Keeping the Faith: A VBAC Story {Tampa Bay Doula}

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It was such an honor to walk with this family as they planned their VBAC. Brooke is a fitness coach who has made amazing positive health changes with her family and for her pregnancy, and helps others do the same. Always inspired and so faithful, I never doubted their commitment to giving this birth a chance to be everything they wanted it to be. Brooke's labor came on fast and furious, but her sweet sunny-side-up positioned girl decided to keep us on our toes as labor slowed and sped throughout that day. Reading this again reminds me of how much strength and calm was present, and how all things are possible when we give families the support and space to believe in themselves.

"Around 4:40am on a dreary, rainy morning of Thursday March 6th, 2014 I awoke to the familiar sensation of having to use the restroom.  At 40 weeks and 3 days pregnant, this was my new normal.  As soon as I got back in bed I felt a strong contraction, but assumed it was just Braxton Hicks.  Once it passed I rolled over to go back to sleep.  Just a few short minutes later, another contraction.  “Hmmmm. Probably nothing," I told myself.  It wasn’t until I had a couple more of these steady pains and was brought to my feet that I realized this may be early labor. My moans had woken Chavis, who appeared to be a bit disoriented and in disbelief.  We realized these weren’t going away.  I tried to find a comfortable position and ended up right back on the toilet as it allowed me to sit comfortably and for my pelvis to open.  After noticing that the contractions were coming consistently every 1.5-3 minutes apart, I decided I wanted to try and find some relief from a hot shower where the contractions only intensified. 

When I stepped out of the shower and began to dry off, I had to chuckle.  Chavis was wide eyed, fully dressed and had his shoes on ready to head to the hospital.  He was scurrying about grabbing the camera, phones, chargers, and last minute items to put in our hospital bags.  In the 20 years I’ve known him, I’ve never seen him move with such urgency.  I snickered and told him it wasn’t time to leave just yet.  Part of me was still in disbelief that I was actually in labor.  I started getting dressed “just in case” and just as another contraction came on, Chavis firmly encouraged me to text my doula, Mary Catherine.

It was now 5:57am and my text to her read, “Woke up at 4:40 with strong hard contractions.  Been coming very quickly every few mins but not lasting too long”.

MC: “Wow, great! How many mins apart?”

Me: “3?  Only lasting 30 secs or so”

MC: “That’s ok.  The frequency here is important when they’re that close.  What are you doing to cope through?”

Me: “Just got out of the shower and feels good to sit on the toilet”

MC: “Are you ready for me to come?”

Me: “I don’t think just yet.  It just came on so quickly”

MC: “Okay! I’ll start getting my stuff together, but CALL me as soon as you need me. 3 mins apart sounds like active labor, so don’t hesitate.”

At this point, I was spending more time laboring on the toilet than getting ready and the pain was getting pretty intense.

(a few mins later)

Me: “Chavis thinks you should come soon”

MC: “Getting ready and will head your way ASAP”

I finished getting dressed and moved to the exercise ball in the living room and put on the “Soundscapes” music channel to relax.  Chavis was buzzing around the house tending to Doxy dog and getting our bags ready. Mary Catherine arrived shortly after and I still thought it was “too early” to make a fuss because I felt great in between contractions.  She was helping me cope through the waves of pain and helped Chavis get things in order. It wasn’t long before she very calmly said, “I don’t want to cause any alarm, but I think it’s time we start heading to the hospital”.  I was in SHOCK!  Already??!  I had only been in labor for a couple of hours.

Chavis called my dad to come and pick up Doxy and Owen, who was still sound asleep.  My dad was already at his office in Tampa, but quickly made his way over to our house.  I went to the kitchen to mix up my Shakeology to ensure that I would have something to give me energy and nutrients for the long day ahead.  I remember Mary Catherine starting to put our bags outside the front door and gently reminding us that it was “time to go”.  I could sense her urgency.  {Doula note: Contractions were consistently 2 minutes apart at this point!}

My dad arrived shortly after and it was a blur as he rounded up Doxy and Owen. I began to get emotional as I realized where we were heading. I kissed Owen goodbye who was still half asleep and told him he was going to be a big brother today.  At two years old, he didn’t quite grasp the concept and very calmly looked at me and replied, “OK Mama” and I got a little teary knowing he wasn’t my “baby” anymore.  He was my big boy.  We all dashed out to the parking lot in the steady rain and loaded up the cars.  I could really sense the excitement and urgency in Chavis’ face. 

The contractions were still coming hard and fast during the drive over.  I reminded Chavis to drive carefully and assured him that the baby was not coming before we got to the hospital.  We pulled up to the emergency room valet around 8:00am where I informed the nice young lady that I was in labor.  She quickly got me a wheelchair and wheeled me to the triage unit while informing me that it was a busy day for labor & delivery already. 

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When I got to the admissions desk I tried to answer the nurse’s questions in between contractions.  Fortunately, I had pre-registered so there wasn’t much paperwork to deal with. They admitted me to a triage room and was told that the midwife, Tammy, would come and check me shortly. “Tammy??  Who’s Tammy??”, I thought. Ironically, Tammy was the ONLY midwife in the practice that I had not yet met during my prenatal visits.  I was a little panicked to say the least.  I grabbed my phone and looked up her profile on the practice’s website and learned she had 12 children of her own and 10 grandchildren!!  WOW!   As soon as she came in the room and began to talk to me my fears were put to rest.  She looked at my file and read aloud the reason for my previous C-section, “failure to progress” and said, “Ehh, we will take care of that!” At that moment I trusted her completely and knew I was in the best hands.

I was very anxious to hear how dilated my cervix was.  Tammy checked me around 8:45 and I was 4-5 cm!  I was almost halfway there already!  I was very encouraged.  It finally sunk in that this was the real deal. I was then formally admitted and taken to room 4219, a nice L&D suite where the real fun began

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I told Chavis to go ahead and call my mother to let her know it was time.  I also requested she please bring me some minty chapstick.  (Can’t believe I forgot that!)  I also asked the nurse for an exercise ball to have on hand as well.  Chavis then set up the laptop and put on some soothing piano music to help me relax.  I really wanted to drown out any excess noise and get in my “zone”, so I situated myself on top of the exercise ball and leaned over the bed onto my pillows and put the headphones on and faced the contractions head on.  I began to visualize my baby moving down.  The smell of clary sage filled the room as Mary Catherine dispersed essential oils, which was an unexpected treat. She also used counter pressure on my lower back to help alleviate some of the pain during each and every contraction, which helped tremendously!

When my mother arrived around noon I could immediately sense her anxiety when she entered the room.  I was in the middle of a strong and painful contraction and was moaning loudly. I can only imagine how difficult it was to see her child in such pain. She began asking Chavis and Mary Catherine a lot of questions.  I knew it upset her to see me hurting, but I needed my team to be strong for me so I told her that I was doing this naturally and if she was going to stay I needed her to respect my decision and requested she not talk so much (in so many words). It was imperative for me to stay focused and in my zone because I was extremely tired and the pain and exhaustion were taking a toll on my mind and body. Mary Catherine was wonderful at helping put her mind at ease by explaining what was happening.  My mother quickly settled in and became my bedside nurse making sure I stayed hydrated, holding my hands, and tending to my every need.

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The next several hours were a complete blur. I switched positions frequently trying to find some relief.  Although I had to be consistently monitored, the nurses were awesome and set everything up so that I could have free range and labor in the bathroom on the toilet, where it was most comfortable for me.  I was very grateful! At 12:30pm Mary Catherine noticed I lost my mucus plug and began having my bloody show, so I requested another cervical check.

Around 12:45pm, Tammy came in and let me know  I was 7-8 cm dilated!! I felt very encouraged as I had only gotten to 7 cm with Owen before my C-section. I was ready to switch gears and asked Chavis to change the music to praise & worship. I began to feel more and more pressure, but I was so exhausted I could barely keep my eyes open any longer. I decided to move to the bed around 1:30 to try and rest so I could still maintain some endurance to push when it was time. Unfortunately, I think this caused labor to stall and my contractions began to slow down. I was getting very irritable.  I remember hearing my mom ask Chavis about his job and I motioned for them to stop talking.  I’m sure it wasn’t very polite, but I needed peace and quiet.  With every wave of pain, the little voice inside my head would say “you can’t do this!  It’s too painful!  Just get an epidural and a C-section and be done with it already!!”.  I had to tell that voice to SHUT UP and just focus on one contraction at a time.  I reminded myself that every contraction was getting me closer and closer to meeting my baby and that I was nearing the finish line.

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At 3:00pm I requested another check and I was happy to hear I had progressed to 9 cm and baby was at “0” station.  My water had broken at some point over the last few hours, but was just trickling out.  Tammy advised us that there was a pocket of fluid around baby’s head that was remaining and was preventing the baby from putting full pressure on my cervix.  With my permission, she went ahead and broke the pocket of water to help things move along.  The pain I was feeling in my back was horrific!

I moved back onto the exercise ball and was rocking while leaning over the bed when my favorite praise song filled the room – “The Battle is the Lord’s” by Yolanda Adams.  This was one of the most memorable moments of the day for me.  The song was absolutely perfect for what I was feeling at that time.  I had Chavis turn it up as loud as it could go and began singing and praising!  (I’m sure what actually came out of my mouth sounded more like cats wailing, but in my mind I was singing like an angel. I can imagine how crazy I must have looked and sounded, but I couldn’t care less.  I was in my zone and needed the Lord’s strength to help me endure!) I was absolutely exhausted! 

Around 3:45pm my mother left to get some food for everyone.  I managed to get a few bites of sandwich down, which I desperately needed since I was only able to get a few sips of my ShakeO in on the way to the hospital.  Labor was continuing to slow down and the back pain was worsening.  I was beginning to feel defeated.  But I REFUSED to believe that my body made it to 9 cm dilated and I made it through all of the pain without so much as a Tylenol just to end up in surgery AGAIN!! 

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Around 5:30pm we discovered that although I was almost fully dilated, baby was in a bad position.  Baby had flipped to Right Occiput Posterior, which means she was face up with her body on my right side instead of being face down with her body in the middle.  This explained the back pain. Fortunately, Mary Catherine is very knowledgeable and is familiar with “Spinning Babies” techniques.  She knew exactly what to do.  She had me get in a side-lying release position on the bed and began to work her magic.  After about 15-20 minutes she brought out the rebozo wrap and began “sifting” my belly while I was on all fours.  I’m not sure at what point it happened, but because of these techniques, baby was able to get back into proper alignment and I started having the urge to push. Pushing was a great relief compared to just breathing through the contractions. I just listened to my body and visulized baby moving down. “Oh Happy Day” played over the speakers and the smell of peppermint essential oil filled the room and I was suddenly energized.

Tammy came back in to check me since I was spontaneously pushing with every contraction at this point. She said there was still a little lip of my cervix that was in the way.  She told me that she was going to see if she could move it on the next contraction.  When the next contraction came I began pushing and she was able to move the remaining cervix out of the way and I almost immediately felt baby move down.  I felt so much relief!  Things started moving VERY quickly at this point.  I knew something exciting was happening because the energy in the room was electric.  Chavis, Mary Catherine, my mom, and several nurses were all bustling around the room.  Tammy was getting all geared up to catch our baby when one of the nurses asked me if I wanted a mirror to watch my baby come out.  I had never considered it before, but once I saw everyone’s excitement I agreed.  I am SO glad I did because I locked my attention on the reflection in the mirror and watched my baby’s head start to emerge with every push, which only helped motivate me even more.  We were so close to meeting our baby!!!

I made sure to remind everyone in the room that we did not know the sex of our baby and I wanted Chavis to make the announcement.  Less than 10 minutes later, after a few more pushes, our baby was welcomed into the world at 8:47pm. I was convinced we were having another boy, so when I heard Chavis enthusiastically yell “IT’S A GIRL!!! IT’S A GIRL!!!” I couldn’t believe it!  The whole room exploded in excitement and joy!  I was absolutely elated! I could hardly believe that I had a daughter and after 16 hours of unmedicated labor I had a Vaginal Birth after Cesearean. I DID IT!!!  I’ve never felt more awake and alive in my life!! 

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My mother asked what her name was and I tearfully replied, “Grace Victoria”, a name Chavis and I had chosen before we ever said our wedding vows.  Tammy immediately put my daughter’s tiny body on my chest as the nurses began cleaning her off. The staff was wonderful about respecting all of my wishes such as delayed cord clamping, immediate skin to skin time, and keeping her in the room with us at all times.

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I honestly don’t think that I would have been able to have this experience if it weren’t for my amazing birth team. I am humbled and blessed to have them in my corner.  Without the support of my loving husband who trusted me to do what I felt was best, or my mother for providing the love and comfort only a mother can, or Mary Catherine for constantly reminding me that I was strong and my body was not broken, or Tammy for trusting that my body knew what to do, I do not think I would have found the same success.  Their faith and encouragement was absolutely essential in forming this birth story.

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All honor and glory ultimately goes to my Father God who knew the desires of my heart and blessed me with the birth I always envisioned. I am especially thankful that the Holy Spirit washed over me and gifted me a supernatural strength that I never knew I could possess.  I pray that my story encourages other women who are considering VBAC to trust their body and the process of natural birth.

I am a WARRIOR!!! Hear me ROAR!!!!"

Thank you Brooke for sharing your VBAC story as inspiration for other families who may be planning theirs, or who don't know that it is not only possible, but accessible. We hope families will check out our post on VBAC Options in Tampa for more information and resources for support of your birth choices.