Caroline’s Birth Story

Caroline Henley Vail entered the world on September 4, 2017, which just so happened to be Labor Day.  She was 3 days late, which threw me for a loop because Jack was born right on his due date.  I never shared Jack’s birth story on the blog, so I’ll share a few details on that experience now.  

With Jack, my water broke around 9:30PM the day before he was due, so we headed into the hospital where I expected to have a normal birthing experience.  My plan had been to have a natural, unmedicated birth, but after being up all day and most of the night, and because of the strong, relentless contractions I finally broke down and got an epidural in the early morning hours.  The epidural enabled me to get a little bit of rest, but shortly after receiving it Jack’s heart rate started to drop at the end of each contraction.  They attached a fetal heart rate monitor to his scalp and they kept making me switch from side to side in the bed.  They finally gave me something to make my contractions slow down, but it still didn’t help Jack’s heart rate.  Walter Reed-Bethesda is a military teaching hospital that is co-located with the military’s medical school, so there were lots of doctors, medical students and residents in and out of the room the entire time.  It was scary because they were all talking amongst themselves, yet Tom and I were kind of left in the dark.  It seemed like over the course of a few hours I had 10 different people shove their hands inside me, and it was all really overwhelming.  Eventually a doctor told me that I could keep laboring but Jack would probably be too weak to go through a vaginal birth, or I could go ahead an have a C-section.  Having a C-section never crossed my mind, so being presented with this choice (or lack there of) was very difficult.  Through my tears I finally decided to go ahead and have the C-section.  I don’t think I even made it past 6 cm dilated.  At 7:25AM on November 2, 2015 Jackson Robert Vail was born.  He weighed 8 pounds 14 ounces and was much larger than I had expected!  The birthing experience really shook me up and I didn’t want to hold him at first.  I was shaking uncontrollably and the thought of having to take care of a little baby was terrifying.  I finally got to hold him though, and once I did I completely fell in love with my sweet baby boy.   

After the traumatic experience with Jack and the painful C-section recovery I decided to try for a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean) with Caroline.  The fear of the unknown was present, but I knew it must be better than a C-section, although I often wondered if I was making the right decision.  I was given an 80% chance of having a successful VBAC (they come up with the percentage based on a number of variables), and a 20% chance of it turning into a repeat C-section.  I figured with those odds it was worth a shot.  

On September 3rd, two days past her due date, I decided it was finally time to try some of the labor inducing tricks that I hadn’t tried yet so I took an evening primrose oil pill, drank raspberry leaf tea, and got acupuncture.  That evening we walked 2 miles and enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the ocean.  I finally went to bed around 9:45, only to be awoken by the feeling of my water breaking around 10:40 PM.  My water broke with Jack so I was pretty confident that I knew what had just happened and I knew that things would start happening pretty quickly.  I got up and went to the bathroom, changed my underwear and put on a pad and then decided to get back in bed and try to sleep a little before waking Tom up to go to the hospital.  I had been having Braxton-Hicks contractions for months and wasn’t feeling any real contractions yet, so I figured it was best to try to rest.  Well, that lasted about 30 minutes before I could tell that mild contractions were starting.  I woke Tom up, we packed up a few things we hadn’t packed yet, told my Dad that we were heading to the hospital (he was staying with us so that he could watch Jack once I went into labor), and we were on the road just after midnight on September 4th.

When we got to the hospital the nurse wanted to test my pad to check for amniotic fluid.  The pad was so absorbent that it tested negative, so they told me that my water hadn’t actually broken, and that it must have just been cervical mucus.  (Had I known they were going to do a test then I would have brought the underwear I was wearing when it happened because they were soaked…).  Next they did a pelvic exam with a speculum, an ultrasound checking for fluid levels, and they monitored the baby for 20 minutes.  After all of that they decided that I should go home and come back once contractions were regular (we live 30 minutes from the hospital when there isn’t any traffic and I thought that was a bad idea).  The doctor told me to get dressed, so I did, but something in my gut told me that we shouldn’t leave.  He even left and scheduled me for an induction for 4 days later…something I thought was insane because I knew I was having the baby that day!  Right before we walked out the door I asked if he could just check to see if my body was making any progress.  I got undressed again and the doctor checked my cervix, and I was dilated to 4 cm.  Unfortunately, I had never been checked before so he didn’t know if I had been that way for weeks, or if it had happened recently.  They said that I could walk around for 2 hours and come back and get checked again, or I could go home and come back later.  We decided to walk, so we walked laps around the outside of Tripler Army Medical Center (a giant hospital on a hill) from 2:30 AM to almost 4:30 AM.  As we walked my contractions got stronger and stronger, and I decided I couldn’t quite make it the full 2 hours so we went back in to get checked.  I was at 5 cm now and my contractions were very strong and close together so they decided to admit me.  I waited in triage for what seemed like hours because all the doctors (including the anesthesiologist) had just gone in for an emergency C-section.  I finally was admitted to Labor & Delivery around 6 AM and had to wait to get an epidural because the anesthesiologist was still in the operating room.  They gave me some medicine through the IV to take the edge off a little bit, and then I got the epidural around 6:30 AM (I applaud all of you who can deliver without one, because those things are a miracle!).  A doctor came and checked my progress again and said that even though my first delivery was a C-section my cervix was acting like it had delivered a baby before, so I had progressed from 5 to 7 cm while he was checking me.  

Shift change happened right after I received the epidural, and I was able to rest for about 45 minutes and then Caroline’s heart rate started dropping.  I told them that I could feel her coming and had so much pressure down below that I had to lie with my legs apart.  They could tell that there must be pressure on the umbilical cord and time was of the essence so I had to start pushing immediately.  I never even got to the pushing stage with Jack, so all of this was new territory for me and I was surprised everything was happening so quickly.  I pushed 4 times and suddenly I had a baby girl in my arms!  It wasn’t even 8 AM yet.  She was bright blue and wasn’t making much noise though, so she got taken from me pretty quickly so that they could clear out her lungs.  The delivery happened so quickly that all the fluids hadn’t been squeezed out of her lungs like they normally are during the birthing process.  A bunch of doctors worked on her for 15 minutes and it was so scary because I didn’t know what was going on or if she would be ok.  Finally they got her cleared out enough and they gave her the vitamin K shot which caused her to cry and fully cleared out her lungs.  Pretty soon she was in my arms and she latched immediately when I tried to nurse her.  She weighed 7 pounds 13 ounces and was 20.5 inches long when she was born, and we couldn’t get over how much she looked like her big brother!   

The birth was such a whirlwind, and from the time I was admitted to the time Caroline was born only about 2 hours had passed.  The nurses and doctors were amazing from start to finish, and the whole experience was very healing, especially after Jack’s traumatic birth.  I never knew that birthing a baby would be empowering, but it truly was with our Caroline.  We left the hospital just 26 hours after she was born, and now we have the sweetest baby girl in the world.

All photos are by Cait Schlabach Photography.  If you live in Hawaii and need photos taken look Cait up because she’s extremely talented and wonderful to work with!  Oh and stay tuned for more photos from our newborn/family shoot 🙂

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Katie Vail
Katie Vail

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  1. October 13, 2017 / 12:33 am

    Maybe it's my pregnancy hormones, but reading this got me choked up! I'm 21 weeks and it feels like baby is forever away…

  2. October 13, 2017 / 1:43 am

    I am so glad your VBAC was successful. Having an easier recovery is a gift with baby number two!!! Love all the family pics!!

  3. October 13, 2017 / 2:35 am

    You story about Jack is very similar to mine which resulted in an urgent c-section. (I wrote about the whole thing if you're interested in reading: I often think about how I would like the birth of our next child to go. Honestly, I had an easy recovery so the c-section wasn't as bad as it could have been but I wonder if I would like to try it the "natural" way next time.

  4. October 13, 2017 / 8:07 pm

    I'm so glad that you were able to have a successful VBAC with her!!!! Especially since that is what you wanted. 🙂

  5. October 16, 2017 / 11:45 pm

    Hi Erin, I read your birth story and it does sound very similar! The number of photos you were able to get during the procedure is amazing and I'm sure they are priceless to you. We didn't get a single one while we were in the operating room and I wish we had! Thanks so much for sharing. And it's amazing how different each birth can be, so hopefully your next one will go how you want it to go!

  6. October 16, 2017 / 11:48 pm

    Thanks Aubrey! Your sweet baby will be here before you know it. I get choked up reading birth stories too. They're such beautiful yet difficult events!

  7. October 17, 2017 / 5:05 pm

    Hi Katie, great to read your story. I was just wondering how painful the recovery was post Jack's birth via section. I'm going to have a surgery shortly which doctors say will be very much like a c section recovery and so I'll be out of work for 6-8 weeks. I'm very nervous and scared about the pain and so was wondering if you had any thoughts on what it was like. Thank you so much!

  8. October 17, 2017 / 7:14 pm

    The medicine is amazing so you don’t feel anything while it’s happening, but going to the bathroom and getting out of bed is tough for a while. I tried to walk a bit every day and was up to a mile after about 5 days. I was even able to run a little later than 6 weeks after it happened, so once you make it through the first week or two it’s not so bad. For me, the most difficult part was being so slow to respond to my baby’s cries and get out of bed for feedings or changings, but since you won’t be dealing with a baby it shouldn’t be so bad for you. I had a Bellefit postpartum corset which is also made for post-abdominal surgeries so you may want to look into that. I felt that it supported the incision area really well so made daily movements and walks more comfortable. Hope that all helps easy your mind a bit!

  9. Sarah L
    December 4, 2017 / 5:53 am

    So happy you have a healthy little one! I’m hoping for a VBAC myself after an emergency C section with my 2 year old. I’m curious though because my doctors want to continuously monitor me and the baby during labor for signs of uterine rupture. What did your docs say about that? Thanks!

  10. Grace Carlson
    April 27, 2021 / 1:23 pm

    So glad you had a successful VBAC! I had a similar story for my first and prayed for a successful VBAC with my second, but I had a placental abruption and ended up having another emergency c section at 37 weeks! Grateful for modern medicine as we are both healthy today despite a NICU stay.

    • May 3, 2021 / 8:53 pm

      Healthy baby is the most important thing! So glad you both are ok, I sure that was scary! Thanks for taking the time to read Caroline’s birth story!

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