Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Tales of a Failed VBAC

I've had this post idea for awhile, and actually started a draft months ago. I kind of wish I had gotten around to it back then, because now, over a year out from delivery, the details aren't as clear and it seems less important than ever. Still, I'm going to plow ahead.

Failed VBAC child, also known as Royce Gray.

When my first child was born, he entered this world via an emergency cesarean, after his heart rate suddenly and dramatically dropped during my labor. For some reason, I hadn't given much thought to a c/s while I was pregnant, and I didn't have time to give it much thought once it became my reality. Less than ten minutes passed between watching Modern Family with my husband and mother in the delivery room and being strapped down on the operating table, hearing my baby's first cry.

When I got pregnant a second time, 11 months later, I had a choice to make. Having already given birth via c-section, some mothers opt to schedule a c-section for subsequent births. Other moms decide to try for a vaginal birth after cesarean, or VBAC.

My first delivery, I went in with literally no plan. I had no clue what to expect, and truly, my only goal was a healthy baby. I thankfully got my healthy baby, so I considered my emergency c-section after 29 hours of labor a complete success.

Taking selfies > joining your wife in the OR.

The second time, I went in with what every emergency c-section mom knows is bs - a plan. Of course, it was far from a typed out birth plan. It didn't contain any sort of specifics. There was no mention of a birthing tub, playlist, or special lighting. However, I did have a desired outcome in my head in addition to a healthy baby. I wanted a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean). I didn't get that outcome, but I did get a healthy baby boy. Of course, I'm beyond grateful for this. I'm also sad I didn't succeed at my VBAC. Actually, I don't even think "sad" is the right word. Mildly disappointed, like if I showed up at Starbucks and they couldn't make my drink, so I had to order something else. I struggled even typing that, because I feel horribly guilty for feeling anything but grateful. I've gone back and forth on writing this post, because so many women struggle to get pregnant, struggle to stay pregnant, deliver their babies pre-term, etc. I'm over here being greedy and complaining when I've been so lucky to have two healthy, easy to come by pregnancies and two healthy children. I really hope this doesn't sound like I don't appreciate that. Truly, I marvel at that and feel thankful for it every single day.

As documented here, I put about as much consideration into the type of delivery I wanted for #2 as I would imagine death row inmates give to their last meal. Of course, I knew that ultimately the baby would decide how this delivery was going to go, but since we were not currently in communication, I pretended I had a say. While the thought of labor and delivery is terrifying during a first pregnancy due to the unknown nature and literally every mom ever telling you how awful it is (guilty of doing this myself), it's also scary during a second + pregnancy for a totally different reason. Like I'm sure every mother with no family around does, I obsessed over where Dalton would go when we went to the hospital. When "choosing" LOLOL my type of delivery, he wasn't the only factor, but he was definitely high up in my priorities.

A scheduled c/s had the distinct benefit of being, well, scheduled. We could arrange care for him months ahead of time, get him all settled, and head off to have baby #2 with minimal worries about him.

However, it also had the distinct disadvantage of being surgery. It would simplify things ahead of time, but then I would be away from him in the hospital longer, and unable to do almost anything to care for or play with him while I recovered. Not only does a 19 month old not understand why he can't jump on Mommy or have Mommy pick him up, he also still required being lifted into the crib, onto the changing table, into the car, etc, etc. I was concerned about that, and also about Eric having to essentially do all care for a young toddler, a newborn, and a hormonal woman recovering from abdominal surgery.

My more selfish reasons were that I really wanted to experience the act of pushing my baby out and meeting him or her immediately. I didn't want another cold, detached operating room birth that required me to wait hours to hold my baby. I've seen pictures of women doing skin to skin in the operating room, but that wasn't an option in my hospital and honestly with all the meds I was on for the surgery, I'm doubt I would have been physically able to hold a baby then anyway. Surgery isn't fun, and while I'm told the recovery from a vaginal birth can be tough too, I've also been told it can be pretty easy, so I wanted to roll the dice on that rather than a c/section recovery which I knew would be difficult and painful.

I was also in a "now or never" situation. My doctor told me if I had a second c-section, a VBAC was off the table for me (she phrased it much more kindly than that, but that's what it boiled down to). The mystery of "when will the baby arrive?" is frustrating for sure, but it's also an exciting part of having a baby! I didn't want to schedule my baby's birth and just roll in like, hi, here to have a baby! Although now, if we are ever lucky enough to have a third, is exactly what I plan to do (again "plan" LOLOL) and it sounds perfect.

Somewhere in my third trimester, I was all set and ready as I would ever be to attempt a VBAC. The mystery of when the baby would arrive, and whether it would be a boy or a girl was terrifying and exciting. I developed about 576 contingency plans for Dalton care for every possible labor scenario I could dream up. I put my hospital bag in the car. I talked to my friends about labor techniques. I searched "VBAC" on Pinterest, but it turned out to really only be popular with the natural birth crowd. I couldn't find anyone who was like, well, I don't want surgery, but I also want to feel the absolute minimum amount of contractions humanly possible and scroll through Instagram until it's time to push (my ideal labor).

When the time came, everything went perfectly. My water broke at exactly 39 weeks, Dalton went to daycare, my friend drove me to the hospital and Eric left work to meet me. I arrived with painful contractions about 2 minutes apart, 3cm dilated. My water broke at 7:30am, and I was relaxing in epidural bliss by 9:30. If I had choreographed things, that's pretty much how I would have designed it.

I went from 3cm to 8cm pretty quickly, within just a few hours, so it seemed like everything was on track for a VBAC, minus a momentary dip in baby's heart rate that sent us to the OR but then back to the delivery room. But, then I stalled at 8cm due to Royce's positioning, and agreed to a second c-section. I wish I had taken notes or something on the specifics when my doctor explained it, but both in the delivery room and then confirmed mid-surgery, she said he wasn't coming out vaginally because of my bone structure/his placement. Probably because I'm so dainty and lady like, I assume.

So, after a long labor followed by a c-section, I ended up with another....long-ish labor, followed by a c-section.

No more contractions for me, ever, thank you.

Honestly, it wasn't so bad. While I didn't get the experience I wanted of pushing and then having the baby laid immediately on my chest, I got to hold Royce much earlier than I did Dalton.

Honestly, I didn't even know we did skin to skin until I saw the picture months later.

We never had the so called "Golden Hour" (uninterrupted mother/baby skin to skin time the first hour after birth), so, my kids are probably screwed. Dalton was held by his father, who was fully clothed, he definitely is on a path to destruction. Royce was cleaned and weighed by nurses while I was stitched up and we didn't get to do skin to skin until like...probably at least half an hour after he was born. Also destined to be a drain on society. I have no bond with either of them as a result.

Royce, being tortured by his clothed father.

I've seen a lot of people express concerns about c-sections delaying your milk coming in and having a negative impact on breastfeeding. Luckily, that wasn't the case for me. My milk didn't come in for about 4.5 days with Dalton, which was on the longer end of the spectrum, but he was gaining weight on the colostrum so it was fine. With Royce, it came in within about 36 hours - no issues there!

Obviously recovering from surgery can be painful, and it was, but it really wasn't as bad as I expected. It was a little tougher with Dalton because it was expedited to get him out immediately and done somewhat roughly. With Royce, we were all confused about why it took "so long" to get him out (aka a normal amount of time). My sister swore by day 12 after her planned c/s, she was feeling good. Coming home from the hospital on day 3 in a world of pain and barely able to move, I thought, no way. But, sure enough, by day 12, I honestly didn't feel at all like I had had surgery! Of course, I wasn't about to go out for a run or lift Dalton out of the crib, but I was able to get out of bed, walk around, cough, etc, etc without wincing. I would even go so far as to say my second recovery was "easy", due to the gentler surgery and my older, wiser self actually taking it super, super easy this time (as opposed to the first when I kept insisting I didn't need help with things).

My other concern, not being able to do anything with my then 19 month old (play, lift, diaper, etc), was valid. But I'm not sure I would have been able to do those things even with doctor approval. Royce was breastfeeding pretty much nonstop around the clock until well after I felt recovered. Part of me was sad about it, but, as I stated in my last post, I loved and cherished the cluster feeding stage. I also think it was really good for my little mama's boy. He got tons of one on one bonding with Eric. I don't feel he's any less devoted to me for it, just that he's even closer with his father and more comfortable with other people. A win all around.

Other dumb, minor inconveniences: not being able to eat after delivery, wearing the stupid inflatable calf sleeves the night after delivery (so so minor but I was up all night both times and I was tired! I can't sleep with those things!), ugly scar having a limit to how many children I can have. Doctors usually don't recommend more than four c-sections (as opposed to vaginal deliveries which are more often unlimited), and while I want ALL THE BABIES, money already limited that, so. I get a pang of envy whenever anyone mentions pushing during their delivery, and probably always will, but I keep it in perspective.

I tried to find a takeaway for this post, but there really isn't one, other than type of delivery matters, but not much, which I already knew and have already said. I really just wanted to share my experience, since I didn't find much in the way of personal experiences/blog posts when I first began thinking about things. I feel the post was kind of rambling, and it's been a good year + coming with all my random thoughts. So that's that - my experience as a vaginal birth failure!


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  2. (Editing to add my name-- let's blame newborn sleep deprivation) Hi Alyssa- long time reader, first time commenting. This post is super timely for me...just delivered my second boy via c-section last week! Also a repeat c-section after a long and arduous labor resulting in an emergency c-section with my first, but my repeat was more of a choice, I didn't end up really trying for a VBAC. Your thoughts/feelings/observations really mirror my own and how I feel and felt about the whole thing. So nothing to add other than to say thanks for writing this! --- Kate

  3. Thanks for sharing Alyssa. I've often been told to expect a c-section since I'm, how did you call it, dainty and girly? I used to be scared of it, but after having abdominal surgery twice as part of my long quest to even get pregnant, it doesn't seem so scary anymore. Stories like yours also help.

  4. "I feel horribly guilty for feeling anything but grateful"
    I think it's perfectly okay to wish for one thing, and get upset/sad/mildly disappointed when it doesn't go the way you envisioned. If we go by the "someone else always has it worse" theory, we'd never be able to complain or talk about our feelings!! ie "my boss was so mean today!" "at least you have a job!" ; "our water heater is going to cost $5k to replace!" "at least you have a house!" "at least you have water!" etc etc etc.
    So let's just let go of the mommy guilt. We can absolutely love our kids and feel unbelievably blessed and still hope for certain outcomes. And all that being said, you had the labor you were meant to have. You still got your beautiful baby boy, and mama and baby were both healthy. That's all that matters. We shouldn't call it a birth plan, but birth wishes. The first time around, I totally had my typed out birth desires, and it helped give the nurses an idea of what I wanted. I also requested certain things in the paper for after-birth care (like I didn't want baby to be bathed immediately) and it was so nice that the nurses didn't badger me about it after I had just given birth and was completely out of it. And HEY! At least now you have an excuse you decide not to go for a fifth child :)

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  6. You're so brave for sharing this! Even though I've never had a C-section, I have read enough "oh no! interventions" type posts and sentiments that make me feel like having opted for pain meds in a big scary hospital I was doing it "wrong." Yeah, no.

    Also, I can attest that having a small child, recovering from vaginal birth and breastfeeding means you don't get much time to play and care for older sibling. I still wasn't supposed to lift him and take it easy.


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