I knew before I even got a positive pregnancy test with my second child that I wanted a vaginal birth after a cesarean, more commonly referred to as a VBAC. My daughter Madison’s birth had been traumatic. I was left feeling violated, destroyed and gutted like a fish, which I later found out, wasn’t truly necessary. I knew I wanted to avoid that, and the severe depression that followed her birth, if at all possible.
I read everything I could about VBACs. I read every book I could get my hands on. I scoured the internet. I even went as far as requesting my surgical records from my first cesarean in order to figure out what type of cesarean scar I had. That way, I would know if I was even considered a good candidate for a VBAC. I was confident I could do it.
The first mistake I made was going to the same doctor that delivered my daughter. At the time, I hadn’t know that my cesarean with my daughter had been unnecessary. I didn’t know it could have been prevented. At this point, I still trusted Dr. B.
At my first doctor’s appointment, I asked my doctor about the possibility of a VBAC and he said he didn’t have any objections to my attempting a VBAC. Everything was pretty uneventful. I was confident up until the month before my due date. I wasn’t having any real braxton hicks, and nothing really seemed to be progressing. I started using evening primrose oil and drinking red raspberry leaf tea, but still, nothing.
Shortly before my due date I had an appointment with Dr. B. He gave me a form with several things listed and wanted my initials beside each one. I remember reading through the list and nearly every item on it ended with “and you could bleed to death and die.” Alarms were ringing in my head, but I tried to ignore them. I don’t know why I ignored them. I rationalized I was just being paranoid and worrying too much. This was the first time my intuition had told me something wasn’t right.
I should have listened.
Four days before my due date, I went to my doctor’s appointment. I was barely a centimeter dilated, despite all the time I had spent walking trying to speed things up. Dr. B then informed me that in two days he would be out of town. I don’t remember exactly what had been said, but it boiled down to the fact that I need to go into labor in the next two days to have a shot at a VBAC, or I’d have to take my chances with the on-call doctor, and those chances weren’t likely to be good. The other thing Dr. B suggested, was a cesarean.
I was so overwhelmed. I didn’t know what to do. I remember feeling helpless. I felt my stomach sink as I sat there on the exam table feeling like I had no real options. I was scared. My head was racing and I was being rushed to make a decision.
I left the doctor’s office telling him I’d call back later that afternoon. I need some time to think. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to think. My husband and I talked about it for a little bit. I still hadn’t decided. The nurse-midwife under Dr. B called me, checking in to see if I had figured anything out. She asked me when the last time I ate was, and seemed a little disappointed when I told her it was recent because it would mean I’d have to wait until morning for a cesarean. But I still hadn’t decided, so I hung up telling her I’d call back.
I didn’t like any of the options. I didn’t want another cesarean.I couldn’t make myself go into labor in two days, and I remembered reading that induction wasn’t a good idea for women wanting a vaginal birth after a previous cesarean. I then came up with my own option. I called Dr. B’s office and asked if they could transfer my care to a doctor in Anchorage who would be willing to attend a VBAC. He seemed a little reluctant, but agreed and transferred me to Dr. L in Anchorage.
This was my second mistake.
I didn’t know anything about Dr. L except what Dr. B had told me. We drove to anchorage, three hours away and began our long adventure camping out in hotels. Dr. L seemed friendly enough and seemed positive about my ability to have a vaginal birth. I liked him.
My due date came and went, despite all of the time I spent walking on the treadmill in the fitness room at the hotel. Even with my due date passed, I was still fairly confident. It wasn’t until I hit 41 weeks that I became discouraged. I was 41 weeks and my dilation hadn’t changed since I was 39 weeks. I was having mild contractions; uncomfortable, but nothing painful.
Dr. L requested that I come in on May 19th for a non-stress test to make sure the baby was doing alright. I went in and laid on the monitor for about half an hour. Dr. L told me I was having regular contractions, but they were weak and I should go to the hospital and get a “light induction” because he didn’t like what he was seeing on the printout from the non-stress test. I became instantly worried, not only for my baby, but about the induction. I specifically asked him, “Isn’t it bad to induce women who want a VBAC?” He smiled and told me that lower-dose inductions were fine and that he’s done it plenty of times. There was nothing to worry about.
I was instructed to get my things and be to the hospital by noon. I was also told not to eat. The worst part was, I hadn’t eaten since early the previous afternoon, nearly twenty-four hours prior. I was starving, but I wasn’t allowed to eat. At one point after the induction had been started, I asked Dan to buy me pretzels for after I had the baby since the cafeteria would likely be closed after I delivered. He asked me how many, I said five and he looked at me like I was crazy.
We showed up to the hospital and I was checked in. Shortly after, my friend Dana arrived to be there with me for the birth. The nurse got an IV started and started administering the pitocin. It didn’t seem to have much of any affect. Dr. L had them raise the dose and next thing I knew, it was working too well. My contractions were off of the monitor and double-peaked. Dr. L came in looking worried and turned the pitocin down and left me to labor.
A lot of this is blurred and I can’t exactly remember the order in which everything happened. The first few hours were fine, but the environment became hostile, depressing and horrible and it did so very quickly.At one point, a nurse came in and checked the baby’s readout from the fetal monitor. She told me “Baby looks great!” Smiled and left the room. This was the second time I heard alarms go off in my head. If the baby looked great, why was I in here being induced?
I remember asking if I could get up, walk around, sit on a birth ball, do squats, walk the hallway, take a shower, anything. Despite how I pleaded, the nurses continually told me I had to stay in bed on the monitor. It got to the point I began to feel like a prisoner in my hospital room. Anytime the nurse came in, she’d cast an angry eye in my direction if I even looked like I wanted to get out of bed. After she left the room at one point, I just cried. I felt so helpless and trapped. I didn’t know I could tell them no. I didn’t know I had the right to leave. I didn’t know I could refuse to consent.
Dr. L came in, seeming somewhat annoyed that the baby kept escaping the monitor and suggested an internal monitored. He assured me that if I had an internal monitor, I would be able to able to get up and move around. I was close to three centimeters when the internal monitor was placed and my water was broken. I had never experienced a broken water with my daughter and the feeling was weird and kind of gross.
I continued to labor, but despite being told I could get up, I was still being confined to my bed. I don’t know exactly when it was, but some time after my water was broken I gave up. I felt defeated. I didn’t care what happened any more. I was in so much pain. I was starving, exhausted and uncomfortable. Worst of all, I didn’t seem to be making any real progress.
Shortly before midnight, Dr. L came in, glanced at the strip from the fetal monitor and told me I should have a cesarean because my son seemed to be experiencing fetal distress. The moment the doctor said “fetal distressm” I felt the tears well. This was the same thing they said with my daughter. I felt like a failure. I was broken. I was useless. I couldn’t do anything right. I couldn’t even go into labor on my own. Something was wrong with me. These thoughts all hit me at once in the few seconds following those words, “fetal distress.”
I was completely resigned at this point. I asked for a shot of pain medication to calm my nerves. Until this point, I hadn’t had anything, but I had given up. I was getting torn open and paralyzed from the neck down. It didn’t seem to matter anymore if I had pain medications at this point.
The nurses started prepping me for the surgery and Dana started gowning up. My husband didn’t come back with me because he has a hard time remain conscious in the presence of blood. While the anesthesiologist was placing my spinal, I was numb. Not from the drugs, but emotionally. I had tried so hard. I had read so much, hoped and prayed and then spent all of this money, money we didn’t really have, to go there to have this birth. It was all crashing down on me and I was again, a failure.
I don’t know why, but while the spinal was being administered, the thought of the needle hitting to deep, and the convulsing and dying on the table crossed my mind. I wondered if the moment I said goodbye to my husband in the delivery room was the last moment I’d see him. I wondered how he’d react when they walked out to tell him I died. I wondered how he’d take care of our daughter alone. I wondered if they’d be able to save my son if I did die.
Part of me hoped I would.
It wasn’t healthy or normal. I had been fine up to this point, but I had never felt so desolate or destroyed except during the birth of my daughter. This time though, it hurt more. This time, I had really tried. This time, I had been confident and optimistic.
I failed, again.
The cesarean went as well as any cesarean could go. Daniel Hobart Van Vleet II was 8lbs and 1oz. Dana left the room with the baby after getting some pictures of me with him. I don’t remember what was going on while I was being stitched up. I was hungry. I was sleep deprived. I felt like I was dying.
I woke up in the recovery room and my husband was standing there. I didn’t recognize him at first. He started talking to me, telling me about the baby. I panicked and asked him where the baby was. He told me he was in the nursery. I got upset and panicked. Scenarios like my baby being kidnapped, or switched with another baby started racing through my head.
I started shaking. It wasn’t because I was upset. I couldn’t stop violently shaking. Dan seemed worried about it and kept asking if I was cold or if I needed a blanket. I focused on stopping the shaking, but despite my efforts, I couldn’t get it to stop. I was wheeled into a small room. Dan stayed with me for a little bit, spending time with me and our new son. Then, he went back to the hotel and I went to sleep, Danny snuggled up on me throughout the night.
I was in the hospital five days, and then we made the drive home to Soldotna. I remember feeling ashamed. I wasn’t excited to see people or show off. I had failed. People had told me I would fail, and I didn’t. I was embarrassed and humiliated. They were right. I was a failure.
I experienced postpartum depression following my sons birth. Although it wasn’t as bad as after I had my daughter, it wasn’t easy and took a lot of effort to work through. I felt so worthless for so long. I felt like a failure and it took a long time for that feeling to ease. Shortly after my son’s birth, I began working on becoming certified as a birth doula. It was during this training that I began to realize that both of my cesareans were unnecessary. It was then that I realized, this trauma and horror could have been prevented.