Birth Story: "Labor is a Mind Game"; A VBAC story in SWFL

Today's birth story is shared with permission and authored by Ellen Hinkle. Ellen is a mom of two, a business owner of Ellen Hinkle Photography, and a terrific writer.

doula baby newborn baby
Baby Jayce Thomas 4/9/20

This story actually starts 2 years ago with the birth of my first son, Bryce. He was delivered via emergency C-section at a hospital in my home state of South Carolina. When I was discharged, the nurses and doctors with this hospital team were all very encouraging and said they would do their best to work for a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) next time.

Life happened within those two years and I ended up in Southwest Florida at my first OB appointment for my second baby. The doctor asked what my birth plan was and I naively admitted “I would like to have a VBAC,” (thinking having a baby out of the vagina was the norm), to which the doctor replied, “Oh, we don’t do VBACs here, in fact the hospital here doesn’t allow them either.” After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I went home confused and distraught over this. My husband and I would like a quiver full of children and I know scheduling repeat cesareans puts my future fertility at risk and increases the chances of birthing complications, not to mention surgery recovery is very painful. I had done my research and knew that a VBAC was the safest option going forward. I knew the risk of potential uterine rupture, and I also knew that rupture is rare, happening in fewer than 1 percent of women who attempt a VBAC.

I immediately started doing research on labor and delivery practices in Southwest Florida and was saddened to find that the C-section rate is high and the doctors willing to do VBACs was low. This is a huge disservice to women’s health and I soon figured out this is a nation wide issue as well. The USA can do better for its mommies and babies, and more evidence based practice needs to be implemented in the medical world of labor. I decided to put all this frustration and disappointment toward advocating for myself, my baby and any future babies. I found Christine with Mindful Birth Services and Doula Care, and I was so relieved to find a group of women who supported my birth plan. They reassured me that I wasn’t crazy for wanting a VBAC and my research on VBACs was correct.

Christine helped guide me in the right direction to find a group of providers and another local hospital that were VBAC friendly. After my first appointment with the new group of providers, I learned that a VBAC was in fact the safest and best option for me, pending no late term complications arise. What satisfying justice to have a medical team confirm my birth plan was realistic, doable and totally reasonable!

Fast forward to 36 weeks and 6 days - It’s Wednesday April 8th, and my family and I were excited to share a Passover meal that evening. There was a pink full super moon the night before as the Hebrew calendar always lines up its Holy days based on the lunar calendar. There was also this whole global pandemic thing going on forcing my husband, Josh, to work at home. I stay at home with my toddler, Bryce, so our routine was relatively unchanged. Bryce and I went for our usual bike ride around our neighborhood that morning. I dressed him up in a cute Spring Jon Jon suit to take pictures of him outside for Passover. We saw an alligator on our nature ride, climbed Banyan trees, and checked in on some elderly neighbors.

When we got home, we ate some lunch and decided to go for a swim in the pool before Bryce had to go down for a nap. My husband did not want any lunch because he said he wanted to save his appetite for the Passover lamb roast he was going to prepare for that evening. Once in the pool, I began to notice that I was having some mild contractions (this was around 1pm). I didn’t think much of them because they weren’t too painful or consistent and I had been experiencing some contractions off and on for the past week, usually at night time though. This pregnancy was particularly hard on my body with first trimester nausea and fatigue, along with persistent back and ligament pain that limited my mobility. Swimming was the best thing I discovered for exercise and completely took all the pressure off my back. We had all been swimming together every day for the past 3 or 4 weeks, and we enjoyed the family bonding time. After Bryce and I got out of the pool, we rinsed off in the shower and I put him down for a nap.

The contractions were still coming, but they were still irregular, so I decided to lay down, drink some water and see if they would go away. They didn’t. I called my doula Emily, to let her know what was going on and she suggested some spinning babies maneuvers to see if the contractions would get more consistent or stop. My husband was grilling the lamb over at my in laws house, so I called and asked him to come home and help me do some spinning babies. He came home, we did the maneuvers, and I told him to go finish grilling and we will wait and see what happens. Within the hour I was having more consistent contractions and my toddler woke up from his nap. I called Josh and told him to get home quick, get the toddler over to the in-laws because this might be the real deal. He actually did finish roasting the lamb, but heartbreakingly, he did not get to enjoy it hot of the grill. I called my doula Emily again, and she could tell by my voice and pauses with contractions that this was real labor and active labor at that. She said, “It seems like you’ve skipped out on a long early labor and you may want to just meet me at the hospital” (This was after 5pm).

Since I was near term at 36 weeks, our hospital bags were not even packed. Josh and I packed quickly between contractions as they were coming fast with only a minute of downtime in between. We had to keep pausing, focusing on breathing and getting through contractions together. I had my husband use counter pressure on my lower back to help me endure the pain. We finally made it to the car and all I could do was breath deeply and ritualistically bob my head to help mentally and physically get through the contractions while sitting and enduring the motion of the ride. Our plan was to labor at home with our doula’s help as long as we could, but things were moving faster than anticipated.

Once at the hospital, my husband pulled up to the maternity ER section only to be greeted by a healthcare worker who screened us for COVID 19 before we could enter. They told Josh to wait in the parking lot as no visitors were allowed in the OB triage area. In fact, Josh and I were still unsure if he would be present for the delivery or if the doula would, as only one support person was allowed in the hospital due to COVID 19 precautions. We actually already had difficult conversations about Josh potentially not being there for the birth of his child if we didn’t feel confident in his lone doula abilities. Josh had been coaching me through my emotions and contractions wonderfully so far, and his techniques were working, so in that moment I knew I needed him there. Once the healthcare worker wheeled me into OB triage, I was greeted by two CRNA’s who again screened me for COVID 19 and then handed me a mask to wear. I thought it was a cruel joke as I was doing my best t