The emergency c-section I had with my first child was the opposite of what I dreamed my first birth experience would be; it was rushed, scary, medical – all the things I didn’t want. I emerged from the experience with a healthy child, but I was still so scarred by it that when I became pregnant again I did everything I could to ensure VBAC success. I mean – everything.
That I ended up with a surgical birth was funny – because I didn’t even envision being in a hospital when my first child was born. I can’t put my finger on exactly what happened that made me so obsessed with delivering at a birthing center – without the help of drugs or inductions of any kind – but whatever it was, I was focused. I read books, I watched documentaries – I could rattle off all the reasons that a natural birth was superior to a hospital one. I was one of those people who had never experienced childbirth, but was certain I knew everything about it. When an emergency at my last prenatal appointment necessitated a trip to the hospital that culminated in a surgical birth – I was shocked to say the least.
Emergency c-sections can be pretty frightening. Those of you who have only experienced the scheduled variety probably find it hard to understand why so many women react negatively to their c-sections when they happen as the result of an emergency. For me, it was a frantic, rushed procedure. I was scared through the thing that they weren’t going to get my child out in time. You would think the very fact that being in a hospital saved my first child’s life would make me a little more receptive to surgical births in general. Nope. My experience did exactly the opposite. My insane emotional and physical reaction to my first c-section made me determined to never experience one again. When I became pregnant with my second child – I was once again a woman obsessed; not with delivering in a birthing center, because that’s rarely allowed in a VBAC. My obsession shifted to doing whatever I could in my power to be able to deliver my second child vaginally. I needed that VBAC.
Initially, I felt really supported. I was in New York using the midwives I had used the first-time-around. They were skilled enough to recognize that my first birth needed to happen in a hospital. My midwife stayed by my side the entire time. I trusted them. They told me I was a good candidate for a VBAC and they would support me through one. The only difference was we would not be planning for the birth to take place in the birthing center where they normally deliver. They attended all VBACs at a hospital where they had privileges. I had no problem with that.
Fast forward six months. My husband and I start to panic about having a second child in the incredibly expensive city of Brooklyn. We decide to move – to Florida. Florida just happens to be a state with one of the highest c-section rates in the country. Also, I was going to have to find a doctor willing to attend the VBAC of an “advanced maternal age” woman who was transferring two-thirds of the way through her pregnancy. That proved impossible.
One after the other, doctors refused to take me on. I couldn’t believe it. I somehow found a group of midwives who didn’t think my situation was dire. They were more than willing to allow me to attempt a VBAC – the only problem was, they didn’t have privileges at a hospital. They only attended home births. They were comfortable with a home-birth VBAC; I was not. We finally figured out that they could give me all of my prenatal care and I could basically choose one of the local hospitals whose on-call doctors were from a practice that was known to be open to VBAC. I would basically have to check myself into the hospital when I was ready to deliver and cross my fingers for a VBAC-friendly on-call doctor.
Well, my second child did not want to leave my body. At 41 weeks, my midwife ordered an ultrasound, in which my child decided not to move. Seriously – she was moving like crazy before the appointment and napped through the entire thing. I was sent to the hospital.
Once we got to the hospital, her heartbeat was normal and she had awoken from her nap – but I was still an old mom with a previous c-section and a baby the hospital staff considered fully-cooked. Although her vitals showed that she was doing just fine in there, they recommended a c-section immediately. I said, “No.” The doctor told me he would not sign me out. I told them I would be signing myself out. I did. I left the hospital against the doctor’s recommendation because I was still convinced a VBAC was in the cards.
I am not someone who doesn’t believe in science or medicine, in case you are wondering. I am not a homeopath, I am not wary of doctors – but for some reason when it came to my pregnancies I became convinced that every doctor out there was part of an assembly line, dying to cut into my womb. I checked myself out of the hospital on Thursday. By Sunday, no amount of chiropractic care, swift walking, inversions, warm baths, herbal tea concoctions or sex was doing anything to convince that baby to exit my body. I had to take myself to the hospital – again. This time I knew that barring a miracle I would be on an operating table.
Well, the stars were with me that day. I had two doctors visit me that were very sympathetic about my desire to VBAC and very understanding about the terror I felt going into surgery again. I felt safe with these women and followed their recommendations immediately. Four hours after I checked in I was holding Frankie – my beautiful almost 10 pound baby girl who was born with a cord wrapped around her neck. We had wondered why she was responding to the very mild contractions I was having with an unsettling spike in heart rate – that was why.
I don’t know what would have happened had I actually dilated and started having contractions, but a baby that large with an umbilical cord wrapped around her neck may not have been the easiest child to birth. I won’t speculate – I’ll just say I’m confident now that the second c-section was the best, safest birth for my daughter. I’m lucky that we had no complications. I’m recounting this long story to make one point – get a doctor you trust. If you are attempting a VBAC – get a doctor you trust. Yes, VBACs can be harder to get, but not every doctor out there is gunning to cut you open. My fear of surgery and paranoia about the “intentions” of the medical establishment could have really cost me the health of my daughter. I’m telling you, you lose your mind a little bit when you are 42 weeks pregnant. Make sure you have someone you trust that is guiding you – preferably someone who doesn’t have the same distrusts and hang-ups about the medical establishment that you do.