My first birth was in July 2011; my daughter was born at 38 weeks via c-section after I spent one month on hospitalized bedrest for IUGR, placental infarct, and velamentous cord. I disagreed with the very conservative IUGR protocol at Fairfax Hospital (mandatory delivery at 37 weeks via c-section preceded by hospitalized bedrest), and therefore my hospitalization was fraught with lots of arguing with my providers and stress on many levels. The culture of obstetrics at Fairfax is highly conservative, to the point that for me, it did more harm than good.
The doctors finally discovered I had severe preeclampsia and took me to an OR for delivery, without the option for an induction. My post-op course was complicated. I was on percocet for weeks, motrin daily for five months. I couldn't walk without significant pain for seven weeks, couldn't lay flat for about four months. I was so swollen from the preeclampsia that I couldn't bend my ankles and knees. I was so weak from being bedridden for a month in the hospital, that it was very difficult to recover from surgery. Six months after my surgery, I was still having pain at my incision site and the OB said everything was fine, so I did my own reading and ended up doing physical therapy on myself to get rid of surgical adhesions. "Ending female pain" by Isa Herrera was an invaluable resource. Ultimately, it took me about a year to recover from that birth.
Moving on to my second pregnancy with a baby due in July 2014, I knew things had to go differently. I went on a preeclampsia prevention program (daily baby aspirin from 10-36 weeks and a high protein/high calcium diet), interviewed four different OB practices to find a VBAC friendly doctor (Dr. Gonzalez of Capital Womens Care was amazing!), researched VBAC rates at various hospitals and even called labor and deliveries and spoke with nurses to see if they really did VBACs (Prince William Hospital was great), went to ICAN meetings and heard from women who have had VBACs and how they did it, hypnobabies (so useful to manage labor pain and promote positive feelings about birth), hired a doula (Andrea Proper was awesome), did prenatal exercises and yoga to help the baby get in the right position for birth, and basically stayed as healthy and low risk as possible.
Because of my past pregnancy history, I did have to see a maternal fetal medicine specialist for growth surveillance (MFAMA was a wonderful group) once a month. I had a very uncomplicated pregnancy, just as I worked so hard for! My OB said I could go until 42 weeks before they induced, so I was just hanging out expecting I'd deliver at 38 weeks or so. Nothing happened then though.... My cervix would be unfavorable at every weekly visit and I never had any contractions, not even Braxton Hicks. My due date came and went...I was beginning to think I'd be pregnant forever.
At my 40 4/7 week OB visit, my cervix was still unfavorable and I left that visit with a scheduled induction for 42 weeks. That night, however, I lost the mucous plug and was so excited that cervical change was occurring!! The next day, I still had a little bleeding, so I called the OB office who said go to the hospital to get checked out. I was 1cm dilated and 100% effaced. Still no contractions. They sent me home. That night around 12:30, early labor began. Contractions felt like menstrual cramps and got stronger over time. I'd use hypnobabies techniques to help. I mostly used an imagery technique I read somewhere - imagine yourself as an ice cream cone melting into a sidewalk on a hot day. So for the next 15 hours, with every contraction I'd close my eyes and think "ice cream cone melting into sidewalk, ice cream cone melting into sidewalk...". I have a low tolerance for pain, so it really made my body relax so contractions were tolerable.
During early labor, it was the middle of the night, so I was alone since my husband was sleeping. I talked to my doula who said to drink water and take a shower/bath. I called my cousin to give her a heads up she'll likely need to come over in the morning to watch my daughter in case we go to the hospital. I timed contractions overnight, and they were occurring about every 5-6 mins and lasting about a minute each. I tried sleeping but couldn't sleep through it. So I sat in my kitchen and the bathroom (I had an unbelievable bowel cleanout that night).
At 7 in the morning I called the OB, who told me to go to the hospital. I wanted to wait a few more hours, but Dr. Gonzalez said to come in sooner since I was a VBAC and they'd want to monitor me. I went in and at the hospital I was 3cm dilated. Dr. Gonzalez gave me the option of breaking my water, which I declined. A few hours later, however, I agreed. My overall philosophy on birthing is to have the least intervention and let my body do what it's going to do, on its own. What made me decide to let Dr. Gonzalez break my water and start intervening was that ultimately, I knew he had a high VBAC rate and so I trusted him. I knew if I went home at that point, when I come back, another doctor may be on call who is not as VBAC friendly and I didn't want to take that chance. So he broke my water.
After an hour or two, he started pitocin. I hadn't had any pain meds, and an hour into pitocin the contractions were noticeably stronger and frequent. Since my body didn't have a chance to acclimate to it, it was a very obvious change. I opted for the epidural at around 5cm. About five hours later when Dr. Gonzalez checked me I was 10 cm! It was around this time that I had started feeling really shaky and warm, and threw up once. I had a fever about 101 and they gave me Tylenol. They also gave me an oxygen mask. Dr. Gonzalez gave me instructions to push. I thought I was doing a bad job pushing because I didn't know if I was breathing right, but it was fine - I pushed for ten minutes and my baby came out! Dr. Gonzalez said "look down" and I see this head coming out. It was amazing.
My husband and I didn't know the sex of the baby, so when the baby came out, my husband said "it's a girl." When I looked straight ahead and saw it was a girl, I couldn't believe it! I had been so sure the baby was a boy. I freaked out, saying "it's a girl! We have a girl!" Dr. Gonzalez was so funny, he said "so...are you okay with that? Because I can't put her back." Yes, I was definitely okay with that! She weighed in at 8lbs 8oz and completely perfect. She was cooing in the delivery room and was so alert. I couldn't have imagined a more perfect, happy birth experience. It was such a healing birth. Recovery was so easy, I couldn't believe it. A HUGE difference from my first birth.
What I learned through it is to be educated about your birth choices, stay low risk so you have more options, and have supportive providers that you trust. My second birth was the most amazing, wonderful experience of my life and I am so grateful for it.