This is a long birth story. It wasn’t the sublime, intervention-free VBAC I envisioned. In fact, a lot of it went terribly for me, and I’m still upset about some of it. But, when all is said and done, I pushed my son out of my body under my own power. And that is worth a lot of sacrifice that went on that day. *Warning: don’t read my birth story if you are doing Hypnobabies. I fully believe in the efficacy of Hypnobabies, but let me just say: it takes a LOT of concentration and effort. It does work, though.* Second minor warning – I used profanity during labor, and I use it here too.
To fully appreciate everything that happened during Axel’s birth, there’s a bit of background information. Feel free to skip this paragraph if you like, but it’s important to why I hate/distrust hospitals. My first son’s birth was a totally unnecessary c-section. Brief summary: I was very uncomfortable during my 39th week, my midwife (a hospital based CNM) repeatedly advised me to drink castor oil to “get things started” and swept my membranes, despite a very unripe cervix. I finally drank the castor oil and eventually, DH and I went to the hospital. I was 1 centimeter. Instead of sending me home – it was 1am – my MW admitted me. Now I’m certain that she just wasn’t going to go home – I was having that baby, despite all indications of my body not being in “real” labor. It was my first labor, and I didn’t know anything. I trusted my MW completely, and I really liked her. Anyway, I got two hours of walking time – then she broke my water. She checked me an hour later – not enough progress. Time to start pitocin: “Just a tiny amount should get things going.” Never told me that starting pitocin also included internal fetal monitoring and an IV – I figured that out when they happened. She checked me every hour after that for 8 hours, and each time I was not progressing fast enough (big duh, as I was now essentially stuck in the bed hooked up to a bunch of wires from various places), so she turned up the pitocin. Finally she announced to me that my son was “stuck” and I needed a c-section. There was a fair amount of manipulation involved in convincing me to have the section, like when I asked “So is the baby okay – I mean, is he in distress?” she told me “Well, not this second, but he’s probably going to go into distress soon” and when I wanted to wait on the section a bit longer, conveniently the OB from her practice was there (doing a circ, of all things) and more than happy to “help” me out. The surgery itself was traumatizing too. But the important thing to know is that I came out of that experience with an awful lot of hospital anxiety and mistrust of medical staff in general and hospital staff in particular. I learned that hospital and OB personnel will muscle you into whatever they want.
So, fast forward 3 years, and I want my VBAC. I want a birth center VBAC (or even an HBAC) more than anything, but midwives cannot attend VBACs in this state at the moment. So, an OB at the hospital is what I get. Now, there are several OB’s in this story, so I’ll lay out their info clearly so you can follow the messed up shit that happened at the hospital.
Dr. A: when DH and I first got pregnant, we went to him – he’s got the best VBAC rate and is widely reputed as a “really good doctor” although he’s got “no bedside manner.” What that really means is that he’s a total fucking asshole. There was a lot of pain and stuff from his pelvic exams that brought up past trauma, etc, but anyway, when an ultrasound in his office revealed no heartbeat on my 7 week fetus, he referred to is as a “dead baby.” Repeatedly. So that’s the kind of guy Dr. A is.
Dr. B: when the miscarriage turned into a missed miscarriage by week 11, I sought an evaluation (and D&C) from Dr. B – I was NEVER going back to Dr. A again. During our office visit, it was revealed that Dr. B also did VBACs, but on a case by case basis. So he became my OB for Axel’s pregnancy and birth. By the time I was full term, he knew my neuroses and hospital anxiety so well, and I really trusted him. He wouldn’t force me into a saline lock or constant EFM (both hospital policies he was going to back me on instead), no hourly cervical checks, and he had his own no pitocin policy. He even had a bit of a sense of humor – a total bonus in an OB.
Dr. S: When I called around to see which doctors offered VBACs, before I even got pregnant with my miscarriage, this is what Dr. S’s office said: “A vaginal birth after c-section? Why would you want to do that? A c-section is so much easier!” Yeah. ‘Nuff said about her.
Okay, so here we are. It took over a year to get pregnant again after the miscarriage. I’ve worked hard my whole pregnancy for this VBAC to succeed. I have little faith in the hospital or the medical establishment in helping me. But I got a great doula (Farrah) and I did Hypnobabies, and I drank copious amounts of RRL tea. DH and I worked through a lot of my anxieties. As my due date approaches, I’m feeling really positive.
At my 39th week appointment, we get a major curveball. My head-down-all-3rd-trimester baby is suddenly breech. I can feel my VBAC slipping away. Even my flexible Dr. B is not really willing to do a VBAC breech birth. We schedule an ECV (manual version) for the next day. I have to check into the hospital and the version itself is done in the O.R. with a waiting catastrophe team. The version works (thank goodness!) but a lot of my hospital fears are realized. DH is awesome at defending me from pushy staff, and I feel really confident about him and Farrah as my support for birth.
As I go through my 40th week, I’m getting worried that Dr. B might pressure me to schedule a RCS – but he doesn’t. So…my EDD is June 30. Its July 2, Monday, at my 40 week check up. Dr. B is going out of town for the 4th of July. He tells me he’ll be gone about 48 hours – all Wednesday and Thursday. If I go into labor during those two days, Dr. A is covering me for him. I hate Dr. A, but it’s okay. I’ve made my peace with it. I want my VBAC, and I’m going to get it. I really hope I don’t go into labor on one of those days. Besides, my parents arrive on Thursday night. If I hold out until Friday, I’ll have my parents to watch DS1 and my OB that I trust.
July 6: Friday morning, 4 am. I felt the weirdest fetal movement ever. I think “well, might as well pee, since I’m awake,” and sit up in bed. Gush of fluid! How exciting – my water broke on it’s own! I rush to the toilet to avoid making a big mess. DH cleans up the little bit on the bed. We text Farrah, and I pop on my headphones and listen to my Hypnobabies track. Contractions are 10 minutes apart, then 7, then 6. After a few hours, we call Farrah, and she’ll be ready to come over when we feel more intense and give her another call.
As I lay in bed, I start to feel Axel moving a bit, so I get up and decide to move for the next few contractions. I’d been really focused on optimal positioning, and wanted to keep him anterior like I knew he was – so I was done reclining. I labored in the living room from then on. DH was getting all the last minute preparations together for the hospital, and periodically checking on me. Contractions were about 4 minutes apart, and I felt like I was making good progress and coping well. Then I had an overwhelming contraction, just very intense and strong, and I told DH – I want Farrah here.
Farrah arrived around 7 or 8 am. It just calmed me to know she was there. DH was a great comfort, but Farrah had four kids naturally. She knew what was going on in a way DH could never know. Just before Farrah arrived, I had another really overwhelming contraction, and my whole abdomen just clenched, and I puked up the Vitamin Water I’d been drinking. I proceeded to puke with EVERY contraction after that until Axel was born. Farrah said in 9 years, she’d never seen anyone puke that much during labor. And she and DH held the puke bags in front of me the whole time, uncomplainingly.
By 11am things started to feel pretty intense. Contractions were right on top of each other for 5 or 6 contractions, and I decided it was time to move DS1 to my parents’ care, and get ready for traveling to the hospital. Before we checked in to the hospital, I got horribly hungry, and crammed some applesauce in the truck. I knew they wouldn’t be letting me eat (another stupid hospital policy) and I was feeling a little anxious. When we checked in, they went through all the policy stuff, and strapped me into a monitor for a 20 minute strip, and checked my cervix. I told them I didn’t want to know – and they didn’t tell me. When they went to put the saline lock in, I told them no, and pointed them to talk to my OB, Dr. B – just like he and I had discussed. He would let them know what I was and was not okay with. We had already covered this many times. I felt pretty great knowing I had a doctor that would back me.
Then the sh*t hit the fan. In walks the midwife from Dr. B’s practice. She annoys me, but whatever. She informs us that Dr. B is out of town until Sunday. I say, “No, he told me he would only be gone Wednesday and Thursday.” We debate this for a few moments before she moves on to tell us she’s called the doctor on call, who is Dr. S! Dr. S, who doesn’t do VBACs! She says she’s agreed to do mine, honoring my agreement with my doctor, but I know – and you, reading this, know – that she does NOT want to do a VBAC and she DOES think I should have another section.
I’m starting to panic. My contractions slow way down. Now they are only coming every 6 or 7 minutes. Later, DH said when he looked at me, it was like he could see my cervix shrinking. He and Farrah are trying to keep me calm. Dr. S. comes in to tell me the same thing – she doesn’t do VBACs but will honor my agreement with my doctor to let me labor. Then she goes on to state ALL the scare tactic risks, etc, for VBAC as well as ALL the scare tactic justifications for the interventions they want to do – saline lock, constant monitoring, potentially pitocin, I have to make 1 cm per hour, etc. Yeah, I’m really panicked at this point. I mention that Dr. A has agreed to cover me for Dr. B. She thinks he’s out of town. It’s a holiday, after all. I ask her for some time before we start all these interventions.
After she leaves, I have my first of three meltdowns. Farrah and DH reassure me that she’s just scaring me. I just kept sobbing and saying “I’m fucked. This is so fucked. She’s gonna cut me open, I know it… Oh shit…” But, I’m also sure Dr. B talked to Dr. A about me. I’m sure he’s in town. He’s just gotta be. It’s starting to feel like Dr. A is my only hope for a VBAC. Under the advice of DH and Farrah, when Dr. S comes back in I have the strength to say, “I want you to call Dr. A’s numbers. I’m sure he’s in town. I’m sure Dr. B talked to him about me specifically.” She leaves to call him. This is so ironic, mind you, because I HATE Dr. A, and now he’s my only hope! Then the midwife comes back in, apologizing. She didn’t realize Dr. A was on call for me! He’s not out of town, he’s just down the hall right now… he’ll be in to talk to you shortly.
Small sigh of relief. Until both Dr. S and Dr. A come back in. Farrah is sure Dr. S is there just to intimidate me. Dr. A gives me a similar spiel about the saline lock and monitoring being necessary, and I tell him that, if he’s willing to attend my VBAC instead of Dr. S, then I’ll agree to it. I know, just by numbers, stats and odds, that I have a FAR greater chance of VBAC with Dr. A than Dr. S. He agrees. Then he says “Now lets talk about all the stupid things in your birth plan…” and proceeds to lecture me and give me scare tactics about episiotomy, pitocin for the afterbirth, Hep B vaccine, Vit. K, and eye ointment. I hold my ground on these. He leaves the papers to sign and he and Dr. S leave.
It’s now about 2 or 3 pm. Don’t forget that this whole time I’m dealing with scary doctor stuff, I’m in LABOR and trying to have a BABY! And still puking with each contraction. Because of the stress and distraction, I’ve made basically no progress since arriving at the hospital, but I’m getting more exhausted by the moment. I ask Farrah and DH how far along I was when we checked in… and they don’t want to tell me, because I didn’t want to know. But I want to know now, because I’m getting concerned about exhaustion. I’m at a hospital, and despite what anyone says, I know I’m on a clock. And I don’t want to run out of energy, but I’m feeling very tired, after the whole doctor mix-up. My anxiety had been through the roof for hours now. Not to mention getting the saline lock – which I had A LOT of anxiety about and which was horribly uncomfortable for the rest of the labor. Finally, they tell me that when I arrived, I was 3cm. I’m not really happy about that number, but I can’t change it.
After signing the papers, I decide to put on my “deepening” track and take a break in the bed (I’d been laboring on the birth ball for several hours). I’m holding DH’s hand, and feeling the waves just pour through me. The contractions were intense, but not close together, and each time one ended I just got this incredible RUSH – I’m sure it was hormones, but still a crazy feeling. This was the only time during my natural labor that I stopped puking with the contractions. It was a nice break for my esophagus too. I was feeling really confident that the hypnosis was working, but also realizing the intense amount of concentration it required – it was exhausting to concentrate that hard to stay relaxed and not in pain.
Feeling refreshed, I let Farrah and DH know I was ready to try the labor tub. They took this as a positive sign too. I kept my headphones on and DH sat behind me. It was really HOT! I was surprised at the temperature, and had to ask them to turn it down. It felt good on the contractions for a while, but soon my limbs started to go to sleep. I have low blood pressure, and with all the swelling from pregnancy, plus the hot tub, I started to feel numb and tingly in all my extremities. This was especially painful and upsetting in my hand, where the saline lock was. I could never fully forget myself, because the stabbing pain in my hand was ever-present. It was so distracting, and made it hard to focus on the hypnosis or the contractions, which were back to every 3 or 4 minutes. I finally had to stand up in the tub, but the tingling wouldn’t go away. This is when I had my second of 3 total meltdowns.
I just felt so out of control. I started sobbing and repeating “It hurts, my hand hurts, everything hurts, contractions fucking hurt and I just want a break. I’m a failure, I didn’t do my hypnosis practice enough, they aren’t pressure – they are contractions and they fucking hurt! I’m not tough enough, I’m not going to make it. I just want to stop everything…” I know you’re thinking, wow, that sounds like transition, but what really sucks is that it WASN’T. Dr. A came in shortly after to check me, and pronounced me at 6cm. It was around 6pm by this time. DH and Farrah acted like this was such good news, my progress, but I was unimpressed. I arrived at the hospital at 11am at 3cm, and by 6pm I’d made it 3 more centimeters. Fucking awesome.
This caused me to continue sobbing through contractions for a good while, sitting outside the tub on the birth ball (Farrah fetched it for me) until I announced to Farrah and DH that I was really hungry. There’s a no eating policy for VBACs at the hospital, but Farrah went and got me some of the Greek yogurt I’d brought and I ate it, right there next to the birth tub. She cracked the door to the room and kept watch, ready to grab it and pretend to be the one eating it if anyone came by. It’s all so silly, how I had to hide that I was eating (gasp!) during my marathon labor.
After I finished my snack, we returned to my L&D room and I labored some more. I wasn’t feeling great; I was actually feeling really run down and doubtful of myself. My contractions were starting to feel “different” in a way I can’t really describe… They hurt like hell but didn’t feel like they were “opening” me like they had been. I was starting to really sweat how long it would be before Dr. A started hassling me about progress. After all, 3cm progress in 7 hours is not the “1cm per hour” they all “like” to see. Oh god, the hospital is such a trap!
About an hour later, Dr. A checks me again. 7cm – and he also states this is “no change” from when he checked me an hour ago! I corrected him, but he simply stated that whatever he had said previously, I had been 7cm an hour ago and was 7cm now. Anyway, he wants to put a pressure catheter in my uterus to measure the strength of my contractions. If they are not strong enough to keep dilating me (clearly his hypothesis) then we need to talk about pitocin to keep labor going. I ask for more time to make a decision.
Time for meltdown #3. The writing is on the wall. Interventions (ahem… more interventions) are coming. Sticking anything up my vagina into my uterus is going to keep me in bed and be really uncomfortable. Furthermore, I don’t need a pressure catheter to tell me what I already know… My contractions are fading. I’m stalling. And I know why… I’m terribly exhausted and emotionally burnt out. I’m exhausted from dealing with hospital bullshit and doctors I don’t trust. My labor was sabotaged by a 4 hour doctor-on-call mix up that could have cost me my VBAC if I didn’t advocate for myself. And here I’m still swimming upstream, with a doctor I HATE pushing his hands in my vagina, fucking up the measurements and telling me my uterus isn’t doing a good enough job. I just wanted a white curtain to come down and make it all go away. Dr. A came back in and we asked for one more hour. I started asking DH for the epidural. I’d been in labor only 15 hours.
Even asking for it felt like a failure. But I knew pitocin was coming. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to hold off Dr. A forever. I sat through 10 hours of pitocin with no pain medication with DS1 and I knew what that was like. DH was adamant – I was strong enough and I didn’t need the epidural. He knew I didn’t want it. And its true, I didn’t want it. I didn’t even really want the pain of contractions to go away so much as not feel all the interventions I knew were coming. God, what a failure. I felt like I was giving up, just asking for it. I’m such a natural childbirth advocate, and the side effects of epidurals are awful. I just wished I’d stayed home. I wished my OB was there instead of Dr. A. I wished for my chance at a birth center that I couldn’t have. I wished I’d never drank the castor oil 5 years ago. I wished for control over my situation – and ultimately, that’s what the epidural would give me.
I labored for that hour and when it was up, I asked DH again for the epidural. I knew he was disappointed in me, and I was disappointed in myself. Farrah stepped in and asked what we had discussed for if I hit a wall and stalled or was exhausted… what steps had we discussed taking. And we had discussed it; a VBAC with an epidural is better than a section from maternal exhaustion. Dr. A came back in to check me and I was still no farther than before – which I didn’t need a cervical exam to know, but whatever. Dr. A started talking interventions again, and I said I’d agree to them with an epidural.
I didn’t get the epidural until around 10ish, and then they put in the pressure catheter and determined that my contractions were, indeed, “weak.” Thank you Dr. A; just the phrasing I needed. They started me on pitocin. I felt like a failure. I was actually fairly sure, at this point, that they would cut me open again. After all, it would be so easy. I already had the spinal. And although Axel’s heart rate (constant EFM, remember?) had been absolutely perfect so far, I knew the side effects of an epidural, along with pitocin and all that excess fluid from the IV. All of these have been shown to cause problems for the baby, and now his odds of going into distress were much higher than they had been. Also, as Dr. A was sure to remind me, the pitocin might not work – if my uterus wasn’t working right, there was nothing we could do about that. Thanks again, Dr. A, for the vote of confidence. When the nurse came in to mess with my pitocin, I told her I was sure they’d cut me open again, especially after having the spinal. Bless her heart, she said “Well I sure don’t want that. You may not realize this, but you become an awful lot more work for the nurses if you have a c-section, so I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure you push this baby out.” I was surprised by that, and a little bit heartened, but not much.
Despite feeling like a total natural childbirth failure, I was glad that I could close my eyes and make the whole scene disappear for a while. DH got a few hours rest too, which he really needed. Farrah, amazingly, sat up the whole time and watched my monitors for me. She was the monitor queen the whole labor actually. She knew, more than either of us, that a constant flow of good monitor readings would keep medical personnel off my back. When I turned over and asked how things were going, around midnight, she told me that once they had adjusted some of the monitoring equipment, my contractions suddenly started to look great. Evidently my “weak” contractions were actually due to poor monitor readings for several hours. Gee, go figure. A machine failing to work properly, but let’s assume it’s the laboring mother who’s faulty.
When my nurse came to check my equipment (let’s be honest – she wasn’t checking on ME) I told her that I could still feel pressure from the contractions, and maybe there was still hope. She responded that she wanted to hear that I felt pressure like “pooping” because that would indicate that I was fully dilated. I tucked this information away and dozed again for a while. When I woke again, around 1:30am, I had this feeling she had described, but I was sure it wasn’t strong enough. Either way, I let her know the next time she came in. About 2am, Dr. A came in and checked me, and pronounced me “ready to deliver” and added a comment about it being unlikely based on my “weak” contractions. Still, you could have knocked me over with a feather – the pitocin worked. I was ready to push my baby out.
I’d never done the pushing thing before, and this was so highly medicalized, so unnatural, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. They turn on all these bright lights right in the eyes, and there Dr. A sat, with his droopy face, looking grumpy and asshole-ish, right between my legs. What an inspiring sight. Of course, it had to be “coached” pushing, even though I didn’t want that, because I couldn’t really move under my own power. DH held up one leg, and Farrah held up the other, and I could feel when contractions happened and I pushed with all my might. I’m sure I wouldn’t have torn as much as I did (2nd degree) or given myself the awful hemorrhoids I have now if I hadn’t been numb, but I can’t change that now. I pushed over and over again – it was very choreographed and orchestrated.
I was also still sure that Axel could still go into distress, that I could be pushing for hours with no progress, and any number of awful things could happen and they would still be happy to cut me open. Even when Farrah told me he had blond hair (I had bet on dark) and later, to reach down and touch his head as he crowned, I was still sure something could go wrong and they could rush me to a section. It wasn’t until he actually slid out of my body that I let myself believe that it happened. I had delivered vaginally! Dr. A proceeded to suction him (why?) before they put him on my chest and he was screaming and slimy and blueish and beautiful. It was amazing, especially because I had spent the past 8 hours so sure the moment would never come. I was shocked. I was relieved. I was actually happy – despite the being numb and the wires coming out of every which way and the bright lights and the shitty doctor, I had done it – I had avoided a c-section and pushed out my own baby. Wow.
Right after they handed him to me, all slimy and magical, I turned to DH and just said, sort of quietly amazed, “it worked!” and then pleasantly demanded “pictures!” and DH snapped a ton of photos while they sewed me up. Dr. A made another comment about how if I’d had an episiotomy, it wouldn’t look “like a stick of dynamite” had been shoved up there (the first time he made this comment was when he was belittling my birth plan).
Finally, after about an hour, they left us alone with Axel. I was grateful that they didn’t bathe him or weigh and measure him – they left him with me and said they’d worry about all that stuff later. Farrah and I sort of discussed how everything worked out. I was surprised to hear that she really thought the epidural was a good idea – that it helped me get my VBAC, rather than being stubborn and insisting I could do it on my own. She also said, for the second or third time, that she thought I would have done so well with a homebirth. It was clear (more so than I think I could have possibly communicated during our pre-birth meetings) how negatively I responded to the hospital and how much my anxiety affected the birth. If we do have another child (which isn’t really in the cards for us – we just want two) then I will likely do what it takes to not birth in a hospital again.