Planning for a VBAC: What no one tells you

Planning for a VBAC? Jennifer Pinarski shares what surprised her most about her labour experience.

vbac-surprises
Jen with baby Gillian. Photo: Jennifer Pinarski

“Great news! You’re an ideal candidate for a VBAC!” announced my OB/GYN at my 38-week prenatal appointment four years ago.

“Are you sure?” I’d asked, trying to hide my disappointment.

While wiping ultrasound goo off of my enormous belly and helping me sit up following the exam, my OB/GYN made notes on my chart and swiveled her chair to to face me. “Yes, the baby has turned and is no longer breech. Vaginal births are easier to recover from, especially nice since you have this little guy to chase after,” she said, nodding at my then-three-year-old son who was climbing on the exam table to sit with me, knocking over a shelf of patient pamphlets in the process. “You’re one of the lucky ones,” she added.

Only I didn’t feel lucky at all.

You see, I had a positive experience with the C-section arrival of our first son. Despite the C-section being unplanned, I felt no guilt about not being able to deliver vaginally, I healed quickly without infection or popped stitches and was able to breastfeed. But in talking to moms from my pre-natal class, I discovered I was the minority.

Nevertheless, I secretly wanted another C-section. After hearing too many horror stories about prolapses, pain and episiotomies, I figured what was the harm in using what I dubbed the “Ziploc exit” again? I liked the idea of knowing exactly when our baby would arrive and, besides, after hearing from a few girlfriends about their decimated nether regions after a vaginal birth, I was quite happy to avoid a VBAC.

But a C-section wasn’t in the cards for me. Every room in the maternity ward was full the day I went into labour with my daughter, four years ago today. By the time we filled out the paperwork (between intense contractions), I was near transition and too far along in my labour for an epidural. The attending OB cheekily told me I was having a VBAC whether I liked it or not—the operating rooms were full.

My VBAC took me by surprise. Here are a few things that I wished someone had told me about delivery and recovery:

1. You’ll be considered a high-risk birth
I delivered both our babies at the same hospital, which had a beautiful low-risk delivery ward. As a VBAC patient, I was considered to be a high-risk birth—due to the possibility my uterus might rupture during labour. I won’t lie, it was disappointing (although I appreciate all the reasons why I delivered under the careful watch of several interns and doctors).

2. Labour support, in addition to your partner, is a must
Not having labour support was one of my biggest regrets. The nursing staff administered fentanyl late into my labour and my daughter’s low Apgar score meant that she was whisked off to the NICU immediately after she was born. My husband followed the nurses to the NICU, which meant that I was on my own while the OB delivered the placenta and did a few small repairs—and it was scary and painful. Labour support would have helped eased some of my fears.

3. You will have no idea what you’re doing
“Push! You’re not pushing effectively!” the nurses shouted at me during my labour. But the problem was, I wasn’t really sure what an effective push was. With my son, I was administered an epidural early into my labour and didn’t know what it felt like to push. It’s really a guessing game those first few pushes to know if you’re doing it right.

4. You’ll have questions about your lady parts that you didn’t have with your C-section
I remember calling my OB/GYN a few days after my daughter was born, panicked that my uterus was falling out. “Honey, you just had a baby come out of there; it’s swelling and it’s normal,” she reassured me. Note: the call to my OB/GYN was made after calling half a dozen girlfriends who told me the same thing had happened to them. You’ll feel like a first-time mom after your VBAC. If in doubt, call your doctor to rule out serious prolapses.

5. Your recovery will be a bit easier, but not pain free
Remember after your C-section when it hurt to laugh, breath or lift anything? For me, the big benefit of a VBAC was being able to care for my son and complete household chores without worrying about tearing my incisions. That said, sitting down to read him a book—that hurt.

What surprised you most about your VBAC? Tweet me @jenpinarski.

Read more:
Canada’s C-section crisis: Why are rates so high
How to have a gentler C-section
Your postpartum body: What to expect

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