The story of Shep’s birth

4 February 2019

In the end, inasmuch as something as miraculous as a birth can be ordinary, Shep’s was — and that in itself was a miracle. That is the story I have to tell you today.

When last we left off in my world of birthing, I had delivered our daughter via c-section a few days earlier than expected. Throughout my pregnancy with June, I kept my hands open — doing what I could to prepare for an unmedicated birth (hiring a doula, taking a birth class, reading up on all the things), but also realistic that I had no idea what the experience of labor would be like and that I might well choose to get an epidural. I felt fine either way, and sure that my worth wasn’t tied up in either outcome. What I never saw coming, however, was a c-section, and when June presented breech at 38 weeks, that’s exactly what I got.

Our doctor’s pronouncement of an immediate surgery (because of low amniotic fluid) sent me reeling — with panic, fear, powerlessness, and sadness. The birth I had been anticipating was plucked from my hands and set out of reach, leaving me grasping for a reality that was no longer mine. That day I sat outside the doctor’s office and sobbed — because I didn’t feel ready, because I was anxious about our baby girl, because I was terrified of a c-section, and in mourning for the experience of giving birth I had been anticipating.

If you’ve read June’s birth story, you know that a kind nurse’s casual remark was the spark that finally stemmed my tears: “You can always try for a VBAC next time!” she said. At once, all the possibilities I was reaching for seemed to come rushing back to me, and I was able to set aside my thoughts about the future and focus on the task at hand, secure in the knowledge that what I had so recently thought was gone forever was back within reach. It was confirmed in my mind — the next time around, I would be trying for a VBAC if at all possible.

And then I gave birth to June, and I recovered from surgery – not without pain, but surprisingly quickly and easily. Nursing was smooth. My scar healed and was hardly visible. Nothing I was worried about seemed to come to fruition.

Traci Huffman

Over the many months that followed, I would occasionally and idly wonder about that next time around. I found that I was no longer set on trying for a VBAC at all costs, given what ended up being a largely positive experience with June’s birth. I mostly kicked that can down the road, but I did take the step of switching OB/Gyn after my six-weeks-post-birth appointment, since the doctor that delivered June did not do VBACs (also he was terrible, so that was an easy decision!).

And then the test came back positive, and what was once theoretical was now imminent. And boy was I conflicted. Based on the reason for my previous c-section (breech positioning) and my lack of other risk factors, my doctors were happy to have me either schedule a c-section or attempt a VBAC. They would not induce me, however, and if I hadn’t gone into labor naturally by 40 weeks, they would move forward with a c-section on my due date.

So I had those parameters, but otherwise the decision was up to me (and also John, but he understandably felt I should take the lead).

My pregnancy was mostly uneventful. It was, however, marked by almost constant unrest over how Shep’s birthday would play out.

This time and last time, all I wanted was a healthy baby and a healthy mama. I’m not alone in this, but others usually say this to mean they are fine with any delivery outcome. I, however, was in the position of having to choose the type of delivery, with the knowledge that my choice could have an impact on just how healthy mama and baby would be — and that often felt like a crushing amount of pressure.

There are risks and benefits to both c-sections and VBACs, and every week, it seemed, I would get a new bit of information or insight that would send me swinging from one side to another. I prayed often for God to make it clear which option would be better, or even to take one option off the table (by, for example, giving me another breech baby!). I even point-blank asked my favorite doctor at one appointment what she would do if she were me, but she stuck to the party line that both were good and safe options. Harrumph.

I knew what I didn’t want: hours of intense laboring, and then having to have a c-section anyway. My recovery with June was better than most because I went into it fresh, not exhausted from many hours of labor. If I was going to have another c-section, I didn’t want to labor before it.

At 21 weeks, I read that half of all TOLAC (Trial of Labor After Cesarean Delivery) result in c-sections. That seemed excessively high to me, so I swung toward scheduling a c-section.

At 24 weeks, my doctor explained that were I to attempt a TOLAC, they would be monitoring me closely because of concerns about stress to my uterus, and wouldn’t let me labor as long – so even if I had to have a c-section, I’d still have a good amount of strength. I swung back toward wanting a VBAC.

At 27 weeks, a different doctor explained the risk of scar rupture. It’s 1 in 200, which again, seemed absurdly high to me for a pretty major complication. Back to scheduled c-section.

The questions chased each other for months.

What if we want more biological children? VBACs aren’t as recommended after two c-sections, and three c-sections are done but not necessarily encouraged.

Was I choosing convenience, the “easy” route? Was there virtue or reward in choosing the “harder” route? From whom?

Would people think less of me? Would I think less of myself?

Would I never experience my water breaking, contractions, that “this is it” moment, rushing to the hospital at midnight, or laboring with John at my side?

In the end, I scheduled the c-section for as late as possible while still being on a day my favorite doctor was on-call. (Though I liked all of the OBs at my group practice, I had an AWFUL experience with my first doctor and was determined to have a joyful doctor-patient relationship this time around!) If I went into labor before then, I would do everything in my power to have a successful VBAC.

I clung to advice from a dear friend’s mom – to make a decision, and then make it the right one. There was no perfect answer here, and no way to know how things would unfold from either starting point — what complications I might or might not experience with either type of birth. All I could do was make the best decision I could with the information I had, and then leave it behind me (and ask God for His grace over all of it!).

As July 31st approached, I had not even a hint of impending labor – I wasn’t dilated at all, and I hadn’t felt anything even remotely close to a contraction. I wrapped everything tidily up at work on Friday (a luxury I hadn’t had last time!), and spent a leisurely Monday with June at my side – going to the hospital for intake blood work, picking out books at the library, an afternoon nap, and a walk around the neighborhood in the summer heat. We picked up my Mom at the airport that evening.

My surgery was at 11, which meant we needed to arrive at 9. We took one last photo as a family of three outside our house (my hospital bracelet already on!), then John and I dropped June off at school before heading to the hospital. There was no need to hide tears when we recreated a photo from June’s birthday outside the entrance, and no tears when we greeted our nurses.

What was the same as last time? The peace I felt as I sat on the operating table, about to deliver June. After months of restlessness, doubt, and worry, I suddenly felt sure that I had done everything I could, that the choices I had made were the right ones, and that my baby boy and I were in good hands. I am so grateful for that.

The most painful part of the next two hours of prep was when the nurse-in-training tried to put my IV in multiple times – ouch! They eventually had to switch to the other hand and let the experienced nurse have a go. (She got it in the first time and I hardly felt it – but I had to put an ice pack on my other hand! Maybe a sign I would have gone for the epidural?!). Much of the rest of prep was the same as last time – listening to our boy’s heartbeat, talking to the anesthesiologist, drinking the nasty reflux preventative, the brief separation at the operating room door while John suited up in sterile gear.

With June, I felt detached from the bustling operating room and remember it as blessedly peaceful, a stark contrast to my painful morning. This time around, it felt like a party. My doctor put on beach music and laughed with the nurses while the nurse anesthetist asked me about June. The spinal block went in (not painful!), I was lowered onto the table, and the surgical drape went up (clear this time – a change since 2016).

Before John even got into the room, I was already starting to feel nauseous, and would go on to gag into a basin as they got started with the surgery. Unlike with June, where I felt uncomfortable kneading on my stomach, I didn’t feel anything when Shep slipped out – our sweet boy was a little fish! He entered this world at 12:06pm and held his breath for a few beats just to keep us on our toes — then immediately peed on the drape! John squeezed my hand before going to our boy in the warmer, then popped back around to assure me he was cute and all in one piece. 7 pounds, 3 ounces, 20 inches long.

I let out a breath I had been holding since November.

John cut the cord (he reported it was “gummy”), and, after a quick towel-off, Shep settled in on my chest while they finished out my surgery. I was still battling some nausea, so John and I passed our new baby boy back and forth – which was okay by me, since I had a better view of him when he was being held by John :)

We made our way back to the delivery floor, and then to our recovery room. I remember so clearly the feeling of being swathed in sheets and hospital blankets with my Shep tucked up against my chest, snuggled in a little nest.

He was, and is, the sweetest baby boy. I am so grateful for his birth, and that in the end, it was just an entry point into this wild and beautiful world. The real adventure has only just begun.

P.S. The meaning of Shepherd’s name

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February 4, 2019 6:44 am

This is beautiful! Thank you for sharing this special story of Shep’s miraculous arrival. It is such an encouragement and reminder that God answers our prayers, guides us through every moment, and knows the desires of our heart. :)

February 4, 2019 6:47 am

“Make a decision and then make it the right one…” what wisdom!! As always, blown away by your thoughtfulness, intention, and prayer in what sounds like an overwhelming decision. Hooray for a healthy mama and healthy (and perfectly squishy!) baby!

February 4, 2019 8:12 am

What a beautiful story to welcome your beautiful boy! Brought tears to my eyes! I faced a csection/induction/wait for labor decision with my 2nd baby and can agree how agonizing it is to feel like you have so much control in the process. My first was a difficult delivery and some doctors recommend scheduling a c section to minimize any future/additional injury to moms (including some of the doctors in my practice, but not the doctors I most respected). My doctor recommended inducing before due date so that baby wouldn’t get too big. And I really preferred to wait for baby but of course healthy mama and baby was most important. All of the research didn’t seem to support the need for a c section but like you, the possible complications were scary. In the end, I decided to schedule induction for the day after due date and hope for labor before then. Baby girl arrived after the easiest, most boring induction ever and her birth was the most wonderful experience (in stark contrast to my first delivery). It’s amazing how much pressure this decisions feel like at the time and how perfect things can end up after the fact. Congratulations on your precious baby boy and great work bringing him into the world!

Kelly Strawberry
February 4, 2019 10:20 am

So sweet! Love all the pictures, too!!

February 4, 2019 1:54 pm

What a beautiful story! Shep is adorable and you are so generous to share your journey with us. My son was born after 22 hours of labor (and two hours of pushing during which they turned down my epidural so I could try all sorts of things to get him out) and then a c-section. Not ideal, but still, my recovery was not bad! Not nearly as bad as I was made to believe a c-section recovery would be. It turns out part of my pelvis curves in, and that’s why he wouldn’t come out. So, I’m not a good candidate for a VBAC if/when I deliver subsequent babies, which almost makes things easier- the choice is pretty much made for me. Let me just say as someone who did have their water break and experienced labor- I’m very much ok with not experiencing that again :)

February 4, 2019 3:23 pm

This is so encouraging to hear a positive c section birth story! I’m expecting my first and my absolute biggest fear is a c section, so it’s nice to hear about joyful experiences!

February 4, 2019 3:34 pm

I feel for you! My first was breech and I definitely struggled with letting go of the ‘perfect’ birth (after trying every trick in the book.. I even volunteered as example breech mama for a spinning babies conference!). Turns out I have a heart-shaped uterus so little baby boy couldn’t move even if he wanted. Now I’m faced with the VBAC decision. I appreciate hearing your perspective for Shep – thank you for sharing!

February 5, 2019 8:21 am

Goodness. This made me tear up a bit my friend. What a beautiful birth story and one I can relate to in so many personal ways. We love you Shep! What a special entrance into the world!

February 5, 2019 9:24 am

Precious, precious baby boy! You are such an awesome mama… tucking the advice about making a decision the right one away for a rainy day!

February 5, 2019 12:10 pm

My story is almost identical to yours. First baby was breach and an unexpected C-section because of low amniotic fluid. Went back and forth on VBAC this time and decided to try if I went into labor before surgery date. Even down to the clear drape and party atmosphere. Now I’m sitting here with my 10 week old boy as my toddler runs around. Everything happens for a reason and I couldn’t be happier. Just love how our stories overlap because it makes me feel like I’m not alone!

February 5, 2019 12:31 pm

Agh, the agony! That sounds like a tortuous 9 months. But I am happy to hear that when it really counted you felt at peace with the way this birth would be playing out. Congrats on a beautiful baby boy! Now we need a post about your thoughts on mothering a boy vs girl!

Emily S
February 5, 2019 4:10 pm

This is so beautiful. I had my first baby last April, and I endured 38 hours of labor (including 6 of pushing!) before the doctors finally said I needed a C-section. I, too, mourned the loss of the birth I had in my head, but recovery was much easier than I expected. I’m glad your second c-section went wel, and that your beautiful boy is healthy. Thank you for sharing :)

February 5, 2019 4:35 pm

Thank you so much for sharing his beautiful birth story! I definitely teared up because I have so many similar emotions. I’m scheduled for my second c-section on March 29th and a VBAC was not an option in my small town. Our hospital doesn’t keep a surgical staff on call 24/7 so, the risk of rupture is too great for my doctor to agree to attempt them and the closest hospital that would have been an option is over an hour away and I would have had to find a new doctor. With my first, my c-section was a result of a quite miserable and failed induction at 41 weeks. At that point, I just wanted him out and I didn’t care how. This time I’ve had so many emotions over wanting the anticipation, water breaking, rush to the hospital experience and I know I won’t have that. Thank you for telling your story. It’s really helped calm me for the second time around.

February 5, 2019 6:10 pm

Just the best story of His faithfulness—and your faith continuing to grow in it all! I love you and all of these words that ooze His realness. ; )

February 5, 2019 7:57 pm

Em, ever since you shared about your difficulties deciding whether or not to go for VBAC or not, I‘ve been wondering what you decided on and/or how it actually played out. I also had a planned c-section with my first since she was breech and I didn’t recover so quickly and I never really got over having had a baby without knowing what contractions feel like. I somehow felt robbed of that. So I was happy that I had the option of a VBAC when I was pregnant again. I ended up having another c-section (after 3 days and nights of labor! I guess I got what I asked for, ha!). I was endlessly exhausted, but I recovered so much faster and the whole process did help me get over the first c-section and actually appreciate the wonders of modern medicine!
And as you said: birth is so so special, but also just the beginning of this wonderful adventure called life!
Thanks for sharing, friend!

February 5, 2019 11:17 pm

As someone who didn’t experience an ordinary labor and delivery (mine was borderline traumatic as was the experience of a lot of women I know) this first line struck a chord. Good for you recognizing that sometimes ordinary is a blessing!

February 6, 2019 12:17 am

I never tire of reading birth stories. Thank you for sharing, friend. It’s a privilege to get a peek into such a special, intimate part of your family’s life. You are a brave, wonderful Momma, and June and Shep are lucky to have you.

February 6, 2019 11:27 am

Two perfect, healthy babies… great job :)
I’m so curious to hear why your OB/GYN the first time around was so awful!!