My VBAC Birth Story

Our perfectly beautiful baby girl was born at 08:14 on a Wednesday morning. It was the most intensely beautiful moment of my life!

I have always wanted to have a normal vaginal delivery. The paediatrician in me knows the advantages this has for the baby (read more here), and the mommy-side of me just wanted to be a part of the women through all the ages who went through the experience of labour and giving birth as our bodies were designed to do it. So it was difficult for me to accept that I had to have a caesarean section with our first-born because he was in a breech position. (Read his birth story here).

I was hoping to have a different experience for baby number 2. I was so excited when I fell pregnant in Belgium, as I knew that they would be more open to a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After C-section). My gynaecologist in Leuven confirmed that if everything goes well I can definitely try, and I also had a midwife to assist me during labour.

When we decided to come back to South Africa for the delivery, I knew that I would have to find a gynaecologist who would be willing to give me a chance at a vaginal delivery. Many private gynaes are hesitant to allow a VBAC as there is a small risk that the uterus wall could rupture where the previous incision was made when you go through labour.

I was lucky to find a very competent and caring gynaecologist who assessed my birth and pregnancy history and agreed that I was a good candidate to try for VBAC. With each follow-up he looked at the size and position of baby, as well as the thickness of the previous C-section scar on my uterus. He reminded me that I will be closely monitored during my labour and if there are any signs of distress in the baby, or a delay in the progress of labour, he will have a very low threshold to do a C-section. At my 36week check-up everything was still in favour of a vaginal delivery and I was carefully optimistic that I would get the desire of my heart.

We considered to organize a midwife to attend our birth as this has been proven to improve the chance of a vaginal delivery, but as we did not build a relationship with anyone from the beginning, we decided to trust that the midwife at the hospital would fulfil this role. With lockdown and Covid 19 changing the world as we knew it right at the end of my pregnancy, I was so thankful that we did not have to cancel and be disappointed that this plan did not work out.

God really orchestrated my whole birth-story better than I could ever dream or plan it!

At 37weeks 4days pregnant, I woke up from a few strong contractions and a grumbly tummy. I blamed it on the multiple pieces of peppermint-crisp tart I ate the previous day for my birthday. After a Panado and a warm bath everything calmed down and we went about our normal day. By 17:00 the pains started again and became more regular. My husband was busy at the hospital with an emergency, so I made supper, bathed our 2.5year old son and put him in bed. By 20:00 I had to breathe and dance through strong contractions that were about 4min apart and lasted 20-30 seconds.  This was it! I was definitely in labour! My husband came home and after a quick shower, we packed our bags and left for the hospital by 21:30. (My husband’s parents stayed with us during the lockdown, so our son was in good hands and could just sleep soundly in his own bed).

At the hospital we were screened for Covid-19 with a questionnaire and temperature check before we were allowed to go to the labour ward. As it was still early in the lock-down my husband was allowed to stay with me for the whole duration of the labour and he was allowed to enter and leave the hospital once a day to visit me. No other visitors where allowed.

I was admitted and quite disappointed to learn that I was only 1.5cm dilated even though I already had frequent, strong contractions. We made ourselves comfortable, ready for a long night. Our baby’s heart rate was checked hourly with a Cardio-Tocograph but I could walk around freely in between. I hopped on an exercise-ball, took a shower, my husband read to me and we listened to worship music to pass the time.

At 01:30 my membranes ruptured spontaneously and the contractions became very very intense! I was now 6cm dilated and the sister offered to give me pethidine for pain relief. I declined as I really did not want any of the side-effects I have learned about pethidine. I did however use some N2O (laughing gas) during contractions and although it did not do much for the pain it gave me something to focus on and helped me to breathe regularly. My husband was such a great support for me, helping with whatever I needed, making sure I drink enough, rubbing my back, holding my hand and praying for me and our baby.

The sister checked me again at 04:00 and I was 7-8cm dilated. By now I was exhausted and the contractions seemed to slow down. Because of the previous C-section I could not get any medication to make the contractions stronger. I considered an epidural (even though this was not part of my initial plan), but was advised that an epidural would just slow the progression as I would then be stuck on the bed. I decided to stick it out for a little longer.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Cor 12:9-10

By 06:00 I did not progress at all. My gynaecologist came to check on us, and he was happy to give us an extra hour as baby had no distress, her head was very low in my pelvis and there were no signs of obstructive labour. I was so relieved but also so tired! Just before 7am I had the urge to push and the most intense part of the labour started. My gynaecologist and the nursing staff were so supportive and calm. Our baby’s head would move down with each contraction, just to slip back as it ended. In between contractions I breathed and prayed. It almost felt unreal that it was my body that was doing this. My gynaecologist remained optimistic and kept on reassuring me that I was doing everything right. I am so thankful for the trust he had in my body, his experience, skill and support was amazing.

After almost an hour of pushing with everything I had in me, my gynaecologist decided to attach a soft suction-cup to prevent her head from slipping back. Another 4 contractions and her head was finally out, quickly followed by a hand! That little hand must have been next to her face the whole time!!

The utter, raw, intense amazement, joy, relief and gratitude of the moment that I saw my baby is hard to explain in words.  She cried and became a lovely pink colour after a few seconds and I held her safely on my chest. My husband cut the cord while I could just stare at this beautiful, brand-new baby! She latched like a champion and had her first feed within 20mins after birth. She weighed a healthy 3.81kg! (This surprised us as her sonar weight was about 3kg at 36weeks, I think if I knew she was going to be so big I might have given up during the night).

I was amazed at what my body was capable of. Yes it was hard, yes it was intense and unpredictable and long, yes it was painful at times, but my body was created to handle this glorious event! I was exhausted and shaky but I could get up an hour after giving birth and take a lovely shower. I could take care of our baby’s needs and walk to the toilet. This was so different from my first birth. The most important for me was that I could go home after one night in the hospital and hug my 2.5yr old son. He could sit on my lap and climb all over me without the risk of hurting a C-section incision. After a few days I could pick him up and play around outside with him. My C-section recovery was definitely slower.  

All glory to God for giving me the desires of my heart and keeping us both safe throughout. I have a new respect for the strength and endurance in my body and will always refer back to this night if I want to give up on something that feels too difficult.

“In giving birth to our babies, we may find that we give birth to new possibilities within ourselves.”

Myla Kabat-Zinn

Dear Mom: you are strong! No matter how you birthed, you have this potential in you. So know that with God on your side, there is nothing you cannot do in life!

If you would like to learn more about VBACs in general, keep an eye out for my next post where I will explain who can try for a VBAC, what the success rates of TOLACs are, and what the risks are.

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