To VBAC, or not to VBAC? That is the question: Part Two

Photography: Yanina Muriel

 By Charlotte Cretney. Part two in a series of two interviews with mothers who have had a successful VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Caesarian). Part One can be found here. 

I spoke to Wedding stylist and mother of two, Tessa Simpson, about her VBAC story, which is a tearjerker!  Get the tissues out for this one.

Tell us a little about your family:
We are a family of four: Tessa, Tyler, Reeve (2) and Luca (4.5 months). Our house is male dominated including Monty the Labrador and Olly the cat. We live in Oamaru and love having our families close by.

Can you give us a brief rundown on what happened with your first birth that led to you needing a C-section and your experience of the C-section?
When I was 37 weeks pregnant my mum died unexpectedly. Not only had I lost my mum, but my main birth support person and the grandmother of my unborn child. Mum was a midwife and was my go-to person throughout my entire pregnancy and was my main support person and cheerleader. She wanted nothing more than for me to have the water birth I desired and couldn’t wait to be a grandmother. It was a crazy time and as much as I thought I had controlled the stress and tried to stay strong for the sake of my unborn child, it (unknowingly to me) had physically taken a toll on my body.

I was 40 weeks + 5 days when I went into early labour, but had a strong gut feeling that something was wrong. I had not felt my baby move for a long time and rang my midwife to voice my concerns. I was then put on a monitor, which showed something was not quite right with the baby’s heart rate. A scan followed which showed that my placenta was not functioning correctly and I had lost nearly all fluid surrounding the baby. My midwife explained to me that I needed to go to Dunedin and would be induced as my baby needed to arrive sooner rather than later. At that point I broke down crying, as I knew I was not going to have the experience I had hoped for.

I was under the care of an amazing obstetrician in Dunedin hospital and as luck would have it, a midwife who was a friend of my mum’s. The plan was to speed labor up by inducing me, but as soon as my water was broken my baby became distressed and heart rate dropped dramatically. The obstetrician said “We need to get this baby out now,” and all of a sudden the room was full of people, someone was undressing me and explaining I was being rushed to surgery. From there I literally closed my eyes and hoped for the best. I had to zone everything out and just focus on remaining calm. Reeve was born via emergency C-section and was exposed to meconium due to the stress he had experienced. The medical reason given for the emergency C-section was prolonged bradycardia and it is believed that the stress of losing mum caused my fluid to dry up and my placenta to start failing.

The sensation of the C-section was really strange. I remember feeling pushing and tugging and moving around the bed and within minutes Reeve was out and being tended to. I didn’t get to see him until he was cleaned up and meconium suctioned out of his lungs. My husband brought him over to me while I was being stitched back up and I remember feeling so relieved but completely overwhelmed and guilty that I didn’t have this instant love for my child that everyone talks about. When I was moved to the recovery area I asked for him to be placed skin-to-skin (an hour after his birth) and started to bond with him then. For the next 16 hours I was bedridden and had to call a nurse every time I needed to pick my baby up. Standing up for the first time was really painful and I needed assistance to shower and get changed.

Photography: Yanina Muriel
Photography: Yanina Muriel

How did you feel after your C-section?
Emotionally I felt quite flat and little out of it from the pain medication. Obviously physically it is painful, but I found initially the frustration of not being able to stand or pick up my baby without assistance was what bothered me the most. I didn’t realise at the time but the experience was quite traumatic especially for my husband. I wasn’t able to have skin-to-skin contact or even see my baby straightaway. It wasn’t until I was moved into a recovery room about an hour following his birth that I was able to have skin-to-skin contact. I felt somewhat disconnected from him initially as I wasn’t the first person to hold and comfort him and wasn’t able to see or feel him coming out of my body. I was so relieved to have my baby out and safe but at the same time was completely overwhelmed by the whole experience. It was such a scary whirlwind.

When you found out you were pregnant again, when and how did you decide you would try for a VBAC?
I decided this even before I fell pregnant the second time. I was monitored throughout my second pregnancy and had fortnightly scans to ensure my placenta was functioning well and that there was plenty of fluid around the baby. If all was well then I was determined to try for a VBAC. Knowing mum would want this for me and would have been supporting my decision all the way, was enough to keep me focused.

Photography: Yanina Muriel
Photography: Yanina Muriel

Did you feel your Midwife/Doctor was supportive in the process to go along with a VBAC?
Absolutely! My midwives were amazing. They were so supportive and desperately wanted me to experience a physiological birth. My experience with the first obstetrician I consulted with was a little different and she just presumed I would go ahead with an elective C-section and said flat out I could not have a water birth, as I would need to be monitored throughout labor.  My midwife suggested some alternative options and advocated for me, which I am truly grateful for.

What advice could you give mums who are considering a VBAC?
Trust your body and find a midwife/s and/or obstetrician that supports you and your wishes. If you and your baby are happy and healthy there is no reason as to why you cannot at least try. Don’t let fear get in your way. The experience of a normal birth is like no other.

Photography: Yanina Muriel
Photography: Yanina Muriel

What empowered you to think you could go through with a VBAC? Did you practice anything like yoga or hypnobirth to help?
I had nerve pain and SPD towards the end of my pregnancy and had acupuncture for pain relief. A week before my due date I decided to have some pre-birth and induction acupuncture points put in. I had three treatments for this and a few hours after the last treatment started experiencing contractions.

My acupuncturist knew her stuff and my midwives were supportive of the treatment. In order to try for a VBAC I had to go into labor naturally as medical induction was not an option. I figured I had nothing to lose. I truly believe the acupuncture was beneficial.

Tell us about your second birth and how it differed from your first one?
My second birth was the complete opposite to the first. I experienced contractions for about 48 hours before things ramped up and my husband and I made our way down to Dunedin when contractions were 8 minutes apart. I had to travel to Dunedin as I was required to birth in a Primary Care Hospital, as Oamaru is only equipped for low-risk births.

Within an hour of arriving in Dunedin I was in active labor and tried to stay mobile or kneeling throughout. There was a point where my midwife said to me that my baby was not in a very good position and we needed to pop a clip on his head and monitor him. I just said “Tell me what I need to do to change things, I am not having a C-section. I’ve come this far.” As my contractions ramped up and the pain increased I had moments of thinking I can’t do this, and right when I felt like I couldn’t keep going, the song “In my mother’s eyes” by Six60 played over the radio and I took it as a sign that mum was there in spirit encouraging me to keep going (This song had played at significant times throughout my pregnancy). I couldn’t concentrate on the gas for pain relief so went without and just went into some sort of primal birthing zone.

After laboring for a few hours, things were not progressing very quickly so my midwife broke my waters and from there the contractions increased in intensity so much I felt like I was having an out of body experience. At that point I asked for an epidural, as much as I didn’t want one, as I was too exhausted to keep going for what we thought would be another few hours. Next thing I knew I was sitting down trying to listen to the anesthetist and all of a sudden I felt the urge to push and screamed out, “I need to push!” Sure enough my baby was coming and there was no time for an epidural. This was the point where I needed my midwife the most. She guided me through with the help of the obstetrician on duty and 15 minutes later my baby was out and straight onto my chest. Total labor 6 hours 12 minutes.

Luca and I had instant skin-to-skin contact and he started to crawl to my breast straightaway. Everything happened very naturally and I felt like I was able to bond with him very easily. I felt so empowered and euphoric. The exhaustion from labor completely disappeared and was replaced with pure love and elation. I was able to shower a few hours after the birth, walk around and pick up my baby as I wished. I felt so good that I asked to be discharged the same day. Luca was born at 2.35am and I was home by lunchtime.

Photography: Yanina Muriel
Photography: Yanina Muriel

What did you end up preferring: a C-section or VBAC?
VBAC hands down. I would take the pain of labor a thousand times over for the experience of a normal birth over C-section. I had a second degree tear and stitches from VBAC and I am not going to lie – a few days after the birth, once all of my happy hormones had calmed down, I was quite uncomfortable for a few weeks but I found the recovery a lot easier to manage than that of my C-section.

What did you find were the advantages and disadvantages of both?
C-section – Advantage: My baby was delivered safe and the procedure was absolutely necessary to ensure the best possible outcome.

Disadvantage: No immediate skin-to-skin, long recovery time, ongoing back problems, painful scar for nearly a year following birth, emotionally and physically draining. Long recovery time. Initially difficult to bond with baby, milk took a while to come in. Had to stay 4 nights in hospital. Difficulty losing weight after birth, retained a lot of fluid and stomach took a long time to go down.

VBACAdvantage: Immediate skin-to-skin, mobile straight away. Instant bond with baby. Emotionally and spiritually empowering. Recovery was easier to manage. Home within 12 hours. Faster weight loss and abdominal recovery.

Disadvantage: I honestly can’t think of any. The only downside was the tearing.

By Charlotte Cretney aka Little Hepburn

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