It’s not a type of hoover or a designer cross-breed dog. Vaginal birth after Cesarian (or VBAC) is a term that has most probably rung in the ears of any woman expecting her second (or third, fourth, etc) baby after a Cesarian Section.
My c-section at Harrogate Hospital almost 4 years ago was swift, precise and very last-minute. I had been in labour for 9 hours when the Doctor intervened. I didn’t have time to question my emotions, it just had to be done to save our lives.
Expecting our second baby washed up a sea of questions, to which there were no real answers. Why did I need that first Cesarian? Was it me? Am I simply ‘inefficient’ at producing a live baby? Consultants half-shrugged in my (several requested) debriefs, traced fingers down my notes from the labour and muttered about heart deceleration, head positioning; nothing firm for me to digest. Should I have a second section? Again, their non-committal shrug. Maybe. Possibly. Do what you think is right for you.
I don’t think any woman takes lightly the fact that a voluntary (elective) c-section involves booking yourself in to be numbed from the waist down — wide awake I should add — and incised, stitched up and then sent incapacitated to recover on a hospital ward. Oh, whilst managing a newborn baby.
Since there was no conclusion that I definitely should not attempt a natural birth, I got slightly obsessed with the idea of having a VBAC this time around.
Some discreet digging lead me to the VBAC UK support group on Facebook. At the time, some 5000 women were discussing their hopes and fears surrounding a ‘natural’ birth. Every day, women posted their stories of their births, those who felt they had ‘achieved’ a VBAC and also those who felt ‘defeated’ by a further c-section. I was saddened by their sadness. There was no way I wanted to feel disappointment like that in the final hour again.
Fast forward to 36 weeks and I’d decided on an elective c-section, simply to protect my feelings. I chose a 41-week section instead of the typical 39. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t stalling the operation to see if nature would actually lend a hand this time. Unfortunately I found myself in the decision-making seat again, when I was called in for a growth scan. Baby seemed small. A second ultrasound was booked for 38 weeks and if no further growth was to be detected, I would have to strongly consider bringing my c-section date forward.
I never got to have that second scan, because at 37 weeks and exactly 12 hours after my maternity leave farewell lunch, my waters broke. Within 4 intense and exhilarating hours, my second son Ewan was born, weighing a not-so-hefty 5lb 3.5oz.
He came out naturally and at considerable force, which ironically, left me with a number of stitches. When the midwife had finished stitching and cheerfully announced that I could get up and have a shower – that’s when it hit me. I had no catheter and I could use my legs to walk. It was all over and done with so strangely fast!
So, am I glad I experienced VBAC? Yes, entirely so. However, it will always stay with me that my son’s birth still wasn’t ‘textbook’. He was early, underweight and hypoglycaemic. Would it have been different if he was Term? I’m the type of person who’ll sadly always find something to lament over.
I have learned so much through my VBAC – mainly that it isn’t as straightforward as I thought it would be. The pain of a vaginal tear isn’t pleasant (so different to a c-scar, but nonetheless infuriatingly sore). Also, there’s that thing, y’know, where you sneeze and completely wet yourself. That did happen once, luckily I was at home. Also I suppose there’s more immediate expectation placed upon a VBAC or natural first time birth. You can walk, lift and drive, so you must be ready to take the world on, right?
I actually feel privileged to have experienced both types of birth. when people ask me about a third baby (yikes), I’d always take the short and sharp VBAC over an operation, but the c-section opened my eyes to the wonders of obstetrics, and how it helps one in four women safely give birth in the UK.