I was a big, overdue baby, and my mom has never let me forget it. After enduring a heatwave and her 41st week of pregnancy, my mom finally delivered me via emergency C-section at a whopping 9lb, 8oz and 23 inches long.
Well, I should have predicted this would come back to bite me eventually. Here I was, three decades later, pregnant with my second child and feeling extra-extra-large. I had gained nearly 50 pounds during this pregnancy, and baby boy’s due date had come and gone with zero signs of action.
What had been action-packed was my pregnancy. Six months in, I broke my foot walking down our apartment stairs. A few weeks later, my incredible mother-in-law passed away. Fortunately, my husband flew ahead of us and made it to Kenya, his birthplace, in time to say goodbye. But then, to join him for the funeral, I had to pack our bags and somehow make it through a 24-hour flight across the ocean with my 3-year-old, my crutches, and my big belly in tow.
By the time we returned home together as a family, I felt strong. Navigating our grief together made us even more eager for the joy of our son’s arrival.
And enduring these challenges left me feeling like anything was possible—even a VBAC.
As my due date passed and I anxiously waited for labor to start, I took EVERY suggestion (except castor oil—that sounded too intense) to try to get things moving: walks, foot massages, all kinds of strange food suggestions, clary sage essential oil, membranes swept . . . all to no avail.
Finally—FINALLY!—I woke up with contractions four days after my due date. (Four days may not sound long, but when you’re walking around with 50 extra pounds on you, every moment drags.)
In true second-time mom fashion, we went about the day quite casually. I had even scheduled myself a “secret shop” for dinner when you record meticulous details about a restaurant visit in exchange for free food. (Free food is my love language, y’all!) Before dinner, we took our daughter to the mall to hang out at the play place for one last bit of quality time on her last day as an only child.
While climbing around the play place with my daughter, we realized my contractions were now just four minutes apart.
My husband, who clearly has far more sense than me, convinced me to cancel the secret shop and get fast food instead. (Good call, babe.) We rushed home with some Wendy’s, handed our daughter off to my mom, and headed to the hospital.
At this point, I should mention that I had been absolutely terrified of childbirth since I was little. I would declare to anyone who would listen, “I’m NEVER pushing a baby out!” This was consistent all the way into my teenage years. And while I eventually fell in love and decided maybe childbirth could be worth it, those fears made having a VBAC even more intimidating.
The first time around, my “failure to progress” and subsequent C-section meant I had become a mom without experiencing what I feared most. So once I was admitted this time around, I explained my fears to the nurse. After all, it had been over three years since I attended all the classes and did all the things to mentally prepare to push out a baby.
Trying for a VBAC puts you in an odd position—you’re not offered the class for first-time moms, but you definitely still need the class. Do VBAC classes exist? If they do, I didn’t take one, so I made sure my lovely nurse knew, “You’re gonna have to teach me how to push.” Well, that’s the second thing I told her. The first was I’m ready for my epidural.
Mamas, you all know what’s best for you.
For me, nothing compares to the magic of an epidural. It’s like ice water on a hot day. Netflix and take-out after a long week. That direct deposit that hits right on time. Whoever invented it is my personal hero.
I got my epidural around 9 p.m., getting instant relief from my contractions. I was dilated about four centimeters, and I drifted in and out of sleep all night as my husband and mom both slouched uncomfortably on the seats beside me. A friend had offered to take our daughter overnight, and I was so grateful my mom could now be present for the birth.
At about 4 a.m., there was an earthquake. We were on the second floor of the hospital, and the room shook so hard my IV pole drifted a few feet along my bedside. It didn’t feel scary, though. It felt epic, like the world was announcing my son’s impending arrival. It made my heart leap.
As the sun rose, the nurse informed me that my progress had been fairly slow. I was dilated seven centimeters. On the one hand, I had officially surpassed how far I’d dilated with our daughter before needing an emergency C-section, and I was ecstatic.
On the other hand, every dilation check brought me intense anxiety. Would I “fail to progress” again? I wanted this VBAC so badly because, while I was terrified of vaginal delivery, I was also worried about the impact of multiple C-sections on my body, especially because we didn’t plan to stop at two kids.
I prayed and prayed for continued progress.
At 9 a.m., things were still inching along, and the nurse casually mentioned the possibility of another C-section. I tried my best to block it out of my mind. Every minute I was still allowed to progress felt like a victory. And an hour later, I was in the clear. I was nearly 10 centimeters and almost ready to push.
Around 11:30 a.m., the nurse summoned my husband and mom to either side of me. They hadn’t planned to actually watch our son emerge, but there they were, one beside each of my knees at the nurse’s command, about to witness all of it.
I started pushing, taking cues from the nurse. With an epidural, the process is less intuitive, and it’s hard to know how well things are going. I was still deeply anxious that something would go wrong and I wouldn’t be able to see it through. But then my mom tearfully exclaimed that she could see his head, and my husband excitedly described his hair. My heart surged with hope.
But then, with his head halfway out, my contractions stopped. For four long minutes, there was nothing. I tried to ignore the midwife’s perplexed tone of voice, and to silence the worst-case scenarios rushing through my brain. At long last, the contractions started back up, and I continued pushing.
At 12:40 p.m., my beautiful son was born.
He didn’t cry right away, and I was in an exhausted daze, almost an out-of-body experience. The midwife called out “Code Something” and what seemed like a dozen staff members rushed in as the nurses jostled him around to stimulate his breathing. After a minute that felt much longer, he cried, and everyone seemed relieved. Finally, I held my baby in my arms.
Nothing has ever made me feel as strong, powerful, or accomplished as giving birth to my two children. At the same time, nothing has felt more vulnerable. Laboring moms have to release our sense of control and instead, radically trust. Trust in our body’s ability to do what it was created to do. Trust in our birthing team and modern medicine. Trust in our loved ones to care for us the way we need. And, ultimately, trust in our Creator to sustain this precious, helpless little life we’ve brought into the world.
I was surprised at this seeming contradiction. I felt certain that if I achieved this VBAC that I so desired, I’d feel invincible. Don’t get me wrong, I brag about it every chance I get because I still can’t believe I conquered my fear and pushed out a 9lb, 11oz human.
But, as we prepare to celebrate my son’s fourth birthday, the emotions I felt during the birthing process and the slow, painful recovery that followed are still tender, still fresh. The feelings of powerlessness and uncertainty can never outweigh the joy of the moment, but they will forever accompany my recollections of those precious days.
I was in immense pain for days following my son’s birth. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say, it was a hundred times harder than my C-section recovery. I hadn’t expected this as I had always heard the opposite from other moms. What brought me peace, though, was how certain I was that I had made the best decision for me.
This is why it’s so crucial for each of us as moms to do what’s right for us.
Every single story is different, and none of the people offering you advice or sharing their own experiences will be in the trenches with you—during or after. You are the only one who needs to be at peace with the choices you make, so listen to your gut and surround yourself with people who will support you unconditionally.
Our bodies were made to do incredible things. If there’s one thing I learned from my son’s birth, it’s this: even when we feel most vulnerable, there is so much beauty, strength, and power within us.