How to Be Your Own Advocate for Your Heath and Body

A Personal VBAC Story

Guest Written by Kara Swanson

Kara Swanson is a certified nutritionist, recipe developer, and meal plan creator over at Life Well Lived. Her passion is to show that eating clean + healthy is not only simple but also really delicious. Life is crazy and Kara loves making the food part a no-brainer by sharing quick + easy meals for those busy weeknights. No more boring chicken + broccoli. Come say hi + follow along on Instagram @karaswanson where Kara shares all her fave recipes + tips for living a healthier life.

VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean) 

May 31st, 2019 will always be a special day: not only did we welcome a sweet baby boy into our lives but my dream of having a VBAC after two c-sections came true. I will never forget laboring for hours and wondering if it would really happen. I wasn’t afraid of the .4% chance that my uterus would rupture but I was terrified of another c-section. As if at any moment the nurse would walk in and say, “times up!” and they’d take me away to the O.R.

I had to constantly fight my own fears and doubt and truly believe my body could do this. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself just a bit. My journey to having a VBA2C (vaginal birth after two c-sections) started as soon as I had my first c-section 7 years ago. It was an emergency c-section and a bit traumatic. And then on top of adjusting to having a baby and recovering from a major abdominal surgery, I had a severe infection that wasn’t diagnosed until 6 weeks postpartum. It landed me in the hospital for a week and left me with drains in my stomach for a week after that. Needless to say, my c-section experience was not great. 

Fast forward 3 years and I was pregnant with my second daughter and determined to have a VBAC. I thought I had found a supportive doctor clinic but looking back there were a lot of red flags that say otherwise. 

I felt helpless and didn’t realize that I did in fact have options. In the end, they told me I couldn’t have a VBAC and that a c-section was my only option. If only I could go back and tell myself otherwise. But alas, I agreed and my dream of a VBAC was crushed.

Fast forward another 3 years and I’m pregnant again. This time, I’m not taking no for an answer. I had done my research, I knew my risks (which are very low!) and was determined to find a very supportive doctor. So I called around to find my supportive doctor. 

But phone call after phone call it seemed that maybe my dream of a VBA2C wouldn’t be a reality after all. Every doctor’s office I called in the Des Moine area said no to taking me as a patient since I had two previous c-sections. But there was a glimmer of hope when I called a midwife’s office and was told that Iowa City does VBA2Cs. 

I immediately dialed Iowa City and spoke to a nurse. I cried after that call. The nurse I spoke with acted like having a vaginal birth after two c-sections was no big deal. They did them all the time and it wasn’t an issue for them. I immediately scheduled an appointment and couldn’t wait to meet my doctor.

We drove the two hours to Iowa City and from the moment I stepped into my doctors office I knew I was in the right place. My doctor, Dr. Shaffer, is absolutely incredible. She was so encouraging and never once tried to bully me or change my mind about having a VBA2C. In fact, she cheered me on. I will never forget when we were sitting in her office and she said “Kara, I thought of you this week. A laboring woman came in and had a second c-section scheduled but we told her this would be her only chance at having a vaginal birth and ask if she wanted to try. And she did it!” My jaw was on the floor. “You mean you actually asked her if she wanted to have a VBA2C?!” Without a doubt I had found my supportive doctor. 

Each doctor visit I’d come prepared with different questions like “will you place a time limit on my labor?” (answer: no!)  or “Will you induce me?” (answer: yes!). I was so determined to have a VBA2C and I wanted to be as prepared as possible.

At 40 weeks, and still very much pregnant, we talked about induction and what my options were. Because of my two previous c-sections, I was limited to a very low dose of pitocin and putting a cook catheter in (this is a tool that manually dilates you to 5-6 cm). 

We scheduled my induction for 41 weeks and I crossed my fingers hoping I’d go into labor before that. But nothing happened, not even after I ate my weight in pineapple and dates, bounced on a ball constantly, had sex, drank red raspberry leaf tea, walked who knows how many miles…baby boy was determined to stay in.

I woke up on May 30th, 2019 at 4 am to be in Iowa City for our 6 am induction time. I was a big ball of excitement and nerves. I wanted this VBA2C more than anything. When we arrived at the hospital we went over the game plan, hooked my up to pitocin, and let things run their course. Every so often a nurse (who were all amazing) came in and upped the pitocin a little bit at a time to get things moving. I was constantly being monitored to make sure baby and myself were doing okay. 

After some time, and a couple of checks to see if I had made any progress – which I hadn’t – we decided it was time to put the cook catheter in. 

At this point, I was still unmedicated. To be quite honest, it wasn’t the most pleasant thing to have it put in! And shortly after, things got intense – like really intense! Apparently this was the effect of the cook catheter but I didn’t know that at the time!

My contractions were excruciating and one on top of the other. I couldn’t catch my breath and apparently I was yelling –I remember moaning and breathing through them but my husband tells the story differently. 

I decided to get in the tub and that helped some but they were so excruciating I could barely breathe. The last thing I wanted was an epidural because I didn’t want anything to hinder my chances of having a VBAC. But I was exhausted, felt like I was being pulled apart, and could barely breath so an epidural was ordered. 

I cried. I felt like maybe my chances of a VBA2C were slipping away. 

The doctor came in shortly after my epidural and checked me. I thought for sure I had made some progress after hours of hard core laboring. But nope, no progress had been made. I was crushed. But my doctor and the staff were nothing but encouraging. They were in no rush and said to relax. I had plenty of time they told me. 

I am forever grateful for their patience. There was never talk of a c-section or the pressure to have one if I didn’t get things moving in a certain amount of time. 

I was fighting major anxiety at this point. Worried that my body didn’t work or was broken. I was never fearful or afraid about my uterus rupturing. (This is the number one reason why most hospitals won’t allow you to have a VBAC — even though the risk is between .1 and .2%.) My biggest fear was a repeat C-section. Which I know might not make sense to some, but I was more scared of that than anything else going wrong. 

Normally we only hear about the dangers with VBACing but never the complication with C-sections — especially repeat ones which have an even higher risk of complications.

But soon I heard a little pop between my legs – it was the cook catheter.When you have reached 5-6 cm it comes out on its own. My doctor checked me and sure enough I was dilated to a 6, 90% effaced, and my bag of waters was sitting low. I cried all the happy tears at this point because I had never gotten this far. I had made it one more step closer to having a VBAC.

They broke my water around 3 am and soon after that began to feel a lot of pressure down there. At one point I reached my hand down over my pubic area and felt a big bump. I quickly realized the baby’s head was moving down! 

At this point, I was beyond excited! I couldn’t believe it: this was actually happening!

My doctor came in around 4:30 am and I told her that I was experiencing a lot of pressure. She checked and said, “Oh wow! The head is right there. It’s time to push!”

I was beyond excited and a little shocked. I was going to get to push!

Thinking back to this moment still feels like a dream to me. It wasn’t just 9 months that I fought for this chance. It was a 7 year journey that had brought me to that bpoint. All that time I had been dreaming of getting to have a baby vaginally. I started pushing and felt so incredibly calm and focused. 

In the back of my mind I still had that fear of “what if they tell me to stop pushing?” And “what if something goes wrong?” So with each contraction I pushed as hard as I could to get this baby out as fast as possible before they could tell me to stop. 

I pushed a few times and the doctor said the head was right there. I reached down and felt it – it’s so amazing what our bodies can do. 

At one point, after I had just got done pushing through a contraction, I looked at my doctor and with tears in my eyes, I said “I’m doing it! I’m actually doing it!” She cheered me on and was so excited for me. 

I pushed for a total of 30 minutes and we got the best surprise ever – a BOY! We chose to wait to find out the gender and it was such a special moment.

I was elated, full of emotion. Not only because I was getting to meet this sweet boy of mine but that my dream – a dream I had fought for, prayed for, relentlessly pursued – had finally come true. I got to experience a natural birth and I am forever grateful. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. It will forever be one of my favorite experiences and something I will never forget. 

At 5:12 AM, on May 31st we welcomed Shepherd Alan Swanson into the world. He weighed 8 lbs 6 oz and was 21 inches long.

It’s so important to be your own advocate for your heath and body. Don’t ever forget that you do have a voice! Don’t take no for an answer. Research and do your homework. Find a doctor who is supportive, even if it means a 2 hour drive for each appointment. It’s so worth it and I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.