As with many VBAC stories, Peyton’s begins with the traumatic birth and postpartum period of his big brother, Seth. After a long labor ending in an unplanned Cesarean birth, the stress of recovery and breastfeeding struggles, I spent Seth’s first year of life moving through the process of grieving my lost hopes for a natural delivery, home birth and successful breastfeeding relationship. I obsessively read birth stories, followed blogs and Instagram accounts, and researched endlessly, particularly about VBACs (vaginal birth after Cesarean) and HBACs (home birth after Cesarean). I was mourning and dreaming, learning so much and yet still mystified.
Somewhere between nine and twelve months postpartum I finally settled into a feeling of peace about his birth, no longer blaming myself or my midwives, no longer questioning every detail of the story; no longer feeling shame over formula feeding my healthy, charming, joyful firstborn.
The pregnancy was smooth and uneventful and I found myself once again shocked at how little I could know about the work of creation going on inside my own body; once again overwhelmed at the privilege and very aware that I was simply a vessel for the miraculous.
Deep in my heart I sensed that this child would be another son (which we found out was true at our 20 week ultrasound), and that he would be born at home. But I kept these details to myself and worked hard to curb all expectations and concrete plans about pregnancy, birth, and postpartum, trying to create a hedge of protection around my fragile emotions that were still only shakily healed from the trauma of Seth’s birth.
We named him— his daddy named him— middle name first. He chose North: adventure, strength, our homecoming. A few weeks and lists later I gave up testing my hubby with first names I liked and just waited to hear from him what this child would be called. One night we were watching TV and he glanced at me and said, “What about Peyton?” And I said, “Yes.” I later looked up the meaning: noble, regal, and, curiously, “from the fighting man’s house.” A warrior for good; a spirited adventurer. And so we dreamed.
Throughout my pregnancy I strongly believed Peyton’s story was to be a VBAC at home, but around 31 weeks at a routine midwife appointment we discovered that he was in a frank breech position and my placenta was anterior (front and low, over my C-section scar). We discussed options, but they were limited— if he did not turn head down on his own before 35 weeks, we would be making arrangements for a scheduled repeat Cesarean. There were too many strikes against us that would make attempting to VBAC more risky for both of us. For several weeks I fought hard to reposition myself mentally to be accepting of the possibility of another Cesarean birth, to see the positives; to have an attitude of faith. I wanted to accept this change as a gift— and there would have been positive elements, namely the absence of waiting for labour, enduring labour, and risking the emotional turmoil of a failed VBAC attempt.
Weeks went on and I could distinctly feel Peyton’s head on one side, high, and little feet pushing out the other, as if he were sitting in a comfy hammock in a “V” position. I knew he had not moved and as my stomach stretched and grew larger and larger I began to be convinced he would not move and we were certainly going to be heading for a Cesarean delivery. I stopped reading my birth books and pushed the visions I’d had about his birth aside as simple hopes and dreams that wouldn’t come true.
At 33 weeks we discussed possible interventions, including an external cephalic version (flipping the baby by manipulating him from the outside), and the Chinese medicine therapy of moxibustion, but with two strikes against us it seemed unlikely any OB would be willing to work with us, and we weren’t entirely comfortable with any of the options either.
The night of Sunday Jan 4, at 34 weeks and 6 days pregnant, I went to bed ready to decline interventions and schedule our Cesarean at our appointment the next morning. I could feel Peyton’s head bob around under my rib cage on the left, and his little feet kick back if I poked and prodded them through my belly on the right.
About 20 minutes after settling into bed, following his normal routine of an active period every evening as I was trying to fall asleep, Peyton began to wriggle and roll, but the movement was stronger and more vigorous than usual. I felt like he was going to burst through my skin. I asked Ynze to hug my belly to feel the movement and provide counter pressure so I could relax. For about an hour this went on, and then Peyton calmed down and we all went to sleep.
The next morning was a rush to get all of us out the door to make our 9am appointment. I sensed things had changed but didn’t give the feeling much attention. Together with out midwife we decided we’d confirm baby’s position before discussing the plans for scheduling a Cesarean birth. She felt my belly for a few minutes and then left the room, saying, “I don’t want to say anything until I know for sure… .” She returned with a fetoscope, which she held to my belly low on the left side and handed the earpieces to me. “What do you hear?” she asked. I listened. Loud, rhythmic, steady— “Hiccups,” I replied. “And if you listen below the hiccups…?” “A heartbeat.” “Yes.” She then showed me how to feel his head, unmistakable and low beneath my belly button. We could now easily find his back cresting along my left side, bum up under my ribs and feet in the same position they had been, on the right. I started up at my midwife, in a bit of shock. “So he’s turned,” I said. “He’s turned.” She smiled down at me. I had to make a mental adjustment, and quick. VBAC was back on the table— waiting was back on the table—labour was back on the table— and I would not have to be put back on the table.
We went home. I allowed my vision of this birth to be restored, as well as primed myself mentally to wait, until 42 weeks if necessary, and not be surprised or disappointed, though I had been saying all along that a delivery any sooner than two weeks overdue would be such a gift.
Wednesday, February 4, 39 weeks + 3 days
We had a home visit with our midwife, and I hoped to have a stretch and sweep done, but my cervix was not ready and still quite posterior. She pulled it forward and left me to schedule a 41 week appointment back at the clinic. But I didn’t call in that day or even the next. I just couldn’t picture going in for that appointment.
That evening around Peyton’s regular active time I experienced strong Braxton Hicks and cramping, through which I sat on the birth ball and tried to envision him descending. After about two hours the discomfort dissipated and I slept normally through the night.
Thursday, February 5, 39 weeks + 4 days
Besides being born in our home, through my pregnancy I had envisioned two other elements of Peyton’s birth— that my labour would begin spontaneously in the active stage, and that he would be born in a snowstorm.
That evening was similar to Wednesday, with lots of activity and Braxton Hicks, cramping and movement, for a few hours until I went to bed. Our parents were visiting. I tried to hide my discomfort. As they were leaving our house around 10pm, and as usual as we got closer and closer to my due date, they said goodnight and “Call us if anything happens!” In the glimmer of the street light as we saw them out the fluffiest snow globe flakes swirled through the night sky. I felt a beat in my heart.
Friday, February 6, 2:03 am 39 weeks + 5 days
I awoke to a contraction, long and strong, steady; certain. I laid in bed utterly still, suddenly fully conscious, waiting. Another one. Another. I glanced at the time. Five minutes passed; another. Six minutes; another. In my mind I tried to practice so much restraint, telling myself, “This isn’t it. Don’t get excited.” By 2:40 am I woke my husband to tell him I was heading to the bath and this might be it.
In the warm bath with lavender oil, in the dark of the middle of the night, with just that snowstorm streetlight glow, I started timing contractions. By 3:30 am they were 3 minutes apart, and by 3:40 I asked my hubby (who was sleeping until this point so he could be more rested for the harder parts) to call his parents to pick up our dog and maybe Seth, and by 3:45 I was paging our midwife.
From here time starts to blur…
I know my husband’s parents arrived shortly, his dad to take our dog home and his mom to hold my hand through each contraction, offer me cool cloths and water and popsicles.
I know our midwife arrived, checked my and Peyton’s conditions and then began to prepare her things in our birth space.
I know I was 6cm dilated when she arrived and there was vernix in the bath water, suggesting my water had broken, and that was encouraging.
I know she told me I couldn’t stay in the tub because the water was too shallow for Peyton to remain completely submerged until his body was delivered.
I know things were intensifying and at 5:45 I got out of the tub, used the washroom and moved to our bedroom to continue labouring on the birth ball, leaning into our bed, my mother-in-law giving counter pressure on my lower back and my husband sitting on the bed, holding my hand and drinking hot coffee. There were green sheets on the bed, smelling of clean laundry. Peyton’s blankets and clothes were waiting ready, the intimacy of our bedroom surrounding me. Calm, quiet and peaceful, I was in the birth space I had long envisioned, and so grateful to my birth team for helping my realize it.
Friday, February 6, 6:00 am
After a few contractions on the birth ball labour intensified and I was faltering out on the fringes of control mentally. I’d slip off at the peak of each contraction as it was matched with a surge of fear. Subconsciously I sensed I was in transition but this knowledge did not materialize into the boost of morale I needed. All the knowledge in the world did not prepare me to face labour in its real, unmedicated, powerful grit. It did not prepare me to face the fear of failure. I started to cry.
During Seth’s birth, while I was being prepped in the OR, my midwife had held my hand, appearing at my side at the critical moment, and softly spoken truth to my heart, defining the story with empathy and love. This moment happened again during Peyton’s labour— when the tears came my midwife took my hand, looked at me gently and encouraged me to stay positive, at the same time acknowledging, “I know, there are a lot of memories….” Her empathy shored up my endurance. I could trust that she knew there was an emotional rebirth taking place at the same level of intensity I was experiencing physically.
Friday, February 6, 7:00 am
I moved from the birth ball to the bed for a check on my progress. I was 9cm dilated— this information registered like a statistic rather than a beacon in my head; I had been here before, for many hours and a shocking surgery to follow. However, just a few contractions later my body began to push involuntarily, which I had never experienced before. Mentally I was still on a fighting edge and panic would break through and I would lose control and need to be reeled in by my team. The pain I remember had a searing quality, like unrelenting, high-pitched noise, bright white at the peak, utterly demanding and forcefully in control of me.
Friday, February 6, 8:00am
Between contractions I was aware that our second midwife had arrived as they talked quietly in the hallway outside my bedroom door. This scenario brought back more memories and a little surge of panic as I flashed back to Seth’s midwife talking quietly in the hospital hallway outside our room and in the next moments being told I’d have to be sectioned. But I didn’t have time to entertain this new panic as contractions surged on and pushing began.
Friday, February 6, 8:40am
During my pregnancy we had discussed the fact that my VBAC would begin with a trial of labour, and I wanted to know how long I would be able to “try” before intervention was considered necessary. The main stipulation we had discusses was that it would not be in our best interest to exceed one hour of pushing without descent, for my protection and Peyton’s. I had agreed to an ultrasound at 38 weeks to approximate his head circumference so we had more information on the likelihood of my VBAC success. Seth’s head at the 20 wk ultrasound had been 18cm, and 37.5 at birth, and poorly positioned, leading to our unplanned Cesarean. Peyton’s head at the 18 week ultrasound was 15cm, and the 38 week ultrasound reported 33.5cm. The difference was encouraging and one of the factors we considered in keeping with a home birth… but…
After 40 minutes of pushing, there was more quiet discussion going on between our midwives. Then they reminded me we had agreed not to exceed an hour of pushing, and let me know that Peyton was not descending the way he needed to. The word “transfer” was mentioned, if there was no change in the next 20 minutes, and that was all I needed to hear.
Images of what it would mean to move to the hospital at this point raced rapid-fire through my mind: getting dressed for winter— contraction. Getting in the car— contraction. Stop lights—contractions— turn signals— contractions. Arriving at the hospital—contraction—seeing strangers, cold floors, fluorescent lights… I was instantly hyper-aware of the situation and just as suddenly retracted entirely into my labour, consumed at once by concentration and effort fuelled by pain and determination.
I remember the voices around me, everyone close, encouraging, saying my name and Peyton’s, that they could see him and he had lots of hair. The memories are just flashes of moments, but my labour record states 18 minutes of pushing until I was delivered of his body and our Peyton North was born at 8:58am.
The winter sun had dawned, our room was filled with fresh, natural light, and this new son of mine was freed from my womb in a rush and placed on my belly, purple and crying loud. 36 cm head full of dark hair, healthy and hearty. 8lbs, 7oz— he was here.