When planning for my second child’s birth, I realized much of the information I collected surrounding VBACS was incomplete. Based on a combination of conversations with my OB, details of real people I know who succeeded, and some (potentially naïve) optimism, I was motivated to attempt a VBAC and avoid surgical methods. Despite being nearly two weeks over with our first child, I was surprised and encouraged when this time I went into labor without intervention and before my due date.
Despite a slow start to labor, I was assured when I completed a full night of small, incremental progress.
The early hours of the next day came. With the epidural’s help, I rested to prepare my body—and my mind—for what was to come. Knowing that labor was progressing was promising, but my husband and I were encountering uncharted waters. With my first delivery, after 30 hours of labor, my progress stalled out. My main L&D nurse wheeled the warming table into my room and started prepping for delivery. This was really happening? I was going to deliver this baby? I didn’t know what pushing felt like. I didn’t know how much work (truly) I was up against. But I was about to find out. Simultaneously exciting and overwhelming.
It was the nurse who noticed the blood in my catheter. The nurse and the OB on call shared an exchange of concern, and the moment of silence was palpable. The deep, bright color was alarming. Knowing my delivery history, my window of a VBAC was closing. It was as if most of my prior delivery story had been more or less absent in the present scenario—until now. My body had progressed to the near-end of nine centimeters yet the OB asked how much time did I want to continue to labor?
“Right,” I reminded myself. “There was always a good chance this delivery would have the same outcome.”
The doctor’s rapport was empathetic but direct. I’d have an additional hour to make progress, but the presence of blood indicated something more serious was occurring, and the OB provided some plausible reasons. Conversing with a veteran surgeon with a resume full of deliveries allowed me to trust their decision and perspective. I didn’t need any time to speak privately with my husband. I was ready to accept a near success and head to the operating room. The unknown complication seemed potentially ominous and my mindset was one of acceptance. In both birth experiences, I was completely engaged in the conversation and every decision throughout this process. I felt respected and heard. That empowerment granted me permission to relinquish control—it wasn’t up to me. What mattered here was a safe and healthy delivery for me and my child. And there was some sense of relief—I knew I’d meet my baby in less than two hours. I was already visualizing the future scene.
Not to say that last hour prior to surgery was easy. Seeing that I had been in labor for nearly 24 hours, my epidural had worn off significantly. I knew I was going to have to power through some intense labor before being hoisted up on the operating table. My contractions were thirty seconds apart.
Entering the operating room with my husband and the blue-suited staff was familiar. I was flooded with memories of lying on the operating table, talking to the anesthesiologist, and my hyper awareness of conversations taking place.
The OB talked me through the upcoming steps. What they discovered next didn’t produce a sense of alarm, but again, serious concern. My bladder was massively distended and misplaced, lodged way up in my ribcage by my chest. Thankfully it hadn’t punctured (e.g. the cause of the bleeding), but the OB expressed the baby needed to get out. Because of this massive distention, delivering the baby became more complicated. A t-incision would need to be made, which would entail two separate incisions, vertically and horizontally. The doctor apologized, but I was pragmatic: do what you have to do.
We heard the baby’s impressive weight—8 pounds, 12 ounces—before the staff even told us it was a boy. Observing him on the warming table was surreal and remarkable. How did I—the woman with virtually no hips—almost push that giant baby out of me?
And then the post-surgery bliss. This time, my son and I stayed together. Holding and nursing him throughout the recovery period was an incredible reward for the anticipation of those shaky surgical moments. And despite having a much more tenuous recovery with double the stitches and additional complications (fevers, infections, and mastitis is real), the history of becoming a mother provided an immeasurable amount of additional joy to this subsequent birth. This joy was an overflowing of contentment, knowing what this space felt like, and how sure I was of being a mother, his mother.
As I was writing this entry, my husband admitted it was hard to revisit some of these moments, but to also focus all the positive that transpired during these days. And I do acknowledge the positive but in a somewhat backward way. Not experiencing a VBAC was probably the greatest unplanned blessing to derive from this birth. If I spend too much time reflecting on plausible outcomes for me or my son, if labor and pushing had progressed, my mind visits a real and scary place. The What-Could-Have-Been place. I stand firmly in my conviction that my labor outcome happened precisely the way it should have. And experiencing the meditation of my newborn sleeping in my arms, despite my immobility during recovery, was better than I remembered.