Birth Empowerment: Successful VBAC Stories

Author // Rhea Zimmerman, DC

When someone begins care with me, I have one goal in mind: help them achieve their goals, to the best of my ability. For the women who come to me for prenatal chiropractic care, the goal is obvious: a healthy mom and baby after a healthy birth. Many women have different ideas about how they want this birth to look. For Dara Wayna and Katie Roberts, two women recently under my care, the goal was to have a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC ).

There was great joy and excitement for the families and friends of these women when they achieved their natural VBAC s. I have asked them to share their experiences so these “everyday women” can inspire others to develop courage, empower themselves with knowledge, and surround themselves with a supportive team. Here’s what they had to say.

Why was VBAC important to you?

Dara: VBAC was important to me for many reasons. Mainly, I didn’t want to undergo major surgery again and try to recover from it while caring for a toddler and a newborn. I also believed my body could give birth naturally, and I wanted to experience what I missed out on with my first son’s birth. I did a lot of research about VBAC s, but it was my nurse midwives who ultimately assured me it was a safe option.

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Katie: A VBAC was important to me for a few reasons. First, I believe that vaginal birth is the best thing for the baby. The process of birth readies the baby for life. Although my first daughter is healthy and had no reactions to any of the aspects of the C-section [Note from Dr. Rhea: Katie’s daughter did see a chiropractor for torticollis after birth, which could have been a result of the C-section or the malposition in utero], I believe it is still in the baby’s best interest to experience birth naturally. Second, I chose a VBAC because surgery is a difficult process from which to recover and I wanted to avoid it. I had been amazed at how easily friends were moving around after their vaginal births, whereas for me it was a painful recovery for six weeks. I didn’t want the surgery to interfere with my ability to care for my oldest daughter, since bringing home a baby was going to be difficult enough. Third, I wanted to experience giving birth naturally. I believe our bodies are strong and I wanted to feel the empowerment that giving birth gives women. I wanted to trust in the process.

I was fortunate in that my doctors were supportive of my attempting a VBAC . I had a cesarean for my first birth because my daughter was breech. For my second birth, my doctors told me I was a low-risk candidate for a VBAC . The only reason I was told to have a scheduled cesarean was that it would be convenient. That was not a good enough reason for me. I did some research, talked with other women who had VBAC s, and discussed the issue with my birth team. All of these factors allowed my husband and I to comfortably choose a VBAC .

How did your VBAC affect you in terms of personal empowerment and courage?

Dara: Giving birth to my son naturally gave me an amazing sense of physical and emotional empowerment. It made me realize I was in charge of my body, which I really missed out on with the C-section. Having a C-section left me feeling as if I didn’t actually give birth to my son, but that someone else did it for me. It was very liberating to be the one doing the work to bring my son into the world. After he was born and was placed on my chest, I just kept saying, “We did it, we did it; I can’t believe it!” Because of this sense of accomplishment, I know I can face any challenge now.

Katie: Giving birth is a courageous and empowering experience. I did feel that by having a VBAC instead of a C-section and without the use of drugs, I gained even more of a sense of what my body and mind are capable of. Birth is interesting…it takes so much strength to accomplish and also requires the ability to surrender and let go. Having the ability to tap into my inner strength and trusting the process of birth without interventions gave me a sense of invincibility.

How did you select your birth team, and what role did each person play in your ultimate success?

Dara: In addition to having two nurse midwives, we also hired a birth doula. Our nurse midwife was extremely calm and focused and was a great leader in the delivery room. At one point, my labor had stalled for a while and we were under the hospital’s time crunch for VBAC s. The nurse midwife really stood up for us and pushed the limits as much as she could to allow us to keep going. Thankfully she was able to buy us time, because she knew we could do it. The doula was an awesome person to have on our team while we were laboring at home and during the delivery at the hospital. She was a strong presence during the delivery. I felt 100 percent taken care of by her, and I knew when I was not able to answer a question or make a decision, she was able to step in, with my husband.

Katie: During pregnancy, I continued with my regular yoga practice, saw an acupuncturist occasionally, went to a chiropractor regularly, and hired a doula who is a nutritionist and herbalist. All were vital in helping me achieve the physical and emotional well-being and sense of safety and strength to have a successful pregnancy and natural birth. The acupuncturist alleviated my insomnia and some back pain I had during pregnancy. The chiropractor was essential in preparing my body for an easy labor and birth. I chose to see the chiropractor to help balance my pelvis and optimize my baby’s position for birth. What I found was that the adjustments also enabled me to be more comfortable and pain-free throughout the whole pregnancy. I had sciatica with my first pregnancy, and wanted to avoid that discomfort. I also knew that if my spine was in alignment, my body would function better in birth. All three of these concerns and desires were met: the baby was in position, no sciatica, and we had a relatively easy vaginal birth.

The third member of my team was my doula. Her nutrition and herbal guidance helped give me the understanding of which foods to eat in order to have energy and keep my emotions in balance. My doula also was exceptional as part of my birthing team by providing support when I needed it during labor. To have a natural childbirth in a hospital, I think it is essential to have a support person who can be calm, confident and encouraging, and provide direction. She gave me such assistance in all stages of labor and delivery.

My entire team provided both the physical and emotional support I needed for a safe and natural birthing experience.

What led you to choose chiropractic care during your pregnancy, and what role do you feel it played in your ability to have a safe VBAC ?

Dara: At my 32-week checkup, the baby was in a breech lying position. I was told that there was still a lot of time for him to move on his own, but I didn’t want to risk it, so I sought out Dr. Rhea, who came highly recommended by several other moms. She told me that she had experience in “adjustments to balance the pelvis and optimize baby position.” [Note from Dr. Rhea: I use the Webster technique.] After my first chiropractic session, I felt instantly more comfortable. I began to go twice weekly, and by 35 weeks the baby was head down. I feel chiropractic care was essential to having a successful VBAC . It opened me up (both in body and mind) and prepared me for the work ahead. My body felt strong and aligned after my visits, and I was always relaxed and in a peaceful, positive state of mind.

Katie: I had not known the benefits of regular chiropractic adjustments at the time of my first pregnancy; I became a regular patient and advocate when a chiropractor assisted in correcting my oldest daughter’s torticollis at six weeks old. Because she was in a breech position for at least five weeks, her neck muscles were tight, her motion was limited and her head titled to the left. After only two visits, she was 100 percent cleared of the condition. The whole family began seeing a chiropractor for wellness visits. From my experience with having a chiropractor keep my body free from pain, I knew it was essential to have regular adjustments during pregnancy, when more stress and weight is on the body. Also, all systems function so much better when you are in alignment, such as elimination, digestion and sleep. I wanted this for myself and for my baby.

How did chiropractic support during pregnancy differ from pregnancy without chiropractic support?

Dara: During my first pregnancy, I suffered from bad sciatic and lower back pain, and edema in the last trimester. With this pregnancy, I had virtually no aches and pains and no swelling; I totally attribute that to my chiropractic care. I felt more balanced in general and ready to go into the delivery without fear or trepidation, because I really felt that my body was able and willing to give birth naturally.

Katie: I was able to tell how open my body felt when I practiced yoga. I felt much more grounded into my body during the pregnancy, and I believe much of that was due to the chiropractic adjustments. The openness, and keeping the sciatic pain away, made the pregnancy smoother. Besides being pregnant, I had a toddler to care for, and I think the chiropractic support allowed me to be very active with her until the end.

What role did cultivating a positive mental state play in your preparation to give birth? What helped you to do this?

Dara: Having a positive mental state played the biggest role of all in my preparation to give birth. After the trauma we experienced with our first birth, it took me a long time to deal with my emotions and disappointment about it. I was still dealing with it when I found out I was pregnant for the second time. I knew I wanted a VBAC , but I wasn’t about to get my hopes up for a natural birth for fear of being let down again. I just told myself, “What will be, will be,” and while that approach has some truth to it, I wasn’t looking at it in the most positive way. I was afraid to hope and believe I could have the birth I wanted because I just didn’t think I could handle the disappointment again if it didn’t work out. I realized fear was going to get me nowhere, so I consciously decided to work on creating a positive mental state. I think this was the hardest work of all, because in order to do so I had to face my fears. I had to have faith in myself and my baby. I did a lot of visualization, imagining my baby making his way through the birth canal and into the world. I talked to him and told him I supported and loved him and let him know we were a team. I made up little mantras to repeat to myself while resting or driving: “I believe in my body. I believe in my baby. We are strong in mind, body and spirit.”

Katie: I knew I had to cultivate a positive mental state: “Yes, I can give birth vaginally and without drugs.” I also had faced my fear of having a C-section during my first birth. Ironically, I was able to have such a successful VBAC because I did not have any fears about having another cesarean. I trusted my body, and I trusted the doctors and health professionals I had on my team. Thus, I was able to be calm and ready for the birth of our daughter. All of these factors allowed me to feel safe, which created the feeling that I could open and give birth with joy, strength, trust, courage and love. And I did.

What do you want to share with other women who are considering VBAC ?

Dara: I would say first and foremost, do not let fears persuade you. Not your own fear or the fear your doctor or anyone else may instill in you. It felt like a fight to hold my ground and stay positive, because the doctors (even though they may support VBAC in theory) give you the worst-case scenarios of VBAC , instead of sharing the success stories. If you are low-risk, there is no reason why you should not be able to give birth vaginally. Seek out as much support as possible and take good care of yourself. And most important, believe you can do it, because you can! Our bodies were designed to birth vaginally.

Katie: Trust in yourself to make the right choice. When it comes to health, so many decisions are rooted in fear. Begin by considering a VBAC from a place of trust in the strength of the human body, and that you can have the birth that you want for yourself and your child. Choose a birth team that supports your decision and has experienced successful VBAC s. Also, create a sense of security and safety for your labor. Finally, a lesson that I learned from my first breech birth is we can help prepare, but we cannot control birth. Be open to the process and to however your child is born. It will be a gift no matter what.

Is there any favorite moment you would like to share about your birth experience?

Dara: Once we got to the hospital, my contractions were coming on really strong and I was starting to doubt myself and get scared about what was about to happen next. One of our midwives was not on call that day, but she stopped in anyway. While she was there, my water broke and then the contractions got really intense. During one, I was screaming, “Oh, God!” and afterwards, she suggested at the next contraction I add, “Oh God, thank you!” It was this small act of gratitude during such an intense moment that brought me through and helped me get to the next stage of labor. I had to be thankful for what I was experiencing, because it was what I had always wanted…and what I always believed was possible.

Katie: Despite myself, my intention was so strong to have a VBAC without drugs that it did happen. I asked for an epidural at one point in the hospital, because I was feeling I could not do it naturally. I was feeling tired and had not progressed at this point. Yet the universe said no. My doctor wanted my contractions to be more regular before I would be given an epidural, and then we discovered that the nurse anesthetist was unavailable for another hour and a half. I am so grateful for these circumstances. Once I knew I could not get the epidural, I was able to let go and surrender to the birth process. Less than two hours later, our daughter was born naturally. It was physically the hardest thing I have done, and also definitely the most rewarding. My favorite quote is by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”

As I see it, my role with these women was to create a positive, relaxing and encouraging environment. We now know thoughts dramatically affect our bodies, and the more we focus on the powerful, the constructive and the positive, the more likely we will be to embody the outcome we hope to create. There is a powerful blend when someone is having her nervous system cleared through a chiropractic adjustment: The ligaments of the pelvis balance through the Webster technique to assist the baby in finding the best position for birth, and positive suggestions guide the person’s thinking.

I am in awe of the courage of these women and am grateful to have played a positive role in their experiences. If there is something you want to achieve and fear is in your way, reach out and construct a team of powerful people around you who can support you in pursuing the outcome you want.

Pathways Issue 32 CoverThis article appeared in P athways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #32.

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