‘Sing, barren woman, who has never had a baby. Fill the air with song, you who’ve never experienced childbirth…’ Isaiah 54:1a
When I was expecting with my little girl I had chosen to deliver naturally, and was doing all I could to actively prepare my body, mind and husband for the experience. Unfortunately as it happened my water broke at 38 weeks and labour did not progress. This resulted in an unplanned and ‘emergency’ Caesarean section. My husband was a pillar of support throughout the process, not leaving my side and constantly reminding me of the only thing that mattered- ‘healthy baby, healthy mommy’. That was our goal and thankfully it was accomplished with our first born.
Following the delivery I struggled with feelings of insecurity and disappointment because of the determination I had throughout the pregnancy to deliver naturally. I felt like a failure for not being able to deliver naturally. Again, my husband’s constant reassurance and support helped me through the emotion of it all. However, I couldn’t seem to shake the lie that I wasn’t ‘woman enough’.
We fell pregnant again shortly after this, expecting our little boy in May 2016. I began the process of consulting with the same health professionals I had before and was led to believe that having a second C-section was the only form of delivery for this baby and that delivering naturally was both unsafe and irresponsible. The first time I had heard of a VBAC (vaginal birth after C-section) was in a passing conversation with a friend, and I didn’t think much of the procedure at the time. When I started to reach 32 weeks into the pregnancy and our conversations and thoughts moved toward delivery with my support system and involved health professionals, I began to feel increasingly uncomfortable at the prospect of another C-section. I discussed my discomfort with my husband and we began researching this ‘VBAC’ option. In our joint efforts we discovered that this procedure is a possibility in our case although most research (conducted abroad) recommends a gap of more than 18 months between deliveries (in our case we will have had a 17 month gap between the two). Our research exposed the following statistics:
- There is between 1-0.03% chance of uterine rupture during the procedure (that is 1 in 100 or 3 in 1000 cases).
- In the USA there was a 75% success rate for VBAC delivery following 1 C-section and something like 64% success rate for VBAC delivery following 2/3 C-sections
The numbers gave us an increased optimism regarding this form of delivery and led us to begin enquiring with health professionals in Pretoria in order to see whether this form of delivery is an option for our case. The research also showed us that what we were initially told- that a natural delivery was both ‘unsafe and irresponsible’- could in fact be a misconception. (I write this holding the highest regard for the medical professionals we were told this by. Their needs and our needs at this stage of the pregnancy lead us to two different conclusions on the matter.) We made contact with Midwives Exclusive (through a friend who had delivered with them) and began the process of gathering information with them. In their practice they take on VBAC clients, assist them in delivery and monitor for any complications. In the event that a complication arises, there is little hesitation to take the client to theatre for a C-section to embrace the same moto our family embraces- ‘healthy baby, healthy mommy’. We were reassured that we would be given the best chance of delivering naturally, and that there would be caution on every side throughout the process. Once again, they reassured us that the information we had been given previously might be a misconception, and that we did in fact stand a chance of being able to delivery our baby boy naturally. My husband and I considered this prayerfully and with sober hearts and minds- the numbers, feelings and absence of guarantee of any outcome in our consideration. (That’s the thing with having a baby- nothing can ever be guaranteed!) With each of these things in place, we decided with confidence that I would attempt a natural delivery with the help and care of Midwives Exclusive. I had some personal reasons for wanting to attempt a VBAC and discussed them openly with the midwives:
- I had a desire to experience natural delivery as I understand that there are benefits to baby and mommy through this process. Baby is an active participant in the process of coming into this world; the deep compression through the birth canal avoids various (opinion-based) complications such as colic.
- Mommy recovers sooner and easier, meaning I can pick up my 17 month old daughter sooner after delivery and get to where I need to be independently.
- Mommy gets to be part of a larger community of mommies that have gone through the beautiful agony of natural childbirth.
- The after effects of delivery on my body are less because I wouldn’t have undergone a major abdominal surgery.
- I really believed and trusted the Lord for a good shot at this, to carry my baby until the day He determines for him to come, to go through the experience and see our son safely delivered into the world. My husband, support system and I had faith for this. And we knew that whatever the form of delivery ends up being (VBAC or C-section) we would not be shaken and we had peace.
We reached the ‘40 week’ mark, our due date arrived and my body began with the pre-labour. I had never experienced labour pains before, so the experience was new, exciting and a little nerve-wrecking! My body was doing it! The wait was finally over and we could now begin our journey through the labour process, and ultimately meeting our little boy. I let Heather (our midwife) know that I had begun with labour and she advised us telephonically what steps to take next, what to monitor and that we should rest as much as possible. There was so much excitement that resting was barely an option- I just couldn’t wait to meet our son. However, wait we would! Pre-labour lasted very long, and by the time my body went into active labour I could tell that there was a noticeable difference in what my body was doing. We met Heather at the birth unit at Femina, she did an examination and announced to us that active labour had begun. The goal now was to progress well, stay active, let my water break and then bring him into the world.
I remember walking in the hospital car park and talking to my husband between contractions, asking him for reassurance- why were we doing this? Why was I so adamant to deliver naturally? An operation would be so much quicker, easier and more predictable. He consistently reminded me of my reasons; what I had so desperately wanted and worked toward; he gently reminded me of the way I felt after the previous Caesarean section; and he lovingly offered his hand for me to squeeze. This was a defining moment in our journey where he played a key role in focusing my attention on the goal, supporting what I had so badly wanted to experience.
As labour progressed, my need for support intensified in correlation to the pain intensity. I relied on and made use of my support (husband and midwife), entenox gas, and warmth in the bath, changing positions and visualisation/relaxation techniques to get me through the worst of it. With each contraction I listened to Heather coaching me through the breathing and relaxing my body, let my husband work his arms to ease my aching body and reminded myself that with each contraction we are one closer to meeting our little boy.
In the last (pushing) phase my body and support team worked hard to finally see our son into the world. I remember feeling the immediate relief in my body once he had passed through, hearing his little moans and sweet cries and then holding him tight in my arms. He had arrived, he was healthy, my body had done something incredibly beautiful and I had my husband’s proud tears all over my face as we embraced- a new family unit. The bonding experience was what I had always imagined it could be- just pure love- no medication interfering with my hormones and our first meeting. The midwives made sure both baby, hubby and I were stable before they gave us some room to be alone together and to be in awe of our boy. I was astounded by the difference between the bonding experience after a C-section and the bonding experience after a natural delivery. The natural delivery was far more intimate, rewarding and it just felt ‘right’- I still struggle to define the feeling in words.
The midwives were just as devoted in their aftercare as their care before and throughout the birth experience. I was helped up off the bed (yes, I could stand and walk) while daddy held his new son and I was able to shower (yes, believe it), freshen up and prepare for a good night’s rest. The midwives monitored baby and I, made arrangements for us to have a family room, carried our things up into the ward, laughed with us and shared in our joy and relief that we had successfully delivered a baby naturally.
The benefits of being able to deliver naturally have been endless in my experience. I was able to manage the pain (I can be quite afraid of pain) and it didn’t overwhelm me; I could get up and shower right after delivery; all of my hormones did what they were supposed to do before, during and after delivery; I could walk without feeling like I have a ‘jelly’ core; I could pick up my 17 month old daughter and play easily with her; I could drive my motor vehicle sooner than waiting 6 weeks post-op; getting out of bed to feed at night is easy- no log-rolling; coughing, sneezing and laughing wasn’t painful at all! And my husband is the most proud he has ever been of any accomplishment I have ever made- he still tells me how much me admires me for being able to experience (and how he describes it- achieve) natural delivery.
While I know that unfortunately not all women get to experience what we were so blessed to be able to, I would encourage each woman considering a VBAC to consider it fully. Consider all of the options, numbers, your feelings, your body and your baby. Having a baby (first, second or third time around) is a significant and greatly defining event in any woman’s life, and the delivery can be such a beautiful experience- nothing like what it has been portrayed as in media or loose conversations. A natural delivery will, in my opinion, always remain the best option after having experienced both forms in good, private health care. It is so worth trying to accomplish because if you are able to deliver naturally it is a truly fulfilling feeling, and even if you end up needing to go to theatre, at least you know you tried with the very best team at Midwives Exclusive that you could have chosen. And that is something worth being proud of as a woman and a mommy to your precious darling.