After a traumatic emergency Cesarean with Kai, my firstborn, I was quite determined to not have to have a Cesarean this time round. I am ever grateful that the knowledge of Cesareans exists, and that Kai was brought into the world safely due to that knowledge. At the same time, my recovery was long and hard both physically and mentally. I have struggled with post birth trauma since Kai’s birth which has affected many areas of my life and put a strain on my marriage. It was important for my husband Carl and I that this birth be a more positive experience and that I hopefully, would not experience additional trauma which could affect our lives further.
The first thing when looking to have a vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC) is to find the right birth team. Luckily, I was already with an OB that supports woman who want to trial labour, the ever-amazing Dr Dumbrill at Vincent Pallotti. I was with a midwife for Kai’s birth and Dr Dumbrill had been my back up doctor who brought Kai safely into the world. If you are considering a VBAC, do your research. Doctors that truly support VBAC are few and far between, so it is good to research your OB before going ahead. After reviewing the circumstances of my first birth experience Dr Dumbrill felt that all going well, I would be a good candidate to try for a VBAC. This was great news!
Next on my list was a doula. The doula from my first birth with Kai was now practicing as midwife and no longer working as a doula. I cried and cried when I heard. Finally, I pulled myself together and started my search. Wanting a strong feminine energy to balance out my masculine birthing team, I decided to go with Charlene Yared West, a true miracle worker to have in your birthing room.
There were a few hiccups on the way as my boy was tracking in the 90th percentile for weight and Dr Dumbrill was concerned that he would get very big if I went past term. We eliminated gestational diabetes as a cause and I was advised that to give me the best chance of successful VBAC, we would do a stretch and sweep at 38 weeks. If my boy did not make an appearance by 40+4 days, we would do a caesarean on that day. I know that there are some that would have wanted to go on for longer than 40+4 even with a large baby however, I trusted my doctor’s medical opinion on the risks of going longer in my circumstances.
As I wanted to keep my little one in as long as possible, we did the stretch and sweep on Thursday, 7th February 2019 at 38+5 weeks. I was quite anxious and did not know what to expect. Luckily the stretch and sweep was possible to do as my cervix was soft and I was slightly dilated. It was a bit uncomfortable, but not as horrible as I had imagined it to be. Now the waiting game began and happily for me, it was not too long of a wait.
In the early hours of the morning on Sunday 10th February mild contractions started. Instead of waking my husband, I just stayed in bed and as they became progressively stronger, I started to monitor them. They were a little all over the place, between 5-7 minutes apart, mild and lasting for around 30 seconds. They continued from 02h45 to around 07h00 in the morning at which time they faded and stopped. This has happened with my first so I was quite relaxed and suspected that they would return later in the day or early evening. We called my sister to come and pick up my first born, let Charlene our Doula know what was going on and started to get everything ready in the off chance that labour started up again.
At 15h00 the contractions returned, starting quite mildly at first and then picking up. I was hesitant to go to the hospital too soon, but also knew that Dr Dumbrill did not want me to wait too long to go due to the risk of uterine rupture with a VBAC. He felt that it would be better for me to be monitored and sent home if necessary, rather than not going in. At 19h30 the contractions were getting stronger and Carl was getting a little nervous, so we decided to head through to the hospital.
When we arrived at the hospital, I was immediately put on a fetal monitor for around 30 minutes to see how things were progressing. The hospital midwife, Sister Salma, was happy to say I was definitely in labour but still early days as I was only 2cm dilated (disappointment!). A little while later Charlene arrived in all her loveliness. She set up the room with her lights and scents and offered me a massage, which I immediately took her up on. Yes please!
As the night went on, my contractions grew stronger and stronger. Charlene was with me through every one (with the exception of a few when she was getting more ice). She ran me a bath (heaven), and even when I was in the bath, she continued to massage me through each contraction. I kept saying to myself “just one at a time”. With Desert Dwellers playing in the background, essential oils, being massaged through my contractions, I started my labour journey. My husband even pitched in with a foot massage which is like magic when in labour.
Every now and then Sister Salma would come in to monitor the baby and to check how my labour was progressing. Things were moving nicely and by midnight I was at around 6cm… or so we thought. Suddenly I started having strong urges to push. I am not a quiet one in labour but am pretty vocal. I find that sound helps to focus me through the contractions. Sister Salma could hear that there was a change in the sounds I was making and suspected that I was pushing (which I was). I had just jumped back in the bath after being out for a while. It felt amazing! Sister Salma wanted to double check how dilated I was, so I had to get back out of the bath to my great disappointment. When she checked again, I was 8cm. Almost there!
Things were moving quickly, and I felt happy that I was getting closer and closer to meeting my boy. Sister Salma was concerned though that my boy was still sitting quite high and he wasn’t descending. My waters had not broken yet and she suggested that she should perhaps break my waters so my boy could drop down. She said that if she did, that things would speed up even more and my contractions would become stronger. For the first time in this labour, I panicked!
When I was in labour with Kai, he had not descended enough into the birth canal which is why we transferred from a home birth to the hospital. When my waters broke, I ended up having abnormal contractions with little break in between the contractions. I could barely catch my breath when the next contraction would start. After hours of enduring this, Kai was in distress and I had an emergency caesarean. All this flashed in my mind as Sister Salma spoke about breaking my waters. In seconds I went from being calm and coping perfectly, to feeling as though I could not go on any longer.
I told Sister Salma I did not want to have my waters broken and I wanted pain meds! Now! I did not want anyone to touch me until the anaesthetist arrived. She told me she would call the anaesthetist but said she did need to check how dilated I was again. As she did my waters broke. I felt furious and scared as I thought she had broken my waters (she had not, they just broke). I was so angry and was just ready for the pain to end. I did not want things to get worse and I was very scared that we were headed in the same direction as my first birth. I kept thinking, how could this be happening again?
I was now upset, wanting the anaesthetist to arrive immediately. My contractions were stronger and everything inside of me wanted to push my little baby out. I did not want to be on my back which I was because of the fetal monitor. Being on my back felt like the pain was a hundred times worse. I kept trying to maneuver myself into a different position. For me, what felt right was being on my knees holding onto the top of the bed, or in a more squatted position. Sister Salma kept telling me not to push, that I needed to wait for the doctor to arrive, but that seemed like an impossibility. On one side I had Charlene, a ray of sunshine through it all. She kept telling me that it was almost time, that I could do this and that my baby was coming. She kept encouraging me telling me to go with what my body was feeling and to keep breathing. My husband came to my other side and held my hand. He was whispering in my ear that I can do this, and I need to breathe. Having reminders to breathe was very useful during this part of labour!
Dr Dumbrill arrived in the birthing room to my great disappointment. I had hoped he would be the anaesthetist! At this point, I was really not interested in anyone assisting me except for the anaesthetist. Where on earth was he? I did not want Dr Dumbrill to check me, I just wanted an epidural. In his calm manner, he let me know that he just needed to examine me. He did and told me that the baby was coming. Now! All I needed to do was push him out. He quickly took control of the room, raised the back of the bed, and repositioned me. I was on my back with my feet on Charlene’s and Dr Dumbrill’s hips. With the back of the bed raised, this position no longer felt unbearable. I started to follow his guidance of pushing during my contractions. I now felt grateful and relieved that he was there! I listed to Charlene’s instructions of how to push (not how I imagined). Push I did! The combination of Dr Dumbrill’s expertise of when to push, when not to push, when to pant combined with Charlene’s guidance of slowing my breathing down, how to push, letting me know she can see my baby, going with my contractions, listening to my body, and Carl’s encouragement and support that I can do this, gave me the focus and strength that I needed to push my little one into the world. It seemed one minute I was panicking and the next minute I was focused and determined and a minute later, I had my beautiful little baby boy lying on my chest. Both of us exhausted and exhilarated. Everyone in the room charged, excited and happy. Such an amazing energy!
The gentleness with which my little boy, Wren was handled when he arrived into the world at 02h20 was exactly what I had wanted for him. He was given room to adjust in his new environment, was gently handled to check his breathing and then was given to me immediately. Carl cut the cord and our family had grown. In all the love, I barely felt the placenta leaving me. Our birthing team left the room and the three of us were given space to just be. To soak in all the wonderfulness of bringing a new life into the world. Family time with no disturbances. Wren was relaxed and having his first little nap. Not quite ready to feed, he just needed a little space to chill on his mama. To connect.
After some time, my birth team returned, Wren had his first feed and I had a well needed bath. Wren was weighed at 3.86kg. I was beaming. I had managed to birth a 3.86kg beautiful boy in an unmedicated VBAC with no tearing. This was the birth experience I had been hoping for!
There are not enough words in the world to describe how grateful I am to my birthing team. Doctors like Dr Dumbrill who, when it is safe to do so, support woman to trial labour change woman’s lives. My life was changed that day! After my emergency caesarean I felt vulnerable, weak and scared. Not feelings I had ever experienced before. I started suffering from panic attacks, had trouble being touched by anyone other than my son, struggled with anxiety and started having body issues which I had also never had before. This birth left me feeling empowered, strong, beautiful, powerful and like I could trust my body. How do you thank someone for giving that back to you? This experience will be cherished for the rest of my life.
In my first birth experience I felt quite alone at times. Now, Charlene was with me every step of the way. At no point did I feel alone in this birth at all. She did not take a break. She was with me through each contraction. When I panicked, she was the calm. She kept encouraging me, she remained excited for what was to come. She was the sun shining at the end of the tunnel, her voice carrying me into the light and towards my little boy.
My husband Carl was my rock. When he stood by my side and took my hand, he held me up through the pain. He pushed me to keep going. He reminded me of my strength and became a part of my strength to keep going.
Most of all my little boy Wren was with me through it all. We did it together! He stayed strong and was my focus. I could do this if it meant I would meet him. He is perfect and I love him with everything that I am.
The gratitude I feel even weeks later is overwhelming. To successfully achieve an unmedicated VBAC has given me myself back. Thank you to everyone who supported me on this journey!