Jessica is the best friend of my best friend, so by transient properties of friendship, there was no question in whether I would photograph her birth. Courtney asked me a week before Jessica's due date if I could be her backup in case she couldn't make it to the birth for some reason. When Jessica went past her due date the same week Courtney's husband had an out of town business trip, I was on standby. Courtney messaged me just before 7am letting me know Jessica was in beginning stages labor and asking if I could be there once she was in active labor.
The next thing I heard from anyone was at 8:55. Jessica's husband contacted me with: "She's nearly complete, and baby is moving down, can you come?" Um YES!
I talked to Courtney on my way to OU letting her know I wasn't sure I would make it in time. I walked in the room at 9:18, Jessica began pushing at 9:35, and baby was out at 9:43.
From here, Jessica is going to tell her birth story in it's entirety. It's long, but it's well worth the read. <3
When I was growing up and most of my friends were envisioning their weddings, I was envisioning my births. My idea of the “perfect birth” was mostly gleaned from everything I’d seen in television and movies. My water suddenly breaking, telling my husband, “honey, it’s time”, going to hospital with fanfare, and having the baby in a matter of minutes upon arrival.
The second I saw, “PREGNANT” pop up on the EPT with my first child I thought, “it’s game time.” I had dreamed about this my entire life…and it was going to happen in nine months. I got to my 40 week appointment and was frustrated that nothing was happening. My doctor at the time offered induction and I took it. I was taking my prerequisites for the respiratory program and I didn’t want to miss finals. Looking back, being the hospital having a baby was probably a foolproof excuse, but I digress. My doctor assured me that she did not see a c-section in my future and that the induction would go smoothly. Long story short….it didn’t. I ended up flat on my back in a cold operating room racking my brain trying to figure out what I’d done wrong. At my postpartum follow-up I asked about a VBAC. She said she would transfer me to a colleague of hers at another facility, but it was a possibility.
Fast forward four and a half years I am pregnant again. I had been researching VBAC since my last birth. I read and watched everything I could get my hands on. I talked to my mother, who VBAC’d a 10lb baby in the 80s. I had mentioned that I wanted a VBAC to my doctor at EVERY annual well woman exam when the subject of having another child was breached. I show up to my first prenatal appointment, mention the VBAC transfer and am immediately shut down. “Yeah, that’s not a good idea.” She says. She tells me all of the risks and dangers (none of the benefits) and terrifies my husband in the process. I left her office for the last time that day. I found a new doctor that was very supportive and he was able to put my husband at ease as well. I did everything I could to facilitate the VBAC. I drank red raspberry leaf tea, constantly monitored my posture and position, sat only on a birth ball after 30 weeks, hired a doula...the list goes on and on. I was very confident that everything was going to work. Due date came and went...again. I was more educated this time. I knew going "over" was normal. At this point I started having contractions about every 20 minutes. They would get closer together...then farther apart...then closer together. It was maddening. The 41 week mark rolls by and I was still having the same contractions. At this time I learned that what I was experiencing was called "prodromal labor". I had started my leave from work at 40 weeks because it was too difficult to keep going. I hated that I was wasting my leave without a baby. After many discussions with my doctor we came to decision to induce at 41w6d. Long story short, after 36 hours of hard, pitocin induced contractions I stalled at 9.5cm. He was OP ("sunny side up") and not budging. I found myself lying in a cold operating room...again. Recovering from that TOLAC/CBAC awas extremely difficult. I could barely talk about it without crying and there were many nights when my husband just had to hold me and listen to me sob for hours. Twice now I had seen my dream fall apart. I honestly didn't know if I could try again, or that I would.
I found myself unexpectedly pregnant again two and half years after my second son was born. At this point I had heard through the grapevine that my doctor had done VBA2Cs, but I honestly didn't know if I could emotionally tackle another birth. We discussed it at my first appointment and he was very supportive of me trying again, but did mention that induction was not an option this time. I would have to do this on my own. This was our last child. This was my last shot. My confidence was shattered, but I did everything in my power to try to make it happen. Everything I did with my second pregnancy plus chiropractic care with a Webster certified doctor. I also hired a doula named Emily that was very well versed in VBACs. My OB was amazing and never mentioned scheduling a c-section and always treated me like a "normal" pregnant woman. He didn't look at me like I had "TWO CESAREANS" stamped on my forehead. The closer my due date approached, the more apprehensive I became. I asked my husband on a daily basis, "What if I can't do this?" "What if I never go into labor on my own?" Due date came and went...again. I knew this would happen. I scheduled myself to work two weeks past my due date so I wouldn't feel pressured to do a c-section so I could have more leave with the baby. I go in to my 40 week appointment on a Tuesday and he does a cervical check. I was 1cm and not effaced. He remains upbeat and tells me that it was very reasonable to believe that I would deliver vaginally, but next week it was going to be time to start discussing "options". He scheduled me to have an non stress test the next week with another physician because he was going to be out of town. I left that appointment completely deflated. I cried for probably fifteen minutes in the car because I didn't trust myself to drive. I messaged back and forth with Emily and she was able to calm me down. She reassured me that my body was capable and it was just going to take time.
I had been having lots of Braxton Hicks contractions for the last several weeks. Nothing regular or consistent so I never got too excited. The morning after my appointment the contractions I was having seemed more regular than normal, about every 10-12 minutes. I also noticed they were a bit stronger. I also started losing pieces of my mucus plug and it was blood tinged. "Is this it?" "What's happening?" Never having gone into labor on my own before I had no idea what to look for and I had no idea what it felt like. I had a chiropractor appointment that morning and when I went my doctor said, "You smell like you're in labor, are you having contractions?". He massaged some pressure points to help move things along and told me to call and schedule an appointment after delivery. I was trying not to get too excited, but it was hard not to. I continued to have contractions throughout the evening and into the night. I slept okay, but was woken up by the contractions frequently. Thursday morning there wasn't much change. They were still 10-12 minutes, a little stronger but not much. I was continuing to lose my plug and I was starting to get frustrated and confused. Emily suggested pumping on my electric breast pump to see if that would get things going a little faster. I did it and it made the contractions stronger for a little while, but then they went back to where they were. I was scheduled to go to work the next morning. I was really hoping that labor would pick up so I wouldn't have to go in, but by that night I could tell that it just wasn't happening. I slept terribly because of the contractions and got up for work at 5:30 am. Throughout the morning the contractions picked up in frequency and intensity. I felt awful. Around 2:00 p.m. I started getting very nauseated and my boss sent me home. I felt guilty for leaving, but also relieved. After I got home I tried to rest, but soon my older boys were home and that became impossible. I had to stop every once in a while to breathe through a contraction, but it wasn't every one so I just chalked it up to more prodromal labor. I did more inversion exercises and some stretches that Emily showed me. I took a bath and tried to sleep. I didn't sleep very well that night either because the contractions would wake me up every so often. Saturday was the annual Czech Festival in the town we live in. We decided to go and take the boys so we could have one last "family of four" outing and maybe the walking would get kick my labor up. I also had been craving funnel cakes for the last two months and once I found out there were funnel cake stands there I HAD to go! That evening the contractions were still the same frequency, same intensity. I felt like I was going insane. Emily came over and brought a special hot chocolate recipe that came from her grandmother in law who was a baby catcher in Mexico. I drank a cup, took another bath that night and headed off to another night of restless sleep. Sunday, we got up and nothing really had changed. I drank another cup of the special hot chocolate. Around 5 o'clock that evening something shifted. The contractions spaced out more, about 16-20 minutes, but they were much stronger. I had gotten so used to having them they had become more of an annoyance, but these contractions demanded attention. I noticed that instead of just waiting for them to pass, I was wishing for them to pass and I would breathe a huge sigh of relief when they were over. I slept even worse that night due to the strength of the contractions. I was constantly reaching over and grabbing my husband's hand to alert him to apply counter pressure to my back during them.
My NST was scheduled for Monday morning. My mom offered to go with me because James had to work and I didn't want to be there by myself, especially with a doctor that I had never met. I called her that morning and told her what was going on and added that I didn't think I could drive myself to the appointment; and asked if she could pick me up. The contractions at this point were 6-7 minutes apart. We showed up to the appointment and I was hooked up to the monitors. Contractions were 6-7 minutes apart and baby was tolerating everything well. The doctor comes in all smiles and says everything looks great and she is going to check me to see if we needed to head to L&D. She goes to check me and asks me prop my bottom up with my fists. Ugh, I know what this means; my cervix is still posterior. She asks what I was the week before and then says, "Well, you're still about a one and 30% effaced:. Then her attitude completely shifted. She started asking me if I had a "delivery date" (aka c-section) set. When I told her no she made a face and sighed. She asked me when my next appointment was and what my doctor's plan was. When I said, "he's just waiting and seeing what happens" she said that she wished she had better news for me and walked out. I was in shock and completely disheartened. Didn't she see that I was having regular contractions? Didn't she watch me breathing through them? She said baby was fine. If he was fine why were we in such a rush to schedule something, especially when it was clear my body was doing something? I barely spoke to my mom on the way home except to voice my frustration that the contractions I was having apparently weren't doing anything. I just kept saying, "why is this so easy for some people?" "What is wrong with my body? I'm doing everything I can. WHAT'S WRONG WITH ME?" She dropped me off in tears at home and said she wanted to stay with me, but I told her to go because I really just wanted to be left alone. I talked to Emily over the phone. She reassured me that she believed this was the real deal and not to let the doctor's words affect me. She also said I needed to send the boys somewhere to stay the night because I needed to be able to focus on laboring. My mom came to pick up the boys around 5 that evening and James came home from work about 6. I had all the lights off and was cranking my labor playlist. The contractions were picking up in intensity, but not getting closer together. James was helping apply counter pressure and allowing me to hang on him while swaying during contractions. I took another bath and James helped me with some stretches. Around 12:30 a.m. I was starting to get nauseated and I felt like I was crawling out of my skin. I kept grabbing my hair and wanting to pull it out. I told James I thought it was time to call Emily. While he was talking to her I had a contraction. She spoke to me after it was over and said that it sounded really intense that she thought we should meet her at the hospital.
We got packed up and arrived at the hospital around 1:10 am. During the drive over my contractions got closer together, around 4-5 minutes apart. I stood in the dark atrium with tears in my eyes from the contractions while James parked the car. I had to moan through a few contractions while I waited. I remember my voice echoed through the huge room. It was just me and the security guard. I wondered how many times he'd witnessed a sight like this. Normally making that much noise would have made me embarrassed, but I didn't care. Emily arrived at 1:20 and I was SO relieved to see her. We made it up to Triage, got put on the monitors and the nurse checked me. Again, she asked me to prop myself up. I looked at Emily and she nodded. I never confirmed this with her, but it was like we had one of the those telepathic conversations (a la How I Met Your Mother). My look said, "crap, I'm still posterior," and her nod said, "I know, it's okay". The nurse told me I was 3 cm and 50% effaced. Some progress so that gave me a little hope. They said that they would recheck me in an hour or so and I could either stay in the triage room or walk around. I chose to walk around. Emily said, "you're going to hate me, but we're going to the stairs." We started heading that direction and my contractions started coming every 2-3 minutes. Emily had a piece of cloth and through every contraction we were doing lift and tuck exercises from Spinning Babies. I was moving pretty slow and having to stop for contractions every 4-5 steps or so. "We're not going to make it to the stairs," Emily said. I apologized, but she just smiled and said, "It's okay. You're doing great!". We made it to the end of the hallway and I felt like I couldn't walk anymore. I was exhausted from not sleeping for nearly a week and the constant contractions. James went to get a wheelchair and I sheepishly asked Emily, "are you going to think I'm a horrible person if I ask for an epidural?". She immediately and genuinely said, "no, not at all." We wheeled back to triage and was rechecked. Still had to prop myself up, still 3 cm, still 50% effaced. The nurse said she was going to speak to the doctors and come back. I was starting to panic. Why wasn't anything changing? Emily and James were able to talk me down. Emily assured me that my body was working and that I was doing great. About 5 minutes later a resident walked in and announced, "We're going to go ahead and admit and at this time because of your previous medical history; and we recommend an immediate c-section." I was bewildered. All I could say was "What?". She went on to say, "If you want to continue trying for a vaginal delivery, it's up to you. You've signed all the consent forms, you know the risks, would you like to continue?" I looked up at Emily who had her eyes fixed and her brow furrowed at the resident. Her strong face gave me the courage to say, "Yes". The doctor said, "fine, we need to do an ultrasound to make sure baby is head down and get your IV then we'll get you to a room." It took 5 attempts to get my IV placed and while the nurses were working on that three different residents had to do the ultrasound to confirm his position. I had to stay flat on my back while they were doing the ultrasounds and my contractions were starting to come on top of each other. While they were doing the ultrasounds they kept saying things like, "If he's breach that's a game changer. You know that, right?". He had never been breach before. I was confused and frustrated that they were having such a hard time getting it. Every time they had to switch doctors Emily would say, "You're doing great. Don't pay any attention to these doctors who clearly don't like VBACs. I hate the way they're talking to you." They finally confirmed head placement and moved me into a room around 4:45 a.m. I was sitting on the edge of the bed about ten minutes after I arrived and my water broke during a contraction. They noted that there was meconium in the fluid. My nurse asked if I was considering an epidural and I said I was. She then said, "Well, we recommend you get one because you're a VBAC and if we have to do a c-section we will put you to sleep." She was very abrasive and made me feel uncomfortable. I was leaning forward during the contractions and the monitor would move and start reading my heart rate instead of the baby's. This was very frustrating to my nurse and about five minutes after my water broke I had all three residents from earlier and my nurse standing in front of me wanting me to give consent for an internal monitor. I didn't want internal monitors and they wouldn't leave it alone. They kept saying things like, "we're not trying to force you, but you really need to consider the safety and health of your baby." James spoke up and said, "the language that you're using is very threatening and it actually does sound like you're trying to force her". They argued a little more and then Emily finally asked everyone to step out so we could talk it over among ourselves. Because of all the IV/ultrasound trouble we hadn't been left alone for over two hours. We discussed everything and ultimately decided that I needed to rest and be left alone and the best way to do that would be to get the epidural. Also, they would be able to get a better tracing on the external monitors because I wouldn't be moving as much. We called them back in and told them what we decided. They didn't like it, but shrugged their shoulders and left. The epidural was placed at 5:45 a.m. I was able to relax for the first time in nearly six days. I kept asking, "Am I too weak for doing this?" "Do you think I'm a wimp?" James and Emily did not hesitate when they said no.
James went to the car and got our bag, Emily started setting up the room to make it more "homey" and she positioned me on a peanut ball to help get baby in a good position. At 6:45 my nurse came in to place a urinary catheter and check my cervix. She had kind of a confused face while she was checking me and taking a really long time. I asked her if I needed to prop myself up. She kind of scoffed and said, "no". "Then what's taking so long?" I thought. After what felt like several minutes she said, "I'm going to call you an eight to a nine, but I'll put an eight in your chart." "CENTIMETERS?!" was my response. I was in complete disbelief. It was at that moment I actually believed it was going to happen. Shift change happened at seven and my new nurse was so much better. She came in while Emily was trying to re-position me on the peanut and said, "you read my mind!". The attending physician covering for my doctor came in and introduced herself. She said I looked great, baby looked fantastic and she was very excited for the VBAC. She also had a British accent which I thought was super cool. My nurse came in to check me around 8:30 am and said I was nearly at a 10 and had a small lip left on the right side. She and Emily helped re-position me again and we called the photographer. At almost 9:00 she came back in to check me and announced that I was complete and baby was at +2 station and in occiput anterior position. My new team of OB residents came in and asked for the delivery table to be set up and to have the pediatric team be ready because of the meconium. They said they were going to allow me to labor down a little more before pushing. They sat me up very high in the bed. I remember looking at James and saying, "I'm going to do this. This is going to happen." The photographer, Stephanie, arrived at 9:20. We chatted a little bit and Emily was also prepping me for pushing. She had said before that because I had never pushed before I would push like a first time mom and not to get discouraged if it took a little longer.
At 9:30 the residents came in because baby was having some decells during contractions. He would recover quickly, but it was still concerning. The residents called in the attending doctor. The doc I met earlier that morning was unavailable but this new doctor was just as amazing and encouraging. They called the peds team and had them in the room. They placed some oxygen on my face to help with his heart rate and told me it was time to start pushing. I started pushing at 9:35. I didn't really know what I was doing, but everyone kept telling me I was doing a great job so I tried my best to keep it up. Everyone was so excited and cheerleading me on. At 9:43 am Westley Jack was born! The umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck, which attributed to the decells at the end of labor. They had to take him immediately to the warmer to look him over and make sure that he hadn't aspirated any meconium. The attending OB congratulated me and told me that we would be reunited soon. She also informed me that I had a first degree tear and that it only required one quick stitch. About fourteen minutes later baby Westley was brought back to me. I was in shock! I couldn't believe that I'd done it! It was such a whirlwind.
Recovery this time around has been so much easier. I've also learned a few things about myself. I learned that I am strong. There is a small part of me that regrets getting that epidural, but another part of me that knows it was the right thing to do. It allowed me to be fully present during the birth and enjoy it. It allowed me to be able to have the voice to stand up for myself when the staff was trying to push me into interventions I didn't want. I learned that my body wasn't "broken", but I also learned that it never was to begin with. I've often heard people talk about their bodies as "broken" if they couldn't have the birth they desired. I think my doula Emily put it best when she said during our many text messaging sessions during my days of prodromal labor. She said, "Your story is unique." I think that goes for every woman. No one's body is "broken", everyone is unique. We're not going to follow the same exact pattern and we should never expect ourselves to do so, even when modern medicine tries to dictate that we do. Every birth is special. It's the beginning of a new life. It's sacred and whether it is surgical, natural, medicated, or VBAC it should be treated as such and celebrated in the biggest way possible.