Friday, 10 January 2014

Charlotte's birth story ... my very long vbac story

Charlotte (or Bean, as we had been calling her for the past 8 months since I found out I was pregnant) was due on Christmas day, but I wasn’t expecting to have her anytime early or too close to my due date since my body so clearly wasn’t ready to give birth when I was induced at 39+1 with Sophie. I had a healthy pregnancy and had really enjoyed being pregnant this time, and was in no hurry to have her out – plus I was hoping for a January baby (just so that she’d be one of the oldest children in her class once she starts school, rather than the youngest, and also so that her birthday was further away from the hype of Christmas) but like any pregnant woman, by the time my due date arrived I was just so excited to meet her and I went to bed each night wondering if tomorrow would be the day I woke up in labour.

A couple of days past Christmas I found out that the people we had arranged to look after Sophie when I was in labour were now going camping in the Berg for 5 days (without so much as an apology or explanation), which left me bitterly disappointed and stressed about what we were going to do with her, since I really wanted my mom at the hospital with me. My positive, calm state of mind was totally broken and I spent a couple of days worried and in tears. Thankfully a long phone call to my sister helped me to put things in perspective, and I realised that there was no point in worrying about what could not be fixed or planned for. I planned to speak to a couple of people the next day about being a back-up plan for us depending on when and what time I went into labour.

The next morning, Sophie woke up wanting a bottle at 3:40am. I could feel from as soon as I woke up that something was different - I was feeling contractions! They definitely weren't braxton hicks as I felt some pain, but they were still quite manageable. I rested for a while after that but Soph woke up again half an hour later, and then as soon as she settled the alarm went off, so no more sleep! I didn’t want to make a big fuss over them as I was terrified that they were going to fizzle out, so I just stayed as quiet as I could for a while and tried to see if they were regular but without timing them.

I started timing them soon after 5 and they were about 10 min apart, so I messaged Leigh (my doula) to let her know soon after 6. They were getting a bit closer together and more intense but I was still quite comfortable, so we went to church (where they spaced out a bit) and I just told Noel that there was no way we were staying for tea afterwards as I didn’t want to talk to anyone! I was trying to keep my day as normal as possible, and keep my expectations low, although I was SO excited that *just maybe* my baby was on her way. We went shopping after church and had a quick brunch together. After I mentioned to Noel how afraid I was that they might space out further and stop, he asked if we could invite friends over that evening for a visit… He got in a bit of trouble for even thinking about it! 

Once we got home, they started becoming slowly more intense and closer together again, but still quite manageable. I finished sewing some letters for her room (realising that I might never do them if I didn’t finish them then!) and checked that our bags were all packed. At some point I let my midwife, Arlen, know that things had started  and through it all, I kept messaging Leigh. During the morning, she sent me a very encouraging message about how I had fought so hard for so long to be allowed a trial of labour, but now I didn’t need to fight any more – I had my team around me, and they were there to support me. Much later I decided to go down to see Arlen and get checked so that I knew how I was going - I still hadn't asked Leigh to come because I was coping fine although I had started having some that were almost a minute long and I had to vocalise (like breathing really loudly) through them.

When I saw Arlen at about 4:30/5pm, she confirmed that baby was lying nicely (not pushing on my scar at all) and her heart rate and my blood pressure were fine, and then she checked me - only 1cm, but fully effaced. I was a bit disappointed because the contractions were fairly intense and it had already been quite a long day so I was hoping I would be further.

She told me to go home and start power walking, and go to the hospital when my contractions were 5 minutes apart and 1 minute long for at least an hour. So I messaged Leigh on our way back, and she came and joined us at home. We walked around the neighbourhood until it got dark. That made the contractions quite a bit more intense, and Leigh was worth 10 times more than what we paid her in rubbing my back, helping me breathe more effectively and suggesting different positions to cope with the pain and to help baby drop a bit more.

My mom had cooked supper (her and my dad had been there all day and they were staying the night so that they could watch Soph when we went to hospital), so we all ate and then started timing contractions again around 8:30. By the time we'd done half an hour of timing it was very clear that they were closer to 3 min apart on average, and some even as long as 90 seconds, and getting really painful. I relied on Leigh a huge amount to get through each of them. So we packed the bags in the car, phoned Arlen and headed off to the hospital.

The contractions were coming every 2 minutes during the drive - that was horrible! They were much easier when I could move a bit to ease them. So I was very relieved when we arrived at the hospital, and after having 2 contractions outside before we even made it into the building (with 2 teenage girls watching – I’m sure I scared them from ever having children!), we made it inside. It was about 10:30 by the time we made it into the delivery room and Arlen hooked me up to the monitor to check on Bean’s heartrate and to do an internal. I was 2cm.

It was tough. I was exhausted after such a long day, the contractions were very intense and I didn't know how I would cope if they kept getting worse - and if I had to do this through the night as well! Logically, I had at least 8 – 10 hours left. Leigh kept me focussed though, and we had a bit to do like monitoring the baby through some contractions to check she was responding ok (not too good when I was on my back, but when I lay on my side or sat up she was fine), then Arlen gave me an enema (such a relief, because I kept feeling like I needed to go but there wasn't too much time between the contractions and I didn't really feel like pushing).

I then decided that we needed to do something, and it felt like maybe she was in a bad position and that's why things were taking so long. So I did some research on spinning babies to hurry up a slow labour and found what they call the roll-over
. The roll-over is 8 different positions which you have to hold for 3 contractions each, which gradually rolls you over – and in the process allows baby to move around – out of a bad position if need be, or simply to explore different positions that may make descending easier.

At 12:30 Arlen spoke to my back-up doctor (who had been busy in theatre at another hospital) and she wanted to know how dilated I was. So Arlen checked again, and I was now at 3cm. Making progress, but still so far from where I needed to get to.

Leigh and I then started doing the roll-over. We had done 1 position on the floor using the birthing ball, and 2 on the bed on my side when I started to fall asleep between contractions and the contractions really slowed down. In my memory, it feels like they had spaced out to about 15 minutes apart, although Leigh later said she thought it was more like 5 minutes apart. I vaguely remember Leigh asking me if I wanted to go on to the next position and I said no (because I wanted to rest a bit more). The whole time, she was helping me through each contraction by pushing on a spot in my lower back, or by rubbing down my back - you cannot believe the difference it made!

At some point I remember her taking her hand off my back and I think she turned to speak to Arlen, and as she released her pressure I felt a contraction hit like I was in a head-on collision. That woke me up pretty quickly! I shouted and she whipped her hand back pretty quickly, but that was the most intense contraction yet. Then as it was tapering off, I suddenly felt like I HAD to go to the toilet, and I needed to push right then, lying on the bed. I assumed the enema was having a delayed effect and I hadn't yet got rid of everything

Arlen and Leigh looked at each other, and I could see they were a bit confused. I know that you get an urge to push at the end, but I really thought my body was totally messed up and was trying to get me to push when I was only 3cm (maybe 4 at best). Arlen checked me again, and as she was checking she said, 'if you're a good 6cm, then you can get in the tub'.

I didn't watch her, because every other time she had checked it had been bad news, but Leigh said you could see her reach in, and feel a bit, and then she stopped. And then she tried feeling all around. Eventually she pulled out and she looked at me. 'Well', she said, 'I think we need to phone the doctor’. My heart sank.

... and then she carried on, 'because I think we need to tell her to come watch a water birth'

I looked at her, very confused!

'You're 10cm', she said. 'You need to get in the tub'

As she said that, another contraction hit, and I pushed on the bed some more. It totally took over my body, so that I don't think I could possibly NOT have pushed!

As soon as that contraction stopped, I got off the bed as fast as I could (with help from Arlen and Leigh), stripped off (I had bought a costume top to wear, but at that stage I was quite happy to not put it on - thankfully between Noel, Arlen and Leigh they found it and put it on me) and managed to get into the pool with only 1 more time of pushing (standing on the floor in the middle of the delivery room - I half expected my baby to just pop out!)

My first photo in the pool was at 1:30, so it was less than an hour from 3 to 10cm.

Through most of the time we’d been at the hospital, Noel had been staying out of the way, sitting on the floor and talking every now and again but not too involved. He was exhausted though, so at about 12:30 someone suggested to him that he go have a nap in my hospital room (there was no one else in there at the time). He spent the next (almost) hour taking bags backwards and forwards, to try sort out my things, and was just about to go to rest when I started wanting to push and we discovered I was 10cm. Thankfully he was still there, I don't know how I would have been ok without Leigh for long enough for her to go call him

Once in the pool, I struggled to find a comfortable position for a while. The water took away all of the pain of a contraction, but the pressure felt overwhelming. I have seen photographs of women kneeling upright, but that just felt all wrong to me, so eventually I realised that I was most comfortable almost lying down, floating in the water. I couldn't stand if my sacrum touched the bottom of the pool though, so Leigh called Noel in to hold my arms and support me. He was an absolute rock through this time, kneeling on the floor next to the pool and holding me up the entire time. I could hear him panting with the exertion every so often, but he never complained and kept telling me how well I was doing (and ended up with a bruised chest the next day, for his efforts).

The contractions came very close together at this point, and in each one I would have the urge to push about 3 times. I wasn't sure how to push though, so I'd push a short while and then stop as soon as the urge stopped. Leigh then stepped out of the way, and took my camera from Noel (we discovered that I had left the SD card at home though, so we could only get a maximum of about 20 photos – ironically I had 2 sets of spare batteries packed!), and Arlen came and knelt in front of me.

After a while of me trying to push, I realised I wasn't getting too far on my own (I think I also expected her to come out much quicker, without realising that she still had to be pushed all the way down the birth canal – for someone who had done so much research before the birth, I really wasn’t thinking while it was all happening), so I asked Arlen to talk me through how to push more effectively. That was a lot harder, but it wasn't too long and I could feel her crowning. Ouch!! Each push, I could feel her pushing out and the skin stretching, and then she would go back in again. Again, I felt like I wasn't doing something right, as if she should somehow just pop out - actually, doing that part slower can be a very good thing, because it gives the skin time to stretch and makes it less likely to tear.

The pushing was the most incredible work though, and it really took every second in between to try recover and build up strength for the next one. Serious puffing and panting to get some oxygen back in my system! Soon after 2am, I was doubting whether I was ever going to get her out - I asked Leigh how long it was going to take, and I checked with Arlen that it was now definitely too late for a caesar - I want to laugh when I think about it now!

I remember her head coming out about 3 or 4cm, and then slowly going back in between pushes. Then I asked Arlen how many contractions it would probably still be, and she thought 2. Well the very next one, I could feel her head coming, and Arlen just kept telling me to push, and eventually I just felt this whole warm soft squishy head pop out - at that stage there was absolutely no pain, it was just a pleasant, warm, gentle feeling. The next pushing urge came soon after, and Arlen again was telling me to just keep pushing, and suddenly her shoulders were out and then Arlen handed her to me and I had a baby. Charlotte Elizabeth Noelle was born at 2:10am, exactly 22 and a half hours after labour began.

It took a couple of seconds to register, and then I started laughing/crying - it was just the most incredible feeling to meet her after such a long, difficult day and all the effort that it had taken…

And then I realised - I did it!!! I fought so hard for my vbac, and I really did it! That triumph was mind-blowing!

We lay in the pool for about 45 min (Arlen had another birth in the room next door), Noel cuddled her but no one took her away from me. I just stared at her and soaked in the moment. From the very first moment, she felt like mine – that bond that I had expected when Sophie was born came instantly this time around.

When Arlen came back she realised I was bleeding quite badly, so we clamped the cord (which had stopped pulsing by then), and then I got out so she could see how bad my tear was and stitch it up. I latched Charlotte then, while she was doing that.

The stitches were horrible, because it felt like I'd done all the hard work already and it was unfair to add more pain in after what I'd just been through, but I was still able to walk straight away after giving birth – after having a shower I took a walk to the nursery to see Charlotte. And I drove the next day, soon after we got home from hospital. So even though it was sore, it was nothing like the pain of a caesar.

Thankfully, through the entire day, I felt no scar pain (I sort of expected to feel something, since I had felt pain at times during my pregnancy – which is apparently quite normal due to the scar tissue stretching), and I honestly didn’t even think or worry about my scar once. I had read that mom’s intuition is often the most obvious indicator of a uterine rupture and I had been convinced that I would be concerned about a UR during labour, but it didn’t cross my mind at all.

The whole experience was a journey – physically, emotionally and spiritually. It was so much bigger than me, and it took over my entire being. What a privilege to go from a cold, emotionless, matter-of-fact, ‘first you are pregnant, then you have a baby’ first time around, to a whole-body experience this time.

Without a doubt, Charlotte’s birth has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. And yet also the most rewarding, healing, empowering, amazing experience of my life. I cannot adequately describe either the intensity of labour or the incredible euphoria of birthing her, and I am just so grateful for the confidence and support of Noel, Arlen, Leigh, my family and a couple of close friends. God has blessed me with so much, but right now this feels like the biggest blessing of all – to bring Charlotte into this world in the way He intended, the way her and I were born to.


  1. Just reading this again - it was an incredible privilege to walk the journey with you!

    1. Thanks, Leigh! I couldn't have done it without you!