Before I tell this story, I want to say what I've been thinking about with great gratitude all week, which is that I am proof that a woman can have a natural, medication-free birth without taking a special class (like a Bradley method class) and without being in particularly good physical shape. (And after a prior c-section, at that.) It's true I read a lot about what to expect during labor and techniques for how to cope, and that did help prepare me a bit. But God knows, after having major abdominal surgery just seven months earlier and getting very little exercise over the winter, I was worried about whether I had enough muscle tone and stamina to labor and push out a baby. Well, I did. And that gives me hope for all women who want the same type of birth experience.
So here's how Ben's VBAC birth went down ...
I started having contractions Monday afternoon while Daniel and I were napping, but they were start-and-stop and light, nothing to call the midwife about — which was just how things got going with Daniel. This was frustrating and discouraging; I envisioned day after day of off-on contractions, possibly due to a poorly positioned baby, as Daniel was. The fact that I was feeling them in my back — another sign of a baby being in an less-than-ideal position — made it all the more frustrating. The contractions tapered off in the evening, and that night, I was awakened about every half-hour by one.
They continued like this for most of Tuesday. Steve went to work, and I never felt the need to call him to come home. I was coping OK. Then, after dinner, I started coping less OK. We were watching American Idol, and I realized that I was really peevish about the fact that Steve could not help rub my back and coach me in breathing through the contractions because he was so busy chasing Daniel. I was feeling really, really helpless and needful of some one-on-one attention. I took a hot bath, hoping that would help slow the contractions for the night, but it didn't. So I called our doula and asked her to come over: "I don't know if there's much to these contractions yet, but I need you to be here with me." Then I called the midwife, who later told me I sounded so calm over the phone that she doubted I was really in labor. But she said I could come to the hospital if I wanted to get my cervix checked and maybe take home a muscle relaxant to help me sleep. I wasn't sure if I wanted to go in, though — it meant getting one of Steve's sisters over to babysit, plus a 20-minute drive to the hospital. A lot of effort just to see if I was in labor.
The doula got to our house sometime around 9:00 and came into the bedroom, where I was lying on the bed trying to relax and breathe. My contractions were only nine minutes apart or so, but they were more intense, and they got closer together when I turned onto my opposite side. By about 10:00, I decided we'd go into the hospital, so we called Steve's closest sister, who said she'd come over. Meanwhile, Steve tried to get Daniel down to sleep. Daniel wasn't the least bit interested in sleeping, though; he was watching the doula and me and then (Steve tells me) lying down on a pillow and imitating me by rubbing his lower back and saying, "Oh, oh, oh." How I wish I had seen that!
By about 11 or 11:30, we were finally ready to go to the hospital. I tried to go the bathroom before we left. I remember doubling over as I got off the toilet and getting on my hands and knees on the bathroom floor, grunting and growling like a bear. Where this came from I had no idea. It just felt like what I needed to do at the time. I said to the doula, "What if we don't make it to the hospital on time?" At this point, she said later, she began to realize that things had just changed very quickly. I didn't realize it at the time, but I had just entered the pushing stage.
I had a couple of intense contractions on the way out of the house, and then, in the middle of our front walk, my water broke and gushed down my legs, soaking my pants. Brrrrr!!!! There was no time to change, though. I just got into the doula's back seat (where there are no car seats) and lay there with my wet pants, grunting through contraction after contraction, all the way to the hospital. Steve followed us in his car. Little did I know at the time that the doula was weaving through traffic at high speeds, wondering all the while what would happen if she had to call 911 and pull over on the side of the highway.
But we made it, and Steve and the doula pushed me into the maternity ward in a wheelchair. They took one look at me and got me into a room, where they checked me. Fully dilated, no surprise there. The midwife on call hadn't arrived yet, so I kept on with the grunting and light pushes until she did. Then, the nurse started coaching me on how to really bear down through contractions, so I started doing that. I did most of it on my hands and knees, leaning against the raised back of the bed, and then turned around and got in a half-reclined sitting position for the last couple of pushes so I could see what was going on. I don't know how long I pushed, but it seemed like only about 15 or 20 minutes after the midwife arrived before I felt the stinging, burning sensation of Ben's head coming through. I didn't care that it hurt. It was a good pain, and then his little body slithered out, and there he was, letting out a big, healthy cry! I had a moment of sheer amazement and wonder and emotion — realizing I had given birth, that I had done it the way I wanted to, that this little guy had made it into the world. All of it, just amazing.
Steve, who had gotten pretty choked up, cut the cord, even though he'd always said he didn't want to, and then they put Ben on my chest and covered him with a blanket. I had a first-degree tear, so the midwife stitched it up. I wish I could say I was so swept up in the moment that I didn't notice what was going on at my other end, but I was fully aware of it. (Ouch!) I was glad when Steve and I were finally left alone to enjoy our new son.
And that's how it went. In retrospect, I think the laboring itself wasn't how I'd envisioned it — no beautiful music, no low lights, etc. — but it was wonderful that I was able to do it at home instead of being monitored in a hospital. It worked out perfectly that I made it to the hospital in time to deliver Ben — although I realize now that we could have come very close to having him at home if we'd dilly-dallied about calling people and not gotten our sh$% together in the end. But it did work out, and maybe that's because a woman's body just knows what to do, and you have to let go and follow its cues. Anyway, I'm happy! Sore, tired, and still limping around with my cane, but happy.