Faith-Filled, Healing VBAC in the Philippines

Isabell's birth photography work has taken her to the other side of the world. As a volunteer photographer with HELP International Ministries in the Philippines, she captures the beauty and strength of a woman in labor, the birth of a family through adoption, the first breath of a newborn baby, and the support and love shown by those around the laboring mom.... The journey of a child into its parents' arms.

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Words by Momma

Images by Isabell Steinert Photography

This is my birth story - my story of healing.

I am Ging, 34 years old, married to Albi for 2 years and 5 months now.

We have a 20-month-old daughter who was born via cesarean section. I sought to give birth via vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) for my second baby. I had an unmedicated birth. I was successful.

This is my birth story.

I wasn't happy about the conditions of how I ended up getting a CS with my first baby. I felt I was just tricked into it. So when I found out I was pregnant again, I immediately sought advise about my chances for VBAC through the Facebook group, Gentle Birth Philippines. One mom from the group answered that she too had the same age gap of babies and that she had a successful VBAC. Her answer encouraged me. One mom's example was good enough for me.

But she gave birth at a big private hospital and received the care of one of the Philippines' best doctors for VBAC. I wasn't so financially blessed.

Giving birth via CS the previous year at a private hospital had taken a toll on Albi's and my financial situation and we hadn't really recovered from it yet. We didn't plan on having another baby so soon.

I found an OB who was recommended by others to be pro-natural-delivery. But if she was pro-VBAC, I wasn't sure. When I asked her about my chances, the only concern she voiced out was about the age of my babies. When I told her about the mom from Gentle Birth Philippines, she agreed for us to try VBAC, but her only condition was that our second baby was smaller than our eldest. The fact that she didn't immediately shoot me down or warn me of dangers of VBAC was a good sign to me.

Still, there was the concern about the hospital and prenatal check-up expenses. Could Albi and I afford all the bills?

In the course of my inquiries, I met Velvet Roxas, a doula, and she suggested that if I had financial concerns, I might want to try out Shiphrah Birthing Home in Taytay, Rizal.

I checked out the birthing home's website and found out that it was run by a non-profit organization, Help International Ministries, to serve marginalized women giving birth.

I was suddenly shy. I felt we weren't worthy of Shiphrah's services. We had financial difficulties, yes, but we were not marginalized. Velvet assured me that there were plenty of well-off couples who have chosen to give birth at Shiphrah.

I decided to see Shiphrah.

On the day that was our trip to Shiphrah, I felt Albi's hesitation about its distance from our place. It was a 2hr drive riddled with traffic, but he agreed. I prayed silently about the trip but the phone application Albi used for navigation kept getting us lost. Albi was already getting irritated. I didn't want Albi to be in a bad mood and told him that it was okay for me if we went back home instead. But Albi decided to go on with the drive anyway.

When we finally arrived at Shiphrah, I asked Albi to lead us in prayer before getting off the car, to ask God to open our hearts if this was His leading.

We prayed and then proceeded to enter the birthing home. Lornie Bagro, who would later be my main midwife, met us. She was initially very concerned about the gap of my babies, and I was feeling somewhat deflated about the trip until we were joined by Jeri Gunderson who I later learned handles the home and who advised Lornie that she believed 18 months was enough healing for a CS scar. She also wasn't concerned about the new baby getting bigger than our eldest. "Don't diet," she said, "we want a healthy baby," because a healthy mother and baby matters on the success of the birth. Still, she agreed that if Lornie was not comfortable with the idea then it was Lornie's call. However, we did end the meeting with the agreement that if I could get a go-signal from an OB they had a relationship with, then we can proceed. Lornie gave me a week to think it over and so I could also meet Deborah Gustafson, Nanay Jeri's daughter, who was also a midwife and who handled their NGO's adoption home.

While maneuvering our car to leave Shiphrah, Albi and I passed a nearby chapel and he saw a poster of BCBP (Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals) Rizal Chapter on it. We are members of BCBP's Calamba West Chapter. It felt like a sign. "God, ikaw ba yan?" Albi asked aloud. To me, the fact that it was Albi who first saw it was a sure message to me that God was in that trip. We decided to come back the following week.

On our next visit, I finally met Deborah and she was so positive about my chances. I remember her words very well. She said, "a scar is a scar. Once it has healed it's healed. It doesn't get better with time; it's a scar." Her positivity gave me even more hope. Lornie and Deborah advised me that what was important is for me to keep myself healthy and eat lots of vegetables.

Eventually, I decided and asked Albi for permission to drop the OB we were already seeing. Despite Shiphrah's distance from our place and the cost it took for the trip, I computed that Shiphrah was still a more affordable option for us. I know he wasn't entirely comfortable with that idea but he agreed.

I also decided to seek the services of a doula to help me prepare for my birthing and the success of my VBAC. Despite it being an additional cost, I felt having a doula was important to my success in this attempt. And I asked Velvet if she could be my doula.

Velvet was very supportive. She was always so encouraging about my chances. She gave me so many materials to read about labor pain management and other birthing information to help me prepare. She advised me again and again and again that I should be excercising three times a day with the prenatal yoga excercise videos she sent me. That excercise was essential to my success because the uterus is a large organ and needs to be toned. She taught me that the way birthing works is that, for every contraction, the uterus is working as a whole unit to push the baby out. And it is an intelligent organ; the stronger and more frequent contractions come, it keeps thinking it needs to work. But if for some reason one side of the uterus is not working the way it is supposed to and contracting maybe less, then the uterus will think, "what am I working so hard for?" and will stop working with each contraction. Less contractions will prolong labor and keep from getting baby out. And since I had a CS, and the natural nerve connections my uterus had have been interrupted, I needed to work on toning my uterus to re-awaken and re-connect those nerves and make sure that my uterus works as a whole unit again.

I kept googling questions I had about the safety of VBAC for my case. I was convinced I was safe and that I could do it.

However, as my due date drew near, I started becoming anxious and nervous. I was worried about so many things. I worried about Isa. I was guilty about not being able to actually do much of the excercises Velvet sent me. Balancing house chores as a stay-at-home-Mom with no helper and watching over a demanding Isa kept me from having enough time to myself to work on my own physical and mental preparations. I prayed that, instead, all my physical activity doing chores could compensate. I didn't shy away from my house hold chores. I bent if I needed to bend, picked stuff up, carried stuff around, worked. I also didn't stop carrying our 9kg toddler, Isa, well into my third trimester whenever she asked, despite my parents and Albi telling me to already stop. I prayed all these physical activities would be enough and for God to fill in what I couldn't. (Maybe the lack of excercise was also the reason my labor went the way it did before baby came out.)

I was anxious and lifted up all my concerns to God.

Mild labor pains woke me up on Saturday, Sept. 12, very early in the morning around 5am. There was a sort of pressure on uterus that came every now and then. I texted Velvet, asking how I'd know the difference between the baby moving and a contraction. Our new baby's movements have always felt different from Isa's. While our eldest was also very active inside me as a baby, the new baby always moved like she had so little space. Her movements were always strong and somewhat forceful, sometimes painful, as she pushed and jabbed, and gave me headbutts inside. I remember one time I actually felt the obvious size of her foot create a very prominent mound like a little Mayon Volcano right beside my belly button!

That Saturday morning's sensation in my belly was somewhat different, tho. And they were strong enough to make me stop whatever I was doing to let it pass. And it seemed to happen in intervals. Velvet advised me to time it.

At around 11am, I hadn't timed my "contractions" yet since they seemed to stop, but as I was about to take a bath for a scheduled prenatal check-up at Shiphrah, I saw a bit of blood already staining my underwear. "'Ga, mukhang malapit na tayo manganak," I told Albi. Velvet confirmed that it was already what they call bloody show and that it was a good sign as it meant I was about to give birth soon. I was worried because, based on our count from my LMP, I was supposed to be due on Sept. 29, a little over two weeks more. Was I preterm? Velvet assured me I was well past preterm already and giving birth early was good for me since I was trying for a VBAC. It meant baby wouldn't grow unecesarily big.

During the ride to Shiphrah, the intervals between the pain got longer apart, as if 30mins passed before another came.

We got to Shiphrah and Lornie checked me. I told her about the contractions and bloody show. I don't remember if I also asked her to give me an internal exam, but she did not think I would give birth any time soon. She told me it could be another week before I actually give birth.

We rode home, dropped by Alabang to have dinner at Festival Mall, had Isa ride a train and a large dog that you dropped coins in to run, and headed home. All this time, the contractions didn't bother me much. They were very mild and far apart. But as soon as we got home, they started getting more frequent again.

That night, I felt as if the contractions were intensifying. I downloaded an application for timing them and it seemed like I was at around 5-7mins interval that lasted 25 to 40 seconds. Was that active labor? It was past 12am already of Sept.13. I just kept in touch with Velvet about it and she told me to just keep observing. Anyway, it seemed to slow down again after my communication with Velvet and I went to sleep.

However, I woke up Sunday morning, Sept.13, to strong contractions. I didn't time them but they were obviously painful. I was worried about how much time we had left to get to Shiphrah which was a 2hr drive from home. It was nearly 9am then and I woke Albi up telling him I wanted to head to Shiphrah already. I texted Velvet and Lornie as we were getting dressed that I felt like I wanted to head for Shiphrah already. Lornie asked me again if the contractions were consistent and long. It was hard for me to determine because I wasn't sure if I was able to time them right and also because they seemed to go from being nearer together to further apart every now and then. Another thing that worried me was how Albi kept telling me that, any time he felt the need for it, we would head straight to a hospital instead of Shiphrah. The day before, he had already asked me to find out from Velvet, names of recommended OBs because he wanted to be able to make quick decisions should the need arise. He also asked me to contact the OB we went to early in my pregnancy to ask if her new hospital in Sucat was already operational. I knew that once Albi made up his mind about a percieved danger over my life, there was nothing I can do to convince him that I was fine and that we can proceed with Shiphrah. I didn't want to give birth in a hospital. I wanted Shiphrah. In a hospital, strapped to a bed, I was sure I would only end up in another CS. And I really wanted this VBAC so bad! I wanted to make sure we had time to get to Shiphrah. Lornie advised me to find a nearby midwife to check how dilated I was. But Albi didn't want someone he didn't know looking at me and decided we head for Shiphrah right away. Since I felt as if the contractions slowed down and lost strength compared to that morning's, I told him we can hear the 10:30am Mass before dropping Isa off at her Lolo's and Lola's.

After the Mass, when we got to my parents' home, they asked why we were going back to Shiphrah when we'd just been there the day before. They didn't get yet what Albi's text about our plans that day meant. When we told them it was because I was already contracting, they got excited. Especially my Mom. It seemed the new baby would have the same birthday as her, Sept.14. It was agreed that they would follow us in their vehicle on the way to Shiphrah and everybody got dressed immediately for the trip. We had a quick lunch at McDonald's in Caltext along SLEX north-bound and they noted that it seemed like my contractions were so close in between. We were timing it at around 5mins interval during the meal.

At Shiphrah, Lornie inquired how I felt. She advised me the contractions needed to be really regular for me to know it was time. I thought that meant we should head home again. She asked me if I wanted her to give me an internal exam. I hated IEs. They are painful! But I wanted it this time because I wanted to get an idea how I was really doing. She checked me, I had my eyes closed trying to channel the pain from the IE, and I heard her telling Albi we could already stay. I was 4cm dilated already. It was around 3:30pm.

Lornie asked me if I was going for a waterbirth. I said I'd really love to experience it but if facilities are not available, I wasn't going to demand it. She told me she would have the birthing pool room, which was currently occupied by another couple who also just gave birth, ready for me and call me as soon as it was so we could transfer our stuff there.

After finding out we were staying, I suddenly felt so relieved. I had been stressing about having enough time to make the trip to Shiphrah all morning. Now, I suddenly felt safe; that everything was fine and I could just worry about having our baby soon.

I texted Velvet about the developments and she told me she would also be on her way to be with me already.

Dad came in our room and we told him the news. He was happy and prayed over me. He shared with me and Albi how he felt this was already God at work over us. Two weeks ago, we brought my parents along for my prenatal visit so they could see Shiphrah themselves. Meeting Lornie helped calm their fears about the way I had chosen to give birth. Our main concern had been the length of the trip and we even scheduled road trips to find faster routes. We had all been praying that my labor would be on a Sunday so that there was chance of less traffic. And here we were now at Shiphrah, on a Sunday.

I decided to get some sleep because I suddenly felt sleepy and might not have enough sleep later.

I woke up around 5:30pm. Velvet was also already there.

Now what? I felt awkward at first. Now, already at Shiphrah, and no need to stress about how near or far apart my contractions already were, I suddenly found myself wondering what was I to do then. Shiphrah was so unlike giving birth in the hospital where I was strapped in bed with a fetal monitor and an IV line, waiting for contractions to come in the "comfort" of an airconditioned room. I was wondering, "do I just stay here in the room?" "Do I go out?" "What am I going to do outside?" "So, what now? Nothing? We just wait for my contractions to come stronger?" "Should I have brought a boardgame to keep ourselves occupied?"

My parents, together with my youngest sister, Biel, and Isa were also just waiting for us in their vehicle parked outside. Dad checked in on me every now and then while Mom and Biel kept Isa entertained. I found out they left to hear Mass while I slept.

Dad came to check on me again. I told him I felt that they should go home. While Shiphrah was open to them all staying, I was concerned about Isa and didn't want Isa to see me right now as she might get anxious and I wont be able to give her the attention she needs. So, where would they stay if so? Just in the car? When I give birth, I also wanted to have enough time to bond with the new baby first so that when we finally have Isa meet her, I'd have breastfed the baby properly already and I can also give Isa my full attention so she feels this baby is not going to take Mommy away. But Dad was determined to stay. He wanted them to be there ready for any news. We agreed that they would go to a nearby mall for now and have dinner there, get Albi and I dinner, and to entertain Isa.

And Albi and I spent the remainder of the day chatting with Velvet. She taught me that what I was doing whenever I had contractions was wrong. What I was doing was to stop, tense up, and try to channel the pain by squeezing on something. She taught me to instead keep my shoulders down relaxed and breathe through it and walk around while I was having them, and remind myself that "contraction is a friend". 'That every contraction is moving baby in a better position to give birth. 'That I should be after the strong, long, and frequent ones as they are the most efficient. 'That what I was doing would instead drain my energy away fast and I needed to conserve my energy because we didn't know how long my whole ordeal was going to take. I found that Velvet's advise did make the contractions come more often but easier to bear. Albi and Velvet took turns reminding me to keep my shoulders down whenever a contraction came.

We continued chatting while I paced. My parents arrived and Dad brought us dinner of Salad and also Nilagang Baka for me, based on Velvet's advise that I should stay away from oily food for now because they would be harder to digest and I might just throw it up. And then they decided to go home since we also had our family business to think about, but made Albi promise to send them hourly updates

The contractions were stronger but I figured I could still sleep and I wanted to in case they got even stronger. I don't know if I remember it correctly but I think it was sometime at dawn of Sept. 14 when I woke up to very strong contractions and asked Albi to already call Lornie (I woke up every now and then to her checking on how baby was doing inside me). She came and asked if I wanted her to do an IE on me again. I said yes. I was so anxious about how soon the baby would be born. The great thing about my team in Shiphrah was that they always asked my permission to do an IE on me and did not push if I didn't. Whereas, in the hospital a year ago, they kept doing IEs, one after another, on me. It was so painful!

I was already at 8cm. Lornie asked me if I wanted to get in the birthing pool already. I said I wasn't in a hurry since I didn't feel I was actually going to push yet. Also, I was unsure... when DOES one get in the birthing pool? Haha!

I remember feeling some dread after hearing that I was already at 8cm. It was like, "uh-oh! I was at 8cm last year when I didn't progress and it led to me being cut." I felt a bit of pressure then that I HAD to go past 8cm

The day progressed with the contractions getting more painful. This day to me is such a blur. I had absolutely no sense of time by now, all I knew was that I was contracting and they were painful. I know there was some time during the morning before 10am that we all went back to sleep because I wanted to try sleeping. I found myself dozing off in between contractions. I am always so lethargic in the mornings. And then it was probably sometime after 10am that I first asked to get in the birthing pool because I thought I might already push. No pushing urge came but the pool felt so nice and relaxing, I was able to sleep in between contractions there. And it was some time after that when Deborah arrived to see how I was doing.

Before giving birth to Isa a year ago, I had told myself that I didn't want an epidural. Mainly because I am afraid of needles and a big one to the back really scared me. Also, I'd told myself then that if pain was part of the process of giving birth then I accept it. I was honest about not knowing where my conviction came from... if it was just from naivette about what labor actually took. I didn't like watching actual labor videos as I didn't want to create any unfounded fears about women in pain in my head. That is the same conviction I brought with me to this birth now. I learned from Velvet in my meet up with her before my 36th week that, particularly because I was VBAC, I had no choice but to really bear the pain as even the best VBAC OB she knew preferred not to use medical pain relivers for VBAC cases because it would be easier to tell that way if the mother's life was in danger. "Wala. Kailangan talaga kayanin mo. 'Wag mo bigyan ang sarili mo ng choice," I remember her saying.

I was not afraid. I thought I could do it. But now I say, nothing, as in NOTHING, could have prepared me for the actual pain I was going to go thru in labor. I'd experienced contraction pains without an epidural up until 8cm with my previous pregnancy and thought then that I was handling it well. But labor after 8cm, especially active labor pains are so much different! Like I described it to my sister, there were times I felt, "Parang di ko kakayanin. Grabe! May times na napa-isip pa akong ang sarap nga siguro magpa-epidural! Hehe! Tapos tipong wala ka magawa kundi tanggapin nalang yung sakit... tapos alam mong may mas masakit ka pang raranasin tho 'di mo alam kung anong level yun kumpara sa ngayon. Hehe!"

And during those painful moments, all I could do to keep myself going was to remind myself that I had asked God for this. "Grant me supernatural grace to bear the pains of labor," I had asked. I reminded myself to have faith that He is answering my prayers and that all this was leading to my successful VBAC. I hung on the thought that Christ had gone thru more pain for my salvation. That the pain I suffer was nothing to those endured by my Savior and, because of that, I can do it.

Those thoughts didn't make me a quiet martyr to the pain, tho. I don't think there was anything graceful about the way I believe I continued to scream about the pain during each contraction to Albi's and Velvet's and my whole birth team's ears.

Whenever my contractions slowed down, Velvet encouraged me to walk with her and Albi outside to improve them. I didn't want to go out. I wanted to stay in the cocoon of our room. Because of the strength of my contractions, I was afraid I might suddenly drop baby if she decides to suddenly come out. Velvet assured me it would not happen. And she was persistent in her advise that a change of scene would improve my contractions and my spirit. She was right about it improving my contractions. And right about it somehow improving my spirit tho I was too much in pain to bother. Outside, she encouraged Albi to hug me during contractions and I felt so at peace during those moments despite the intense pain.

Still, the baby wouldn't come out... my waterbag took so long to pop. I kept asking, why is it taking so long?

We figured the reason the baby took so long was because she was not in the optimum position to come out. So they made me do exercises that involved positions I had to hold to make the baby move. They were haaaaaard! One involved me sitting on Albi's lap facing him with my arms around his neck for support, and then he needed to drop me as low as he could to the floor whenever a contraction came and for as long as the contraction lasted. The goal, I believe, was to help my pelvis stretch and give the baby more space. I love Albi more for doing this for me. I know I was heavy. We should have done 10 contractions but we only got to 7 because he suddenly got dizzy. I was putting too much pressure around his neck during those heavy lap-squats and that probably restricted blood from going up to his head. Another exercise required me to have my head positioned on a birthing stool, lower than my knees and butt, with my knees kneeling on the edge of the bed. This one was supposed to be so that baby would move slightly back from pushing out and reposition herself. And I had to hold this for three painful contractions. Another that I had to hold for three painful contractions was with myself lying straight on my side along the edge of the bed with my top leg dangling down from the bed. Imagine holding this one during a strong contraction where the baby is already trying to push out in between you! But they improved (therefore, intensified) my contractions and my team kept reminding me that we *want* strong contractions because it is these that are efficient at pushing baby out. The last exercise was what finally made my bag of water pop. (So that's what it is like!) This was the first time I ever experienced my water breaking. It was 3pm, according to Albi. But I didn't know. All I knew was that it felt as if the day had already gone on too long.

Still, the baby found it hard to come out. My team took care of me the whole time. They kept encouraging me to eat for my energy tho I didn't have the appetite. They stuffed me with bananas after every contraction, pushing me to take at least one bite and also to drink liquids after every contraction; water, Gatorade, Minute Maid mixed with salt... Velvet had brought honey sticks and made me take them every now and then to keep my sugar levels up. They took good care of me.

Albi's strength during these times was amazing to me! Before the whole ordeal, I had worried he might find it too difficult to watch me laboring and suddenly decide, before I was ready to give up, to already bring me to a hospital. And I prayed so much to God about that. I asked for strength and peace to be with Albi during my labor. I knew God heard those prayers when it was Albi's voice I heard telling me, "sige Ma, kaya mo yan. Konti nalang, lalabas na si baby." And that encouragement from him gave the most to boost me.

After efforts to encourage the baby to reposition, we tried the birthing pool for me again. In hindsight, I now believe God must have probably really been there during our first visit to Shiphrah and had His plans laid out for me already before I even thought of asking. I came to Shiphrah not really expecting a waterbirth tho it was one of the things I dreamed of experiencing. However, considering the circumstances that initially brought us to Shiphrah, my only concern back then was to deliver my baby thru VBAC. I really wanted to be able to deliver my baby normally this time. I didn't want to be cut up again. Not just for financial reasons but more for emotional ones. My first pregnancy ended in a CS that I felt was only pushed on me. Wala kaming ka-alam-alam kaya napa-paniwala kami ng OB na CS na dapat ako. I didn't want an epidural because my research then told me it tended to slow down labor. I stopped going past 8cm and, coincidence or not, that was after they convinced me to avail the epidural anyway. And that lack of progress ended up with myself being cut up. So, I really, really wanted this VBAC. And I had felt that success depended on seeing the best VBAC OBs in the best (ergo expensive) hospitals. But my only available choices were to pursue this well recommended birthing home who was supportive of my desires or, given our financial situation, settle myself to another CS delivery in an affordable local hospital. I had felt sad with my not being able to afford "better" options back then. It didn't help that my parents had initially been very worried and critical of my decision to give birth in a birthing home. I had to be firm and tell them that this was the best choice available to me.

So, the idea that I might get to experience a waterbirth was something I didn't initially dare hope for.

But yes, God WAS there already with his plans during that first visit! It was Grace Villamor, another midwife, who greeted us at Shiphrah's door back then. When I said I was there to inquire, she somehow assumed I wanted a waterbirth. "Waterbirth?" she asked. "VBAC," I remember replying. And she nodded and asked me to wait while she got Lornie who handled all waterbirths at Shiphrah back then. And it was actually some time after that meeting that we all found out I wasn't really initially looking for a waterbirth.

Grace, is my third midwife in my team now. And she is there because Deborah asked me while I was in labor if it was okay with me to have another midwife present during my birthing so she could be trained in waterbirths, too. Amazing isn't it, the touch of God's hand in all things?

So here I was now with the waterbirth I dreamed of but did not expect to get. Yun nga lang... while the warm water felt soothing, it proved to be too relaxing for me. Haha! My contractions would slow down every time I was in it. Velvet kept pointing that out to me and kept encouraging me to go out and try walking or doing some other excercise to keep my contractions improving. So, eventually, I was convinced to try the birthing stool outside of the water instead and we went on with all other efforts for my labor outside of the pool. I guess, even tho He knew it wasn't for me, God must have allowed the waterbirth experience so I have complete joy with my birthing at Shiphrah. Because of that, I now consider it as a special gift from God, the kind he sends us to tickle our hearts. I am so thankful I took to writing about my experience because it has allowed me to see these little imprints God had over everything.

I remember it was also in the pool that Deborah laid her hand on me and asked if she could pray over me. And also where Velvet prayed a Hail Mary for me. Another evidence of God's hand in it.

Anyway, so back to my story...

Still, the baby could not come out. They kept checking the baby's position in my belly and it seems she couldn't turn enough to the right position to move out.

I said I hated IEs because they are so painful. But I didn't mind them at all this time. In fact, I was somewhat thankful of them now as they told me if I had even a little bit of progress. Like when they told me I was already at 9cm, I was so happy. I had gotten past 8cm and I was going to be fine. Also the time Deborah did the IE because she wanted to find out baby's position and told me that there seemed to be no problem about baby being "stuck" as my opening had enough space and baby was actually able to move her head around inside, trying to look for the right position. That gave me relief because there was already this little doubt in my head that I might actually have a small pelvis that made it impossible for the baby to pass thru. While it was never mentioned as a reason for the failure of my labor with my eldest, the back-up OB that Albi and I visited on my 37th week, in case I had to be rushed to a hospital, warned me about that possibility. She had also warned us about all the other perceived dangers of VBAC. I didn't really like her. She wasn't supportive of my decision to try VBAC. And I consoled myself then that I would only meet her anyway IF I needed an emergency CS. We had planned to see a different back-up OB who might be a little more supportive of my birth plans (Unang Yakap and Room-In) but we never got to see her as she suddenly cancelled her clinic the day we went to see her (the Saturday that my contractions started). Hand of God there again? I think yes. 'His way of telling us, maybe, that there was no need to see a new OB. And also, imagine what a new OB might have contributed to our fears if she had managed to do an IE on me and found out I was already contracting as much as I had been that Saturday?

But what? What was taking baby so long to come out? If there was enough space, why did she seem to find it difficult to come out?

At some point I was already wondering if the reason it was taking her so long to come is because of my fears about how her presence would affect Isa. I was honestly not ready for her. Finding out I was pregnant again wasn't a good news to me. We were not ready financially. I'm still nursing Isa and I feel she isn't ready to wean. How will I manage nursing a toddler and an infant? How do I put them to sleep? I could not imagine how I can manage as I still had my hands full with a demanding Isa. Isa, as a baby, have always been high needs. And balancing taking care of her while also attending to our home while Albi took care of the family business was really hard for me. And, up until my ninth month, I still had so many anxieties for Isa. My biggest fear was Isa's emotions. She is so attached to me. How will she take to sharing Mommy's attention with a new baby?

I wondered if those anxieties were the reason why our new baby took so long to come out. I said a little prayer of apology to our new baby asking her to come out and assuring her that I was also going to love her as much as I did her older sister.

My labor took until the evening. By then, we were already all in bed and I was pushing with everyone in various stations around me, helping me push. Lornie and Grace helped hold my legs up and open during each push, Deborah was helping me open up to let the baby out, Albi was there pulling at a cloth that I had to pull back to give more strength to my push. Even Isabell who was supposed to be there just to take my photos was helping Velvet hold my head and back up every time I pushed!

It was probably almost 9pm by then. It got to a point where Deborah had to finally tell me that if the labor still wasn't going as fast as it needed to then we might have to decide already to bring me to a hospital. That meant I would end up in CS. I don't really remember and I don't know how to describe how I took the news. I know I felt some disappointment, "CS, again?" But I guess, by then, because of the length of time my labor took, I also knew that if it would end up in that then it was definitely not for lack of every effort made to try and make it work. I was perfectly aware of the fact that I seemed to have already defied the odds of having a successful VBAC despite just a 20month gap between babies, plus that my labor was already longer than what was generally accepted as safe for VBAC moms... 24hrs! And, I had labored without any unnecessary medical interventions (i.e. medical induction, medical augmentation, medical pain relievers...) Although I did my research well on the safety of my condition before going thru my VBAC, it was still amazing to actually get to this point.

Still, I had hope and somehow still had faith that God still had so much time to deliver my prayer for a successful VBAC. And this presented itself in Deborah's advise that they had one more option. It was to pull baby out thru vacuum. She honestly told me she wasn't a fan of this option as, while it had its advantages, it still had its risks both for me and the baby. It could be successful. But then it could fail and it would put the baby in distress and put the two of us at risk.

The good thing is that constant monitoring of our baby's heartbeat, that Albi and I noticed my team did practically after every contraction, ensured us of her strength. She was such a strong little angel, assuring Mom and Dad that she was fine and Mommy can keep fighting for her.

Albi, who had early on already started talking (behind my back!) to Velvet and Deborah about our other options, reminded me that he wanted me and the baby safe. And I realize now what a toll it might have been on him had all these failed. I thank God for his Hand on all of our hearts!

I digested this information and we agreed to try pushing some more while they got the oxygen and other equipment ready for transporting me should any emergency arise. But I could also already feel my energy ebb. I was at a point when I was already feeling confused about when my contractions were about to start or if they have already ended. Half the time, it felt like they had already ended but I still felt as if I was contracting. All the push I had in me was starting to go away. My legs were already shaking from being held up so much and I hurt really, really bad already especially where the baby was trying to push out of me. "Napapagod na ako," I said. So Deborah asked if I already wanted to try the vacuum. Yes, I did. I asked if I still needed to push with it because I was afraid I might not have enough energy to give the needed push anymore. Deborah said yes and I said, yes, I wanted to try it already. I looked at Albi if he was okay with my decision. He nodded. We discussed which hospital we would run to in case of an emergency. And then they got to having the vacuum ready.

At that point my Mom entered the room. I was surprised. I wasn't expecting my family to come. She came to me and I think Albi told her what they were about to do. They were worried because Albi couldn't give them regular updates anymore because I didn't want Albi to leave my side.

Before we started with the procedure, Deborah was telling me what she was about to do. That she was going to put the suction head in to attach it to baby and warned me that the process was going to hurt. I asked what I was supposed to do then, I wanted to know how I was supposed to help them. Velvet told me not to think about what they were going to do and just concentrate on myself.

I think another contraction came before they were able to put the suction in and we had to let it pass. It was hard. I was anxious about contractions coming before I or they were ready. I was anxious to have the equipment properly set up before another contraction came.

Deborah got the suction head in, it was really painful! So painful! I felt the stretch it gave my skin. I was crying out in pain and then a contaction came. We took the chance. I pushed. It was so painful. The suction cup, the stretch, the contraction, the push. They kept telling me to push and I pushed and kept pushing while crying out in pain at how excrutiatingly painful it was. I pushed even when I felt as if the contraction was subsiding. "Ang sakit!" I kept shouting. I could hear my team cheering me on, encouraging me. I could hear Velvet's voice telling me, "sige pa Ging, kaya mo yan!" I can hear my Mom's voice telling me I can do it, na konti nalang, na kaya ko yun. Then they were cheering that baby was already out! "Ayan na! Konti pa! Sige pa! Sige pa!" Cheering for me to push a little more because baby was already out! Tapos nakarinig ako ng iyak! She was out! I did it! Kinaya ko!

Naiiyak ako ngayon. It's like it just happened for me again. I finally gave birth to little Cristina Angela on Sept. 14 at 9:45pm, 31hrs after I went in Shiphrah to labor. She was 2.7kgs.

They placed our little angel on my chest, she was covered in blood but crying and that told me her lungs were good. I am so happy! Kinaya ko! I kept telling her it's okay and sorry about the vacuum. Kinaya ko! And everyone was also cheering all around me. We did it! With everyone's love and support all around me, we did it!

We found out that it seems little Cristina Angela had a short cord. Not too short. But probably short enough which was maybe the reason why she found it difficult to move into optimum position inside me.

They prepared to cut the cord only when it stopped pulsating and they let Albi do the honors.

They gave me two shots of oxytocin just to ensure that my uterus would do its job and start healing. Deborah said they normally don't intervene with the body's natural process but I had had a very long and hard work so she just wanted to make sure my body would be okay. I don't like needles but this must have been the one time in my entire life that I didn't flinch when they gave me the shots. Haha!

Deborah continued to watch me for a few more hours making sure my uterus was contracting back to size and I slept with my new little angel in my arms that night. Albi also finally fell asleep lying down.

I am happy.

I came to Shiphrah because I didn't have much but dreamed of having my baby delivered naturally this time. I came for healing from my frustrations from my first delivery. I didn't expect much. But I got everything! God is so great! I prayed for Him to show me and Albi how glorious he truly is thru this experience and really, I have seen the hand of God in all this! His timing has been perfect, all the way up to the time he allowed my Mom to see all the effort my team did for me.

God is good! Nothing is impossible with Him. And with Shiphrah being a home blessed by God, created by people who love God, there is no better place for me to have given birth in.

This is my Birth Story.
This is my story of healing.