As you read this memoir, please keep in mind that birth is a time when women experience very intense emotions, and these strong feelings tend to fade slowly, if at all. Be mindful that the emotions elicited by birth are equally as important as the events themselves. How we remember our births impacts us for a lifetime. Read about why we are sharing these memoirs here.
Yesterday I made my final round trip to Anniston for my 6 week follow-up appointment. I think the final appointment spurred me to finally write about Laurel Cate's birth.
Really, her birth story goes back much further than when I found out I was pregnant with her--but to when I learned I was pregnant with Lucy in 2009. In my pregnancy with Lucy, I did everything you're "supposed to do" to have a natural, low intervention birth. I read every book I could. I had a doula. I had a birth plan declining meds, continuous fetal monitoring, and other interventions. At 41.1, we induced for low fluid (3.1) and 2 days later I asked my doctor for a c-section. I never dilated past 3.5 cm.
Overall though, my c-section was not horrible. They brought me Lucy right away, and put her skin to skin. We were never separated for the duration of our stay. My recovery was ok. I didn't have any complications. So it wasn't that I had a traumatic c-section, it was just that I really really wanted to have a vaginal birth. And a real labor. When my doctor came to see me after my c-section, he told me that he did a double layer suture in my uterus and that I would make an excellent candidate for a VBAC. Which is where Laurel Cate's story begins.
After 3 years of struggling with infertility and a miscarriage (2013), I finally got a positive pregnancy test in November 2014. After a few weeks of encouraging blood work and getting to see a heartbeat, I got excited about having a new baby. And terrified of having another c-section.
Initially I saw an OB who felt ok with me trying to VBAC. But something in my gut told me it wasn't the right decision. After working as a doula in Anniston at Alabama's First Baby Friendly hospital with Dr. Johannson and my doula mentor, Nancy, I knew I could really trust a team there to give 110% to help me with a VBAC. I also knew that even if I had to have another c-section, it would be medically necessary, and I could have skin to skin in the OR (something my local hospitals aren't doing quite yet). RMC also has wireless monitors that would allow me to labor in the birthing tub--which sounded awesome.
But I was SO afraid to make the commitment to birth in Anniston. That meant 7 hours in the car for every OB trip. I didn't know how that would even work with me in nursing school. I definitely didn't have free time. And how would that look in labor? Or driving home after birth? I was terrified of the logistics. But Nancy reminded me that God does not give us a Spirit of fear, but of power. And He commands us to be strong and courageous, and gives us peace. I talked to Britt, and while I don’t think he was jumping for joy, he completely understood and supported me 100% (although--I think he was secretly preparing to catch a baby in the car on the side of the road!).
Honestly, the drive wasn't horrible at all. I looked forward to my appointments because I was able to visit with friends I missed from Anniston/Oxford. Our friends Kayla and Steven were such a blessing to us by opening their guest bedroom to us for every appointment. Towards the end of my pregnancy, they even gave me a key in case they were on vacation when I needed to come. Nancy and I visited each time, and she often gave me a prenatal massage while I was there. I called Carla after all of my appointments, and she kept me company on my drive home.
To start preparing for my VBAC, I made a daily checklist of things that I had read about or knew about from my doula work that might help me have a successful VBAC.
Spinning Babies. Check.
Webster certified Chiropractor. Check.
Brewer Diet/low processed foods. Check.
Daily walking. Check.
Hypnobabies Daily Affirmations. Check.
Pelvic tilts. Check.
Now, I didn't do everything perfectly. My resolve in the areas of diet and activity definitely weakened at times throughout my pregnancy. Especially towards the end when it was so blazing hot.
In the last weeks of my pregnancy, I was praying for very specific things to happen with my labor and birth. One is that I would go into labor on my own before 41 weeks at a time when both my doulas, Nancy and Carla, would be able to be present. I was also praying that my labor would not stall and would progress quickly, since that was a big fear after my long labor with Lucy's birth. And as much as I was trying to accept the reality of a possible c-section, I was also praying hard that I would be able to give birth vaginally.
Towards the end, I would wake up several times in the middle of the night and not be able to go back to sleep. I thought it would be helpful to read positive birthing stories--especially VBAC stories. What I found were women like me who were checking things off a list every day to try to earn their VBAC (or whatever they desired for their birth).
But instead of feeling reaffirmed, I felt insecure. What if I wasn't doing enough? What if my few weeks of carb/sugar eating in the 2nd trimester created a giant baby? What if my poor posture in class all day was setting me up for an OP baby & back labor? What if I needed to be doing more pelvic tilts daily (I read a story of a mama who did 150 a day!)?
I'd fall back asleep much more anxious than when I woke up. I realized that I needed to start praying for God's plan for my birth--whatever that might be. That was hard. Really hard.
In my work as a doula, I worked with moms who "did everything right" and still needed a surgical birth. And I also worked with moms who smoked, missed prenatal appointments, and had never heard of pelvic tilts—but they ended up with beautiful water labors and low intervention births.
This was so frustrating to me. It didn't seem fair. But what it helped me realize is that you can't "earn" the birth you desire. There are so many variables in pregnancy, labor, and birth, that we really don't get to determine the outcome. What I also came to believe is that the outcome had already been determined anyways. God knew how Lucy's birth would unfold. And He already knew how Laurel Cate's would look as well. And wherever her birth went, God would go with me—even into the OR.
So I let it go (cue cheesy Frozen soundtrack). But really, I did. I still wanted a VBAC, for sure. But I let go of all of the specific circumstances under which I wanted it to happen. I let my doula Nancy go to her family reunion (she had offered to cancel her flight). I let go of my fear of induction and which interventions we would use. And I quit worrying about how many stupid pelvic tilts I was doing.
To read the conclusion of Heather's Birth Memoir, and to her beautiful photos, please continue on her family blog here.