If I've learned anything about birth plans since becoming a mom it's that the best plan is to NOT have a plan. With my first son, I walked into labor & delivery on the big day with a detailed written birth plan in hand that basically said I wished to have a completely natural birth. 15 hours later this suddenly seemed like a terrible plan that was not for me. I asked for the epidural and proceeded to have a beautiful birth experience far different from the one I had planned. I walked into labor & delivery for the second time 18 months later confident that I knew how it would go this time. To my surprise after reaching 9cm dilated my cervix started to swell and close likely because of the positioning and size of my son's head. A c-section became medically necessary and I'm so thankful for modern medicine to help me bring my son into the world. Though that was far from the plan in my head, I was happy to have a healthy baby boy. When we decided to have our third child I knew that I wanted to TOLAC (trial of labor after cesarean) in hopes of having a VBAC (vaginal delivery after cesarean) but I also accepted that it may not be in my control as I had come to the conclusion that babies don't come out according to our plans. I understood that I was more likely to end up in the operating room than someone who had never had a c-section. With TOLAC there is a small risk of uterine rupture so doctors are more likely to move to a c-section sooner if there is any sign of distress throughout the process. I'm sharing my story because during the 9 months I spent wondering how this would turn out, I was constantly searching for stories of women that had attempted a VBAC.
I'm very fortunate that both my doctor and the hospital I deliver at support VBACs. This is not always the case for women that desire a VBAC leaving many women without the option at all. Many people still believe that once a cesarean, always a cesarean and may wonder why I would even want to go through labor knowing I had a higher chance of ending up back in the OR this time. Well, there are many reasons but above all I'm in love with the natural course of events that occur from going into labor spontaneously to the time of delivery and the golden hour after delivery. I find it fascinating that the baby decides when it's time to come and sets labor in motion. I had a hard time with the idea of us scheduling a c-section especially because my other boys came early which I think would make it hard to pick the right time. During delivery I didn't want to miss the chance for the baby to receive that awesome immune boosting bacteria as they travel through the birth canal. The trip through the birth canal also helps to naturally expel the amniotic fluid in their lungs which my second little one battled with for a few days after the c-section. But beyond the awesome list of events that happen during a vaginal delivery, I was hopeful for the opportunity to enjoy the golden hour with the baby. The first hour after birth where the baby is placed on their mother's chest is often thought of to be a "magical" time that should be honored, cherished and protected whenever possible because it provides such a long list of benefits to both baby and mom. These benefits include quickly normalizing baby's heart and breathing rates, quickly calming baby as they adjust to their new environment, a higher rate of successful breastfeeding, a lower risk of postpartum depression for mom, etc... The list goes on and unfortunately, I was very sick after my c-section with my second child and was not able to share that time with him. It is exciting that many hospitals are now seeing how beneficial this is and trying to make this hour possible even during c-sections but I feared that even if the hospital tried to make it work at my request I would be sick again. Now of course it wouldn't be the end of the world if I had another c-section but as long as there was a chance my baby and I could experience the natural course of events, I knew I had to try!
I carried this baby longer than my other children and got very anxious towards the end as the baby's growth scan predicted that he or she would be significantly larger than my others if I actually carried him or her to term. At 39 weeks and 4 days, I woke up to early contractions. This labor started out very slow but it really kicked into gear suddenly midway through the day and started progressing at a rapid pace. We had to get my parents to my house in a hurry to watch my boys. Because we got to the hospital later in the process than we had with my other labors I found myself in a panic worried that I would not receive the epidural before it was time for delivery.
I had never experienced contractions that far along in the process without the epidural and they were quite painful to say the least. As I mentioned I had already decided with my first that going all the way to the end without the epidural was not for me. I was fortunate to have both my husband and mom with me for support. And as I was freaking out, to put it mildly, I kept thinking of all of the women I know, including my mom, that have given birth without the epidural. Wow. That's strength & endurance, ladies. I've heard many people say labor without an epidural is like running a marathon. Well, I've run two full marathons in my life and no, it's not. In my opinion running a marathon is easier and I didn't even experience labor without the epidural all the way to the end. Lucky for me the anesthesiologist was able to get my epidural going when I was 8cm dilated with just enough time for me to get comfortable and quickly turn my panic into excitement. By the time I calmed down and pulled it together I was 10cm and they were calling my doctor to come. Wait what? It was time to push already and the "C" word hadn't even come up once?!?! Everything was moving so quickly, smoothly and naturally! My water broke on its own and I hadn't been given any pitocin or medical interventions other than the epidural. It started to set in that my dream was coming true. And on top of all of that we had waited to find out the gender which made these last few moments as we waited for the doctor to arrive that much more exciting! I was on cloud 9 and couldn't wait to meet my little one.
My doctor arrived and the mood in the room was pure joy and excitement. With just 4 pushes the baby was born! It was AMAZING!!!! I had not only had a successful VBAC but what a quick and PERFECT birth experience. I couldn't have planned it better myself. Sure I had freaked out a bit during those final contractions before my epidural kicked in but even those became so worth it all in an instant. Seeing my baby for the first time literally took my breath away...
Rather than announcing the gender my doctor smiled and slowly turned the baby towards us. My husband, my mom and I all said at once "it's a girl!" which was immediately followed by tears and I very emotionally said "I got my girl." It's interesting that I said that because I spent my whole pregnancy content with either outcome as I do love being a boy mom but in that instant it felt like everything was exactly as it should be and I knew I was meant to have this precious girl. My husband was in shock, a very joyful shock. He was sure we would have another boy. And he was happily surprised that our last child was a precious little miss.
Interestingly enough, she ended up being smaller than my boys and way smaller than the growth ultrasound indicated. I was so thankful when I saw what a little peanut she was that I had chosen not to schedule a repeat c-section. Had we scheduled a c-section, I think we would have taken her out before she was really ready. There is no doubt in my mind that my little girl knew she needed to stay with me longer than her brothers and looking back I'm so glad that she did.
The nurse immediately put her on my chest where she stayed for over an hour. As we cuddled and she breastfed for the first time I felt an overwhelming rush of joy, love and peace. It's a feeling I will never ever forget. Everything and everyone else stood still and faded into the background. I soaked up every second of that very golden hour. It was perfect. It will stay with me forever.
I know I have a lot of exciting times ahead of me with my family and eventually my career again but I am already certain that my greatest accomplishments in life are the three beautiful children that my husband and I brought into this world.
It's been almost two weeks since our daughter came into our lives and I can't stop thinking about her birth and what an unforgettable experience it was. The one time I knew better than to expect things to go according to plan, they went better than I could have ever dreamed and I'm so glad I took a chance on a VBAC.
Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away. – Hilary Cooper