My first pregnancy had been complicated to say the least. IVF treatments, twins, a first trimester scare with a blood clot, and then a five-weeks-premature emergency C-section. Yes, all three of us came through it OK, but it wasn’t exactly the pregnancy and birth experience I’d hoped for. Despite the fertility treatments, despite the subchorionic hematoma, and despite the fact I was carrying twins, I had my heart set on a natural delivery—no epidural, no drugs, just me listening to the magic of my body, bringing a baby or two into the world. When the emergency C-section came, I was devastated.
My husband and I found out we were pregnant again less than two years later, and I was thrilled. I convinced myself that all our first pregnancy complications had come from our fertility treatments and carrying twins and that none of it inherently had to do with me or my body.
With only one baby to worry about, I was utterly confident about having a vaginal birth after cesarian, or VBAC. I found a team of doulas wiling to work with me and told my new OB, one who didn’t specialize in multiples, that I wanted to have as natural a delivery as possible. Everyone supported me, and I had nothing but confidence in myself.
But it wasn’t long before things started to go a bit wrong. During my second trimester, I became painfully anemic. I lost weight faster than the baby grew, and my skin was thin and yellow. I was exhausted and weak and could barely muster the energy to eat enough for the fetus, let alone myself—all the while, caring for twin 2-year-olds. My OB started talking about a cesarian, but I wouldn’t listen. I was determined. No matter what happened, I wanted my VBAC.
As my due date neared, my doulas and I started getting my anemia under control. I began gaining enough weight to keep my strength up. I really thought I might have the situation well under control and that my dream delivery was coming.
My due date came without so much as a Braxton Hicks contraction, and then it was gone. The doulas and I agreed that I had an untested cervix, so I was likely to go past my due date. This was nothing to worry about. But my OB wasn’t so sure. He told me the baby was breech and we should schedule a C-section.
“Just give me the weekend,” I asked. “If I can get the baby to flip over the weekend, can we wait for me to go into labor naturally? If she’s still breech on Monday, I’ll schedule the C-section.”
Reluctantly, he agreed.
I spent the weekend hanging upside down off the bed, playing music and shining a flashlight at my vagina, which believe it or not is supposed to help flip the baby. I gently nudged her with my hands, urging her to rotate. By the time I went in on Monday, she was head down, but my doctor still wasn’t convinced I was in the clear.
“It’s not normal,” he said, “for your uterus to have this much flexibility to it. The muscle tone is terrible. I have to say, I don’t think you’re going to get out of this without another cesarian.”
“Is the baby in any immediate danger?”
“No,” he said.
“Not yet,” he said.
“Okay then, I’ll keep waiting. Give me another few days.”
And he agreed. Every two days I was back in his office, my cervix hard as a rock, the baby floating around pointed in whichever direction she wanted, and not a single contraction felt. My doulas gently tried to console me with the idea that another C-section might not be the worst thing, that I had to listen to what my doctor and my body were telling me, but I ignored them. I started trying, cautiously, to induce labor on my own. I ate pineapple and spicy food. I even ate nothing but fudge for a day—not that I really believed it would help. And then I convinced my husband to try acupressure to stimulate labor.
That did something. Within a few hours, I was having contractions that seemed regular, only they didn’t feel like I imagined a healthy contraction would. The pain seemed to stay centered around one place—my old cesarian scar. The pain worsened as the night wore on, and by midnight, I told my husband it was time to get ready to go. Something was definitely not right, and at more than 43 weeks pregnant, in more pain than I’d ever felt in my life, I finally went to the hospital.
The doctor who examined me explained what was happening. I wasn’t having contractions, not regular ones, anyway. My uterus was rupturing, tearing open along the old cesarian scar. My baby was forcing her way out of my body like an alien from the movies—straight through my abdomen. They had to prep me and rush me in for another emergency C-section.
I was lucky. If I’d waited until morning, I likely would have died in my bed from internal bleeding.
After five hours of the most excruciating pain I’d ever felt, even through an epidural, my doctor handed me my perfect baby girl.
The recovery was horrific. It was days before I could lift my legs, and when I was released from the hospital, I still couldn’t climb the stairs to our third-floor condo. By holding out for a dream delivery, I could have killed us both.
What’s important isn’t how you get there, just that at the end of the experience, you are healthy, your family is healthy, and everybody eventually gets to go home. Listen to your medical professionals. Don’t let pride or your visions of an ideal experience cloud your judgement. A perfect delivery isn’t worth dying for.