My V3BAC journey (warning, very long!!)
My long journey began almost six years ago when my little Logan was born. I was very naïve back then and wish so much I had the knowledge that I do now. That day I agreed to be induced after my waters had broken two days earlier was the catalyst for intervention. I remember the midwife explaining to me that I could wait as a c-section would become more likely. However, she became very quiet when she noticed the obstetrician walk in the door; he said he wanted to get things going. I now realise they do not have much of a voice in front of the obstetricians! And so my journey began. After 72 hours of labour I had only reached 8cms and so I was wheeled off for my first c-section. That was fine. I was ready for the pain to be over and was overjoyed to hold my little boy straight away, being able to have skin to skin – emotionally I was fine. However, it still hurt when I heard of all my friends having straight-forward natural births. Yes, I was happy for them but did feel a bit of a failure. And so I became determined to have a vbac next time.
My second labour – we almost got there. I was so happy labouring at home but had accepted that I needed to go in to hospital. The journey in the car was painful and I was already 6cms by the time we arrived. However, baby was back to back and after a couple of hours my waters were broken. I now know this was another bad decision – baby could no longer move into a good position and eventually I was wheeled into theatre for c-section number two. I felt badly let down as the obstetrician has said he was 99% confident that he could get my little Autumn out by ventouse in theatre – this was not to be. I was emotionally very upset this time as I was unable to hold my new little girl or have any skin-to-skin contact which my body cried out for. I pleaded but was told it would not be possible as the room was too cold. For several months afterwards I felt like a failure, exacerbated by other tales of child-birth. I had wanted a VBAC so much and felt I had failed.
My third labour – at home with a wonderful doula and a great laid-back midwife in Holland. I was determined that this time I would get there. I had done absolutely everything in preparation. I had attended yoga, listened to hyno-birthing tapes, kept to a strict diet, had reflexology and acupuncture, bought a birthing pool. There was nothing else I could do - or so I thought. But again – it was not to be. After a painful struggle to 10cms due to an anterior lip and after four hours of pushing we transferred to hospital. Up to that moment my labour had been wonderful – in a wonderful birthing pool with candles and wonderful music – my dream labour. But as I was getting ready to go to hospital all I could say was “I am a broken woman”. I was devastated. We were severely reprimanded by the staff at the hospital on arrival – I was told we could both so easily have died. I was also warned never to have any more children as it had been a difficult operation. I was later told that this was untrue and suspect I was told this as a punishment for trying to have my daughter at home. I was told that it would be fine to have another child but never to “attempt any more crazy VBAC’s” and “never experience any more contractions”. That third c-section was awful – truly horrible. My little girl was born and whisked away for several hours for no reason whatsoever. I was left with a photo and not re-united with her for so long because they were short-staffed. I cried, I pleaded, but was just told that “I would have her for the rest of my life”. I was heartbroken – I had done everything this time to try and have a VBAC and been punished more than ever. But there was no doubt in my mind – if we had another child it would be a fourth c-section – elective this time. I would never have to experience another painful contraction – that I was relieved about!
But when I saw that fourth positive pregnancy test, my confusion began. For the first few months I just accepted that I would have a c-section and told everyone that it would be easier this time as I could make plans. However, by about five months I was questioning myself so much. I just couldn’t bring myself to think about opening up my diary and choosing my child’s birthday. I would also get bitter and cross when my parents said they were pleased they would know this time when to drive down to us – I wasn’t doing this for convenience! I was also too aware of the benefits of labour – even if just a little labour – the oxytocin, baby being able to determine his/her entrance to this world. I considered going into labour naturally and then going in for a section straight away. I just could not decide what to do and this confusion stayed with me until about two months before the birth. I was still questioning my sanity a few days before my little boy was born.
I carried out so much research. I contacted several obstetricians (one in Australia) to see if I could find someone who would agree to perform a natural caesarean (where I would be able to lift my own baby out). I got nowhere. I contacted several hospitals in London to see if they would let me labour there – I was told repeatedly that my body was trying to tell me something, that after three attempts my body was telling me it had enough, and no, it would not be possible. I then began to think more about going for another attempt at a VBAC and so contacted several Independent Midwives when I was already about five months pregnant. I knew there was absolutely no way I would get a V3BAC in hospital. I rang about 15 – they were either already booked or not comfortable about helping me. Two midwives came to meet with me and Mike and then rang me the next morning to tell me they lived too far away. I was not at all convinced – Mike was 100% not convinced. I felt a real sense of rejection and further failure. No-one believed I could do this so why should I? Those few days were dark – I spent several hours in tears resigning myself to being cut open. I rang my wonderful doula from a swing park and spent the whole conversation in tears telling her no-one would help me. She had told me to stay true to myself – but how could I do this if no-one would stand by me? My doula suggested I accept the situation and start planning a nice section. So I started contacting the private hospitals in London. Perhaps it would be rather nice booking in and having a pampering time and a rest.
But Jacky’s words continued to echo in my mind: “Just stay true to you”. And so I contacted Eleanor, an independent midwife I had met on my journey after two c-sections. We had never met but I had contacted her several times as a source of support, and I felt I already knew her. I told her I was giving up, that there was nothing else I could do now that I had exhausted my list of contacts. That night she replied to me, telling me she “could not leave me to the mercy of the NHS” and that she would help me, despite living over an hour away. I shed several tears that night – this time of happiness. Some-one was prepared to believe in me and give me another shot. The day we first met was so crucial – I knew I had to get on with her as this was my last chance to get a VBAC. If we didn’t get on, this was not going to work. I needn’t have worried – she was lovely and we hit it off straight away. Eleanor also introduced me to another wonderful midwife who was also prepared to be there for me, another amazing person who believed in me and made my VBAC possible. And so we all started making plans together.
However, having so many Independent Midwives turn me away had knocked my confidence. I began to question with Eleanor whether I would be better going into hospital for a planned c-section to be safe, or perhaps go into hospital for a trial of labour. I remember the first time Eleanor suggested I stay at home I knew there was no way I could do this. It just felt too scary and risky. However, as the weeks went by I began to see this as the right choice. But I was damn scared!!! If anything happened to my baby I would never be able to forgive myself, it just wasn’t a risk I could take. I kept hearing the medical staff telling me after my third baby was born that we could so easily have died and never to take such silly risks again. Could I really put their harsh words to the back of my mind? But then what if I went in for an elective section, it was major surgery and I had been told that the last operation had been complex - I was terrified about that too! I changed my mind back and forth right up to a few days before the birth. However, by seven months I had decided one thing. I could not choose an elective section; now I just had to decide whether to go into hospital for a VBAC attempt or stay at home. It was a difficult dilemma – I knew I didn’t really stand a chance in hospital but if anything happened to my baby I would not be able to live with what I had done. Eleanor and I arranged to meet with the hospital to discuss options for a VBAC. I expected to meet so much opposition but was very surprised by their reaction. The consultant was extremely approachable and agreed to help me as long as I agreed to certain parameters. He claimed he had not known of anyone to have a V3BAC but accepted that the literature was promising. I was to agree to a cannula, continuous fetal monitoring, 2 hour examinations and was given 30 minutes to push. Despite him being agreeable, I knew that these parameters left me with no choice but to labour at home – despite feeling terrified about my decision.
Those last few weeks of my pregnancy were extremely stressful and emotional. I was extremely tearful telling myself that I was risking the life of this gorgeous baby kicking so happily inside of me, oblivious of the danger and with no say in the matter. I questioned my decision right up to a few days before our little one was born. One night I had not felt him move and panicked trying to wake him in any way I could. I remember telling myself I was crazy staying at home and should be going in for a c-section to be safe. However, about three days before my due date came, an incredible sense of calm came over me. I was totally at peace with my decision and felt ready to meet my little one and felt fine about staying at home. But as my due date came and went I began to lose control over the situation and saw my chances of a VBAC slipping away. The hospital agreed to give me until 42 weeks before carrying out a section. And so I left the hospital carrying my two boxes of tablets in preparation for my operation on 11/11/10. The consultant had told me baby was only three fifths engaged which implied that a VBAC attempt was not looking good. I knew this was wrong and that many fourth babies did not engage until during labour.
On the Sunday I agreed to go into hospital and be monitored for an hour to assess “how happy baby was”. It was a nightmare and I hated it. The monitor kept losing trace and I started panicking. At one point the heartbeat seemed to go down to 54bpm and then stop completely. I became determined now that I would not accept continuous fetal monitoring if I ended up going into hospital. I also felt depressed looking around at all the hospital beds knowing that I would very likely be spending a few nights in there very soon, away from my children and husband. After the monitoring the midwife told me that they had had one V2BAC and I felt extremely envious. I told myself that if no-one had done what I was trying to do, my chances were slim. BUT this time I knew it was different because I had seen a fabulous chiropractor, whom Eleanor had recommended to me. He had told me that I had an immobile iliac right-hand joint which had not moved for over 10 years. He felt confident that a baby would never have got through – only the left joint would have moved out of the way. He felt certain that only a premature baby about five pounds would have succeeded. I held onto that thought – this time was different and if he was right, then I could succeed!
After the monitoring we went shopping and even went to MacDonald’s for the children. I kept getting contractions every ten minutes and on the way home in the car it was quite painful. When we got home I rushed around getting the house tidy and sorting out the ironing and school uniforms just in case. I was very tired. Once the children were in bed I tried to relax, watching Strictly Come Dancing but I started to get some really painful and strong contractions. I timed them – it was still about every ten minutes. Mike went up to bed as quickly as he could to get some sleep and I stayed downstairs. I wasn’t convinced it would be that night. However, when they started being every five minutes I decided I had better get to bed too. But as soon as I got in the bathroom and had had a wash they got incredibly painful – it was so painful I could hardly have a wash. I had also taken off all my makeup and had taken my contact lenses on. I desperately wanted to put my make up on again and put my lenses in but just could not – I was in agony. I couldn’t even get undressed and so got into bed in my clothes. I remember breathing through a contraction holding onto our cupboard and that woke Mike up! I got into bed but realised that I wasn’t going to get any sleep. The contractions were coming every two minutes by now and I was constantly calling out “ouch”. Mike told me to breathe like I usually do but they had set in so fast I felt like I was losing control. It was so much more painful than I remembered. I told Mike to ring Eleanor but he refused saying we had “another twelve hours of this”. I wasn’t convinced and felt so scared that baby would arrive when we were on our own. Within an hour I knew I was actively pushing and so we rang Eleanor. I was so relieved but it was still scary knowing that she was so far away. Mike rang his parents and they set off too. By now I was very vocal every two minutes and Mike suggested we go downstairs so I didn’t wake the children. But I just couldn’t face the thought of moving – I felt comfortable just lying there in my own bed. Mike offered to put up the pool but I wasn’t interested. And I knew that there was nowhere to lie downstairs. I then realised that my waters had broken although there had been no sound like before. Apparently it was just my hind waters. After about an hour the door bell rang and I felt indescribable relief and felt immediately more able to cope with the contractions as there was no fear. Eleanor came upstairs and it was so great to see her. She examined me and said I was fully dilated. All of a sudden the bag of waters came down and I just couldn’t work out what was going on. It felt amazingly strange. I ended up kneeling by the bed and trying to push them out but they just wouldn’t budge – Eleanor had to cut them in the end as they were just hanging loosely. I then went into the bathroom and felt extremely comfortable in there. I started getting bad backache so Mike got me a hot water bottle. Very soon Brenda, (or Mary Poppins as we named her) arrived. Both my amazing midwives were so calm and I felt totally safe – it just did not occur to me to feel scared. I spent quite a long time on my hands and knees at the side of the bed and soon felt I knew more how to push. I pushed so hard and Mike and Eleanor were sooo encouraging telling me “come on Yvonne”. At one point I said “It’s not going to work” and Eleanor asked me if this was just something I was worried about or did I know something? It felt like déjà vu as Laura had asked the very same thing. After a while Eleanor asked me to lay down on the bed saying she knew it wasn’t usually the best thing to do but it might work. After a couple of minutes she listened to the heartbeat and it sounded so slow, she got me up off the bed into a better position, but still the decelerations continued. Apparently baby’s heartbeat was falling to around 70/80 bpm and taking 2 and a half minutes to get back up again – with my contractions every two minutes this was not good. I could tell the difference when I heard how slow it sounded now and I felt scared. I will also never forget Eleanor’s face – she looked worried and sat beside me on the bed. Brenda came over and said she wasn’t happy either so we decided to transfer. Eleanor wasn’t worried about my scar, she just felt that the baby was getting tired and a little distressed. It all got very busy all of a sudden and I started to panic. Brenda was soon on the phone and I could hear her say that it was an emergency, that I was 40 years old with three previous sections. It sounded really grim and I just started wondering what on earth I was doing here. I felt so scared and just wanted to go. Ten minutes later the door rang and Eleanor had to help me down the stairs. I looked ridiculous – a top on but no bottoms, a pink dressing gown, blue trainers, glasses and not a scrap of makeup! I wouldn’t mind but I had planned to look as nice as I could and had been washing my hair every night and sorting out an outfit for the last three weeks – how that all fell into insignificance! The ambulance men were lovely but Eleanor told them to stop at one point while I had a contraction and they were trying to move me. I remember feeling the cold air as the door opened and struggling to walk. Baby felt so low but all I could say was that “I was so so sorry baby” – I felt terrible that I had risked my baby’s life and how he might not make it because of me. And he didn’t even get a say in the matter.
That ambulance journey was dreadful – one of the worst experiences of my life! It was beating down with rain and we were going about 70 miles an hour with full sirens. It felt surreal. I was in agony and laying down on the stretcher rolling from one side to the other, convinced that I would fall off. I kept looking at Eleanor and she looked so anxious – I was trying to read her mind – was she scared that baby was in a bad way or did she just feel travel sick? I felt so relieved when the ambulance driver offered her a bucket! When we got there I was wheeled through on a stretcher but we got lost along the corridor. Eventually we went up in the lift and I was wheeled into a delivery room. I couldn’t work out why they hadn’t taken me straight to the theatre. All the way to hospital I was totally convinced that I was going in for a section and I felt absolutely fine with it – I just wanted my baby out now safely. When they rolled me on the bed I was even more confused. They put me on the monitor and I couldn’t stop watching the heartbeat. I kept saying to Eleanor “Just tell me the baby’s ok, just keep telling me”. I was so frightened. The registrar came in and sat at the bottom of the bed whilst I had a couple of contractions. She then said she wanted to lift the baby out using a kiwi ventouse. And that was the moment that it dawned on me that I was going nowhere. I remember saying “I’m not going to have a caesarean – I can’t believe it”. I said this over and over again with tears rolling down my cheeks. I was just so emotional and deliriously happy and excited. That was such a sweet, great moment – one I will always cherish. In the end the registrar had to tell me not to get so excited yet and that we needed to concentrate on getting baby born first. But if I am honest that moment was just as special as the moment my little boy was born. The registrar used a kiwi ventouse to bring him right down and then asked for my permission to do an episiotomy. I said “I don’t care” to all requests for intervention – I can’t remember what else I said I didn’t care to but there were other things – I wish I hadn’t in retrospect! I was given one puff of gas and air when I crowned and oh my god – it hurt! I screamed “ow” at the top of my voice because it bloody hurt! And then out came my baby crying. It was just so amazingly wonderful. He was given straight to me and put on my chest while they gave him a quick rub with a towel. I was ecstatic and just kept saying “I’ve done it” over and over again – I just couldn’t believe I had not just been rolled in for a section. I even forgot to check whether we had a girl or boy until Mike suggested that we have a look. He was definitely a little lad – a perfect addition to our son and two daughters. Everything was perfect! They then asked me if I minded having an injection for the placenta and again I just replied “I don’t care”. The placenta came out very quickly, Mike cut the cord and they stitched me up very quickly which didn’t hurt at all. I did bleed a bit which was a little worrying, but it was nothing major and I didn’t require any other assistance to control the blood loss. And then I just laid there cuddling up to my gorgeous boy saying “we did it” over and over again. I didn’t actually cry but the emotions were amazing. I remember thanking Eleanor over and over again. Mike was outside and rang his parents and I could hear him saying “It’s a boy and it was natural” – I felt dead proud of myself. Eleanor rang Brenda and apparently she said “Bloody brilliant” which was really sweet and meant a lot to me. Even the ambulance men hung around outside until baby had made his entrance and popped their heads around the door to congratulate us.
Both Mike and Eleanor went home and it suddenly hit me when I was on my own. I cried and cried and cried with happiness saying “we did it, we bloody did it” over and over again. It was such a healing moment, to have my boy born straight into my arms, away from the glare of those theatre lights. I remember the midwife saying “oh well, you can have more babies now” which was a nice thing to know – that it was in my control now. Even though I knew this would almost certainly be our last, I didn’t like knowing that another c-section would be the final straw for us. I then had a piece of toast and listened to the rain beating on the window, feeling amazing. I held my little boy for five hours with no nappy, covered in meconium – I just didn’t care. The midwives were fantastic and just let me be – for five whole hours - just what I wanted and had pleaded for. They just left us alone – just being. I didn’t let him go until about 10 am – he was born at 4.40 am.
Eventually they wheeled me in the ‘home from home’ room – they asked me if I wanted to walk but I refused to hand over my bundle! Soon I fell asleep and it was wonderful and magical waking up and realising what had just happened and seeing my gorgeous son in my arms. When Mike arrived I rang everyone and it felt great telling them it was natural and had only taken five hours and that it was a boy – life couldn’t get any better! My consultant came in to see me and was a little short. He said “Good morning, was there a problem getting in?” I felt a little awkward and explained that I had needed to stay at home because it had all happened so quickly – which was the truth! He quietly congratulated me and left. I did feel a little guilty as he had been great but I know for certain that I would have for sure been given a section with his parameter that I push for no more than 30 minutes! Lots of other midwives came in to congratulate me including the matron who said “bloody well done you, after all those sections – fantastic news…I hope the word gets around”. That meant a lot to me.
Me and Mike spent the next seven hours in that room relaxing and eating and cuddling. I felt very bruised at the base of my spine and very dizzy – I went for a bath but it was really hard work and I felt very breathless and was scared that I might pass out. I also couldn’t wee and they were threatening to use a catheter – I was so worried that they were going to keep me in and so drank for England. By 6pm they let us go home and I was over the moon. I still felt extremely dizzy and had to hang on to Mike but refused to mention this as I was determined to get back to my other little ones. I hadn’t come this far to be kept in! I waited in the corridor whilst Mike went and got the car and an elderly couple asked me how old my little one was. I felt so proud saying “twelve hours”. That night was quite hard – I felt really bruised and my lovely little man didn’t sleep very well as he couldn’t latch on. But I was just so so happy, we were safe and had managed a V3BAC. Life just didn’t get better than this.
Reflection Three Months Later
I am still over the moon that I had my V3BAC and experienced a vaginal birth. It has brought me to the end of a long emotional journey. Deep in my heart I know that I expected to be transferred in and given another emergency section. I just couldn’t imagine getting my dream and suspected that it would be a regret I would take to my grave. I always felt that it would be the one thing that I would always feel emotional about, lasting the whole of my life. My little boy Skyler is absolutely gorgeous. My recovery has been a little fraught; my stitches came undone slightly and I now have a slight prolapse (it’s a good job I wanted my natural birth or I would not be at all happy). Three months later, the soreness has gone and the memories of tea tree oil are distant. I am totally happy with my transfer and know it was the right thing to do. I also totally believe that I would never have got my V3BAC without my wonderful and amazing independent midwife – I will always be eternally grateful that she agreed to come to me. I know that the hospital would never have given me that time to push.
My V3BAC was a very healing moment for me and the thoughts of my previous caesareans do not come into my mind on a frequent basis as they did before. It was to be my biggest regret in my life – not to have experienced a vaginal birth and that is no more – that feels wonderful and I feel a more confident and ambitious person.
However, I think I have come to realise that very few births are ‘perfect’ and there will always be ‘what ifs’. It is a little like a wedding – you only get one or two attempts to get the perfect experience and are likely to always have a few wishes that you had done things a little differently. Hence, I still have a few regrets. I am still sad that my little Skyler wasn’t born at home into the arms of Eleanor, with music and candles – yes, the whole shebang! I still curse myself for not questioning the episiotomy, having the cord cut straight away, having the injection to remove the placenta, even down to taking more photos. I am also almost fine with the ventouse – it was only a kiwi ventouse and the registrar was very discreet and hardly pulled at all. But yes, there is a part of me that wishes that hadn’t been necessary – I just hadn’t researched or considered anything about a natural birth. I just don’t think that I felt deep down that there was any point.
I also still feel twinges of envy and ‘ouch’ when I hear about people having a peaceful home water birth – why didn’t I even take the pool out of the box. I suspect deep down that I thought there was no point and I regret that – would I have been able to push more effectively and achieved my dream birth and not needed to transfer? I will never know. I also wish I had taken more photos of those first moments, had music playing etc etc. However, these small regrets and sense of sadness just does not compare to the intense hurt that I used to feel.
Eleanor and Brenda have also reassured me that my little boy’s heartbeat was not so great (80 bpm) and the gases weren’t great. Even though my Skyler had excellent Apgar scores I have been told that he could have easily been born flat due to these gases being borderline. So I must hold onto that fact – things could have gone differently and I could never have risked my gorgeous little man being deprived of oxygen – the same with the episiotomy. If he needed to be born fast then that is fine and at least it was me that was hurt, not him. Indeed, his entrance to the world was made easier for him. I would never gamble on that! In fact, I would never gamble on the whole experience – it could have so so easily ended up in theatre yet again. And it is lovely being able to read other people’s birth stories and not cry anymore with such sadness that I would never know what a natural birth would be like.
I also have to acknowledge, however, that although I am so so glad I had my V3BAC, it was not worth dwelling on for the rest of my life if I had not achieved it. Yes, it was a wonderful moment but it was not the difference between a lifetime of happiness and contentment and a life time of regret and disappointment. The scary thing is that I would never had know that if things had worked out differently. Actually, looking back the birth of all my babies was incredibly special because they all culminated in me holding my new bundle that I had bonded with over those precious nine months. I got to see their little faces for the first time whether it was a caesarean or not – nothing is different there. And I now realise that the moment of childbirth is indeed just one moment in time. The real happiness is a constant feeling as I cuddle my children each day during these magical early years. And that is the same regardless of whether my children arrived by c-section or naturally. I am just so glad that I got the opportunity to find this out and not spend the rest of my life wondering how I would have felt if I had had a natural birth. I am eternally grateful to Eleanor and Brenda and my wonderful husband for believing in me when so many others did not. They made it possible for me to leave behind a lifetime of regret and hurt, instead replaced by an inner peace that will stay with me for the rest of my life. THANK YOU!