"You just couldn't have the baby vaginally," were the words my OB spoke with complacency the day after my emergency c-section. It was around week 30 of my first pregnancy when my OB and I discussed my desire to have an all natural birth. My OB immediately said it would not happen -- that her practice was not a birthing center, and that most women are not physically capable of delivering a child without an epidural. She insisted on scheduling an induction, and threatened to drop me from her practice when I declined an induction. Thinking it was too late to find a new provider, I continued to have my prenatal visits with her practice, choosing to see the midwife of staff for my visits. At week 39, day 5, my water broke. After hours of laboring without pain medication, I agreed to an epidural, and ultimately ended up in the operating room for an emergency c-section because my son's heart rate went down to 35 beats per minute. The experience was traumatic and frustrating. I cried for weeks and wasn’t sure if the c-section was really necessary or if I was one of many women forced into an unnecessary c-section. What I knew for sure was that I did not want to go through that experience again.
When I became pregnant with my second baby, I researched online and learned that I could attempt to have a VBAC (vaginal birth after c-section). I learned that VBAC’s, though not commonly practiced in my area, were actually much safer than a repeat c-section. Some of the benefits of a VBAC included a shorter recovery period, less chance of infection, decreased chances of hemorrhaging, and avoiding internal scarring in the uterus. Other less known benefits of VBAC’s include more immediate bonding with the baby and beneficial bacteria passing onto the baby as he travels through the birth canal. There were also some risks, like the possibility of uterine rupture (which was less than 1% for spontaneous labor),but for me the benefits far outweighed the risks. Confident with this information, I knew that a VBAC was for me.
Although making the decision to have a VBAC was easy, finding the right provider was not. In the state where I lived, I could either have the baby at home with a midwife, or I could find a VBAC-supportive OB who delivered in the hospital. My first choice was to visit a midwife. She explained to me that my c-section had in fact been the result of a real emergency, as the placenta had begun to detach during labor (known as a placental abruption) and my baby could have died. This information was shocking and a very different story than what my OB had explained when she said that “I just couldn’t do it.” Once I learned about the real emergency and how my baby had been saved by the c-section, I decided to have my second baby in the hospital. I called many OB’s offices and visited several OB’s to see if any would agree to attend a VBAC. I found a doctor who said he would let me TOLAC (trial of labor after c-section), but who also indicated that my pelvic bone was too small and that I would likely not be able to have a baby vaginally. I continued researching until I visited an OB who said VBAC’s were actually much safer than repeat c-sections. I asked under what circumstances he would require a C-section, and his responses (such as placenta previa) were satisfactory to me. At almost every visit we discussed my desire for a VBAC, with my main question being whether he would still do it. He always responded that he would. When I declined an ultrasound at week 38 and cervical exams at weeks 38 and 39, he did not try to force early interventions upon me.
At week 40, I was still pregnant, and he did not mention a c-section. I was confident and hopeful that I would be able to deliver the baby vaginally with the assistance of the doula I had hired. At week 40, day 2, I went into labor. Within a couple of hours, my baby was born vaginally without the use of any pain medication. The bonding with my son was immediate and my birth experience was both healing and beautiful. It had been a difficult road to victory. I learned that having a successful VBAC was more about my own determination to get the right information and having a good support team, than it was about what my body was “capable” of doing. I cried tears of joy when my second child was born, confirming that my body was designed to deliver a baby vaginally. I was able to walk within minutes of his birth, care for my first child, and breastfeed easily. VBACs are indeed a possible and safe option. And as it turns out, my first OB was wrong: I could deliver a baby vaginally.