Monday, October 3, 2016

VBAC and What Ina May Said To Me

Ina May Gaskin, baby Ollie (in the womb) and I
Birth and Beyond Conference, 2013
Almost 3 years ago, during the inspiring Birth and Beyond Conference of 2013, I was in the presence of Ina May Gaskin. I attended as many of her sessions as I could and I got to meet her face-to-face and have a short chat with her. If I'm being honest, the whole point of me attending the conference had been to meet her. Granted, there was the educational appeal as well. As a doula, I love learning and keeping up to date on all things birth. But how could I pass up the opportunity to see and hear Ina May? Then there was the little detail about me being pregnant. It was my 4th baby. And I was intending to have a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean)...well technically a VBA2C (I had two previous cesareans).

This was a point of great contention with a few care providers I encountered, that it order to receive supportive care, I had decided to move to another city at 7 months pregnant so I could have midwives be my attending care providers. And I was doing everything that I could to prepare myself physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually (not in the religious sense, but at a soul level). You see, the first time I tried for a VBAC, I ended up giving birth by cesarean again. But it wasn't a great experience, because it hadn't been on my own terms. I had felt pressure, fear-mongered and frankly, bullied into consenting to the cesarean. Needless to say, I did not want to feel that way again. I knew that if I was going to need a 3rd cesarean it would be based not on fear, not on care provider preference, but on truth (evidence based care catered to my personal circumstances) and compassionate care.

So, here I was at the Birth and Beyond Conference. Surrounded by such positive and supportive energy in all the people there. I couldn't help but truly feel that my body and baby would guide me and let me know just what I needed along the way. Just as had been happening throughout my pregnancy.

But, I wanted to hear what Ina May had to say to me about my situation. So, I waited in line to speak to her one-on-one after one of the sessions.

I'm not sure what, if any, ideas I had about what she would be like. But it was so refreshing to see she was (and is!) such a down-to-earth, matter-of-fact kind of gal. She tells it like it is. She doesn't care much for structure and loves tangents. And best of all, through and through she believes in women, in birth and in creating a supportive/positive birth community.

As I waited, I tried to come up with a succinct way to tell her my obstetrical history, but I failed. It was my turn and the words just started coming out. I started off by saying she was a great inspiration to me, had helped me prepare for birth and inspired me to become a doula. And then in regards to my 4th pregnancy and my VBAC plans I said, "So this is my 4th baby, I've had 2 cesareans (my 2nd and 3rd babies) and now I am going for a VBAC. They tell me my pelvis is too small. I'd love to hear what you have to say about all this."

She nodded and looked at me sincerely and said, "Hmm. I don't think so, your pelvis seems just fine. I think you'll do just great. You'll know what to do and what you'll need."

And just like that, one of the the most famous and experienced midwives planted the seeds that would flourish into confidence, advocacy, stamina and intent.

I did not know then how it would all unfold, but I did know that however it unfolded, I would know what to do.

What I loved about her words was that they were open-ended, leaving out the part of whether or not I would in fact give birth vaginally. I know that is exactly what I needed. Most everyone I had talked with said things like, "You can do it!" or "No, you shouldn't do it!" or "Women are made to give birth, you've got this."

When the reality was, my satisfaction with this birth did not need to based on a specific outcome. It had to come from within and it had to be about the journey, but I needed to believe in my body and baby and leave doubt behind (including that negative Nelly inside my own mind!).

I had already been growing the idea that it wasn't all about a vaginal birth for me, that it was more about the experience, and really about how I felt throughout. After this brief but powerful interaction with Ina May, I knew that was now more true than ever.

I embraced the idea of giving birth, however that would turn out, knowing that I was able. That I was ready. And that I would need to surrender to the journey.

I embraced the intent behind my decisions, and knew that making decisions would have to mean that I owned them. That in that moment I knew that is what was right for us, and trust that this was true. Once you have knowledge and have prepared, there is no excuse to say, "I should have done differently" because the truth is, you can't have done differently. In each given moment, I was going to have to decide what to do with whatever knowledge and intuition I had.

And that's what I did.

And it was so different from my other birth experiences...there are just no words to express it.

I did not realize how much strength his birth would require. Mental, physical and emotional strength. And I found it within me, from the people around me and from envisioning all the women in the past and present who had also, and were also, giving birth.

The journey had expected landmarks and many more unexpected ones, but in the end what mattered most is that I was respected, supported and felt relaxed and powerful. My baby and I were enveloped in a cocoon of secure love and peace, among the seemingly endless twists and turns of labour, my people had my back...I had my back. And it was bliss. Even though my strong little guy had to go to the NICU after (a whole other story!), because of the grounded-ness, support, compassion and respect I experienced during his labour and birth, I felt ready to navigate that next journey by his side, as a confident Mama.

My VBA2C baby is now 2 1/2. He is a daily reminder to me about the strength and resilience of the human body and spirit, about the power of intentions and trusting your intuition, and of having the grace and wisdom to accept help when it is needed.


In just a few short weeks, I will once again be attending the Birth and Beyond Conference, and I am thrilled!

I will be giving a talk on VBAC. On how to prepare optimally and powerfully and how to build yourself (or your clients) up to embrace your (their) own journey and all our stories.

And I am super excited to see and talk with all the amazing people that are going to be there. And I look forward to seeing Ina May once again...and share with her just how much of an impact our short interaction 3 years ago had on me and my experience.

If you are a birth worker of any kind, or you are passionate about all things birth, you should come and attend too! You will not be disappointed. Check out the website and get your spot soon before time to register runs out.

Hope to see you there!