During my last postpartum doctor's appointment, my OB described me as his "unicorn" patient. While not necessarily the description you'd expect (or want) from the guy examining your ladybits, I knew what he meant. I have four children, all of whom entered the world in very different ways. Number one was an emergency C-section, number two was a scheduled C-section, number three was a surprise VBAC (vaginal birth after C-section) with no pain medication, and number four was an induced VBAC with an epidural. My situation is unique because VBACs are not standard protocol after one C-section and even more sparsely performed after the second. To have two VBACs after two C-sections is, apparently, extremely rare.
While becoming a footnote in medical textbooks was never part of my birth plan, I've learned a thing or two from my wide-ranging experiences that I hope someone out there can benefit from. Giving birth can be a scary and uncertain time in a woman's life, but it's also so rewarding. My Mr. Toad's Wild Ride version of childbirth is proof of that.
- Find an OB you can literally trust with your (and your baby's) life. When I was admitted to the hospital at not quite 34 weeks along with my first, I had no idea that day would end with the birth of my child. My urine had tested positive for preeclampsia, and while my blood pressure skyrocketed as I sat in triage, my husband and I naively believed I would simply be kept overnight for monitoring and sent home. Then a doctor came in and explained that the only cure for the condition was delivery of the baby, and while induction was an option, his recommendation was that we deliver by C-section as soon as possible. His demeanour was so calm and reassuring, it wasn't until several days later that we learned how close both my son and I came to not making it. A doctor who is simultaneously competent and kind in a crisis situation is precisely the kind you want in your corner.
- A C-section is not the end of the world and can actually be a positive experience. With our second child, we did our research and decided that with the approval of our wonderful OB, we'd try for a VBAC. I was confident in my doctor's ability to monitor any potential risks and accepted the likelihood of another C-section should any issues arise. True to his strength that continues to bring me immense pride and new gray hairs daily, my second son refused to cooperate with my agenda, and a C-section was scheduled 10 days after my due date. I was disappointed to not have the experience I felt I'd missed out on the first time, but that feeling vanished when my healthy, full-term baby was placed on my chest almost immediately after delivery. With my first son being in the NICU and my health precarious even after delivery, it was two days before I saw my oldest for the first time and even longer before I was able to hold and nurse him. Embracing my son under the warming blanket and feeling him latch on like an instant pro was miraculous and healing in a way I could never have anticipated.
- You can plan all you want, but childbirth will never go the way you think it will. With boy number three, I thought for sure I had this whole thing figured out. We scheduled a nice, midafternoon C-section so we wouldn't have to get to pre-op at the butt crack of dawn. We arranged for the grandparents to watch the other two children a few nights prior so my husband and I could go out for a nice birthday dinner and massage. To this day, I believe what finally sent me into labour a week before any of that could happen was my toddler reaching for a giant watermelon on the counter and me diving like a cresting whale to push him out of its Indiana Jones's boulder-style path. It could also have been me squatting on the floor I had just had professionally cleaned, scrubbing away the watermelon goo and threatening to look up military preschools.
- Befriend the nurses. I can't stress this one enough. Having worked in health care before staying home with the kids, I knew how much of an impact nurses have. When I went into labour unexpectedly with number three, I was terrified and ecstatic, not wanting to put my baby at risk, but still hoping to experience a vaginal delivery. However, the doctor on call, a man I had met and viscerally disliked at previous appointments, informed me over the phone that he did not do VBACs and would be doing a C-section on me if I cared to show up before promptly hanging up on me.
Upon checking in at the hospital, I pulled one of the nurses aside and explained to her that, while the health of my baby was my first priority, I had already discussed the possibility of a VBAC with my regular OB and, if possible, would prefer any other doctor, including Scholl's and Seuss, to the one currently glaring at me from the desk. She gave me a knowing smile, then after a brief discussion with the doctor, told me that I was free to walk around the labor and delivery unit to get labor progressing, and if I kept moving until 7, the doctor taking over the next shift was more amenable to VBACs. Nurses. Are. Awesome.
- Giving birth hurts. I'm a former ballet dancer and have performed in blood-soaked pointe shoes through severe sprains and other sundry injuries. My pain tolerance is not insignificant. But there is no pain on earth like having a baby. When the nurse told me it was too late for an epidural, I would have sobbed if I'd had the strength. I had marched around the labour and delivery unit for three hours straight to avoid Dr. Jerk, I hadn't slept in over 36 hours, and, as badly as I wanted the "traditional" birthing experience, I would have performed my own C-section right then and there to make the pain stop. Seriously, it's a good thing there were no spare scalpels, letter openers, or jagged shoelace tips lying around, because I would have gone rogue in a heartbeat.
My third son, a child who spreads joy in every room he enters the same way he spreads crayon on the walls of said room, was worth every agonizing minute. That being said, ladies, when your husband passes a kidney stone and tells you he can relate to the pain of childbirth, you have my blessing to punch him in the biscuits. Heck, give me your address and I'll do it for you.
- If you have an epidural, you'll still feel your baby come into this world. By the time number four came around, I had given up trying to plan what was going to happen, sat back with a tub of popcorn perched on my enormous belly, and simply waited for the show to start. While I was not pleased when preeclampsia reared its unwelcome head again, at least this time it was a week before my due date, so mild my blood pressure was only marginally elevated. I was surprised when the doctor said he could induce me in lieu of another C-section, but I had long since learned to make like Elsa and let it go when it came to these things. I did, however, make it very clear to the nurse that I wanted an epidural and I wanted it early. Bless that angel's heart, because when the anesthesiologist tried to get another woman in before me, I'm pretty sure she threatened to cut someone if I had to wait one more minute. The second the needle slipped in, I stopped shaking from the pain and was able to rest comfortably, yet when it was time to push, I could feel exactly what was going on. It's a good thing, too, because my beautiful baby girl came out within exactly one minute of the doctor sprinting into the room.
- In the end, only one thing matters. It's a cliche, sure, but every mother just wants a healthy baby in her arms when it's all said and done. Whatever bumps in the road you experience along the journey, there's no way to describe the joy you feel holding your child for the first time. And there's no wrong way to become a mother.