Cora’s Birth Story
Life is ironic.
Recall Audrey’s birth story 3 years ago, a rather uneventful c-section delivery due to breech position that disappointed a mama who had invested 9 months of time into reading about natural births, water births, hypno-birthing, etc. Still, it was a relatively calm birth story, after I came to terms with Audrey’s breech position after trying every possible method to (unsucessfully) flip her.
Fast forward 3 years to a busy household with two full-time working parents who had both started new professional jobs in the last year, moved across the country from Texas to Virginia, moved two houses in their new hometown (from the temporary rental to the semi-permanent new vintage house), completed a month long kitchen renovation, etc. The pregnancy with Cora was easy breezy as it was with Audrey (although I only managed to run an 8K while 6 months pregnant instead of a 10K), but I barely had a second to think about being pregnant. Life was trucking along at full force while we settled into our new life in Virginia.
With regards to delivery, I wanted to try for a VBAC (vaginal birth after Caesarian) since breech c-section mamas are some of the best candidates for a TOLAC (trial of labor after Caesarian), which meant that the OB/Gyn would allow me to go to 41 weeks of gestation before scheduling a repeat c-section (the probability of achieving a successful VBAC decreases after 41 weeks according to the current research). As my water broke with Audrey at 39 weeks plus 4 days, and the general consensus is that subsequent babies “come sooner,” I didn’t give the deadline much thought. In fact, I halfway expected Cora to be breech so I wouldn’t even have to make a decision. But Cora was a cooperative one, she was head-down and engaged in the pelvis at my 34 week appointment and stayed that way.
She was due June 4. Spring 2016 was the first semester I taught a class at my new job. Grades were due mid-May. I was wrapping up a research report for my first research grant in late May. I was convinced that Miss Cora would arrive some time in late May/early June, making her the perfectly timed academic calendar baby.
May came and went. Nai nai (my mom) arrived to help us out with Audrey while we waited for Cora. And we waited, and waited. June 4 came and went. All her vitals were great at each prenatal appointment, but she was happy as a clam staying in my belly. I was now getting nervous about beating the “deadline.”
So we pulled out all the tricks to induce labor. I ate pineapple, spicy food, these legendary lemon drop cupcakes sold at a local bakery, drank raspberry leaf tea, got a pedicure… nothing. At this point I was mentally prepared for the repeat c-section at 41 weeks.
But then there was the old-fashioned recommendation to walk walk walk, so gravity would do the work and pull baby further down into the pelvis. So we walked 4 miles on June 5 (not an easy task for a 40 weeks pregnant woman!) and another 3 miles on June 6… and then around 8pm on the evening of June 6, the contractions started. They were irregular at first and not extremely painful, but bothersome enough that I had to stop what I was doing to breathe through them. At this point I became worried, even though I wanted a VBAC, I was woefully unprepared for a vaginal birth! We hadn’t attended any birth classes, I didn’t hire a doula, I didn’t even have a contraction timer app (until the contractions started and I was busy searching for one to download!) The contractions became more regular around 11pm that night and were so painful that I couldn’t sleep through them. This was it.
I vaguely remembered something from a birth class 3 years ago that we should try to labor at home as long as possible. But with a VBAC, the risk of uterine rupture always hung at the back of my head. We held out until about 5am on June 7, when the contractions were about 4-5 minutes apart, and off to the hospital we went.
In the triage room we received some disappointing news, I was only 3 cm dilated, and they would not admit us. The doctor recommended we go walking for a couple of hours and come back and see if I’ve progressed. Walk for 2 hours!? I didn’t remember this from any birth class or birth pamphlet! So we walked some more. From 5am to 7am I was walking all around the hospital campus, stopping every 3-4 minutes to breathe through very painful contractions, while the morning commuter traffic whizzed by. At this point I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through the entire process, I’d been awake for 24 hours and we weren’t even officially admitted to labor and delivery.
At 7am, a cervical check confirmed I was now 5cm dilated and ready to be admitted. So off to a birthing room we went. Right away the resident doctor (at this teaching hospital) recommended that I get an epidural due to the increased risk of uterine rupture for VBACs. I vaguely remembered something about epidurals slowing down labor progress and I was feeling pretty brave with all the progress we’ve made so far, so I refused. I asked for a mobile monitoring unit so we could continue to walk around the birthing room and let gravity do its thing. So we walked and did pelvic tilts, and at 9:30am, cervical check confirmed I was at 7cm dilated. Woo! We’ll have this baby before lunch! We thought.
At this point the contractions were getting very intense (and long) and I was getting tired. So we made the decision to go for the epidural before we missed the window (apparently if you’re too dilated then it’s too late to get an epidural). The epidurals made the contractions much more manageable, I even snuck in a 30 minute nap. But life is not without tradeoffs, at the 11:30am cervical check, I was still only at 7cm. The resident doctor now urged us to either start pitocin to speed up the contractions or break the bag of waters to try to hurry labor along. I was getting stressed, these were the interventions that would probably increase my chance of ending up with a repeat c-section. I didn’t just walk 2 hours for nothing! We asked to delay the decision for an intervention, and though my legs were now 70% numb from the epidural, I knew my body was not going to progress in labor with me laying down. So with the help of my husband supporting my upper body, I did pelvic tilts hanging onto his shoulders on my semi-numb legs. An hour later, my water broke on its own! At the 1:30pm cervical check, I was at 8.5cm dilated. Hooray!
At this point the epidural dosage was really setting in and my legs were completely numb, so I just had to lay there and wait. And it was a slow waiting game. At 7pm, I was finally at 9.5cm dilated. I took a little nap while we waited for the final dilation process and pushing.
At 8pm something went wrong. I started feeling a sharp pain in the middle of my back where the epidural injection site was, and all of a sudden, my contractions became extremely painful (I was basically experiencing them without effect of the epidural). The anesthesiology team rushed in and tried to figure out what was wrong but it took what seemed like an eternity (in reality it was about an hour, but the longest hour of my life). Finally, the epidural was back in place, and at 10pm I was finally 10cm dilated, and we were ready to push.
About a dozen pushes later, at 10:36pm, approximately 24 hours after I started active labor, baby Cora was welcomed to the outside world at 7 lbs 3.9 onces, 19.5 inches.
There you have it, a successful VBAC (with little to no planning).