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All in Due Time

The birth of my daughter three years ago left me determined to make sure the birth of my son went differently. After 48 excruciating hours of labor, 20 of which were spent in the same labor and delivery room through three nurse shifts, the doctor who was covering for my regular OB-GYN told me it was time to give up. At least, that’s how I interpreted his words. Given my labor’s lack of progress (I’d been stuck at six centimeters since I first checked in), he recommended a C-section — something I had spent months trying to avoid by studying natural labor methods, taking childbirth classes, and practicing pain management techniques.

“Sometimes we forget that it doesn’t matter how babies are born,” the doctor said. “What matters is [having] a healthy baby.” My husband and I followed his advice.  After all, we did want a healthy baby more than anything else and after no food or sleep for two days, we were desperate for the labor to end.

“I entered motherhood the second time around feeling empowered, proud, and in control.”

In the days and weeks following my C-section, I fell deeply in love with my daughter. On some level, the doctor was right; it didn’t matter how she had exited my body. But on a deeper level, it did matter. It made a big difference in how I felt about myself, my identity as a mother, and my body, all of which were impacted during my attempt to rebound from birth and be the best mother that I could be.

It took me weeks before I could even say that I “gave birth” to my daughter. I felt like I had played a totally passive role, lying there as the surgeons removed her from my body. I was convinced I had lost out on a sacred ritual of birth and the precious bonding time that can happen immediately afterward, when mother and baby are both naked, covered in blood and other fluids. I was sad that my first glimpse of my daughter was when she was already cleaned and wrapped up neatly in a hospital swaddle cloth. I was even sad that I never got to change her first diaper; I was just too weak and in too much pain.

As the months passed, and my daughter turned into a boisterous preschooler, the sense of loss surrounding her birth faded, along with the scar below my belly button. I am grateful every day that we are both alive and healthy.

Even so, I knew I wanted it to be different next time. So when my husband and I got our second positive pregnancy test two-and-a-half years later, I started planning for a VBAC (vaginal birth after Caesarian) almost immediately. I traded in my traditional OB-GYN for a solo practitioner known for his VBAC success rate. I hired a doula that also specialized in VBACs. I started regularly attending prenatal yoga classes for hip-opening poses and visited a chiropractor to align my hips and back for labor.

As my due date got closer, I started feeling apprehensive. What if we faced another 48-hour labor? What if I stalled at 6 centimeters again? What if, worst of all, I suffered a uterine rupture and put my baby in danger? All of these risks are associated with VBACs, but the last one kept me up at night and made me wonder if I should just schedule a second C-section, which many parents seemed to assume would be the safer choice. Whenever the subject of VBACs came up on the message boards I read, someone shared a horror story about how their sister’s cousin’s neighbor suffered a uterine rupture, which led to the demise of the baby.

I shared my fears with my doula, who assured me the risks were low: about eight in 1,000 VBAC attempts result in uterine rupture. I also did my own fair share of research to ease my qualms. I pored over the 2010 NIH report on VBACs, which emphasized their safety for most moms. It outlined the risk factors for uterine rupture, none of which applied to me. I also learned that moms can feel uterine ruptures; it feels like an internal ripping, as one might expect, so I knew as long as the only pains I felt were contractions, then I was okay.

All the research and prep work I had been doing helped to ease my VBAC fears. Before I knew it I was 39 weeks along — and in labor. I was in intense pain, yes, but I didn’t feel any fear. I knew I hadn’t had a uterine rupture, and I knew this baby was going to be coming out of me soon.

And he did, just as I envisioned it. As I stood next to the hospital bed with my husband and doula by my side, my perfect baby boy shot out of my body after two pushes. I rolled onto the bed, and the doctor handed him to me. My husband captured a photo of that moment — both of us covered in blood and naked, with my face red from the effort of birth but elated with the results.

In the weeks that followed, as I recovered from birth and coped with the sleepless nights of being a parent to a newborn, I thought again about that first doctor who told me it doesn’t matter how babies arrive in this world. He was wrong; it does matter. The days after bringing a newborn home are as grueling as you can imagine, and having a place to draw strength from helps keep you sane. With my daughter I started motherhood with little confidence and my body shaken. I entered motherhood the second time around feeling empowered, proud, and in control. I overcame my fears and had the birth that I dreamed of – and my entire family was better off for it.

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