My first baby was induced. My second baby was an emergency c-section. My last baby was a V-BAC (vaginal birth after cesarean). As far as childbirth options go, I don’t know anyone else who has done all of them. Here are my thoughts on each one.
My son was a week overdue and, as per medical protocol, I was scheduled to be induced. I was so ready to meet my little guy that I didn’t question the decision. In I went, hospital bag in hand with a spring in my step. I was buzzing with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. I was right to feel that way. The whole experience was my least favourite of the three.
When you’re induced, you are bedridden for the whole process. There’s no walking through the contractions, no warm water baths to relieve the pressure in your nether regions. You have an IV with Pitocin (used to start/strengthen contractions) in your arm and fetal heart monitors strapped to your belly to make sure the baby isn’t in distress. I was able to get up to use the bathroom at one point, but it was a gong show.
With Pitocin, the contractions don’t build to a crescendo, they hit you like a ton of bricks. There’s no easing into your delivery. On the outset, I was determined to have a drug-free birth. I lasted 3 hours lifting myself up off the bed using the bedrails like a pitiful gymnast on parallel bars trying to ease the pain and pressure as the contractions hit in one minute intervals. In defeat I turned to my husband, exhausted, and told him I didn’t think I could do it on my own so they called the anesthesiologist to give me an epidural (BTW, if anyone tells you it’s going to feel like a bee sting… they’re LYING).
The epidural took away the pain and every other feeling so even though I had a couple hours to rest, I couldn’t feel a thing when it was time to push. I suppose some women would say that’s a blessing. I think it worked to my detriment. When you can’t feel what you’re doing, you open yourself up to a lot more injury. And when the doctor says she’ll have to use the vacuum if the baby doesn’t come out soon, you end up pushing in ways that hurt your body. Which is what I did and now I’m no longer able to go for a run without wetting my pants or feeling uncomfortable pressure in places I never expected.
I was taken aback by the recovery the first time. It felt like a Mack truck had crashed into the most sensitive parts of my body. No one warned me about that. Thankfully, my cousin told me ahead of time that I’d need a pillow to sit on for the ride home and to take the Peri bottle they give you at the hospital which became my best friend as its warm water helped keep the tender sutured areas clean while they healed. I chose not to take any pain medication afterwards because I was concerned that I might do too much too soon if I couldn’t feel everything.
The induced birth was my least favourite because it makes me uncomfortable to not be in control of my body. I also think that the first time around, I wasn’t my own advocate. I didn’t want to be the demanding or uncooperative patient. Afterwards, I knew I wouldn’t make that mistake again. I also decided that I would always educate myself so that I could advocate from a position of knowledge, which is always more powerful.
My c-section was not planned. I went in to attempt an external cephalic version (ECV) which is a procedure used to turn a baby from a breech position (head up) to a head down position. It’s not a fun process. It hurts and it’s not guaranteed to work. In any case, it turns out that my second baby had the cord wrapped around her neck, twice (no wonder she couldn’t flip the other way!) and the ECV sent me into early labour so they wheeled me down to the operating room despite my protests.
I learned that day that I have a very intense fear of operations. It didn’t help that as I sat in the cold, sterile room shaking from head to toe, the student doctor who was going to do my spinal asked the nurse WHERE SHE WAS SUPPOSED TO INSERT THE NEEDLE. I’m pretty sure my facial expression and the urgency in my voice made it clear that they needed to get the OTHER doctor. You know, the one who knew what he was doing.
The rest is a bit of a blur. I remember the bee sting thing (again, a bafflingly poor description of how painful it is). I remember my husband holding my hand and me begging him to keep his eyes on my face because I didn’t want him to see me cut open. And I remember apologizing through tears that I wasn’t more brave. Then they put the baby on my chest and she was so small. Being 4 weeks early, she hadn’t had time to fatten up and she looked like a baby bird.
Recovery from the c-section is the hardest of the three. I had a 20 month old at home who I wasn’t allowed to pick up for 4- 6 weeks and I had no idea how much I used my stomach muscles until they were out of commission. Walking, sneezing, coughing, laughing, sitting up or turning over in bed to feed the baby in the middle of the night…all unbelievably painful for the first while. I was really lucky, we hired a night nurse for the first couple weeks and one of my sisters came to help me during the day for the full 6 week recovery period. I don’t know what I would have done without her.
Although the recovery is a much more painful and difficult process, the benefit of not putting undue strain on parts of your body that may never recover from a vaginal delivery is appealing if that’s a concern for you. My experience was tainted by the fear of the procedure itself, which I recognize isn’t a factor for other people. Another mom I spoke with recently had all 3 of her children via c-section and she felt that her recoveries became easier with each one.
There is some debate about the safety of delivering vaginally after you’ve had a c-section. The concern is that during contractions and delivery, the scar tissue could split if isn’t thick/strong enough which can put the baby and mother in danger. However, the available studies are based on very small sample groups and are contradictory in terms of how thick a scar needs to be to be considered ‘safe’. I was fortunate to be a good candidate (previous full-term vaginal delivery, more than 2 years since my last pregnancy) and had an amazing team of doctors who supported my decision to proceed.
Part of my desire to do the V-BAC was because I had never really experienced labour. In some ways, I felt that I’d missed out on that component of becoming a mom. I recognize how crazy that sounds, but I had two babies and had never felt what it was like to go into labour on my own. I needed to know what it felt like. I wanted to see if I could do it.
I can’t tell you how glad I am that I did. Drug-free vaginal delivery was by far my favourite childbirth and recovery experience. Being able to choose how to handle the contractions (I walked a lot for the first while) and feeling like I had some modicum of control over the experience was wonderful. After my water broke (which feels like a water balloon popping inside you, who knew?!) the contractions became much more intense and within 10 minutes it was time to push. I admit, there was point where the baby was crowning and the Doctor was telling me to push that I didn’t think I could do it. But there’s no choice when you’re that far along. That little person has to come out.
I felt amazing afterwards. The next day I hopped out of bed and had a shower. Yes, there was tenderness and I still had to take care of stitches when I went home, but there was no comparison to my previous 2 experiences. Overall the amount of time it took to feel healed was at least half of what it took with the induction. With two other children at home who needed me, that made a huge difference.
Every woman’s story is different and may not mirror my experiences. One of my cousins was induced and then had to have a c-section. Other friends had no interest in experiencing any pain and opted to have the epidural the minute they checked into the hospital. There is no right way to give birth other than the one that will get your baby to you safely and in good health, but if there’s a choice always choose the one that feels right for you.