"Our only option right now is a C-section."
As I lay there in the hospital bed, this news hit me like a mad flurry of fists to the top of my skull.
I felt my whole body (that is, the parts of it that hadn't been medically numbed) tremble, as I tried to fight back the tears.
My husband, who was sitting next to me, let out an exhale. He knew this was the last thing I wanted.
For 9 months, I had envisioned a smooth, natural birth. And now I was being told that they were going to get the knife.
At the start of my first trimester, as I'd started eagerly consuming any book about pregnancy I could get my hands on, I'd routinely skipped the chapters on C-sections.
"That'll never happen to me," I said. "My baby's coming out naturally. And with no meds. And maybe not even in a hospital!"
Yet there I was. In a hospital, the ceiling lights peeling away at my eyes. And the epidural I'd been given shorting out my soul.
My plans to go natural had been axed almost from the start. Right at the top, they'd had to insert a pump in me to help push out all the meconium (infant feces) that my baby had been making in my womb after my water broke. Since it was an extraordinary amount of meconium, I needed a pump to make sure the baby was safe (that stuff can easily be inhaled, leading to a dangerous situation). On account of my pump, I was literally chained to the bed, unable to move, much less do any type of walking to help my labor progress.
That meant every contraction was a little tour of Hell.
Unbearable. Skin splitting. Eyes imploding.
I had no choice but to opt for the pain meds.
But even then, I still held on to my vision: a vaginal birth.
No doubt about it.
That was all the night before the birth.
And now here we were, smack-dab in the whitish glare of a brand new day, with only one option remaining.
See, the baby's heart-rate was zigzagging around like Pac-Man, and I'd been stalled at 9 centimeters for 3 interminable hours.
Making the choice -- the "only choice" -- made me stick to my stomach. I felt like after so many hours of struggling, I had failed. Not just myself, but my baby.
And then there was the guilt...
The doctor's tone ("agitated" would be a good word) made it very clear that she was concerned about the baby's safety. I, of course, wanted my baby safe, too.
But that couldn't erase the sorrow. The fear. The overwhelming self-judgment.
Tears streaming down my face, I signed the paper. Mumbled, "Yes, okay."
Meanwhile, somewhere in my heart, I held out hope for that last centimeter to at last elapse. For my baby to miraculously start moving through the birth canal, out of my vagina, and into my awaiting arms.
As they prepped me for the C-section, I visualized some kind of a sudden miracle. But -- nope -- nothing... Away we went...
Only when they wheeled me in for the surgery did I finally come to a place where I accepted what was about to happen. By then, all I could think about was meeting my baby. I kept my focus on him, and not on my disappointment about his birth not looking the way I'd pictured.
The surgery was super quick. When they pulled him out, I couldn't see him due to the curtain shielding my eyes from my open body (which my husband would later assure me I wouldn't have ever wanted to see), but I heard his cry.
And it was the most beautiful sound.
When I got to hold my son a little bit later, everything I had endured, all of my disappointments -- those melted away. My husband and I were just so relieved that our baby was okay. He was healthy and happy (and breastfeeding voraciously!).
In the months that followed, I loved pouring all of my time and attention and love into our baby. Being a new mom filled me with such joy. And yet, all the while, I had this feeling...
Inside, right where they had made that cut. I felt wrong there. Not physically, but emotionally. Damaged somehow. Like, not good enough. Since my body had not given birth, since he had been cut out of me, I felt disempowered.
I started to replay the whole event in my mind, over and over again. I kept asking myself, Was it really necessary to have the surgery? Wasn't there something else we could have tried to coax him out? What if I had hired a doula? Would she have thought of something that nobody who was there had managed to?
I made myself crazy with these questions. I needed to move on, but then again: This was my body.
My womanhood. My baby's birth.
I felt so confused about how to heal and move forward.
Two years later, I got pregnant again. It was a joyous time. My husband and I started talking about the future. We'd have to move to a bigger place, now that we were about to be a family of four. We spent many nights on the couch talking about baby names and fantasizing about what this beautiful new being would look and be like.
But then something interrupted our reverie...
I had just turned 11 weeks pregnant when I started to bleed. We rushed to the hospital, and after a barrage of tests, the doctor told us that I had miscarried.
That experience unleashed a whole new wave of sadness: in my heart, in my womb. I fell into an emptiness so deep that I wondered if I could ever possibly claw my way out.
A darkness descended upon our home.
Several months later, I was pregnant again.
And I was determined. Without any hesitation, I committed myself to aiming for a natural VBAC.
Vaginal Birth After Cesarean.
Even though the people around me told me not to bother.
"If you have a C-section the first time, that's it. You have to have it every other time, too."
That was the refrain. I heard this over and over again. My mother. My husband's mother. Friends and acquaintances. It actually incited me, though.
Now I had to do this.
I knew that I could have the birth that I'd always wanted. Or at the very least, I could try.
So I prepared...
I surrounded myself with positive and successful VBAC stories. I read everything I could find online, and also got the upload from a friend who'd just had a successful VBAC.
During the last 6 weeks of my pregnancy, I saw a chiropractor. Went once a week. I read that the adjustments would help to align the pelvis, thus creating a clear path for the baby to move through. The adjustments also made my third-trimester aches and pains go away, a welcome added bonus.
I visualized like mad, as well. After I climbed into bed every night, I fell asleep to the visualization of my baby moving out of my vagina. It was so relaxing, and even helped me to sleep deeper.
Meanwhile, I was committed to keeping my body strong. I knew that would be essential for achieving a natural VBAC. So I worked out four days a week: hiked, ran, boxed, did yoga...
All things that helped to keep my energy and confidence high.
But I have to tell you: In a class all by itself was another choice I made in pursuit of a VBAC:
This time, I hired a doula.
When I went into labor with my second son, my doula was there at the hospital the moment I needed her. She walked the halls with me. Whenever I was capsized by a rough contraction, she was there with her warmth and her strong foundation, making me feel safe.
Making me feel like I could actually do this.
She rubbed my back and used acupressure to alleviate the pain. She kept me focused. She brought me ice chips and pillows and anything else I needed.
And in those late moments, as the night drifted toward the day, as my energy wavered and the hospital staff started to doubt that I could make it, she still believed in me. Even my husband, who'd supported my whole VBAC pursuit -- who'd led me to the toilet, during my mad contractions, with my whole body pressed down on his spine -- started to have his doubts.
At many points, I looked in my doula's eyes and told her I couldn't do it anymore. That the pain was too much, that I couldn't push, that I was a fool for even attempting this, let alone thinking I could.
But she wasn't hearing a word of that noise.
She kept me going. Kept me on point.
So many people had told me that a doula would be a bad investment. Told me that my husband would be there, and that he would give all the support I needed.
And let me tell you, my husband is a highly supportive and amazing man. But as he himself will point out, a doula brings with her the experience of having attended countless births. She brings specific positions and acupressure points and handy factoids and useful tips and encouraging woman wisdom that can guide your birth toward success and away from chaos.
Soon it happened: I was at 10 centimeters!
And then I went insane.
I mean: Barking at the hospital staff like they were a hapless flock of indentured servants. I even kicked a nurse when she tried to touch my leg. I was having a monster of a time with the pushing, on account of my energy being so spent from having labored all night. I'd been in transition for about 4 hours! To say it was rough would be like saying The Great Chicago Fire sure was warm.
The doctor was shaking his head at that point. Demanding a C-section. He was the living sum total of every nay-sayer I'd encountered throughout my pregnancy.
He was betting so hard against me I started wondering if he maybe had money riding on the outcome.
But I was determined not to go the C-section route. That was not how I would let the story end. Not this time.
I would own this. I had this.
So I gathered up all of my will, all of my determination, all of my courage...
And I pushed like a witch from hell.
Soon the faces around me began to change. They made eye contact with each other, then looked my way. Next thing I knew, tables and instruments were being pushed in the room. About a dozen new characters entered the scene. The doctor, once frowning, was eyeing me anew.
I was encircled by people. My husband was near. He looked at the doctor, said, "Rhoda, this man is here for natural childbirth."
The doctor, eyes smiling from behind his mask, said, "That's right. I'm very excited."
He maintained the position.
Time stopped all around the world.
When I finally pushed my baby out, this great, endless wave of relief and joy spread out all over my body. All over my past.
All over my life.
It was such an amazing experience.
To hold my baby after all that -- I've replayed the moment in my mind a million times...
Whenever I face a challenge in life, my mind always goes back to my natural birth. Knowing that I got through that has given me the confidence to get through absolutely anything.
If you're considering a natural VBAC: Take it from me, you can do it. Prepare your body in the months before the birth. Surround yourself with positivity. Visualize a happy outcome. Keep your body strong and healthy. Find a chiropractor.
Dial up a doula.
You Can Do This!
In the meantime, remember: Every birth is vastly different. In strict truth, it doesn't matter whether you get a C-section, or you have an epidural, or you experience a natural birth -- or a VBAC.
All women will birth in their own ways.
All of us are equal in our beauty, and in our right to birth just as we choose.
For in the end, getting to slip your finger into the warmth of that tiny, precious hand, and to feel the presence of that new, beautiful being snuggled against your body... irregardless of how he or she arrived...
That is what matters the most.