As many of my family, friends, and readers know, our birth experience with Benjamin was traumatic and stressful. Our hoped-for natural delivery in a hospital with a nurse midwife turned into a timed, fear-riddled, unnecessary intervention-filled labor that resulted in a pushed cesarean from a condescending and unknown doctor. I was exhausted, numb to my lips, puking, and terrified. The first hours of my son are forever lost to a sea of drugs and sleep. Breastfeeding was hard (but we persevered), recovery was incredibly difficult after a major surgery, and I suffered from high anxiety and post partum depression. It was everything a new mother and family should not have to suffer through. Instead of welcoming our sweet baby home with joy, it was a miserable experience that still brings on tears and feelings of sadness. It was a painful day. It wasn't beautiful. But those are the moments that force us to grow into new people. I've gained so much from Ben's birth, and sometimes I don't think I would even trade the experience. It has forced me to be better, to be stronger, to know women, to love my son in ways I had to search hard for. It's pushed me to become educated about birth, about the way our bodies are designed, and how nature intends the mother-child relationship to develop. I can now look at my cesarean and feel blessed by the experience; the gap that bridged between my husband and I, the way I love him harder. The way I had to fight to love my son and be grateful for the traumatic way he entered the world-because he's here and I would suffer through that a million times again if it meant it was the only way he could be mine.
I'm not going to inundate this post with research, statistics, and facts. I just want to talk about my feelings and what I'm personally doing to prepare for my VBAC. Our backgrounds are probably different. Maybe you had a very necessary and life saving cesarean for which you are grateful. Maybe your cesarean was peaceful, with a doctor who cared about your needs and it was a wonderful experience! This also isn't to say that many women don't have alarming vaginal births, because I know many mamas who have. But VBAC moms have a label...we come with a 'story' about how/why we had the cesarean, with our surgery report/notes, and pray the provider we want will also want us and take the 'risk' of accepting us as a patient. I don't know your circumstances, so I can only speak for myself here.
For me, preparing my mind has been the most important. For me, the mind is where everything lives. Our bodies usually do what our minds tell them to. Getting physically prepared is important too, of course, but the mind controls everything. It's where the doubts, the fears, the excitement, and the hurt all live. On my pregnancy journey, I've focused mostly on healing any lingering trauma that resides in my head. There was never any doubt that I would 100% pursue a vaginal birth. My uterine scar is tough, it is healed. I have zero fear that it will 'rupture'. My body was made to do this, and it will.
| The Mind, The Emotions |
The mind is the greatest and most powerful tool you have before and during labor. Sometimes we just need to get out of our own way and allow our bodies to do the work they are designed to do. Giving up control (super hard for people like me), is a process that must be practiced.
- Read, read, read. Read books. Read well-documented and footnoted articles. Read positive birth stories written by women who have had successful vbacs. (The Thinking Woman's Guide to Better Birth and Ina May's Guide to Childbirth are two my favorite books that normalize birth).
- Surround yourself with supportive, positive people. Sometimes we have well-meaning people in our lives who love and care about us, but their fears and worries are negative energy. Don't share your heart and spend your time trying to change their mind. Focus on the people who are 100% behind you. I know this sounds rude, but I often times won't even engage with people who are uneducated about this topic or truly care about having a quality conversation...if someone is only being judgmental, passive aggressive, or pushing their own opinions on me, I tune them out. This experience isn't about anyone but me and my family.
- Join a support group. I was fortunate enough to find a local cesarean group that meets once a month and it was paramount in my healing. Online groups are incredible too. Search for a local ICAN chapter.
- Journal, draw, write, scribble. How does your creative mind work? Our subconscious allows our thoughts and true feelings to come when we do so in a creative, un-forced way. I keep a journal by my bed and as I read things, talk to people, or spend meditative time with myself, I always come out with thoughts I need to write down. I write down good dreams, ideas, epiphanies. I had this beautiful dream one night when I was 15 weeks pregnant...I could reach down and feel a baby girl's thick head of hair as I breathed and pushed her out, and I gently raised her to my chest. I woke up in tears...having never experienced anything like that in 'real life', it was so profound to me. I wrote it down and I go back to it all the time. If I read something in a book that speaks to me, I write it down. If I have a fear, I write it down, or talk to my husband, or call my doula.
- Connect with other women who have walked in your shoes, for they know your heart better than anyone else.
- For the sake of focusing on the positive, do not avoid the painful. You have to walk down that path. I thought I had worked through most of my issues, but I still have doubts/fears that come up all the time. I meet them head-on and work through them, because avoiding truthful emotions and pain is foolish. Some recent things that have come up for me..."I'm too big to have a natural birth...why didn't I work out harder and lose more weight? Maybe my body can't do this." I recognized right away how detrimental that would be to my visualization of birth. I met with my friend Katy (a birth doula) and she helped talk me through those emotions, reminding me that I'm not big, women of all sizes birth babies, and I AM healthy. I just needed to see myself that way (and sometimes we need someone else to tell us that).
- Reflect very hard on your past birth experience, and think about the things that made you feel truly unsafe and un-valued as a mother. Talk to your care provider about these so they know what triggers you might be facing, and maybe where you need more care and love during your labor. A lot of us have trauma. A lot of us were treated poorly. I have a lot of 'flashback issues' that have come up throughout this pregnancy, and my midwife couldn't be more caring and amazing throughout it all.
- Speaking of care providers. Interview them. Find them. Connect with them. Do not allow yourself to be boxed into who cares for you and where you birth based on insurance/finances if you can allow it. My husband and I saved to pay for our birth out of pocket so that I had the freedom to choose. It's sad it has to be that way, but it is. WHO you are putting your life/baby/experience with and WHERE you give birth matter more than almost anything, especially for VBAC moms. Ask good questions and take note of any 'red flags' that come up where you feel your provider isn't truly being pro-vbac. Remember this is YOUR body, YOUR baby, YOUR birth experience...no one can tell you what you can/can't do, or scare you with fear tactics, or give you misleading information for their own agenda. Find someone who truly wants this for you and believes in shared decision making. Find someone who believes that birth is a natural, normal process and will treat you the same as any other pregnant mama. Also, hire a doula. A good one. Our doula has been to literally thousands of births, and that experience is invaluable to me.
- Practice relaxation techniques. Train your mind. I'm really enjoying Hypnobirthing this time around. It has a lot of great suggestions for laying down and doing visualizations that help with releasing that control.
- Positive affirmations. Oh I know it sounds cheesy as hell, but write them down and tape them up somewhere. I have 5 affirmations taped to my bathroom mirror, and I read them every day. These should be personal to you. Some examples include:
- I am a strong and capable woman. I trust my instincts to know what I need for my labor.
- My body is not broken. I can do this.
- I am deserving of a peaceful birth.
|The Body, The Physical |
You are growing an entire human inside your body. All of the blood, cells, bones, muscles. Nutrition for yourself and your baby is SO important during pregnancy. Staying physically active helps maintain muscle strength, decreases the risk of high weight gain, and helps our bodies cope with the physical changes of the body during pregnancy. I remember washing our car when I was pregnant with Ben and my sweet elderly neighbor came running out, telling me I should be back inside with my feet up. Gone are the days, ladies. Lying inside with my feet up is not the way I am going to achieve pushing out a baby.
- I gained 65 pounds during my first pregnancy. (!!!) It took me nearly 18 months to lose that weight, and beside the fact that I had a major surgery, my recovery was rough and I didn't feel good. This time, I'm all about workin' on my fitness. While I don't believe that a 'number' should define us, my goal weight is 30 pounds this time (set by myself). I'm doing really great this time around. I'm working out 4-5 times a week (45 minutes of cardio), modified weight lifting, workout videos, lots of squats, stretching, and daily walks. My legs feel strong, my endurance feels high, and I love sweating it out for me and my baby.
- Eat well. Eat whole, real foods. Pack in that nutrition and stay away from processed crap and sugar. Sometimes I fail at this (in fact just last week I ate all of the chocolate things, and there was that one time I begged my husband to get me a taco from Jack in the Box at midnight), but overall, I am confident with the nutrients I am feeding my baby. It makes a difference...trust me...between my two pregnancies, I notice the huge impact my diet has played.
- Get some good body care! This time I'm seeing a chiropractor who works mainly with pregnant women. My pelvis and hips were all wacky, people. I'm going every couple of weeks, and she will come assist with the birth if positioning becomes a problem during labor. I'm also starting up bi-weekly prenatal massage for overall relaxation and well-being. Usually insurance covers these types of care, but if not, find a way to make it work. You will feel so much better.
- Take time to relax. I take a nice bath a few times a week. I light candles, I think about my baby, I let my muscles relax and my mind release all the stressful stuff.
- Don't sit around. This is much easier this pregnancy because I'm not teaching (sitting grading papers, sitting driving, sitting at the computer, etc). I'm on my hands and knees with my toddler, we are outside playing, outside walking, etc. Sitting and leaning back promotes poor positioning of baby in the womb.
- Use vitamins as a supplement to a good diet. I'm currently taking a whole-foods prenatal vitamin 3x a day, a DHA supplement, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and a probiotic every day.
- Ask your midwife or OB other ways you can support your body. Now that I'm in the third trimester, I'm drinking red raspberry leaf tea every day. I will take Evening Primrose Oil as we near the end, and also do spinning babies positioning if need be. It might all help, it might not, but I feel better doing it. :)
I love women. I love supporting women, being real with women, and opening up my heart with vulnerable honesty. If you're struggling, I want to be here for you. We do not have to agree and have the same philosophies about anything, because that's not what matters. Email me, comment, share. And please take the time (if you have it) to read back through the past two years of my life. There are big stories, emotions, healing, advice all bundled up in this blog. Please use it.
- The First Birth Story: Rose-Colored Glasses
- The Actual Birth Story: Real Emotions
- Children's Hospital At 2 Weeks PP
- I Believe In Natural Birth
- Why I Keep Talking About My Cesarean (and you should too!)
- Not "JUST the baby blues" (PPD)
- I Got My Boobs Back (the long story)
- The End of Our Nursing Journey (on Mamalode)
- This Scar: The Significance of How We Birth (on Mamalode)
- How I Healed From My Cesarean
- Birth Diaries: Amazing stories from readers who have shared their hearts.
We are all created differently, and sometimes what works for one of us doesn't work for the other. Please share here what has helped you. How do you view birth? Have you had a successful VBAC?