Girls! I did it! I had a successful VBAC, or vaginal birth after C-section. I still can’t believe it and have to share my birth story while it’s somewhat fresh in my head.
As a preface, I’m not a medical professional, so please don’t rely on my story as medical advice. I just know it’s comforting to hear other women’s stories, so I’m going to share mine. Plus, a lot of women who follow me on Instagram are at a similar gestational age as me and are asking me for VBAC tips and pointers via direct message, so I know this will be of interest.
My background is a healthy 29-year-old female with a 2.5-year-old daughter born via emergency C-section with a horizontal scar (low transverse incision). You can read that birth story here. The basic story is that I came in with a fever and the doctors thought I might have an infection in my placenta. The baby’s heart beat was in distress, and there was meconium in my amniotic fluid. We wouldn’t be able to get the test results to find out if I had the dangerous infection or not for 24 hours, so it was better safe than sorry for my daughter’s sake to go under the knife. I got to see her and touch her face-to-face before she was taken to the NICU and separated from me for about 28 hours. It turns out I didn’t have the infection; I believe I had a fever because of something I ate.
I’ve always felt like I was kind of robbed of my ideal birthing experience with my unfortunate emergency C-section. I volunteered at the hospital I delivered both my children at throughout high school (and another local hospital throughout college), so I’ve seen my fair share of vaginal and C-section births. I knew without a doubt I didn’t want a C-section — it’s major abdominal surgery, and the recovery is rough.
Of course I’m incredibly thankful for modern medicine; otherwise I wouldn’t have chosen the hospital route for either of my births. I just wish my luck was a little different the first time around, because I really, truly believe my body was made to do this birthing thing. I felt at the mercy of hospital protocol and liability insurance once I was admitted.
I ended up having my son via successful VBAC on May 7th, 2017 at 6:47 pm, a day shy of 40 weeks and our 7-year wedding anniversary. We spent our anniversary in the hospital eating hospital food, haha. At least we had our precious healthy baby boy as an anniversary gift! He weighed 7 lbs 9 oz and measured 21 inches long.
Laboring At Home
Let’s go back in time now. At 39 weeks, I was a fingertip dilated and my cervix had thinned out a bit and he was at the -1 fetal station, so he had “dropped.” Since my daughter came at 39 weeks, I thought for sure in the next day or two my contractions would start. Most of the week went by and I was only able to notice some random Braxton-Hicks contractions that didn’t really hurt, my belly hanging lower, some of my mucus plug coming out, and an extreme bout of nesting (like cleaning the whole house every single day just in case that was the Day).
On Friday, May 5th, I had my last prenatal appointment with my OB/GYN. She said I was still a fingertip dilated but more effaced. In the wee hours of Saturday, May 6th, things started to change with some mild contractions that actually made me a bit uncomfortable, so I started using my contraction counter app. I didn’t want to get excited, though, because I had already done that earlier that week and nothing had happened. However, as the morning hours came and the contractions were still there, I figured I would likely give birth within a few days.
I laid around on the floor in our carpeted bedroom hallway with a blanket and lots of pillows during my contractions; I have no idea why that was what I wanted to do but just listened to my body. My mucus plug came out fully by 1pm or so with some bloody show, and I had some kind of fluid coming out little by little, which I thought was amniotic fluid but wasn’t sure. I called my OB/GYN out of excitement and was told to go get checked at the hospital if I thought it was amniotic fluid, but my husband and I decided to wait a little bit longer since I vowed this time to not go to the hospital right away.
Trying to establish a pattern when recording my contractions was really hard for me for some reason. They went from 20 minutes apart to sometimes 5 minutes apart to 15 minutes apart to 8 minutes apart to 30 minutes apart. I figured I was missing some of them and that there were little contractions that didn’t hurt as much especially while I was walking around, because some contractions were more painful than others. Between the random time intervals and clear, odorless liquid discharge, I was so confused whether or not I was in labor or about to be.
I went to Whole Foods by myself to see if I could focus on counting the contractions better without my family distracting me and was able to get 3 pathetic sets of contractions 6 minutes apart recorded but then lost my pattern yet again. I walked the aisles in peace for the first time in many, many months and actually looked at cool products for once. Since I had time, I bought my husband a toothbrush for the hospital and myself some pads for the small bit of leakage I had, just in case you really wanted to know, hahaha.
I came home to my husband and Vienna napping so peacefully. Over the next few hours I tried to lay/sit/stand in positions that were supposed to help the baby go down lower, but nothing really seemed to change and my contractions were still random with a bit of clear fluid coming out at times. We headed to my parents’ house in the evening around 8pm for moral support. I got a few more painful contractions at their house, so we decided to leave Vienna with them overnight in case we’d have to go to the hospital.
We went home and around 10pm while in bed, my contractions suddenly got PAINFUL. I would get up and run over to the edge of the dining table and lean on it and just moan through it while trying to enter start and stop times into my contraction app — fun times. After each contraction I had a bit of water come out, so I figured I had a slow leak of amniotic fluid. I would also hear little pops at the top of my belly in between the contractions while I tried to lay in bed. I think that was my amniotic sac making small ruptures at the very top of my belly. My contractions started to establish more of a pattern and went from about 12 minutes apart to 10 minutes apart to 9 minutes apart to us deciding we would put some clothes on and all our stuff at the front of the door. Some of those contractions were super painful, and I started to dread/brace myself at the 8 or 9 minute mark, haha. This all happened between 10pm Saturday night to around 1am Sunday morning.
Around 1am on Sunday morning, we decided to walk to the car with all our stuff. Since we live so close to the hospital, we figured we’d drive over there and just sit in the emergency room parking lot (the after-hours entrance for L&D). It was raining and felt so magical, which isn’t something you normally see in Orange County in May.
I had been told to call the doctor when I had contractions 5 minutes apart lasting 1 minute for a whole hour (5-1-1), so we waited in the car through some more contractions until I couldn’t handle it any longer. I got to about 6 minutes apart, and we decided to call the OB/GYN around 2am. The doctor on call told us to go ahead and get checked.
Admitted into Hospital
The nurses at L&D checked me in and did two tests for amniotic fluid (one that was simple/instant, which ended up being inconclusive, and another that took a few more steps and had a 10-minute wait time, which came out positive). At that point I was admitted based on my water being broken. I think my husband let my mom know around then, but from here on out the timing for things gets a little hazy.
My nurse asked if I had a birth plan, which I was surprised about, because I had read most L&D nurses scoff at them because parents tend to be pretty demanding and unreasonable, but I was happy to give her mine. Instead of Birth Plan, I titled it Birth Preferences, since I knew not everything would happen how I wanted it to. This is what it basically looked like printed out on one sheet of paper (the italicized things are what ended up not working out):
Husband and my mom present
No cervical ripeners
No membrane sweep
Natural water rupture
No vacuum / forceps
No internal fetal monitoring
Limited cervical exams
Epidural as late as possible
Immediate skin-to-skin & breastfeeding
Delayed cord clamping
Husband to cut cord
Baby to stay in my room always
No Vitamin K shot (we are doing oral Vitamin K drops instead)
No Hepatitis B shot
No eye ointment
The oral drops we are using: 4 drops at birth, 4 drops at a week old, and 4 drops at a month old (3x total)
The nurses at my hospital really did a good job respecting the above, although I had to fight for some things (like less pitocin and no Vitamin K shot) once in a while.
Next I had my IV put in by the most experienced IV placer on the floor, haha. My first nurse didn’t want to try to poke me, because apparently I have tiny veins. The second nurse did an amazing job and got it in the first time. Last time I gave birth my nurse had a really hard time putting in my IV and had to try 3 times, leaving the entire pillow underneath my arm drenched in blood. Thank God this time was basically pain-free.
Because I had tested GBS positive a few weeks before, I was required to have antibiotics given to me every 4 hours, so the first dose was started at this time. My OB/GYN had told me I had 24 hours from the time my water broke to try to VBAC because of the GBS positive, so at this time I thought the clock was ticking and I had better progress quickly in order to be allowed to do this vaginally. I asked my nurse about it, but she said as long as I have 3 or 4 (I don’t remember) rounds of the antibiotics within a certain amount of time, I didn’t have a time limit. That was the biggest relief EVER.
It started to get light out by this time, and I was checked for dilation and ended up only being at 2cm. I asked if I could change positions or do something with gravity to help things progress, since laying down on a hospital bed is actually the least effective way to get a baby to go down. My nurses started prepping me to be able to walk around the floor.
All this time, I was breathing through my contractions and holding off on the epidural until I couldn’t handle it any longer so that I could progress as far as possible without that intervention.
My OB/GYN gave me a call to check up on me around 10am, and during this phone call, my water broke with a gush while I was sitting on the edge of the bed, and my contractions kicked into high gear. I REALLY couldn’t talk, but she kept talking to me, lol. I remember being so annoyed at the phone and wanting it out of my face!
Last time my water broke, my contractions also got really bad and I remember crying and begging for the epidural. I requested an epidural at this time, and my lovely anesthesiologist came pretty quickly to prep me. It barely hurt at all (compared to the contractions, it was literally a tiny pinch), and I was so so so relieved to have the drugs. My nurse put in a catheter maybe half an hour later.
This time my husband was with me during all of this, and that really helped me stay strong, even if he didn’t necessarily do anything specific but just stood by me and was in the room with me. Last time he and my mom went home, because nothing was happening and he really needed a shower after work. In the time everyone was gone, EVERYTHING ended up happening last time — my water broke, the contractions got really strong, I had an epidural, and I was told I had to have an emergency C-section all alone, which was pretty scary. Again, thank the Lord I had support from him and my mama this time around, and it made a world of a difference.
Since I couldn’t walk around the L&D floor anymore with limited use of my legs (I could still feel them and move them around, but they were like Jello), the next best thing for positioning was a peanut ball. You can’t really tell in the photos below, but my nurses had me lay on my side with this peanut-shaped ball in between my legs, which is supposed to help open up the pelvis and allow things to progress. I did this, switching sides, basically until I was ready to push.
When my water broke, I started progressing pretty quickly and got to 4 or 5cm. However, once I had the epidural, my contractions slowed down significantly, and things stopped progressing. I knew that epidurals basically go hand-in-hand with pitocin, so when my nurse suggested we start a small amount of pitocin, I obliged since nothing had happened for hours. We started with a 1 (I’m not sure what the measurement is), which didn’t do anything for the next few hours, and then moved up to a 2, which helped bring my contractions a little closer together. Many hours later I measured 7cm, but I got stuck there for a while.
This is where I can’t quite remember things, but I had a contraction that lasted 3 minutes and it put my baby in distress from being squeezed so hard for so long (his heart rate went from 160ish bpm to 60ish bpm). All of the sudden a bunch of nurses came in and started doing things around me, and next thing I knew my main nurse said, “I’m going to give you this medicine to slow down your contractions, ok?” and I was poked in the back of my arm. Thank God his heartbeat stabilized pretty quickly after that, and that was the only real moment where there was a possibility of another C-section. They also placed an internal fetal monitor at that time, but later on stopped using it because it wouldn’t stay where it needed to be. When I was trying to track my contractions at home, I noticed that sometimes they’d be really long like that. Poor little guy. I guess I have an aggressive uterus. 🙁
Since I had that intervention, I needed more pitocin to get things back up again. Then it was kind of a waiting game until early evening when I started to feel the contractions despite the epidural and when I had the feeling of going number 2.
I finally reached 9 or 10cm dilation and was at +2 station around 5 or 6pm, and I was allowed to do a test push, which went really well, so my doctor was called to come in. I pushed for about 45 minutes. They had me push to the count of 10 three times over during each contraction. I felt like my face and lips would explode sometimes, which is the wrong way to push, so I had to focus really hard on pushing down low, which is harder than you’d think when you can’t quite feel everything from the epidural. What I noticed was that if I took my deep breath laying down and then got up to pushing position with my legs up, I was able to isolate the lower muscles better and everyone would tell me that was the best push I’d done yet.
My husband held one of my legs during the pushing and would make me laugh and lose my momentum sometimes because he was trying to “push” with me and telling me to push harder. It just cracked me up how badly he wanted to see his son and wanted me to get him out! A few pushes before he made his debut, I touched his head because everyone was saying, “He has hair!” That was so exciting, because I was touching my baby while still inside my body, and we were moments away from meeting him. It just made things way more real.
I pushed my last strong pushes, and my son’s head came out. It was the first time I saw him, with all his dark hair, and it was a sight I’ll never forget. Before the rest of his body even came out, he let out a healthy cry, and I was so so happy. The rest of his body came out shortly after, and he was placed on me right away. Nobody took him away, and he was all mine. My husband cut the cord, and my doctor delivered the placenta.
I ended up tearing 2nd degree and up into the vagina, so while I was bonding and loving on my new baby, my doctor sewed me up. I didn’t feel a thing and was way too focused on my son.
I was allowed at least an hour to just hold my baby against me, during which time I breastfed him. He was just perfect to me and so warm and soft and cuddly. I felt fulfilled and like my body had done a great thing that it was designed to do all along. The whole experience was literally night and day from my emergency C-section.
Thoughts on VBAC
I’m forever grateful to all the people who prayed for us and to my OB/GYN who let me try to VBAC and to the hospital for supporting my VBAC efforts. That just sounded like an award show acceptance speech, haha. I realize now since so many women are private messaging me, that not all doctors and hospitals allow VBAC’s due to liability.
Would I do a VBAC again if I ever had another baby? God-willing, absolutely! I have been so much happier this time around during recovery, it’s insane. I don’t think I had postpartum depression with my first, but I definitely had to try a little harder to be happy every day than this time around. I just beam happiness and gratefulness; it’s insatiable. I could walk within an hour of delivering, and even my belly looks smaller this time around.
With my emergency C-section, I had a bit of a traumatic experience, and what I do when something like that happens to me in life is just keep on going. I would get dressed every day, take my daughter out for a walk around my neighborhood every day, and keep the house tidy to keep my mind off our 28-hour separation and the painful wound on my abdomen. I didn’t focus on how sad my experience was and how different it was from my first “Birth Plan,” I just kept going because I knew it always gets better. I focused on the fact that she was healthy, I was healthy, and everything was ok. We made it out fine. But having experienced a VBAC, this time we made it out even better!!!
I had a lot of bleeding in the first 12 hours or so, but then it slowed and now I basically have what’s like my regular menstrual period. I used an ice pack, witch hazel pads, Dermoplast spray, and Motrin to help with my pain in the hospital. My first time peeing was really hard; I had to try three times over the course of a few hours to finally get a trickle, but I was determined to make it happen because otherwise I’d have to get another catheter in recovery. I turned on the shower for inspiration and read the back of my Dermoplast bottle label to try to get things going. I felt my uterus contracting during breastfeeding for the first few days, but it wasn’t that bad for me. I haven’t taken any medicine since coming home, and I just do the witch hazel pads and Dermoplast now. Getting up and down from the bed and sitting on the toilet doesn’t hurt as much anymore, and going number 2 has been totally fine. I did get a hemorrhoid during pregnancy and it got worse from pushing, but hopefully that’ll go away soon.
So far I’ve lost 12 lbs in 6 days. I was hoping it would be more, but that’s ok. I didn’t gain as much with this pregnancy, which will make it easier to lose. I think my body looks pretty damn good for just having given birth. Considering how big my belly was on Sunday, I look really flat right now and can almost wear most of my regular clothes; I’m just limited to nursing-friendly options. I eat A LOT, like as much as my husband or more, and that likely helps me have a lot of milk. My milk came in on the third day, btw, and my boobs are the size of cantaloupes! This is the main nursing bra I wear in 36F (the same one as last time), since a lot of ladies always ask me.
10 VBAC Tips
For the ladies asking me for VBAC tips and pointers, I can try to tell you the things that likely helped me be successful.
- Self-education about the risks
- The risks of uterine rupture are pretty scary, and I had to sign a consent form that basically said the baby and I could die if they don’t have time for an emergency C-section. Although the risks are big if something does go wrong, they are also somewhat rare. VBAC statistics get better with each successive VBAC, and it’s even sometimes possible to have one after 2 C-sections!
- Self-education about the possible interventions and labor in general
- The last thing you want to do is not really understand what your medical staff is talking about and therefore have a hard time making decisions. When you know what they’re talking about, you can better work together to reach your birth goals.
- Support from your OB/GYN
- My doctor never pushed me to be induced, schedule any C-sections, etc. She’s actually really good at C-sections, but she doesn’t push for them. Best of both worlds.
- Support from family
- My mom was literally the best. She researched every single thing with me and essentially acted as my doula. She was also helping me back up my decisions to my nurses about pitocin, Vitamin K shots, etc.
- Support from the hospital staff
- Having had a low transverse cut
- Over 2 years between pregnancies so the scar tissue can heal well
- Laboring at home as long as possible
- Limiting interventions like induction, epidurals, pitocin, as much as possible
- Believing your body is capable
- Most women’s bodies can do this laboring thing. Don’t get discouraged. Many have done it before us, and many will do it after us. I watched positive birthing affirmation videos on YouTube and envisioned myself giving birth vaginally in the last few weeks when I was feeling discouraged or scared.
For anyone who lives in Orange County, California, and is wondering who my hospital and OB/GYN were, it was Mission Hospital and Dr. Sara Ramirez.
After the epidural (you don’t want to see what I was like beforehand, haha):
Moments after delivery:
Skin-to-skin bliss after delivery:
Early morning in our recovery room:
After taking my first shower and changing into my own recovery gown:
Vienna meeting her brother for the first time and us leaving the hospital: