A Gentle Cesarean Birth | UF Health North | Jacksonville Birth Photographer
After two scheduled C-sections, Lauren and her husband Tom decided that they wanted to approach the birth of their last baby boy differently. She interviewed doulas and learned all that she could about VBA2Cs (Vaginal Birth After Two Cesareans). She chose to work with doula Jennifer Coons of Zen Beginnings Birth.
“From the beginning, she was very non-judgmental and knowledgeable. I knew that if she didn’t know something that she would go above and beyond to find out. Most importantly, I knew that if I ended up having another C-section, she was who I wanted by our side to help us navigate all the emotions and to help us mindfully make decisions.”
Jennifer recommended that Lauren and Tom take Hypnobabies childbirth education classes with doula Michelle Baur of Jax Prenatal Yoga. Her Hypnobabies techniques were present in so many ways during the birth! Finally, Lauren and Tom carefully chose their OB, but struggled to find one that would support their wishes for a VBA2C.
“My current OB said no. One said yes with a lot of restrictions. One said no and offered a beautiful gentle C-section. Dr. Siebel at UF North said yes to it all, including the option of gentle C-section if we had to go that route."
"The morning of my 38 week appointment was stressful before I even left the house. I was going to the appointment by myself while Tom took the boys to tennis and swimming. I tried to calm myself on the drive by listening to my Joyful Pregnancy Affirmations, breathing deeply, and drinking lots of water. When I got there, I figured my blood pressure would be high given the morning, but everyone seemed more concerned than I thought they should be. I called Tom and told him what was going on. Dr. Wiggins talked to me and Tom was on speaker phone. He said I needed to go to labor and delivery to have tests run, that it would take about an hour. Worst case I’d have to collect my urine for testing over the weekend. I told Tom to go ahead with swim lessons and I’d call him when I was leaving the hospital."
"I tried to stay calm in triage. I turned off the lights and used my Special Safe Place Hypnosis. Then Dr. LaRae Brown came in and she was so kind. She told me that she had just been over to talk with Dr. Seibel, and it was clear that she was very familiar with my birth plan. As she started talking, I knew it wasn’t good news. She explained the normal level for protein in urine and that mine was high. She told me that I had pre-eclampsia and that I was going to get to meet my baby today. She stayed with me while I processed my immediate shock. She related with me when I told her that I have two boys that need their mommy and that we need to do what is necessary to keep me and Benjamin safe and healthy. She gave me a big hug and she gave me choices [to try for an induction of labor or a gentle C-section]. I chose to see how dilated I was. Unfortunately, my cervix was still high and closed. Knowing we didn’t want an emergency C-section, I knew the best option for a peaceful birth was a planned, gentle C-section."
"I had already texted Jennifer to let her know they had sent me to L&D. I couldn’t get a hold of Tom because he was in the pool with the boys. I called my mom, told her I was having the baby today, and that she needed to get to my house ASAP. I needed Tom and he couldn’t come until she got to the house. I think I told her I had pre-eclampsia. I texted Jennifer and Dallas. I heard back from Dallas first and she said she was on her way. Then Jennifer called. She was on her way and she helped me to remember my preferences and made sure that I was comfortable with my decision. She made sure I knew all of my options."
"Then Tom called, and things kicked into high gear. He had to get the boys home and get us both packed. I sent him a list for my bag. Fortunately, I had started packing the night before and he had most of his bag packed. I think everyone including me was surprised by the turn of events and a little in shock. Well, except Dallas, she reminded me that I had mentioned 38 weeks seemed like a good time to have a baby...little did I know!"
"I was nervous and I just wanted Tom there. It hit me that I’d just made all of these decisions by myself, even though they were based on decisions we’d already made. It was unsettling that I didn’t have anything with me, even my actual birth plan. I was worried about my boys; I told them I was coming home after my appointment and I now I wasn’t. I never leave them, so this was stressful for me. But I was still in Hypnosis with my 'light switch turned on.' Looking back, I don’t know how I stayed so calm. I was very aware of my feelings, but I was calm. I remember looking at my nurse, and thinking, 'Alright, I don’t know you and I don’t know my doctor, but I’m choosing to trust you two!' I just remember seeing Dallas and feeling so relieved; my people were here, this was happening, and it was going to be okay. Dallas’ calm and excitement set the tone for the rest of the day. It was all going to be okay. I wasn’t alone. She was there with me while they got my IVs going. She knew the nurse putting them in, which also put me at ease."
"Then Jennifer got there and again we just reaffirmed that I was comfortable with the plan and that I knew my options. She got some lavender going in the room which was perfect. Finally, Tom got there and my real calm set in."
"Tom and Jennifer worked quickly to set up my room: my birth plan, my Hypnobabies Peace track, St. Margaret of Antioch print, Benjamin’s welcome sign, the pictures of Thomas and William and some much needed Valor in the diffuser!"
It was so fun to see how they were all calmly embracing this change of plans, and doing as many things as possible to set the stage for a peaceful birth, even if it wasn’t the VBAC they had hoped for. The room was filled with a heavenly scent, they used a wireless speaker to play gentle music, and the homemade banner and pictures they hung made this already beautiful room feel even more like home. Once everything was set up, Lauren and Tom had a quick Facetime with their boys to reassure them that everything was going to be okay.
As they waited for Dr. Brown to come in, Lauren and Tom took a few minutes to use their Hypnobabies training. Visualization is a big part of the relaxation exercises, and they turned to a page in their book that had a script for just this very scenario.
"I turned my 'light switch to off' and Tom read the Change of Plans script. I’m still teary as I remember mentally putting each of my fears, anxieties and concerns into their individual tiny boxes and packing them into the big box, taping it up and putting into a closet and closing the door to unpack later."
"I was engulfed in a cocoon of calm as we finished, and Dr. Brown came in; it was time. Everyone briefly met Dr. Brown and then Jennifer, Tom and my nurse got suited up for the OR."
Because of the limited space in the operating room, Lauren was given the option to choose two people to accompany her during her C-section. (Most hospitals only ever allow one, so this is another way that UF North is such a special place.) Lauren chose to have her husband and her doula accompany her, and I wholeheartedly supported her in that decision. Jennifer has had a C-section herself, and her loving support and breastfeeding guidance in the OR was going to be invaluable. Jennifer offered to take some cell phone images, and I knew their whole birth story was going to be captured, even without having me in the OR with them.
"We all walked over there together. It felt different because I had been given anxiety meds and wheeled in with my previous two C-sections. I kissed Tom and he and Jennifer had to wait in another room while I got my spinal. I found out later that Dr. Siebel came and talked to them which really meant a lot to all of us!"
"The OR was smaller than my other two C-sections, which was comforting and it was quiet. I think it was just me, the nurse, and the anesthesiologist. The spinal was really awful. It kept hitting a nerve. Not even my bright orange Hypnoanesthesia was helping. If my nurse hadn’t been right there with me and the anesthesiologist hadn’t been so calm talking me through it, I would have panicked. It was hard work to keep my thoughts positive; fears from my previous experiences were trying to creep in. I was very relieved when it finally worked the fourth time. They got me laid down and made sure the spinal had worked. Dr. Kainz introduced himself and made it clear that he knew about my birth plan too. Dr. Brown was so kind, calming and reassuring. She dimmed the lights and Tom and Jennifer came in. They got my ear bud in and my Hypno music playing for me. Jennifer held my left hand and Tom was right next to my face."
These beautiful images below were taken by doula Jennifer in the operating room! She did an amazing job capturing those moments for Lauren and Tom!
"I felt a lot of adrenaline. I was nervous, I know that I cried a lot. I was really overwhelmed by the intimacy and support of everyone. Jennifer held my hand through it literally and figuratively. I felt a bond with her because I knew that she knew how I was feeling. She was calm and reassuring for both of us. And she took amazing pictures for Dallas! Tom was able to be emotionally with me 100%. We talked and shared moments and that hadn’t happened in our other births. I just remember him being so close to me and it was wonderful."
"[When I saw Benjamin for the first time] I was overwhelmed. I cried. I was so relieved that he was healthy and had a nice strong cry. He was so tiny and all I wanted to do was hold him. I kept saying 'It’s ok, buddy.' It was amazing to see his birth and experience those first minutes with him. Tom was right there with me, next to my face. It felt like it was just the three of us. I couldn’t wait to get him in my arms."
"It was still hard when Tom left with Benjamin to be weighed, etc...Jennifer was amazing. She kept small talk going and held my hand which made what felt like an eternity bearable. Tom was very happy and relieved that Benjamin was healthy. He said the experience was more awe inspiring than our other births."
There were several factors that played into this C-section which made it a “gentle C-section.” Lauren had the option to decline anxiety medication, which allowed her to be fully present and remember her birth. She had two support people with her in the operating room. Her arms were not strapped down. The lights in the operating room were dimmed, and she was able to listen to her own music in a wireless ear bud the whole time. A clear drape was used, so she could actually see her baby being born. There were no side conversations, or “shop talk” happening by the medical staff; only supportive words. Baby was placed on mom’s chest as soon as possible. Mom was supported in breastfeeding her baby right there in the operating room.
Dr. Brown supported their decision to do delayed cord clamping. She waited until the cord was white and limp before cutting it, and they cut the cord long, so that dad could "trim” it, and have that special experience of cutting the cord himself. Even though this was Tom’s third baby, this was the first time that he was given the opportunity to cut the cord, a special moment in any dad’s life.
"When they brought Benjamin, the three of us worked together to get him skin-to-skin and latched and then it was just me and Tom and sweet Benjamin. He was a master nurser from the get-go!"
I waited in the hallway, and I was so excited to see the doors open and Tom walking out with this huge, proud smile on his face! Benjamin was just perfect. He was calm and blinking, quietly taking in the world around him. Tom held his hand and talked sweetly to him while a nurse did the newborn exam.
Meanwhile, Jennifer and Lauren came back from the OR to the labor and delivery room.
"It felt like it took forever to get Benjamin back into my arms. I just remember skin to skin, cuddling and nursing. And finally, being able to get a good look at my sweet boy!"
"My favorite picture is of me holding my baby up to get a good look at him for the first time. I completely forgot I did that and I wouldn’t have even thought to mention that it’s a moment I’d like to capture."
Jennifer continued to provide loving support, helping Benjamin to latch, feeding Lauren ice chips, and being an upbeat, calm presence in the room.
When Lauren was ready, Jennifer retrieved the placenta from a cooler. She gently laid it out on a pad and walked Lauren through every feature, showing off its interesting heart-shape and explaining the vein and arteries in the cord.
"It was amazing! I’d never seen or cared about my placenta before. It was reassuring to see just how much of his cord blood Benjamin received. Jennifer encapsulated my placenta. And we put his dried cord into his shadow box."
When things settled town, Tom Facetimed the boys to introduce them to their littlest brother. It was so sweet to hear their excited little voices! They wished them goodnight and told them they would see them in the morning.
The rest of the afternoon slipped away. Jennifer and I excused ourselves, giving hugs and congratulations, and left this little family to bond.
"We were in the hospital for less than 48 hours! It was great bonding time for the three of us. It kind of felt like a vacation. Lots of silence, cuddles and take out! No one bothered us. A nurse came in maybe twice a day. It was great!"
"My birth story isn’t complete without knowing my pregnancy story. This pregnancy was very difficult. I had Hyperemesis Gravidarum for the third time and this was by far the worst. I had multiple trips to the ER for fluids and ended up being admitted to the hospital for 8 days. It was so hard on all of us, especially my boys. They went from having mommy 100%, with days filled with homeschool and cooked from scratch meals to suddenly mommy being bedridden and eventually not even at home. The emotional and physical toll for me and Tom was almost unbearable. We also did a huge house renovation and moved. Then I developed placenta previa and we dealt with the fears and restrictions that that brought. When my placenta moved in the third trimester, we thought we were finally smooth sailing again. But Hyperemesis has other plans. I started throwing up again. Thomas still says that watching TV is only for 'when mommy is throw-upping.' The effect this pregnancy had on my kids makes my heart hurt. The fact that it ended in yet another serious medical condition is in hindsight not surprising. Having pre-eclampsia that didn’t go away right after my birth just seems fitting! We sure did work hard to get Benjamin here and we feel so blessed. We’re happy and relieved to move forward. I’m a little sad that I’ll never experience childbirth, but that’s just not the plan God had for me and I’m okay with that. I have three beautiful boys and that’s a blessing!"
"I knew that I wanted Dallas. I had seen her pictures of my friend’s family [click here to see!] and I wanted those memories captured for us too. It took some convincing for Tom to agree to a photographer. When we met, Dallas put all of Tom’s concerns to rest. I knew that I wanted to document Benjamin’s birth because it was so much different than my other two. Those births happened to me and this was going to be special no matter what happened. She really was the perfect fit for us."
Lauren and Tom, it was an absolute joy to be with you on Benjamin’s birthday. It was inspiring to see how much preparation you did in the months ahead of time to ensure that this birth was peaceful. Thank you for asking me to capture this beautiful day for you, and for sharing your story with the world! I know it will be a great comfort to other families who are preparing for a VBAC to see how they can be informed and empowered, no matter what kind of birth they end up having.