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A Birth of Renewal and Healing: Rachel's VBA2C in the Hospital

In order to truly appreciate the events of our third labor and delivery, it’s helpful to flashback a few years to where our journey of parenthood began. On October 21, 2020 we welcomed our first son, Michael Jeffrey, into the world via planned c-section due to a full placenta previa. Although my husband, Tim, and I hoped for a vaginal birth, we were so grateful to God that Michael was born healthy and strong at 37 weeks without any other complications.

We were incredibly grateful to find out we were pregnant again in October 2021. I knew that barring any significant medical reason, I was very excited to try for a VBAC with this baby. My OB was supportive of a VBAC, however she felt very strongly that I should not go more than one week past my due date and that I should have an epidural in place in case of an emergency c-section. I trusted in the OB’s plan for our delivery without much of my own outside research. I must admit that I did very little prep work for this labor. My own mom had very easy labors with me and my sister and I simply assumed that all would go according to plan. 

When I did not go into labor at 41 weeks, an induction was planned and carried out. For the most part, the labor was pretty smooth. I hit ten centimeters after about 12 hours of labor and a few doses of Pitocin. Unfortunately, the epidural did not provide a lot of relief and seemed to slow things down a bit and obviously restricted my ability to be able to get out of the bed and move around. After about 3 hours of pushing, the OB shared that she didn’t think the baby would move any further down and felt that due to his occasional heart rate decelerations (likely caused by the medication), she felt that a c-section was our only safe option. With tears in my eyes, I agreed, knowing that recovery would be much more challenging this time around with my toddler at home. About an hour later, my sweet Theo Timothy was born on July 3, 2022. 

It took quite a while for me to process Theo’s labor and delivery. As I had imagined, recovery and postpartum were incredibly challenging while trying to take care of Theo and his big brother and allowing my incision and the rest of my body time to heal from major surgery. My husband had very little time off since he had recently started a new job, so I felt very alone. To make matters worse, I painfully carried a retained placenta for 3 months until the OB was finally able to determine what it was and remove it! I felt disappointed and far from the Lord following the birth. Throughout Theo’s labor I had meditated on Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then approach God’s throne of Grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need”. I felt abandoned by God and felt that He did not hear my pleadings during labor. This experience was further topped with shame as I felt that I had no right feeling this way given that I had a beautiful healthy baby to snuggle. I also felt anxious about the thought of birthing future babies and questioned my ability to have a vaginal birth given my history. I am grateful for an incredible group of women with birth stories of their own that gave me space to process this experience and slowly I moved toward deeper communion with the Lord. My husband and I had many meaningful discussions surrounding our experiences with birth thus far and decided that, should God bless us with another child, we would attempt to do things differently to avoid surgery and the difficult recovery that would ensue. 

We were very pleasantly surprised to find out in May of 2023 that we were expecting again. Much to our delight, a beautiful Catholic private practice had opened up in our area and I was very eager to check it out. While I knew that they could not guarantee a vaginal birth, I felt great hope that because of our shared values and their life affirming approach to care, our chances of achieving our goal would be much greater with them than with the large institution we had gone with for our first two pregnancies. 

Sure enough, as soon as we entered the practice for our first appointment, I knew we were in a special place. My provider was kind, gentle, and supportive of our wishes and explained that she would read through my medical history to let me know her thoughts on trying a VBA2C. A few weeks later, after reading through my records, she shared that she felt confident that we could move forward with a plan to birth vaginally. She explained the risks of a repeat c-section as well as a VBA2C so that we could make an informed decision. She told us that she would keep an eye on certain measures throughout the pregnancy to be sure it would be a relatively low-risk option.

The pregnancy continued to go smoothly. After reading several birth stories from Made for this Birth, particularly the VBAC stories, I tried a few new ways to prepare for labor and birth. I attended weekly chiropractic care, hired a doula, read a few books about natural pain-management techniques for labor, and prepared my heart spiritually through a labor preparation book created by my provider. I was also given a relic of Saint Anne, our baby’s name sake, and prayed daily for her intercession. The same incredible group of friends I mentioned earlier offered up prayers to banish the anxiety I was feeling surrounding the birth process and prayed over me during my last weeks of pregnancy.

By the time I reached my due date, I felt confident and strong and so excited to meet this baby. I chose to decline a membrane sweep or a cervix check that week and practiced surrendering even more to the Lord's will for this delivery. I also tried a few exercises recommended by my chiropractor and drank a ton of red raspberry leaf tea. I didn't notice any signs that labor was near and worried that I might end up going far past my due date. When I was 40w+2, I woke up around midnight with a feeling that resembled a contraction. I almost couldn’t believe it was true, I had never gone into spontaneous labor before! I fell back to sleep and woke up again around 2:00 a.m. From 2:00-5:00 a.m. I experienced contractions on and off every 10-15 minutes. Finally at 5:00 a.m. I figured I was likely in labor and decided to wake up my husband. He shared in my excitement as we got out of bed and began packing our bags and rearranging car seats. Since I had no signs of labor before, we hadn’t gotten around to any of these things until now!

By the time we were done packing, contractions were getting closer together and continued to be very intense. I still felt like we should hold off on going to the hospital, so my husband and I continued to time the contractions until they were every 3-7 minutes apart. We called my OB around 7:00 a.m. to ask her opinion about heading to the hospital. She heard me over the phone through a contraction and agreed that yes, it was time to go! We called my mom to be with our boys and headed out into a cold January morning.

When we arrived at the hospital around 8:00, we went straight to a triage room where I was hooked up to a monitor. Since my OB from the private practice had not yet arrived, we were seen by the house OB from the hospital. The OB looked at the monitor and noticed a dip in the baby's heart rate for two contractions in a row. She said she was very concerned about the baby and immediately told us we should heavily consider a repeat c-section. I was crushed to hear this news, but ultimately wanted a safe and healthy birth, so I considered giving in to the recommendation. My husband, who was much more level-headed at the time, explained that if the baby's heart rate improved, we’d wait until our own doctor arrived at the hospital to make a decision.

After switching positions and an IV of fluids, we saw that the baby’s heart rate was actually steady and strong. We were then met with an anesthesiologist from the hospital who strongly encouraged me to consent to an epidural in case of an emergency. My OB and I had discussed the pros and cons of an epidural at length during my pregnancy and she and I were both very confident in the decision to forego an epidural. In between contractions, I explained to him that I was okay with general anesthesia in the event of an emergency. The anesthesiologist and the nurses continued pushing the epidural! Once again, we explained that we would wait to talk with our OB before making any decisions. 

A few minutes later, our doctor arrived at the hospital. We were relieved and excited to see her and so grateful for her kind and gentle presence. She agreed with our decision to continue laboring. She also agreed with the decision to receive general anesthesia in the case of a true emergency. She encouraged me to avoid an epidural if I could as she wanted me to be able to move around freely to help with birth and be able to feel any signs of a rupture. We were then finally transferred out of triage and into a labor and delivery room.  

Once we had switched rooms and I began walking around, contractions became very intense very quickly. I laid down on the bed at one point and I immediately felt a gush of fluid and a strong urge to push. I told my husband what was going on and he got our OB who quickly examined my cervix and the gush of fluid. I didn’t even wait for the okay from the OB to start pushing, I just knew it was time. While a parade of doctors and nurses filed into the room, my husband coached me through and encouraged me to take deep breaths. Our doula also arrived during this time and gently prayed over me and offered encouraging words. I am grateful that I had prepared a few pain management techniques and Scripture verses I had intended to focus on throughout labor, however since things were moving so quickly and continued to be quite intense, I didn’t really use any of them! I found that the most helpful thing was squeezing my husband’s hand and having him squeeze back. With each and every push I kept repeating, “Jesus, help me” and “Jesus, I trust in you”. 

After about an hour of pushing, the baby’s heart rate showed a few decelerations. This is often normal while pushing and baby is in the birth canal but my OB excitedly told me that the baby was almost here and asked if she could use the vacuum to speed up the birth. I agreed and my precious Anna Catherine was born seconds later at 10:51 a.m. on January 14, 2024. After unwrapping the umbilical cord from around her neck and examining a knot in the cord, she was placed on my chest. With tears in our eyes, my husband and I looked in awe and wonder at our sweet child and the beauty of her birth.

While I did require some stitches due to two tears, this pain seemed quite manageable compared to the two previous cesareans and I am so grateful that I could be more present to my boys since I didn’t have to recover from surgery.

Looking back on this pregnancy and labor, I can see the Lord’s hand guiding it all. I can also see areas of my heart that were renewed and healed by Him through this experience. I continue to notice ways that He showed up for me and made His love for me and my family very obvious and apparent. He placed the right provider in our lives and we truly believe that without her sound judgment and support Anna’s birth would have gone much differently. I was reflecting on how we might not have even gone looking for a new doctor if I would have had a vaginal birth with Theo.

I was also reflecting on how much I had idolized perfect clarity throughout this pregnancy and assurance that we were making the right decisions. This beautiful quote by Mother Teresa deeply resonates with me, “I have never had clarity, what I’ve always had is trust”. I realized that there will always be some level of uncertainty involved with a VBAC or any birth for that matter. Perfect clarity is not the solution for managing anxiety, but rather deepening our hope in our all-powerful, all-loving Father and moving forward in trust that He always wills our good. 

Rachel Dollard and her husband Tim live in a small suburb of Cleveland, OH. They grew up in the same town, attended the same wonderful Catholic parish, and decided to stay there and raise their children. She spends her time as a stay at home mom to their three children as well as a few hours a week as a mental health counselor. She loves having a front row seat to the transformative power of Christ's love and mercy and walking with others on their unique journey of healing.


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