I have two healthy, brilliant, beautiful daughters. My oldest was born by emergency cesarean, my youngest was born vaginally. These completely different birth experiences allowed me to appreciate the importance of my choices during pregnancy, my own strength, and the great care I have access to here in Vancouver. But I didn’t always feel this way.
During my first pregnancy I imagined my perfect birth scenario: I would go into labour naturally – preferably a few days before baby’s due date – and my body would take control. Labour would be fairly quick, and the pain would be manageable because I definitely did not want any drugs. After baby was born she would take to breastfeeding immediately, I would recover quickly, and it would be bliss.
This was not my reality. I was induced at ten days past my due date, and ended up in the hospital on an oxytocin drip within 24 hours. Labour stalled around 6 cm, and I was given a choice that felt nothing like a choice: continue on oxytocin and see if things progress, or have a cesarean. I decided on the latter.
Although it was called an emergency, neither my daughter or myself were in danger. She was born perfectly healthy, took to breastfeeding immediately, and I healed well. From the outside everything seemed great, but I struggled for months.
Recovery after surgery is hard; recovery after surgery, while sleep deprived, with the responsibility of caring for your first newborn is the worst! You can’t truly prepare yourself for the sleepless nights, crying because sometimes babies just cry, and the cluster feeding. Remy would nurse for six to eight hours straight most evenings for her first few weeks of life.
She was healthy and happy, but I was not. I can’t say when I started experiencing postpartum depression because I only realized I had it when I was beginning to feel like myself again. And I didn’t seek help because I didn’t want to talk about it. Looking back, the first eight or so months of Remy’s life are a haze. I missed out on so much.
I wish I had learned more about birth and my choices rather than assuming that by imagining my ideal birth scenario, it would come true. Even more than that I wish cesarean births would be respected as an equally valuable option. Maybe it’s because of the people I had talked to and the social media I consumed, but needing a c-section made me feel like a failure. And I didn’t fully address these feelings until I was pregnant for the second time.
VBAC stands for vaginal birth after cesarean. If you have a straight-forward, low risk pregnancy and baby is head down it is usually considered safe to attempt a VBAC (do talk with your health care provider though!). I knew from early in my second pregnancy that I wanted to attempt a VBAC. I chose midwives as my care providers, found a wonderful doula, and listened to all the episodes of The Birthful Podcast. I had this!
At midnight on January 26th, 2018 contractions started. I laboured mainly at home with the help of my doula, and finally checked into the hospital (for the second time) on January 27th, just before midnight. I knew this was going to work, and nothing could shake my confidence – not even the crazy nurse who reminded me of the risk of uterine rupture about 45 minutes before Lily was born…
I was ready! And after a total of 53 hours of labour, so was Lily. She came into this world the same way she lives her life – with confidence, purpose, and strength.
My VBAC was a healing, empowering experience. Not only because it was successful; because I let go of the failure I associated with having a cesarean birth.
I used to wonder if I had only refused the induction, or laboured a little bit longer on oxytocin, could I have avoided surgery? I’ll never know the answer to that, but I do know I didn’t fail. I made the best choices I could at the time for my baby and myself.
Birth is unpredictable, and messy, and a lot of it is out of our control. It was never going to fit into the neat little box I originally imagined it would. And I would not have appreciated my unmedicated VBAC so immensely unless I had experienced a cesarean birth first.