[Disclaimer – It’s detailed! It shares the nitty gritty details of delivery so don’t read if you’re squeamish or easily offended!]
Mackenzie Louise Cooper was born on Monday, May 8, 2017 at 2:13am. She weighed 6lb 9oz and measured 19 ¾ inches long.
Both of my girls were born at the same hospital, Baylor Scott & White Round Rock, and that is pretty much where the similarity in birth stories ends. Here is Maddie’s full birth story, but in a nutshell, I labored for 28 hours total, got an epidural, pushed for 2.5 hours, attempted a forceps delivery, and ultimately ended up getting a cesarean section. She was born at 7:39pm on Thursday, April 29, 2014. She weighed 8lb 11oz and measured 20 inches long.
In the wee morning hours of Sunday, May 7, I was awakened by contractions. I timed them for a few hours while I tried to fall back asleep – they were coming about every 15-20 minutes. When Tom woke up at 6:30am, I told him, “I think I’m in early labor!” He took Maddie to get donuts so I could rest and focus. But instead, the contractions stopped. Argh! It was the 2nd or 3rd time in the past few days that the same thing had happened. So I went on with the day as usual. I had already scheduled a “labor preparation” massage for noon that day and I was really excited to go. The massage was incredible – very relaxing. It went way over the allotted time, and the last 30 minutes was essentially an amazing foot rub combined with a super hippie birth visualization exercise. On my way to the massage, the contractions started again, and I had a few during the massage. I crossed my fingers that getting into a relaxed state would encourage the contractions to continue, and they did. I was back home around 3:00pm and the mild contractions continued throughout the afternoon.
Around 8:00pm, the contractions started to get a little more intense and they were coming every 8-10 minutes. I decided this was the real deal, and asked my mom to go ahead and come to our house, under the assumption that we would likely head the hospital overnight and need her help in the morning with Maddie. I also gave our doula, Sarah, a heads up that I’d likely be needing her overnight as well. When my mom arrived at our house around 9:30pm, I was still in good spirits. The contractions were continuing to get stronger, and were now coming every 5-6 minutes. My mom and I chit-chatted for a while, pausing when I had a contraction so that I could sway back and forth to get through it. Around 10:30pm, I considered drawing a bath, so my mom went downstairs to give me some privacy. About that time, I gave Sarah a call to see if she could head over to our house. She commented that I still sounded pretty chipper, and that generally in her experience, when a mom can still cheerfully talk in between contractions, she may not be as far along in labor as I thought I was. But she said she would gather her things, grab some caffeine, and head our way. I’m pretty sure I just have a cheery telephone voice ;)
Pretty much as soon as I hung up with Sarah, the contractions started coming much faster, longer, and stronger. I suddenly had an overwhelming desire to be in water, so I asked Tom to get the bath going – fast! The contractions were getting really strong and I started making what could only be described as dying cow sounds – low moaning and groaning. I tried using some mantras to get through them: “It’s not pain, it’s progress” “It’s almost over, it’s almost over” “Breathe, relax, breathe, relax”. When Sarah arrived at 11:30, she seemed a little surprised at how quickly my labor was progressing. She told me I was doing great, and to continue being vocal if it was helping. The contractions continued getting faster, longer, and stronger still – now coming every 3 minutes and lasting over a minute long. I changed positions in the tub a few times, trying to find the most comfortable way to get through the contractions. Sarah sat with me, squeezed my hips, and rubbed my back. Tom stood nearby – absolutely terrified – and used an app on my phone to time the contractions. Around midnight, the pain was becoming unbearable. I started shaking uncontrollably, having trouble breathing through contractions, and suddenly I felt a heavy weight with the feeling of needing to have a bowel movement during contractions. Sarah acted quickly – she told me that these were all signs of going through “transition” which is when you move from the “active” stage of labor into the “pushing” phase of labor. We needed to head to the hospital!
I did NOT want to get out of the water. When I stood up, I started to panic. It literally felt like the baby was going to fall right out (wouldn’t that be nice, actually?). I started crying and breathing fast. Sarah and Tom helped me calm down and get dressed. We left our house at 12:15am and headed to the hospital. The car ride was awful. I started feeling the need to push during contractions. Poor Thomas, I was making demands like, “drive faster!” “slow down!” “slower over the speed bumps!” and “stop the car!” (when we were literally 100 yards from the entrance of the hospital). We arrived at the hospital at 12:30am, but the front doors were locked. We had to drive around back and enter through the ER. They wheeled me up to L&D in a wheel chair, which was also awful. The nurse begged me not to have a baby in the elevator! When we arrived in our L&D room, there were lots of papers to sign and blood draws and IVs – it was all a bit of a blur. The nurse asked if I wanted an epidural and I said, “I’m not sure yet.” She then checked my cervix and announced, “You’re complete!” Meaning, I was already dilated to 10cm. There would be no time for an epidural! It was baby time!
The room was so bright, I kept my eyes tightly closed the whole time, trying to stay in my relaxed zone. At one point, our nurse was going to step out of the room and she said, “don’t push while I’m gone!” I looked at her like she was crazy and said “But I need to push!” She immediately pulled the emergency cord and our room was flooded with people. I started actively pushing at 1:00am, and good gracious, no wonder they call it “labor”. Pushing was hard work! And it was taking a while! Thank heavens for our incredible doula, Sarah, and my super patient doctor, Dr. Fernandez. Sarah talked me through everything, got me sips of water, put a cool washcloth on my forehead, and encouraged me when I said thinks like “I can’t!” Thomas kneeled beside me the whole time while I gripped his hand so tightly, making me more comfortable with his steady presence. At about the one hour point, Sarah got down beside me, looked me in the eyes and said something along the lines of, “You’re doing so great! But we all think you can give a little more. With each push, push a little harder, push a little longer. You are so close to meeting your baby.” It was just the pep talk I needed. The baby’s head was starting to crown and it was the worst pain I’ve ever felt – burning, searing, stretching. I used every ounce of strength I had, through tears, to push that baby out. Her head was halfway out through several contractions and I wanted to give up, but obviously there was no going back now! I had to muster the strength. And I did. At 2:13am, Mackenzie came out crying! When my water broke shortly after 1:00am, it was stained with meconium (meaning the baby had pooped), so there were concerns that she might have trouble breathing. But thank heavens, she didn’t. They placed her on my chest and I have never felt such a high. I was elated, relieved, proud, amazed! There is nothing like it. I cried happy tears as I looked into our sweet girl’s blue eyes. I did it! I succeeded in an unmedicated VBAC! I couldn’t believe it - I am such a wimp! My birth plan was to labor at home as long as possible and to *try* to make it without an epidural. By “as long as possible” I certainly hadn’t meant until I was fully dilated! Ha! But everything went so smoothly, it was just perfect. Mackenzie got to stay on my chest for the next hour or so, and it was incredible.
In all my preparation for the birth, I hadn’t really given much thought to tearing during delivery. Which is a really good thing, because if I’d known how painful it would be to get stitched down there without an epidural, I probably would have been more hesitant to push! There was of course, local anesthesia, but it was still a lot of pressure in a very sensitive, traumatized area. Thank goodness I had that beautiful girl in my arms to distract me. This was for sure my least favorite part of delivery. Everything leading up to that point had been progress toward meeting our baby and that made it more bearable. The stitches just sucked.
Around 3:30am, we let our families know that Mackenzie had been born. The doctors, nurses, and our doula slowly left the room and just the 3 of us remained. We tried to rest, but adrenaline and happy hormones kept us from getting any shut-eye. We talked about the night – how I’d gone from happily chit-chatting at 10:30pm to pushing out a baby at 2:13am. We were so surprised! Given the amount of time I labored with Maddie, we had very different expectations. We couldn’t get enough of our sweet baby and we were so thrilled to become a family of 4.
After succeeding in a VBAC, here are my takeaways and pieces of advice for anyone wanting to attempt a VBAC, and really for anyone going into birth.
- Hire a doula. A doula is “a trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to a mother before, during and shortly after childbirth to help her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible.” Essentially, she is a support person for the mother. The doctors, nurses, and medical staff will be there to look out for the baby, but the doula is really focused on the mother. She will usually provide you with advice and support leading up to the delivery, at your house when you go into labor, at the hospital/birthing center, and postpartum. I really wish I had a doula for my first pregnancy. As a first time mom, there were so many unknowns when I went into labor. We took a birthing class, but when the day actually came, I felt clueless. How could I get through the painful contractions? When should I head to the hospital? When should I get an epidural? (I was 100% certain I wanted one the first time) While there’s really no point in “what-ifs”, I do wonder if I might have had a different birth outcome with Maddie had a doula been present. Maybe she would have encouraged me to labor at home longer, wait longer to get an epidural, or advocated for me when I was stressed out by the nurses yelling at me to push for 10 full seconds (ok maybe she wasn’t actually yelling but it felt like it). Anyway, hire a doula! Especially if your spouse or mother or whoever you want present during the birth isn’t a super cheerleader, or is nervous in hospitals, or if you’d be offended if they told you to “push harder!” – I probably would have smacked Tom if he told me that, but I wasn’t bothered when Sarah did.
- Attend a VBAC class (or labor class if it’s your first birth). The VBAC class we took at St. David’s North Austin Medical Center was invaluable. The instructor was also a doula who herself had a successful VBAC. We talked through our memories and emotions surrounding our c-sections, discussed fears and concerns for a VBAC, pros/cons of VBAC vs. repeat cesarean, and more. I thought it was really encouraging and it was nice to be in good company with couples who had been through similar experiences.
- Eat dates! There is an actual scientific study to back this one up. This article includes some discussion and a link to the study. Basically, dates were shown to shorten labor times for women who ate 6 dates a day starting at 36 weeks. Ever the preparer, I started eating them around 32 weeks, just one or two a day. They really grossed me out – they look like roaches and I couldn’t get over that. So I tried a couple recipes for different snack bars and energy balls using dates. At 36 weeks I upped my game and tried to eat 6 a day. I probably averaged more like 4 a day and sometimes forgot. I know that second labors are generally shorter than first labors, but 28 hours vs. 12 hours seems pretty significant. It can’t hurt so why not try!?
- Drink red raspberry leaf tea. The support for this is more anecdotal. Here’s an article I read about raspberry leaf tea. It’s reported that drinking raspberry leaf tea in the 3rd trimester helps build up the uterine muscles and therefore shorten labor time. A strong uterus is especially important for a VBAC mom because it reduced the risk of uterine rupture. Similar to the dates, I figured, worth a shot! Around 34 weeks, I started drinking Earth Mama’s Third Trimester Tea and around 37 weeks I drank Traditional Medicinal Raspberry Leaf Tea.
- Take evening primrose oil. I know I know, another hippie thing. Here’s an article – it’s said to help “ripen” the cervix and get it soft for delivery. I was 90% effaced at my 39 week appointment, so I’d say it might have worked! I started taking 1000mg daily at 37 weeks (I only took it orally).
- Read positive birth stories. I read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth (happy to lend it out!) and I thought it was really fun to read the birth stories. In our culture, there is a lot of fear surrounding childbirth, and this book helped me to reshape my thoughts about giving birth.
- Be confident and know that your body was made to give birth. But also give yourself grace if it doesn’t go as planned.