Skip to content

CAM Birth Story #20: Barbara’s VBAC

In honor of Cesarean Awareness Month 2010, we will be filling the blogosphere with stories from real women (and their families) who know first-hand the consequences of a 32% cesarean rate. Each day we will post at least one birth story submitted by these women. Prepare to be moved (hint: grab a box of Kleenex)!

From Barbara…

“A Thrilling Time is in Your Immediate Future”

The Players:

Karen:  Our certified professional midwife
Aimee:  Karen’s apprentice midwife who is also a doula
Lora:  Our doula who is also an apprentice midwife
Jen:  Our “phone doula” who would have been our “in person” doula had she not moved
out of state before I could manage to get pregnant
Cindy:  My life partner
Charlie:  Our son who was born by cesarean in 1999
Aunt Sandy:  Charlie’s honorary aunt

When my partner Cindy and I took Bradley classes during my first pregnancy, the instructor taught us that when labor starts you shouldn’t focus too much on the early contractions because you might have a long road a head of you.  Better to continue with your daily activities and try to distract yourselves from what is happening.  To illustrate her point, she showed a video of a couple in early labor smiling and holding hands while taking long walks together.

This was not to be my experience.

As a birth doula (a profession I entered into two years after my cesarean), I can often be heard telling clients that during labor they will need to find a coping technique or “ritual” in order to help them work through each contraction.  Whether it may be vocalizing using low moans, swaying in their partner’s arms, or going limp while draped over a birth ball, the ritual will allow them to stay on top of their surges and work with them time after time after time.

This was not to be my experience either.

In the chapter on orgasmic childbirth in INA MAY’S GUIDE TO CHILDBIRTH,  there is a photo of a young woman relaxed and smiling blissfully as her baby’s head crowns between her legs.

Nope.  Nadda.  Not even close.

My labor was not slow to start.  Nor was it a model of a woman in good control who found and used her ritual, and there was definitely nothing orgasmic about it.   Instead, my labor started with a bang (or more accurately a”pop”) and moved forward at a rapid clip, eventually becoming an experience that has challenged my identity as a doula and birth activist, while at the same time affirming more than ever for me that normal birth is a powerful experience that all women should have the right to pursue.

Charlie, our first child, was born three days before his due date by cesarean in 1999 when I was 33 years old.  I had selected a local birth center for my pregnancy but a case of insulin dependent gestational diabetes (GD) landed me in the care of the midwives’ back up OB.   When a 39 week ultrasound measured the baby in the 95th percentile for size and weight, the OB convinced my partner and I that despite careful blood sugar management, I had grown a diabetic induced, monster sized baby and that we needed give birth as soon as possible.  My baby simply wasn’t ready to be born and so our attempts resulted in an epidural fever, swollen cervix, posterior baby who didn’t rotate, and membranes that had been ruptured too long to be considered safe for my positive strep b status. The OB also diagnosed CPD (i.e. pelvis not big enough for the baby) in my chart.   Recovery did not go well and for the next year and a half I was to be plagued with daily pain.  The depression lasted for two years.  Oh and by the way, Charlie was 8 lbs 7 ounces and showed no signs of diabetes complications.

Charlie had been a one-shot conception and so Cindy and I were disappointed to have this baby take a lot more effort to get cooking.  During the 27 month process I kept thinking, “What is the point of being a big VBACtivist if I don’t ever get to have a VBAC myself?”  It was on the way to speaking about the dangers of cesareans at a national press briefing sponsored by the American College of Nurse Midwives that I had a little chat with the universe.  “Universe,” I said, “I’ve devoted 6 years of my life to birth activism.  Its time I have my own baby!”

Three days later I got a positive pregnancy test.

This time around I decided to have a home water birth attended by a local certified professional midwife named Karen who herself is a VBAC mom.  For the past 5 years I’ve been seeing an endocrinologist for hypothyroidism.  Since I fully expected the GD to return, I asked her to help me manage my blood sugar levels throughout pregnancy making it clear that there would be no OB involved and that I was planning a homebirth.  She agreed.  The plan for the birth was to stop taking insulin once labor started and control my sugar levels by a combination of eating or not eating as necessary.  Cindy would be in charge doing a finger stick test with my glucometer every 2 hours.

I was determined to put together the best birth team possible.  We requested our midwife’s most experienced apprentice Aimee because she has attended over 200 births.  Our doula Lora is actually catching babies in her own right nowadays, but agreed to come out of doula retirement for us.  In addition, I selected one back up hospital in case of an emergency transfer, and another more distant one in case it was a non-emergency.  I even chose two back up doulas.

Not wanting to stop there, I created a homebirth birth plan and an informed consent / refusal document in case of a hospital transfer.  Plus, I revised the cesarean birth plan I had written years ago to reflect more of an informed consent / refusal format.  I don’t know anyone else who has actually created these documents herself and so it was mostly guesswork.  I also rented a birth tub.

Since Charlie was posterior, I’ve paid a lot of attention to that issue and started practicing the tips in “Optimal Foetal Positioning” at the beginning of my third trimester.  I generally nag my doula clients about practicing OFP and so was surprised when my own efforts seemed to be in vain.  Despite being careful to sit upright and spend time on all fours, my baby seemed to be settling into a posterior position except when he decided to lie transverse (sideways) a few times around the time of my due date.  The prospect of a potentially long, extra painful, possibly unsuccessful posterior labor was weighing on my mind although Karen stressed that my cesarean wasn’t really caused by Charlie’s posterior positioning.   Rather it was the result of the slew of interventions surrounding my birth.

When you have GD, OBs like to get your baby born by 40 weeks (38 weeks at the time of my first pregnancy) due to the concern over having a big baby as well as a supposed increased risk of stillbirth at term.  For this pregnancy, I thought I’d surely be blessed with a 38 week birth or even 40 weeks at the absolute latest.  After all, wasn’t one of the birth affirmations I taped up in our house “I DESERVE a better birth experience”?  Even though I was using a homebirth midwife who would not push me into an early labor, I still had all those GD fears in my head.

Why should I have to go through the stress of going post dates? Mentally I was not prepared for it but there I was a 40 weeks with no labor.  Then 41 weeks.  Plus I was big.  Really big.  So big that people sighed and gave me sympathetic looks when I walked by.  I’m only 5’4” and worried that I had reduced my chances of VBACing by growing a big baby.  I was also worried that his/her head wouldn’t mold enough because that is what I’d heard happens with overdue babies.  What about the risk of stillbirth?  The GD had started much earlier this time and so by the beginning of the second trimester I was already following a strict diet, taking 5 insulin shots, and doing up to 10 blood sugar finger sticks a day.   My endocrinologist knows a lot more about insulin management than my OB did and so I felt that I had even better sugar control than I did with my first pregnancy yet I still worried.  Was I making an unsafe decision to allow myself to go so long?

I tried searching PubMed and Medline for studies on GD and stillbirth but surprisingly couldn’t find anything useful.  I still don’t know what OBs are basing their hysteria over because I simply couldn’t find ANYTHING recent that supported their concern.  Regardless, just seeing me type “stillbirth” into the sites’ search engines was stressing Cindy out.  We were both really stressed.  My ICAN boss Lisa Pratt knew this and jumped onto the national email list and asked women to send me positive postdate stories which several women did.  My favorite was from the woman who had five children who were all postdates and were all just fine.

Since my baby was still floating high (not uncommon in a subsequent pregnancy during which babies may not engage until labor starts), at 41 weeks I decided to start chiropractic care to make sure that there wasn’t any kind of misalignment keeping her (I was hoping for a girl) from engaging.  I also wanted to make sure that there was nothing mentally keeping me from starting labor so my partner and I tried knocking off things on our “to do” list.  First we replaced our main toilet that had been half broken for ages.  No labor.  Next we assembled the birth tub in the living room so that it would be ready to use.  No luck.  We made some long over due and important changes to our wills.  Nope.  I even had the oil changed in our car.  Nothing.

My midwife suggested walking as a way to get labor started and so on the day I turned 41 weeks I took Charlie to the local mall to walk and look at the Christmas decorations.  I was very uncomfortable but managed to walk off and on for an hour then stopped in the food court to get each of us an egg roll as a snack.  The cashier gave us two fortune cookies and when I opened mine it read, “A thrilling time is in your immediate future.” I was certain that labor would start that night!

It didn’t.

I decided that 43 weeks would be my limit and so planned on increasingly aggressive measures to get labor to start.  I turned 42 weeks on a Wednesday and scheduled acupuncture to target labor trigger points for the following Monday.  Massage therapy for the same purpose was set for the next day.  If neither worked I was going to ask Karen to strip my membranes even though I really disliked the idea.  Meanwhile, on Friday, I ate at an Indian buffet hoping that the spicy food would trigger something.

The last thing on our “to do” list was to do Charlie’s Christmas shopping.  Since we really thought I was going to give birth weeks before, Cindy and I had planned on her getting his presents after the baby came but here it was Dec. 16th already.  So we headed out for a long day of shopping and bought everything we needed.  That night, our friend Aunt Sandy cooked us some Turkish food.  By the time we finished eating, I was having a steady stream of Braxton Hicks type contractions.  It was the first regular bout I had had since agreeing to a vaginal exam over a week before so I had a hunch that something was happening but didn’t say anything to Cindy.

I didn’t sleep well that night due to a combination of the regular, light contractions plus a painful stitch in my back that had been bothering me for weeks.  At 3:00 a.m. I took a warm bath to help with the discomfort.  I climbed back into bed at 4:00 a.m. and suddenly felt a warm gush of fluid between my legs.

With Charlie’s pregnancy, the Bradley instructor had taught us that when your water bag breaks, you should grab a towel and note the color of the fluid.  We had had a long running joke in our family about the fact that when my water did break, Cindy grabbed a RED towel and so we couldn’t determine anything about the fluid.  This time, when I woke Cindy up with the sentence, “Will you get me a WHITE towel?” she knew exactly what that meant!

Unfortunately, the fluid was brown and with a lot more blood in it than I would have expected.  I don’t know a lot about meconium and was scared.  We called our midwife and I told her what we were seeing.  Karen normally lives 5 minutes from our house but that night was at her second home in rural Maryland- a two hour drive away!  She decided to call our doula Lora who was much closer and have her come over to asses the situation.

Cindy stripped the bed and the combination of the cold air and my fears about the meconium made me start to shake.  Luckily, not long after Lora arrived and diagnosed the brown liquid as “old meconium” common in postdate pregnancies and not a serious concern.  I wasn’t having strong contractions but Karen decided to head back to Baltimore anyways so she would be nearby and Lora went back home.  I was supposed to try to rest but fairly soon I was having steady contractions and so was not able to go back to sleep.

By 7:00 a.m., I could no longer stand to be lying down and so was standing and leaning over onto the bed with contractions that were requiring my full attention.  I asked Cindy to start filling the birth tub which she did along with starting a fire in the wood stove so that I wouldn’t be cold getting in and out of the water.  Next she called Aunt Sandy and asked her to go to the grocery store for us as and to see if she could keep Charlie during the entire day since they had already planned on an outing that afternoon.  Sandy quickly arrived to get our grocery list which included egg nog, some staples, and food for the birth team.  I figured that since egg nog contains a combination of protein and carbohydrates that it would be something good to snack on during labor!

I decided to call my “phone doula” Jen to let her know that labor had started.  Jen is my closest doula friend and someone who has listened to me process my previous birth during the last several years.  Jen gave Cindy guidance in how to coach me through a contraction and after hearing me go through several over the phone said, “Where’s your doula?  Call her and tell her to get over there!”

At 9:00 a.m. I called Lora and she agreed to come over.  After I hung up the phone, I decided to get into the birth tub and so walked downstairs only to discover that the tub was quite chilly since Cindy hadn’t noticed while filling it that the hot water heater had run out.  The tub has its own heater but it can’t heat the water but rather just maintains any temperature you put in so she began heating crab cooking pots filled with water on the kitchen stove and even the woodstove but the process was going to take a while.  I went back upstairs and got into our bathtub instead.

Fortunately, our water heater had recovered sufficiently to provide warm water deep enough for me to go completely limp during contractions which worked really well.  Meanwhile, Aunt Sandy returned to our house with the groceries and took Charlie out for the day.

It was around that time that my mother called.  I had decided not to tell anyone in my family when labor started because we didn’t want them to keep calling or to come over.  I really wanted to limit who was there to women who were 100% comfortable with and supportive of homebirth.  Because of this, Cindy told my mother that I couldn’t come to the phone because I was getting ready for a midwifery appointment later that morning.  She felt really bad lying but there was no way around it.  Mom must have sensed something was up anyways because she called my two sisters who then each tried to reach us periodically throughout the day.  It seemed like the telephone was ringing non-stop.  We didn’t answer any more calls after that.

When I meet with my birth clients prenatally, I warn them that there is “nice doula Barb” and “mean doula Barb.”  “Mean doula Barb” is the doula who makes you do things you won’t necessarily like in the effort to keep labor moving along.  When Lora joined me in the bathroom while I labored in the tub, she watched me go through a few contractions then said, “You’re contractions are pretty short and far apart (which had happened since I entered the tub).  You really need to get out and move around.”  I knew she was being “mean doula” and told her so but also knew that she was right.  Lora warned me that whenever you change how you are laboring the first contraction is always challenging but that she would help me get through it.   I’m glad she had prepared me because that first contraction out of the tub was a doozy.

I put on some huge maternity shorts and a disposable diaper to catch the fluid that continued to leak out from my bag of waters then headed down the stairs.  I took one step at a time sideways (a doula trick I’ve used with clients to help babies navigate the pelvic bones) and had to stop several times for contractions.  Once in our living room, I put the birth ball on the couch and leaned over that while Cindy brought me some toast to eat. I was already nauseous from sipping egg nog (okay, maybe it wasn’t the best choice for labor!) but managed to eat some anyways.  Laboring on dry land hurt a lot more than being in the bathtub had and I kept eying that birth tub.  As soon as it was reasonably warm there was no stopping me- I climbed in.

Things generally felt better in the birth tub at first but as the contractions intensified I began to have more and more trouble coping.  The problem was that the tub wasn’t deep enough to do anything except be on all fours either hanging over the tub’s edge (which made my underarms sore) or with my hands on the bottom.  In the bathtub earlier, the water was shallow enough that I could just let go during a contraction without fear of going under water.  In the birth tub however, the water was deep enough that I couldn’t go limp since I always had to be supporting myself to stay above water.  We tried putting my (wooden!) nursing footstool in the water for me to lean my elbow on so that I would lie sideways but it floated and so didn’t work.  After a while, I was feeling not only the lower pelvic pain from my cervix dilating, but also burning down the front of my thighs during contractions from being in one position too long.

Having seen birth firsthand as a doula as well as plenty of birth videos, I was really surprised I couldn’t find a way to cope with the contractions.  I felt like they were just running me over.  I couldn’t find my “ritual.”  Frustrated, I – the doula – birth activist – promoter of natural birth – ICAN leader who had planned her birth for seven years -did something that I never expected.

I started asking for an epidural.

Cindy was so surprised and she didn’t know how to react.  Lora, on the other hand, did and jumped in to remind me how hostile a hospital would be to my situation (40 years old, 2 ½ weeks overdue and having passed meconium, VBAC, insulin dependent GD, and transfer from a homebirth).  No problem because in my mind I thought, “I’ll just get an epidural and refuse everything else.”  Since my partner refused to give into my request, I had no choice but to continue thrashing about in the birth tub while loosing even more focus.  I continued to labor like this while Cindy continued to remind me of my goals and how I would never forgive myself if I transferred for pain relief and was sectioned.  Yeah, yeah, whatever.  I was certain I could pull things off at the hospital.  Since no one would take me themselves I seriously thought, “Well then I’ll just drive myself!”

When I labored with Charlie, an emotional turning point for me was after 15 hours of hefty contractions my OB announced that I was still only one centimeter dilated.  The news broke my spirit and caused me to get an epidural that I hadn’t wanted.  Because of this, my homebirth plan had specified no vaginal exams.  However, when Karen arrived at our home around 1:30 p.m. we decided to go ahead and to check dilation because of the meconium seen earlier.  I had been sectioned with Charlie at four centimeters and have often said that in my next labor all that mattered was that I make it beyond that point.  Because of this, when Karen announced that I was five and a half to six centimeters dilated I’m sure she thought I would be happy with the news but I wasn’t.   Honestly, a good lie like, “You’re really close.” would have been fine with me right then because I was so ready to be done.  Five and a half to six centimeters sounded like I still had far too long to go.

I asked what position the baby was in but Karen said she couldn’t tell.  I was worried that she might be lying to protect me and that my fears of another posterior baby had been realized.  I started crying, “The baby is posterior.  She’s stuck.  I don’t feel any progress.  Her head is big and its not molding.  I want to go to the hospital.  I want my baby.  Where is she?  Where is she?”  Karen took both of my hands and tried to get me to look her in the eyes to calm me while reminding me of how long I had been waiting to give birth and that I’d surely be sectioned at the hospital.  I wouldn’t look at her though because I was too embarrassed by my inability to cope with the pain.

When she left the room to get lunch in the kitchen I grabbed Cindy by the collar and told her, “I’m SERIOUS.  I want to go to the hospital for an epidural.”  Cindy called doula Jen and told her, “Barb is asking to go to the hospital for an epidural!”  Jen responded, “Put her on the phone!”  Cindy brought the receiver to me but I refused to take it.  Cindy told Jen this who yelled, “Tell her I will never speak to her again if she doesn’t get on the phone.”  “FINE!  I DON’T CARE!”  I hollered back.

I remembered reading birth stories where women talk about dozing between contractions in advanced labor.  I was very tired, my arms were sore, and my thighs kept burning so I decided to lie down on the living room futon for awhile to try and rest.  When the next contraction came there was so much pressure in my pelvis that it felt like it was going to explode.  I only made it through one or two more of those before giving up on that idea.  The midwifery apprentice Aimee had arrived by then and she stepped in to doula so that Lora could take a break and get something to eat.  I decided to get into the shower and so got on all fours while Aimee used the hand held sprayer to aim the water over my back.  I started rocking myself forward into a position I remembered from reading THE PINK KIT.  My labor mantra at that point alternated between “OUT BABY OUT BABY OUT BABY” and “OH F$#@ OH F$#@.”

Another tidbit from Ina May’s book is that women should blow horse lips during contractions because it is impossible to do it while holding tension in your perineum and because it will generally help you relax.  I don’t know if anyone on my birth team had read that advice and have wondered if they were curious as to what the heck I was doing because I started vigorously shaking my head from side to side (wet hair flinging about) while blowing horse lips.

I knew I was supposed to use low vocal tones but was really struggling to do so and eventually gave up and started simply screaming at the top of my lungs through the contractions like a wolf howling at the moon.  After a while in the tub it was Aimee’s turn to play mean doula because she started saying that I really needed to get out and move my pelvis around more.  I told her that every time I moved around it triggered a contraction.  She said, “Well THAT’S the POINT isn’t it?”  I knew she was right.  She helped me out of the tub and I walked down the stairs again sideways and resumed leaning over a ball on the couch.  Soon I was back in the birth tub but this time I moved upright onto my knees between contractions and took turns rotating each leg around at the hip joint (more PINK KIT stuff).  I whined to Aimee about how the movement triggered contractions.  “Great!” she said.  In my heart I knew she was right.

At some point that afternoon I did have a change in attitude.  I had still been thinking that I’d screw all of them and drive myself to the hospital but I finally thought the whole thing through.  First, even if they agreed to take me there would be the very painful car ride.  Then I’d have to wait in triage for an exam.  Then paperwork.  Then an IV would have to run for a while before I could get the epidural.  Then I’d probably have to wait a long time for the anesthesiologist.  I resigned myself to the fact that there was going to be no hospital, that there was no turning back, and that I was just going to have to get through the rest of labor whether I liked it or not.

Then I felt the rectal pressure.

Having never turned off my doula-brain I knew exactly what that meant.  Finally, I could tell that I was making progress.  Boy, things really hurt right about then and I found myself biting the edge of the birth tub like a crazy woman.  At one point I grabbed Lora’s pant legs as she stood in front of me and twisted the fabric tightly.  At another point, I reached outside of the birth tub and twisted the disposable liner that hangs over the edge.  I cried out, “I feel rectal pressure.”  Aimee responded, “Great!”  With the next contraction I felt my body pushing and must have been making pushing sounds because Aimee said, “Try to push only if you have a strong urge.”  Well hello?  I don’t think the urge could be any stronger than feeling like one’s bottom is going to explode!

All of a sudden I could feel the baby’s head in my birth canal and said so out loud.  After seeing other women’s births where the baby’s crowning head looks soft and squishy, I was really shocked to feel the sensation of a bowling ball wrapped in sandpaper.  It felt big and dry and gritty.  Lora reminded me to reach down and feel the baby’s head which I am grateful for because that was a very special moment.  Karen had been upstairs napping in Charlie’s room and our doula told Cindy to go up and tell her that we needed her NOW.  When Cindy came back downstairs she was surprised to hear Lora say, “Your baby is about to be born!”

Another contraction started and I pushed along with the explosive pressure while yelling, “Baby get you’re a@# out here!”  I felt a pop and realized that the baby’s head had come out.  Lora told me I needed to push the rest of the body out but I said, “Pull her out. Can’t you just pull her out?”  “Barb, you have to push her out.  Come on and put your leg up here and push.”  I put my right leg up so that my foot was on the bottom of the tub and in one more push our baby was born!”  Aimee reached down and brought the baby up to my arms right as Karen came downstairs.  It was 5:04 p.m.  My labor had lasted exactly 13 hours including only 14 minutes of pushing.  Everyone started exclaiming, “Look how beautiful your baby is. She is so beautiful.”  Cindy, who had been hoping for a boy all along said, “Um, has anyone checked the sex of this baby?”  I turned the baby over to reveal a penis and said, laughing, “It’s a boy!”

He was very limp and floppy so Karen quickly gave him some puffs of air by mouth and we all worked on stimulating him to come around.  He sputtered a bit and cried once but wasn’t breathing well so Karen used a mask with an air bag attached to give him several puffs of air.  Having been at births where babies need some extra help to get started, I never doubted that he would be okay plus Lora kept reporting that his heart tones were fine.    On the other hand, I had never prepared Cindy for the possibility of our baby being slow to start and later learned she had been standing a few steps back crying because she was so afraid.

Finally, the baby let out a little cry and then cried a bit more and started breathing on his own.  Once he was stable, Karen leaned over to hug me and give a heartfelt congratulations on my VBAC.  When I responded, “It was NOTHING like I expected!” everyone burst into laughter.

Cindy and I were given plenty of time to enjoy our new son who we later named Ridgeway Ambrose Stratton.  We did answer a phone call from doula Jen who was still speaking to me after all.  When I eventually climbed out of the birth tub, Cindy got to cut his umbilical cord and I birthed the placenta while squatting on a birth stool.  We called Aunt Sandy who picked up our celebratory Pizza Hut pizza (banned for 7 months due to the GD diet) and brought that to our house along with Charlie so that he could meet his little brother.  When Ridgeway settled in for a long feed, everyone toasted the birth with a glass of red wine and enjoyed the pizza and some slice and bake cookies (another banned food).

I called my mother back and admitted we had lied to her but she didn’t mind.  We made some other calls while the birth team helped clean up then Cindy and I settled into our bed only to stay awake most of the night staring at our little miracle who had weighed in at 9 lbs 7 ounces and measured 22 inches long with a 14.5 inch head.  He was normally proportioned and showed no signs of diabetes complications (the big head is genetic).

As I write this story, ten weeks have passed since the birth and I am still processing the experience.  It really was nothing like I expected.  That is not to say that I am at all disappointed in my birth because I am very much not.  I am just surprised what it was like.  Maybe all women are surprised by their births and I’ve just not known that.  Or maybe I’m just surprised that I was surprised.

Even though I had discussed my desire for earlier and more frequent fetal heart tone monitoring with Karen due to the concern over uterine rupture, by the time my birth happened I can tell you that rupture was truly the least of my fears.  I figured that my scar had had seven years to heal and so should be good and solid by now.  Once labor started, I never even gave rupture a second thought.

When I talk about my inability to find a workable coping ritual, our midwife and the others on my birth team have stressed to me that I DID find a technique which ended up being the repeated yelling.  Karen thinks that I was literally letting out the seven years of anger I had been holding onto because of my first birth.  She has also taught me that many women scream in labor (none of my doula clients have although of course many of them have medicated births) and that she was even kicked once by an Amish woman.  During one of her postpartum visits, Karen mentioned that she already sensed a change in my personality.  Yes, I told her, there has literally been a seven year weight lifted off of my shoulders.  Seven years was a long, long time to wait to see how my final birth would turn out.

I also find that I have a bit of bravado when describing my 14 minute pushing time to other women especially those who have birthed much smaller babies.  Oh, yours was seven pounds?  You should try pushing out a nine and a half pounder!  Goodness, I still can’t believe I grew and birthed such a sizeable kid.

I’m so thankful for everyone who has helped me on my VBAC journey from Gretchen and Bonnie who helped me so long ago on the email list, to Shannon and Berna from the ICAN board who took my last minute, frantic phone calls when I went so overdue.  Kmom and her plus-sized website helped me sort through some of the diabetes issues as well.  Even some of my Baltimore ICAN chapter members stepped up to help me make it through those last few days.  I’m also very thankful that Karen practices true midwifery and fully considered me to be a partner in my care.  She is so calm and trusting of birth that her confidence rubs off on you.  In fact one of my other affirmations that I taped up at home was simply, “97%.”  Meaning, only 3% of Karen’s clients end up with cesareans so I knew I had a 97% chance at getting my VBAC under her care.

For years I’ve had a vision that my birth involved being surrounded by a group of women who were special enough to care how a single woman’s, single birth turned out and that is what happened thanks to my birth team.

Cindy reminds me often and I know that it is true, that this VBAC is in a large part due to her.  She has learned a lot about birth since Charlie was born and had the confidence and strength to stand up to me and not let me give up on trying.  As Karen told her afterwards, if the spouse says its time to go to the hospital then they transport.  It was Cindy’s stubbornness at not letting me transfer that was the determining factor in my success.  And yes, despite being SERIOUS about that epidural, I’m so glad that I stayed at home.

Even though I have a tear to heal from, the recovery from my VBAC has simply been no comparison to my cesarean.  I fall more in love with Ridgeway every day and have so far escaped any postpartum depression.  What a difference!

A few weeks ago I took both boys to a local Chinese buffet to help feed my ravenous breastfeeding hunger.  I opened my fortune cookie after the meal and this one said,

“Good health will be yours for a long time.”

Barbara Stratton leads the Baltimore ICAN chapter.  The poem she wrote about her first birth experience can be found at Her article, “50 Ways to Protest a VBAC Denial can be found at She was voted one of the top 30 women’s health activists of 2005 by the National Women’s Health Network.


  1. Kristen says:

    Tears, tears, tears in my eyes. This is such a beautiful (and beautifully honest) story.

  2. Shari says:

    Barbara, What a wonderful story! To the readers, Barbara is one of the first people I found when I sought an alternative to tooth-and-nail battle for a hospital VBAC (40, with GD, etc). She provided me with encouragement, excellent resources, and invitations to ICAN meetings. I ended up with a peaceful, healthy homebirth of my third child. Barbara – One of my techniques (more like instincts) was biting on the side of the birth tub. Be sure to have a towel on the edge, because that make the biting much nicer. Otherwise I would have to have bitten my husband’s arm off. Despite the discomfort, I can only remember that day with joy and pride.

    On my website, get your “Top 5 Ways to Avoid a C-section” bumper sticker, and other pro-natural birth items. Proceeds benefit ICAN.