woman holding her newborn baby after a successful VBAC - c-sections vs VBACs
Birth Stories C-Section Hospital Birth

A Tale of Two Births: My C-Section and VBAC Experiences

By Grace Sullivan

I am the incredibly lucky mom of two beautiful children who are as different in their personalities as they are in the way they came into the world. I have a tendency to be a little too real with my four-year-old daughter. She once made a comment to a friend about how she “came out of my belly,” to which the friend replied, “just like your little brother!” Her response, without skipping a beat: “No, he came out of Mom’s vagina.”

Experience number one: my c-section

My daughter was born via emergency c-section at 2:12 in the morning, a few hours after arriving at the hospital. Her heart rate had spiked, her blood pressure dropped, and the on-call doctor informed me that she might not make it through a vaginal delivery.

They began to prep me for surgery, and somewhere between the labor and delivery room and the operating room, the mood changed from mild urgency to full on emergency. The doctor began the surgery before my husband had even finished scrubbing in. (I was pretty certain he had passed out.)

As I lay on the operating table, waiting for the surgery to start, I realized that this was just the first of so many experiences as a parent over which I would have little or no control.

Was it the way I imagined bringing my first child into the world? No. But that moment when the nurse held my beautiful baby girl up to my cheek for the first time is one of my two favorites of all time.

I was fortunate to have a relatively easy recovery, which was made even easier by the fact that this was my first child, and my husband was able to take two weeks off of work. I basically parked it on the couch with my newborn and focused on getting the hang of breastfeeding and healing.

VBACs and TOLACs and risks – oh my!

Fast forward about two and half years, and I’m pregnant with baby number two. My OB had assured me that I was a great candidate for a vaginal birth after Cesarean, or a VBAC, (which is called a TOLAC, for trial of labor after a Cesarean – if it’s successful, it’s called a VBAC.)

During my first prenatal visit, she walked me through the risks of both options. Spoiler alert: This is not a fun chat, there are some pretty real risks associated with both options. With my doctor’s support, I decided I really wanted the experience of a vaginal birth, and that as long as she felt it was a safe option for my baby, I would go for it.

As my due date approached, my confidence grew. I read, and I exercised, and I felt optimistic that I would get the birth experience I was hoping for this time around.

Then, during a routine growth ultrasound at 34 weeks, we got thrown a little curveball. The technician cheerfully announced that my baby was measuring eleven pounds. She laughed and corrected herself, but the real number, seven pounds eleven ounces, still left me with the unpleasant image of pushing out a ten pounder.

This baby was measuring big, and while my OB still felt that a vaginal birth was possible, she didn’t feel comfortable letting me go past my due date. So we put a C-section on the calendar and planned to try to labor if I went before then.

Experience number two: my VBAC

The night before my due date, I had made peace with the fact that I would probably not get my VBAC. There is, after all, an upside to a scheduled C-section, especially when you have to plan childcare for an older sibling.

And then I went into labor.

I tucked my daughter into bed for the last time as an only child (sob,) and we headed to the hospital. After an excruciating night of contractions, my water broke at seven in the morning. By nine AM I was given a glorious epidural, and at just before noon my doctor came in to prepare me to push.

I was expecting a classic first birth experience, with hours of pushing, so we were shocked when my OB told us she could feel the baby’s head and that it wouldn’t be long until our baby was born.

After not quite ten minutes of pushing, she announced “it’s a boy!” and placed our newborn son on my chest. This was the greatest benefit of having a vaginal birth. While I spent the first hour of my daughter’s life being stitched up in the OR while she and my husband bonded back in the delivery room, I was able to immediately enjoy skin-to-skin bonding time with my son.

C-section vs VBAC – a tough comparison

It’s hard for me to compare the recovery process of my c-section vs my VBAC. With nearly three years between them, and the fact that the hormone Oxytocin tends to help us forget the most traumatic parts of childbirth, I don’t entirely trust my memory.

I remember that it took slightly longer after my C-section to feel one hundred percent back to myself when compared with my son’s birth. I was grateful to be able to scoop up my first born without the restrictions on lifting, and I didn’t need anything stronger than Motrin to combat the pain.

What I can tell you with one hundred percent clarity is that neither option is “the easy way out.” When I look back on both experiences I’m in awe of the amazing things the female body can do, and the strength I summoned out of thin air to bring these little humans into the world.

I’ll leave you with a few pieces of advice for anyone considering a VBAC (or really anyone preparing for childbirth.)

First, love your doctor, or find a new one. My OB walked me through every decision, and eased my anxiety every step of the way. I never felt judged, belittled or brushed off. Every expectant mother deserves this respect from their doctor.

Second, trust your own instincts. If you haven’t noticed yet, something about becoming a parent means you will get unsolicited advice about EVERYTHING. This decision is one best made by you, your partner, and your doctor.

Finally, be flexible in your birth plan. I was so lucky to have a successful VBAC, but regardless of how your child comes into the world, I promise you it will be magical (and also slightly traumatic.)

Have some thoughts on C-sections vs VBACs and their differences?

Let us know how they compared for you in the comments below.

Our next reco: Should I Try for a VBAC or Have Another C Section?

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