Mels VBAC journey so far...

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Why I made the decision to try for a VBAC, and what I’m learning about myself, my previous birth and motherhood along the way…

Curiosity is a dominant driving force in my life. Ever since I can remember my curious mind has driven me into friendships with exciting characters, conversations that many find absurd and ‘not for the dinner table’ or stuck in bogged cars in remote locations or boarding dingy aeroplanes. Curiosity is probably why I find myself in new friendships weekly, in a career where I travel to faraway and sometimes risky places, where I can probe at all the big questions of life. It is likely also the reason I have a severe inability to not be able to stick to any sort of routine in my life. As curiosity wanders through the world, I go with her. She is the leading lady in my life, and as I get older I appreciate her more and engage with her in all the ways I can. Having a toddler makes for a curious life. I truly believe that curiosity has led me to wonder about life, death, people, and the living world around me from a young age. As I grow older it has given me the gift of gratitude and a more profound love and affection of others, myself and life in all forms.

So - all that introduction was to say that when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, just over three years ago you can bet I was curious about all things growing and birthing humans. If there is any subject to spend some time wondering and marvelling at in this world, surely creating, growing and releasing a real-life-actual-human earth side has to be numero uno?!?! Yes? No? Well, I think so…

So with those two positive lines on my pee stick, my curiosity launched me into the search party of all search party; a quest for information and knowledge to empower me in my birth journey. In practice this mainly meant more *non-alcoholic wine time probing chats with my mama friends, googling fingers, and a bedside table filled with lots of booked eared, highlighted pages, and many open tabs on all my digital devices. I found myself down the rabbit hole of TED talks and YouTube videos. My social media friends went from a following of real actual real life known friends, to ones by names such as @naturalbabymama and a host of other mums, midwives, doulas, and pregnancy ‘influencers’ (I believe that’s a thing now). All these women became my way-finders, serving me up the all the dishes 101 pregnancy and birthing had to offer.

Within a few months, or should a say a trimester, I went from naive and ignorant swelling lady to lady with a head full of swelling information. The knowledge part was important, and the doing part even more so. In the lead up to my first birth I was confident in my ability to birth naturally. I had weighed up all my pain relief choices and decided what I would/would not let pass through my body or baby. I attended a couple of more intensive birth workshops – privately with a doula/yoga instructor and my husband, and at my local hospital (oh and if we are counting I think it’s important to include the tens of many birth tutorials I watched online, I am well versed in stretched vaginas). I had acupuncture, Osteo, continued pregnancy yoga throughout my trimesters and bounced like a bunny on my birthing ball in front of reality TV most nights. I think its fair to say I was geared up.

So birth Numero Uno - well as you might have guest from the title of this blog my dream vaginal birth did not come to fruition. I'm not about to give you the play by play details, for reasons I’ll explain later in this post, so let's just leave it to this executive summary of the event.

-    Waters broke spontaneous labour

-    Entire labour approx. 2.5 days- with 16hrs of very active labour

-    Baby never descended, and dilation only ever got to 6cms

-    An abrupt ending for various reasons which ended with me in an operating theatre having an emergency caesarean.

NOT WHAT I WAS EXPECTING OR PREPARED FOR!

So lets get to feeling all the feelings…

I know in 99.9% of births this isn’t the case, but I attribute a lot of the negative feelings I have about my birth to the midwife I had on duty the majority of my labour. There was a great deal of unnecessary poking, prodding, miscommunication (or just plain rude communication), lack of support and in restrospect, bullying from her. I felt left in the dark throughout my labour and was utterly depleted and disempowered by the end of it. I do want to make a note here though that all the pre-labour work I did was not wasted. The most positive and empowering moments throughout my looooooong labour came from using the tools and practice I had in my preparation toolbox. Breathing, movement, mantras, and my incredible husband were my weapons which powered me through the day/s of labour- Hubs had learned pregnancy acupressure in the lead up, and he kneaded me in the lower back for hours, like a pain relief Adonis.

At 10:30 am my baby girl came into the world. She was honestly the most familiar stranger I had ever met. I’d known her in all the lifetimes and I was meeting her for the first time here. At this point 2.5 years later there is already a library worth of words I could write about her. I’ll leave that for another post another time.

Fast forward to October 2017 when we got the glorious news I am pregnant with Baby G v.2.0. Of course I have all those regular mum hang-ups - ‘how will I love another baby?’, ‘WTAF am I going to do with two kids?’ ‘ugh, breastfeeding’ etc. etc. et al. But apart from all the normal anxieties, one major gloomy doomy thought I had from early on in the pregnancy was ‘shit! I have to give birth again’ which really, subconsciously meant I would have to confront my previous birth and deal with all those emotions I had about it.

The good news is now at 36 weeks pregnant, I can confidently say I have mostly come to terms with previous birth, debriefed it well and dealt with the trauma related to it. Trauma lives in our tissue, it knows our body well and it can get way to comfroatble and familiar with our bodies. When the trauma is realted to birthing, I think the womb might be its familiar resting place. The space for growing another human is in my opinion sacred and meant that there ain't room for both baby and my hiding trauma. One needed to be evicted and its not the baby (just yet). To help me see, understand and release the trauma I have had wonderful professional therapy, spoken with close friends and debriefed a lot. I have my fantastic doula, Tash, who asks me things and prompts me to talk about the birth while not letting me get bogged down in it. Debriefing and feeling all the feelings, while looking forward to a whole new experience with a whole new baby has got me into such a good headspace. I’m (almost) excited.

Deciding to go VBAC - One really positive experience for me throughout both my first and now second pregnancy is the relationship with my Obstetrician, which I know isnt always the case. She has been so encouraging of my decision to try for a VBAC, actually initating the idea in the first place. After witnessing a few close friends achieve their VBACs and, of course curiosity, I made the decision early on to work towards a vaginal birth. Apart from all benefits of birthing this way for both mum and bub (available for your reading everywhere on the internet) I think my decision was mainly propelled by the driving maternal urge to discover what birthing a human feels out of my actual VAGINA feels like. I got so close last time, and I had every labour in one…except that part.

With about a month until bubs due date (which side note: I think should be rebranded to due month, to take some dagnma pressure of us already anxious, date watching mums) I am well and truly embracing my VBAC journey. Whether I make the summit, base camp or however far I get, I'm so confident in my decision to attempt a VBAC. The decision-making process in itself; the information, knowledge and nest of support I have found in my VBAC birthing community has given me many gifts already. A more profound understanding of birth and my birth, healing, and closeness to myself and my body and baby. I am feeling empowered and resting assured in the knwoig that it is indeed the process not the outcome that shapes us.

So before I leave, here are a few short pieces of advice, ideas and learnings I’ve had this time round… They  are all my from my own personal experience in deciding to opt for a VBAC, dealing with my previous birth trauma and just some general opinions about a few topics. If they are useful, great! If not, please completely disregard! No mother needs additional advice that isn’t helpful or useful. Birth is so personal.

Every child across the whole wide world throughout history, is unique and different. So duh! of course so will the pregnancy and birth that brings them into the world be. My friend comparison is the thief of joy and expectations can make us miss our moments, the deepest revelation that comes with each new life. I'm holding this one close, to let myself know deep in my soul that my first birth isn't my last or only birth. A new baby, a new birth and whole new experience awaits.

Share knowledge in sacred spaces with safe people. This one I'm only just grasping. As a natural born over sharer and chronic questioner I could poke and prod stories out of people all day long.  Some wise friend counsel and some reflection time are teaching me that when it comes to the sharing of birth stories (particularly traumatic experiences), they should be reserved for safe spaces, in the company of with people you trust. And best-case scenario with women who have already birthed. At the moment I am part of a few online communities for birth and pregnancy support. What I am there for is to get informed and find some practical ways I can make this VBAC more achievable. Sadly, what I have found in some groups (mainly online) is venting, oversharing of the horror stories of failed VBACs, a myriad of anecdotal war stories and just lots of plain old scary information with the intention of what?! To scare away any woman from birth methinks. SHUT YO LEGS TIGHT, is the message I’m getting. I generally scroll quickly past and try not being lured into the drama, but…well… curious human nature generally wins out. The result for me is never positive. It breeds unnecessary fear and fills my mind with a catalogue of scenarios to dwell on at 3am, post 4th night-time wee. So no, of course I don’t want to be lied too or under the illusion that all births are beautiful, or spoon-fed the idea that sunshine lollipops rainbows and the best orgasm of my life will deliver my baby into the world. But I also don’t want to be psyched out of the whole ordeal before I have even started, all because some stranger on the internet told me it's not worth trying.

Birth is natural, birth can be risky. Listen, the body knows how to birth but that doesn’t make it safe all the time. Before I got into this motherhood gig I spent almost a decade working in the humanitarian sector. Believe me, I know the reality is bleak for women across our world and I have sadly spent way too much time with women who have lost babies during birth (happy to write about this at some point, if Tash lets me come back). This was the history and the reality I took with me into all my learning and decision making about my own first birth. Flipside… I also know that age-old tale about the woman who gave birth in a coma, or the orgasming travelling tribe of birthing warriors championed by Ina May and other midwife warriors. I have a storybook filled with a myriad of women I have met over the course of my travels to many countries that have given birth alone in a field, walked miles to a birthing clinic only to deliver their babies on the journey, or given birth at home in a hut with traditional birth attendants. One of my Ugandan colleague's mother gave birth to her and her five siblings alone, in the jungle, mostly during civil war... I mean.... If she isn't a hero, I don't know who is. So I guess what I am trying to say is I believe birthing is a) natural, and birthing is b) risky. It isn't an either/or but a both/and. What I do know and feel assured in for my own birth, is that just the mere fact I’m having my baby in Australia means the risk of a dire birth situation is very very very minimal.  In world standards we have a primo healthcare system, sufficien pre/post-natal care and birth is not taboo. This means mothers are supported and it makes birth far less risky. If women in developing countries had access to all the options we do, just around the birth not on the actual day (midwives, traditional birth attendants, testing, etc.) their risks would be minimal too. So all this is too say, I’m not afraid of birth and I’m not treating it as some risk adverse exercise. But I also don’t think we can pretend all births end well, and intervention is unnecessary everytime.

Birth trauma is real. The dismissal (intentional or not) of another person’s trauma only adds to their pain and delays their healing. I have close friends of mine who have had the most incredible births. Their bodies did miraculous things, their babies arrived perfectly, and for some the pain was pretty minimal. Then I have my birth. What I have found is that when I tried to share the pain, sadness, anxiety, and feeling of disempowerment my birth delivered to me to some of my close friends, try as they may, their ability to empathise is stagnant and the conversation feels shallow. It is not anyone's fault; it is just such a deep personal pain. What I’ve found is most of the people who love me don't want me to linger in personal pain so they try to band aid up a conversation, quickly changing the subject or finding some sort of comparison that attempts to brighten the tone...or worse this ‘at least you have a healthy baby.’ FYI people, that comment can be so offensive. I don’t any mother of a living newborn has not thought that in gratefulness but ‘oh yeah, thanks for your insight'.

What I want people to know, particularly other mothers is this - don’t discredit another women’s birth, based on your own experience. I actually think that’s a life lesson rather than just a unique one to birthing experiences. Listen more, speak less…And  if someone is bravely sharing their sacred story with you, please don’t shut it down. Make sure you do what you can to let them know they are heard and you are doing your best to understand their experience.

A positive pregnancy and birth does a confident mother make. Confidence, presence of mind, postnatal health and wellbeing, resilience and the ability to bounce back, intuition and a nurturing working body are all attributes of an empowered mother. A woman who was heard and had voice and agency in her birthing. She made decisions, and she wasn't told how she should act or how her baby should be born. I believe -and there is plenty of good research out there to support this- an empowering birth does a confident mother make, which in those first four months (aka: that 4th trimester) is the wind beneath her wings.

Stick to the facts, but give the data some room to talk. I honestly believe knowledge is power and having the right information is vital in the lead-up to birth and the decisions we make as mums (Private/Public, Home/Hospital, Pain relief or not) But please make sure its helpful information. I recently had someone share with me some terrifying data about the hospital I am birthing at. At this stage in the game that information wasn't helpful it was defeating. Certainly not the intention of the sharer, but for me, it felt like more odds stacked against me. In divine sensing, a midwife from the hospital just randomly called me to chat the next day. It was amazing to be able to talk through the data and have it broken down for me. She also shared some insightful information with me making me feel even more confident and equipped in my choices. I have a little bit of insider weaponry stored away for D day in my VBAC ninja purse. Give data a story. Imagine if life boiled down to our stats not our story. I feel the same way about research. Find out the purpose of it, how it is used? what it means? Who is it for?

My bodies nobodies body but mine – I have rights and choices, and the art of negotiating is my friend. As a parent, I am a big believer in children understanding their rights concerning themselves, their bodies and how they participate in the world. This means I am teaching my daughter about her body, that it is hers to own, know and understand. The choices she makes with it are her choices. We like to sing the song 'My bodies nobodies body but mine, you can touch yours, but you cant touch mine.' The irony in all this is that as a woman, I sometimes think when it comes to anything to do with my vagina, fertility, etc. I have forgotten this little ditty.

It seems to me that the common trend in our society when it comes to our reproductive selves is to often place it all in the hands of medical professionals. Perhaps we forget that growing babies and birthing them is as much a natural personal experience as our first period, or breast bud blossoming. Why do we, in our pregnancy suddenly surrender our bodies willingly to the hands of doctors? No wonder we end up confused when decisions are made about our bodies that feel counterintuitive.

Yes of course there are instances where birth does become a medical case, but should it always be treated that way? Again with the wisdom of others like my doula Tash, midwives and other professionals I have come to understand more about my birth-rights and the process of negotiation during a medicalised birthing process. I feel encouraged to ASK QUESTIONS about what someone plans to do with my body and my baby (crazy to think hey?) For example: I was told I would need to be at the hospital early in this labour because I was a VBAC so…I asked why? I was told I would need continuous monitoring so… I asked why? The list goes on, for weeks now as I get closer to the birth I just keep asking why? and you know what, no one has died of question fatigue yet. In fact probably the opposite, all parties (Obgyn, Hospital staff, support groups, doula) have been willing, able and confident in their ability to have conversations with me about my body. Cause you know what? It’s exactly that, my body. As my VBAC support midwife said, 'control what you can, let go of what you can’t.' I've learned I can control a lot more than I initially thought, and I have surrendered much more than I ever thought I would with the right information. Mainly because I ASKED WHY?

Gosh, I have babbled! But, before I go one last piece of advice and likely the most important yet – GO GET YO-SELF A DOULA, or someone to advocate and support you well during your pregnancy, birth and postnatally. There is no way I could have ever predicted the scenario we found ourselves in at my first birth. My husband and I were left to fend and figure out so much on our own. More support for him and an advocate for me is what we needed. I am so grateful that this time around we will have that. And it is not just about the actual day; if the idea of having an unfamiliar birthing goddess of woman in your birthing space freaks you the F out, you can still opt for a Doula pre-and post birth. Already much of my journey has felt lighter and I am more relaxed going into round two from just having the ear and advice of Tash. She has quietened my anxieties with the wisdom of her own birth journeys and experiences and given me a great deal of practical knowledge. I'm so grateful.

In retrospect, I actually can't believe I didn't do it for number one. How, in all my curiosity, did I miss all the fantastic information about doulas being the best option for pain relief, reducing perinatal and postnatal depression and helping women achieve the births they set out for?!?!  How is this traditional role only just becoming a popularised and accepted role in western birthing? It's CRAZY to me. Women supporting women. Keeping sacred space. Empowering them. Advocating for them. This is not a thing why?

I think I’ll leave it at that… maybe I’ll post to you again from the flipside (with all my free time ☺)

Mel x

*I want to make it clear that even though throughout most of my labour I had a problematic midwife (who has since been moved on), every other midwife I had come through my door during or after my labour was saving grace. I felt supported in my breastfeeding choices, equipped and rested by the time I left the hospital, and it’s all thanks to them