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A Fast Determined Vaginal Birth after Cesarean at Life Vincent Pallotti {Émile} | Cape Town Birth Photographer & Video Story Teller

When I met Gwen, we clicked instantly. I understood her story and where she was coming from. It resonated with me. She’s wanting to share it a year later because it will probably resonate with some of you. If you missed it, start with their beautiful maternity session then come back to work your way through her story. She’s sharing it in her own words.


Their images are raw, poignant, and honest. For a little while there, we weren’t sure if an emergency c-section was needed. But Gwen had her instinct and had assembled a great team around her. You can feel the emotions of this dad (oh-how-fond-I-am of this dad, he makes me choke up with emotion) from trying to get her out the door to not knowing how this birth would turn out to meeting his baby and being surprised it was a boy to the tears. Proving real men do cry. He is a picture of a father fully present and invested in this birth. It was my honour to work with them as a couple and their tender family.


Gwen was assisted by the following team: Angela Wakeford from Birth Options Midwifery Team, Dr. Douglas Dumbrill at Life Vincent Pallotti and Doula Charlene Yared West. My gratitude to them for allowing me to work as another professional on the team. Without futher ado, their story. As always, shared with family permission.


The birth of Emile.

My beautiful VBAC baby.

I cannot talk about Emile’s birth without first talking about the birth of Aliénor, my eldest daughter. Astonished at the high c-section rates in the private sector in South Africa and coming from a country where c-section rates are at around 20%, I had made sure to choose a care provider and a hospital that were pro vaginal birth. My husband and I took ante natal classes and hired a doula. However, after 14 hours of mild yet non-stop contractions, my doctor broke the news that my daughter was not going to come out naturally. Having a vaginal birth was very important to me and the c-section seriously affected the trust I had in my body and my self-confidence.

But before my doctor rolled me down to theatre, I asked him what the chances of a successful VBAC were; he answered between 60 and 70%. When I left the hospital with my tiny beautiful daughter, the nurse said: “Get a midwife for your second baby and you’ll get your VBAC”. At my first check-up, I asked my doctor why I had needed a c-section (my daughter was posterior), and he said: “Look, I wrote CPD in you file because I had to write something, but the truth is nobody knows exactly what happened inside your body and it’s not because it didn’t work the first time around that it won’t work the second time around”. There and then, my VBAC was already taking shape.

Before we even conceived our second baby, I started researching all things about VBAC. I did not want to fall pregnant until I was fully informed about the birthing process in general, and VBACs in particular. I joined an amazing support group on Facebook called “VBAC in SA”, which I followed religiously. I read all the files, absorbed all the success stories. I realised that I had not done enough research before my first birth. I learned to question doctor who were claiming that babies were too big to be born naturally, who were obliging women with no medical condition to be induced by 38 weeks, who were scaring mothers with false statistics and grossly exaggerated risks, and chose one who truly believed in a woman’s ability to give birth naturally. I learned that a doctor should not “allow” a woman to birth a particular way, but should respect a woman’s body and provide his or her patient with all the necessary information on risks of both natural and surgical birth, in order to truly obtain a patient’s informed consent. I also empowered myself to have the birth I wanted. I read about labour and birthing positions, breathing techniques, took hypnobirthing classes, did lots of Spinning Babies exercises. Once our baby was conceived, I contacted a team of midwives, I found another doula, prepared a birth plan and hired a birth photographer!

Come D-day. 37 weeks and 5 days. We had builders in the house, my daughter was sick and it was my turn take the day off work to look after her. At around 8am, my husband left for work although I had minor cramps. But I told him not to worry as I thought it was prodromal labour (my first had come at 39 weeks so I did not expect to go into labour so early!). Anyway, by 8:30, the pain was just too much and I asked my husband to come back. I realised my hospital bag wasn’t ready yet and I started a wash load of baby clothes… I phoned Birth Options and Angela picked up. I was so happy it was her! I told her how I was feeling and she said baby could come on the day or in the coming days. By 9am I went to the loo and I lost my mucus plug!! I managed to put my daughter in front of a DVD while I sat on my yoga ball and started timing my surges. I phoned my doula. I also phoned Marysol, my birth photographer, who quickly got on her way. Surges were becoming more intense, about 30 seconds each and 2-3 minutes apart. I had never experienced this coming and going of surges with my first baby. While it was painful, the hormones also put me on a high at the end of each surge. I remember that by 10am, surges were so intense and I was so focused that my messages to my midwife were no more than one word.

As soon as my husband got home, he told the builders to leave, found friends to take care of our daughter, packed our bags. That took about an hour. Just after 10:30, as Marysol arrived at our house, Angela phoned my husband and she heard me going through a surge. She told him that that was the sound of a woman in transition so we better go to the hospital immediately! I couldn’t believe it, I had only been in labour for a couple of hours and the pain was far from what I had experienced with my first when I was only 2cm dilated.

We got to the hospital just after 11:00 and from there on everything was very chaotic and went very fast. Angela did an internal as soon as I arrived and I was at 9cm!!! And baby was occupit anterior. Yay! I couldn’t believe it. Then Doc arrived and examined me – 8cm. Gotta love the midwife’s optimism!

The quick labour in hospital was also stressful for others. I knew everything was fine. However, both Angela and Dr D. couldn’t find baby’s heartbeat. My doctor then wanted to send me straight to theatre, and the conversation pretty much looked like this: “Doc, you’re not cutting me open again.” – “Gwen, we can’t find the heartbeat, when was the last time you felt your baby move???” But then somehow they did find the heartbeat.

My doula started running a bath but unfortunately I never got to feel the water while in labour. I laboured a bit on all fours and again, for a reason I have now forgotten, Dr D. wanted to send me to theatre. I then told everyone I felt like pushing. “Yes yes, you’re pushing……..” – “Yes doc, I’m pushing!!!” Oops, she’s pushing. But by then baby was in distress so he decided to use a vacuum. I also had to birth on the hospital bed. I had wanted neither of those but I wasn’t really in a position to argue then.
After 10 minutes of pushing, our beautiful son Emile was born, at 12:30. Just under four hours after the first contraction. A healthy baby weighing 2.9kg with an Apgar score of 9 and 10. I tore a bit and needed 10 stitches (the worst part of giving birth!). After some beautiful skin to skin, Emile latched perfectly. I took a bath while my husband did some skin to skin as well.

My VBAC was definitely an amazing healing experience. It would never have been possible without my amazing birth team and all the support I received throughout my pregnancy.

The sweet sensation of accomplishment. My favourite picture of my VBAC.
I was able to walk to my room and take in all the amazing post birth hormones while waiting for my daughter to arrive and meet her brother. I felt like I just ran a marathon but otherwise was feeling amazing (so much better than after my first birth!).


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