A vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC) is not always the antidote for a previously traumatic birth
If you’ve had a c-section that was physically or emotionally traumatic you may be wondering about the best approach for your next birth. While some advice suggests that choosing a vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC) can offer healing from birth trauma, what I’ve learnt through my own birth experiences and my work supporting hundreds of women after birth trauma, is that there is so much more to a positive birth experience than just the mode of delivery.
Many of the clients I work with who have had a traumatic c-section try for a VBAC in the hope that it will be redemptive. Yet, so often, the redemptive aspect of this process lies more with meeting the safety needs that were not met in the previous birth, rather than simply changing the mode of delivery.
Before we unpack this further, it’s important to know that birth trauma encompasses more than just the events of the birth experience; it can include the emotional, psychological and physical aspects of the entire journey from pre-conception through pregnancy and postnatally.
Trauma arises from a perceived or real threat to life and can result from feelings of a lack of control, disregard for autonomy, pain management issues, communication breakdowns, emergency situations and experiencing overwhelming vulnerability.
These layers can contribute to a traumatic birth experience, and while the mode of delivery plays a role, it’s often the emotional and psychological aspects that leave the deepest scars.
For some, attempting a VBAC after a previous caesarean birth can provide a sense of agency and an opportunity to align with their birth preferences and values. In these situations, VBACs may indeed offer healing, but they are not a universal solution for addressing the emotional wounds of birth trauma.
The problem is that when we put too much pressure and expectation on a VBAC to be what heals us from a traumatic c-section experience, we may not get the support we need to heal from the emotional and psychological pain caused by the birth trauma. We may not get the opportunity to have our safety needs met in the ways they weren’t previously met.
Every single situation is unique and your birth preparation and planning will look different to someone else’s.
Here’s some considerations and reasons why a VBAC isn’t always the right answer for everyone.
Attempting a VBAC without addressing the emotional trauma from a previous birth may lead to further unmet needs and expectations.
Placing too much emphasis on the mode of delivery can set unrealistic expectations for the birthing experience. While a VBAC can be a positive experience, it’s essential to remember that every birth is unique and each situation calls for a personalised plan.
The safety and wellbeing of both mother and baby are paramount during birth. Sometimes a repeat c-section may be the safest option, and a well-informed decisions should prioritise safety over the desire for a VBAC.
Healing often comes from addressing the emotional and psychological impacts of birth trauma through counselling and connection. The redemptive aspect of this process lies more with meeting the safety needs that were not met in the previous birth, rather than simply changing the mode of delivery.
Preparing to birth again after a traumatic c-section can bring up a lot of challenging thoughts, feelings and memories. With support to acknowledge and process these memories within trusted spaces, it is possible for those previously unmet safety needs to be met, and this can greatly reduce further trauma and fear around birthing again.
In my work as a birth trauma counsellor, I’ve seen that VBAC’s are not a guaranteed antidote for previously traumatic births. While they can be a positive and empowering choice they need to be approached with realistic expectations and a holistic approach to healing.
If you’d like support to learn more about healing from a traumatic birth experience, get in touch here. I would love to support you.