Our son, Jesse, was born on 1/1/2020. A special birthday for our special boy, who even has a very special birth story. His birth was one that went (almost) exactly as hoped for- a redemptive VBAC after a fairly easy pregnancy.
His older sister’s birth in 2018 did not go as planned. Although I was hoping and planning for an unmedicated, totally natural birth, Kenna was born via an emergency c-section after she got stuck and the power went out in the hospital. (Read the full story here.)
This time, I swore it would be different. While I accept that Kenna’s birth taught me a lot about being flexible and adapting, which are absolutely essential skills to have as a parent, her birth also taught me how important it was to be an advocate for myself, especially in an industrialized hospital setting that may not have my wishes at the forefront of their agenda.
Preparation for Our Birth
This time, I prepared for a VBAC (a vaginal birth after cesarean). My OB told me that the only way they would ‘allow’ me to have a VBAC was if I went into labor spontaneously before 42 weeks. They wouldn’t induce me, because it could possibly lead to a uterine rupture, and they wouldn’t let me go past 42 weeks, because of a chance of stillbirth after becoming “post-term”.
Going into labor, on my own, BEFORE 42 weeks was a scary prospect for me, mainly because I didn’t know if it would happen. Most women gestate for 40 weeks (or really, like 40+5 if you look at worldwide averages), but I happen to cook babies a long time. Kenna waited until 42+1 (and I was induced at that point), and Jesse didn’t show any signs of budging either.
So throughout pregnancy, but especially in the last trimester, I did A LOT OF RESEARCH about natural induction methods. If you know me personally, you know that my background is in science, and boy, did I dig up some scientific research and statistics about pregnancy and birth.
To help myself go into labor spontaneously, I did just about every natural induction method I could think of, including:
- Eating dates (it’s actually scientifically shown that eating 6-7 dates/day starting at 36 weeks can help labor start earlier and be shorter in length!)
- Red raspberry leaf tea
- Walking and curb walking
- Sex (although this is really tough at 42 weeks…)
- The Miles Circuit
- Spinning Babies techniques to get baby in the proper position to be engaged in the birth canal
- Nipple stimulation, using a breast pump (I started at 41 weeks, pumping 1x/day for 15 minutes on each side… it did cause contractions to start but they fizzled out each time… luckily it did help my milk start to come in, and I was able to stash some colostrum in the freezer!)
- Chiropractic care, including the Webster technique (visiting our local pregnancy chiropractor, Dr. Iman)
- Acupuncture (visiting a local acupuncturist, Alison Leiner) (also evidence based to help labor induction)
- And a membrane sweep at 41 weeks and 41.5 weeks
- I ALMOST did castor oil, but that same day I went into labor, so bypassed that one
- And probably more things that I can’t remember!
Beyond preparing my body to go into labor, I also mentally prepared myself for the best and worst possible outcomes. Best possible outcome- I would go into labor on my own, spend as much time as possible at home, head to the hospital at the last possible minute, and have a VBAC baby quickly with no interventions.
Worst possible outcome- barring any medical complications, and I don’t even want to go there!- ultimately this would look like my first birth, where I was recovering from essentially both a vaginal and a c-section delivery. For my family, this would be really tough, since I already have a very active toddler at home who wouldn’t understand why I couldn’t pick her up while I was recovering.
After my research, I knew that I could avoid the hospital and try for a homebirth instead, but in Maryland, where I live, it’s actually illegal for midwives to perform homebirths for VBACS. (It’s also illegal in Delaware… but it is legal in Virgina, so technically, I could have gone and rented a house or gotten a hotel room for the birth!). This was a little scary for me to think about, because I knew that complications could definitely occur, and I didn’t want to have to travel to the hospital at the very last minute if they did.
But… I was hearing a lot of “rules” from the only OB office in our area. The hospital is 30 minutes from our house, and there aren’t a lot of choices on places to birth. The next closest one is 1.5 hours from here, and the closest birth center is 2 hours away!
To give me a little peace of mind, we ended up hiring a doula. Surprisingly, there are actually a lot of amazing doula options in our area for as small as the population is here. Chloe, of Being and Born, ended up being a great fit for our family. She is extremely knowledgeable about all things birth, and has something like 15 years of experience in the birth field, plus is also trained as a midwife.
We met a few times with Chloe before our birth, and we learned so much from her. But the most important thing we learned was that we can decline any medical procedure that we weren’t comfortable with, because the hospital actually works for US!
Which I’m so glad we learned… because otherwise this story would likely have ended differently.
(Photo Credit: Olivia Sens Photography)
What Almost Ended as a C-Section
As I mentioned above, I was doing everything possible to jumpstart my labor before the deadline of 42 weeks. Our due date was December 20th, but Christmas came and went with no excitement except some prodromal labor contractions that kept getting me excited but then just fizzling out.
After 40 weeks, I started heading to OB and midwife appointments twice a week, and doing non-stress tests to monitor baby’s heartbeat. At 41+4, I went into the office just like normal for my appointment. It just so happened to be New Year’s Eve!
Right before that appointment, I visited Alison, my acupuncturist, who did a second round of induction acupuncture, this time at more points than she had before. I actually started having contractions during that session! I didn’t want to get my hopes up, because I had had what I thought were “real” contractions several times already, but nothing ever came of them.
Brett was on winter break, so he joined me for my OB appointment.. We hung out in the office, read magazines, and just hung out, because those appointments last while.
At my previous appointment, the office made me schedule a c-section date, “just in case” my baby wasn’t born at 42 weeks. Very reluctantly, I did. At this appointment, that OB happened to be working, so she came in to give us the pre-surgery information.
Brett and I had discussed this, and we decided we weren’t going to be showing up for the scheduled c-section, and we were just going to see if a little extra time would allow me to go into labor on my own. I was super nervous about telling the OB this though, because I am a rule follower. I don’t like to go against recommendations, even though I felt confident I wasn’t going to jeopardize my baby’s health with this decision.
When we met with the doctor, we did tell her that we wanted more time, and didn’t want to do the scheduled c-section. She seemed very understanding, and told us that ultimately it was our decision, and she couldn’t force us to show up (which we already knew, but were relieved to hear).
But then 20 minutes later, both her and the midwife and the nurse came in. They showed us data from the non-stress test (NST), and basically told us that they wanted us to pack up from the office and head right to the hospital for a c-section.
We were floored. I had been watching the monitors and baby’s heartbeat seemed normal, and he was kicking just like normal. I had been having contractions the whole time, but they weren’t painful, and I just figured they were Braxton-Hicks.
It turns out that during one of the contractions, the doctor observed a late deceleration of baby’s heartbeat, which meant that during that contraction, he was showing a sign of stress.
They gave us some time alone to process and talk. I started crying and kind of freaking out. I was totally surprised, I thought everything was going just fine.
We called Chloe, who agreed that the stress could be bad for the baby. She pointed out that it was a single data point, and the rest of the NST didn’t show anything. She also asked if I had eaten anything that morning- I really hadn’t, because we had been rushing around to get our daughter to daycare and then make it to the appointment. So I was hungry, and probably also a little dehydrated too. Brett and I decided to ask more questions.
After talking with the hospital team again, Brett and I decided we would go to Labor and Delivery. However, I wasn’t convinced that rushing into a c-section was the best choice. I asked for more time, and more monitoring, before we made a decision.
The doctor recommended that I not eat anything, just in case I needed surgery… and this was the first time that I blatantly ignored a doctor’s recommendations. I was hungry, and I thought that maybe just a low blood sugar was the reason for the issue with the NST. So we stopped by Panera for lunch. I ate a HUGE lunch, and drank a few glasses of water. We also called my mom, who would be watching my daughter, and asked her to pick her up from daycare. We were a little bummed, because we had had plans that evening to go into Berlin to do the kids’ Ball Drop for New Years Eve with Kenna, but were glad that my mom would be willing to take her.
And so labor begins…
After lunch, we did head to the hospital, although we technically didn’t check in, but just consented to more monitoring. I did have a birth plan written out, and gave it to our nurse. Throughout our stay, I was pleasantly surprised how much the staff respected our birth plan, as much as possible. There were a few exceptions to that… like being tethered to the electronic fetal monitoring the entire time, which was a huge annoyance, and I didn’t like that my movement, once again, was limited.
The contractions that had started that morning were still happening, but even though they were roughly 10 minutes apart, they weren’t painful at all, just tightening of my belly, and I didn’t think too much of them. I certainly didn’t consider them to be true labor contractions.
At the hospital, we met with another OB. They did check me, and I learned that I was 3 cm dilated and 70-80% effaced! That was exciting, because I was barely 1cm at my previous appointment a few days prior. Because there was some progress, and the contractions were still happening, the OB was willing to ‘let us’ wait a little longer and monitor to see if there were any more decels.
I was hooked up to the monitor for another couple of hours. I tried to nap- but it was the middle of the afternoon and I couldn’t really sleep. During that time, the nurses and OB didn’t see anything concerning enough that they pushed for a c-section right away, and I was so relieved we had decided to wait.
The OB gave me a couple options as far as progressing labor- they could do a membrane sweep, they could break my water, they could augment my contractions with Pitocin, or I could get a breast pump and do nipple stimulation. I decided to do a membrane sweep and get the breast pump. I was very hesitant to go anywhere near Pitocin after my daughter’s birth, because I knew that those contractions were unbearable for me and I wanted to avoid an epidural.
I pumped every hour until about 10pm, when I tried as hard as I could to fall asleep. The contractions did get closer together, and I continued to dilate. But the contractions were still painless, and I didn’t really consider myself in labor yet. I dozed on and off until 3am, and again started pumping.
I could feel that the contractions became more intense this time, and while they didn’t become closer together, they just felt different. Still hesitant that they would fizzle out, I hadn’t called Chloe to come in yet.
At 4:30am, I got up to pee, and I felt a weird sensation. I looked down and I had lost my mucus plug! As soon as I saw it, I knew that was what it was, even though I never lost it the first time. It was exactly as people describe it- a big snot goop, and bloody, and totally awesome because it meant that something was finally happening.
I texted Chloe, and gave her an update. I still didn’t feel like it was time for her to come join us yet, even though things were picking up.
Around 6am, the contractions were getting closer together, like every 4-5 minutes, and becoming more crampy. Still not painful, but definitely something was happening. I knew that it was time for Chloe to come in, so I called her.
Shortly after, the OB came in (because shift change is at 7am), and checked me again. I was 6cm and fully effaced! Yay! I was so excited to be actually “in labor”, and without having had any medications so far. I went into labor all on my own! I was so proud of my body, because I knew I was capable of doing this.
As the sun rose, I continued to labor. I was able to breathe through the contractions, although it became hard to talk during them. In between contractions, I was talking and joking and able to relax (and eat- even though I was sneaking food).
Several times, the midwife that was now on call stopped in. I hadn’t really progressed as far as being more dilated, although things were picking up elsewhere. They really wanted me to have the baby earlier rather than later, because of the NST results from the day before, and she told me that they wanted me to either augment with Pitocin or have my water broken.
As before, I asked lots of questions, and asked for more time to make a decision. I knew that some labors can take awhile, and I didn’t want to feel rushed into something that would just cause more interventions. During this wait, the midwife even cleared me for a brief stint off the EFM tether so I could take a few laps around the hospital wing to see if that would help me progress.
Things REALLY Speed Up Now
Around 1pm, we decided to have my water broken. When they did it, I felt a huge warm sensation. Again, this was a very different experience than with my first, because it just kind of leaked out then. But this time, it was all at once.
Right away, they noticed that there was meconium in the amniotic fluid. This is pretty normal for babies that are born after their due date, but it can indicate that the baby is stressed, and it can cause respiratory issues at birth. This would mean that the respiratory team would have to assess him before we got to do skin to skin, instead of me getting to hold him immediately, as I had hoped.
After my water broke, things really got moving. Contractions started coming every 2-3 minutes, and immediately became painful. No longer was I able to talk and joke between them. I was barely recovering from one before the next one came. And during the contractions, I experienced a huge intensity.
Chloe, while helpful before in helping us educate and advocate for ourselves, was so instrumental at this point. She was able to suggest pain management techniques, and basically directed Brett on how to help me, because I was beyond capable of communicating to him, except to yell, “Brett, now!” every time a contraction hit. Then, he would press my hips with all of his might, doing the double hip squeeze. This was pretty much the only thing that helped ease the pain.
I tried moving into various positions during this time to try to reduce the pain. I tried bouncing on the ball, and getting onto all fours and leaning on the ball. But really, the only position that was remotely comfortable was standing, and then trying to sit down if possible between contractions to get a few seconds of rest. Every time I had a contraction, and Brett squeezed my hips, more fluid would run out.
I had been laboring for a long time at this point through some very intense contractions. I was exhausted. My legs were shaking, and I had reached the point where I couldn’t do it on my own anymore.
Before this point, I had been so adamant about no medication, and no epidural, because I knew that movement was key to helping baby move through the birth canal. But I had hit a wall, and changed my mind.
Practically begging for the epidural now, they checked me again. 8 cm. Not even close to a 10! I knew then that this was a good decision for me, because I didn’t think my body would have the endurance to make it any longer.
The anesthesiologist came in. I remember apologizing to him because I wasn’t wearing any pants, and I had folded up my hospital gown so that it was bunched up above my belly. I think he laughed at me. I’m sure he sees things like that every day!
I also remember being quite the potty mouth during the transition phase. During every contraction, I was uttering either lots of F**KS or groaning. With Chloe’s guidance, I did manage to breathe instead of scrunching everything up tight.
It seemed like the next stretch of time took an eternity, but it probably took about 15 minutes for him to place the epidural. I felt immediate relief, but surprisingly, could still move my legs a tiny bit. The nurses gave me a peanut ball, and I laid on my side.
With this break, I was able to rest my body, and I actually dilated quicker. Within a little over an hour, I was completely dilated, and ready to push.
I should add that Brett was totally against me getting the epidural. He was convinced that we were about to experience the same thing we had with Kenna, where after I got the epidural, I would push for forever, and ultimately have to get a C-section if baby got stuck. I have to admit that I was freaking out about the same thing.
I started pushing, and since I had gotten the epidural, I didn’t really feel anything. From the midwife’s and Brett’s feedback, I could tell that I was doing something, they were all telling me I was doing a great job. That felt nice. Brett even took over counting during contractions for when I was supposed to push.
After about 45 minutes, his head was about to crown. I think, but am not really sure, that at this point, they had turned my epidural off. I remember asking if that was possible, so I could push better and avoid tearing, but I don’t remember them confirming that they actually had done so. I was told to give a big push, and I felt what I had heard of as the Ring of Fire. Holy shit, yes that is an accurate description. Even with an epidural. But then the contraction passed, and they told me to stop pushing. WTF people, his head is right there, and you want me to stop pushing!!!! That feeling was so intense.
The next contraction came, and I pushed again… and Jesse was born. Or, his head was, anyway.
I expected them to let Brett cut the cord, and waited for him to cry, but he didn’t come all the way out at first. And his face turned totally purple.
Turns out that he had shoulder dystocia. The hospital team jumped into action, and I was maneuvered into something like a 90 degree angle between my top and bottom halves. I screwed my eyes shut at this point, so I only really remember the scene in like 6 comic strip panels, lots of pulling and tugging and them telling me to not stop pushing between contractions.
But then, sometime later (probably only about a minute in real life), he was all the way out. They quickly handed him over to the respiratory team and baby nurse. And a few seconds later, we heard him start to cry.
I think I had been holding my breath, but I was able to breathe again myself at that point. Brett was still right next to me, and I remember him leaning over and giving me a big kiss, and both of us crying. We were both so relieved that our baby had been born vaginally, and that he was crying and everyone was alright.
Jesse Was Born
Jesse Forge Hines was born at 6:48pm on January 1st, 2020. He was 8 lbs and 7 ounces (even heavier than my daughter!), and 19 ¾ inches.
Even with the shoulder dystocia, Jesse was perfectly healthy, and had no complications. The placenta passed just a few minutes after he was born, and surprisingly, I didn’t have a single tear, even with all the pulling and what was a pretty big baby for my small frame.
Shortly afterward, we moved into our room in the Mother/Baby wing. Jesse fed well, right from the start, and we were home from the hospital in two short days. Our daughter, Kenna, came in to visit her “baby brudda”, and kept petting his head and saying “soft”. She’s been surprisingly great with him, and while she is seeking attention from us way more than before, she’s very loving and gentle with Jesse.
(Photo Credit: Olivia Sens Photography)
This time around, my recovery was so quick. The night Jesse was born, I was able to get up, walk around, and shower like normal. I didn’t have to be bedridden for a day, or take opiates to numb the pain, or experience burning pain from my scar. And even though I was instructed not to lift anything heavier than my son, I was able to pick up my daughter when I got home and give her a huge hug.
I’m writing this story a few weeks later. Jesse is now 4 weeks old, and we’ve gotten into a great routine. He’s eating pretty much every 3 hours during the day, and we are starting to get 4-5 hour stretches at night. I forgot how exhausting a newborn can be, but I feel so grateful that I have much more knowledge about newborn sleep this time around. Having a predictable routine and working on healthy sleep skills from the beginning has made a HUGE difference in my sanity and ability to get more sleep. Plus, having a VBAC birth allowed for a much quicker recovery, which absolutely helped both my physical body and my mental wellbeing.
(Photo Credit: Olivia Sens Photography)
In reflection, I would not have had this experience if Brett and I hadn’t been able to advocate for ourselves. I would have been whisked away to have a repeat c-section, with a long recovery, instead of the VBAC that my body was capable of (and probably would have been capable of the first time, if I hadn’t had an induction forced on me). Because we sought out the help of a doula, we gained so much knowledge and education, and were able to ask for more time to make an educated decision, and were able to experience the birth we wanted.
I wish everyone were able to have this knowledge, which is why I’m sharing such a lengthy birth story. I feel so empowered, not only because a tiny human was birthed from my vagina, which is pretty cool, but also because I didn’t let myself be pressured into a decision that didn’t feel right to me.
A few weeks after Jesse was born, Chloe came over for our post-partum meeting. She told me that while I was pushing, I kept saying “redemption” over and over, and asked if I remember saying it (I didn’t). But that’s exactly how I feel. This birth was so redeeming, and I am so grateful for the experience. And of course, grateful for my happy and healthy baby boy, and our, now complete, family.
Local Birth Resources:
Our doula: Chloé French, of Being and Born
(Who has 15 years of experience in birth, and is a midwife, and the only Birth Monopoly graduate in our area!)
Chiropractic care: Iman Chiropractic
(Dr. Iman is certified to perform the Webster technique)
Acupuncture: Alison Leiner with Back to Center Acupuncture
(Literally went into labor right after our last session!)