Shepherd's Birth Story

I tried everything to go into labor naturally — dates, pineapple, bouncing on the ball, walks, sex, acupuncture, chiropractor, red raspberry leaf tea — you name it, I tried it! 

But nothing worked and my doctor gave me until 41 weeks before I needed to be induced. So, at 41 weeks, on May 30th, my alarm went off at 3:30 am so we could leave by 4:15 am to get to the hospital for my 6 am induction time. It was super early, but I was all sorts of excited/anxious to meet this sweet babe and hopefully have a successful VBA2C (vaginal birth after two c-sections). 

VBAC story

We arrived at the University of Iowa Hospital,  went straight to the labor and delivery floor, and were lead to our room. 

Side note: Noah and I were shocked at how big the rooms at the University of Iowa Hospital were! I have now delivered in three different hospitals and this was by far the biggest and nicest one. 

Then we spoke with the nurse for a bit about the plan and got hooked up to fluids & pitocin. I was checked to see if I had dilated at all and was disappointed to hear I was still only 1 cm dilated after everything I had done. But I was still hopeful! 

It was probably around 7:30 am when they got everything going. The plan was to start on a very low dose of pitocin and slowly increase as the nurses and doctors closely monitored the baby and I to make sure we handled it.

Then I was handed a menu — it was time to order breakfast! We ate breakfast and then went for a walk around the very small loop around the floor to help get contractions going more. Every so often my nurse would come and push a button to increase the pitocin but other than that I was left alone to see how my body would react to the pitocin. 

I was feeling regular contractions but they were very mild. Around 11 am they checked to see if I had dilated anymore...I hadn’t. 

VBAC story

Being checked is such a mind game — I tried to stay positive when I wasn’t progressing. It helped to know my nurses weren’t concerned about the lack of progress though and there was zero pressure to either.

After a couple of checks, they recommended I go ahead with a Cook Catheter. Prior to going into labor, my doctor informed me that pitocin and the Cook Catheter were the only two options that could be used for induction due to my prior two c-sections. 

Basically, the Cook Catheter mechanically dilates you to 5-6 cm. 

According to Med Device Online, “The Cook Cervical Ripening Balloon catheter is comprised of two silicone balloons and uniquely engineered to allow the cervix to naturally and gradually dilate...The first of two balloons is inflated on the uterine side of the cervix; the second is then inflated in the vaginal side of the cervix.”  

At this point, I was still unmedicated and let’s just say, it was uncomfortable. Shortly after inserting the Cook Catheter things got intense fast.

I had excruciating contractions one on top of the other — a side effect of having the cook catheter that I wasn’t aware of at the time! 


After an hour or so of laboring in the bed, my nurse suggested that we move to the tub. Being in the tub helped… some. But according to my husband, I was screaming… a lot. I remember it more like I was moaning and breathing (or trying to breath) through the contractions. Although at one point, I looked over at my husband who was sitting next to the tub, and he had his hands over his ears… soooo maybe he was right. All I know is that I have never been in that much pain and I never got a break. Most of the contractions were right on top of each other with maybe a 15-30 second break in between.

At this point, my nurse suggested an epidural and my husband agreed. It was an emotional conversation. I cried a lot during that conversation because I had read that getting an epidural can cause labor to slow. 

In my mind, everything was about getting my VBA2C and if I had to endure more pain to do it then I would. So I held off a little bit more.

VBAC success story

I slowly and painfully made my way out of the tub, and that’s when everything got even worse. I started having back labor, and could not catch my breath because the contractions were so close together. I was exhausted and I knew I couldn’t keep going if I had hours more to go. So, I reluctantly asked for the epidural. This was difficult for me to do but as soon as I got it — it was a HUGE relief and I felt so calm and peaceful. 

My doctor then came in to check me again. And again, I was still only 1 cm dilated. 

I began to cry. I had just labored hardcore for 5+ hours (a total of 10 hours at this point) and no change. I was so discouraged and had to really fight my fear that maybe I wouldn’t get my VBA2C after all… maybe my body just didn’t work right. 

My doctor and the staff there were nothing but encouraging and not worried a bit about me only being 1 cm dilated.

“We have plenty of time,” was the mantra they continued to repeat.

VBA2C success story

I was and am so thankful that they didn’t pressure me to throw in the towel and just get a c-section or place a time limit. They were calm, allowing my body to do its thing. Throughout this time I was constantly praying I would dilate and progress more.

So we waited and ordered some dinner. I don’t think I ate much, but Noah was happy to finish the meal for me. Then I rested and he slept. I was fighting major anxiety during that time and just kept praying and asking God for peace. 

I was never fearful or afraid about my uterus rupturing. (This is the number one reason why most hospitals won’t allow you to have a VBAC — even though the risk is between .1 and .2%.) My biggest fear was a repeat C-section. Which I know might not make sense to some, but I was more scared of that than anything else going wrong. 

Normally we only hear about the dangers with VBACing but never the complication with C-sections — especially repeat ones which have an even higher risk of complications. 

Anyways, I share more of that in my Journey to VBAC blog post that you can check out here

Around 10:30 pm I heard a little pop between my legs, I wondered if my water had broken but I didn’t feel anything. Then I remembered the cook catheter. When you dilate to a 5-6, it comes out on its own. 

I was hopeful that’s what it was: a clear indication my body was progressing. The doctor came in and sure enough, it had come out! I was dilated to 5-6 cm,  90% effaced, and my bag of waters was sitting low. 

We decided to see what my body did for the next 2 hours. If it didn’t break on it’s own my doctor would go ahead and break my water. Needless to say at this point I cried all the happy tears. 

This had been the farthest I had ever gone in labor. I felt so hopeful and trusted that my body was strong and could do this — it wasn’t broken in any way, just needed some extra time. I was so happy and just kept envisioning my VBA2C. 

VBAC baby

At 11:15 PM, I texted my sister, who was going to drive to Iowa City to be there for the birth and take pictures for us. I told her I didn’t know how long it would take from this point but she could come now if she wanted. It’s an almost two-hour drive so to be on the safe side she decided to head to the hospital right away.

Two hours later and my water hadn’t broken so my doctor came in and broke it. By this point, my sister had arrived and she was a welcomed distraction. Her, my husband, and I chatted for a while and then rested. 

I felt increased pressure around 3 AM. At one point I reached my hand down over my pubic area and felt a big bump and quickly realized it was his head moving down! 

At this point, I was beyond excited! I couldn’t believe it: this was actually happening! 

Around 4:30 am the doctor came in and I told her that I was experiencing a lot more pressure during each contraction. She checked me and said “Oh, wow! Baby’s head is right there. It’s time to push!”

I was shocked: “Wait, what?! You mean it’s time to push? Like… I’m actually going to get to push?!” She laughed and responded “Yes!”

They called the nurses and some other doctors came too and I started pushing. They had told me from the beginning that they were treating this as a first-time labor/delivery and that it would take close to 2 hours for me to push. So I was ready to push for a while.

This moment was surreal for me. I was completely overtaken with emotion, just so excited that This is what I had fought for not only the last 9 months but for 7 years since my very first c-section. I was beyond excited to push and couldn’t believe it was all happening. 

This part in my mind still seems like a dream. I started pushing and I remember feeling calm and extremely focused. 

But still, even during pushing, I had the fear in the back of my head, “What if they tell me to stop pushing? What if I do end up having to have a c-section?” 

Successful VBAC story

So even when I was struggling with my fears I kept quieting them and focusing on what I was actually doing. I pushed for a bit and the doctor told me the head was right there and asked if I wanted to feel the head. So I reached down and touched that sweet head. It gave me even more determination to get this baby out and get it out fast before anything could go wrong. 

At one point, after I had just got done pushing through a contraction, I looked at my doctor and with tears in my eyes, I said “I’m doing it! I’m actually doing it!” She cheered me on and was so excited for me. 

I pushed for another 15 minutes (a total of 30 minutes — not the two hours they had prepared me for) and we got the best surprise ever — a BOY! 

I was elated, full of emotion. Not only because I was getting to meet this sweet boy of mine but that my dream, a dream I had fought for, prayed for, relentlessly pursued, had finally come true. I got to experience a natural birth and I am forever grateful. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. It will forever be one of my favorite experiences and something I will never forget. 

At 5:12 AM, on May 31st we welcomed Shepherd Alan Swanson into the world. He weighed 8 lbs 6 oz and 21 inches long.

vbac after 2 csections success

*Updated on 8-6-19

I had to share this photo of my amazing doctor with you. This is Dr. Shaffer with Shepherd and I on my 6 week check up and it felt more like a celebration of my successful VBA2C than a check up. I’m truly grateful for her support and encouragement throughout my whole journey.

It’s bittersweet to be closing this chapter of my journey. We hugged and celebrated my successful VBA2C. And I’ve never been so sad to say goodbye to a doctor before. But that day I got teary eyed hugging her goodbye and thanking her one more time for making my dream of have a VBA2C a reality.

Don’t ever forget that you do have a voice! Don’t take no for an answer. Research and do your homework. Find a doctor who is supportive, even if it means a 2 hour drive for each appointment. It’s so worth it and I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.