After a traumatic first birth, this mama empowered herself and had a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Caesarean) the second time around. Here’s her joyful birth story, and what she learned about natural birth in Singapore
Editor’s Note: In the lead-up to Mother’s Day we will be featuring a different first-person essay or interview each day this week. Today we lead off with this inspiring, joyful story from Brazilian mama Paula, who had such an empowering second birth that she wanted to share what she’d learned the second time around with other mamas in Singapore.
Before recounting the recent the birth of my second daughter Lila, I must go back in time a little over five years ago to summarize the birth of my first daughter, Siena. The reason being that this recent birth is the direct result of what happened (and did not happen) at my first birth.
When I was pregnant with Siena, I had no idea how I should prepare for childbirth, how much I should educate myself and surround myself with knowledge on the subject so I’d be able to make decisions and surround myself with professionals to support my decisions.
I did not know the importance of a birth plan. I had no idea. I figured the doctor knew what was best for the baby and me, and that everything would be fine.
The whole time, Siena was breech. My doctor never warned me that breech babies are typically born before 40 weeks, so when I began to have contractions at 32 weeks he put me on bed rest. At 36 ½ weeks I went into labor and without any ceremony he told me: “The baby is breech. Let’s get you ready for Caesarean now. Where is your husband?”
The Caesarean was emergency, with general anaesthesia, and my husband could not stay in the operating room.
I was the last one to meet my daughter, because I woke up hours after the C-section, with a lot of pain and very dizzy. I could not sit up to hold my daughter, let alone breastfeed. The pain was terrible. Does every Caesarean sound like that? No: my pain, besides the cut, was also vertical, from top to bottom in my abdomen. The doctor did a mini-plastic and sewed my diastasis without asking me.
Running through my head: Pain, a lot of pain. I cannot breastfeed my baby, nurses say no problem, we gave formula to baby. Tomorrow if I’m better who knows?!
I emerged from this birth with a blank gap… a part of my story is missing with my daughter: her birth. I was not present.
Read More: All About C-Sections in Singapore
Which brings us to the second pregnancy, which took a long time to happen: three years of gestational losses, years of despair. But with all of this, I strengthened myself, I informed myself, and I went through many doctors, each with their own bedside manner.
Read More: How to Choose an OBGYN in Singapore
This made me understand that I really needed to know what I believed to be the best, to figure out what kind of pregnancy I wanted, what kind of birth I would like to have, then get a medical team and whatever else I needed in place so I could have any chance to achieve this birth.
So when it finally happened and my pregnancy was successful, I was fortunate to already have a doctor in place that I knew would help me: Dr Lai Fon Min, the doctor who would support my plan. In talking to him during the consultations, I discovered a fantastic professional who not only supported me, but is a doctor who truly believes in natural childbirth!
During pregnancy, with the consent of Dr Lai, I did everything I believed would help me have a natural childbirth. In other words, everything that would help me to be healthy, and both physically and emotionally prepared for childbirth. I hired a doula team (Thank you Keidi, Ginny and Eve from Four Trimesters), which was crucial for the prenatal, delivery and postpartum stages. I went to the gym with a personal trainer (thank you Thabata, my angel, for years of a change of lifestyle). I also did Pilates and yoga, along with visiting a chiropractor and doing meditation.
Read More: Ultimate Guide to Natural Birth in Singapore
What I was most afraid of in this pregnancy was that the baby would be breech again. No, please, not another Caesarean!
In the final stretch, guess what happened? The baby, who was already turned, decided to stay breech.
At 35 weeks Ginny called me to talk and it was there that I discovered that the probability of a breech baby be born between 36 and 38 weeks is very large. Pack your suitcase for the hospital. Leave everything ready at a moment’s notice. I finally understood why Siena had been born at 36½ weeks; until then I had thought that I had done something wrong to bring it on. At that moment, five years of guilt finally evaporated! I felt lighter. (It was also in this moment that I could begin to let go of my fear that my first pregnancy was repeating itself.)
I packed the hospital bag.
At my 37 week consultation with the obstetrician, baby was breech and he told me:
“We can try to do the manual inversion of the fetus. If it works out, great. If it does not work (because sometimes it doesn’t), I have total confidence in you doing a natural breech delivery.”
We tried the inversion. It didn’t work.
I went back to the doctor.
The word “Caesarean” was never mentioned in that appointment, or any other consultation. My biggest fear was there in front of me, and this angel of a doctor saved me. At that moment he set me free. I could truly give birth to my daughter, assured and confident in the knowledge that I would be truly present at the birth I chose.
On Wednesday, February 28 at 9pm, I said goodnight to Siena. Let’s go to sleep, it’s March! Lila is coming soon! She said, “My sister is coming tomorrow!” (It gives me chills to write this.)
“She will arrive March 1. She’s going to be born tomorrow”, Siena insisted. (The family had made a “bet” bout the day that Lila was going to be born and Siena had actually bet for March 1).
“Okay, Siena, I don’t think so, but okay, let’s go to sleep …”
At 11:45pm, lying in bed, I couldn’t sleep.
Then suddenly POW! My water broke!
The first thing that came into my head: Siena was right! Laughing, I woke up my husband. Laughing more, I went to the bathroom and couldn’t stop the water, or the laughs.
I tried to explain to him that this was it, the time had come, but more laughs! I simply could not stop laughing! I can’t really explain the feeling, a mix of happiness, of fear, but not really knowing, because I was acting so calmly. I now recall that moment as a truly great one.
I called the doula to tell her that my water had broken and on the phone with her I was already feeling the first contractions (they were “furious” — no more laughter!). One after another, every 3 minutes, sometimes one on top of each other…
We arrived at the hospital a little before one in the morning. I was at 3cm of dilation.
I was navigating the furious contractions with the help of my doula and the husband. My doula Keidi was a crucial element; without her I couldn’t have done it. She helped me focus on the breathing techniques, she managed the nurses, the husband, gave me suggestions to try different positions, she was truly a coach and I needed to be coached. No doubt.
I was first listening to my guided meditation, then I went to the bathroom and sitting on the toilet I felt the baby coming down, the sensation of pain was still there but sitting on the toilet was better than in bed. After a while I went back to bed and I was on my fours, I could not control my breathing anymore, the pain was much greater than I could ever imagine in my life.
Around 3am I felt like was dying of pain; now we can laugh, as I started to say that I did not want natural birth anymore, that I wanted epidural or I was going to die! And the urge to push the baby came furiously, I wanted this baby out!
That’s when my doula told me that the nurse could check my progress before I made any decisions.
I was 10cm, ready to push! The nurse ran off to call the doctor and the pediatrician.
At 3:45am our little one was placed in my arms! She came to the world bottom first and I was completely there for it! My husband was there! Laughs, laughs, laughs! The environment of that birthing room was beautiful, colorful… our rainbow baby Lila had arrived!
Lila was already in my arms, I heard the doctor saying something about placenta. I felt a contraction and something sliding from me. it was the placenta. The doula collected the placenta to encapsulate.
I look again at the doctor and he was telling the nurse that my perineum and vagina were perfect, no tears and he did not cut it, even though it was a breech delivery. (For those who are curious, try watching a YouTube video of breech delivery). After the bottom comes, the doctor searches with his hands one leg at a time, he lets the abdomen be pushed with the contraction and then searches with his hands each arm, and so he waits the head to be pushed with another contraction. Even so, he made no cuts to “help.”
When I heard that, that I had no scratches at all, I hardly believed it. More giggles. Because the moment I was pushing, the feeling was that an elephant was exiting through my vagina and it was doing a mega damage down there.
Was it luck? No, I believe nothing in this birth was chance or just luck. Once again, after educating myself, I learned that there are exercises and devices that help to say “stretch” the perineum and the wall of the vagina, training the baby’s exit. So the skin will not stretch that much for the first time in minutes. Holy “epi-no”, the device I used. Thank you my friends in Brazil, the “camelias”, who introduced me to the world of natural childbirth, including epi-no.
The pediatrician was present at delivery, by hospital rules, because it was a vaginal delivery after Caesarean section and a breech delivery. He waited until the cord stopped pulsing and was cut by daddy to examine Lila, and handed her back, reassuring us that she was perfect, no problem with being born breech. There were risks for the baby, because the doctor had to manipulate the limbs out of the vagina, but everything happened very well and she was great!
After 2 hours of skin to skin, we were sent to our room: Mommy, Daddy and Lila.
Wow. That’s all we could say. And giggles, and more giggles.
As my friend Lu said, I birthed pain and love. This birth represents much more than the birth of my second daughter. This delivery freed me from my first birth, freed me from the disappointment of the first birth, the guilt of Siena being born before, the guilt of having taken general anaesthesia, the pain of not being present at the moment she came into the world, the guilt of not breastfeeding her in the first days of her life. I was freed, and I shed weight I’d carried for years. I have overcome painful fears, fear of losing one more baby, fear of the baby being breech and having to have another Caesarean, fear of not being able to be a mother again. I put an end to it all. I left that birth room lighter, renewed.
This birth represents a turning point in my life. Lila was born, I was reborn.
All images courtesy of the author and should not be reused without permission