Every so often, my husband and I discuss the possibility of baby #2. We’re not planning on having another any time soon, but it’s nice to at least have a general idea of what needs to happen before baby #2 can happen. (#1 on my list is making sure the kid we already have is potty trained, and we’re 6 months out from even attempting that.)
When I start to think about the next baby, though, mostly I just feel a sense of dread about having to give birth again. I feel the inevitability of another miserable birth experience, being pumped full of drugs and hooked up to monitors and battling L&D nurses. I feel the inevitability of another c-section.
When I look back on the experience of having my first child, I feel confused and overwhelmed and disappointed. Nothing went the way I hoped. I ended up being induced at 40w6d. I spent 40 hours hooked up to monitors, with stuff crammed up my lady bits to try to get my cervix to dilate and pitocin pumped into me until I swelled up like Jabba the Hutt and could barely walk. I spent the first 24 hours being bored, and the next 16 arguing with the L&D nurse over whether I was experiencing real contractions or just minor side effects from the drugs. (It wasn’t just the drugs.) I spent the last 45 minutes being rushed into surgery, strapped to a bed while my baby was cut from my body, drugged because I had a panic attack on the operating table, and seeing my baby briefly from a distance before I was knocked out.
At the time, I tried to push all of my negative feelings about it aside and just be happy about having a healthy baby, but the further I get from the experience and the closer I get to the next one, the more all those feelings bubble to the surface.
I wonder if there was anything I could have done differently. Should I have done more research? Should I have asked more questions in my weekly check-ups at the end of my pregnancy? Should I have refused the induction? Should I have had a doula? Should I have started doing my Hypnobabies sooner and just ignored the nurse who kept insisting it wasn’t real labor? Should I have been stronger in the face of exhaustion and frustration and passed on the epidural? Was the epidural why my baby’s heart rate plummeted, or was it the result of nearly 40 hours of her being intermittently distressed anyhow? (How many times was I given oxygen? I can’t remember.) Was there a chance I could have delivered on my own if I’d waited or done more to move labor along, or was a c-section the inevitable end and any other choices I could have made would have led me back to the same destination regardless?
I dwell on all these things, probably more than is reasonable or healthy. I don’t even know why it bothers me so much, except that the experience was so demoralizing. I struggle to remember another time when I felt more helpless and overwhelmed and defeated. Helpless and defeated is not something I do very often.
I feel like I should just forget it and move on, but there is the experience with baby #2, looming before me. I don’t want to go through what I experienced with my first baby again. I’m still not 100% on board with the whole TOLAC thing, though. I’d really like to try, but I worry about the possibility of serious complications (however rare, I’m a worry wart) and I honestly worry even more about going through another long, drawn out ordeal like the last time to have it all end the exact same way. Sometimes a scheduled c-section seems like the way to go just to avoid having to go through the motions of making the attempt when I feel fairly certain I’ll just be funneled back down the emergency c-section path again.
If I do decide to do a trial of labor, I want a doula. I want to be with a doctor who has a stated commitment to VBAC. I want to be in a hospital with relatively high VBAC rates. But my next baby will in all probability be delivered in Texas, and when I look at Texas’ VBAC rates, I’m not encouraged. The rates are abysmal. It just seems so unlikely that I would be able to avoid another c-section. If I’m going to have to have another c-section anyhow, why not do it on my own terms?
Except that another c-section is not what I want. It’s a major abdominal surgery, and it comes with its own set of risks. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, repeat c-sections are in fact more risky than VBAC for some women, which is why they recommend VBAC over scheduled c-sections for mothers with one previous c-section. I had a relatively breezy recovery–I was back on my feet the same evening as my surgery–but it was no cake walk. 3 weeks out, I still couldn’t make it on a walk around the block without being so winded I had to turn around and go home. Long-term, abdominal surgeries cause scar tissue that can make other abdominal surgeries in the future (like a hysterectomy) difficult and dangerous. Every c-section ups the chances of complications in subsequent pregnancies and while I’m not anticipating a #3, if it ever happened, another c-section with #2 just adds to the possibility of problems down the line.
I want to have a normal birth experience where I go into labor on my own and I’m not hooked up to IVs and monitors and the whole thing doesn’t end with me strapped down to a bed and missing the first moments of my baby’s life. Why is that so hard to have?
I don’t harbor any anger toward the medical establishment or medical professionals in general. I believe most of them do the work they do because they enjoy it, because they honestly believe they are doing good, and that they are committed to healthy moms and healthy babies. I sincerely believe that, and I don’t want to belittle medical professionals or treat them as if they’re all just self-interested jerks biding their time until they cut me open and make tons of money on my “emergency.” Still. I think hospitals and doctors and nurses are primarily geared toward ensuring everyone comes out alive, without a lot of concern about what happens along the way. The end justifies the means. Which is one thing when you’re sick and there’s something wrong with you and that sort of approach is necessary.
But when it comes to something as important and joyous as the birth of a child, a situation where there is nothing wrong with anyone and what is happening is, by and large, exactly what is supposed to happen to human bodies, I feel the approach so many hospitals and medical professionals take, where the means don’t matter as long as the outcome is “healthy,” creates a lot of unnecessary interventions and procedures and tension and negativity where there shouldn’t be. I’m not an advocate of home birth, and it’s not a route I want to go, but I no longer wonder why so many people are so angry about their experiences giving birth in hospitals, why there is so much backlash against hospital births, or why so many people are choosing to go back to having their babies at home. I get it now.
Everything after my c-section was fantastic, and I know I am lucky, regardless of what I experienced, to have a happy and healthy daughter. I want a different experience next time, though, and I want to take meaningful strides toward making sure that it’s different. It’s hard to know whether I made all that many wrong decisions last time, or whether I experienced what was ultimately inevitable. I just don’t know, which makes it that much harder to say what should be different next time.
Mostly, I just want a better experience. Even if it does end in another c-section. I just don’t want the entire thing to feel like an exercise in frustration and futility from beginning to end.
April is Cesarean Awareness Month. Other resources about c-sections and VBAC: