April is Caesarean Awareness Month and as my contribution I wanted to share the birth story of my baby girl. I love birth stories and this time around I attempted a VBAC which resulted in an emergency caesarean. I have also included my experience with the recovery from both the physical and mental aspects. A caesarean sometimes receives negativity, but the simple fact is, sometimes babies and Mothers can die without them.
This is a positive birth story, with a happy ending!
The lead up:
I made the decision to attempt a VBAC provided I went into natural labour. My first baby was delivered by emergency caesarean due to “failure to progress due to mal-positioning” and I had been informed that there wasn’t anything stopping me from trying for a VBAC. I was told the risk of uterine rupture was 1 in 200 but that I would be monitored the entire time. I struggled with the right choice for me and my family and wrote about that HERE. After being told that I would have to deliver in my 39th week of pregnancy the doctor allowed me to go another week and scheduled an appointment for 39w + 6d. If I made it to that appointment an elective caesarean would be scheduled ASAP.
I was awoken by my son as he crawled into my bed and I couldn’t get back to sleep. At 1:30am it clicked that something felt different, like period pain coming and going, so I started to time it. Contractions had begun! The doctor had told me that I shouldn’t labour at home, so once I established that the contractions were happening regularly, I rang the hospital and spoke to a midwife. Upon explaining my situation, she agreed that I should call my Mum to look after my son and get myself to the hospital. Mum arrived around 3:30am and by then I was remembering what all this felt like and I was praying that I had chosen the right birthing option. My husband and I headed off for the hospital about 4am and by then the contractions were getting quite strong and closer together.
At the hospital:
Each hospital has different policies and procedures to follow with VBACs. On arrival the first thing they did was put a canula in my hand and set up the monitors. The baby and I had to be monitored the entire time. By the time this was done it was around 4:30am. The contractions were speeding up, lasting longer but no dilation yet.
The advantage to doing this a second time is that I knew what I hated the first time. I knew that if I laid on the bed I probably wouldn’t get up again and that it would hurt more so I stayed standing, learning on the bed when needed, rocking myself through the contractions with reminders on my breathing by the midwife. We tried kneeling on the bed to rest my legs but it just made a different area of my legs hurt more and it was uncomfortable to use my hand with the canula in it.
They kept checking the monitors and I recall a phone call to the doctor, possibly around 6am. It was decided that I would need something to make the contractions slow down. I’m not sure what it was exactly but after receiving the needle, it worked and I could have a bit of rest. I guess they thought the intensity of the contractions this early may lead to a possible rupture or would fatigue me too soon, I’m not sure. I hadn’t had any pain relief until that point. They hadn’t offered any, so I assumed they didn’t think I needed it but later found out they just thought I was doing really well. Some midwifes will offer it (they did with my firstborn) and others wait for you to ask for it. I was checked sometime around now and was 3cm dilated.
Laying down on my back really hurt and it was confirmed that my baby had their back up against mine. It was the same position as my firstborn but my progression was taking longer this time. Whatever they had given me had worn off and I was back to standing up and dealing with incredibly painful contractions with little breaks in between. The gas had become my friend.
I knew that they would only let me labour for so long before declaring that I would need a c-section and I started to become more aware of the time. While I was still focused on delivering this baby ‘naturally’ my mind was starting to process my options.
Making the decision to move to a c-section:
Over the next few hours I started to become exhausted. Labour is not just physical, it’s mental as well and I began battling out my thoughts in my head.
I kept looking at the two posters in the room. One said something along the lines of ‘you can do this’. The other was something about listening to your instincts. This got me thinking about why I was trying my best to avoid a c-section, mostly because it would be a better scenario for my family. I started to feel that I was letting my son down. I cried a bit.
I was recognising that this labour had a lot of similarities with my last birth and that I was probably heading for the same result of a c-section. We discussed the options of continuing on or swapping to a caesarean. The doctor was willing to let me go another 2 hours if I wanted (they have a policy on how long you can labour for in each stage for VBACs). I continued to labour a bit longer while working though the feelings of failing and still coming back to that sign about trusting my instincts. And I just knew that I had to ask for a c-section. Suddenly the pain seemed worse than before and I was begging for another needle to take it away but they didn’t. The doctor suggested we check my dilation one more time before she made the call. I was still 3cm. It was the only time I swore. “Are you fucking kidding me? Get this baby out!” She agreed that it was unlikely that I’d be at the pushing stage before the time limit was up.
While they were arranging the medical team and getting everything prepared, I became really overwhelmed emotionally. I started crying again. I was saying “please don’t let me die” because my son had only asked me the day before if I might die. The whole thing now felt incredibly urgent in my mind. That it all had to happen right now, before something went wrong for the baby or for me.
I did pull myself together and remembered to ask if we could have photos taken. They gave the consent forms for the c-section and for the photos and the student midwife took my phone. I refused to get back on the bed and I walked to the operating theatre. Or half hobbled, stopping for every contraction. I didn’t care who saw.
The caesarean birth:
Once in the operating theatre the anaesthetist prepared me to have the spinal administered. They tried to insert it between contractions, but they were so close together. It was difficult to stay still.
My husband finally reappeared, wearing scrubs. They had me laying down, everything set up, the screen in place, oxygen on me and whatever else it was that they needed to do.
The process began. I could hear them talking as they worked. I was fairly calm, trying to focus on my breathing and my body felt less shaky than the first time. I also didn’t feel as cold. I felt tugging and could hear the doctors getting ready to bring my baby out and saying they had to place the elbow back in so that they could get a better hold.
And then my baby was here.
I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing but they held her up and showed me and it was like my heart knew all along, but I hadn’t quite dared to believe it.
I was allowed to hold her straight away, in fact for almost the entire time as they stitched me back together, which was an experience I didn’t get last time.
It was beautiful.
She was here safely.
The most important thing.
In the hospital:
Later, in the recovery room, the doctor had a discussion with us about how the birth went. Her opening line was “do you think you want any more children?” and when I said I wasn’t sure she informed us that the uterine wall lining was so thin that if I had made it to the pushing stage it would have ruptured. We had absolutely made the right choice in moving to a caesarean when we did. If I wanted another baby it would be considered high risk, I would be watched closely, probably have to deliver early and a c-section would be essential. This information has played on my mind a lot since then.
Due to the spinal, I wasn’t allowed to get up for 24 hours. I also vomited up my dinner and was extremely itchy the whole first night due to whatever pain relief it was that I had received. They were able to give me something else to help it subside, but I didn’t get much sleep at all. I also received injections to stop blood clots from forming each night that I was in the hospital. I was very slow moving, with rolling to my side and getting out of bed being quite a process. Thanks to a certain virus, visitors were limited to two a day for one hour. My husband could stay each night but during the day I was mostly on my own, which made rest hard. The baby and I had several check-ups to see how we were doing. By Thursday I was thinking I wanted to get home to my other child, but they convinced me to stay another night. She was born on a Monday and we came home on a Friday. A new chapter of my life had begun.
Recovery at home:
I personally do not find recovery from a caesarean easy but I do know others who felt ‘back to normal’ within a couple of weeks.
With this birth I was moving slow and still experiencing pain and discomfort when I was discharged. My second night at home I woke with pain that felt like a tearing sensation, like a bandaid being pulled off inside my scar but only at the one end. I went back to the hospital that morning and they suspected an infection although an ultrasound the next day ruled that out. It came and went and disappeared after a few days.
I had next to zero core strength due to significant muscle separation and my c-section recovery so short walks while holding my baby exhausted me in the first couple of weeks. My Mum helped where possible with household duties and with my son as I had limited range of movement and would often hurt myself with simple tasks if I forgot to be careful and did them myself.
The actual scar has taken a long time to completely heal. I had a small section that kept opening slightly on the surface and required some extra checks and cleaning. It was closed by the six weeks but still very tender. Even now, at six months post-partum, I still experience the occasional pulling and tugging sensations and sensitivity along parts of my scar and the surrounding areas.
I’m happy with how my daughter’s birth ended up going, obviously, because it meant that she was born safe, alive and healthy. I know that we very well could have lost her (and me too according to three different doctors). However, I did initially struggle with guilt that I hadn’t made the right choice for my baby in the first place. A lot of my reasons for a VBAC came down to recovery and what would be easiest for everyone else in my family. I knew the odds were 1 in 200 and yet it didn’t really feel like it would happen. If I had progressed further the monitoring would have hopefully picked it up before a rupture occurred but it may not have.
I had a great talk with my doctor at my six week check which cleared up a few things about the birth and she restored my confidence in my choices by reassuring me that I had in fact made the right choice as it was me who made the decision to swap to a c-section and trust my instincts. She also informed me that due to her size she probably wouldn’t of fit for a vaginal birth anyway and since her measurements were almost identical to my firstborn, I now have no doubts about his emergency caesarean either.
I may not have progressed as far in labour this time and I still ended up with the same outcome however I found this experience to be so much better. I felt I was better at labour and the c-section experience was much nicer, especially with being given the chance to bond with my baby straight away.
I’m so happy to have my baby girl here with us!
Please share your birth stories with me!
And if you like, you can read the story of my firstborn’s birth, HERE.