With her first birth, Alison pushed for five hours. She was nauseous, dehydrated, and exhausted. Her doctors were adamant that she would not be able to birth her baby vaginally. Alison trusted their medical advice and went for a Cesarean.
An analyst by trade, Alison couldn’t stop analyzing every detail of that birth. She wished she had known more. She wished she had asked more questions.
When she became pregnant again, Alison knew much more, but she still had concerns and doubts. But she kept moving forward, learning and trusting her intuition.
Her second birth was fast, furious, and unique in its own way. Ultimately, she did what she knew her body was able to do.
Did you know that you have rights in the birth space? And that as scary as it sometimes feels, we have the right to ask questions?
We talk about what those rights are, what questions to ask, and how to help you feel more in control of your birth environment.
This episode is sponsored by our signature course, How to VBAC: The Ultimate Preparation Course for Parents. It is the most comprehensive VBAC preparation course in the world, perfectly packaged in an online, self-paced, video course. Together, Meagan and Julie have helped over 800 parents get the birth that they wanted, and we are ready to help you too. Head over to thevbaclink.com to find out more and sign up today.
Julie: Good morning, Women of Strength. We are so excited today to have our friend Alison with us. Alison is from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I’ve been to Philadelphia, actually. But every time I hear the word “Philadelphia,” I don’t know. I want to see if I’m the only one. Whenever I hear the word “Philadelphia,” I want to bust out The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air song. “West Philadelphia born and raised, on the playground was where I spent most of my days, chillin’ out maxin’, relaxin’ all cool…” Right? Am I the only one?
Alison: In case you were wondering, I am actually located in West Philadelphia. I should have specified.
Julie: Fresh Prince. We’ll call you Fresh Princess Alison Grant. But seriously, now that song is going to be stuck in your head all day. You’re welcome. Let me know if you bust out singing that song every time you hear “Philadelphia” or if it’s just me. I might be the weird one.
Alright. So, Alison here from Philadelphia. She’s a mom of two. She works as an analyst, which is probably why she has analyzed everything about her births. Girl, I can totally relate to that. I am super analytical, as well. She has a lot of data around her birth like she can tell you the exact times certain things happened because she went back and looked at all of her phone records, texts, etc. and everything.
That’s really funny because I do that while I’m at births too. As a doula, I text my husband when certain things happen and that helps two things: First of all, I get timestamps, so I can make a timeline of the birth record for everybody. But also, it helps keep my husband updated so that he knows where we are at in the labor process, so he can plan his life taking care of children while I am taking care of a mom having a child.
Alright. Let’s see. We are going to talk about advocating for yourself and standing up for yourself after Alison shares her story with us. But before we do that, I’m going to read the Review of the Week because Meagan is letting a countertop guy into her house right now because we are moms, wives, doulas; we are doing kitchens, buying houses, all sorts of things right now. Life is a little bit crazy. So, I’m going to go ahead and read a review for us, and Meagan will hop on as soon as she is available.
Review of the Week
Julie: The review that I’m going to read is from erind39, and this one’s from Apple Podcasts. The title is “Essential Resource for any Woman Hoping for a VBAC.”
“I started listening to this podcast during my first trimester, in the very beginning phases of planning my VBAC. I was immediately hooked and binged all of the episodes. These amazing women gave me the confidence to find a supportive provider and reject my local hospital that has a VBAC ban.
“I felt so prepared for every barrier that I encountered because of Julie and Meagan. I felt empowered by the stories, facts, statistics, and mantras shared. Listening to these empowering stories made me confident in my ability to have the birth I hoped for. I am so happy to say that I was able to have my successful VBAC, and I feel that my ‘car doulas’ (where I always listened) were an integral part of my success. Thank you so much!!”
I’m pretty sure we’ve been called car doulas before. I really actually like that. Do you consider us your car doulas? Let us know. Go find the episode picture on our social media pages today. Let us know two things: First of all, are we your car doulas, and second of all, do you bust out the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song every time you hear the word “Philadelphia” like I do?
Julie: Do you want a VBAC but don’t know where to start? It’s easy to feel like we need to figure it all out on our own. That’s what we used to do, and it was the loneliest and most ineffective thing we have ever done. That’s why Meagan and I created our signature course, How to VBAC: The Ultimate Preparation Course for Parents, that you can find at thevbaclink.com. It is the most comprehensive VBAC preparation course in the world, perfectly packaged in an online, self-paced, video course.
Together, Meagan and I have helped over 800 parents get the birth that they wanted, and we are ready to help you too. Head on over to thevbaclink.com to find out more and sign up today. That’s thevbaclink.com. See you there.
Julie: Alison, I want to turn the time over to you so that you have plenty of time to share your story about “birth in Philadelphia, born and raised. On the playground is where your kids spend most of their days.” I don’t know. I’m just going to stop right now. I am not a rapper. Alright. Go on. Go ahead, Alison.
Alison: Okay, yeah. So, I guess I’ll start out with my first pregnancy and birth. My first pregnancy was a pretty standard pregnancy, nothing really to highlight. I was working with a birth center. One of my biggest concerns with my first birth was that I was going to go past my due date. I knew that was pretty common. My mom went to 42 weeks with both of her kids-- me and my brother. My sister-in-law went to 41 weeks and ended up being induced, which ended up resulting in a C-section.
So, in my head, it was all about, “If labor can start on its own, I’m in a good position.” I really had a lot of my energy and focus on when labor would start and also not stressing. My assumption was, “I am going to go past 42 weeks,” or, “I’m going to go past 40 weeks,” so I didn’t expect anything to happen before then.
I really didn’t spend a lot of time and energy thinking about, “Well, once labor happens, what do I need to do? What happens then? How do I keep things moving? Because my whole focus was, “If it starts, I’ll be fine.”
I wasn’t expecting it to start when it did. My labor actually started on its due date. It was 2:00 a.m. on my due date. I woke up, and I just felt a little bit of discomfort, but I didn’t really think too much of it at the time because you’re at the end of your pregnancy. You’re just uncomfortable in general. After a couple of hours, it became clear to me that, “Okay. Maybe I’m actually having some contractions here.”
I had a prenatal appointment set up for that morning at 8:00 a.m. We pack everything up. We go to the birth center which-- by the way, on the way there, we took a Lyft to get there. The Lyft driver basically told me the story of her birth, which was a complete foreshadow of what my birth would end up being like.
Julie: Oh, my gosh!
Alison: She labored without an epidural for hours and hours and hours, had a sunny-side-up baby, and ended up with a C-section. I didn’t know at the time, but that was exactly what was going to be my birth story. We get to the birth center, and they don’t even take me for my appointment. They take me straight to a room. They checked me. I am 4-5 centimeters, but I am feeling good. I showed up not too early. I’m moving things along. I’m handling things pretty well. I spend some time in the bathtub, and really, contractions were tough. But basically, between every contraction, my husband and I are sitting there laughing and joking, so things are going really well.
Eventually, I get out of the bathtub. They check me, and I’m 9.5 centimeters. This is about nine, ten hours after I felt my first contraction, so things were moving pretty quickly for me. They offered to me— now things are also feeling a lot tougher because I’m in transition. I’m not in the bathtub anymore. They offered to me, “Do you want us to break your water? We can probably get you to 10 centimeters quicker and get started pushing.” I said, “Yes. Let’s do that.” Again, I didn’t really know what potential consequences there were around that or anything like that. So, I said, “Let’s do it. I just want to get this going.”
They break my water, and about 15 minutes later, come in and check me. I’m 10 centimeters. They said, “Let’s start pushing.” I didn’t know about fetal ejection reflex, or that I should feel an urge to push, or anything. I was just like, “Alright. They’re telling me it’s time. Let’s do it.” I had total faith in my providers to do what needed to be done. I trusted them.
So, we pull out the birthing stool, and I start trying to push. They’re telling me, “You’re pushing wrong.” Every time they check me, they tell me the baby’s not moving.
I’m severely dehydrated at this point because I haven’t drank a drop of water, basically since labor started at 2:00 a.m. I’m at a birth center, so I’m not hooked up to an IV or anything either. I’m just really dehydrated now because I was really nauseous. I couldn’t drink water. At this point, the nausea was so bad, and the contractions were so intense that I would basically push for three contractions, and then on the fourth one, there would be no pushing. I would just be throwing up.
I was so sick at this point. They gave me an IV. They get me a shot for the nausea. Things are starting to improve, but every time they checked me, they say the baby hasn’t moved at all. Still zero station. Still zero station. I’m just defeated at this point.
So, when they offered the option to me, “Let’s transfer to hospital and get you an epidural to calm down, to relax a little,” I’m like, “Yeah. Let’s do that. Please give me the epidural.” That’s all I want at this point.
I get to the hospital, and of course, you can’t get the epidural immediately. You have to get registered. The anesthesiologist has to be available, and I’m not urgent or anything. At this point in time, by the time they give me the epidural, I’ve been pushing for four hours. I’m exhausted. I’m still dehydrated, even though I’ve had three bags from the IV at this point. I’m not doing great. But as soon as I get the epidural, I really do relax. My midwife tells my husband, “You know what? Why don’t you step out of the room and get something to eat? She’s doing a lot better.”
This is where things start to get worse because while my husband is out of the room, the doctors decide to come in. There are two doctors because we’re at shift change at this point in time. They checked me, and they basically told me, “Your baby is not coming out. If your baby is going to come out, your baby is going to come out with a banana-shaped head,” which I’ve always known about coneheads—
Julie: Banana? What’s a banana head? Meagan, have you heard of that?
Meagan: Nope. I haven’t heard of a banana. I have heard of a cone-shaped head.
Julie: That’s interesting. I’m going to Google it right now.
Alison: To me, it’s like, “Oh my gosh, a banana-shaped head? That can’t be right. This is like, really not supposed to happen.” There’s apparently no way. If my baby’s going to come out, it’s wrong. That’s the message that I got from that.
I also heard my midwife and the doctor talking a little bit, and the midwife mentioned to the doctor, actually, that she thought my baby moved posterior at some point during the labor because I had no-- leading up into this, every prenatal appointment, “Your baby’s anterior. Your baby is in a great position.” But at some point during labor, my baby moved posterior, which, of course, now reflecting back, you’re like, “Okay. Well, was that when you broke my water? Did you know before you broke my water? Maybe we shouldn’t have broken my water if my baby wasn’t in a good position.” There’s a lot that I didn’t know at that point in time.
Then the doctor said to her, “Well, the baby is not posterior anymore.” The baby’s now transverse. Again, now I know. I can think back on this and be like, “Oh, my baby was rotating.” Maybe I just needed more time. My baby was on his way to being in the right position to be able to come out if, maybe, we gave it another 30 minutes. But, you have these doctors come to the room, and they’re these authority figures, and you just say, “Okay. They’re telling me this isn’t going to work. It’s not going to work. I guess I need to do a C-section.” And that’s it.
Again, this whole conversation is even happening with my husband out of the room. It just was not a good spot at all. Of course, now, I realize. It’s like-- my baby was fine. His heart rate was fine. I was doing much better. My stress levels decreased now that I had the epidural, but I just didn’t know to say, “Let’s wait,” or, “Let’s see if we can give it another 30 minutes and see what happens,” or, “Is there any other option? Can we try something else?”
I didn’t even know that once I had the epidural, I could be in other positions. I thought I was stuck lying there on my back. I just didn’t know things, so I didn’t know how to advocate for myself and how to get myself a better birth in that situation.
So, I ended up having that C-section. I’m pretty heartbroken after this because having a C-section-- not only was it the difficulty of having a C-section, but it also meant that I could no longer birth with this practice because they don’t do VBACs. I had this amazing prenatal care with these midwives, and I imagined having all of my children with them. Now, my first birth went like this, and I can never have a birth with them. I can never have that birth center birth. It was pretty upsetting for me.
When I got pregnant with my second, I’m sitting here like, “Alright. Well, where am I going to go?” So, I reach out to my local ICAN, and I ask people, “Where should I go for birth?” and they recommend to me this OBGYN/midwife practice where the midwives are supposed to be really great with VBACs, and there is an OBGYN at this practice who is really great if you decide on a repeat Cesarean for getting a family-centered Cesarean.
I’m like, “Alright. This sounds like a good practice.” They’re pretty close to me. I try them out, and I walk out of my first appointment just in tears. It was awful. The midwife basically started the appointment by telling me, “Well, a VBAC is really risky for your baby.” She’s like, “Let me pull out my phone and do the VBAC calculator.” She’s looking at the dating ultrasound and trying to push up my due date by four days, which I am like, “Okay. Wait a second. Four days is in the realm of error on a dating ultrasound.” I am someone who has gone through infertility.
I had infertility with my first and used a fertility doctor to get pregnant. With my second, I didn’t use the fertility doctor, but we were using basically every tracking method possible, so I was pretty positive about my due date. Four days on a due date maybe isn’t that much, but as you guys know, when you’re a VBAC, they are more likely to push interventions earlier on you, so four days could really matter. I just really wasn’t happy with that and immediately was again like, “Okay. Wait a second. If this is supposed to be the best practice, now where do I go? If they’re not willing to help me, who’s going to be the practice I can go with?”
So, I looked back at my ICAN group, and they did recommend another practice to me that was farther away, so I didn’t really want to go with it at first. But we went to them, and these midwives at this practice were phenomenal. Both my husband and I were like, “You know what? That first appointment was-- the whole point of that first appointment of getting that midwife who really did not treat me well was to get me out of that practice because I wasn’t meant to be there. I was meant to be with this other practice.”
How awful would it have been if every prenatal appointment was with the great midwives who were there because I’m sure there are plenty of wonderful midwives. There’s a reason that practice is recommended. But, what if I had every appointment with them and was feeling great, and then my birth is with this one? It would not have gone well. So it was meant to be, I feel like, that I had her for that very first appointment to just push me away from that practice and push me towards this other hospital that, while farther away, has really good statistics around C-sections and VBACs-- just really, a VBAC supportive hospital.
Again-- pretty standard pregnancy. Not a ton to note, really, throughout the pregnancy. I did have my focus on some different things. This time, I got a doula. I went to a chiropractor. I took a birthing class that was specific on movement and how to move a baby through your pelvis because I came in now with some prior knowledge. I didn’t have concerns about going into labor. I didn’t have concerns about dilating to 10 centimeters.
My concern was, “How am I going to push out a baby?” Because last time, I pushed for five hours. I tried tons of different positions because I didn’t have an epidural for the first four hours, and I never got the baby out. I had that messaging really in my head. Even my midwife said to me at my postpartum appointment, “You can try for a VBAC, but you couldn’t push out a 6 pound, 15-ounce baby, so you’re not really a good candidate. Because if you couldn’t push out that, what can you do?” was really just the messaging I had in my head.
Meagan: You’re like, “Yeah, but I also had a posterior baby, and there were a lot of other factors in on that. It made it harder. Not impossible, just harder.”
Alison: Exactly. Yes. You know, I was pushing before I even should have. You had me push the second I reached 10 centimeters because I was at 9.5, and 15 minutes later, I was at 10. You had me pushing the second I was at 10 centimeters. There was no time for my body to reach that point that I was ready to push. I think all that, “You’re pushing wrong,” was that my body wasn’t ready to push yet.
So, it just-- it was a lot of mental work. I did to really get myself prepared to believe in myself. But to be honest, I still had doubts coming back to me throughout the whole pregnancy and even while I was in labor. I still had doubts flooding me. When I talked to my doula after, we agreed that it was basically the last 20 minutes of labor when I realized, “Oh wait, I can actually do this.” It took me that long to really get my mind to believe in it because those doubts are there.
Like I said, it was a pretty standard pregnancy again. It was a little tough because this time, I went to 41 weeks. My first time, I literally never thought about going into labor until the moment it happened. There was no stressing about it or anxiety about it. Of course, this time, I am like, “I went earlier than I was expecting last time. Maybe I’ll be even earlier this time.” So now, I’m one of those moms who is every night thinking, “Is tonight the night? Am I going to wake up at 2:00 a.m.? I don’t know what’s happening.” There was a lot of stress around that, and of course though, I went to 41 weeks, so that went on and on.
The night that I did go into labor, same kind of thing. I just woke up to some discomfort. That was at 2:40 in the morning. My husband notices because I’m trying to relax, but nothing is really comfortable. The most comfortable thing for me was just to pace around the room. My husband notices, and I’m like, “Go back to sleep. We’re probably having a baby today, but you should just rest now. I can’t rest, but you might as well get some rest right now.” He just looked at me like I was crazy. Like, “Uh, no. I know this baby is coming. What do you need?”
We call the doula, and we agree, like, “You don’t need to come over yet, but today’s going to be the day. We just wanted to give you a heads up.” Then my husband goes and starts trying to get everything ready for going to the hospital. We did prepare more this time ahead of time, but there were still last-minute things that we had to get together and get everything into the car.
While he’s away, I call the midwife. This is at 3:30 a.m., so it hasn’t even been an hour since I woke up with discomfort. It wasn’t even timeable contractions, but it was discomfort. I let the midwife know that my contractions are every three minutes. They’re not incredibly strong, but they’re increasing rapidly in strength. They started every three minutes from the moment I woke up. They’ve been lasting a minute from the moment I woke up. My midwife was like, “Alright. You don’t sound like you’re in active labor, but you’ve been through this before. Let me know if you think you should come in.”
I felt like things were moving quickly, but I again trusted the midwife on this. I was like, “Alright. Well, you’re right. I’m not in active labor. Let’s wait a little bit.” Shortly after that, I called my doula back, and I was like, “Alright. Things are really, really getting intense really quickly for me. Can you please come over?”
Around 4:00 a.m., I realize my contractions are now two minutes apart. This is again, just slightly over an hour since I woke up, and they are already two minutes apart, lasting for a minute or more. I text my midwife again, “Things are getting faster.”
I decide to get in the shower, but it was kind of a bad idea because I had this strong desire with every contraction to just pull anything I saw with all my strength. I was really afraid that I was going to yank the spout off the tub, and then all of a sudden, my husband‘s going to be dealing with this water-spraying-everywhere problem in our house instead of getting me to the hospital. So, I’m like, “I’ve got to get out of the shower.”
I text the midwife again at 4:20, and I’m like, “We need to go.” Again, it still hasn’t even been two hours since everything started. My doula shows up at the house, and I ask my doula, “What are you thinking?” Because really in my head at this point in time, it hasn’t even been two hours, and I am losing it. These contractions are so intense at this point, and in my head, it’s like, “It’s only been two hours. I’m just really not handling this well.”
There was no way in my head that I thought that I could already be in transition at this point because it’s only two hours. I’m just thinking that I’m really not handling it. My doula ends up giving me some instructions about-- if I get the urge to push in the car, and things like that. I’m sitting here thinking, “What are you talking about? There’s no way I’m going to push in the car.” Which, of course, is what ends up happening.
My hospital is generally 45-50 minutes away. If you are in rush hour, like 75 minutes away, but thankfully, we’re going at like 5:00 a.m. on a Saturday, so we were able to get there in 35 minutes. At some point in the car ride, things really took a turn, and I just screamed, “Oh my god.”
Apparently, at that point in time, my husband stopped listening to me. He stopped hearing me completely, because the next thing I know, I said to him, “Call Nicole,” my doula, because she had said, “If things get tough in the car, let me know. You can call me. I’ll walk you through attractions.” The problem was, I didn’t have my cell phone. My husband had my cell phone, so I couldn’t call her. He stopped hearing me after I said, “Oh my god,” because, in his head, he was like, “Oh my god, what does that mean? Is the head coming out?” He literally heard nothing more that I said.
Then, I started pushing because this time, I felt the urge to push. I was like, “Oh my gosh. This is what people are talking about. This is what I didn’t feel for five hours of pushing with my first baby. I never felt this, and here I am with my second baby and three hours into labor, I am feeling this urge to push.”
We get to the hospital, and I meet my midwife. The first thing she asks is, “Okay, I want to check your cervix.” My doula immediately stepped in because my doula knew that one of my biggest things was, “I don’t want anyone to check my cervix until I’m ready to push,” because I really strongly felt last time where things went wrong is that idea of my midwife knowing I was at 10 centimeters, now it’s time to start pushing. Even if I’m not encouraged to push or even if I know mentally, “it’s not time to push,” you’re kind of already being put on a clock there. Even though I had good midwives who didn’t say, “You have to be done in two hours,” they weren’t really ready for me to be pushing for 10 hours, and then my current midwives weren’t either.
I didn’t want anyone to check me until I knew I felt that urge. Since I did, I said, “Alright. Let’s go ahead and check me.” Confirmed 10 centimeters, and then my midwife tells me I am at zero station. That’s where all these doubts come flooding back because that’s where my baby was stuck.
Julie: Oh, no!
Alison: Yeah. This doubt floods over me, and I don’t believe it’s possible. I immediately asked for the epidural because I just can’t handle this, but they kind of talked me out of the epidural. My midwife and my doula got me mentally back on track. At some point, my midwife suggested to me to push on my back, which I remember thinking, “Wait, why are we suggesting for me to be pushing on my back? Aren’t you supposed to know this isn’t a great position?” But I was like, “Alright, let’s try it.”
I think there was an idea of, because I had that strong urge to pull with my arms, that I could really pull my legs and curl with each push. That’s what we were trying to do, but I remember they asked me if I wanted a mirror. I’m like, “Yes. Yes. Please, bring a mirror. I want to see what’s going on.” They bring me this full-length mirror, and they have it, like, seven feet across the room for me. They were trying to position it, and they asked me, “Can you see? Is this the right spot? The right angle?” I just looked at them like super disappointed, and I’m like, “I’m not wearing my glasses. I can’t see anything.” Everyone in the room just cracked up, and they took the mirror away.
I ended up getting out of that on-my-back position pretty quickly because it just wasn’t working for me. I get back to the same position I had with my first, where I really wanted to be on my knees doing a squat. I remember getting to the point where the pain between the contractions was actually worse than the contractions itself because there was so much pressure on my sacrum and on my tailbone. I know they were telling me, “You’ve got to relax in between contractions,” but I didn’t want to stop pushing because every time I stopped pushing, I just felt all that pain.
Eventually, my midwife tells me to put my hand down, and I feel my baby’s head. All of a sudden, my energy shifts. That was the moment when I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is going to happen. This is real.” I started shouting to everyone, “I’m going to push a baby out of my vagina! I’m going to push a baby out of my vagina! I’m going to push a baby out of my vagina!” I was on cloud nine all of a sudden. It was great. My midwife looks at me, and she’s like, “Yeah. There’s no going back now. This is happening.”
Julie: I love that.
Alison: My doula later was like, “Yeah, that was your mantra for your birth-- I’m going to push a baby out of my vagina.” I get to a place where it’s really that moment. You’re feeling the ring of fire, and honestly, for me, the ring of fire wasn’t that bad. It was really that tailbone, sacral pain that was the worst for me.
Finally, they said, “Push.” That push where my baby’s head came out. It was just the most amazing feeling. All the pressure is gone, all this relief, like, “Oh my god, this just happened.” It was amazing. I felt the same way when I pushed out her shoulders-- just all this positive energy, and I felt so, so good.
My baby was born at 7:49 a.m., so this is basically five hours since I woke up with that discomfort. Basically, half of my labor was just pushing. Everything just happened so fast in the beginning. I’m sitting here thinking, “I am not handling things well. I should be able to handle these early contractions better,” but really, it was just-- everything moved so fast in my labor.
After my baby was born-- and again, I’m in the squatting position. I’m looking down between my legs, and I see my baby lying there. I don’t know if it was looking at my baby, or just the energy in the room shifted, but immediately knew everything was wrong. It was not right. They quickly cut the cord. They still let my husband do that; they just kind of rushed him a little bit on doing it and then took my baby over to the warmer.
They’re reassuring me. I am asking them, “What’s going on? What’s wrong with my baby? Did I do something wrong?” They’re like, “Your baby is in good hands. Let’s focus on getting your placenta out.” Eventually, a NICU doctor comes in the room and basically says, “We’re taking your baby to the NICU. She’s not breathing. We’ve been trying to give her breaths, but she’s still not breathing on her own.”
They immediately start taking my baby out of the room. The NICU doctor looks at me, and she’s like, “Wait a second, have you even seen your baby yet?” I’m like, “No, except for that quick little look between my legs before you took her off to the warmer, but I haven’t really seen her.” They actually wheel her back into the room. That made me feel so much better because I was like, “Alright. If you’re not rushing out with my baby, then it can’t be emergent, right?”
They’re taking the time to bring her back in, but it really was serious. Like I said, my baby wasn’t breathing on her own. She ended up going through-- she had what’s called hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy or HIE. Basically, she wasn’t breathing on her own at birth. We don’t know how long, if she wasn’t getting oxygen during labor, or if it only really happened really at the very end. We don’t have a lot of information about it. I talked to my midwife a bunch after. Should I have done something differently? Was there something-- should I have just had a repeat C-section? What happened?
My midwife and the nurses all basically said, “Everything was normal in the labor. There was never a point where the fetal heart tones showed that there was a problem. Everything was normal. There just was never any indication.” Everyone in the room was shocked when this happened. It wasn’t anything. There wasn’t anyone in there all ready to take care of a baby because there was no expectation that something was going to go wrong.
What ended up happening is, my baby ended up getting what’s called a hypothermia treatment, where they basically reduced her temperature so that her body can basically focus on healing; This meant that-- not only with your C-section, where you might not get that golden hour of skin-to-skin, I wasn’t even able to pick up and hold my baby until she was five days old. I wasn’t able to breastfeed my baby until she was eight days old. I wasn’t able to take my baby home from the hospital until she was 15 days old.
It was just this crazy moment of all these dueling emotions because you’re sitting here-- I just did this really amazing thing, and I’m so excited. I’m feeling so empowered, and I did something that I never believed in myself being able to do, and then all of a sudden it’s like, but what happened to my baby? Is she okay? What are all these tests they are going to do going to say? What are the specialists going to say?
There’s all these things that they are throwing at you that, “Well, we don’t know if she can see. You’re going to have to go see an eye doctor. We don’t know what kind of delays she’s going to have. We are monitoring for seizures. We’re going to have to give her an MRI.” They are throwing all these things that you and it’s like-- I don’t have time to feel my emotions about my birth anymore.
I remember immediately after, before we knew all this information, we were just waiting to hear back. My doula, my husband, and I are sitting in the labor and delivery room just reliving everything. It was so great. We were talking about all these great moments, and all these funny moments, and then the NICU doctor comes in, and it all went away. There wasn’t any space for those emotions anymore. All I can do now is I have these questions running through my head of like, “Well, did I need to push her faster or harder? Should I not have had a VBAC?” This is one of the concerns of why a VBAC could be risky, right?
But at the same time, there was literally nothing even in my labor or pregnancy to indicate there was a problem. So, it’s a lot of work that I had to do post my birth to really accept the fact that I did what I could with the information I had in that moment. Obviously, if I knew going into it that-- if you have a C-section, this wouldn’t happen, and if you had a VBAC, this will, I would have obviously chosen a C-section for my child’s sake. But with the information I had, and even to this day, it’s still not something I know. I don’t know if we would’ve had different outcomes with a C-section because we don’t know what caused the issue. There’s just no information in her situation.
It was a really, really hard time to sit there with like, I want to feel this joy and yet I can’t, because how can I feel joy when your daughter is sitting there on morphine because the cooling treatment is bothering her so much, they have to sedate her so that she’s comfortable? How can you feel happy at that point? It was really hard. It’s been really hard to really feel those emotions of joy and happiness around this amazing birth that I did have. It really was amazing, in my opinion. So, that’s my story.
Meagan: Wow. What a crazy ride. That’s intense. I noticed something. Right after birth, you questioned what you did. You questioned your choice. I had a moment like that, too, because I had some weird blood loss stuff that really was unexplained. We really don’t even know where it went, and I was like, “Would it have been smarter, would I have been in better shape if I just would have scheduled a C-section?” I went through all of those things. I was like, “No. No. I did what I truly felt was right.”
I followed my intuition. I knew that was a birth that I needed, and yes, some things happened after, but I shouldn’t question. I feel bad because I think as VBAC birthers-- because so many people question us, if anything goes wonky, or different, and isn’t seamless-- which, let me just tell you, birth isn’t seamless. It’s very, very rare that birth happens from start to finish, and everything is perfect. I’ve been a doula for seven years, and I’ve never seen a perfect birth, right?
So, what makes me sad, though, is that as VBAC parents, we have a lot of people questioning and doubting anyway. If something happens, then it’s like, “Whoa. Whoa. Because I felt like I went through a stage where I didn’t want to tell anyone about my weird blood loss. Because I was like, “Oh, then they’re just going to tell me and be like, ‘yeah, but that wouldn’t have happened if you just would’ve had a C-section.’” You know what I mean? It makes me so frustrated that we have to go through that.
I love what you just said. Like, “Yeah. I did it, and it was okay, and this is what happened, and it was crazy, but I’m grateful, and now we’re here, and it’s awesome.” My message to a lot of people out there is, don’t let that get to you. If something weird happens, don’t put yourself down because things happen in birth.
Advocating for yourself
Meagan: We want to talk a little bit about advocating for ourselves and our rights in the birth space. This is a really touchy topic because there have been-- I mean, Julie and I have talked to tons of people over the years, even before we did this. I’ve had people say, “I feel like my rights were violated.” A long time ago, there was a colleague of ours that described her birth as that she was birth-raped, like, actually said those words. We are like “Whoa.” That is a heavy thing to feel to say that it happened to you.
So, we want to talk about the rights, because a lot of people-- I mean, not even during birth. Even during prenatal care, postpartum, and everything like that, people are having things happen to them. They are like, “Oh, I just assumed that was normal because my provider did that,” or, “I didn’t know what else to say,” or, “I was too scared to say anything,” or, “I didn’t know my place, and so I didn’t say anything,” right? I want to talk about that because really, we have a lot of rights. We really, really do. No one can make you do anything.
A birthing person can refuse any and all medical interventions regardless of the harm, even if that means it’s a life or death situation. Truly. That sounds crazy, but you really can say, “No.” They can say, “Well, you’re going to die,” and you can still say, “No.” Most people won’t say, “No,” maybe, but you literally have the ultimate choice to refuse.
Hospitals cannot force anyone to undergo any procedure or treatment without consent. Again, even if that means life or death. Depending on the stage of pregnancy, the hospital can refuse to treat a person who rejects care, which is hard because we know in the VBAC world, there are a ton of VBAC bans, so people are feeling left unsure of what to do.
We got a message this weekend saying, “I have no support. I feel like my only option is an unassisted birth,” which makes me just cringe inside. I wish that hospitals, birth centers, states in general, countries were understanding what they are making people feel forced to do. They would honestly rather turn down a parent who is wanting to have a vaginal birth and let them go-- and there are people-- this is not anything bad about unassisted. People who choose unassisted that is okay. That is their choice. We support people in their own choices. But they would rather turn them down and have them feel forced to have an unassisted birth.
Alison: I was just going to say-- now, I wasn’t turned down with my first provider I saw for my VBAC, but the way I walked out of that appointment-- that’s immediately what I was thinking. Do I need to go unassisted? Because this is supposed to be the best support out there, and I’m not feeling supported here.
Meagan: Yeah, and you’re not getting it. Exactly. It makes me cringe inside. It’s so not right.
We also have the right to ask questions about our care and inquire about all alternatives. There have been situations where I’ve seen that people had questions, and they’re like, “The provider literally said there’s no time for questions,” but then there was a half-hour of time before the C-section. It just didn’t even make sense to me.
We also have the right to get a second opinion and request different nurse care, doctor, or anything at any point. You could literally be pushing your baby out. Your baby’s crowning and something happened, and not be okay with that and say, “We are stopping. I need a new provider. You are excused.” We literally have that right. Consent forms can be signed during prenatal visits or at the hospital. Admissions do not count as ongoing consent to every procedure.
So, we’ve had-- we know people. I know Julie has known people. We’ve had people write us where they’re admitted, and they feel stuck because they’re admitted. But they don’t. They can refuse the right to any procedure done, and they can even leave.
It’s really important as Women of Strength to know that you have options and to not ever feel like you are trapped because that trapped feeling is never going to benefit you in any way. We had a podcast that she described, she felt like she was confined and in jail, and she actually felt like she was a schoolgirl letting everyone tell her what she could do. I just thought that was such an awesome way to explain it, honestly, because that is how a lot of people feel. Trapped, confined, and being told what to do in a moment where they are most vulnerable. Most vulnerable. We are so vulnerable when we are giving birth.
It’s important to know and stand up for yourself. It’s okay if it’s scary. It’s okay that it feels scary because it can be scary. But, be okay to stand up for yourself because it’s going to affect you and your future for sure. You want to be able to look back and say, “I’m glad I said something,” or, “I’m glad I asked that question.” Even if you decide to do that intervention, you don’t ever want to look back with regret.
Alison: Yeah, and I think that’s one of the big things from my first because I didn’t know to ask questions. I didn’t know to advocate for myself. I just trusted what the providers were saying and what to do. That’s why I am left with all these questions as well. Was that first C-section even necessary? Because now I’m like, my baby could have turned. I didn’t need to have my water broken. We didn’t need to rush things along. I didn’t need to push as soon as I was at 10 centimeters. There were no bad heart tones with me or my baby, nothing going wrong with us that would indicate that we needed to move to a C-section. It was just, “Well, you’ve been doing this for five hours and made no progress.” But there was progress being made. I didn’t know it was, but there was progress. My baby was rotating. That’s progress.
Meagan: Yeah, super big progress. And you know, they could have been like, “Okay, we’re going to turn to this site because your baby’s transverse to this side. Gravity will help the baby turn the rest of the way on this side.” There’s so many things that could be looked at.
You just don’t know what you don’t know sometimes. That’s where I feel like my message today is, don’t be scared to ask the questions. Even if you don’t know what the question is, be like, “Are there any other alternatives?” Do you know what I mean? You might not know about what alternatives there are specifically to say, “Well, can I try this alternative?” Ask, “What other alternatives are there? I would like to explore them. Can you break them down for me? Do you know?”
Well, thank you so much for sharing your story. We really appreciate it. We’re so glad things went well and that you have your baby to just snuggle with now.
Alison: Yeah, and I guess I didn’t necessarily conclude things for people. Luckily, my baby is doing wonderfully. There’s a lot of things that could have come as a result of this, and she is just proving everyone wrong. Things have turned around immensely, which I think has also been very healing for me.
Meagan: So good.
Julie: So glad. Alright. Well, we forgot to ask the questions on the last episode, but I wanted to ask you two questions. Let’s see. Where are we? Here we go.
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?
Alison: You already touched on this a bit, but just that there is no such thing as a perfect birth. Things that sound really wonderful to you about someone else’s birth when they’re telling you their story can really, actually be very traumatic for them. To me, it might sound amazing that “Oh, you didn’t tear at all. You only pushed for 30 minutes,” because I tore, and I pushed for five hours, and then I pushed for 2.5 hours, but that doesn’t mean that their experience isn’t still hard and traumatic and it’s own way. Everyone’s experience is their own experience.
I guess that idea that you can’t really have a perfect birth. It’s really what we’ve already talked about. It’s being able to feel that you were in control as best as you could be in this crazy moment of your life.
Julie: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s great advice. Next question:
What is your best tip for someone preparing for a VBAC?
Alison: I would say education. A lot of the ways that I had my C-section with the first was because I didn’t know to question anything, or I didn’t know that there could be risks to interventions that we get. So, education before if you can, but even in that moment of asking those questions.
Julie: Awesome. That’s great. Well, thank you so much for sharing your story with us today. We are so excited that your baby is doing well and that everyone is happy and healthy.
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