10 Things I Wish I Knew About A VBAC *Before* I Actually Had One
There are lots of reasons why someone might attempt a vaginal birth after a C-section. For example, and while I had a great C-section experience (even though it was labeled an emergency), I wanted to know what a vaginal birth was like. Plus, it seemed like far less trouble to coax a baby out of a designated exit than to create one. My attempt was ultimately successful, but there are things I wish I knew about a VBAC before I actually had one. While I may have already had a baby this was, after all, completely new territory.
Though labeled "a safe and appropriate choice for most women who have had a prior cesarean delivery, including some women who have had two previous cesareans" by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, most women who have had one C-section will go on to have another. This is often due to doctors who will not entertain the idea of a VBAC, doctors who are disingenuous about their entertaining the idea of a VBAC, and the outdated concept of "once a C-section always a C-section." Now, whether someone chooses a C-section or a VBAC is besides the point, because there's no right or wrong answer. How someone gives birth is about their comfort and safety. But people should know the options available to them instead of being told they are limited.
As a result, most people who attempt a VBAC are sort of on their own when it comes to figuring things out. I was lucky in that my mom actually had a successful VBAC (after two previous c-sections) so I could turn to her for guidance, questions, and just the knowledge that it was possible and could be done. But there are some things that, even with that leg up, I didn't know until after the fact that knowing before would have been handy, including the following:
I Would Be Successful
Overall, most people who attempt a VBAC will have one, but 75 percent success rate ain't 100. So most pregnant women I know who have attempted a VBAC have had at least a little bit of anxiety about whether or not they would actually get to experience a vaginal delivery. For some, the anxiety required talk therapy and/or cast a dark cloud over her entire pregnancy, making it far less enjoyable than it could have been otherwise.
I was somewhere between the two extremes. I was pretty OK with the idea that I might have another C-section overall, but on my more emotional days I got... well... more emotional about the idea. I could have saved myself a moderate amount of stress if I'd just known, one way or the other, how things were going to turn out.
It's Not 100 Percent Magical
It's very easy to romanticize a VBAC, especially if you had a negative C-section experience. My previous birth was actually quite enjoyable, but after hearing so many people talk about the wondrous, mind-body connectedness of a vaginal delivery, I thought "OMG, this is going to be a spiritually important, transformational moment in my life!"
And, yeah, it was significant in the way every birth is significant, and it was beautiful, and it was amazing to be successful in something I hadn't known until then that my body could do... but it was still giving birth, which is painful, uncomfortable, deeply physical, and vulnerable. Like, I always thought the comparison to "sh*tting a watermelon" was crass and reductive but, nope! It's pretty spot on.
I Wouldn't Get Immediate Skin To Skin
One thing that really excited me about the possibility of a VBAC was the idea that I would have a wet, squishy newborn plopped directly on my chest, "fresh from the oven" as it were. Unfortunately, my semi-massive little girl got a little bit stuck coming out and was pretty jarred by the incident. Her color wasn't good and she needed to be stuck under a warming lamp and gently nudged for about 10 minutes to make sure she was OK.
Then she was put on my chest, which was lovely, but it wasn't the Mother Goddess fantasy I had built up in my mind.
Recovery Would Be More Painful
Do let's not get it twisted: my C-section recovery was harder, longer, and more annoying. But when it came to my pain levels, I experienced more pain (if for a shorter period) after my vaginal delivery. I'm guessing this mostly has to do with the fact that I didn't get prescription drugs after squeezing a baby out of my lady flower...
... for some incomprehensible reason.
Rest Is Necessary After Childbirth
Just as I'd sort of romanticized vaginal birth in my desire to have a VBAC, I'd also romanticized a VBAC recovery. Because C-section recoveries are rough, and vaginal birth recoveries are said to be easier, I assume postpartum life would be a walk in the park. It wasn't.
Easier doesn't mean easy, people. It especially doesn't mean you don't have to do things required of any recovery period (chiefly sit down and take it easy for a couple weeks). I really wish someone had sat me down and made me understand that I'd need to rest before I completely overdid it after I popped out my daughter.
My First Baby Wouldn't Hate The New Baby
This isn't just a VBAC concern, of course, but it was still a concern I had during pregnancy. If I'd known I wouldn't have to worry about it, the whole experience would have been that much nicer.
I Really Did Want To Look
Granted, I was just a wee bit distracted (you know, giving birth and all) but I really wish I'd asked someone to hold up a mirror so I could see what was going on down there because, seriously, almost four years later, my curiosity has not abated. I ask my husband all the time.
"Your vagina with a baby head coming out of it."
"But what did it look like?"
And I do, but it's just not the same as seeing it in real time, ya know?
I first learned this word on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit when M.E. Warner would explain that the presence of petechiae are broken blood vessels that indicate whether a victim had been strangled. (She did that a lot.) So I was familiar with what they looked like.
So imagine my surprised when I looked in the mirror a day after giving birth and noticed what looked like little purple-y red freckles all over my face and chest. I panicked... until I remembered my training (of watching hours and hours of L&O:SVU marathons). A quick Google confirmed my theory: pushing (or any other kind of physical straining) can cause petechiae, and they usually go away within a couple of days.
My Baby Wouldn't Be Permanently Squished
Passing through the birth canal meant that, unlike my first child, my second came out looking like a prize fighter. She had one eye swollen shut, a busted lip, a flattened nose, and ears that look like they needed to be inflated. And let's not even discuss her sloping head. Of course I loved her and thought she was beautiful, and I knew it was all temporary... but it would have taken the edge of my minor concern to know her immediate post-birth look wouldn't last.
I Wouldn't Have A Particularly Strong Preference Between My Two Very Different Births
I still feel really proud about my VBAC. If I ever had another baby ha and have fun with that, someone else) I would aim for another vaginal delivery. But having a vaginal delivery did not, as I thought it might, make me think less of my C-section. I honestly don't even really think of them as two different options at this point. I think of my C-section birth as "the way my son was born" and my VBAC as "the way my daughter was born." They both came out in a way that made me feel safe, comfortable, and empowered in my decisions which, at the end of the day, is what makes for a good birth.
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