A few weekends ago I was having coffee with a friend. We have a lot in common, not least of which is that we are both caesarean section mamas grieving the loss of the birth we deserved.
"I'm thinking about siblings" she said, "do you think it's worth trying for a VBAC?"
It was a simple question; but the weight of it hung between us, sodden with emotion.
Conversations about VBACs so often centre around the facts, fewer will talk about the emotional journey involved.
I'll be up front about this, my VBAC story ended up being a CBAC, but my journey was no less rich for that. At the time that didn't make much sense to me, but eventually a thought began to take shape.
And it was a simple one: When it comes to birth, are we looking at the wrong bogeyman?
The way in which we deliver our babies is not the same as how we feel doing it, and yet the two have become inextricably linked. I've spent several years listening to the stories of mamas who have had beautiful births, difficult births and highly traumatic births and in none of these cases has the method of delivery guaranteed how the woman felt about her birth.
I can't help but wonder whether we, as women, are fighting the mechanics of birth, when the real struggle should be the right to be respected and own the way in which we bring new life into the world. In other words, I wonder if the bogeyman is not the surgeon's knife, but the complete loss of control that comes with it.
So while these tips were originally aimed at answering the question my friend asked of me, maybe a better title would be the one I eventually used.
Catchy isn't it? And let's face it, something I'm infinitely more qualified to talk about.
So what are these mysterious "ways"?
Well they're about as easy to quantify as Scotch Mist, but I was always game for the impossible:
1. Make Your Peace
Maggie Howell of Natal Hypnotherapy nails it with her advice:
"Always remember EVERY birth is unique so no two experiences are ever the same."
Every birth is its own perfect storm, and it will never be repeated. The decisions we made, the advice we took, it was all given at that moment and we made choices to the best of our ability at that time.
But the human heart doesn't work like that, and long after the medical professionals have forgotten all about us, we still replay conversations and moments and wonder what would have happened if we had just been a bit braver, or stronger, or patient.
That way madness lies.
I can't say whether the answer is to listen to hypnotherapy scripts or have a debrief with a midwife or even to write a letter that will never be posted, but I do know that we have to make room in our hearts for the possibility of a successful birth by clearing out the pain of the past.
2. Find Your Tribe
During my first pregnancy I went to my appointments armed with evidence, expecting to reason my way into agreement. What I learned was that doctors, midwives and sonographers, all had the same information that I did, and what shocked me was that some of them were governed less by my needs than by the direction they were given by their employers.
By my second pregnancy, I had taken the stance that if I met people who don't agree with what I was trying to achieve, there was no shame in walking away and finding someone who would.
For me, that person was a midwife from the other side of the country:
"I support women by trying as best as I can to be honest, giving best and up to date evidence and not putting the emphasis on the mode of delivery. It is about the journey, we know that even with all the support, all the will in the world, sometimes vaginal birth does not happen, but if you are supported in your journey, supported in your decisions, supported in your choices ..."
I'll finish that sentence off for her
... you feel like you can fly.
It's not easy to find professionals who are happy to put that trust in you, and it's equally hard to surround yourself with friends and family who will make your birth a good one.
Sometimes it means making hard decisions about who should be in the room with you.
Sometimes it means taking time away from a friend who can't stop trying to make her journey your own.
Our egos are fragile things when we decide to take back our births, and we need support just as surely as we did when we took our first steps.
Just like that emerging shoot of confidence, our faith in our bodies can be nurtured and grow throughout our pregnancies. We can feel empowered to make the decisions that feel best for us, and slowly to believe that we are capable and worthy of a good birth.
Easy to say, perhaps, but as my friend will tell you, it can also be done:
"I did have some major wobbles, I'll freely admit. Fear of the unknown was a big factor and, although I hated my section, I knew what would happen. All I did was just stamp on those thoughts and push them to the back of my mind. I was so focussed on the end result that I would telling myself ... there's no place for worrying about failure."
The truth is that there is no way to guarantee a good birth, nor to know whether it was worth trying for a VBAC any more than there is one answer to the question of what makes the perfect song.
Sometimes we have to find that song within ourselves and trust that when the time comes, we'll know the words.