By Michelle Barnes
On February 5th, 2021, after 38 weeks and 5 days of pregnancy, I had a successful Vaginal Birth After Caesarean (VBAC) and welcomed my second-born into our lives, smack-dab in the center of our living room. Talk about an unplanned home birth!
During my first pregnancy, my mother would recount her birth experiences with my brother and I, both caesarean sections. Back then, her doctors had believed her hips were too narrow for a vaginal delivery which is why both births were scheduled C-sections. I remember thinking, how is that possible? Women have been giving birth from the beginning of time, without medical interventions, through only the support of the women in their communities. My grandmother had all thirteen of her children naturally, and they lived in a remote village in the Philippines where it would be very difficult to get to a hospital for medical attention. I didn’t know what to expect for my first birth, but I knew I didn’t want to stick with a traditional OBGYN, so I researched midwifery services in the area and decided to place my care in their capable hands. Still unaware of how I could advocate for myself, my firstborn was delivered by caesarean due to labour stalling and the excuse that the baby was wrapped in the cord (unbeknownst until she was born, of course).
For my second pregnancy, I wanted to experience the natural child birthing process. This time, I would be better informed so that I could feel better supported, be confident in making well-thought-out decisions, and I wanted to have someone to help me be firm when needed.
My husband and I chose to involve a doula for this birth experience. From the moment we interviewed our doula, we knew she would be invaluable to our birth team - it was a perfect match from the start. Without her, I would not have had the mental strength, physical respite, or emotional support I needed throughout my labour.
Having had a previous C-section, my OBGYN and midwives suggested I have a scheduled C-section as a backup plan. I agreed to their suggestion as it was reasonable to have a backup plan, but I knew I would do everything in my power to delay and reschedule the date if I felt I could labour naturally - I had to at least have a trial of labour after caesarean (TOLAC).
Throughout this pregnancy, I educated myself on birthing positions, and pregnancy exercises, as well as reading positive birth stories to mentally prepare myself. I had access to a plethora of reading materials this time around, and I made sure to take advantage of every opportunity to learn more about VBAC.
Fast forward to the “week of reckoning”: Early labour signs began on Tuesday. I visited my midwife’s office and was informed that I was 3-4cm dilated, my cervix was very stretchy, and I had a bit of bloody show. By Friday morning, my mucus plug had fallen out, and light contractions were starting intermittently. I went about my day as I normally would have, I wrapped some things up at work, I held a couple work meetings, I took my cat to the vet, and had a shower. I asked my mother to pick up my daughter from school, just so I could have a restful night in case I went into labour over the weekend.
I remember my husband getting home after work as I was playing loud music and having my own little dance party, having fun and enjoying my evening alone. By 7:30 p.m., I let the midwives know my contractions started but were only 6-16 minutes apart, still weak and inconsistent. My husband suggested I also let my doula know that she should head over so we can practice birthing positions and techniques to alleviate discomfort during labour. I remember being hesitant to even call the doula over because I thought maybe I was imagining things, the contractions were so weak, it might all be in my head.
Once our doula arrived at 8:30 p.m., my husband decided to take a nap while we chatted and practised different positions and techniques during my contractions - we had dimmed the lights down,, and were sitting on the living room floor. I found that being on all fours during contractions helped ease the tension I felt with each onset, and my doula added counter-pressure against my hips. My doula was my greatest support person while my husband was napping. One minute we were joking around as I sipped on my Red Raspberry Leaf tea, the next moment I felt an intense contraction, and all joking ceased. It was 9:30 p.m., and it was time to wake my husband and page the midwife.
My husband came barreling down the stairs, and said he had our pre-packed hospital bag in the car. We were ready to go to the hospital. My midwife was on the phone with us, I could not speak with her so my doula had to take over answering her questions. During their conversation, I felt an incredibly intense contraction that made me vocalize my discomfort. The pressure was building to what felt like a bowling ball resting on my pelvis. As the contractions intensified, the pressure on my pelvis caused my waters to break, a sudden gush of warm liquid spread, soaking my pants, and a slight panic washed over me. The midwife tasked my husband with calling 911- I wasn’t going to make it to the hospital in time. Thankfully, the midwife was already in her car and would be at our house within ten minutes.
Paramedics began filing in within two minutes (since we practically live next door to the hospital), they spoke in hushed, urgent tones as they asked my husband to gather every towel in the house. I think this was when my husband’s panic set in, since he didn’t know where we kept the towels! The next thing I remember was my husband helping me into my winter coat and trying to get me down the steps and into the ambulance - “No…” I told my husband, “there’s no way I’m making it down those steps into that ambulance, I don’t want to ride by myself”,
I removed my coat and fell to my knees. I felt the urge to push while I leaned against the corner of my sectional sofa. My vision for a water birth in the hospital was seemingly a distant one. Through the contractions, an overwhelming feeling of determination took over. I heard myself say aloud, “Breathe, I can do this”, “I’ve got this”, and then in my head I said “I trust my body, I trust my baby, we can do this”. My doula reassured me in response, “You’ve got this”.
While the midwife drove, she was instructing me to keep my breathing shallow, and though I had an immense urge to push, I took shallow breaths and willed myself to keep that baby in until she arrived.
The midwife finally came into the house, and was able to set up the room with her home birth kit. I wasn’t aware of how much time had passed, but it felt like as soon as I saw her, she checked where the baby was in the birth canal and immediately instructed me to begin pushing. With the first push, the baby’s head descended into the birth canal. On the second push, the head was fully out. The third and final push, my baby boy was placed on my skin and I heard the sweetest, somewhat vulnerable crying sound fill the living room. Finding relief after labour and delivery, I entered a euphoric haze that made me feel totally, and completely invincible.
It was an amazing opportunity to have experienced birth in two very different ways. My first birth experience was full of interventions which led to a caesarean section and a recovery period where it felt like my insides had to find their way back to their normal places for many weeks after birth. On the other side of the spectrum, my second birth experience seemed to have such a natural and purposeful progression which led to an endorphin-based high that is indescribable, albeit laced with fear and anxiety.
I’m proud to say I was able to deliver safely and have a successful VBAC as planned. I’m proud of myself for advocating to stay home and not be forced into an ambulance by myself, with no support person. I’m thankful that my husband and I decided on bringing a doula into our support team this time around, and that it was financially affordable through the Birth Doula Program. I’m astonished by the strength I commanded in a highly stressful and uncertain situation. I trusted my body, and my baby, and we exhibited the definition of teamwork. But most of all, I have proven to myself that though this birth experience was amazing, both deliveries resulted in two of the most precious human beings in my whole world - my two beautiful babies. The life my husband and I created is miraculous in itself, but knowing I was able to bear these miracles gives me an inner power that is undeniable.
Michelle Barnes is a mother of two - a daughter who is five years old and a baby boy born February 2021. When she is not running after the kids or wiping tushies, she loves to read anything by Abbi Glines, or to watch re-runs of TV series like Gilmore Girls and Fresh Prince. Michelle loves animals, and often has to save the cats from being ridden like horses by the kids. Sometimes the days feel long, but try to remember that the years go by fast. Michelle also enjoys making mini piñatas during her downtime, check out some of her creations on Instagram @minibreakthru.
More moving birth stories
Did you miss the Birth Sharing Circle? Listen to some of the 2021 finalists telling or reading their own birth stories. Also, don't miss the introduction by Karen Lawford who talks about maternity care and Indigenous communities, and the musical performance by Kim June-Johnson. A truly beautiful and moving event.