After 40 hours of intense labor, my first son was born at 42 weeks via emergency cesarean birth. It was most certainly not in my birth plan to have a surgical birth – in fact, it was not a thought or even an “I hope not” at all, so I did not include any mention of preferences for a possible cesarean birth in my birth plan. My birth plan involved staying home and laboring with my husband and doula, Hayley, for as long as possible, having an unmedicated birth, being able to walk, having photography and candles, only intermittent monitoring, etc. And, I must say, it was a beautiful labor – my birth plan was honored by my OB (despite her previous incessant pressure for induction, which I refused and avoided, having to sign twice that I was leaving against medical advice) and the nurses who were on staff. Beautiful music was playing, my husband and doula supported me through intense back labor – massaging my back and applying counter pressure with every surge, candles provided beautiful soft light, and I was able to labor at home all night and then labor in the hospital in and out of the shower while singing and chanting. However, things took a turn when my son was having decels in his heart rate. Eventually, it was determined that a cesarean section would be necessary and we were whisked away to the operating room – a huge deal for me as I had never had surgery before this. Upon his birth, it became clear what had happened – he was sunny side up, chin up, and the cord was wrapped around his ankles. So while he had tried to turn and descend, he was unable to do so as he kept getting pulled back by the cord. I am grateful he was born healthy and that the cesarean birth, while unplanned and quite difficult, did not impede our ability to bond and breastfeed. But I knew I wanted a different experience for my second pregnancy and birth – I wanted more natural and empowering prenatal care, birth in a comfortable and empowering setting, and to be the first to hold my baby. I knew, within my heart, mind, and soul, that I would VBAC.
When I became pregnant with my second baby, I sought out on my journey to VBAC. I researched different birth options and through a friend learned about ICAN (International Cesarean Awareness Network) where I learned even more about VBAC stats, myths, and realities and gained support from women all over the world! I also read and watched many VBAC birth stories and the VBAC segment of More Business of Being Born, again and again. During my research I learned of the VBAC calculator and figured “Hey, why not?! I know my chances are high and this will only be an affirming experience, right?!” WRONG! While inputting my information I came to the item inquiring about my ethnicity/race. I questioned the validity of such a demographic to provide an accurate and valid measure of my chance to have a vaginal birth, but I went ahead and entered the information anyway, indicating that I am African American. I don’t recall the exact percentage points that it computed, but I do recall being surprised and disturbed. Fortunately, I chalked it up to a simple actuary that would NEVER truly be able to predict my success and I ignored it and kept moving forward with my intention. But this brings up an important point – the realities of health disparities that exist for women of color, in this case, and specifically for African American women. Fortunately I did not let this calculator detour me from my intention and from what I knew within my mind and heart and soul were possible – I would have my baby naturally and I would push my baby out into the world! I would not be stuck in a hospital and be confined to policies that could impede my progress and I would not be stuck in a position of having to defend myself while engaging in one of the most sacred, beautiful, natural, normal, and challenging experiences a woman could possibly have. HANDS OFF MY BODY AND MY LABOR! I was a woman determined!!!
I considered my birth experience options: hospital with an OB, I did not want that experience again; hospital with a midwife, slight maybe; birth center with midwives, that sounds better; home birth with a midwife, maybe so. Throughout my research I learned more on the statistics of VBAC birth experience options and became more and more excited about the idea of a home birth. My husband was not initially on board with this, however. Because of my first birth experience, he preferred the idea of being in a hospital in case of emergency. I continued to support him in exploring his fears and continued having him read research and watch documentaries on safe and successful home births. I’ll never forget the night we were talking about the possibility of a homebirth and he again shared how nervous he was about birthing outside of a hospital. I shared with him that I needed him to be on board and to work through his fears so that they would not impair my birth process. I told him I needed him to believe that a positive, healthy, successful vaginal birth was possible. I saw him make the connections and with the empirical data to support this, we both chose to believe that we would have a safe, peaceful, healthy vaginal birth…at home. Through ICAN I got recommendations for birth practitioners and I eventually found an amazing midwife, Davi, who was unquestionably supportive of VBACs and was supportive of my desire to have a home birth. She is strong, spiritual, empowering, kind, and attentive. She clearly believes in and trusts women’s bodies to birth. Though I had interviewed other midwives, I knew she was the right one for me. She encouraged me to talk with my baby. To tell my baby what position she/he needed to be in, to tell her/him that they would be born safely at home. My prenatal experience was worlds apart, for many reasons, from my first prenatal experience – I felt supported and nurtured by Davi and her assistants and my son was welcomed in their office and enjoyed our prenatal visits and listening to baby’s heartbeat.
Through ICAN I also learned about other approaches to ensuring a safe, successful, and beautiful vaginal birth. While I had seen a chiropractor prior to and during my pregnancy with my first son, that particular practitioner did not have expertise in serving pregnant women and was uncomfortable adjusting me in the third trimester, so this time I made sure I found a practitioner who was Webster certified and had lots of experiences helping pregnant mamas and babies. I saw him regularly throughout my pregnancy, right upon until two days before giving birth. I also returned to see the acupuncturist and prenatal massage therapist, did spinning babies exercises and Rebozo, and practiced meditation and yoga, with lots of cat/cows. Also of great importance and influence on my pregnancy, labor and birth - I followed my midwife’s advisement to walk 5 miles per day, 5 times per week. I’m one of those women who love to exercise – yoga, power walking, the elliptical, hiking – and I continue these activities during pregnancy. Yet as the busy mother of a very active toddler, and while working part-time, it was not always easy to find the time to walk 5 miles each day, but I was committed. I was committed to offering myself, my body, my baby, and my family the best chances of having a safe and beautiful VBAC/HBAC.
Because my first son was born at 42 weeks, I knew there was a possibility that my second pregnancy could go past 40 weeks, but I didn’t give it too much thought as I had assumed that my first son’s position contributed to him being born “post-dates”. So I assumed that my baby would come by or before 40 weeks. Well, 40 weeks came and went. I was walking 20-25 miles per week, listening to my hypnobirthing affirmations and birth imagery, doing lots of squats, having regular chiropractic adjustments, saying affirmations, trusting my body and baby – yet my baby still wasn’t coming. I was dilated 1 cm and effacing quite well, but baby wasn’t here. I began to get concerned, asking myself lots of “what ifs?” What if baby didn’t come by 42 weeks and I had to birth in the hospital? It was not what I wanted. I did some fear releasing exercises and continued to process my concerns with my midwife, doula, husband, and my “doula from a distance” (DFAD)/college friend. I remember writing an email to my DFAD about my fears, feelings, and concerns. She responded with an empathic and empowering message, reminding me of the power of my body, my body’s ability to birth my baby vaginally, of not getting caught up in the numbers, and of trusting God, my body, and my baby. I had to continue to remind myself of this, continue talking with my baby and repeating the mantra “head down, chin to chest, back to mama’s belly, and clear fluids!” that my midwife had suggested. I had to keep SURRENDING to my body, my baby, and God. And I, ultimately, had to trust in what I had been saying all along - that I could and would do this! She continued to send me messages about mamas she was working with that had beautiful “post dates” vaginal births.
Empowering, affirming messages like these kept coming – and they showed up when I least expected and truly needed them! Having also shared with my doula, Hayley, my feelings about baby not yet coming, she offered to meet up for a walk and talk as she knew I was walking my 5 miles a day. We met at the local college campus to walk around the track. Upon arriving we discovered the track was locked and instead we walked through the campus and the surrounding neighborhood. Upon walking up an incredibly steep hill, we reached the top. While we chatted about my hopes and uncertainties, we walked past a home at which time Hayley paused mid-sentence and noted that there was a home birth sign on the door. I thought she was just being her curious, doula, midwife in training self, as she is such a lover of birth and home birth and I smiled and nodded and waited for us to proceed. She then read the sign closer and realized it was a former client of the midwife practice where she is an apprentice. This mama had been “post-dates” AND her baby was breach. Her precious breached baby had come just after 42 weeks and had been delivered at home, safely by the well-known Dr. Stuart Fischbein. I celebrated for this mama and baby and I thanked the Divine for the awesome, affirming message that we had just “happened” to see by walking up this beautiful hill.
That week I focused on wellness and self-care. I went to see my chiropractor, acupuncturist, and prenatal massage therapist. I saw my acupuncturist that Monday and we agreed we would not schedule another appointment – affirming that I would have my baby soon. When I saw my chiropractor that Tuesday, I asked him to check my pelvic alignment and ligaments as I wanted to be sure there were no structural issues that would hold up baby’s arrival or complicate the birth in any way. He assured me that my alignment was good, that all he could feel was the baby’s head, and that he did not think that I would be held up in any way. I asked if I should schedule a second appointment this week and he said “I don’t think you’ll need it!” I smiled widely and thanked him – he had no idea how deeply I appreciated those words! I left my chiropractic appointment and headed to have a prenatal massage. It was relaxing, relieving, and just what my 40 week pregnant body needed! On Wednesday I spent the day with my 2 year old, fully aware that these were the last moments that I would be the mother of an only child. I took him to a local park and reveled in our play together, soaking up each moment, smile, and giggle. While there, I noticed another mom playing with her children and a newborn. We began talking about our children, which lead to talking about our pregnancies and birth. Turns out, she was a VBAC mama too and she had also gone “post-dates” with, not one, but all three of her pregnancies and with the last two pregnancies resulting in healthy vaginal births! I again thanked the Divine for the awesome, affirming message and celebrated with gratitude all the affirmations I had been receiving. I do believe the messages of affirmation and encouragement and empowerment are there – if we can only open to them and receive them gratefully! That Thursday, at 40+2, I had an appointment with the midwife. I had been having surges on/off all night long. I knew my body was working and preparing, but I had also hoped to be further along at this point. Actually, my appointment was with Michelle, the other midwife in the practice. Before going in I assured myself I would not become discouraged by any of the numbers related to the way my body was progressing towards birth. I asked Michelle to sweep my membranes and she did. She also shared another affirming message with me, informing me that they had very rarely had a mama go “post-dates” and need to transfer and she shared their approach to preventing unnecessary hospital transfers for “post-dates” pregnancies. After our appointment, I met up with a dear friend for lunch at the amazing Café Gratitude (Talk about messages of affirmation! Being in such a spiritual place with Snatam Kaur playing in the background, reminding me of the goodness of the Divine and of the wisdom of impermanence and surrender!). I had an awesome vegan lunch of lentils (I will NEVER forget that meal) and enjoyed being present in this calming atmosphere with my friend. I was having surges on the way home, but nothing too close together, so I didn’t pay much attention and certainly didn’t time them. When I got home, I sat on the couch and decided I was going to allow myself a much needed and deserved rest. I watched a little television and realized I was continuing to have surges. Though I did not time them, I periodically glanced at the clock. When I glanced at the clock at 4:15pm, I realized that for the last hour I had been having 1-2 surges every 10 minutes. I called my husband and told him not to worry, I didn’t think I was in labor, but I was having surges regularly. He told me he was packing up, picking up our son, and heading home. I gave my doula a heads up too. She agreed it sounded like progress and encouraged me to continue with my day. I continued to focus on my evening, listening to my hypnobirthing affirmations and preparing dinner.
By the time my husband got home around 6pm, he asked if I was timing the surges and I told him no. He wanted me to time them, but I didn’t want to put expectations on it, so I declined. Fortunately, he timed them anyway and we found they were 2 minutes and 23 seconds apart with mild to moderate intensity. He strongly encouraged me to call the midwife. Davi listened to me through a few surges and said that this could be pre-labor or early labor and encouraged me to ignore them and go about the rest of my evening. I did just that, but within 15 minutes the intensity had picked up. We ate dinner and I put my son to bed. While reading him bedtime stories, the surges were getting more and more intense and I eventually had to have my husband trade places with me so I could go and focus on coping with each surge. But I still wouldn’t allow myself to believe that this was labor. By the time my husband came in the room, he said we should call the midwife and doula again. I was lying on the bed coping through a surge and responded, “No, please, this might just be early labor, just come hold my hand through this next one!” (I laugh every time I recount this part of the story! Clearly I was irrational!). He held my hand through the next surge and after timing them, we found they were 1 minute and 48 seconds apart and the intensity was quite strong. He called the midwife and the doula, despite my telling him that we should wait longer (I’m so glad he didn’t listen to me!), and they both said they were on their way. My doula, Hayley came as I was squatting on the floor, leaned over the bed and moving through a surge. She suggested I get in the shower for relief and said “It won’t slow anything down at this point”. It was that statement that allowed me to finally trust that this was truly it and I was on my way to holding my baby!
Davi came not long after and checked me at about 9pm and I was completely effaced and dilated 4-5 CMs. I didn’t care too much; I was just focused on coping with each surge as they were so close together and really quite intense. Since earlier I had been in disbelief that I was in labor, I had also dissuaded my husband from putting up the birth pool. Fortunately, he began setting up the pool when Hayley came and though it didn’t take long to get it up and filled, the water was too hot and had to be cooled. I labored quite a bit on the toilet, finding this allowed me an optimal position for opening and for moving with each intense surge.
My doula and husband were amazing, supporting me through each surge and holding my hand and applying counter pressure as needed. They looked at me with such love, trust, and respect it helped me continue trusting the process and trusting my body and my baby. Each time my midwife checked me, I was more and more dilated. I still wasn’t paying too much attention to it, as I was so in the zone coping with each surge, but it was also encouraging as my progress with my first birth was so much slower. As I continued to progress, the surges became stronger and stronger. I remember saying to my doula “This is insane!” (Sometimes with an expletive or two thrown in there!) and her smiling at me with that knowing smile and saying “It is!”. At other times, after a surge passed and before the next geared up, Hayley told me, “You’ll never have to deal with that [surge] ever again!” The humor was comforting and it was also true – one moment at a time, one surge at a time, one breath at a time, and it would all pass. Yes, as I’ve always said – pregnancy, birth, and motherhood have truly gifted me with my most profound and intense practices in mindfulness, presence, and impermanence.
At one point, I was looking at my husband and doula with disbelief that I could continue, I just wanted a little break, but the surges were coming so quickly and so intensely. Davi came in with some great visualizations “You are the boat, and the sea is crashing all around you…you are steady”. I kept chanting “Steady, I’m steady” and at times “This will pass” as a reminder of the impermanence of each surge and the labor process. This worked for a few surges while I lay on the bed with the intent to get a brief rest between surges. Another time she said something that really spoke to me so deeply as a woman and as an African American woman. She said “You’re not alone! Think of all your ancestors who have given birth. Call on them for wisdom.” I thought of my mother who is deceased and had birthed five children and been so in love with childbirth, my ancestors who were slaves and birthed children knowing they too would become slaves but loving them enough to endure the emotional pain and physical discomforts with little support or respite, my ancestors who birthed babies while on the middle passage not knowing the fate of themselves or their children – had they not endured, I would not be here now! Surely I could endure, drawing from these women the strength and courage to endure these momentary discomforts that would bring my baby into my arms, strong, healthy, and free! It was empowering!
At 10:30pm Davi checked me and I was 6cm and the baby was much lower. She suggested that I walk up and down the hall. With my baby’s head so low, I was not so thrilled about this, but I also trusted that this would bring me closer to having my baby in my arms. My husband and doula supported me as I walked up the hall for about 15 minutes. With every surge, I came down into a squatting position while my husband and doula supported me. At this point, the surges were even more intense and walking was difficult. A couple times I said “I can’t…” to which Davi replied “I can! Yes! I AM!” I laugh as I recall her response as she reminded me that I could do this, in fact I WAS doing this!! On the way back up the hall, I squatted down through a surge and felt my body’s physiological response take over and bear down. My husband heard a “pop” and water came gushing out as my water broke. By this time, it was about 11pm and Davi checked me to find I was 9cm! By then, I was so pleased that the birth pool was finally the right temperature for me to get in. I reached completion just before getting in the tub. When I got in the tub I felt the awesome aquadural effect just in time for the next surge and my body pushing.
I spent about 30-40 minutes in the birth pool – coping with each surge and pushing. I’ll never forget Davi looking at me with such respect and trust in her eyes – I mean she trusted that my body knew what to do! It felt so affirming and empowering! I was the ship, the surges were the sea! That visual was never more true and close than in that moment! She gave very few instructions, only a couple gentle advisements, and allowed me to move through each surge. At one point, she encouraged me to feel for my baby’s head. I did and I felt what seemed to be my sweet baby’s head!! It was amazing!
At about 12:00am, she suggested that I try getting out of the tub and pushing. I brought my leg over the side of the tub and there was another major surge. I instinctually squatted down, holding on to the handles on the side of the tub, and pushed with all my heart and soul. She saw that I was crowning and advised me to lie on my side to prevent tearing. I got on the floor and lifted my leg and pulled it up and continued pushing with each surge. I reached down and felt my baby’s precious head crowning!!! It was amazing and exhilarating! Feeling bone and skin against my bone and skin, feeling the most intense and magnificent pressure I’ve ever felt in my entire life, and oh holy ring of fire!!! I was not afraid of the intensity, I welcomed it, I was birthing my precious baby into the world, I was getting my VBAC right on my bedroom floor!!!! It was amazing! I felt like a mama warrior!!! My midwife asked my husband if he wanted to catch the baby and he came into position. Just as I’m pushing my baby’s head out, my older son (2 years old) walks in, amazed to see his mama on the floor with a head coming out of her vagina. He was initially a little frightened, so my husband comforted him. A few minutes later with another surge, I pushed my sweet baby into the world and my husband caught our baby with his right hand, while comforting our son with his left, and then held our baby with both hands and announced “It’s a boy!” My midwife then told me to reach down and hold my baby.
I placed my sweet baby right on my belly. He and I were amazing!!! We did this together. And here I was with my baby on me, skin to skin. No one grabbing my baby and examining him, no one cutting his cord prematurely (actually, the cord wasn’t cut from the placenta until a couple hours later, even, and it laid beside us while we bonded!). Just me and my baby in pure loving bliss! By then, my husband and my 2 year old were sitting nearby and my 2 year old was clapping excitedly and saying “Yay, baby brother!” I was in true love – with my body, my baby, my husband, my son, and our family! I was truly in awe over this body the Creator had blessed me with! I felt pure honor, respect, and gratitude for my ancestors and every other woman who had ever birthed a baby. And I felt deep love and gratitude for these women – my midwife and her assistants and my doula – for supporting me through the birthing process! I held my baby with his cord still attached and pulsating – it was such a surreal and awesome feeling. I had this amazing, euphoric feeling – I looked at my baby, so proud of him. I looked at my doula and said, “I did it, Hayley, I did it”.
My baby was born vaginally, at home, in peace and love, and safely. I rode the oxytocin rush for hours – I even had a hard time sleeping that night (I think I am still riding it, to be honest!). I wanted to shout to everyone “I got my VBAC/HBAC! We did it!” I sent text messages to friends and family telling them that our baby boy was born. I was especially excited to share the news with my VBAC sisters – other women who had inspired me along the way with their birth stories and encouragement. I was so excited and grateful…and proud!!
I am so grateful to my amazing birth team – my midwife, Davi, her back up midwife, Michelle, their assistant Kate, my doula Hayley, and my dear husband. And I am also so grateful for my DFAD, my dear friend from college – Tara, a DONA Certified Doula, who gave me love, support, affirmations, and resources via text, email, and telephone. I love and thank you all for your support, love, respect, and wisdom! Much gratitude to the women who shared their VBAC and HBAC stories with me – I carried your strength with me during moments of uncertainty! And gratitude, love, and respect to the ancestors!
Gloria Steinem, the feminist and political activist, said “Childbirth is more admirable than conquest, more amazing than self-defense, and as courageous as either one”! And I could not possibly agree more! I know this birth has forever changed me in ways that are far beyond the words on these pages. As a mother, a feminist/womanist, and a professional focusing on women’s issues and the empowerment of women, this birth experience has made me even more of a strong advocate for the empowering birth experiences of women and their families, for VBACs, and for home birth. This experience will forever be a well from which I will draw strength and wisdom in moments of uncertainty. It will forever be a memory upon which I will smile and feel a rush of joy, love, peace, and gratitude! And it is my hope that reading this story will remind VBAC mamas of their inner strength to advocate for empowering birth experiences! And so it is!