So, in case you didn't read my last blog post, let me recap. I had my first baby by a non-emergency cesarean after only laboring with pitocin for approximately six hours. It was like a jumbo mess of you're failing to progress, the baby's heart took a little dip (which can be serious if there is a prolonged dip or a pattern of not stabilizing after a contraction, neither of which was the case), and the baby is probably too big for you to deliver anyway. I was a mere 21 years old and had no idea I could advocate for myself and even though my mom and husband were present, none of us knew any different than what we were being told.
I had some significant trauma from that birth even though the procedure itself was without incident and she came out beautiful and healthy. Even though I had some physical recovery type trauma, what we now label as birth trauma does not have to be all physical. Approximately 40% of women leave their births with some level of trauma.
Birth trauma can occur when the birthing person feels stripped of their dignity or stripped of their protective layers of caring. That can often manifest in feelings like, "I felt all alone", or "no one cared for me", or "everything felt mechanical".
So from the day I found out I was pregnant again, I knew that I was going to do everything in my power to have a VBAC or Vaginal Birth After Cesarean. Ironically enough, VBACs were statistically higher in the 90's, when it peaked at 28%, than they are now. The reason for this is that fewer and fewer providers are giving their patients that option, mostly to avoid liability should something go wrong. And things can go wrong, I will not deny that. But for healthy, low risk pregnancies, there is no reason that a VBAC could not be tried. There are factors involved that determine if you could be a good candidate. If you love statistics and want to read up on the history of VBAC's, click for this Evidence Based Birth article.
I read up on anything and everything I could get my hands on, which still was not a lot but I felt like if I could get through my pregnancy healthy with no complications, I would labor as long as it would take and would not care how long it was.
I remember that I was five days over my due date and on that Saturday I had lost my mucus plug. I was so excited that something was finally happening. I knew it could be days before labor started, but I also knew that I didn't have days, because they wanted to induce me since I was already almost a week past my due date. On Sunday morning, I woke up have some mild contractions. I called the provider on call and was told that I could go into the hospital at any time I was ready. I absolutely laugh at this now just thinking about it because we know NOW that going to the hospital too early is the worst thing you can do and the best way to start the cascade of interventions. Obviously, I didn't know it then and honestly had no clue about cascading interventions or anything of the sort, so I was grabbing up my bag and heading to the hospital as soon as I was given that green light. I even somehow alerted my mom who was in church and two hours away, and told her to leave church and hurry and get to me. What, did she have a beeper? I'm genuinely trying to remember because I think I still had a bag phone at that point. Circa 1996.
Well, wasn't I in for a surprise. I was barely contracting at the hospital when they hooked me up to the monitor and got me situated. Not long after that, the Dr. started me on pitocin to increase the frequency and duration of my contractions. I'm also pretty sure that providers have learned so much and start pitocin much more gradually now than they did then. So without all the labor preparations that we know now, I did not last long laying flat in bed, and asked for the epidural pretty quickly. I also remember like I said in the last post, that once you were in the hospital, there was no thought of a natural birth or labor management. You got the epidural at the first hint of pain, because.......why not??? I think I was 3 cm.
Much to my displeasure and surprise, that epidural did not work very well and was relegated to only one half of my body. The anesthesiologist said that he could take it out and re-do it, but that it may work and it may not. I was so terrified of "feeling" labor once it got further into it, that I declined and decided half of me would have to suffice. And the other half could suffer.
Hours into labor, I was not dealing very well. I was in a tremendous amount of pain and in walked a very close friend of mine who was in school to be a labor and delivery nurse. (This was back in the day where the visitors during your labor was like a revolving door). She came to my bedside and immediately started talking so calm to me and holding my hand. I still remember to this day the calm presence she brought with her and her encouraging words that she was speaking over me as she directed me to breathe in.........breathe out.......
It would be years after this that I would hear the word "doula" for the first time and many more years before I would realize that without either of our knowledge of the term, she walked in the role of doula from the moment she walked in my room. She never left my side. During transition and the worst pain, she remained by my side telling me to look in her eyes and breathe. I will never forget how she made me feel.
One of the things I hear the most from clients who had a doula by their side is the power of how they made them feel. Sure, we focus on labor positions and comfort measures, and those things are important, and what most clients focus on when hiring a doula. But there is something so powerful about that calm, gentle, but strong presence that we, as doulas, bring to that birthing room. This is not only felt by the mom, but also by her partner who always feels like a weight has been lifted off of them when a doula is there. We are a team.
After 32 long hours of labor, it was finally time to start pushing. The Dr. on call (mine was on vacation) was the last remaining old school Dr. that still required women to be taken to a delivery room. But honestly, I did not even care. I was about to push this baby out. For a reason that remains a mystery to me today, the anesthesiologist was able to give me another "dose" in my epidural and I was not feeling anything at this point. His being able to do this is not the mystery, as I have seen that happen dozens of times when the patient is still experiencing pain. The mystery is why in the heck did he not do that hours earlier!?!?!? So I was directed to push, head to chest, knees up, curl your body, PUSH, 1....2....3....4.....5....6.....7.....8.....9.....10, again 1....2....3....4....5....6....7.....8....9....10. One more time, 1.....2.....3....4....5.....6.....7.....8....9.....10.
I said, "do you want me to push again?"
The Dr. answered, why would you do that? He's already here!
WHAT?!?!?!?!?!?!?!? OMG!!!!! I DID IT!!!! (tears) I DID IT!!!!! I CAN'T BELIEVE I DID IT!!!!!!!!
I can't even describe to you the total elation and redemption it felt to birth him and have the Dr. put him right on my chest. I mean, I know some of you reading this know that feeling. It was absolutely amazing and I felt more powerful as a woman than I had in my entire life. I was amazed at what my body could do.
Coby Lee Sewell 7lbs 13oz 20 in
My recovery was 100% easier than with the cesarean birth, no surprise there. After I was stitched and taken back to my room, the epidural had worn off enough for me to gain the use of my legs and I was told I could go clean up in the bathroom. This was shocking to me and still is today as this would not ever be the case that soon. Not long after that, we were situated in our postpartum room and I was starving!!! (I had not eaten since Sunday morning). Since it was very late and no food was available, I had my husband get takeout from Waffle House. Let me advise every pregnant person out there to never, ever, ever and let me save never again.....make this monumental mistake. We'll leave it at that.
For the time and place in birth history that we were in at that time, I was completely satisfied with my birth experience and other than the failed epidural, I would not have wanted to change anything. I felt heard by the provider and nurses about wanting to labor for as long as may take. I felt cared for and comforted by my friend who acted as the doula I never knew I needed. And it redeemed all of the trauma that I was still carrying from my previous birth. This was the beginning of something stirring in me where the birth world was concerned that drove my passion for wanting to make sure I could help every woman I could have that same feeling I had....and the birth that they imagined.
Bonus pic: This is my firstborn baby girl meeting her brother for the first time. This look on her face really says it all and all of my early days photos she looks exactly the same. Her princess world has just been turned upside down with this intruder and she let everyone know that she was not a fan. All the ideas I had for what a precious moment this was going to be went down the drain fast. It took her some time, but she warmed up to him.....eventually.