I wanted to write more about my VBAC. I say “My VBAC” realizing that, to some, it makes it seem like I am focusing on the childbirth experience. There are so many more things that this was about, for me. I will admit, I struggled some with feeling like it was more about the experience, much like a wedding…. but ultimately, my husband’s and my childbirth decisions were very closely tied to wanting our baby and me to be safe.
For my husband and me, the “curse of childbirth” (in the Bible) is real. Ain’t no way around it. We live in a broken world, with sinful people and broken bodies and an imperfect earth. My husband and I don’t trust the human aspect of this equation as though it is some sort of all-perfect religious equation that can be left alone to work perfectly at all times… and I am not a cow or a dog, able to have the baby in a hall closet and unfortunate to lose if I die. I am a human, much more important by our standards, and the risks are not just physcial — there are spiritual and emotional ones involved, for my husband and me.
I wanted what is best for my baby, and for me (this addendum had to be taught me by others before I would admit it…. I used to think just the baby was important… but I am too). “Healthy Baby, Healthy Mama,” as the saying goes. So… my husband and I quickly found ourselves in the midst of a cultural upheaval, to say the least, here in the states, about childbirth.
From the homebirth/natural childbirth side: Many parents are turning to homebirth in the midst of legal-hassle-led and OB-oriented hospital-childbirth. They want to be able to relax in childbirth (which lends itself incredibly toward healthy childbirth). They want to know that something will not be pushed on them in the middle of labor or even toward the end of pregnancy, all too common, which could ultimately lead to complications. Many parents are faced with completely unnecessary surgical deliveries, which can interrupt the nursing process and endanger the incredibly important bond between babies and mothers or lend itself to even other complications.
From their parental standpoint, there are so many things which could go wrong and not be in their control due to the hospital’s or OB’s interference… and if these can be avoided, then childbirth will likely go better overall for the mother and the baby. Sure, some folks get wrapped up in the childbirth experience itself, but not everyone does… I hope. But what’s wrong with wanting the best experience possible, sans the risk factors?
Then there’s the doctor and hospital side of things: they are doing their job with the advanced ability that medicine has to offer! What could be seen as unnecessary, they still do not have the luxury of taking the chance over — because they have seen and do see the few times when that small percentage of risk became a reality. Save the Mama and the Baby — that’s their job. By the way Doc, don’t get sued: cover your rear end. The risks are likely not to affect THIS patient, so forgive them when they get in your face about your interference, but if something DID go wrong, you are the one to blame. Poor doctors! No wonder some of these human beings — because that is what they are after all, not automatons — get into a mode of “do it my way or the highway.” Why shouldn’t they? Same goes for the hospital.
But in many cases the pendulum swings too far, and before it can come back, the damage is done to hundreds of thousands… parents endure awful birth experiences. Doctors find themselves incredibly liable — yet many still take that responsibility even if it means they can’t do some of the next advancement of medically proven childbirth. So there are losses on both sides.
In the face of our first pregnancy, after the debate and the research (which we wanted to make sure was not slanted one way or the other by the source… and we don’t just read stuff on the internet!!!) we decided we did NOT want to take the risk of having a child at home. Say something did go wrong…. did we want that on our heads if we had to get to a hospital and couldn’t get treated in time? No way. So hospital birth it was, and we asked the Lord for a good doctor. We found one. He was on the cautious side, but he was a good captain to have for this ship.
Labor began. I happened to go into labor already exhausted from hypertension-watch and intense swelling. After hours of waiting, painful labor, epidural, more waiting… sleeping and rest, what a gift! Nothing happened… we crossed the line of time where infection was now a risk… more waiting… our doctor was very gracious, trusting us not to sue his rear end should something go wrong because we asked for more time… finally, a decision was made.
And I ended in c-section for my first birth. Was it a failure? No. My baby was born, healthy, alive. I walked away, healthy, alive. Why did it feel like a failure? Thinking over a situation to see how you could have done it differently, for future reference, can be good. However, my thinking over it instantly became a menagerie of second-guessing (as though we didn’t do the best we could with the time and awareness we had). Add to that an incredible disruption of my bond with my baby due to infection and surgery recovery. Then it took three months to get him to nurse properly and get him off of formula. The c-section was hard to recover from, and we moved, which made it harder to really rest.
I became obsessed with the fear that my friends who believed in childbirth at home or even just natural childbirth would think I was a fool and caused this all to happen. I was afraid to talk to them about it, the very people I should have been able to open up to for support. My fears became supported by their sidelong glances as they discussed their natural childbirth experiences or plans. Even though they might have just been acknowledging we disagree on the subject, I immediately felt as though I had been condemned to walk a lonely path of never talking about the subject in their company since they could only assume (in my perception) that my c-section was my problem since I didn’t listen to them in the first place (as though any of them even thought that). Never mind that if they truly felt that way, it was their problem and not mine! I had a hard time drawing that line.
My body felt a natural loss over the physical anticipation of childbirth. Like being told I would be climbing a mountain only to find my leg broken and being carried over it instead. I didn’t know how to still feel the victory of the summit and descent when my body hadn’t done anything the way I had expected it to do. Or a better analogy: I learned chess as best I could, sat down to play, made the best choices I could, and still “lost.”
There was this overhanging feeling that somehow I could have been a master of the situation and had a different outcome. I believe now that is a lie from the pits of hell. Childbirth is no different than any other situation in life: we do the best we can, learn from our mistakes, roll with the punches, and play the hand we’re dealt. To think we have some sort of true ability to avoid all mistakes and control the outcome to any extent is fallacy.
Older and wiser women as well as the folks we turned to as experts, all encouraged us that we had done our best and the baby and I were both fine. But my heart wondered. I struggled with wondering whether I could have done a better job with my infant if I hadn’t had to recover from a c-section, maybe I could have tried to push harder, maybe the hospital and doctor weren’t really looking out for me, maybe I could have this or that or the other…. and after a year I was still hurting, lost in the maze of disappointment and confusion about what was really best. I went round and round about it emotionally.
Why do doctors and natural birth folks disagree so much? I wondered. Why can’t they work together? Why couldn’t I be stronger, smarter, more able, more confident, more decisive, you name it? Add to that the hormones, my God the hormones!!! Add to that the guilt about struggling about all this, when my Baby is Healthy! And So Am I!
So…. when my next pregnancy came along (yes, we dared try again!!! Even with all that on my emotional plate)… my husband and I thought we would approach the same safety desire with as much care as we could. We decided to talk with our doctor, get his feedback, hear his side, and discuss our concerns. He talked about how he’d done a lot to set me up for a healthy recovery and thought I’d be able to do a VBAC. He was quick to support my desire to try for a more natural birth. I wanted to have more support to handle labor, so we hired a doula who believed strongly in natural childbirth but supported our desire to have the safety factor of a hospital. We asked the hospital and our contacts there for help with managing the post-delivery, no matter what happened. We asked for prayer. We got counseling for me with my fears and hurts about the previous experience. We decided to put it behind us and trust our doctor and ourselves to do the best we could. And we did. Thankfully, the VBAC was successful. I felt incredible, and had a renewed sense of confidence in myself, let alone my body. The process was very healing this time, even though I think it would have been even if we’d had a c-section again.
We did all of this in the face of many people throwing more info at us about how homebirth or natural childbirth could be the best thing for us… but we stuck to our instincts (which is what they would do in our shoes, right? Even if they chose something else?) and ultimately our decisions. We even did this in the face of others telling us we were putting too much emphasis on this part of it anyway, that a planned c-section would be better.
As I went through this process, I learned a few things. I learned that God cared about how I felt. Even if there are worse things happening in the world!!! I learned I had so much more to learn about birthing, and how births really are all so different — like fingerprints! Even though I had learned so much in advance of my first pregnancy/delivery, I learned again as much or more this time. Picking up things here and there, I found my first birth actually, really, indeed, had likely NEEDED a c-section (what an incredible thing to be able to learn, even though I felt I had been able to put it behind me already). Thank God I was able to have a c-section, then! I learned how wonderfully my hospital and doctor performed, considering some of the stories out there.
I learned to come to grips with the fact that there could always be things which I could second guess or have go wrong that I could not control. Including death. I learned that the controversy lies far deeper than just a discussion here and there… it will take some very brave people, like me, trying to help blend the middle line so that these two worlds can come together and truly start working together. I learned how unique that makes me. I learned how awesome it can be to completely disagree with someone else about birthing choices and still have a great friendship.
I also learned how thankful I am that we DO have the choice to have a hospital birth if we need it, a sterile one, a controlled (to a certain extent) one, a safer one than so many women/parents have had for centuries.
I learned how God was there all along, working to comfort me and help heal me of the hurt that this process did to me (here in His originally-beautifully-designed-world which has fallen to brokenness of all kinds). I drew closer to Him because of it. And last, but not least, I learned how I can trust Him to help me through the future struggles I may have in childbirth, or in life, just like this, or even if they’re harder.
Thank you, Lord, for childbirth!!!
Romans 5:3-4 (NIV)
3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.