Like most women who VBAC, my birth story begins with the birth of my son a little less than three and a half years prior to the birth of my daughter. While I wasn’t exactly ignorant of the birthing process with him, I trusted that I would be able to deliver him without a cesarean. I hired a doula and planned on an unmedicated birth in a hospital. I didn’t read a whole lot outside of a “typical” birth book for preparation and believed that I could do it, that I would rely on my doula for support and if I really needed an epidural, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. The day of I was unprepared, I went into labor relatively optimistically, but after arriving at the hospital with intense back to back contractions, being told that I wasn’t in labor because I was only 2 cm dilated and then never progressing past four, I needed an epidural. About 30 minutes later I had a high fever and I was assured there was nothing I could do besides have a c-section. I struggled with it after his birth. Cried a lot. Questioned my ability to really be a woman if I couldn’t give birth. I hated my scar. I hated that it was so traumatic. I hated that I had been cut open and that the only real sensation that I could remember from his delivery was tugging at my skin. I hated that I couldn’t walk to the NICU to nurse him, relying on less than helpful hospital staff, resulting in weeks of supply issues and stress on an already stressed first time mom. I had failed. Failed my son, failed my self. I vowed to never, ever do it again.
While I eventually came to terms with my son’s birth, I still knew that when I became pregnant again I would do everything I could to make sure that the outcome was different. Starting from the day I saw that extra line on the pregnancy test, it was. I kept up with my workout schedule and continued running several days per week, went to yoga and spin class, maintained a healthy diet and avoided the “I’m pregnant” excuse as much as possible. I still found my psyche scarred. When I watched births on TV, vaginal or cesarean, I would break down. I was scared. What if I couldn’t do it? My body wouldn’t dilate the first time, what if I was never able to dilate? What if I had to go through that again? Very early I vocalized to my husband how it was imperative that I have a VBAC. It was the most important thing about this pregnancy, outside of having a healthy baby. He understood and came on board right away.
I hired Cole Deelah as a doula, after several online conversations with her and just knowing she was the right temperament and personality to compliment mine. I created a birth team that included her, my cousin, Kristen (who is a PA and a close friend) and my husband. I was much more engaged and read everything I could about VBAC. I joined the ICAN listserve and frequented an online VBAC support group. I read Ina May Gaskin and Henci Goer. I read lots and lots of birth stories. I took medication off the table early on and told myself if I wanted a VBAC I had to do it without any interventions, and I’d have to stay at home as long as I possibly could. My goal was to wait until I was ready to push, which didn’t seem too unreasonable since my home is only about 5 miles from the hospital. We didn’t know the baby’s gender, but I would go on my early morning runs and talk to the baby and say “We’re in it together, we’re going to do this together. You are going to be my healing baby”. I felt like we had that understanding, as I toted along my bump on all the early runs in the dark and people thought I was totally crazy.
I had a lot of mom friends tell me it was okay to have a repeat c-section and not to think of myself as a failure if I didn’t get my VBAC. I would just smile and say “I’m having a VBAC” and continued to convince myself of it. My cousin never doubted it, my doula never doubted it and my husband never doubted it. I knew I’d be surrounded by positive energy and trusted that everyone had my interest first. Most importantly, they believed in me.
I woke up on Saturday, September 22, my due date, and went running with friends hoping it might get things going since I’d had a few contractions the day before. We went to breakfast as a family of three and did things around the house. I was ravenously hungry and felt cramps and pressure but wasn’t having contractions. My aunt and uncle and cousin came over and did a bunch of stuff around the house with us. Last minute nesting. During the course of the afternoon I was having some mild contractions but nothing consistent. I sent Kristen a text to rest this afternoon because we likely had a late night ahead of us. I was feeling a lot of pressure and kept thinking I needed to pee. Sitting on the toilet was more comfortable than walking around. On one of my trips to the bathroom I lost my mucous plug. After that I started to have slightly more consistent contractions, but they weren’t strong or regular. I sat down on the couch with my aunt as they were about to leave and said “I’m just kind of scared” not really knowing what was ahead. She said “Don’t be scared. You’ve run a marathon before. You can do this. Besides, nobody every died from pain”
“Yes, and it will end”
“Yes, and it will end.”
It was the pep talk I needed to get past that mental block out. Regular contractions started pretty soon after that. My aunt, uncle and cousin left at about 4 pm and I told them I would have a baby on their anniversary, which was Sunday the 23rd. I found out later that when they walked out the door my aunt told my uncle that the baby was coming today.
I downloaded a contractions timer app on my phone and started to time them. Every two minutes. But they were short and I could walk, talk, continue through them. I was a little frustrated because this is how labor had started with my son and I was sure these contractions weren’t doing anything except making me tired. I called Cole and she agreed and gave me some tips for slowing things down so I could relax a little and hopefully not feel worn out. Toward the end of our conversation she mentioned that if it really was labor my body would just keep going. I started chugging coconut water to make sure I was hydrated. My husband went out to run some last minute errands because I told him it was now or never. I was home alone with my 3 year old and letting him mostly play alone. Around 5 I called my husband to say I needed him home and ran some bath water to relax. I was cheerful, but the contractions were getting more intense. Still two minutes apart (that never changed) and still about 30 or 40 seconds long. My 3 year old came in the bathroom and knew what was happening and “helped” wash my hair and face like we do in his nightly baths and poured water on me and shared his bath toys with me. It was very sweet. I was started to feel like giving him attention was going to be too hard, and when I realized it was about 5:30 I called my mom to come get him so that we weren’t doing a late night drop off and he could have a normal evening. I got a call from a friend at about 6 and told her what was going on and to tell our friends. Still happy, but things were getting a little tougher. My mom showed up a little after 6 to pick up the kiddo and was giddy and excited and wanting to talk about how far apart my contractions were and what was happening. I said “I don’t know mom. I just want it to stop and want it to be over. And don’t call everyone and tell them what’s going on.” We have a very close family, and I didn’t want any unnecessary phone calls.
After my mom and son left I walked back to my bedroom and sent a text to my cousin to come any time, I was starting to have a hard time recovering between contractions. That was 6:30.
She got there right about 7 and took over. The rest is kind of a blur but I remember everything clearly at the same time. We were hanging out and talking. I was moving from the tub to the bed to the toilet to the tub, just trying to get comfortable. I was trying different positions to lessen the intensity and every move seemed to just make things hurt more. The only thing that helped was sitting on the toilet and getting in the bath. Contractions were still two minutes apart and 30-45 seconds long. I started to not really be able to talk about random things and joke anymore. I just kind of rested between contractions. I kept telling Kristen I wanted things to slow down, but they would not. She was on the phone off and on with Cole, telling Cole what was happening and getting tips. I was waiting for that magic one minute contraction to say yes, it’s time for Cole to come. My husband would pop in and out. He was doing things around the house and hanging out. He would come in and tell me I was doing a good job, then go off and do something. I didn’t really care what he did. Besides the magic one minute contraction, I was waiting for my water to break. I remember with my son after my water broke contractions went from heavy to incredibly intense. That never happened either. I completely lost track of time, but was managing. Things were uncomfortable, but I was recovering. I wanted to rest. I really wanted to rest. Only getting two minutes between contractions was making me tired and I thought this was going to go on all night. I had one contraction where I had 4 minutes between and I tried to will that to happen again. That was my one break in the evening and after that they kept getting stronger. I was trying to envision it as progress and I was opening my mouth and moaning and relaxing and it felt like things were moving. Joab brought me a glass of wine. It was gross but I chugged it hoping to relax a little. Nothing was slowing this baby down. I guess the labor was real, just like Cole had warned me.
Kristen would make gentle suggestions and encourage me and tell me I was doing great. Finally after trying what seemed like everything, I went back to the toilet and sat down. I had bloody show. I knew that was progress but it also made me a little nervous. Things must be getting close. I sat there a while then all of a sudden instead of breathing through a contraction I felt the urge to throw up and that my body was pushing. I remember saying “Kristen, I’m pushing”. She suggested we move back to the tub and we did. Things were getting more intense. I was becoming very vocal and moaning loud and hard. Contractions were lasting longer and she stopped telling me how long they were lasting or how much time in between. Didn’t really seem like any. I remember thinking there is no way in HELL I am leaving this house to go to the hospital. How am I going to get to the hospital? Kristen may have been wondering the same thing, but never showed it. Somewhere in that time we told Cole she should go ahead and come our way. I don’t think any of us realized just how close I was.
My husband had run to get Chipotle for me and him right before I got in the tub-this matters later. While in the tub Kristen called Cole and as they were on the phone I had a really strong contraction. Cole told her based on how I sounded I was at a 9 or a 10. I remember Kristen saying “10?” and I thought that was how long until Cole got there. Then Cole talked her through how to get me out of the tub and out the door and she would meet us at the hospital.
Kristen had to interrupt Joab eating his burrito to say she needed his help and we needed to go now. Like now. He grabbed clothes for me and then helped Kristen get me out of the tub then out the door. That’s when the moments of no way can I go on started. I remember telling them “I can’t do this. I can’t do this” and crying. They both reassured me I could. It was followed by moments of calm when I’d be telling myself you can do it, you can do it. *Get out of this tub and you can get an epidural. Out of the tub, you don’t need an epidural. Walk to the door and you can get an epidural. Made it to the door, you don’t need an epidural. Get in that car, you can get an epidural. You’re in the car. You don’t need an epidural.* And so on, all the way to the hospital. As I was climbing in the car and Kristen was helping me and Joab was grabbing last minute things I was saying “Boppy, boppy” Kristen had no clue what I was talking about (in fact was a little worried I was losing my mind and speaking in tongues) until I finally managed to muster up “Tell Joab to get the boppy” That was the last thing to load in the car (and Kristen realized it was, in fact a thing, not crazy talk) and we were off.
The car ride was the most comfortable I had been in a while as I sat in the back on my knees facing backward and grabbing on to the headrest. Kristen sat with me while I cursed Joab’s driving, though he did a really great job to be fair. Except making a few comments about how he just wanted to finish his burrito. I didn’t have to open my eyes at all because I knew the turns and lights so well since the drive to the hospital went right past my office. I had been dreading that drive almost my entire pregnancy because of the horrible, pot hole filled road leading right into the hospital. Anyone in Houston can attest to it. We bumped along those horrible bumps, I had some more contractions. Right when we pulled into the hospital Kristen and Joab jumped out. I was vocalizing. *There is no way I’m getting into that wheel chair. Get into that chair and you can get an epidural.* The most intense contraction yet came over me and there instead of breathing through it I was clinching and gritting. My body was starting to push the baby out. I screamed that I couldn’t breathe. Joab helped me out of the car and into the wheel chair being held by a security guard who was completely terrified. Some other talking and commotion happened. I was just happy to not have to walk and my eyes were opening and closing. I felt sorry for the person that got in the elevator with us. That person touched my shoulder and said “Kelly, it’s Cole” My doula had arrived! Perfect timing. I looked at her and said “Oh, HI!” I was so happy to have her there and instantly felt calmer. *You don’t need an epidural.*
We made it up to the delivery floor with a host of medical staff standing there with anxious faces, waiting to resuscitate me. “Ma’am are you ok? Can you hear me? Do you need help?” Something along those lines. “Um, yeah, I’m fine except I’m having a baby” Followed by some sighs of relief/disappointment on their faces. “She’s just in labor…blah blah blah” The doctor then told me the security guard called a code on me and they thought I was dying. Nope. Not dying. Can I get out of this damn hallway and into a delivery room? And people better stop asking me questions.
We got into the delivery room with what felt like a ton of people and an evil nurse yelling at me to get out of the chair and put on a hospital gown. I pushed the hospital gown out of my face and said “I’m not putting that thing on” and told them I couldn’t get out of the chair and I wasn’t getting on that bed. “You cannot have this baby in that chair” “I’m not going to!” Then a huge contraction, moaning and BOOM! All of a sudden I was on the bed and my shorts were off thanks to evil nurse picking me up and throwing me on the bed then making an exit.
More scrambling by everyone. The OB introduced herself. Not my regular OB but one from my practice who I knew. I remember saying “Oh, Dr. Vayas. I know you. Hi.” I kept asking for people to leave and the lights to be turned down. It was so chaotic in that delivery room. Very different from the calm of my home with dimmed lights and my calm husband and my calm cousin. Who don’t do this every day. The OB tried, and actually told all nonessentials to leave, to which she got the response “We’re all essentials!” They were pushing down on my stomach and looking for a heartbeat. Found it, it sounded good. Cole was right by my side, holding my hand. All I had to do was look at her and she’d remind me I was doing great and I would feel calm. I was going to be checked. I had been dreading this moment. It was the part of my first child’s birth that brought me nothing but pain and disappointment. I was on my side and closed my eyes and tried not to clench. I just knew she was going to say 7.
I heard the nurse report it. 10 centimeters and +3 station.
They could see the head.
“All right Kelly, you’re ready to push”
What? I couldn’t believe it. I really couldn’t believe this was happening. I looked at Cole with disbelief and said “I am?” They wanted me to put my feet in stirrups, to scream and count while I pushed. I tried to fight them on all of it. Here I’d been laboring sitting, laboring standing and rocking. The last thing I wanted to do was get on my back and throw my legs in stirrups. The doctor asked how long I’d been laboring at home and I had no idea how to answer that question because I had lost all touch with time. I had a contraction and she told me to push. I was pushing wrong. Not surprising since I was on my back in stirrups, but I had given up that fight. I got some lessons. During this Joab said “Man, I wish I had my Chipotle right now” The OB, my cousin some other staff looked at him funny. I shouted some explicative about his burrito. In the next contraction I pushed like she told me to. I was doing it right, the baby was coming, but the baby’s heart rate was dropping. I needed to get her out now so I’d get an episiotomy. No! No! No! I don’t want that. The baby was showing meconium and was struggling so we needed to do it as quickly as possible. More looks to Cole. More reassurance that I was doing the right thing and that I would be okay and the doctor was not lying. Okay, we will do the episiotomy. Even in that moment, when they could see her head and I could feel her right there I was afraid that the doctor was going to tell me I had to have a csection to get her out.
Then a contraction came. I pushed as hard as I could, holding my breath like I was supposed to. I was exhausted and didn’t feel like I could do it but wanted to push her out. Baby was moving baby was coming and whoosh. The baby is out. The cord was wrapped around her neck and I was waiting to hear if it was a boy or a girl as the OB unwrapped it. It’s a girl! Cord was cut and she was whisked away. Also not what I wanted but they “had” to because the she was showing distress in delivery. I heard the OB call for APGARs 9 and 9. I felt relief and satisfaction, knowing that my body knew she would be ok. I never doubted she was ok. At that moment I looked at the clock. It was 10:28. It had only been about 4 hours since I knew it was the real thing. I really was one of those women who had a c-section after not dilating and then her next birth only took 4 hours.
I totally expected to cry and feel overwhelmed but I didn’t. I was so happy. I was so relieved. I was so shocked. The only thing going through my head was: I did it. I just did it. I can’t believe I did it. I just delivered a baby. By pushing. Without any meds. I really did it.
My birth team was proud of me. The medical staff was proud of me. I felt so supported and empowered. I told everyone I felt powerful. I did it! I thanked Ina May Gaskin and Cole and Kristen and Joab. I was so proud of myself. I still am. She is my healing baby, just like we agreed she would be on our morning runs.