Saturday, August 3, 2013

Greta Girl - A Birth Story

How do you begin to write a birth story that everyone told you you would never experience? This is the difficulty I've been having over the past few days.  Greta made such a graced entrance into this world, but few people know the fight we had to go through to get her here that way.  This is our story.

Though she was only just born on July 26, our story begins more than two years ago at her brother's birth.  Little William arrived 7 weeks early in 2011, by emergency caesarean, and at my 6-week check up, my OB informed me that any future children I decided to have would have to be delivered by repeat c-section at 36 weeks due to the type of incision they had to give me (a classical/vertical scar on my uterus).  I left that follow up feeling broken.  Feeling scared.  Feeling defeated.  She had basically told me that I would have preemies the rest of my life... and after having spent 2 weeks in the NICU with Will, that just didn't appeal to me.  But what were my options?  I didn't know... but I was determined to find out.

Most OB's will tell you that with the type of scar I have, there would be a 10% chance of uterine rupture were my body to go into labor.  Rupture could mean severe complications for baby and I... even including death if they couldn't get to baby in time.   But as I dove into the research on my own terms, I found that the 10% statistic the OB's quoted was FAR higher than research stated.  I found a group of women who had the same kind of scar as mine (, and many of them had vaginally birthed a child since their special scar.  In everything I looked at, I knew that I couldn't just agree to another caesarean out of fear of the "what might go wrongs," and I definitely wasn't okay with bringing a baby into this world a month earlier than he/she was supposed to get here.

But I was afraid.  There were about 4 months of time in there, once Andrew and I felt it was safe to conceive, that I actually prayed I would not get a positive pregnancy test.  I was scared.  The way I chose to birth our next child was going to be dangerous whether I conceded to a repeat c-section or whether I attempted a VBAC.  Would I even be able to find a provider who would assist me and respect my desires?  Could I handle the inevitable mental stress of this pregnancy and still be healthy and strong?  But when I finally got that positive test in November of 2012, a wave of peace washed over me.  It was as though I knew I could handle the pregnancy and I was determined to set myself up for a VBAC even if something changed and I needed to c-section in the end.

When I started looking for a new OB, I was at a loss.  The first doc I visited wouldn't even touch me once he read my records.  He said they would c-section at 36 weeks, no questions... and if I wasn't open to that he wouldn't even start a chart on me.  He told me that not only did I have a 10% chance of uterine rupture, but that if I DID rupture, there was a 50% chance I would lose the baby or my own life.  I knew his statistics were inaccurate.  I knew they were scare tactics.  The real stats say that I had AT MOST a 4% chance of rupture and only 6% of those were catastrophic (meaning loss of uterus, baby or mother.)  But still I left his office in tears.

And then I found Dr. J.  He is by far the most VBAC friendly doctor in my town.  So I knew if I had a chance for a VBAC, he would be it.  And even he pretty much told me no way.  He told me that even if I had a healthy and successful VBAC, he would still get "one of those letters" from the board reprimanding him for letting me try.  However, he did say at my first appointment that he didn't buy into the 36 week c-section and he would let me go longer than that as long as I was feeling good and everything looked fine.  So I stuck with him.  I figured if I couldn't get my VBAC, at least I could avoid having another preemie... and maybe just maybe I could convince him to support me in a trial of labor.

I did as much as I could to maintain an extra healthy pregnancy this time.  I exercised until 37 weeks, I ate way less carbs and sugar, I tracked baby's position, and paid extremely close attention to all aches and pains I had.  I was perpetually aware that there was a small chance that my uterus could spontaneously rupture... But I tried not to dwell on it.  And I never wavered in the peace I had about trying for a VBAC.  Andrew and I hired a doula for the first time as I knew having someone familiar with birth would certainly help me were I to go into labor on my own.  I also refused to let fear dictate how I would deliver this child.  But fear did creep in A LOT.  Once I hit 33 weeks, I knew my uterus was stretching past where it had with Will.  The aches and pains arounnd my belly button scared me but I reasoned that it was just scar tissue stretching and it usually went away pretty quickly.  I witnessed two great friends go through miscarriages and wondered if this was just the year of losing babies.  I avoided all conversations of VBAC with my OB because I didn't want to hear the blown out of proportion risks.  But even in the fear, there was always peace. And Andrew and I agreed that not only for this baby and this pregnancy... But for the sake of any future U-babies, VBAC would certainly be the optimal way to have this kiddo.

At one point in early third trimester, my doula insisted that I make my wishes clear to my doctor.  He listened to me.  He accepted the research I gave him, and he respected my wishes, but he still couldn't support my VBAC.  I think, however, he knew that I would refuse a scheduled c-section unless there was a complication.  At 38 weeks, my doc was to leave on vacation, and labor did not seem imminent.  During my last check up before he left, he pulled out all the stops to get me to agree to a csection... Even going so far as to describe the agony of having a still born.  I was distraught leaving that appointment.  I begged Andrew to reassure me we were making the right choice.  Andrew never waivered.  He believed my body would do what it was built to do and said again that we shouldn't choose a surgery just because something MIGHT go wrong.  Later that evening our phone rang and it was my OB.  I was just sure he was going to give it one last try to get me to come in for a section.  But I was wrong.  He said he had talked to the specialist in his office, the risk management people at the hospital, and his on call doc, and they all agreed they couldn't force me into surgery (that would be battery by the way). So instead they were going to do all they could to support me.  He had worked it out that when I went into labor the hospital would admit me into the labor room closest to the OR.  They would be prepared for the worst but support me in my fight for the best.  My relief was so great after this phone call that I couldn't even report to Andrew what he had said because I was sobbing with joy.

40 weeks pregnant!
And then came the last three weeks of pregnancy.  I went into false labor 5 or 6 times.  Each time my contractions were timetable and painful, but after an hour or two, they would fizzle.  It was physically and mentally taxing.  I had convinced myself that this kid would not be a 41 weeker like Mia and Vince.  Surely this one would come early since I now had a scar.  But still we waited.  And each morning I woke up disbelieving that I was STILL pregnant.  My due date passed uneventfully.  

On Friday, July 26, I woke up at 5:50 am and had that same thought, "Ugh... Still pregnant." Five minutes later I had a contraction that seemed different from all the pre labor I had been experiencing.  It was more painful and felt more productive, but I didn't let myself get too excited.  These contractions went on for two more hours.  I went ahead and showered and got ready for te day, but I let work know I was not coming in.  I called my folks as well to tell them that I was pretty sure I was in early labor but that they shouldn't rush to get here, because it might not be real.  I don't think Andrew believed labor was really happening because at one point, I walked back to our bedroom to find him getting dressed for work.  I had to tell him, "Um... You're not going to work today... We're going to have a baby."  he was a little surprised I think.  By 9a we were calling our doula to report contractions.  She said she'd come over in a couple of hours, but that we should prepare for a long day.  My sister in law came to pick up the three bigs, and Andrew and I were left to labor alone.

In the two hours we waited for Cynthia (our doula) to arrive, comtractions really intensified.  I was almost to the point that I wanted to call her and just have her meet us at the hospital, but Andrew convinced me that we were fine, and I should wait for her to arrive because we didn't want to be in the  hospital that long.  I'm so glad we waited because once she arrived, she helped us to realize that things were progressing normally and my contractions, while productive, were not super regular so we probably had some time.  Cynthia had Andrew and I go out walking.  After two trips around the block, pausing every two minutes for a contraction, I needed a little rest.  I labored on my birth ball in our dining room and Cynthia lead Andrew and I in a prayer for safety and wisdom.  Then she asked me to climb the stairs a few times.  Let me tell you, doing that while in labor is not easy!!  Andrew was a trooper and helped me with all of these activities.  Finally my contractions started to intensify again and I was having Andrew give me counter pressure on my hips and back to get through them.  Cynthia told us that it might be time to call the doctor but she wanted us to pray on it and discuss it first.  Andrew and I weren't too sure. We knew that going to the  hospital would mean the likelihood of pressure to section.  We had come so far, and we didn't want to cave at the last moment.  But we finally agreed to go because the contractions were intensifying, and we both had peace with going.  When Cynthia called my doctor he assured her he would call ahead to the hospital and tell them we were coming. He also said he would give strict orders to leave us alone. This made me happy.

Contractions continued during the drive to the hospital.  I was having to really breathe through them and concentrate.  The walk from the car to the birth part of the hospital was interesting.  I absolutely wanted to walk it, but I got some crazy looks from people.  One cleaning lady nearly begged us to let her go get a wheel chair, but I assured her I was fine.  When we got to the desk and told them I needed to check in... they asked the reason.  Uh... Labor?? Duh?? The pre-registering that I had done a few weeks earlier did absolutely no good at all so I was left to fill out paperwork whilst managing contractions in a waiting room.  Once the paperwork was finished Cynthia encouraged me to walk around the lobby and lean on Andrew when I needed to.  We did that through about three contractions before they walked us down to our room.  Our nurse was a gem and didn't make any comments about my VBAC.  She just got us all checked in and set up.  I got changed into a hospital gown and made my way to the bed so they could get the monitors hooked up.  I gave them my birth plan and everyone seemed pretty cool with my wishes.  They put a hep lock in, but I didn't have an IV or any fluids at all hooked up.  We did end up allowing continuous fetal monitoring, though they let me stay on the ball as much as I wanted and no one freaked out when the baby would move out of range or the monitor would slip out of place.  That was a welcome difference from my experience with Vince when anytime the monitor would fall off, the nurse would freak out.

Pausing for a photo between
contractions on the birth ball.
 We were at the hospital around 2:30 p.m. and all checked in by 3:00 p.m.  When they checked my progress I was at 7 cm and nearly fully effaced which was AMAZING news.  I kept expecting to be "in transition" any time soon, but my contractions were still at least relatively bearable at that point.  When I was on the ball, I pretty much had to have Andrew within arm's reach so he could rub my back or hold my hand through the contractions, but they were nothing like the pitocin induced contractions I remembered with Vince.  At 3:30 p.m., Dr. J arrived and checked me again.  I was 8 cm by that point with a bulging bag of waters and he asked me if I would like them to break it.  I talked to Andrew and Cynthia about it and made absolutely sure that baby's head was low enough that there was no risk of cord prolapse before I agreed.  They discovered that my waters were a bit stained with meconium, but no one indicated that I should be terribly worried.  I of course was worried.  Had baby breathed in the meconium? Was he/she okay?  But heart tones were fine.  My contractions picked up just a little bit after they broke my waters but I really was pretty comfortable still.  The next hour really reminded me of the morning of my wedding.  I remember that all of my bridesmaids were just lounging around my parent's house as if it were a normal Saturday.  No one was freaking out. No one was prepping.  We were all just chill.  That was the exact atmosphere of my birthing room.  The doctor, the doula, the nurse, Andrew and I were all just sort of in waiting mode.  The contractions were still coming but it certainly didn't feel like transition to me.  I kept asking if this was normal that I was still smiling and chatting and Cynthia assured me it was normal for me.
Andrew's hand got squeezed pretty hard a few times.
Cynthia, my doula and I.
The cervical checks were the WORST part of labor by far (and I will likely avoid them all together if there is another baby in our future).  Everyone was telling me to push against the pressure of doctor checking my progression, but I didn't feel the need to push so all I felt was immense pain.  I was nearly 9 cm by 4:00 p.m. and doc told me I could push whenever I felt the need.  I finally decided to get back on the ball to see if I could encourage baby to labor down farther.  That seemed to pick things up.  Once the doc noticed that contrax were getting a lot tougher, he again wanted to check me to see if we had progressed. I believe we were complete by 5:00 p.m. or so an I was back up in the bed sitting upright and really fighting through the contractions.  I didn't feel pushy quite yet which surprised me because with number two, my body did all the pushing.  I couldn't have stopped it if I tried, but with this one I just didn't have that urge.  Finally I could tell the contractions were forcing baby down and said I felt a little pushy.  The nurse and doula held my feet and legs up so I was in a squat position and told me to push against the contractions.  Andrew told me later that he thought I did a great job and was always in control, but this was the part of labor that I felt most out of it.  I was crying and groaning as I pushed.  I don't remember the "ring of fire" pain from my first two vaginal births, but this one was very apparent.  They told me they could see hair, and just a few more pushes would have her out.  It was only about two more and our little baby's head was out.  And one more push and out baby came.  I looked down as I asked Andrew "What did we have?"  And as I saw her, he saw her too and exclaimed, "It's a GIRL!!!!"  He was crying with joy as they placed her on my chest.  I was a ball of emotions.  My thoughts kept swirling between disbelief that we finally had the baby girl that we were all praying for, that I just had a VBAC that no one said I could do, that we were both healthy and unmedicated for the whole thing, that Greta was earthside now and laying on my chest... I couldn't focus on anything for all the joy surrounding me.   They let the cord stop pulsing before they asked Andrew to cut it.  My beautiful little girl lay on my chest as pink as can be and began nursing within minutes.  We cried and marveled at our sweet little girl who looked so much like her siblings.

When my parents arrived with the kids about an hour later, they were just ecstatic to find out they had a sister. Mia said a few days later that Greta was "A dream come true."  Everyone is loving on her, although William (our 2 year old) is having a little trouble getting used to the new baby in the house.  But I imagine time will make that better and they'll be great friends.  After an hour of cuddle time, we found out that Greta was 8 lb 10 oz and 20 inches long.

I couldn't have prayed or asked for a better birthing experience than I had.  I was so grateful at how smoothly everything went despite all of the risks and warnings with which we were bombarded.  I trusted that my body had healed from my section, and even though I was fearful at times... I just kept leaning on the peace I felt around me when I considered my birthing options.  Our little Greta is a beautiful gift for which we will be forever grateful.  I'm still amazed that she's here and healthy and my birth went down the way I hoped it would.  As much as I didn't want to let all the naysayers get into my head, they certainly did get in there.  It has taken me the last few days to just realize that everything is real and we really are both doing well.

If I've learned anything from this experience, it's that it is so important for moms and all people to really be their own advocates.  Do your research. Stick to your guns.  Know what you want and be informed of your risks (but your real ones... not the ones they make up to scare you.)  The biggest pet peeve I had this entire pregnancy was getting the question from people that involved the word, "Let".  "How long will your doctor let you go?"  "Will they let you have a VBAC?"  "Will he let you refuse a c-section date?"  Something that our culture has forgotten is that birth is natural part of life.  It is not a medical condition.  Doctors don't LET us do anything.  They can encourage us or advise us, but when it comes down to it, we pay them.  They work for us.  So they don't get control over our decisions unless we hand it over to them.  I really believe moms have an intuition that we have forgotten how to tap into.  I krusted that if I had ruptured or started to rupture, I would likely be able to tell the docs something was wrong before they would have even picked up on it.  And I also trusted that if I wasn't meant to have a VBAC that God would make that clear to me before I even tried for one.  With Andrew's support, and a lot of prayers we stayed at peace in this whole process and really gave it to God.

I imagine there will be some out there who feel I put my baby at risk or maybe even my own life at risk. But my honest answer to them is that a second c-section carried just as many if not more risks for both of us.  Had I stuck with my former OB, Greta would have arrived 5 weeks before she was ready.  I would have been left to care for three big kids and a preemie while recovering from major surgery or dealing with complications from that surgery.  I had pain for at least 5 months after Will was born, but now, after Greta, I'm feeling almost back to normal only a week later.  Do I feel I took a risk?  Honestly, I feel like getting in a car is a risk, sending my kids to school each day is a risk, eating food that's less than nutritious is a risk, just getting pregnant is a risk.  For the future of our family, VBAC was clearly the lowest risk option for us and thanks be to God that it worked perfectly.  I only wish that more moms would advocate for themselves and really challenge our culture's c-section mentality. If only doctors would stop being so afraid of litigation that they could remember that birth is a natural process... Not a medical condition... Not something to be feared. That is my deepest wish for the future of obstetrics in our country.

Sorry this has been so long.  I've been contemplating what to write for 9 months and keeping my wishes for VBAC relatively secret much longer than that.  I have so many people to thank for helping Greta and I to and through this amazing experience.  First and foremost, I am so grateful for my Special Scar sisters.  They gave me courage, inspiration, research, and cheer leading through the whole thing and I love these women who I've never even met except thought Facebook.  And then to those who trekked this journey with us... Andrew and his unwavering support, Cynthia, Dr. Jamie, Dr. J-my OB, my parents for making me explain the whys of what I wanted and voicing their concerns honestly and still supporting me, and all my Daisy friends and parish friends for their prayers.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

For more information about the Special Scars group, please visit their website at  

1 comment:

  1. Love it! Love it! Love it! Thank you for being an inspiration to me and to other birthing moms fighting against the "silent knife" :-) Hoping to make a similar "special scars" announcement one day soon!