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Somewhere between my OB/GYN putting my uterus back into my body and learning my daughter's APGAR score, I made a decision: I was never, ever going to have a C-section again. The previous hour had been the most terrifying of my life. At one point, I begged the anesthesiologist to give me some anti-anxiety medication. "Like enough to put me out," I begged. She leaned over until her eyes were about three inches from mine and explained that she couldn't do that because she didn't want to "rob me of my memories of the birth of my child."
"Oh, god, please take them," I wailed, "this is awful." I'd never even broken my arm, so having major abdominal surgery was nowhere on the bucket list. And after 26 hours of labor, I was not quite thinking clearly.
She squeezed my hand and told me to focus on the baby. She refused to medicate my anxiety. Of course she was right: I would have never forgiven her or myself if I parachuted out of the terror into oblivion where I'd have no memories of my daughter's first moments of life. Soon enough I was sewn up and holding my baby in the recovery room.
But I was going to be damned if I was going to ever do that again.
As soon as I got pregnant with my second, I started researching whether I could have a vaginal birth after a c-section ("VBAC"). I joined a Facebook group and met with other women who had done it. Their ecstatic second pregnancies buoyed my hopes. I was going to do it!
The desire to actually push my baby out using my own muscles was almost as strong as wanting to have the baby in the first place.
I was not an "ideal candidate" because my children were born close together. With only 18 months of healing from the first C-section, my OB/GYN was cautious about a VBAC because she was worried that labor would rupture my uterus. I forged ahead timidly, because I certainly didn't want to put myself or my baby in danger.
It was hard to articulate why having a vaginal birth was so important to me. The desire to actually push my baby out using my own muscles was almost as strong as wanting to have the baby in the first place.
The second time around I wanted it so bad I was dreaming of what it would feel like to push, push, push, and then have a baby in my arms.
When labor started, I called the doula and held off the epidural as long as I could. I walked the halls, sat on the balance ball, moaned, threw up and visualized my baby arriving through the birth canal.
We were so close.
My body had other ideas, though. My cervix remained annoyingly closed. I dilated all the way to four at one point, but then my cervix betrayed me by closing up, and I was stuck at three for hours. The rest was a blur, but soon enough the doctors told my husband to scrub up, and they prepared me for my second surgery.
The VBAC didn't work.
I was grateful for my healthy babies, but still holding a grudge against my body for not doing birth the way nature intended.
While I wasn't as devastated by the second C-section as the first, I still felt like a failure. I wondered if I could have done more. I berated myself for not being brave enough for a home birth. In my darkest moments, I wondered if I had somehow sabotaged the VBAC subconsciously. Had I been too timid with the doctors? Should I have done prenatal yoga? Should I have asked for one more hour to see if my body would have kicked in? I was grateful for my healthy babies, but still holding a grudge against my body for not doing birth the way nature intended.
Today my children are healthy 4- and 5-year olds. They like to touch my scar and ask about their births. I tell them the truth: "I was really scared, but the doctors took good care of me during surgery and everything worked out fine."
I still have occasional pangs of regret that I didn't have the births of my dreams, but I don't dwell on them. I've forgiven my body and come around to real gratitude that it made my babies and healed from two surgeries.
If you're struggling to reconcile the birth of your dreams with the one you actually had, you are not alone. Just know that some day maybe you will look back at the terror and confusion of your birth experiences and feel compassion for yourself and the choices you made in a very stressful situation.