Birth Story: Jenna’s VBAC

It’s a perfect September fall day, warm and sunny, not as humid as summertime. We canoe down the Broad River—me in the front, my husband, Matt, in the back, and our son, Bodey, in the middle. Eight weeks pregnant with baby #2, I tire easily and can’t exert myself. I turn around in the canoe to sit. Leaning back, I simply stare up, noticing how the sky is edged by the trees. I feel like I’m one with those trees. It’s a precious moment in time, the kind you savor forever and recollect when you need to come back to happiness.

 

THE PREMONITION

Barrett, at birth

What happens next feels beyond words: I have this overwhelming thought-feeling that this baby is going to come out on his own. I instantly sit up and say, “Honey, this baby is going to come out.” Matt, unaware of my reverie, just laughs at the totally-out-of-context-comment and says, “Well I hope the baby stays in a bit longer, because we just got pregnant!” I laugh—he always makes me laugh—and reply, “Good one, but, I mean it. This baby is coming out this time. I am sure of it.”

Thus began my quest to find a way for a vaginal birth after Cesarean (VBAC)—in a city that is short on VBAC options. I had a full labor with my first boy, including four-and-a-half hours of pushing, and even as I lay on the operating table so he could be pulled from my belly in a Cesarean section, I knew I wanted to try natural birth again. The message from the new life in me this time was clear: He was going to help make this happen.

 

THE VBAC QUEST

I didn’t expect my quest to go unsupported. When meeting with my OB, I described—in a light way—the feeling I had about the baby telling me he was coming out vaginally. Unfortunately, this kind of thing does not provide confidence to everyone in the medical community! And much to my dismay, they wanted to schedule me for a C-Section, just like that.

Thankfully, at least one very important local midwife did believe me and believe in me (and my baby). She encouraged me to do what I needed and go where I needed to get my try at a VBAC.

{ I drank pregnancy tea. I walked with friends. I saw a chiropractor. I attended a releasing ceremony to help process my first birth. All this preparation, and none of it felt like “work.” It felt good and right. }

Jenna, far right, attended prenatal yoga and walked about 6 miles a week with the "Waddle Club."

Without a doubt, I felt the universe supporting me as I asked for VBAC advice, attended meetings, met doulas, and then happened to sit next to Labor of Love doula and Fear to Freedom childbirth educator Teresa Worthy Howard at an inspirational reading of Belly Button Bliss, a book of happy birth stories. Teresa and I started to talk. I mentioned my VBAC intention. She mentioned I should never cross my legs during this pregnancy, especially if I wanted a VBAC—and I never did again. (Sitting that way closes up the pelvis and prevents baby from getting into a good position.) Teresa also told me about a new midwife practice in Atlanta doing VBACs, Intown Midwifery, supported by Dr. Brad Bootstaylor.

So I met with Amy Armstrong of Intown, and she was even more confident than I was that I would be successful at a VBAC. Instead of the doubt and pessimism I normally encountered when I said I pushed for over 4 hours, she just said, “Well if it was 9 or 10 I would be worried, but over 4 does not worry me.” Dr. Bootstaylor was also very encouraging and completely supportive.

A message from Earth Baby: Give VBAC a chance!

I took prenatal yoga with Jennifer Derryberry Mann at Full Bloom Pregnancy and Early Parenting Center. It was the perfect physical and mental preparation for birth. I drank pregnancy tea. I walked with friends: We called ourselves the Waddle Club, and we covered about six miles a week. I saw a chiropractor. I attended a releasing ceremony to help process and clear my first birth experience. All this preparation, and none of it felt like “work.” It felt good and right, and it got me to a place where, psychologically, I felt completely happy just to have the opportunity to try natural labor again. If I was meant to be successful, it would be.

We found out the baby was due April 22, Earth Day, and so we called him Earth Baby. I couldn’t help but think of the trees I’d floated under when he’d first told me: I’m going to come out, and I’m going to help make this happen.

 

THE FIRST SIGNS

April 9, 2011. We went to the Farmers Market. I saw, as I often did, Jenni and her family. Matt, Bodey, and I lingered, enjoying the nearby playground after the market. We ate lunch at a favorite Mexican restaurant, Sr. Sol, and really lived it up, even eating dessert. That night, none of us were very hungry so we just made breakfast for dinner. Little did I know, this would be my actual breakfast since I’d be laboring before the next morning. It had been a long day and Bodey seemed wired, but he wound down quickly and went to sleep early. I enjoyed some time that I did not usually have in the evening before bed, and I went to sleep feeling happy.

Sunday morning I woke to a contraction at 5:00am.

Contractions were not unheard of for me: I’d had prodromal labor with both pregnancies. I just went back to sleep and half-slept through two more contractions. I checked the clock again. Exactly 5:30am. I knew those last two had been 10 minutes apart. I still wasn’t sure this was real. I got up and went to the bathroom, then got in the shower.

It was not quite two weeks before my due date. My first baby, Bodey, arrived on his due date, and I was certain of the conception date for that pregnancy just as I was for this one. But the contractions kept coming.

We had to drive to Atlanta Medical Center—about an hour-and-a-half away—so I knew we needed to go. I prepped a few things to take, put on a Depends (a hint I learned from a blog post), and then woke Matt about 6:30am. He was quite surprised, and quickly began packing. I had a list of things to bring, but I hadn’t fully packed, and the contractions were soon so strong that I couldn’t finish the job. I went outside to walk. We woke Grandpa, who thankfully lived with us, and told him he was on Bodey duty because I was in labor and we had to go to Atlanta. Now!

 

THE DRIVE

7:30am, we start the trip. I called the Ladies of the Labyrinth doulas, and Guina Bixler was on call. She told me how to sit for the car ride: In the back of the car on the passenger side, kneeled on the floor, and leaned on pillows set on the seat. Matt put in a VBAC meditation CD I had listened to a few times during my pregnancy. It was awesome. The guided imagery was perfect.

I needed counterpressure on my back for contractions, and Matt could put his hand there when I asked. All I could say was “hand,” and that was enough for him to know what I needed. We weren’t really timing the contractions as there was no point since we were on our way anyway, but I could tell they were getting closer. I just rode, listened to the CD with my eyes closed, followed my breath, and asked Matt to lend a hand.

On I-85—still 5 miles away!—I felt a desperate need to get to the hospital and get out of the car. I said, “Pull off, we better be getting there!” Matt said he was going as fast as he could, and I knew that; I just had to say it. We got to the hospital and he offered to drop me off, but I did not want to be away from him. I rode through the parking garage, and every awful speed bump, while he parked as quickly as he could.

 

THE CHECK-IN

9am. I jumped out of the car, still contracting. I was obviously in labor, and a security guard asked if I wanted a wheelchair. I said no: I didn’t want to sit down, and I needed to walk. She looked doubtful of my assessment of my own condition, but she let the wheelchair suggestion go, and instead just guided us to the right floor of the hospital.

When we got to the check-in desk, a nurse started asking questions. I couldn’t speak very well, but I answered. When we got to the question about whether this was my second baby, and I said yes, they quickly got me into a triage room. The nurse asked me to sit down and put on a gown. I said, “No way, I can’t do that!” She left abruptly.

Matt came in, and I told him he better get ready to catch the baby because it was coming out NOW! Then I had a huge contraction, and the Depends was put to good use.

The nurse came back and offered to check me, and I agreed. It was painful to lie down, but worth it. “You are at 9.5 centimeters,” she said, and then left quickly again. Matt was next to me, and I rolled onto my left side. My water broke, shooting across the room. Matt and I were utterly amazed at that!

 

THE BIRTH

A wheelchair arrived, and I knew I had to get in it, but I didn’t want to. I had the urge to push while a nurse assistant zoomed me down the hallway. As soon as I got into my room, I climbed on the bed facing backward and leaned over it. Amy, my midwife, arrived. Guina, my doula, arrived. I had been making loud moaning noises since I entered the labor room, and Guina recommended I save a bit of this energy for pushing, which my body seemed to be doing all on its own.

{ My doula put me at ease by saying, “But this is a different birth.” I felt my body relax some, knowing that no matter what, this was going to be different. I hadn’t even realized I had been holding on to some fear from my first birth experience. }

Guina (who had a VBAC herself) also whispered to me at this point that I might have some fear about being at the same point I was last time when things didn’t go as I had hoped. In the same breath, she put me at ease by saying, “But this is a different birth.” I felt my body relax some, knowing that no matter what, this was going to be different. I hadn’t even realized I had been holding on to some fear from my first birth experience.

After pushing some in this position, Amy recommended I turn around. I faced forward in a half-sit. Then I used the squat bar some. Then I got on my back some. I told Amy I really wanted to stand up. She wanted me to see my progress first, as I’d had my eyes closed the entire time. She had me open my eyes and look in the mirror while pushing. I didn’t want to look; I didn’t really know what to expect. But my body was doing what it needed to do, and Amy pointed out what was happening.

{ I felt an instant, overwhelming urge to drop into this nest of sheets, so carefully placed on top of towels and pads so I could kneel. I got on my knees and asked for a chair for my upper body. I put my head in my arms, and it felt perfect. }

Amy did an amazing job applying counterpressure and helping me focus on where to push. Guina applied aromatherapy and a cold washcloth to my head. Matt was steadfastly by my side. I asked to stand up again, and everyone agreed I was ready. Leaning against Matt, I stood with my right leg on a chair for several pushes. Then I switched sides. This did something, because the pressure was extremely intense.

Then, the most amazing thing happened. Our nurse said, “I made you a little ‘nest’ on the floor here, so if you want to get down here, you can.” I felt an instant, overwhelming urge to drop into this nest of sheets, so carefully placed on top of towels and pads so I could kneel. I got on my knees and asked for a chair for my upper body. I put my head in my arms, and it felt perfect.

But there was so much pressure. The urge to push was not as strong, but I wanted to push, and I did. I could feel something happening, and everyone was telling me I was close. Matt wanted to catch the baby, and I heard them tell him to get ready. I was still in a bit in disbelief that I was actually going to push my baby out, but then it all then happened fast:

Tons of pressure.
Pushing.
A brief burning sensation.
Then immense relief, as I felt the baby slide out of me. Matt caught him.

HE CAME OUT!

11:30am Barrett Ansel was born. 7 lb 12 oz (a full 5 ounces bigger than my first baby, taken by C-section).

They passed Barrett to me. I cried, overwhelmed with joy and relief. I turned over, and Matt moved around behind me so I could lean on him. Together, we held our new son. Barrett was healthy, strong, and adorable with lots of dark hair. He nursed instantly.

After six-and-a-half hours of labor, including two-and-a-half hours of pushing, baby Barrett proved he knew what he was talking about on that glorious day back in in September. I feel it is no coincidence he has loved trees and the outdoors since birth. Now, at one year old, he truly loves to look up and wave at the trees. He is a determined little soul. It seems he always has been.

And me, I am just so grateful. Each birth taught me more than I could have ever imagined, and I am so thankful for all of it. I am deeply in love with my amazing little family of four!

~

A love note from Jenna: One thing I want to share with mamas who are trying for a VBAC ~ While the nurses that saw me at 9.5 centimeters thought a baby was arriving in the next few minutes (as did I!), it ended up taking 2.5 hours and six different positions to push him out. My midwife explained that the labor part was like a second birth (fast), but the pushing part was more like a first birth. So don’t worry if pushing still takes awhile with your VBAC!

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Comments

  1. Jenna,
    I love this!! Thank you so much for your blog and sharing this story!
    It’s Julia from the Dover Mama’s group… we only met a couple of times before you moved, but I am planning for a VBAC this summer and am hoping for a “blissful” experience as well. I am inspired by yours :) Thanks.

  2. LOVED reading Jenna’s birth story, both knowing her, and as a doula who will be assisting VBAC mamas in the future. <3

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