I write a lot about vaginal birth after cesarean (VBACs) because I think it's important. A lot of people don't even realize it's an option, and many people won't know anyone who has personally gone through it. One of the most influential things I feel I did in preparing to give birth vaginally after having had a c-section was reading about other women's birth experiences, especially other VBAC moms. So I asked other women to describe what it really feels like to have a VBAC, to share their stories in the hope that those stories can and will help another would-be VBAC mom realize her goal.
One's reasons for attempting a VBAC run the gamut. Some women want a healing experience after a traumatic birth. Other women just want to know what vaginal birth feels like. Others do not want to have to endure the pain of c-section recovery again. (Fact: it can be a bit of a doozy.) And some are just like, "Meh, I have a perfectly decent vagina here so I might as well make the most of it rather than go through the hassle of surgery." Whatever your reasons for wanting to test out the birth canal's exiting capabilities, chances are you're probably a good candidate to do so. In fact, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology states that most women who have had a c-section are good candidates to attempt a VBAC, even if many practicing obstetricians haven't gotten the memo just yet.
Normally, when I ask moms to describe an aspect of birth or parenting, when I gather their answers I edit them down to a few lines. I have left these stories mostly in tact, however, because I understand the power words of experience are to a mom considering VBAC. So without further ado, I'll let everyone speak for themselves...
"When I first found out I was pregnant I always told my husband that I would not get a c section. ... Long story short, [my son] got stuck and after 5 hours of pushing I had to have a c-section. Once my doc came in I immediately asked her if I could have a VBAC next time and she told me yes. ... I was very fortunate that my doctor was very VBAC friendly. I had my [second child] 10 hours after checking in [to the hospital], and it was incredible. I finally felt like my body did what it was suppose to, that I wasn't broken and I felt relief that I wouldn't have to tell people I had to have and section because I hated the judgmental comments or the 'I'm sorry' I got after having my son. I felt so much better recovery-wise and was walking around within an hour after delivery. It was a very surreal experience for both my husband and I without the fear. I was asked my a lady not long ago why I chose to have a VBAC instead of surgery and I responded, 'Because I'm a badass,' and honestly that's how I felt."
"After two c-sections, my docs and I were determined I'd VBAC. For them, I suspect, it was for stats. This was back when VBAC was 'the new thing.' My first c-section was necessary. My baby was just too big. Thirty years ago, even though they weren't still doing the old vertical cut, the mentality was 'once a C, always a C.' And thus my second child was also born via c-section. Then comes my third and VBACs were all the rage. For me, it was personal, dammit. And it was the tits. It was absolutely extraordinary. I'd done it when they said I couldn't. It was a personal victory. I'm fortunate to have had the experience, because my fourth child was born via c-section, once again."
[Writer's note: Nicole Elaine had two c-sections, 15 months apart, both of which were horrible experiences. Seven months after the birth of her second child, she suffered a miscarriage. Approximately two years later she found herself pregnant once again.]
"I was DETERMINED that this would be different... but we knew, if baby was OK, this would be our very last ... Our rainbow baby. I went back to my OB. I had a very early positive test (8 days before my period was due). His words to me were, 'If you're actually still pregnant in 2 weeks, come back and we'll talk.' I walked out and about threw up. I was already scared. Worried. And no vote of confidence from the man I trust to deliver both of my older boys and also deal with my miscarriage. So I moved on. I had talked to him before about a VBAC, I knew for a fact he wouldn't be on board for a VBA2C [Writer's note: VBAC after 2 c-sections]
[My local chapter of ICAN (the International Cesarean Awareness Network)] recommended a local doctor... Sure enough, he sat down, he asked me what happened. Not my previous doctors. Not my medical records. ME! My story. My point of view. And he said, 'Well lets have a baby! This is your story. Your delivery. YOU are in charge.' I have always wanted to be a mother. And like every woman who dreams of motherhood, have had a vision of what that looked like for me. ... I needed to heal... for me and my heart, after my loss, I needed to know my body was capable. ... I needed to know I could trust myself to get through one of the hardest things I've ever done. And I did it ... I was in awe of what my body was doing, how calm I was, how I was able to drown out the sound of everyone else and ... do what I needed to do to get my slimy baby out and hold him for the first time. Nine-and-a-half months later, no one can still take that high from me.
There are not enough and to many words to explain that experience. But I am PROUD. PROUD I fought, proud I stood my ground, proud I did the leg work, research, and [hired] a doula in those moments I doubted myself. There isn't one thing I would change about that experience... for the first time in my life I stood up to the world and society, and I empowered myself to write my story, and do what I wanted, do what I needed to have that healing experience, to bring our rainbow baby into this world. And I wouldn't change it for anything."
"My c-section with [my first child] was for severe preeclampsia aka HELLP Syndrome at 40 weeks. It was literally a dash to the OR and much to my devastation performed under general anesthesia. I woke up a drugged up mess and remained that way for the rest of the day. Not an ideal situation for newborn bonding, establishing breastfeeding, etc. It wasn't fun. Anyway enough negativity. I do understand the operation and how it was performed was absolutely necessary and as much as I hated it at the time, it got my baby to me safely and got me out of danger too.When I was first pregnant with [my second] I decided I wanted to VBAC. I did my research, read everything I could both pro and against, talked to my midwife, etc. I hired a doula, too.
Why was VBAC so important to me? Well firstly I wanted to experience labor, birth, the whole shebang. I wanted to be present throughout and afterwards for my new baby. I wanted to be able to move around soon after and not to be in pain for a couple of weeks (or more) after. Thankfully I got it all. I got to snuggle with my baby straight after her was born. He latched on immediately and we didn't have to go through days of waiting for milk to come in (another problem for me post c-section). Being alert, free from pain, and able to move around and care for my baby was priceless. Honestly I felt like a superhero!
I'm very happy I followed my instincts and my convictions that I could do it. I feel preparation is key for VBAC: I read, read, read every article I could get my hands on, talked to my midwife and made sure she was with me and generally surrounded myself with positive people who believed in me too. I had a lot of worriers in my life, too, who thought I should go down the repeat route because it was 'safer'. I appreciated the concern but ended up not discussing my plans with them. I didn't need anyone to doubt me and in turn doubt myself. That being said I tried to be realistic too, if the preeclampsia returned, for example, I had to be OK with a repeat c-section. A dose of realism is important too. Anyway thankfully it didn't come to that and I'll always be so happy with my choice."
"I really wanted a VBAC — my first child was a scheduled c-section. She was breech and I tried to have a version done, but the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck and it was too risky. I had to transfer practices 3 times to find someone who would let me have a VBAC. I was 40, and there are hardly any practices in NYC that allow VBACs. I really wanted the experience of giving birth. I remembered how awful my recovery was from my c-section and couldn't imagine going through that again while also caring for a three-and-a-half year old. I was so empowered to give birth — and it was important to me to give birth without any medication.
I hired a doula because I knew my husband would just not be able to coach me through something so intense. I love him, but he doesn't do well with blood. I was so excited to fill out a birth plan, it made me feel like I was in control of my birth and not the doctors. ... [During delivery] there were two times I distinctly recall that I was overcome with exhaustion and I said, 'Oh man, I don't think I can do this,' but then I quickly changed my mind and said, 'That's wrong, I can totally do this.' Holding my new son on my chest and being exhausted but aware was such an amazing feeling. My mom had three kids all with no medication and for some reason I felt it was really important to follow in the foot steps of my mom."
"For me personally, my VBACs felt like control and victory. With my first birth, I was inexperienced, voiceless, induced early, and not ready. I was hooked up to Pitocin, an epidural, external and internal monitors, a catheter, an oxygen mask, and blood pressure cuffs. I was terrified and immobile and completely passive as I watched everything just happen to me. And after all of that, the induction failed and I had an emergency c-section. My second and third births were literally as opposite from that first experience as I could possibly make them: I had 2 completely unmedicated VBACs. Both times, I did not even go into the hospital until I was well into labor, to avoid every medical intervention possible, and both times I felt 100% in charge. I asked questions, I said no, I was alert, I was focused, I had a plan and goal, and I was just generally so much more in control of me. And it felt amazing. Ultimately it doesn't matter how it happens as long as the end result is a healthy baby. But for me personally, my VBACs were an indescribable healing experience, and they genuinely restored my faith in my body."
"The main reason it was important to me was because I knew I wanted three or four kids and the thought of that many c-sections scared me. ... I was also worried I would just have a repeat of my last delivery. I was very unhappy with the care I received during labor and delivery with my firstborn and I didn't want to experience that again.
My second pregnancy was just as smooth as my first. Maybe even more so as I was not as nauseated. With my daughter I was induced at 39 and a half weeks for low fluid that wasn't actually truly low. I was hoping to go into labor spontaneously with my second baby. And I did, in the wee hours of the morning the day after my due date. ... I pushed for just shy of 3 hours. Ugh. Yes. Admittedly, I don't think I was pushing right for the first hour or so. Then they brought in the mirror and it was a game changer. I could see when I pushed effectively that his head would descend, then it clicked. The last 90 minutes of pushing were much more effective. And I was tired. I would nod off between contractions then wake right back up as the started to peak and I needed to push. After nearly 3 hours of pushing, I VBACed my son. ... I actually only needed two stitches, which I consider my consolation prize for three hours of pushing.
Afterwards I felt great. My arms hurt more from pulling back on my legs while pushing than my bottom did. My muscles were cut during my c-section, and I had a rough recovery back to normal. I couldn't get out of bed like a normal person for at least 6 weeks if not more. It was like night and day."
"[Having a VBAC] was important to me because I know that overall it is lower risk than major abdominal surgery, and I had to return to school pretty quickly, be able to walk around, stand up, etc. My challenge was everyone in my family goes [into labor] late and the evidence shows VBACs are less likely to happen after 41 weeks in part because outcomes are worse after 41 weeks. And another challenge was fear: I had never done this before, it was new and terrifying. After, I was elated. I went med free, in part because it hurt less than the prolonged labor with my first that ended in c-section. I think that was part of the elation, but another huge part was the ability to let my mind be away from my body and let my body do its thing. I kept saying 'I did it!' And my OB, and my nurse, and my doula, and my husband all kept telling me that I did it. It was amazing. After my VBAC it helped me validate that I really did need that c-section—that both were births in their own right. It was healing in that way."
"[When] my first baby was born... I was too naïve to know what to ask ... and I was not prepared. It was not a good experience at all. ... My entire pregnancy with my second was completely different than the first from start to finish. When I went into labor, I was beyond excited because I was filled with positive emotions, and was fully prepared for a vaginal birth, but also understood and was prepared for the alternative as well. I could not have asked for a better birthing experience! ... My husband, mom, daughter and best friend were in the delivery room with me to witness this beautiful moment. ... My husband was at my left leg, my best friend at my right leg, and my daughter was able to witness the birth of her little brother while standing right next to the OB as he was delivering my son. He was born in two pushes, and the nurses immediately placed him on my chest. It was the experience I had been waiting for, longing for. It was incredible! Words cannot express how amazing, how strong and empowered I felt in that moment! ...
There is a part of me that wonders what could have been different when I gave birth to my daughter. Was there something more I could have done? Maybe the doctors were rushing too quickly for a C-section? Did I not eat the right foods, was I not active enough during pregnancy, and was there something wrong with me? ... I had to let go of all those anxieties. It was not my fault, there is nothing wrong with me, and ultimately, my first baby is happy and healthy, and that’s the best feeling. I had two beautiful, healthy babies with two very different birthing experiences, and I wouldn’t change a thing."
"I had a c-section with [my first child] in august 2011 because she was breech when I went into labor (I didn't know prior to going to the hospital — they'd told me the baby had turned). None of my friends or family had ever had a c-section so it wasn't anything I ever really envisioned for myself. Not that it was bad. Just totally foreign to me. When I was pregnant with baby number two I knew I wanted to try for a VBAC. While I was given the choice of a repeat c-section, my doctors supported my decision implicitly. I was told by everyone that recovery from a c-section with a toddler at home would be impossible. For some reason, I had it in my mind that recovery from a vaginal birth would be a piece of cake. I was wrong so, so, so wrong. [My second child] was in a lot of distress while I was in labor, so I was forced into bed almost immediately where I waved goodbye to any hopes of a med-free birth.
I was a little bummed but welcomed the epidural. I knew tearing was normal but I was NOT prepared to tear from my rooter to my tooter. It was months before I was able to kneel or squat down to change a diaper or play with my toddler without wincing in pain. I did love the fact that I was allowed immediate skin to skin contact after giving birth. That moment is what made it all worth it and was honestly my biggest regret when I had my first (not that I had much of a choice). ... [But] given the choice again, I honestly think I'd have a c-section. I knew what to expect and while the recovery was rough it was so much shorter than my VBAC."
"How can I begin to describe the feelings associated with a VBA2C? Fighting to be able to do what you want with your own body, to be 'allowed' to birth a baby the way nature intended you to as opposed to signing up for elective major surgery was frustrating, empowering and infuriating all rolled into one. 'Fact checking' professionals who tried their best to use scare tactics to dissuade you from pursuing a VBAC, trying to explain to people who didn't understand why you wouldn't 'just have another c-section' was maddening.
When all was said and done my VBA2Cc is truly one of the first and most important things in my life that I fought for that was just for me (and baby). It didn't matter what anyone else thought, their experiences, or whether they thought it was the best choice for me or not. What it came down to was I couldn't imagine never experiencing childbirth the way we were intended to. I couldn't fathom never knowing what that was like. And while I respect c-sections for the lives they save and their importance when medically necessary, it was just not something I could sign on for voluntarily. ... After 44 and a half hours of labor, which included 8 hours of pushing, I got my VBA2C. I experienced the famous ring of fire and I got to have my slimy, squishy, purple newborn placed directly on my chest...misshapen head and all. And I couldn't be more grateful for the experience, even if the recovery still wasn't a whole lot better than my c-sections!"