Petra is a very strong mama who I met when she was pregnant with her first baby. Firm and determined, she never gave up all through her two birth experiences. It was lovely getting to know her as a mama also living in the Valley and this is the story of her second birth, where she attempted a VBAC. Thank you Petra for sharing your story!
I met Charlene in 2015 while pregnant with our first. My husband and I attended her hypnobirthing antenatal course. We were very keen on a natural birth and even changed service providers from a doctor to a midwife after doing a lot of research and weighing up all our options.
Unfortunately, our baby had other plans and presented in Frank breech, which is a breech position with the legs extended straight up towards the head. We were told by our supporting gynae that there was no chance of a natural delivery, and so we ended up scheduling a c-section. Our baby had other plans again: I went into labour the night before the c-section date, and our daughter was born by emergency caesarean at 03:30 in the morning.
3 ½ years later we found out that we were expecting again and to our delight our gynae suggested a vbac without us even asking. We agreed that this would be our preferred birth option, provided that everything was favourable.
I have a deep desire inside of me to birth my babies, and not just be delivered of them, which is why I felt somewhat “left out” with the c-section birth of our first child. And this time around I was determined to make sure that this baby would not be positioned in breech!
The pregnancy progressed well, without any complications and our baby turned head down and stayed head down – I was so thrilled!
We decided to make contact with Charlene for a refresher course, and chose her as our doula, to ensure that we have someone by our side who knows her way around natural birth.
At this point I need to mention that I turned 43 about 5 weeks before the birth of this baby and, whilst I feel much younger than this, my gynae would not allow me to go over 40 weeks for possible age-related complications. This means we have a scheduled c-section booking in case I don’t go into labour by that time. He also tells us that I cannot be induced, because it is a vbac, but he can rupture membranes for me the day before the booking, which might induce labour. If that doesn’t work, then I will have to stay in hospital overnight and have the c-section the next morning.
Week 38 has me seeing a midwife for a stretch and sweep. She tells me that my cervix is 1-2cm dilated and my body is definitely preparing to go into labour. Yay!
Week 39 and my gynae does another stretch and sweep, telling my husband that our weekend plans might just be in jeopardy. Great! Monday comes without any signs of labour and the booked section day is Wednesday. Oh no! We have a final check-up with the gynae, and he tells me to check into hospital at 3pm the following day so he can attempt to start my labour by rupturing the membranes. This being a vbac, we also agree that if there is foetal distress at any stage or if I start bleeding (which can be a sign of uterine scar rupture) then we will change plan and do an emergency caesarean.
Tuesday 21 May – the day before our c-section booking
I wake up feeling calm. Too calm! Not a surge in sight. I chat to Charlene and she suggests that I ask the gynae if we can check in earlier, so that I have a better chance of not labouring through the night.
So there I am at 13h00 hooked up to the CTG, listening to Charlene’s birth affirmations and waiting to have my membranes ruptured.
The procedure is successful, my water breaks and an hour later labour has started, and I am having regular surges roughly 5 minutes apart.
My birth photographer is there and Charlene has also arrived, and worked her magic in the room, transforming it into a much friendlier place.
The surges quickly become more intense and very soon they are 2 minutes apart. Charlene and my husband take turns massaging my lower back through the surges, which is where I am feeling the most pressure.
I need to be hooked up to the CTG a lot and for this I have to lie down on the bed, which is much more uncomfortable that sitting on the birth ball or standing and swaying my hips through a surge.
At some stage I have to go to the toilet, which is outside of the labour room. It takes a lot of courage to venture out of the room and when I finally do, I take Charlene with me. I simply cannot bear to face a surge without someone by my side. (Which not-so-clever person designed these labour rooms and didn’t include a toilet..?!)
There is quite a bit of blood and we think it is a good show. As labour progresses, I can however feel that there is fluid leaking out at the end of every surge, and I assume that this is amniotic fluid.
At 17h00 my gynae comes to check up on me again, and notices that I am haemorrhaging. “Why is there so much blood?” I hear him asking the midwife. So that is the fluid that I feel at the end of every surge! He also checks the foetal monitor printout, and then comes to tell me that I am 7 cm dilated at this stage, but I am also bleeding, the foetal heart rate is declining, and he is not happy about either of this. Those are the 2 things that we agreed would mean a change in our birth plan.
A decision is made quickly and calmly that we will proceed with an emergency c-section. Both baby and I are fine at this stage and there is no panic. I keep breathing through my surges, still lying on the bed and connected to the CTG, while Charlene and my husband keep massaging my back.
At 17h40 my gynae comes back to take me into theatre and I am pleased to discover that the assisting doctor also assisted with my previous c-section, and the anaesthetist is the one we requested for our booking the following day – this helps to put me at ease even more.
Charlene once again works her magic and soon there is beautiful music playing in the theatre, which helps to create a light and calm atmosphere.
15 minutes later we’re ready to start the c-section and at 18h00 our baby is born! Because we didn’t want to find out the gender during the pregnancy, the gynae lifts the baby up for a gender reveal: it’s a girl!! My husband has tears in his eyes when he turns to me and says, “we have another girl!”.
I really try to be more present to all that is happening than I was with my previous c-section. The gynae tells me that my scar is fine and wasn’t the cause of the bleeding, and that he cannot see where the blood was coming from. We assume that it could have been from the placenta starting to detach and this confirms that a c-section was the right decision. The baby was also facing forward and that was causing my back labour.
Once the paed finishes his check-up, she is placed on my chest skin to skin and we get to cuddle a bit while we wait for the surgery to end. There is a happy atmosphere in the theatre with lots of smiles, we have a healthy baby girl and all is well!
Charlene accompanies us to our room and helps to get us all settled in before leaving hubby and me to bond with our little girl, who is breastfeeding like a pro and soon falls asleep right there on my chest.
The next day starts off well, I am up and able to take a shower. I feel fantastic, with hardly any pain at all thanks to the pain meds, and I am looking forward to our “big sister meets little sister” visit that afternoon.
It is truly one of the best moments of my life, watching my older daughter meet her younger sister, and our lovely birth photographer captures some amazing pictures for us. I love every moment of it, and in the excitement of it all, I get up far too often and move around far too much… by the time my husband leaves with our daughter, I am in a lot of pain and can hardly stand up straight. I am now very annoyed with myself, as this is not my first c-section and I should really know better than behaving like I have just done! I also need to empty my bladder but try as I may, I can’t go. It is just too painful!
The pain gets worse and eventually I am in complete agony with what feels like one large abdominal spasm, almost like a labour surge that peaks and never ends! A nurse comes to measure my blood pressure and temperature, telling me that both are raised – I get annoyed with her, because it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that all this pain is causing the raised measurements. At this stage the spasm pulls up on the right-hand side from my abdomen into my shoulder and I am desperately trying to find a comfortable position to lie in. I’m clinging on to the bed rail and moaning through the pain! Finally, after what seems like an eternity, my gynae comes to check on me. I am in tears and tell him that I think I might have torn something with all my movement earlier. I feel completely responsible and am so disappointed with myself, and I am in so much pain. He gives me a voltaren injection, the nurse reinserts a catheter and eventually the pain fades. I am able to have a fairly restful night.
The next morning my gynae pops in on his rounds and tells me, that he thinks my bladder might be punctured, and that I will need to go for a scan. Baby stays with the nurses while I head off to the radiologist. Not much later we have confirmation: my bladder is leaking and will need to be fixed.
At lunch time my gynae returns with the urologist, and together they assure me that this is not my fault and that nothing I did could have caused the bladder puncture. It must have happened during the c-section and gone unnoticed. Surgery is scheduled for 19h00 that evening. Until then I am not allowed to eat or drink anything… not great, as I trying to establish breastfeeding.
Later that afternoon I have another abdominal spasm with pain as bad as the day before, and this leaves me exhausted and more than willing to go back into theatre just 49hrs after having a c-section. My baby does an hour long feed and then falls asleep just before her daddy arrives to look after her, while I go in for surgery.
The urologist checks on me outside theatre, and once again assures me that it was not my fault and that he will fix my bladder for me shortly. I am tearful and sore, feeling very sorry for myself and heartbroken for being away from my 2 day old baby. A theatre nurse walks past and sees me lying there looking miserable. She stops to come and console me, stroking my hair and telling me not to worry, that all will be fine. Sometimes angels don’t have wings and wear scrubs instead.
Surgery takes an hour and much to my relief I really do wake up without any pain. After recovery I return to my room to find hubby sitting peacefully in the easy chair with a sleeping baby girl skin to skin on his chest. She slept through the entire thing!
I spend 6 days in hospital with 2 catheters and went home with the suprapubic catheter strapped to my leg with a “pee-pee bag” as my daughter called it. Not the most comfortable thing to have but at least I was mostly pain free. Charlene also came to visit me at home for a doula check and a long heavenly foot massage, where we talked and talked, and I had an opportunity to debrief.
The suprapubic catheter was removed after 11 days and I was mighty glad to be rid of it.
So in the end my deeply desired vbac turned into another emergency c-section. Not what I had hoped for but this whole birth experience taught me one thing: “Surrender, it is what it is.”
I kept on repeating that phrase to myself, and I also kept looking for the blessing in each situation:
I look at the photos of our daughter’s birth, I see myself during those few hours of labour, actively participating in the birthing process, and in the end, we had a calm and joy-filled c-section birth with lots of smiling faces.
I would never want to go through the pain of the abdominal spasms again, but I treasure the fact that my husband got to spend those hours bonding with his little girl, while I had to have another surgery. Precious time that he would probably not have had otherwise.
Hospitals are by no means a restful place, but I had 6 days alone with my baby, before we went home to a very excited 4-year-old sister.
I am at peace with the turn my birth took and Charlene sums this up beautifully in one of her poems:
Even when things go in the opposite way of what was intended.
It’s that most sacred of moments.
When she locks eyes with her babe for the first time…
Skin to skin now on her chest she lies.
“You must be mother. You are, this place – is my home.”
She holds her closer and adjusts her position to bring her closer to her breast.
The noise and voices and bustle of the hospital dim all around her…
Yet, she suckles… and the circle is complete.