When my oldest son was born via C-section, I didnt feel like I’d given birth. I know, I know, friends and family kept telling me that it didnt matter how my son came into the world as long as he was healthy, and I knew they were right. But I had always wanted to experience a natural, vaginal birth and I couldnt help feeling cheated. (I realize not all women who have had a C-section feel that way.) I remember opening my eyes when I woke up from surgery and looking over at my baby boy laying there in the plastic container they put him in and thinking, “That baby over there…is my son?” I didn’t feel any connection to him. It could be any child sleeping there. That one just so happened to be the one that was in my womb, I guess, I didn’t see him come out. I didn’t hear his first cry. I wasn’t present at all for his birth.
I was told we did skin-to-skin, and that I nursed him twice. The nurses were so sweet and tried to help me feel better by saying, “Well now you can say nursing is so easy you can even do it in your sleep!” I smiled.
It took about three days of breastfeeding and then I felt like “I would die for this baby if I had to! And if he killed someone in cold blood I wouldn’t even care!” He is my baby boy, and I would do anything to love and protect this little guy.
At home over the next few days, weeks, I lay in bed recovering. It was a challenge, my abdomen hurt everytime I tried to get out of bed, held my baby on me, or nursed. Family and friends would call me excitedly to say, “Congratulations!” and “Tell us your birth story!” I would try to not break down in tears, sobbing in front of them. Sometimes I did. “There is no birth story!” I thought. They cut open my gut and pulled the baby out! That’s my birth story! My husband could barely speak about it either without choking back tears. He felt so helpless standing there next to me as I was cut open. Watching it all happen, seeing me lay there lifeless on the operating table, unsure as to when I would wakeup. He had never seen me this way before. Doctors kept showing him his new son, asking him if he wanted to hold his baby boy. “Not right now, is my wife okay?” He knew our baby was in good hands and being taken care of by the nurses, but was I alive and well? He wanted more than anything else to just see my eyes open again and for me to be responsive.
So 18 months later when I got Jerry to take me to our favorite little Mexican restaurant in Indianapolis and told the waitress to put the pregnancy test with two pink lines on the side of his plate (that’s probably gross), he was losing his mind he was so happy, and I was determined to try to have a vaginal delivery. This time I wanted to feel labor, every bit of it, even the painful parts. I told one of my friends that I thought a VBAC (that’s “vaginal birth after cesarean”) could even be a healing experience from my previous labor and delivery, and that I felt it was best for both my health and the baby’s.
Then came the shock. I called every hospital in Puerto Rico to see where our baby should be born and no one in the whole country would support my attempt to labor natually. For some it was because I didnt have the time between both births that is recommended for you to heal from csection before delivering naturally. For others it was because we had come to the island during my second trimester and didn’t want to be responsible for any risks, not having seen me from the start of my pregnancy. I surely thought someone would take me in, but every call and recommendation confirmed they would only perform another csection on me no problem, but a natural birth? Not here. My husband and I talked about it, a little discouraged, if I really wanted to try to have this baby naturally, the only option would be to go back to Indianapolis (where my parents live).
Side note, according to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a VBAC is a completely safe and reasonable option for many women. In fact its most recent VBAC guidelines published in 2010, stated that “VBAC is associated with decreased risk of complications in future pregnancies” as compared with C-sections. What’s more, 60-80 percent of women who attempt a VBAC are successful. Is that not great news or what?! And yet most women who have a C-section the first time around opt for repeat C-sections.
Some of the best advice I received (thanks Gary-Anne!) was that to get the best chance at having a successful VBAC I needed to find a hospital with a high number of CNM’s (that’s Certified Nurse Midwives) a hospital that was more natural minded, where all the OB’s supported VBAC’s and natural childbirth.
At this point I was already nearing 35 weeks. I went to google (I do that a lot!) and typed in “hospital with most CNM’s in Indianapolis.” The IU Methodist Hospital popped up so I gave them a call. After explaining my whole life story as rapidly as possible to the lady on the other line, she simply said, “No problem, you can have your VBAC here. Let me take down your information and when you get here to Indianapolis I can schedule your appointments for the next day. Your midwife will be Jill, she is one of our best.” Wow that’s it? It felt so nice to not be told no anymore!
I could hardly contain my excitement upon arriving at the IU Methodist Hospital for my first checkup. I floated down those halls and beamed at every staff person I met! Meeting Jill was like meeting a magical unicorn that was going to make all my birth dreams come true! (Up to this point my view of midwifes was more like tough older ladies who were just going to hand me a block of wood at birth to bite down on and tell me to not be such a cry baby.) Boy was I wrong! Jill was young like me and so sweet and just lovely. At every appointment Jill gave me some of the best advice to coach me along, and dispell my fears and preconceived ideas about birth. All that was so important and definitely contributed to my VBAC success. “Hire a doula who has a high VBAC success rate” she said. “I would recommend the Indy Doula Associates.” (I never before fully understood the function of a Doula & how she was different than a nurse or midwife, but I was determined to beg, borrow, or steal to get an IDA doula since Jill said so. I would eat worms and stand on my head if Jill told me that would help my chances at having a VBAC! That’s how determined I was to do anything in my power to have this VBAC.) I was focused ladies, I was training for the birth olympics! I might not get the gold but I would do anything in my power. I met doula Tamhra & meeting her was like meeting a magical unicorn that was going to make all my birth dreams come true! Together we carefully crafted a detailed vaginal birth plan that involved breathing, massages, oils, a variety of labor positions, and no epidural. Yeah you heard me right, none, zero.
A year ago, I would never have even considered it, I walked into the hospital the first time with Sawyer saying give me all the drugs! Epidural please! Pitocin! I want it all! I remember once in my teens hearing a guy friend say that childbirth felt like your body was being ripped in two (how would he know?), and I remember thinking, “Do I want to feel my body being ripped in two? Nope!” (I just want to make it clear that I am not against epidurals at all, if that is how you like giving birth, that’s awesome!) This desicion was very personal for me because of previous experience (working on Part 1), and I knew that in order for me to be able push well, I needed to feel everything. This time I wanted to feel everything! I was ready to welcome and embrace all pain if that meant escaping another C-section!
Then all I could do was wait.
While I waited, Tamhra recommended I read, “The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Natural Chilbirth”. I went home and got the Kindle version from the library. The first chapter is on C-sections. I read that chapter about 5 times and then read it aloud to my Mom. Then to my husband and friends. And anyone who would listen, really. It is eye-opening let me tell ya!
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After Sawyer’s birth, I started getting myself educated on all these issues. I read books and protected my mind from anything negative that would bring in fear instead of courage. There is a lot of fear instilled in women about birth these days. They’re always screaming on movies. Being pushed down the hall on beds in hysterics. If you are a new Mom you don’t need those mental images. There is a lot of fear-based information out there. Birth is not an illness, it’s not something that needs to be numbed, it needs to be experienced. Women need to be rescued and reminded that birth can be beautiful, incredible, empowering. Or devastating, traumatic, & scary, but it shouldn’t be. If that was your experience, girl I am so sorry.
The 10-day wait felt extra long since I supposed Madison could be born a week early like Sawyer was. When that date came and went, I thought maybe she will be born on her “due date”. That day came and went and ten more days passed. Note that back when my labor started I had been stuck at 5cm for two weeks but I couldn’t feel any contractions or anything yet. (Fyi, I am the rare breed that only feels anything starting 6cm on. This is normal for me. Super cool actually!) Being at 5cm for two weeks would have made any doctor administer Pitocin and quickly usher me into the hospital to get this thing going. Not the IU Methodist hospital. Not Jill. Not Tamhra. They all said, “Lets try to not do anthing to bother the baby. She’ll come when she is ready.” Ok!
Well-meaning friends would say, “Just go get induced, why wait? Just think, you could already have this baby in your arms right now!” “And why would you want no epidural? You’re suffering for nothing. No one is going to give you a trophy for suffering. There is nothing wrong with another C-section.” There was and is no way to fully explain yourself and expect everyone to get it. So I just smiled, nodded, “Yeah that’s true. You’re right.” And didn’t say more. Probably the toughest thing during this time was resisting all the “pushing” those comments did. You should see the faces of people when I said I was 10 days overdo. They looked at me like I just said I had leprosy. But my eyes were on the prize. Eyes on the prize, baby! I didn’t hang on to this hope for 9 months, to just throw it all away now! I was nearing the end of my race, the finish line was in sight, now is when my every move really counts!
Sunday night Jerry and I went to a concert (thanks Jordan for those tickets!) and I started actually feeling my contractions for the first time. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want it to be a false alarm and still no baby. We got home after it was over and I went straight to sleep. At 2am I woke up with strong contractions. “Yee-ouch!” Those actually hurt! I tried to go back to sleep for another hour and couldn’t so I got in the bathtub for a warm bath. Contractions kept getting stronger and closer over the next hour, so at 4:30am I woke Jerry, told him “Babe, we need to go to the hospital now!” He grabbed the hospital bag, woke my Mom so she would be in charge of Sawyer while he slept, and we were off! Jill & Tamhra gave me some great advice that while on my way to the hospital I shouldn’t sit in the front seat but more like get on all-fours in the back. I did and it felt amazing! The hospital is about 30min away and Jerry got there in about 57 seconds.
I shuffled down the hall as quickly as I could between contractions & just hung onto the railing groaning like a cow! I have no shame. (Guys, wierd sounds just come out of you when giving birth, its SO embarrassing).
The nurses, doula, and midwife encouraged me to get in different positions and coax the baby out with the help of gravity. Each time I was unsure but they just picked me up & put me in the next position & it felt so good! The lighting was soft and comforting and I wasn’t medicated. With every passing hour I was forming memories that I would treasure for the rest of my life.
It takes a tribe!
My midwife & doula were both incredibly skilled in what they did, they weren’t amateurs. They knew what they were doing. I have had friends tell me, “I had a doula & an aweful experience.” Well if you get someone who is practicing on you, sure you probably will have a more difficult experience, especially if it is your first or second time.
They made each contraction bearable & reminded me the gift I was giving my baby, and told me I was one step closer. “I don’t care how bad it is, it can’t last forever. You have this one day to give birth” I reasoned. At one point when I felt like it was too much, I started asking for an epidural. What was going through my mind at that point were the voices of those friends who had said, “Why do you want to do it without an epidural? You are only suffering because you want to. No one is going to give you a trophy for suffering.” Those last words echoed in my mind and I thought, yeah, why am I putting myself through this?
Tamhra did not let me chicken out. She guarded my safety and wishes (that we had talked about before this time) and she didn’t let me tap out. (And thank you!) I heard one nurse say, “If you think we’re going to let you get this far just to just get an epidural, you’re crazy!” Meg had been with me through my worst moments, and there was no way I would let her miss out on this one! I almost broke every bone in her hand squeezing it & she still acts like it was nothin. At one point I said, “I don’t think I can do this”, and Tamhra gently encouraged me and said, “Cristina say ‘yes I can do this’, because you totally can, and you are!” and then I did. It’s so mental. I hit a wall higher than I’ve ever met before and then I scaled it. So much of who I am today is due to that life-altering experience. To me, if I could do that, I could do anything.
In my determination to endure anything in order to have Madison naturally, I still had a tiny prayer that the “ring of fire” would be as quickly & painless as possible. It was my favorite part! Pushing was such a relief & so welcome. I’m about to get super TMI right now but I remember during birthing classes at the hospital they mention pushing once & the head comes out & then again & the rest of the body exits. Well I have no idea if that was my case but I just remember feeling like it all come out at once. Which felt like a lump of jello. Nothing hard. I have no shame.
I hear the most beautiful sound of my daughter’s first cry, as they lay her on my chest. When this little girl came out of my body I always thought I would cry. It was a moment I imagined & cried through multiple times before the birth) but when the actual time came, I didn’t cry, my husband cried. He cut the cord & tears welled up in his eyes. I could just stare in amazement. I could just look at her in awe! WE DID IT. I DID IT. Weakling, me. My prayers were answered. My dream had came true. Nine months of wishing, praying, questioning, reading, studying, hoping for this outcome while knowing no one can promise me the outcome I desired. And here it was.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Nothing on earth compares to the priviledge of giving life. Nothing! ” quote=”Nothing on earth compares to the priviledge of giving life. Nothing!” theme=”style3″]
My arms felt too weak to hold her, so I just held her with my husband Jerry also supporting my hands. I took in her fresh, new baby scent. Breathed in her soft hair. The immediate connection was insane. It was so memorable.
Madison Elizabeth was born at 9:49am, a little over 5 hours after we arrived at the hospital. She was a lively 7 pounds, 3 ounces and 19.5 inches long. Exactly Sawyer’s stats. Little did I know what a beautiful little face and head full of dark hair was just inside!
That day I learned something. Women bond over pain. By the time Madison entered the world at 9:49 on April 10th, I felt like we were sisters. A woman will always remember how she was made to feel during her birth experience. I pretty much want to give birth again just so they can tell me I am awesome and I killed it! Trish, Ellory, Megan, Meg, Tamhra, I have a birthing tribe, and no matter where I am in the world or what they are doing, I am calling on them to come to my rescue when my babies enter the world. Thats all.
Four days later, I was on a plane with my two babies and husband, flying back to sunny Puerto Rico, feeling like I had never even given birth at all.
A few helpful tips I learned along the way…
- Don’t do anything to disturb the baby & wait it out for the right timing of her birth.
- Tamrha said something (well many things) I will never forget, “You can always birth the baby you grow.”
- Ina May. I don’t know anything about her, I just know some people like her and others don’t but in the days leading up to Madison’s birth, I googled on Youtube videos of hers and typed in “Ina May on birthing big babies”, “Ina May on inducing”, “Ina May on epidurals” and anything else I wanted her opinion on. That woman is so sanguine with the way she speaks on childbirth, and with all the babies she has seen born, I’m all ears. I read a sample chapter from her book and it was all these women telling their POSITIVE birth experiences. That’s what I needed! To fill my mind with wonderful experiences that got me excited about going through an unmedicated birth like it was a walk in the park.