5 Tips for an Empowered Birth After Cesarean
Perhaps you have just had a cesarean, or maybe you have just discovered you are pregnant, or possibly you are 32 weeks along and just discovered that VBAC is an option…whatever the reason, you have taken the first step towards an informed and empowered birth experience. A Vaginal Birth After a Cesarean, or a VBAC, is a safe, responsible, and empowering option for most women who have undergone a previous Cesarean Birth. The culture surrounding VBACs, though, can be difficult to navigate, a bit confusing, and–above all–overwhelming! Be it family, friends, or professionals, everyone seems to have an opinion and all too often one opinion conflicts with another.
The truth is, everyone will have a different opinion, and everyone will have a different experience, and you, too, will get to carve your own path. While there are no absolutes, I can tell you this with confidence: there is no wrong way to birth your baby, just YOUR way, and you get to decide what, when, where, and with whom it all takes place! As a Birth Doula, Childbirth Educator, and VBAC Mother myself, I have spent countless hours listening to stories, supporting families, and pouring through the research on VBAC. The most common theme I hear from mothers as they explore their options for birth after a cesarean is that this journey is a roller coaster; it’s confusing, exciting, frustrating, empowering, and everything in-between! While there is no telling exactly how your upcoming birth will unfold, I have come up with the following tips to help you navigate the ups and downs to feel confident in your choices and to stand in your power through your trail of labor, VBAC, or cesarean delivery.
1. Educate Yourself
“If you don’t know your options, you don’t have any.” –Diana Korte
Learn about all the options available to you as well as the risks and benefits of each. Learn about the risks and benefits of a trial of labor after a cesarean (TOLAC) as well as the risks and benefits of a repeat cesarean birth. Both choices have benefits and each choice also has risks. Only you can decide which risks and which benefits are right for you and your family!
Beyond the VBAC vs ERC debate, though, learn about childbirth in general. Read about how your body and your baby work together during labor. Learn about the physical, hormonal, and emotional aspects of labor and delivery.
Read about medical solutions to possible hiccups during the process; induction, augmentation, medical pain relief and, yes, even read about cesarean birth options! With all the information you gobble up, you can decide what is really important to you. You will know where you stand with routine procedures and optional medical solutions…and you can stand tall. Ultimately, if you know your options, you can make decisions with confidence as labor unfolds, even if it may not look exactly like you had hoped.
2. Choose a Supportive Provider
“Treating normal labors as though they were complicated can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.” – Rooks
You really need a care provider who believes in you, and believes in VBAC…not just one who will “let you try,” or says, “Sure. We can talk about that later.” When you go into labor, you need to know they are on your side, and trust this process. Every care provider, and every hospital will have slightly different set of protocols and procedures for women attempting a TOLAC. Ask, “what will be different about my care simply because I have had a prior cesarean birth?” Will your provider be comfortable with your pregnancy going to 42 weeks or just 40? Will he/she offer induction if the need arises? Is continuous fetal monitoring required…internal or external? Is there a time limit for how long they are comfortable with you laboring? Now, you can see why your research about benefits and risks from #1 is so important!! This process may not be comfortable or convenient, but it is worth every minute and every mile. Schedule interviews (at least 3), bring a list of questions, and don’t stop until you find the right fit!
3. Hire a Doula
“If a Doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it.” – John H. Kennell, MD
Clinical studies have shown that having a Doula support you during birth results in a more positive birth experience, shorter labors with fewer complications and reduced need for interventions, less requests for pain medications, reduced postpartum depression, greater success in breastfeeding, and enhanced bonding.1
Doulas are an invaluable part of this process. A Birth Doula will provide educational, emotional and physical support throughout your pregnancy, continuously provide educational, emotional and physical support throughout your pregnancy, continuously throughout your labor and delivery, and usually a visit or two postpartum! A Birth Doula can help tremendously as you work through tip #4 below. (For more support after the baby arrives, you may consider a Postpartum Doula as well.)
4. Acknowledge and Work Through Your Last Birth(s)
“Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward. “ – author unknown
Go to a VBAC Support Group, connect with a local International Cesarean Awareness Network chapter (ICAN), find a therapist, write in a journal, utilize the ear of a supportive friend, or talk with your Doula…but through it all, remember to LOVE yourself! Be gentle with yourself. Your last birth was in no way a failure and neither are you! Birth is unpredictable and you made the best decisions you could with the information you had; that is all you can do! If you have gaps in your memory, or aren’t sure about what happened or why, it may be helpful to get your records and read them. However, know that the objective story from your chart is just one perspective and may not be complete either. Beyond the objective story though, there is, most likely, some healing that needs to be done. Be it anger, grief, fear or sadness…there is probably a slew of feelings tucked in there or bubbling to the surface. I encourage you to bring them up into the light. Take time to explore those feelings, honor them, discover if they are still serving you in a positive way, and if not, start LETTING THEM GO! It is time to start telling yourself a new story about who you are and what you are capable of!
5. Believe In Yourself
“Your body is not a lemon!” – Ina May Gaskin
Trust in yourself. Trust in your body. Trust in your baby! Read positive birth stories, say affirmations, and surround yourself with others who support you! This is a different birth, a different baby, and you truly are a different woman! Make this your mantra! You may find that you derive power from claiming this birth as a VBAC, standing up and shouting it out loud. Or, you may find that you need to simply look at this birth as just that: a birth, nothing more, nothing less. Your research may lead you to choose another cesarean birth–own it! Perhaps your trial of labor takes you to another cesarean birth–it’s OK! Remember, there is no wrong way to do this. You have the power to make informed decisions every step of the way and can claim this birth as yours!
VBAC or Cesarean Birth, as you prepare, surround yourself with positive support and fill your mind with positive thoughts. Become curious and excited about your journey and stay present for you and your baby. YOU CAN DO THIS!!!
We all know that birth can be unpredictable, but we can educate ourselves about our options and surround ourselves with support to make the journey a bit smoother. You may plan a VBAC that ends with another cesarean, or you may plan another cesarean and have a precipitous labor that results in a VBAC, so set up a plan for both! You may even plan for the unpredictable; take a peek at How to Take Control of your Unplanned Birth Experience. However your story unfolds, remember that you are a strong and courageous woman, and will make the best decisions for you, your baby, and your family.
Krystal Long My name is Krystal Long, and though I wear many “hats” in my community, I am first and foremost a Mother. My own experiences with pregnancy, birth and parenting have launched me into a career offering education and support to new and growing families. I have worked with hundreds of families since 2010 in hospitals, homes and in my own freestanding community education center. I support parents as a Birth Doula, Childbirth Educator, Placenta Encapsulation Specialist, and Breastfeeding Peer Counselor.
While I love all things belly, birth, and baby, as a VBAC Mama myself, my passion lies in cesarean awareness and VBAC support. Over the last 5 years, I have been blessed to support over 150 VBAC families, and I am continuously inspired by their strength and courage. I believe that each family has their own unique journey to walk, and I have committed to the education, support and advocacy for every woman exploring her options for birth after cesarean. My goals are to foster self empowerment and informed decision making while helping each family to discover their own innate abilities to birth, grow and thrive. To learn more about my classes, private consultations, and other services, please visit my website at www.krystallong.com. You can also reach me by email or phone at firstname.lastname@example.org and 530-414-1348.
Hodnett ED, Gates S, Hofmeyr GJ, Sakala C, Weston J. Continuous support for women during ↩