April is International Caesarean Awareness Month. As a mother of four and three-time C-section mama, I wanted to share my experiences. I often felt incomplete because of my Caesarean birth experiences. Here is my story of learning and growing and pushing for my own vaginal birth after Caesarean.
- 2003. My first baby was in distress. I was pre-eclamptic, I agreed to labour induction a week early because of high blood pressure, not knowing interfering in the natural process can greatly increase my odds of having a C-section. I was unaware of my options or rights and seeing that little heart rate dipping dangerously was enough for me to be more than ok with a quick unexpected C-section. Recovery was horrific. I mean, every Caesarean is, and mine wasn’t exceptionally bad. It’s just that when you have every abdominal muscle sliced through, things hurt deeply and for a long time. I struggled to bond with him and was diagnosed with postpartum depression when he was ten months old. I had great difficulty breastfeeding and gave up after two weeks of us both screaming/sobbing through every feeding. I had not prepared myself for a C-section, and with the added failure to breastfeed, I felt like I had failed the motherhood test.
- 2005. Baby number two was born just over two years later, a scheduled Caesarean because “once a C-section, always a C-section” and I didn’t know any different. Having a scheduled C-section was so much better than an emergency, though. We could arrange childcare for our toddler; I was physically and mentally prepared, and I was familiar with the hospital. Everything went well. The hospital staff were exceptional. I healed well, and he thrived, so we went home after 4-5 days just like the first one. I was able to breastfeed him successfully for 3 months and bonded with him despite 7 months of colic.
- 2010. Our third boy was due 4.5 years later, and by this point I had done some research, learning that it was possible to have a healthy VBAC (vaginal birth after Caesarean) as long as I didn’t have other high-risk factors. I researched for months, then hired a gentle and supportive doula Carmen ( @sugarandspa on Instagram), who’d had 2 C-sections and 2 VBACs herself, the last one a surrogacy! By the time I got to 30+ weeks, my doctor told me there was no way she would do a VBAC, and I was devastated. I didn’t know that I could fight for it, and I didn’t have it in me to search for a new doctor at that point. I wrote up a birth plan with a few requests that would allow me to be a little more involved and they complied as well as they could. I could do skin-to-skin and breastfeed him right away. We successfully and happily breastfed until he weaned himself at 11 months.
While both experiences were entirely positive and healthy, I still felt less of a mother for not having experienced a vaginal birth. There was a rite of passage I had skipped, and I didn’t feel complete. You can look on and read this and say, “Oh, you know that’s not true! You’re a mother in every single way that counts.” And yes, obviously. But it’s so common for a mom who’s had C-sections to feel this way. Especially if they weren’t expected.
- 2012. During my 4th pregnancy, two years later, I vowed to make this VBAC happen, no matter what. I joined a local VBAC support group; I did prenatal chiro, and even tried acupuncture (which I’m still not really a believer in, but I was up for trying anything)! We brought all three boys along to the ultrasound and found out that we were having a girl, which was incredibly exciting! I switched not only doctors, but cities, for my care because I’d heard there was more support. And yes, I hired a doula. My previous doula was pregnant at the same time as me so unfortunately, she wasn’t available, but I found another lovely mom of 5 who understood my desire to have a VBAC. When I finally went into labour about a week past my due date in June 2012, we made the one-hour drive into the city and got set up in the labour and delivery room. I didn’t know what to expect. I’d heard horror stories of nursing staff not supporting VBACs so I had my defenses up. However, I had only exceptionally caring and positive nurses. When they asked about my history, I hesitantly said I only had C-sections, and THREE of them. They all just lit up and got excited for me. And all throughout, my doula was texting me, supporting me, and guiding me until she arrived.
It was a long and arduous labour—20 hours of contractions on top of each other—with very little progress. My baby was turned just slightly, but once she got into position, I went from 4 to pushing in a shockingly short amount of time. I pushed for 20 minutes, got to experience the oft-talked-about “ring of fire”, then like a little fish she just slipped out. All 10 pounds of her with a 95th percentile head, which explains the 3rd degree tear I received. There are NO words to describe the spectrum of feelings. I’ve read a thousand birth stories, but nothing comes close to experiencing it personally. One of my very first thoughts was, I DID IT. I JUST FREAKING DID IT.
And I did do it. With the help of a supportive team consisting of my husband, VBAC mamas, prenatal chiropractor, doctors, doula, and the labour and delivery nurses, I successfully had not only a VBAC, but a VBA3C, which is pretty rare and had certainly never happened in this small city hospital. We made history that day, and my story inspired others to try for VBACs.
But this story isn’t done here. Because I learned that finally getting that vaginal birth didn’t make me any more of a mother. I’m so grateful I got to experience it; all of it. I don’t regret choosing a VBAC even though it was hard and there were so many obstacles along the way. I treasure the memories of my daughter’s birth day. But even if she’d ended up being a last-minute C-section, I would be every bit as much of a mother as I am today. So while we bring attention to Caesarean awareness and we help people to understand their choices and find their voices, we also want to acknowledge that birth can be challenging and unexpected and difficult and raw and beautiful and traumatic. Becoming a mother happens in a million different ways, and the exact method in which you give birth doesn’t discredit that.