American Congress of Obstetricians & Gynecologist (ACOG) issued Practice Bulletin No. 115, replacing Bulletin No. 45 which included the infamous requirement of doctors to be “immediately available” which resulted in a fire of VBAC bans to rage around the country, but primarily in rural areas. ACOG’s current position is supportive of VBACs stating that VBAC is a “safe and appropriate choice for most women” with one prior cesarean and for “some women” with two prior cesareans. Being pregnant with twins, going over 40 weeks, having an unknown or low vertical scar, or suspecting a “big baby” should not prevent a woman from planning a VBAC (ACOG, 2010). That is great news across the country and I anticipate the Cesarean rate to low overall.
The risk of uterine rupture with one prior low-transverse uterine scar is low, 0.5% to 0.9% so for those considering a VBAC, read Katie’s inspiring birth story and the steps she took to ensure VBAC success!
The Previous Cesarean
From my 20-week ultrasound on, I knew that I would be having a scheduled Cesarean Section with our first baby girl, Daphne. Due to a defect in her abdominal wall that would require surgery, the doctors recommended that a Cesarean was the safest way for her to be born. I was heartbroken, fearing that it would pave the way for my subsequent births.
Daphne’s birth was an emotional experience because there were so many unknowns about her health. I felt very detached from the birthing process, since I didn’t “birth” my baby. I was not an active participant in her birth at all. We got a brief glimpse of her after she was born and she was immediately whisked off to the NICU for evaluation and prep for surgery. It wasn’t until the next day that I got to hold her while she was hooked to monitors, IV’s, and tubes, and several days later began to breastfeed. While my C-section recovery was uneventful and fairly smooth, it was still a grueling and painful process. I couldn’t function normally for a long time and it took a significant amount of time for my body to heal.
Selecting the Birth Team for the Second Pregnancy
When we found out we were expecting our second baby, I knew immediately that I wanted something different from my first experience. I’ve always known and trusted my body to be an amazing thing, created with everything needed to successfully birth a baby. Even though it was explained to me over and over again by medical professionals that a C-section was just as safe as a vaginal birth, I felt that it couldn’t be, since my body was designed to birth babies. I felt like I had missed out on a fundamental part of being a woman by not being allowed to go through the process of birthing my baby and that I missed an important step in bonding with my baby in the process.
Nearing the end of my pregnancy I searched the Internet for resources in the LA area and I kept coming across the names of several people who were active advocates for VBAC births, one of whom was a doula in the South Bay area named Patricia Grube. I had never heard of a doula before and began looking into it. As I talked things over with my husband, we decided that a doula would be instrumental in helping us achieve a successful VBAC birth by helping us navigate the complicated medical system and firm up our expectations and desires for birth. We chose Patricia as our doula after interviewing several doulas and felt she was the right fit for us. I became dedicated to attending her prenatal yoga classes at Yoga Works, which helped me prepare mentally, physically, and emotionally for the VBAC.
I also knew that finding the right doctor and hospital would instrumental for a successful VBAC. Patricia and members form my church all recommended Dr. Donna Richey. She was respectful of my wishes to move around during labor and as a result, I believe the hospital staff, knowing her style and preferences, respected those more “alternative” aspects of my birth plan.
Day One of Labor – Thursday
On the morning labor began, I was awakened around 3:00 a.m. on March 7th with cramping and discomfort. I tried to shrug it off and ignore it, thinking and hoping it was just some indigestion or maybe some stronger Braxton Hicks contractions. They kept me awake on and off until morning when I realized they were coming every 10-15 minutes or so. I called Patricia then the doctor’s office. They requested I go to the hospital for an initial reading to verify I was in labor. I went to the hospital with mildly uncomfortable contractions, which they ended up timing at 7-10 minutes apart, but with only fingertip dilation and 60% effaced. Meanwhile, my husband, Van, made arrangements to return home from his business trip and to be home by that evening.
I continued with the same cramping feeling throughout the day, with some a little more intense than others and the pressure and discomfort increasing through the evening. Since it was still quite manageable, I decided to drive to the airport to pick up Van, however, during the hour that I ended up driving around and waiting for him in the car, the discomfort intensified. We made it home and decided to head to bed and get whatever rest we could. After going to bed at about 11:30 p.m., I woke up around midnight, unable to manage the contractions lying down. I decided to let Van sleep and managed early labor on my own, finding that being on my feet was the most comfortable. I tried to sleep on the couch, sitting up a little and also leaning over the arm of a large comfy chair to preserve my energy. I spent the time blowing up my birth ball and testing it out to manage contractions. I took a warm bath and had candles lit around me to help me relax, which was wonderfully soothing. I eventually determined that the most comfortable thing for me was to lean against something while doing a figure 8 with my hips.
Day Two of Labor – Friday
As Friday morning approached, I began timing the contractions again and felt they were getting more consistent and uncomfortable. By late morning, Patricia made her way over to our house. My 2 ½ yr old daughter had woken up and was bouncing around the house, climbing on me during contractions and wanting to play with the birthing ball. With everyone awake and lots going on, my contractions spaced back out to about 7-10 minutes apart. Van cooked me some breakfast and continued to do hip squeezes through each contraction. His support was amazing throughout the labor process. He rubbed my shoulders, stroked my face and caressed my back and arms. He was constantly by me and I didn’t want him anywhere else. We slow danced through a lot of contractions with me hanging on his shoulders.
Patricia suggested we try to nap. Van and I both reclined on the couch a bit and were able to nap briefly—about 30 minutes, before contractions began waking me again. Daphne and my cousin left, and I was able to relax a little more, knowing that Daphne was taken care of and would not be a distraction. I remember trying hard to focus on the contractions being productive and bringing me closer to my baby, rather than the discomfort I was feeling. Patricia had recommended listening to my relaxing playlist that I had put together with jazz and classical. I enjoyed singing along to some of my favorite songs. I remember crying with joy as Van and I embraced and I looked at our family photos on the wall, realizing that soon there would be another sweet little girl to add to them and that what I was experiencing was bringing her closer to us. I also cried joyfully as I listened to the words of Iz’s version of “What a Wonderful World” when he sings about babies crying and watching them grow, excitedly anticipating our new little one.
Patricia suggesting that we try going up and down the stairs. My body fell into a pretty good routine of getting through one trip up and down before I would have a contraction. I was breathing heavily through each one and vocalizing to help me manage it. Patricia was wonderful, giving me suggestions of things to do to help labor progress a little more quickly and help with my comfort. When I would start to lose control during contractions, she would help me to focus and clam myself by reminding me to breathe, keep my vocalizing grounded and low instead of high pitched, and often moaning along with me. It was hard to know what I wanted and what would help me, but each of her suggestions were wonderful, from food, to music, to essential oils to ease nausea and give energy.
I remember feeling discouraged as the evening wore on and the hours went by and things weren’t progressing very quickly. I was getting exhausted but was petrified to lie down since it seemed that it brought them on more strongly. I also started to feel a great deal of pelvic and rectal pressure. I told Patricia and she had me sit on the toilet for several contractions, when finally I started to have some bloody show.
The contractions were 3 to 4 minutes apart and we decided to make our way to the hospital. We arrived at about 10:00 p.m. and I was dilated to 4 ½ centimeters, 75% effaced, and -1 station. My night nurse was wonderful, allowing me to move around freely while still being hooked up to the monitors. She also never once asked me to rate my pain or about pain medication. My contractions were continuing to get stronger and more painful, sometimes lasting several minutes and I was starting to feel extremely tired.
Day Three of Labor – Saturday, Birth Day!
In the early morning hours, as I was laboring on the birth ball with Van behind me to support me, I was falling asleep between intense contractions. I would nod off and Van would catch me and make sure I didn’t fall. I began to feel as though there would be no way I would make it to the end if it weren’t close. I told Van and Patricia that I really wanted to consider the epidural and asked the nurse to check me to see where I was. I was at 6cm with a bulging bag of waters, having progressed only 1 cm from the last exam I had had 4 hours previous. Since things were progressing so slowly, we decided to go ahead with a light dose epidural, which allowed us all to rest for several hours.
The night shift doctor came in to see me before her shift ended. She discussed breaking my water in order to progress labor. She said several things that seemed threatening about my lack of progress and needing to hurry things up or they’d need to do a C-section. She asked how big my baby was estimated at…luckily Dr. Richey had not recorded an estimate on my chart. This doctor tried to find my water bag, and was unable to locate it. I had felt several gushes throughout the evening and perhaps my waters already broke? We discussed the possibility of doing a small dose of Pitocin, but I decided to wait a little longer. My contractions had spaced again to 4-5 minutes apart. My new nurse Fereshteh (which means “angel”) came in to do a vaginal exam and I was dilated 7-8 cm and the baby was at zero station! I remember loving my epidural because I could still feel and move my legs, but was relieved of the pain. I could still feel intense pressure, however, which I preferred so that I could know how things were progressing.
By 10:45 a.m. I was beginning to feel intense rectal pressure, like I needed to go to the bathroom. A vaginal exam showed that I was 8 ½ cm dilated and 100% effaced. At this time Patricia had me on my side moving my leg up and down, hoping to open things up. I focused on relaxing and visualizing my cervix opening and the baby moving down. My contractions continued to be spaced a little further out than was desirable as I was continuing to feel increasing pressure, and Patricia and I discussed the benefits of introducing a low dose of Pitocin to bring them closer together to help with the pushing phase. At 11:45 a.m. they gave me the lowest dose of Pitocin and my contractions quickly moved to every 3 minutes apart. By noon, I felt stronger rectal pressure that I had read about in other birth stories and knew that I needed and wanted to push. I was asked to blow through my contractions, which in my mind at the time was the most ridiculous thing anyone could request of me, the urge to push with them was so very strong. I was checked and I was 9 ½ cm dilated. Ferry turned off the Pitocin and by 12:15 p.m., I could no longer hold off pushing. Ferry checked me again and I was finally dilated to 10 cm and the baby was at +1 station. The new hospitalist, Dr. Mimi Hong was not available as she was delivering another baby and I was again asked to blow through several more contractions. I was angry and remember shooting a death glance towards Patricia, who whispered to me that anyone could catch the baby. Blowing through the contractions was impossible and I ended up pushing through parts of several I was asked to resist. Finally, at 12:25 p.m. Dr. Hong became available and I was told I could actively push. I did so on my side for a while and then in a semi-reclined position. During this time my epidural was turned off, although I hadn’t felt like it was doing too much in the time prior to that.
The Final Push!
As we waited for the pushing contractions to start, I remember looking up at Van and saying that maybe God would bless us to have a short pushing phase since the rest of my labor had been so very long, and silently praying that it would be so. Although I could fully feel the contractions coming on, all I wanted was for the nurses and Patricia to tell me when to push and for how long. It was wonderful to hear them cheering me on and telling me what a great job I was doing. I couldn’t care less who was in the room or what else was going on, I was very focused on just pushing and getting my baby girl here as quickly as I could. It was still very surreal to me that it was really happening. They gave me oxygen as one point during the pushing process, which helped me to breathe more deeply. After one of my pushes they all said they could see the head. I could feel it, like a bowling ball between my legs, but again, it was difficult to grasp and I remember asking if she was really there. Patricia told me to reach down and touch her head, which I did. It helped give me motivation and strength for those final pushes. Right before my final contraction that brought her out, my playlist got to one of my favorite songs from labor, Iz’s version of “What a Wonderful World/ Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. On March 9th, at 12:49 p.m., our baby girl Rowan Jane Willis was born! She weighed 8 lbs, 13 oz and was 21 inches long with a 14” head! They placed her directly on my chest where I could cuddle her and look at her. I was still in disbelief, but it was heavenly and we were elated. The doctor allowed the cord to pulsate completely before Van cut it and I was able to easily deliver the placenta without any Pitocin. The baby breastfed right away on her own and it was lovely to just be together and delaying all routine baby interventions until after the Golden Hour.
We are thrilled to have her here and especially grateful that our VBAC Birth Plan was so closely followed and respected and that things went so well considering the circumstances. My recovery has been amazing in comparison to my c-section and I really felt back to normal, minus the sleep deprivation, after about 2 weeks!
I know that we were guided in this process to the right people to help us achieve a peaceful, healthy birth for our baby. I’ve been reflecting on the whole process and am amazed by the positive feelings I have about it all, despite the pain I experienced and how long and exhausting it was. I have been thinking back fondly on how grateful I felt for everyone that helped and supported me during labor. I felt such intense love for Van as he supported me through such a long process and watched me go through such a physically intense experience. I am so grateful for the experience I had and especially for the sweet baby girl that it brought to our family!