You guys… I had another baby! He is the boy to my girl and our family is officially complete. He is currently making dinosaur sounds between the boob buffet. To say we are obsessed is an understatement. On top of that I had the successful unmedicated VBAC I dreamed of.
After spending my entire pregnancy hoping for a VBAC (vaginal birth after c-section) with very little confidence from doctors. In the spirit of liking things that are passive, I wanted limited intervention in my birth experience.
Ultimately IT HAPPENED. To everyone’s surprise, and my husband’s complete shock & terror. I can officially compare the two birth experiences and share what I learned and what I did to get it, because I now how desperate other moms can be (I was one of them!). I’m hoping this will offer insight and inspiration to other struggling mamas. Ok let’s get started with a little background info so you can understand what I was up against.
My first birth experience
Before the birth of my daughter, I watched The Business of Being Born (a few times). It left me stunned for so many reasons but ultimately convinced me I want a natural, unmedicated birthing experience. No epidural, no pitocin, and definitely no c-section.
But all those birth plans we write and design and consider laminating or tattooing on our arm almost never go exactly as we imagine them. I was comfortable going with the flow but never even considered having a c-section. I was completely uninterested.
So as a first time mom-to-be, when my water broke while on a middle-of-the-night pee run at 38+5 at about 130AM. I wasn’t sure if it was actually my “water” since I was there, you know, peeing, but I had an appointment that coming afternoon around 230 so I went to work. 🥴
No contractions through the night or the first half of my day, just some leakage which is gross but not uncommon.
Mentioned my potty break to the doctor so she swabbed me for amniotic fluid and “yep. head to the hospital”. At that point my water had been broken just over 12 hours. Around 5 or 6pm that night my contractions had started but I wasn’t dilating as they hoped so they recommended induction which I was starkly against.
The B of BB covered the effects of Pitocin (the typical induction drug) and I was less than thrilled. I wanted alllllll natural, and Pitocin artificially induces contractions which are a) more painful which is b) more stressful for the baby and c) usually begets an epidural which d) makes pushing more difficult because you can’t feel anything.
I pushed for hours. Like over 4 hours. I had them lessen the epidural load and I waited for the “urge to push” but it never came. The staff that day gave a strong impression of not wanting to be there (it was a Saturday) and the support was gone. I was advised to get the c-section and I was pisssssedddddddd.
Whatever, baby is born. She’s perfect. I’m alive. It’s over.
But wait! There’s more…
The epidural + c-section come with a colostomy bag and full blow paralysis from the waist down. I was confined to a bed for another 30 hours or more. Filthy. Sweaty. Wishing I had fought daddy for that Chick-Fil-A meal I wanted on the way there….
I already didn’t want visitors on day one, but now I had a bloody bag of pee hanging off my bed. There was apparently some sort of tear towards my cervix (??) which they thought was a nick in my bladder. It was a mess. I was even more pissed and just wanted to leave.
But c-section deliveries require you to stay longer. We stayed an extra 2 nights after baby girl was born but it would’ve been 3! We ran out of there. Actually, I was wheeled and still barely walking after major abdominal surgery!
*The Business of Being Born used to be free and on YouTube, but not anymore. You can buy or rent it and I definitely recommend doing so! It is well worth the $3 or whatever.
What is a VBAC and why do I want one?
I like to think it’s pretty self-explanatory, but for Google’s sake:
A VBAC or vaginal birth after c-section is literally that. There’s only two ways to have a baby: vaginally or surgically. My childless friend heard “you’re going back to the V” and pretty much, yeah.
Having a VBAC was a high priority of mine for a couple reasons.
- I wanted one so bad the first time around and felt jipped
- I was chasing that natural childbirth flood of hormones which they say is amazing for bonding
- All of the women in my family had natural or at least vaginal deliveries so I was confident that it was possible for me and my frame
- I did NOT want another c-section if I could help it. I hated the recovery and generally everything about it but primarily the fact that I didn’t want the damn thing and felt bullied into it.
- Personal experience. I like first hand knowledge of things and hate relying on hearsay. In other words, I wanted to share the comparison with you!
Risks of getting a VBAC
Every birth runs some risks, but a VBAC is risky for a few major reasons: placental abruption and arrested descent
My doctors were afraid that I would suffer both or at the very least one of those. My past experience (the random tear and “arrest of descent” as they claimed it was) made me higher risk.
I googled the factors that make someone a good or bad candidate for a VBAC and it’s not all readily available info. Here’s what I learned!
There’s a score that is calculated. 1-100. Anything under 60 mean there is less than a 60% chance of a successful vbac and doctor’s won’t waste their time (that’s the impression I got and it makes sense).
I scored a 59.something. All I know is that it rounded up. Things that hurt my score:
- Being white (yes. ethnic women have a better chance of delivering vaginally. I am practically a pilgrim.)
- Weight gain from my last pregnancy (I packed on close to 55lbs)
- time spent pushing/arrested descent (nearly 4 hours, i guess. They assumed my pelvis wasn’t the proper shape and/or size)
- complications with my c-section (that pesky internal tear)
In my case, the risks I was warned of were
- arrest of descent (baby won’t come down far enough)/placental abruption (tearing up inside you, uncontrollable bleeding) –> emergency c-section –> knocked tf out for delivery (unless epidural is already in place) –> no meeting baby at birth
- arrest of descent/placental abruption –> death on route to emergency c-section (me and/or baby)
This is some scary stuff! I won’t deny that. But the reality is that these risks are real across the board. The doctors are just better at identifying the potential for them and avoiding it. My husband was more scared than I was. I could feel my ability in my bones. I can’t explain it any other way.
Discussing VBAC with my doctor
My initial new pregnancy visits were with my first doctor, and by the end of the appointment I was told “Ok you’re due on the 13th, so we’ll schedule your c-section around—-” I quit listening and ignored that sentiment. It was early on and I decided to discuss it later.
So when I went in for a random infection a few weeks later, I mentioned my VBAC goals and was looked at like I had 3 heads. Not only did I get the impression that she thought I was crazy, I think she thought I was stupid. You can’t deny that vibe.
It turns out, that office doesn’t do VBACs. It’s against their insurance policy or something. #notmyproblem
So I searched for a new OB/GYN through my insurance app and left messages asking if they performed VBACs or not.
Finding a VBAC friendly physician
Before I got wise to checking with my insurance, I googled “VBAC friendly doctors near me” and the list was nice and long. That’s when I weeded out the ones that weren’t in-network.
After making about 3 calls, every office that called me back said yes, if they had a good candidate.
I went with the first one that called me back because I’m busy ok!? And they were welcoming of me and my strong stance. Although in hindsight I’ve realized that Obstetricians are surgeons and c-sections are their bread and butter. If I had to do it again, I’d go with a midwife at a birth center.
During my appointments, I pretty much refused to “agree” to a c-section and completely avoided the conversation after expressing my desire for a VBAC. When it did come up, it was lightly discussed as risky but I calmly (irrationally?) told them this pregnancy was different and I wanted to ride it out until I was proven otherwise.
I was gaining less weight. It was all belly. I was doing yoga lol.
PLUS, we had months to go. I wasn’t about to throw my goal away without a good reason. At one point, I was receiving calls from the office insisting I reschedule to talk to a specific doctor and I just knew they wanted to tell me to let that dream die. I told them to stop beating a dead horse and let me “believe it was going to work out” even if they were completely against it.
After my first experience, I realized they call a lot of shots in the moment. There is an illusion of choice and they can be incredibly convincing when they want to be.
It was decided that I would wait for natural labor to start until my due date and if baby wasn’t there we would have the c-section. Deal.
My favorable cervix
It’s so weird to talk about it like that, but my first physician gave me an A+ in the anatomy department because, like I said, my body was built for this. Although I have a friend who’s had every “unfavorable” trait in the book and she still had a VBAC.
But at almost 35 weeks, I was already 3cm dilated. Because of that, my doctor was much more confident. The thought of letting me “try” was more realistic and the idea of me accidentally dropping a baby while I was grocery shopping was too.
I walked around for weeks thinking I would go into labor at any moment. Dr. Google says labor begins within hours to weeks of being confirmed 3cm dilated.
I was a ticking time bomb. But being mid-pandemic obviously had some curveballs to sneak it.
How COVID-19 affected my birth plan
A chance encounter at the park informed me of some COVID considerations for delivery these days. I was going to need a negative covid test before my husband could join me, and the wait for a so/called “rapid” test is 3 hours!!!
So women are going into labor, showing up at the hospital, and left alone without a birth partner for at least 3 hours waiting for a negative test (and praying it doesn’t come back as a false [or real!!] positive).
Obviously I was not very comfortable with that and I wanted to avoid that scenario. I talked to my doctor about it, and the deal is this:
- the test has to be within 5 days of admittance to the hospital
- the birth partner doesn’t need a test (if you’re negative the must be, I guess)
- You can only get a test in advance if you are scheduled for an induction or c-section.
So I put my c section on the books and scheduled it for my due date like I agreed and booked a test appointment at the hospital.
That was Monday morning, the 10th.
Later that night, shortly after me and the fam fell asleep, my water broke and woke me up! It was almost midnight and there was no question this time. My water broke. It felt like I peed the bed, and it kept leaking out. There was no “holding it”. I’m so happy we have a waterproof mattress protector.
Pro-tip: get a waterproof mattress protector for pregnancy and throughout the baby phase. We have this one which doesn’t feel like a tarp under your sheets. (yay)
I waited for contractions and they were happening! So I woke up my husband and texted my mom to code word (“neopolitan”). Then a transformer blew and we lost power. Ha! I packed my bag in the dark and grabbed our big girl’s go-bag.
The room where it happened
When we got to the hospital, thankfully prepared for the COVID precautions, I waddled in to announce my obvious labor and get checked out alone. I was horrified that my test was positive or that I would need to take another one (it really hurt! omg no thank you). Amongst all the questions I was asked, I eagerly injected my VBAC dreams just like I did in almost every prenatal appointment. At this point it was part of my natural conversation with medical professionals.
I was already 6 centimeters dilated and pushing (breathing?) through contractions like I was born to do it. 😉 So the staff heard me loud and clear.
Unfortunately the doctor on call was one of the two from my OB staff who were not thrilled about my strong desire and was openly against my choice. However, I was blessed with a trio of nurses beyond my wildest dreams.
After my COVID test from that morning was confirmed to be negative (!!) I was moved to a standard l+d room and my husband was given the green light to come to the birthday party. That’s when the contractions started to get a little wild.
The pain of natural child birth
According to the pros, the transitional phase of labor starts around 7 centimeters. And lets just say they are pros for a reason and that was completely true in my case. By the time Tano got to the room, my contractions were serious and strong.
My angry OB was on the way and had already been clear on her stance: get ready for another c-section. She was anything but encouraging and supportive. In her perfect world, I would get the epidural and start prepping for a c-section before she got to the hospital. Over the phone, she asked me if I really understood the risk (“you’re probably gonna die”) which I did. It wasn’t easy facing my own mortality with a new baby on the way, but I did and I still knew that this was what I wanted.
Until the contractions began to rock me. I told Tano I think I want the epidural and to just go on with a c-section. He agreed since he had been scared I would die (one of our more romantic moments ❤️) so I told nurse #1 that I was giving up…
She left the room and came back with fiery, supportive nurse #2 who had experience standing up to my angry OB. She ended up being the doula I wish I had hired and I am forever grateful to her. Sweet Marie. Ugh love her. She busted through the doors and assured me I had already gone through the hardest part. It hurts but we’re strong.
The contractions hurt like hell and the epidural was already on the way. In between them is a quick bout of relief but I had the undeniably urge to crap the pants I wasn’t wearing. I was leaking amniotic fluid and practically screaming in pain. I remembered my first labor and the epidural. It takes a solid 10 minutes to perform one. Which means at least 2 or 3 contractions. I would need to sit still for that long and it was impossible.
I tried to sit up and squealed to lay back down because he was coming.
Within 4 hours of my water breaking, 2 hours of getting to the hospital, 1 hour of getting to the delivery suite, and about 20 minutes of pushing with contractions, my baby boy practically fell out of me. He’s healthy and perfect and we all survived.
Tano had the hardest time. No doubt.
C-Section vs VBAC – Which is worse?
Both have their pros and cons. Period. But because this is supposed to be informative, let me break them down for you from my perspective.
- Quick and “clean”
- Least stressful option for mom & baby
- easily prepared for
- no risk of tearing or episiotomy
- longer short-term disability pay (8 weeks versus 6 for vaginal birth!)
- separated from baby during the transition to recovery
- confined to a bed and catheter for at least another 24 hours
- general surgery risk
- longer recovery period
- attempt to avoid surgical risk
- natural endorphins
- less interference with the completely normal birth process
- contraction pain subsides almost completely during pushing
- standing/walking within hours
- immediate skin to skin contact and no separation during recovery
- full blown labor pain
- risk of emergency c-section
- generally unsupported by medical professionals
- risk of episiotomy/tearing
- scary (?)
The math works out in favor of c-sections and I can see the appeal. I really can. It’s very straightforward and gets the job done. There’s no question of whether or not your lady bits will go back to normal or whether your birth story will be dramatic or not.
But if you’re like me and aren’t afraid of a different set of risk factors, then there is no comparison to a VBAC. There’s just something about doing it the old fashioned way that always intrigues me. I wouldn’t change it for the world.
I am so happy I was able to go through the authentic childbirth experience with no meds, but that’s me and I completely understand why people don’t. It’s messy and it’s painful. There’s a ton of uncertainty and it could be considered a gamble. But I am so happy to have the insight into both because…
They both suck.
When it comes to childbirth, the prize is the baby and no longer being pregnant lol!
Recovery is rough both ways.
The first time, I hated that I couldn’t sit up without rolling to my side for weeks. The pain of the incision and the realization of my abdominal muscles being sliced apart was really upsetting. I was livid when they prescribed me oxycontin for pain relief. If you ask me, pregnant women are the last people who should be getting that addictive trash. Then they wonder why there’s an epidemic. I cannot.
The second time, I got an episiotomy which isn’t awesome but I’m sure she only did it to avoid any risk she could. And I’m sure it would’ve been a mess down there regardless. I’m pretty sure I popped a stitch while sneezing and it took a full 3 months before things felt normal down there. Also, the first couple days after had my butt hurting soooo bad.
At the end of the day, I still prefer the VBAC. I lean on the natural side and really hated being numbed to oblivion with the c-section. I also love the bonding aspect that is afforded with a natural birth.
Having said that
I need to wrap this up, but I hope you feel empowered or at least a little more educated on the unmedicated VBAC approach. I am so grateful to have the experience in my personal dossier. I believe having babies is such a tremendous event for every woman and we deserve to have more of a say than traditional doctors would let us believe.
If you want to go full blown primal with an unmediated VBAC like me, then you have my support 10000% and I hope you have the birth experience you hope for!