“A lot of people have the idea that if you’re in therapy or if you’re using extra help, then it’s a weakness and it’s not. It’s a strength. It really is. It’s okay to need support and to need help.”
Gretchen is a licensed professional counselor, a marathon runner, and a mom of two boys from Marietta, Georgia. She also has battled severe anxiety throughout her life. As Gretchen shares her unique obstacles from both of her pregnancies and births, her story is sure to be a message of inspiration and hope.
Throughout her birth journeys, Gretchen experienced unexpected stressors like infertility, medical complications, and a pandemic that threatened to let her anxiety take over and win. But Gretchen didn’t let it. She chose to strengthen herself and made a plan. Through bi-weekly therapy, education, and a powerful birth team, Gretchen found the support she needed to stay well. She trusted her intuition, found her courage, and had a victorious VBAC, confirming to herself something she already knew-- that she is stronger than her anxiety.
We get very vulnerable in this episode as we talk about the importance of asking for help and how much we all need extra support, especially in the birth space.
This episode is brought to you by Nourisher. Whether you are in the prenatal, postnatal, or nursing stage of motherhood, Nourisher bars have your nutrition covered without sacrificing flavor. Their delicious flavors include Blueberry Coconut, Chocolate Banana, Maple Walnut, Papaya Turmeric, Spirulina Ginger, and Strawberry Rosehip. Check them out at thevbaclink.com/go/nourisher.
Meagan: Hello, hello. It is Wednesday and you’ve got Julie and Meagan with you today. We’re so excited as usual. I don’t feel like we’re ever not excited to be recording.
Julie: We’re kind of a happy couple of people.
Meagan: We are, and it’s so fun to get to know all these people from all over the world. Today we have our friend, Gretchen. She is going to share her story. She’s actually from Georgia. Is that correct, Gretchen?
Gretchen: Yes. Marietta, which is a suburb of Atlanta.
Meagan: Yes. So, she is going to share her story with us today. I want to tell you a little bit about her. She calls herself an “old mom”. I don’t think she’s old. I do not think she’s old.
Julie: Um, we’re the same age, Gretchen, and I also feel old.
Meagan: No! You guys are not old. But anyway, she’s got two boys. One is two months and one is two years. She’s actually a licensed professional counselor but has, of course, been wanting to be a mom. She’s been taking some time off. We’re excited to hear her story and if you guys have not seen this amazing picture of her, please go to Instagram right now @thevbaclink and check it out. It is so awesome. It gives me the chills. Go check it out and let us know how it makes you feel.
The raw photos after birth or right as birth happens are so amazing. A lot of people are like, “Oh, I was so ugly crying.” And when I say that, that was me. I said that. I was like, “I’m such an ugly crier.” But I love it. I love it because it is so true and raw. It gives you the feeling of what that moment felt like. This is definitely one of those images that I just feel it. But Julie has a review of the week of course so we want to pass the time over to her and then we will get into Gretchen’s awesome story.
Review of the week
Julie: Yeah. We’ve been reading a lot of reviews from Apple Podcasts lately. So I’m going to take it back to Google this week. Most podcast apps don’t allow you to write a review, except for Apple Podcasts. So if you don’t have Apple Podcasts, go and Google The VBAC Link. Our business will pop up right there. You can leave a review on Google for us. That’s pretty awesome because when those reviews come in, it really makes our day. It brings a smile to our face and it helps us push through the screaming children and the hot chocolate all over our counters and the little pieces of cut-up paper on the floor and the parmesan cheese mixed up with cocoa pebbles thrown all over the couch. I mean, hypothetically here.
Meagan: Yeah, that doesn’t happen at my house. Julie’s kids-- I don’t even know.
Julie: I don’t know if they’re smart, if they’re super problem solvers and figure out how to get what they want, or if they just want to live on the edge…
Meagan: Every time you send me pictures I’m like, “Holy cow.” Like, whoa. They’re fun.
Julie: My kids are not well-trained. That’s probably it. Okay, so my oldest, when he was 20 months old, when I was pregnant with my VBAC baby-- he figured out how to move a chair over to the countertop, climb on the chair, climb on the countertop and climb up on top of the fridge to get the Halloween candy down. He wasn’t even two yet. And now my current two-year-old is climbing up on the fridge. Anyways, holy cow, that was a big digression. You guys, it’s been a rough day at my house. Let’s just get on to the warm and fuzzies, shall we?
Alright, this is from Hayley Killpack on Google. She says, “The VBAC link made a world of difference for me in achieving my successful VBAC!! Because of the VBAC Link, I was able to arm myself and feel completely confident in my choices for MY birth. I was able to determine that my hospital midwife was only VBAC tolerant and made the switch around 28 weeks to a VBAC supportive midwife at a birthing center. I listened to every single episode as I prepared for the birth of my second baby after a very traumatic first hospital birth. With the knowledge, I gained, and the support I felt, I was able to achieve my unmedicated VBAC water birth just over one month ago! Thank you Meagan and Julie for supporting, caring, and providing us the information and tools to have a successful VBAC! I now feel like the woman of strength that I am, and knew I always could be!!”
Yes! I love that so much. Thank you, Hayley Killpack, for giving us some warm and fuzzies to get us through the terrorist childhood days. Mine. Meagan’s are obviously angels.
Meagan: Mine are definitely not angels, but man. I don’t have cocoa powder all over my house.
Julie: Yeah, that was awesome. It was a good day. I need to lock the pantry. We have a lock on our pantry and the fridge for these reasons but sometimes we leave them unlocked and it’s like a spidey sense. They just know. They just know when the pantry’s unlocked.
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Meagan: Okay, Ms. Gretchen. We are going to turn the time over to you. We don’t want to take any more of your time rambling because we tend to do that. We just have so much fun. Let’s hear your awesome story.
Julie: Yeah, I’m excited for this one.
Gretchen: Okay. Well first, thank you for having me. I’m really excited to be here. I drove 40 minutes to my chiropractor throughout my pregnancy and I listened to The VBAC Link every time I went every week. This was an instrumental part in my pregnancy. So I’m really excited to be here.
I guess I’ll start with my C-section baby, my first baby, and that journey. My husband and I got married in 2013 and in 2015, we decided we wanted to start a family. I stopped the birth control pill and I didn’t get a period. We were kind of puzzled and scratching our heads as to what was going on. After a thorough workup by several doctors-- I was very into athletics at the time. I was running marathons and I was doing fitness competitions. It was concluded that I had something called hypothalamic amenorrhea, which is basically the absence of a menstrual cycle due to an energy imbalance. You know how you hear that gymnasts don’t have their menstrual cycles or things like that?
Meagan: Runners, gymnasts, yep.
Gretchen: Right, yep. So, to make a long story short, it was a two-year process to get me to respond to an ovulation induction medication. It also involved the opposite of what you hear from most modern medical advice, which is to lose weight and move more. My treatment was to move less and gain weight which was very interesting and kind of an odd place to be when you’re trying to conceive. You know, you always think, “The more active I am, the healthier I am.” In my case, that was not true.
My hormones were absolutely a wreck. I had post-menopausal estrogen levels. It was really unhealthy, but I had no clue because I was on the pill for so long.
We took a good two year period to get my body in a healthy place and responding to an ovulation induction medication. I should also mention, we had also tried an injectable cycle with a reproductive endocrinologist, but it became apparent that until I was really healthy, I wasn’t going to respond to medication and I really wanted to get well before I was pregnant anyway.
That was a really, really painful time. The biggest piece of that that I really want to touch on was, I’ve always battled anxiety and I was always on an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) to manage that anxiety. I decided to stop that when I decided to get pregnant. That was a really challenging time because I didn’t have the therapeutic benefit of medication which had always helped me. Then I had the infertility. So it was a really challenging two years.
This was kind of a “Hail Mary” pass to try this medicine. On the second cycle, I peed on that stick and there were two lines. We just couldn’t believe it. We were over the moon, thrilled. That was 2017 when we got pregnant.
Everything was fine with that pregnancy. It was pretty uneventful up until our anatomy scan. At our anatomy scan, it was discovered that my son had a kidney abnormality. If you can imagine going from two years of infertility to everything being fine, to then this gut punch at your anatomy scan that something is wrong. It was really, really scary and really hard.
We were referred to the high-risk doctor. And my son is fine. So, looking back now, I’m grateful for the care that I got, but it’s terrifying. You’re a first-time mom. Pregnancy is scary in and of itself. I’m anxious as all get-out and now I have this baby with a problem that I don’t know anything about. It was a really hard pregnancy.
I think I had a total of about nine ultrasounds, which, that’s a lot of ultrasounds. It was, like, hyper-monitoring of this baby. So every time I would go to the doctor, my husband would come to the appointments. It was like, on pins and needles, “Is he okay?” And looking back, I probably was overly concerned, but I also had no basis of reference. It was just really scary. The whole pregnancy was very stressful.
I got to 39 weeks on the button and my water broke at home. You always imagine your water breaking like the movies. For me, it was not like that. It was a little trickle. I called the OB and they said, “Well, go to the hospital.” I was having no contractions. I felt nothing.
I should mention, I was supposed to be induced three days later. Due to his kidney, they wanted to induce me. Looking back now, I wish I wouldn’t have agreed to that, but it didn’t matter because my water broke at 39 anyway. I get into triage and they check me in. It was kind of like everything that could have gone wrong went wrong which led to the C-section.
I had a hospitalist come in and check me. I think I was dilated to a 2. But you know the doctors that are just cold? I don’t even think the man introduced himself before he was giving me a cervical exam.
Meagan: Just no bedside manner?
Gretchen: None. And I was so scared. I just was so scared anyway. I was so hyper-vigilant. I had no clue what was going on. It was really scary.
So I get in there and I’m not dilated but they got me on the monitor. Next thing I know, I started to feel lightheaded. I told my husband, I said, “Go get the nurse.” And he said, “Well, I don’t know where she went.” I said, “Go find her.” I started seeing stars. My blood pressure tanked. I had a vasovagal syncope. I think it was a combination of the anxiety, the situation, the broken water because I knew enough to know you’re kind of on a clock when your water breaks. I felt like everyone was really just over-monitoring me anyway, which made me more stressed, which was the last thing I needed.
My blood pressure got really low and so the monitors went off. Baby’s heart rate got down to 60 or 70, I can’t remember, but enough that the monitors were really going off. Next thing I know, there’s like, four nurses in the room and they’re rolling me to get blood flow back to the placenta. It was really alarming.
It happened again. My OB was paged so she was able to come in. She said, “What do you want to do? Do you want to do a C-section or do you want to try and labor?”
At that point, I wasn’t really thinking clearly because I had just had these two episodes of syncope. My dad’s a retired physician and I called him. I was in Florida at the time and he was in California so it was 4:00 a.m. for him. I called and said, “What do I do?” He said, “Get that baby out.”
I don’t regret that decision because my son’s heart rate was very alarming. I think with everything that had gone on, it was the right decision to have the C-section. But when he was delivered, I couldn’t hold him. There was no skin-to-skin. He was taken right away. It was the most helpless feeling being on that table. It was nothing I had imagined. I was thrilled he was born but I felt really sad and detached in that moment. It was just not the birth I had always envisioned.
He’s amazing. I have a wonderful, beautiful two-year-old little boy. But it was a really hard two years to get pregnant. It was a really hard nine months being pregnant and it was a really hard delivery.
That being said, we knew we wanted to have kids kind of close together. The good news was, my menstrual cycle returned after I weaned him which was really cool because my body had finally healed. I had this baby and I was menstruating normally. It was a really great feeling. But my cycles were still irregular, so I used ovulation induction medicine to conceive my VBAC baby but for a different reason. Just because my husband travels and when you’re trying to get pregnant with a partner who’s not here, it’s hard to tag things.
We had moved to Atlanta. We moved from Tampa, Florida to Atlanta when my son was right around a year. We decided to start trying when he was 13 or 14 months and it took us two cycles. It was pretty quick. Again, in my head, it would take longer because we had such trouble the first time. I’m like, “Oh, we’ll have a good three-year gap.” It wasn’t. It was like, right away.
And so, we got pregnant. It was really exciting. It was, again, pretty uneventful. But I want to mention too, that I did a lot of work on my anxiety and my birth trauma prior to getting pregnant. I worked with a therapist weekly. Being a clinician myself, I recognize the importance of doing that. I was really diligent about trying to heal before getting pregnant again. I knew when I got pregnant again that I wanted to try to have a vaginal birth, but I was concerned my anxiety would hold me back from that just because it had been such a hindrance on things in the past.
I got pregnant and I had found a good OB the summer before we conceived. I liked her a lot. I felt like she listened to me. I felt a lot more heard than I ever had at the Florida practice. She was young and I felt she was pretty up to date on things. She was very open to VBAC which surprised me, especially from hearing all of your podcasts about Georgia providers. She was very open to it. She’s like, “Of course,” which really shocked me.
Julie: I wonder if you had the same one as Grace Allen. Because I’ve only ever heard of one VBAC supportive provider in Atlanta.
Meagan: Me too.
Gretchen: Not only was she supportive, but she was encouraging because there had been times I had come in and I’m like, “I don’t know if I want to do this.” And she goes, “No. You’re going to see what your body can do.” She was super encouraging. She was laid back, but in a good way if that makes sense. She was laid back to the point that it made me laid back which helped me not be so terrified all of the time.
She even said she goes, “Gretchen, when I was in residency, we had women who had two C-sections VBACing. You’re fine.” She was really, so supportive. It was amazing. So, she had put that right away in my chart when I came in that I wanted to VBAC, which I felt really great about because I felt like I really had a good person supporting me.
I had a pretty uneventful pregnancy up until the pandemic which hit. I’m like, “Really? The first baby, I had this kidney issue and now there’s a pandemic.” But I’m like, “I’ll have a story to tell these boys one day.”
Meagan: If you only knew the times, the things that were happening.
Gretchen: Right. I remember I went to see my parents in California in February. I remember this coronavirus being all over China in February and thinking, “Oh, well it’s over in China. We’ll be okay.” Then I get home and it was everywhere. It was really alarming.
I was working with my therapist and at that time, they didn’t have any data on COVID in pregnant women. The data that they did have was very limited. It was only that one China study. I don’t know if you remember back in the spring. It was on, I think, 19 women in China and they had all had C-sections. So it was a really limited amount of data. My therapist, I was still seeing via telehealth from Florida and he was really up to date. He was continuing to provide me research on the data and really trying to put my mind at ease.
But when COVID hit, I increased my therapy to about twice a week which I think also really helped. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to talk about this was, pregnancy makes my anxiety heightened anyway and then you add a pandemic on top of it. It was a lot of work to manage it. And it is work. Because it is a condition I couldn’t use therapeutic medication for. So I had to do extra talk therapy to keep myself healthy. I did that to the best of my ability.
But it was really alarming and it was really scary because it was so unknown. So we did grocery pickup. We didn’t really go anywhere. My husband worked from home which was lucky we could do that but it was a challenging time because it was just so unknown. At that point, I don’t know if you remember too where I didn’t know if I would have to give birth alone, which, the thought of that was daunting because at that time they were pulling partners out of delivery rooms. Do you remember that back in, I think it was March when it started?
Meagan: Yep. April in New York and things like that.
Gretchen: I told my husband, I said, “What do we do if I’m by myself?” And he just said, “One foot in front of the other. We’ll figure it out.”
I did know from the beginning that I did not feel comfortable with a home birth. Not because I didn’t think I could do it but I had thought I was too anxious and for me, I wanted fetal monitoring. I know some women, the monitor makes them feel worse and for me, I said, “If I have any priority to VBAC, I want a monitor,” because it made me feel more secure.
So I said that a hospital setting, for me, was going to be part of my birth plan. I said, “Well, we’ll just keep going and hope for the best.” I had had a friend that had delivered in April and she had a really good experience at the hospital I had delivered at. At that point, her husband was there and I don’t even think she had to wear a mask. So I was feeling positive about the experience that I could have there because I had heard nothing but good things about this hospital.
Everything was moving along smoothly. Then I talked to a friend of mine from Tampa who was a NICU nurse. I think I was maybe 35 weeks at this point. She had told me how she elected for-- her first baby was breech. She had elected for a repeat C-section and she told me some scary things about uterine rupture and I understand why. It’s her experience but it really scared me. I felt like I should just back out and I should have a C-section because there’s no way I could do this. Not because I didn’t think my body could do it, but because I thought my anxiety would hold me back.
I reached out to Julie and she really helped me through that. I realized it was really that mental hurdle of getting over that because I was just scouring the internet on uterine rupture. Then I listened to your podcast on statistics of uterine rupture which really helped putting it into perspective. I think it was you, Meagan, that gave all the statistics about it, right? And looking at how you’re more likely to date a millionaire than have a rupture. Is that what the statistic was?
Meagan: That’s totally Julie. I probably did read it but that was totally Julie who put that together.
Gretchen: Okay. Julie, maybe you had read it.
Meagan: She is the statistic guru.
Gretchen: Yeah. So that really helped put in perspective what are my true risks. Then also looking at what are the risks of a Cesarean because no one had ever told me the risks of Cesarean. In fact, every doctor I had talked to prior to my current provider...
Meagan: ...only probably talked about the risk of VBAC.
Gretchen: Well they made Cesarean seem really safe. No one had ever told me that it may not be.
Julie: Yes. Oh my gosh, yes. They make Cesareans seem really safe. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it said that way before. But no, that’s what they do. They do.
Gretchen: Yeah. It was baffling to me. Once I got closer to the time of my delivery, I felt this little tug-of-war in my head. Up until that third trimester I was like, “I’m going to VBAC. This is going to be great.” As soon as that third trimester hit, the anxiety really kicked in. Every other day I felt like I was going back and forth.
My therapist was really advocating for me to VBAC. He put it in perspective. He knew how many children I wanted. He said, “This is your chance. If you want to do this, this is the time to do it,” and really put it in perspective for me which was so helpful. And then I talked to Julie which was so helpful. So it was like I continued to arm myself with people and information to help encourage me to keep going.
I worked with my husband to come up with a plan of where our two-year-old was going to go when we delivered because our original plan was to have my parents come be with us but they could no longer come because my parents are high risk and couldn’t travel. My mother-in-law ended up getting COVID tested and driving from Pennsylvania to Georgia in one day to come take care of my two-year-old.
Julie: Aw, bless her heart.
Gretchen: Yeah, it was pretty wonderful because of everything going on. She was able to come. She kind of stayed the last half of July. I was due July 20th. She came the 15th through the 1st and figured I’d deliver at some point in that time frame.
So, she came and I honestly thought that I would go into labor before 39 just because I did with my son and I had heard that second babies came sooner, which is not true by the way as I’m sure you guys know.
Julie: I feel you on that one.
Gretchen: I think I was 39 and 5. My doctor had offered to strip my membranes early, I think at 38 and I said no. Then when I went in at 39 I was dilated to a 3. I think it was a 2 or 3. I can’t remember. At that point, I was okay with it. You know when you’re just so done being pregnant? I didn’t feel good. I was exhausted. It was so much harder than the first time because I was chasing my two-year-old around. I said that it was fine. I was okay with that. I know that’s a controversial intervention but I felt comfortable with her and I said, “That’s fine.”
So she stripped my membranes on Friday. I came back on Monday and on Monday I was dilated to a 4. And I think then she stripped me and I was a 5 when I left there. Or something like that, which was pretty good. I was walking around at a 3 or a 4 for a few weeks, which I was pretty happy with.
On Wednesday morning, I woke up-- I never had true contractions with my son, so I asked my doctor, “Will I know what these feel like? Will I know it’s a contraction?” She said, “Don’t worry. You won’t miss it. You’ll know.” So I woke up and I knew I was having contractions. But they were very irregular. This was like at 5 in the morning. Then they would go away and come back. I thought I was having prodromal labor because they were so sporadic.
My mother-in-law and I went for a two-mile walk in the morning. My husband had to go down to his office. So he wasn’t around and we walked. At that point, I started keeping track of them because they were becoming regular. I say regular and I mean every 15 minutes, but they were consistently every 15 minutes. Then I’d have one maybe 20 minutes and then it would bounce back to 15, but they were pretty even. I still thought, “Okay, well they’re even,” but they didn’t really hurt. I was fine and I didn’t think anything of it really.
But then very quickly, things changed. So by 3 or 4:00 p.m., they were about 8 minutes apart pretty consistently. By 5:00 p.m., we were eating dinner and they were 7 minutes apart. We have a 40-minute drive to the hospital. So, 7 minutes apart. I think as dinner was wrapping up, they were about 5 minutes apart. My mother-in-law said, “You should probably at least call your doctor.” I was like, “No, I’m fine. It’s fine,” because I wanted to stay at home as long as possible and I didn’t want intervention. I wanted to avoid it as long as I could.
Finally, she convinced me. So I called the on-call midwife for my doctor. She told me I was in early, active labor but she said to just come in because the hospital was very busy. I took a shower. My husband was a little more anxious than I was to get in, but I’m taking my sweet time and I’m really having to breathe through them. Now they’re getting a little more intense. I’m thinking that this was probably a good idea to head in.
My mother-in-law was really cute. She put a towel down in the car thinking my water was going to break. I was not concerned about that at all but she was very thoughtful to put a towel down on my seat.
We drove into the hospital. I delivered at the biggest hospital in the country for labor and delivery. They call it “The Baby Factory” because there’s a whole building dedicated to labor and delivery.
Julie: That’s intense.
Gretchen: Yeah. It’s humongous. It was a lot. So I get in and I see, literally, nine other women in this waiting room in labor. And I’m like, “Okay,” and I’m a little overwhelmed with that. But I check in and I heard the triage woman make a comment about being out of beds. I thought she meant after me they would be out of beds. I didn’t think she meant they were currently out of beds.
So I go back to the waiting room and everyone’s in masks. They’re disinfecting everything. I don’t even love being in hospitals, well really at all, but especially in the pandemic. It’s alarming because there’s germs and I didn’t want to be there, but this baby was coming. It was about 8:00 p.m. at that point. I’m thinking, “Oh, I’ll get into my room quickly.”
Well, 9:00 rolls around, and now these contractions are-- I’m uncomfortable. I’m leaning against this pillar in this waiting room breathing through them and I told my husband, I go, “I’ve got to get in there. What’s going on?” The administration woman that was checking me in, I went up and asked her, “What’s going on?” She goes, “We just don’t have any beds.” And I said, “What do you mean you don’t have any beds? I have to have this baby.”
I ended up calling this midwife back and she said, “Hang out. As soon as a bed opens, we’ll get you in a room.” A nurse came out and she said, “Are you the woman that had the previous C-section?” I said, “Yeah.” They were kind of jumping me to the front of the line because I think in their mind I took priority over previous vaginal births which I thought was nice.
Meagan: That’s interesting. Probably because they wanted you on a monitor?
Julie: Yeah, that’s what I’m thinking.
Meagan: Were you not on a monitor in triage, though?
Gretchen: No, I was literally in a waiting room. So I get into a room and I get on a monitor. I remember feeling really panicky at this point and just scared. I could feel the anxiety creeping back in. This nurse was so wonderful. She came up to me and she put her hand on my wrist and she said, “You’re going to be okay. I’m watching your baby and you’ve got to let us take care of you.” And I just felt like, “Okay. I’m going to be okay. These nurses care.” It felt so different than the first time. I really felt like it was going to be okay.
I knew I wanted an epidural because I was concerned about having the syncope again which I knew would lead me to C-section again. So for me, I figured if I got the epidural, I wouldn’t have the syncope. The midwife came in and asked me when I wanted it and she said, “If you wait too long, you might not get it.” So I said, “Okay.”
I’m glad I agreed when I did because it took the anesthesiologist another hour or so to even get to me. I guess-- let me back up. I got into my room at 11:00 p.m. and I got my epidural around 2:00 a.m. At that point, I was really glad for it because I was in a lot of pain. I couldn’t really rest and they were pretty consistently 3 minutes apart-- contractions, at that point.
The epidural was really nice. I didn’t want so much numbness that I couldn’t feel anything and the anesthesiologist was really receptive to that. I got just enough to not feel pain, but I could still feel pressure if that makes sense, which was nice that I wasn’t so numb. It wasn’t anything like a spinal which was great.
I ended up taking a little bit of a rest. I couldn’t sleep, but I did rest. At that point, when I had checked in, I was dilated to a 6. They came back and checked me around 4:30 in the morning. The midwife on call checked me and she said I was at a 7. She said, “I have other news for you. This baby is sunny-side up.”
My heart just sank because I knew-- not that you can’t deliver sunny-side up-- but I knew it made things a little bit more challenging. But she told me, “Don’t be discouraged. Sometimes babies flip at the last minute. It’s okay.” But I was pretty discouraged at that point and I just felt like I was destined for C-section again. My husband said, “No, don’t think like that. Just relax and hope that he flips.”
They put me on a peanut ball and they switched me side to side-- it was between my legs-- every 30 to 40 minutes. But I was just laying there praying that he flipped. She had also offered to break my water at 7 centimeters and it didn’t feel right to me. You know that feeling where they’re trying to start pushing interventions? I started to get that vibe a little bit.
I dug my heels in. I was nice but I kind of didn’t say anything. I just said, “I’m not really comfortable with that.” She goes, “Okay, that’s fine. We’ll wait.” I was glad I did that because I think what had happened was when they gave me the epidural, the monitor fell off my belly, so she thought contractions had stopped. In reality, it just didn’t pick them up.
When they put the monitor back on, there they were again. I was glad I trusted myself because it was really cool to see my body do what it knew to do without needing to “speed up my labor” which is what she was trying to do.
Julie: That’s awesome. Good for you.
Gretchen: So I said, “No.” I didn’t want to do that. She came back in, I think it was right before shift change, right before 7:00. She checked me again and I was at an 8 and at this point, she said-- at that point, I was okay. I don’t know why. I just went with my gut. She said, “Can I break your water?” And I said, “Yeah that’s fine.” She did and everything still kept moving along okay.
I continued to take a little bit of a rest. At 9:30, next thing I knew, I felt the urge to go to the bathroom. I felt the urge to poop. I told my husband, I said, “Something’s happening.” At this point, I went from feeling nothing to feeling everything very quickly. I did not expect this with an epidural. I went from feeling peaceful, bliss, resting to, “Something majorly is happening. This baby is coming.”
I said, “You need to go get somebody,” because they had all left the room. I hadn’t had nurses in there really since that last 7:00 time. He goes, “Well, no one’s out there.” I go, “You’ve got to find somebody. This baby’s coming. Something’s happening.”
He went out and this new midwife had come in. She was really, really nice. I liked her a lot. She had great bedside manner. She checked me. This is probably 9:30-9:40 and she said, “You’re at a 9.5.” And I said, “Okay.” She said, “Let’s try some practice pushes. I want to see how your cervix moves around his head.” I said, “Okay.” She goes, “Oh, this is moving nicely and by the way, he flipped.” I was thrilled. I was so happy he had turned on his own.
She said, “I’m going to get the room set up but I have to go deliver another baby. I’ll be right back.” I go, “What do you mean? You’re leaving? You can’t leave!” She goes, “Hang on. I’ll be right back.”
She literally left the room. I’m laying there feeling like this baby’s coming out. It was really stressful when she said, “Just hold on.” I go, “Well, how do you ‘hold on’?” But she left and she popped back in, probably about 20 minutes later which was a very long 20 minutes when I was feeling everything at this point.
Now I was almost overwhelmed with the pain. It wasn’t the pain itself, it was that it went from 0 to 100 so fast.
Gretchen: Yes. It was so overwhelming. I asked for more epidural and they said, “We can get it but it’s probably too late,” because I was too far along and where it was in my back. They just said, “This is what this is.” You know when you get the wind knocked out of you? That was the kind of pain because it went from peaceful to excruciating.
The midwife asked my husband, “How involved do you want to be? Do you want to be at her head or at her feet?” He said, “A little bit of both.” She said, “Well do you want to see your son’s head?” because he was descending. My husband said, “His head’s right there. I can see it.”
Every contraction I had a nurse up by my head. I had a nurse down by my feet and I had the midwife. They were coaching me through. They were so compassionate and they were so kind. I was in the most pain I’ve ever been in in my life and I didn’t think I could do it. It was so unbelievably painful. This nurse put her hand on me and she said, “I’ve done two of these without an epidural. You can do this. You can do this.”
I was screaming. I don’t even know what came out of my mouth. It was probably a roar. It was so painful. The nurse got me a mirror and the next thing I knew, I saw his head. And so I just, you know, you just dig down deep and do what you have to do.
Julie: Yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes.
Gretchen: I pushed for 25 minutes and the next thing I knew, he was out. I was in disbelief that he came out that quickly. It actually seemed quicker than 25 minutes, but he was out and on my chest and it was this moment of bliss. Like, this happened. He was out and I was just sobbing. You know what every woman says when they VBAC, “I did it, I did it, I did it!”
It was the best moment. Pushing was really hard because I had the mask on and you can’t breathe as well with a mask. My husband would put it down over my mouth to give me ice chips between each contraction because I was so thirsty, so exhausted, and sweating. It’s a lot harder when you can’t breathe freely.
I had a 2nd-degree tear. Which, that was no walk in the park either. I knew that this would be an easier recovery than a C-section, or I had hoped it would be, but that was really painful. I think I tore as much as I did because I had the fetal ejection reflex. He didn’t come out head, then shoulders. He came out in one contraction. My husband said that the midwife wasn’t ready for him with how fast he flew out. He was 8lb, 3oz. You know, that’s not small. My first son was 7, 4. I asked her how many stitches I needed and she said, “I’m not counting,” which, that was enough said. I said, “Okay, great.”
But it was so worth it. It was a much better recovery than my C-section. I could lift my toddler right away and I could play with him and get down on the floor and do all the things that I probably would not have been able to do with a C-section.
I think the biggest part of all of this was I trusted my gut. I found a really supportive provider and I managed this anxiety condition that I’ve had forever with circumstances that were less than ideal. This isn’t something I want to toot my own horn about, but I was really proud of myself. It was a really challenging time. It was a challenging pregnancy. It was stressful. A VBAC is, in my opinion, a little bit more stressful route than if you haven’t had a previous C-section.
To feel accomplished-- I set my mind to do this and I was able to succeed was really rewarding and empowering. I had the skin-to-skin time with him. It was such a healing moment and I really feel so happy and empowered that it was able to work out the way that it did.
Yeah, that’s pretty much it. I couldn’t have done it without this podcast, without the information that you guys provided because it was the best moment of my life. It was wonderful.
Julie: You deserve to toot your own horn, girl. Toot that horn! Everyone who has a baby no matter what way-- you deserve it. Because it is a piece of work getting a baby here.
Gretchen: Yeah. It was hard.
Meagan: Yeah, well I was just going to say, we’re so grateful that all of the stories have been helping you and that along the way you kept following what you needed to do and it led you to where you are today.
Julie: Yeah. I love that you talked about, “I don’t know why I decided to do this then, but I did and it worked.” That’s your intuition. I think that generally, us moms don’t give ourselves enough credit for the things that we do. Like, “I don’t know why I decided to do that,” but no, it’s because you’re a dang good mom. That’s why you decided to do it.
Julie: It doesn’t matter how you birth. It doesn’t matter what you do. But if you’re worried about it, then that makes you a good mom. There’s enough pressure on us to do things a certain way, especially like, we’re going for a VBAC, rigm8 u;up
M ht? So we’re generally going against the grain. You’re right. There is way more anxiety and there’s so much pressure on us.
At least for me, I can totally relate because I have anxiety 100%. I put way more pressure on myself to do things than anybody ever expects of me. I’m like, “I have to do this.” Oh my gosh, I can’t even imagine.
This is a really big tangent, but I have a friend, it was a guy friend. He met a girl who didn’t like that I was his best friend. He got engaged to her. That was the end of our relationship because she thought we hugged for too long or something. This happened, like, 10 years ago and I’m still not over it because I lost my friend.
Anyways, I was married. We were all over there for dinner one night and I was newly pregnant. She had just had a baby. I was talking about my birth plans because this was my first baby. I was still going to have a hypnobirth and go unmedicated. I had all these plans, right? She was like, “Good luck trying to go unmedicated because I tried with this guy and I just could not take it.” I was like if there’s anything that would have ever pushed me to make it unmedicated, it was that girl who stole my best friend from me telling me that I couldn’t do it. I was like, well, now I’m extra motivated to do it. But I had a C-section, so that gave me a nice slice of humble pie in that regard.
As far as putting pressure and stuff on yourselves, it’s a big deal. Then you tell people your plans and then you don’t want to look like a turd if you don’t-- you know what I mean. I probably don’t even have to explain. If you have anxiety, you’re probably like, “Yep,” nodding your head. You feel like you have to meet this expectation you have set for yourself or else everybody else will think you’re awful.
Gretchen: Yep. But I think also, recognizing. One of the things that really helped was knowing that I have this anxiety disorder. I’ve had it forever and that’s okay. What tools do I need to help manage it throughout this pregnancy? And knowing that if I need therapy twice a week, that’s okay. If I need to talk to my OB and ask the same question three times, that’s okay too. It’s okay to reach out for help.
A lot of people have the idea that if you’re in therapy or if you’re using extra help then it’s a weakness and it’s not. It’s a strength. It really is. It’s okay to need support and to need help. That’s what I wanted to really transmit through my story is that anxiety is like any other medical condition. It’s the way your brain’s wired and it’s okay.
Pregnancy is hard enough without that and it’s okay to need extra help. I think having the OB that I found, although she didn’t deliver me, the midwives that worked with her-- they were all so VBAC friendly. I could not have had the birth I had without that group of women because they were so supportive of my desires.
It was funny because she called my cell phone on the morning I delivered him. I had an appointment in her office and she called me. I had called to cancel it when I was in labor. She called me and I go, “He’s here!” She goes, “Congratulations.” She was so happy for me. It was really neat to talk to her when he was a half an hour old, which was really cool.
Julie: Aw, that’s awesome. I agree with everything you said there. I have Hashimoto’s. When my Hashimoto’s flares up, I just don’t feel good. My anxiety gets worse when I have a flare-up. But then pregnancy puts me into a remission of sorts because pregnancy suppresses your immune system. Autoimmune diseases are when your immune system is attacking your body and if your immune system is suppressed, it’s kind of like a win-win. You get a baby and you don’t have to have Hashimoto’s for nine months essentially unless you’re the unfortunate one where your entire pregnancy is a flare-up.
During my pregnancies, I would actually feel really good. I felt like I had less anxiety because I wasn’t having these Hashimoto’s attacks. Everything was golden except for my third pregnancy, which was a surprise, and I was really really just ticked off that I was pregnant. I was mad. And I know that some women try forever to get pregnant and it doesn’t work. How could I feel mad about being pregnant? But I was mad.
I was in the middle of postpartum depression. I was struggling with two kids and why would this happen that I would be pregnant again? I struggled big-time during that pregnancy. One of the darkest moments of my life was during that pregnancy. It was in that moment, well it wasn’t in that moment but it was maybe a couple weeks after that, that I realized that this wasn’t normal, that I needed some help, and that if I didn’t, I was going to suffer greatly and so were my children.
I went to my provider and I got on an antidepressant, sertraline. SSRIs are generally considered safe during pregnancy. I call it Vitamin Z because the brand name is Zoloft. Still on it four years later because hot chocolate and cocoa powder all over my freaking kitchen right now.
But it is a normal thing. It’s okay to have that, especially right now. Oh my gosh, being pregnant during a pandemic. We want to end the stigma. A friend of mine that’s pretty dear to my heart just mentioned in passing that she had an appointment with a therapist. I was so excited inside because I have been hoping that she would go see somebody for a long time because she has a pretty complicated life. I was like, “Yes! I’m so excited that you’re finally doing this.” But I didn’t want to say it out loud because I didn’t want to make it weird or awkward. You know what I mean? Again, my anxiety-- overthinking it, right?
When you realize that moment and the value that it’s going to bring into your life, it’s a really, really big deal. We actually had a sponsor on our podcast, let’s see, a few weeks ago, months ago, maybe? It’s on our resources page on thevbaclink.com/resources. You can find a link there to Better Help. It’s online counseling. You can get connected to a counselor in less than 24 hours. You fill out this questionnaire and they get to know everything about you and match you to a counselor that fits your needs and what’s going on in your life exactly.
They’re amazing. If you use promo code VBAC, you get 10% off your first month. They’re really reasonably priced. They even have financial aid if you qualify for help paying for that therapy and counseling. Betterhelp.com, promo code VBAC. I think it just helps make it more comfortable. You can text them. You can email them anytime. It’s not like you have to go drive across town for an hour to see your therapist or whatever. So, plug-in for Better Help and all the good that they are doing for really anybody, not just pregnant people.
A lot of times we think of anxiety and mood disorders and stuff like that for postpartum. It’s postpartum when you feel that, right? Postpartum depression. Postpartum OCD. Postpartum anxiety. We don’t talk enough about that, but we don’t talk near enough about what happens when you’re-- how about when you’re pregnant? I think there’s an even bigger stigma surrounding that.
Meagan: I had a guest blogger for my doula page, not The VBAC Link, but Tiny Blessings and she wrote all about that. Actually, we should link in this as well.
Julie: Yeah, link your blog.
Meagan: She’s very vulnerable, like very vulnerable.
Julie: I need to go read it.
Meagan: But it’s amazing. It’s amazing what she talks about and what can happen like you said. It happens perinatal. It happens during the perinatal time as well.
Julie: Yeah. Hormones are crazy.
Gretchen: For me, it’s kind of like the opposite of your Hashimoto’s. Mine gets very inflamed when I’m pregnant. It tends to come down postpartum, although I was very aware of postpartum potential to be more problematic, but I’ve done pretty well. Again, I still maintain the therapy and all the things I need to do to stay well.
One thing I forgot to mention was I wanted to hire a doula and I met with a doula the week before COVID hit. Then COVID hit and I wasn’t allowed to have the doula in the hospital. The doula and I did stay in touch a little bit, but I wasn’t able to have her. It all worked out how it was supposed to, but I felt bad because I really would have loved to work with her.
Julie: Ugh, we’ve been feeling it too over here. Man, that’s crazy.
Yeah, so if you’re struggling right now, or ever, or have been, or know somebody who is, go check out thevbaclink.com/resources. Get connected to Better Help and go read Meagan’s blog on her doula business page, tinyblessingsdoulaservices.com. She has a blog section there. Because sometimes it just feels good to know that you’re not alone.
Meagan, do you want to wrap it up with the questions?
Meagan: Yeah. Sorry, can you hear my kids splashing in the bathtub?
Julie: Oh my gosh, I thought it was mine. It’s bedtime right here and my husband’s like, “I’m sorry, but it’s going to be a little loud for a minute.”
Meagan: Yeah, sorry. Okay, so we have the questions at the end and question number one is:
What is a secret lesson or something no one really talks about that you wish you would have known ahead of time when preparing for birth?
Gretchen: Gosh, I don’t remember what I wrote.
Meagan: Do you want me to read it?
Gretchen: Yes. Why don’t you read what I wrote and then I will expound on it.
Meagan: You said, “Advocating for yourself is imperative.” Which is funny. We actually just did-- today actually. We just did a whole episode on advocating for yourself and for your clients. It says, “When it comes to birth, it’s important that a mother feels educated and empowered to make decisions that are going to impact her and her baby. My VBAC experience was so much better than my C-section because I felt so prepared for all the possible scenarios.”
Gretchen: Yeah, so I think that in my mind going in, I had a plan for a successful VBAC and I also had a plan for if that didn’t work out and if I had to have a C-section, that was okay too. But also, advocating for every decision along the way to make that VBAC happen. Like the example of wanting to break my water at 7 centimeters. It was okay that I said no. I’m allowed to say no. I don’t have to do that if I don’t want to.
We often think hospital policies are laws. I really did. I didn’t realize you could say no. And it was so nice to say, “I don’t want to do that.” I don’t want an epidural and feel nothing. I was allowed to ask for what I wanted. In my opinion, it’s so important to do that. Otherwise for me, with my C-section, I felt like a victim of the system. Not that anyone was malicious, but it wasn’t a good experience.
Meagan: Right. It is so important to know that you really do not have to just say yes and submit to everything that is being offered or suggested.
The next question was:
What is your best tip for someone preparing for a VBAC?
Gretchen: I think I said, and I hope this is correct what I wrote-- really it’s education. Knowing what’s safe and how to achieve that. And also, really, really great providers. A provider that is on your team, not just VBAC tolerant but VBAC supportive. And then support all around you because I think without the team that I had, I would not have been successful. My husband is such a non-anxious person. He really is able to just support me and push me in that direction without being overwhelming. But he told me, he’s like, “You can do this.”
Meagan: Yeah, that’s exactly what you said. “Educate yourself. Arm yourself with facts. Knowledge is power. And, most importantly, having supportive people around you-- family, friends, and providers.”
I love it. Thank you. Thank you, thank you. And yes. Your story is going to be as inspiring and amazing. I don’t know-- I was going to ask you if you felt comfortable dropping your provider’s name because there are a lot of people in your area that don’t know supportive providers. But if not, it’s okay.
Gretchen: It’s Dr. Rachel Paccione at Comprehensive Women’s OB/GYN. I saw her at the Dunwoody location but she also has an office in Duluth. She’s wonderful. I don’t know if I found a diamond in the rough because she was the only doctor I had when I moved here. I just found her online and then she was off the bat VBAC supportive, so I was under the impression that a lot of Georgia doctors were. Then I listened to your podcast and I’m like, “Oh. Maybe I got lucky.”
Would you like to be a guest on the podcast? Head over to thevbaclink.com/share and submit your story. For all things VBAC, including online and in-person VBAC classes, The VBAC Link blog, and Julie and Meagan’s bios, head over to thevbaclink.com. Congratulations on starting your journey of learning and discovery with The VBAC Link.