A Second Chance and A New Beginning
By Kate Eales
My VBAC journey began, as many do, with an unwanted cesarean.
It wasn’t that the labor and delivery of my first child were terribly traumatic. But for five hours after my son’s birth - time I had hoped to spend bonding with my new baby - I was alone in a recovery room, my sense of failure growing by the minute. All of the messages of empowerment that I’d received before labor now haunted me instead: Women are built for natural childbirth. Your body knows what to do. You and your baby will work together to make it happen. What did it mean about me as a woman, and as a mother, that I hadn’t done it? I worried that I’d never be able to breastfeed, that my baby and I would never bond, that I had failed him in his first moments of life.
These worries faded as we met, and bonded, and breastfed without trouble, but the seeds of doubt about my birth experience had been sown deep. Was it my fault for getting an epidural at 4cm? Had I not been moving enough in labor? Had the clock really run out, or was my midwife (who’d been at the hospital for four straight days with deliveries) just exhausted?
During my second pregnancy, I resolved to do as much as I could to avoid feeling so much self-judgment and doubt after the baby’s arrival. I ruled out a home birth, just as I had the first time, but I knew that the first change to make was also the most important: I needed a new care provider whose opinion and experience I trusted completely. I was thrilled when I found Dr. Jessica Schneider, partly because I knew she was supportive of VBAC, and partly because our communication was so open and easy. I remember coming home from one of our first appointments and saying to my husband, “I’m going for a vaginal birth, but whatever happens, I know I’m in good hands. If she says I need a cesarean, I’ll trust her.”
As my pregnancy progressed, I did everything that I felt comfortable doing to increase my odds of VBAC success. I found a wonderful doula, took hypnobirthing and VBAC prep classes, and started regular acupuncture and chiropractic visits. At every ultrasound, I was told that my daughter was measuring big, but my doctor assured me that we could still try for a VBAC. As I sailed past weeks 37, 38, and 39, I took steps at home to avoid an induction, which I knew counter-indicated VBAC success. Herbal teas, nipple stimulation, scrubbing the floor, sex… I tried them all. I remained hopeful for a long time, but as I passed 40 weeks with no sign that labor was near, I realized I was starting to panic. My first baby had been late, and big, and arrived via cesarean, and here I was, past my due date again, with another big baby… I shared my mounting anxieties with Dr. Schneider and she assured me that yes, we could still try. The decision to go for a VBAC was going to stay in my hands.
During those final days, though, Dr. Schneider asked me one question that gave me pause: Why did I want a VBAC so much? Even after all I’d done to try for a successful VBAC, it was a difficult question to answer. For me, having a VBAC certainly didn’t matter more than having a healthy child. Sitting inside that exam room, it was incredibly hard to say out loud that I worried I would feel like less of a woman if I never had a vaginal birth. Hearing myself say it, I knew it was absurd – but once I said it, I cried, and that emotional release felt better than anything else I’d done in the preceding few weeks. After that cathartic moment of letting go, I decided to schedule my induction, and I stopped scrubbing the floor at home. Labor would start before my induction, or it wouldn’t. I spent those last few days relaxing.
At the end of my 42nd week, I went in for my induction. I had a mental list of targets for my labor and delivery, and to my joy, everything starting humming along as I’d hoped. After an initial small dose of Pitocin, I labored naturally for hours, and this experience was completely different from my first. At 8cm, I asked for a walking epidural, after which I was able to keep moving: squatting, doing yoga, resting, and then moving again, doing everything I could to make my baby come down.
As it turned out, my baby was not coming down. About 24 hours after my induction began, my dilation had stalled and the baby had been stuck at zero station for several hours. Dr. Schneider came in and gently said, “I think it’s time to talk about a c-section.”
And there we were. I won’t deny that I was disappointed. But once my husband and I were alone, discussing our options, we both came back to what I’d said before about trusting Dr. Schneider. She was leaving the door open for me to wait if I wanted to, but she didn’t advise it, or think it would help. What would I be fighting for if I said no, and for how long?
My mantra for labor (and the name of at least three tracks on my music playlist!) was “Let Go.” It felt clear to me now that the best way for me to bring my daughter into the world was to let go of my vision for how it would happen.
That is how my VBAC journey came to end with a repeat cesarean. But this time, after my (healthy, 10-pound!) daughter was born, my doctor made sure we weren’t separated at all. I held her and nursed her in recovery, and in the days that followed, our bonding and my recovery went beautifully.
Before we said yes to the second cesarean, my husband and I talked about how having another cesarean would mean leaving certain questions unanswered forever. Would our daughter have come down if I’d kept on squatting and walking for a few more hours? Maybe. Might I have had a VBAC if I’d had a home birth? Perhaps. Was there anything I could have done differently to end with the VBAC I’d hoped for? It’s possible. But in leaving these “what if” scenarios unanswered, I feel peace knowing there’s another question that will remain unanswered: what if I will never know how lucky I am that cesareans exist? No matter the answers, I feel okay with not knowing.
One thing I do know is that in no way am I less of a woman, or less of a mother, because I birthed my son and daughter via cesarean. And while I believe that “healthy baby, healthy mother” comes first, I know that they are not the only things that matter. It turns out that it mattered to feel that my birth “experience,” not just the statistical outcome, were important to my care team, and it mattered that I felt good about myself when all was said and done. I do feel good about myself. My second cesarean turned out to be a second chance, and I have no regrets about my choice to let go.