Not one to buck the system but.....By ELIZABETH QUINN,
As the oldest child in my family, I like rules and I like knowing what’s expected of me and what will work. If I disagreed with one of the somethings that was expected of me, I would argue my parents into twitching messes of exasperation—but I didn’t actually rebel too much. I was more of a ‘wear them down until they bend to my will’ kind of teenager than the ‘sneak out and do it anyway’ type.
I wasn’t really one to buck the system too much, not because I was hesitant to—I just didn’t need to much. I left that to my middle sister and her Free Tibet bumper sticker in 10th grade.
I followed roads very well-traveled through high school, college, and young adulthood. I was a good student and didn’t get in trouble. I went to college and was in a sorority. I married my high school sweetheart, and became a stay-at-home mom (who logs hundreds of miles in the car each week—we really need a better term for that one).
None of these choices were anything but that—choices. Nobody ever made me feel like I had to choose those options and I don’t regret any of them; they were and are what I want for my life. They are also in keeping with what many people around these parts choose. Which is fine—so long as we remember it’s just as fine not to choose those routes. It’s when we look askance at people who pick different options from the ‘Happy Life List’ that we turn our choices into expectations and standards.
As the rule-following, first child, I haven’t encountered many situations where what I wanted went against the grain of mainstream expectations. I’ve never wanted to shave my hair or dye it blue or get a face tattoo, although I did get my belly button pierced on the sly in 11th grade and hated it so much I took it out after three days. I’ve never wanted to sell most of my possessions and move my family to South America to travel the world like my friend Laura Dearman—but I’m sure glad she did because I love following her adventures on social media. I’ve never even preferred a ‘wrong’ term like ‘soda;’ it’s all Coke—that’s an easy one.
But one time I did want to do something so fiercely that was not done in these parts. I wanted to have a VBAC. A VBAC is a vaginal birth after Cesarean, and for everyone who just startled a little at reading the word vaginal—I’ll stick to acronyms from here on out, but let’s be grown-ups about this.
When my first baby was born via Cesarean section, I was so disappointed. It was not how I had envisioned my first birth would go and I was incredibly sad about that. It took me years to allow myself to feel that disappointment without also feeling guilty for it. Once I was finally able to realize that my sadness over how she was born did not lessen or negate my joy that she was born and that we were both healthy—I realized just how much I wanted to have a VBAC.
The first time I was pregnant, I didn’t do much to learn about birth. I was more interested in starting a blog to post pictures of my growing belly, researching THE BEST stroller (which I used three times—it was not, in fact, the best,) and searching for just the right light fixture for the nursery instead of learning about the incredibly intricate and amazing process my body would go through in a few months—but man, it’s a pretty light fixture.
By the time I was pregnant with my third baby—that had changed and I had changed. I knew the research and the major professional organization for OBGYNs were on my side, and that choosing a VBAC was a “safe and appropriate choice” in the words of the American College of OBGYNs. In spite of this, there are only a handful of doctors in Jackson who support VBAC—which helps explain why by the time I had my second VBAC in 2016, I was one of only 426 VBACs in the entire state of Mississippi (that same year there were around 14,400 c-sections, 38.2% of all births.)
I researched my way to UMMC and Dr. Amber Shiflett—my husband calls her Saint Shiflett for putting up with us. He probably mostly means me, but whatever. We had LOTS of questions and she had LOTS of answers. I needed all the facts and assurances she could give me that this was not crazy, because simply choosing the road less traveled was crazy enough for me.
I was a carpool-driving junior leaguer hiring a doula and scheduling acupuncture to coordinate with my chiropractor appointments—I was in uncharted waters.
A friend told me about ICAN, International Cesarean Awareness Network, which provides education, advocacy, and support for those who have experienced a Cesarean or are planning a VBAC. I needed to find people who had done this before for support, so I headed to my first meeting. I truly cringe when I think back to what a complete snob I was about it all. I had the embarrassing and incorrect impression that the only people who were ‘into birth’ were super crunchy, patchouli-scented hippies. Which is ridiculous, but should give you an idea of just how badly I wanted to have a VBAC if I was willing to step so far out of my comfort zone (and ignorant and misinformed bubble) to surround myself with people with goals similar to mine. I wandered around Sneaky Beans coffee shop for 10 minutes looking for the gathering of flower children I expected an ICAN meeting to be before someone asked if I was looking for ICAN. When I turned to answer that I was, I found a C.P.A., a neuro-ICU nurse, a lawyer, and community. Some of my new friends are a little crunchier than others, but once I quit judging books by their covers—I found a depth of support and love that I hadn’t known I desperately needed.
While I felt like a fish out of water as I navigated the world of ‘birth junkies’—that’s what those of us who really love talking about birth call ourselves, I quickly learned that VBACs and doulas and educating yourself about birth weren’t just for hippies planning to have their babies in yurts. Dr. Shiflett didn’t have any yurt rental recommendations to pass along, but she did have evidence-based research and a whole lot of VBACs she had attended to help me feel confident in my decision.
I don’t typically do things if I’m not already pretty sure I won’t fall flat on my face. That’s why you won’t ever see me dancing unless I have imbibed—strong spirits are the only things that can lie well enough to make me think I’m a good dancer. There were no guarantees that I would have a successful VBAC, and telling people I planned to try something I might not achieve is excruciating to me. Add in pregnancy hormones making my highs and lows match that of my toddler, and the fact that the thing I might fail at was a thing a whole lot of people in my life told me I shouldn’t do—and I really have no idea how my husband and Saint Shiflett weren’t asking for drugs as well once I was in labor.
Telling family and friends that ‘once a section, always a section’ was not, in fact, always accurate and I was planning a VBAC instead of another repeat section was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done. The telling was—not the actually VBAC: it was a dream. But telling people who had chosen the option I was rejecting—that was hard. It’s hard to tell someone you want something that is the opposite of what they chose without them interpreting your choice as a judgment of their choice. It’s also the basis of practically every single so-called ‘mommy war’ out there on the interwebs.
As humans, we stink at seeing people making choices different than ours as anything other than a judgment of our choice—and we’re idiots for it. I say we are because I do it too, just not about birth choices anymore.
Another common attribute of first-borns is stubbornness. I am simply brimming with it. So, the more I heard that I shouldn’t have a VBAC, or I couldn’t have a VBAC—the more determined I became to prove everybody wrong. Forty-one weeks of pregnancy and 30 hours of labor later, I did just that. And it was glorious. I was positively high on new baby love and post-birth hormones and was probably completely intolerable for months. I often say ‘there’s no zealot like a new zealot’ and I was freshly initiated into the ‘I had a great birth’ club and wanted to convert everyone I knew. My earlier care paid to making it clear that my choosing a VBAC wasn’t a judgment of others choice of a repeat Cesarean got lost in my passion. While I still 100% believed and felt that—I just wanted anybody who wanted what I had wanted to be able to get it so badly that I know I wasn’t always careful about how I spread the gospel of VBAC as an option. I probably looked no different than the people I felt were judging me for choosing a VBAC. Oh Irony, you are such a brat.
While time has reined my evangelism for VBAC back in a bit, I’m still a devoted follower of public health statistics and evidence-based research—all of which still say that VBAC is a safe and appropriate option for most women. And since Mississippi has the highest Cesarean rate and the lowest VBAC rate in the nation—I won’t stop preaching anytime soon.
April is Cesarean Awareness Month, and as the Jackson chapter leader of ICAN now, I’ll be sharing the VBAC love this month. Not because choosing a section is wrong, or choosing a VBAC is the only right choice—but because we all deserve to know that we have a choice. I often tell my children, “You do you, kid,” mostly because they’re a bunch of tattle-tells and bossy pants to each other. But it’s apt here as well, whether you had a section and want another or really, really don’t—both options are right, as long as they are right for you. A well-traveled highway or a goat trail to a yurt in the woods—either way, you do you, kid.
Elizabeth Quinn makes her home in Northeast Jackson with her husband Percy and four children.