Healing VBAC, but Regrets for Epidural

My VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) was ultimately healing for me emotionally, but I still struggled because I didn’t have a natural VBAC and opted to get an epidural when I reached 7 cm dilation.

Still, the VBAC proved that I could have pushed out my smaller, first baby since I pushed out my bigger (by more than a pound) second baby. That’s a really big vindication! I now have confidence that my body works and can grow a baby that it can deliver, even in the face of gestational diabetes. (My hard work managing the condition paid off too – as I’m sure if I had been unable to control my blood sugar levels the VBAC option would have rightly been off the table.)

In the immediate aftermath of birth I was flying high and completely at peace with my decision for an epidural. I got from 7 cm to complete within a few hours, and even though the epidural only “took” on my right side it was enough to relax my body and get the rest of the way. I was so excited about my daughter and actually pushing her out that second guessing myself and any doubts seemed impossible to fathom in the initial recovery period.

But by a day or so later I was definitely beating myself up. Part of it was the pain. I had a second degree tear, which is to be expected with such a big baby I suppose, and massive hemorrhoids that were the worst part. It didn’t take me long to convince myself that the epidural, and the purple pushing that resulted from that choice, was the cause of my pain. I blamed myself and felt disgusted with my weakness in the face of mounting pain and fear.

I thought about it so much that I convinced myself that I knew what I could have done and what I needed in the moment to avoid an epidural. But Monday morning quarterbacking is rarely useful, and in this case definitely wasn’t helpful. But what is true was that I needed to better communicate before labor began to get intense.

My husband didn’t know everything I had packed. He thought all the snacks in my bag were for me, and so he didn’t take care of himself as he should have (I don’t think this impacted our outcomes at all, but I feel guilty all the same!). I didn’t get out all my tools – massage aids, lotion, visualization aids, honey sticks, etc. – basically anything Rene’ mentioned in the natural birth class I bought and had in my bag. Because no one but me knew what I had no one but me could suggest them, and I got to the point of being lost to coherent thoughts beyond surviving the contraction (and wanting it to STOP).

I went to the Exceptional Birth Group less than two weeks after my baby’s birth, and being in the company of other new and expectant moms was great. I loved telling my birth story with an emphasis on the successful VBAC, although it was still coming together in my head I had the broad strokes even then. I was able to verbalize my regrets and see empathy. Hearing others’ successful natural birth stories was a little hard just because it gave me ammunition to beat myself up further. Everyone at group was supportive and proud of me and for me.

By about four or five weeks postpartum I began to really feel better. A big part of that was the pain recovery, but also writing out my full birth experience was very helpful to me. It allowed me to let go of my obsession about the epidural and move forward with caring for my daughters (I also have a 4.5-year-old).

I unintentionally read some Facebook stories about children dying in accidents, putting my desire for natural birth in perspective that allowed my gratitude for two healthy, gorgeous daughters to overtake my wish to have delivered them both vaginally without epidurals.

Although every time my back hurts I blame the epidural and curse myself a little, I mostly am not thinking about it anymore. Being a mama is my primary identity as I have chosen to spend most of my time caring for my young daughters. I’m grateful to my body for creating them, growing them and nourishing them through breast milk. I’ll always regret my C-section, but it’s not disabling. And I’ll always regret my epidural during my VBAC too, but I know as time marches on it will become a footnote in my parenting career.

-Mari Walker