My husband and I paid zero attention to the C-section portion of our birthing class. We weren’t having one of those. We were having a good old-fashioned, drugged-up, vaginal birth, so all that other stuff didn’t apply. That was until I was three hours into pushing, epidural wearing off, and the doctor came in to explain I’d need a C-section. It turns out we didn’t really need much instruction on the topic, as the doctors and nurses did most of the work. My husband mastered the Gobsmacked Dad role with minimal direction, and I nailed my part as I Think I Can Feel That No. 3.
Despite being cast in a play we don’t remember auditioning for, the baby and I both made it through surgery fine. The days that followed were rougher than I imagined they’d be though. If you’ve had a C-section, you know the agony that is the first post-surgery shower. You know the hell of recovering from major surgery, riding out a hurricane of postpartum hormones and caring for a new baby.
You know a C-section, like any other operation, can have major complications and that, while surgery is never ideal, it is decidedly unideal when one wants to be caring for rather than be cared for. You know that route isn’t most women’s first choice, and you know you’d like to avoid it again if possible. What you might not know is what to expect when you’re expecting a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC0.
1. They’ll try to talk you out of it.
The arguments against a VBAC began before I even knew it was an option. I saw my regular OB-GYN for my six-week-postpartum visit, and she explained I’d need a C-section for my next delivery. I didn’t question her because she’s the doctor—my mistake. It wasn’t until I had to see a different doctor for my annual exam that I realized a VBAC was an option. He explained that, because I didn’t have a clear physical issue that caused the need for the original cesarean, a VBAC would be a viable option. That was all I needed to hear. I was sold.
That was the first and the last time a doctor was 100 percent supportive of my VBAC. I had to transfer to another hospital because my original hospital didn’t do VBACs. At the new hospital, I saw a different doctor or midwife on each visit, and each time I got the same spiel: “A VBAC has risks. Are you sure you don’t want another C-section? Did we mention a VBAC is risky?” Even the night my water broke, as I was breathing through contractions and waiting on an epidural, the hospital staff was offering a C-section. If a VBAC is important to you, make sure your partner and your doctor(s) know it. Be prepared to fight for your decision every step of the way.
2. Your odds of success are dependent on strange factors.
Doctors take into account obvious information, like your anatomy down there and your reason for the previous C-section. That all makes sense. What I was surprised to learn was that there’s a calculator hospitals use that gathers seemingly unrelated pieces of information to calculate the probability that you’ll be able to have a successful VBAC. The calculator uses factors like your age, body mass index and race. White women are more likely to have successful VBACs than Hispanic women. Why? Beats me.
Without calculating my odds, doctors told me I had a 34 percent chance of having a VBAC. That was the number they ran with, probably thinking a 1 in 3 chance would deter me. It didn’t, though, and when they actually did use the calculator, it turned out my odds were closer to 53 percent.
Statistics are a funny thing. They can tell you how many women like you have had VBACs in the past, but try as they might, doctors can’t tell you what your delivery will be like. Use the calculator as just one more source of information in the decision-making process.
3. Recovery will be different.
Duh, right? This seems too obvious for explanation, but if a C-section is all you’ve known, the recovery from a VBAC will be new territory. After my C-section, which took place at 12:04 p.m., I didn’t get out of bed until the next morning. It took that long for the epidural to wear off. When I did get up, it was to do a pained shuffling walk to the shower so I could stand under the spray while my husband scrubbed surgical tape residue from my back. I couldn’t even lift my legs high enough to climb into a regular tub, so they put me in a handicapped room with a walk-in shower.
After my VBAC, I walked from the delivery room to our regular room less than two hours after the baby was born. I never had a catheter, I didn’t need morphine or that annoying itchy nose that comes with it, and I didn’t live in fear of igniting fiery pain with a cough or a laugh. I kept looking at my husband and saying, “I can’t believe how good I feel.” Sure, every recovery is as unique as the woman experiencing it, but in general, it won’t be like recovering from surgery, because it isn’t.
4. You will be so proud of yourself.
Call me crazy, but my VBAC is one of my proudest accomplishments. We’re talking right up there with my college degree. After I spent nine months being bombarded with the unending list of reasons why I shouldn’t try for it, you can bet I was (and still am) immensely proud of myself. I spent way too much time envisioning myself sending individual “suck it” letters to each and every doctor and nurse who told me I should just opt for surgery instead.
Clearly, a VBAC isn’t for everyone. I’m not a doctor, and I’m not advising anyone to opt for one without the approval of a doctor. I’m just a mom who wanted to welcome my daughter on my own terms and who wants other moms to know they can do it too.