My first birth experience ended in an emergency C-section, but despite that unforeseeable change in plan I considered the overall experience to be an extremely positive one. But I knew right away that, the next time around, I was going to try for a vaginal delivery. As soon as I became pregnant with my second child, I started reading up on vaginal births after a cesarean (VBAC). Like any noob, I didn't entirely know what happens during a VBAC. And like any seasoned mom, I knew I needed to be as prepared as possible. But in spite of months of research, when the big day finally arrived and I had my vaginally delivered daughter in my arms, there were things that surprised me about having a VBAC.
Honestly, I don't know why having a VBAC was so terribly important to me, but it was. Looking back, I think part of the reason why this goal became so meaningful was because I really did want to know what a vaginal birth felt like (spoiler alert: not super pleasant). But another part of it, if I'm being honest, was to prove that having a vaginal delivery after a C-section is a valid choice, just in general. I was going to show myself, and everyone else, how very possible it was... and is.
My VBAC experience was really empowering and memorable and, yes, a source of pride... but not always in the exact ways I expected it to be. Everything went according to plan (for which I'm tremendously grateful) but there were definitely some aspects that threw me for a little bit of a loop, including the following:
It Wasn't A Mystical Experience
Some women choose to experience a VBAC because they feel they want some sort of catharsis after a negative C-section experience. I didn't feel that way, but I did expect something that would transcend my previous birth.
Yeah, that didn't really happen. My VBAC wasn't a letdown or anything, but I guess I sort of expected to reach a new understanding of birth on a, like, cosmic level and I didn't. That, however, was pretty enlightening. I realized that the method of birth didn't matter, but one's ability to make empowered decisions (which I fortunately felt like I did in both of my births) was what made birth "the way it was meant to be."
I Felt Extremely "In My Body"
I guess because I was so focused on how a vaginal birth would make me feel emotionally, I really didn't think about the fact that the physical labor involved in birthing a baby is intense AF. In retrospect, this is pretty silly but, then again, nothing can really prepare you for the intensity of a vaginal birth, so I feel like this would have been a surprise in any case.
The experience was incredibly physical (I mean... duh) to the point where I couldn't really think into the future. I was entirely in the present and focused on my muscles and organs and the little creature that was trying to get out. That's a lot.
Epidurals Wear Off
"I'm definitely feeling stuff," I said as I got ready to push.
"Sounds like your epidural wore off," my midwife said. "That's actually good. This will let you push more effectively."
Having come from an emergency C-section, where your entire midsection is all but completely numb (I could feel some pressure and tugging, but that's about it) this possibility never occurred to me. It was not my favorite.
I Felt Everything
Have you ever felt a 9-pound baby descend through your birth canal? The only way I can describe the experience is to say this: imagine your birth canal, then imagine there's a 9-pound baby inside of it.
I could feel the precise shape of her massive-ass head... because it was inside of my vagina.
I Was A Hunger Beast After Delivery
I was on a liquid diet for a few days after my C-section. I was eating a few hours after my daughter was born, however, and oh man did I eat.
Part of my ravenous appetite was due to the fact that I'd been diagnosed with gestational diabetes 24 weeks into my pregnancy and hadn't been able to eat many carbs or sweets for months when that's literally all I wanted. The other part of the equation was that I'd just pushed out a 9 pound 2 ounce baby after not eating basically all day and I needed food.
My postpartum meal menu? French toast with extra syrup, hash browns, vanilla ice cream, chocolate milk, cookies, and a huge bowl of fruit.
The way I tore through that tray was both savage and beautiful.
My Baby Looked Beat Up
My first baby was a C-section baby, who happened to be delivered after 18 hours of labor but zero pushing whatsoever. As such, he didn't have to go through any kerfuffle to get out — he was extracted — and had a perfectly shaped head and flawless face.
My daughter, however, was massive and had to make her way through a tunnel that no baby had exited before. So when she came out she looked like a boxer after a big fight. Her head was a cone, her upper lip was swollen, it looked like she had a black eye, and her ears were all squished. She was adorable, to be sure, but just a little worse for the wear.
Someone Had To Watch Me Pee
Apparently this is an established thing that happens after a vaginal delivery, but I had absolutely no idea and so I was a "wee" surprised (pun intended).
This surprise wasn't a cause for concern, though. I mean, I'd just pushed out a baby from my most intimate bits and pooped in front of a midwife and nurse. Peeing was child's play at that point.
Recovery Was Much Quicker
I knew this would be the case — which is a big reason why I wanted a VBAC, especially with a toddler at home — but I was really impressed that in under a month I was feeling 100 percent myself again. Well, a tired, frequently engorged, still wearing enormous maxi pads version of myself.
The First Couple Weeks Of Recovery Sucked
Yes, the recovery takes less time, but you're still recovering. And I tore, people! It was a second degree tear, so it could have been worse, but that requires some dedicated healing. The doctors don't give you particularly powerful painkillers to cope with that pain either, my friends. Oh no, you mostly make due with over-the-counter stuff and ice packs on your vag and leaning forward when you pee so your urine doesn't sting any semi-open wounds.
People's Reactions, Even After Delivery, Run From Confused To Judgmental
In general, people have Big Feels about VBACs. Many people think that once you have a C-section it's dangerous to try for vaginal delivery. Some of those same people won't believe you when you tell them that while that used to be true, surgical producers have changed and, as a result, VBACs are perfectly safe and often a recommended choice for most moms.
Some people just really want to believe the worst of you. I say go ahead and let them. Own it. Lean into it. Hell, whenever you know you're going to see them dress up like a Disney villain (I recommend Ursula).
I was hoping to be able to deliver vaginally, but my body had never done it before so I really didn't know if it could
But it did! I accomplished a vaginal delivery, and that accomplishment was a nice surprise, too.