I had a week to work with and during that week I did everything I could think of to get labor going: long walks, sex, bouncing on a ball, eating pineapple and spicy foods, etc. I was supposed to have another OB appointment on Thursday, February 16, 2012 and was already dreading the impending c-section talk. Luckily for me, my doctor had an emergency and my appointment was canceled. I found out later I was supposed to have been scheduled to see someone else in the practice, but regardless I felt like I was given a few more days to go into labor naturally. That day I had an ultrasound and it showed Elina practicing her breathing exercises. This was great because it meant she was getting ready to come out. That night Alex and I went on a date: we saw The Vow movie and had dinner at the first fancy restaurant we ever ate at close to 7 years ago, Christy's. We both joked the baby better come after dinner.
That night I woke up a few times to pee, which is normal, but at around 6am something made me want to jump out of bed. I did and soon after I felt (and heard?) a pop and felt the gush of my water breaking. I immediately woke Alex up and his response was "congrats love." Here it is: my chance to try for a VBAC. I spent the next hour doing a load of laundry and writing my school assignment for the following week. At around 7am contractions started and they were mild, like period cramps. At 7:25am I called me doula, told her about my water breaking, and asked for her advice on when to go to the hospital. I wanted to labor as much as possible from home but I also knew I couldn't labor too much at home because my water had broken and I was Group B Strep positive, which meant I needed antibiotics while I labored so it wouldn't affect Elina.
At 7:45am Alex called his mom and told her to come over because we were going to go to the hospital. She arrived about an hour later and I started packing the hospital bag. We said goodbye to Cati and my goodbye was really tearful: I couldn't believe I was leaving her as an only child and by the time I saw her again she would be a big sister. We got to the hospital around 9:30am and by this point my contractions were stronger. I could still talk through them if I tried but I didn't want to; I wanted to focus on just breathing through them. By the time I was checked at around 11:30am I was 2-3cm and 75% effaced. I was hoping for more progress because of the contractions and because I was afraid of getting caught in the "not progressing as quickly as she should be" hospital mentality. I was moved to my room and told my doula to make her way to the hospital. At 12:15pm my OB checked me (finally! both Alex and my OB at the same hospital at the same time) and I was 4cm, 100% effaced, and +1 station (Elina was above my pubic bone). At this point my OB recommended getting an epidural to manage the pain and also as a precaution in case I needed a c-section. I refused at first because I wanted to at least get to 5cm but soon after the contractions got strong enough to almost bring me to tears and, either way, I would have to wait at least an hour for the epidural so I decided to get it. Close to an hour and a half later I got the epidural and while it provided relief, I still felt every single contraction. The pain was more manageable but I never got a break from laboring. At 2:15pm I was checked again and I was 5cm, 100% effaced, and Elina was at the pubic bone. At 2:30pm my doula arrived and we spent the next 2 hours chatting about births and working through the contractions. This whole time I made sure to stay in a seated position so as to help the baby move down.
At 3:45pm my OB walked in and said he was going to start me on pitocin because my contractions were 3-4 minutes apart and not strengthening. This scared the crap out of me because I knew pitocin was something that would dramatically increase my chances of a c-section. My doula tried sending me messages about denying the pitocin until I was checked again and this pissed my doctor off. He told me I should trust him because he had my best interest in mind and because he was the medical professional. I ended up offending and upsetting him by refusing the pitocin but I knew I had to refuse because I was ultimately the one who had to deal with the mental effects of this birth. I am so thankful my doula was there but she gave me the strength and courage to stand up to my doctor. Turns out, the machine tracking my contractions was missing contractions so I was even happier I stood my ground. When I was checked at 4:15pm I was 6cm, 100% effaced and -1 station so Elina was passed the pubic bone.
The next couple of hours were almost a blur as I worked through the contractions and changed positions to make Elina move further down. I hoped I had progressed to at least 8cm. The contractions were pretty painful and I felt a ton of pressure down in my pelvis. As time neared 6pm I had to prepare for another pitocin talk if I hadn't progressed sufficiently. Before this though, I had to be given oxygen because Elina's heartbeat had slowed down after the contractions (normal is for it to slow during the contractions). Once again, I started freaking out because I knew this could be a reason for c-section but my doula reassured me that this dip only happened twice so I shouldn't be worried. Either way, my doctor came in to check on me and when he examined me it turned out the baby was "at the rim" and he told me to push.
I was stunned and shocked and felt like I was in a dream. Did he just say to push? To me? And so I started to push not really knowing what I was doing. Both my doula and doctor told me to push down low like I was pooping and because I could feel all the pressure down there my doctor told me to focus on pushing against the pressure of his fingers. The hardest thing about the pushing for me was not breathing through the pushes. More than anything I wanted to scream or grunt or something and inhale huge gulps of air, but I was told that wouldn't help with my pushing. In between contractions I grasped for air like it was the most delicious thing in the world. I was told to slow my breathing so as to not pass out or get dizzy. Pushing continued for an unknown time and all the time everyone was telling me I was doing a great job and that Elina was just minutes away. Finally, my doula told me to look down and I responded with "my belly is too big to see anything!" Next thing I knew I had pushed Elina out and she was on my belly. I couldn't believe it: I pushed her out. Not only was I in awe of my newest daughter but I was in awe of myself. I was so happy and I kept saying "I can't believe I pushed her out!" There were kisses all around and I was just sooo proud of myself. I asked what time she was born and how long I had pushed for and was told she was born at 6:23pm and pushed for no more than 20 minutes.
Everything about this birth was amazing. It was the experience I was hoping for and wanted. If I was shocked when Cati was first handed to me in the operating room, then I was even more shocked this time around because Elina’s was handed to me straight out of the womb. I was in so much awe of this baby, she made it through labor and delivery, and in awe of myself for literally pushing through it.
For some women, the type of birth, c-section or vaginal, doesn’t matter. For them, what matters is the end product of a beautiful baby. All pregnancy long I wished I could feel that way. Elina is a blessing, always will be, but she will not take the birth experience with her; that’s something I have to live with for the rest of my life. With Cati’s birth being a c-section, I have struggled with what that means for me for two years. At first I felt like less of a woman because she was cut instead of pushed out and that later translated into, I guess, a sense of guilt over not doing more to avoid a c-section in the first place. I felt this birth experience would be a away to finally close the book on those feelings. To let go and show myself that that one birth experience was not a definition of me or the way all birth experiences would be. Sure, there are risks involved in a VBAC but those are risks I was willing to take in order to feel better about myself. A VBAC is a huge victory for me and the realization of a dream.
At the end of the day, I was so proud of myself and of what I was able to accomplish. I am thankful for the amazing support of Alex, who throughout the entire labor held my hand, told me I was doing a great job, and called me his hero once his daughter was born. I am thankful for my amazing doula, Michelle Fonte, who gave me the strength to make it through the labor and to labor on my terms. I am thankful for my body for doing what it was meant to do. And I am thankful for being able to walk away from this experience knowing things were done on my terms. I owned this birth experience in a way I didn't own Cati's and because of that I feel better about myself as both a mother and woman. I wouldn't trade this experience for anything in the world. I feel empowered and proud. It really isn't just about the birth, it's about standing up for yourself, standing up against the pressure put on you by people who don't know your body, and feeling like you can trust your body.