After an initial cesarean birth due to preeclampsia, IVF warrior Desirae Whittle knew it was paramount to gather a birth team that would truly encourage a vaginal birth. She shares with Adriana Lozada the many joyful moments during the long vaginal labor of her second child, and how her team enabled her informed decision-making at every step of the experience.
What action did you take during pregnancy that proved incredibly helpful during labor and birth? Share your tips with our community @birthfulpodcast on Instagram!
Related Birthful episodes:
- VBAC Facts website
- The Evidence on VBAC, Evidence Based Birth
- Evidence on Acupressure, Acupuncture, and Breast Stimulation, Evidence Based Birth
- Acupuncture or Acupressure for induction of labour, Cochrane systematic review
- Do Epidurals Lower Blood Pressure? Belly Belly
- Preeclampsia Foundation website
- Healthy Birth Practice #2: Walk, Move Around, and Change Positions Throughout Labor, The Journal of Perinatal Education
- The Evidence on: Birthing Positions, Evidence Based Birth
- Labor Positions & Movement, The Lamaze blog
- Walcher’s: Open the Brim, Spinning Babies
One thing you can do for you is learn about the different positions that you can use during labor and birth and practice them ahead of time. This is going to give your body some muscle memory and allow you to become familiar with some of the less straightforward ones like the Walcher’s position mentioned by Desirae.
The one thing you can do for the rest of us is share, support, and contribute if you can, to the VBAC Facts Academy BIPOC scholarship fund. This fund aims to increase access to both professional membership and education about VBAC for birthing people, for the benefit of those most impacted by racism and perinatal healthcare disparities.
[Birth Stories] How a Surprise Pregnancy After Infertility Led Her to A Successful VBAC
Adriana Lozada: Welcome to Birthful, I’m Adriana Lozada.
Desirae Whittle: That was definitely the hardest physical and mental thing I’ve ever done. And it was like, I still feel it these months later, it was amazing, it was amazing, it was so empowering, that’s the number one word I would use for it.
Lozada: That’s Desirae Whittle reflecting on her second birth. You will see that for her to describe this experience as the hardest physical and mental thing she’s ever done is saying quite a lot. Desirae is an IVF warrior and doula, and for a long time, those two paths were intertwined as she trained to be a doula while going through fertility treatments. Then after several losses, failed attempts, countless tears, and years providing doula support for other families expecting after the unexpected, Desirae finally found herself towards the end of a viable pregnancy. So, for that first experience, Desirae had hoped for an unmedicated vaginal birth, but then at 30 weeks she developed kidney stones that needed surgery, due to other complications she then went in for an induction at 37 weeks, which ended up in a cesarean birth after not dilating past four centimeters, developing preeclampsia, getting a magnesium drip, and having Horner syndrome from the epidural. Even though things went very differently than she had hoped for, she still considers that experience a very positive one thanks, in large part, to having a team that supported her in being an active participant in the decision making.
Lozada: After that Desirae was certain she would never get pregnant again, but then again, life had other plans, and that’s the story she’s going to be sharing with us today, here we go. Welcome Desirae, I am really happy to have you on the show to hear your story.
Lozada: And before we do that, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you identify?
Whittle: Sure, I’m a mom, I’m an IVF warrior, I am a small business owner of a birth doula business, I think I’m a fierce advocate of all things parent and motherhood.
Lozada: And it’s been quite a journey for you, just to recap, you had your first child four years ago after quite a number of challenges, and then you never thought you’d be pregnant again, fast forward then to a year and a half ago, what happened?
Whittle: I don’t know, I think my husband and I were not doing a good job of practicing social distancing during the pandemic, and why would we, because as far as we know, we can’t have kids, I had never gotten pregnant on my own. And so, it was so far out of the realm of possibility in my mind that I’ll never forget, I said to my good friend who was also my doula, her name is Melissa, I said to her like, “Why do I feel so stupid? It’s like my mom brain has come back.” Little did I know that was my first pregnancy symptom, because I was literally walking around like, “Why am I losing words? What’s happening to me?”
Whittle: And so, I think for most people they would assume, “Wow, Desirae, you felt nothing but joy and excitement?” And I did, and, not but, but and all the feelings from that first IVF pregnancy were there. Total fear, even more so because with Ingrid, my daughter that’s four, we had a PGS tested embryo, so I felt good knowing, “Okay, well, everything looks good so to speak.” This one, I’m like, “Well, there’s no way this pregnancy is going to sustain. I mean, most of the time we have abnormal embryos, this is just a fluke, I’m almost 40 now.” And I had to sort of coach myself how I coach my clients about milestone chasing and trying to remain present.
Lozada: Explain to me more about milestone chasing, because I think that’s such a great concept to know?
Whittle: Yeah, so I always say again, I always talk about expecting after the unexpected, right? I don’t like to say pregnancy because I think that this could happen even if you’re not the one carrying the baby, it doesn’t matter if the baby is biologically yours or not, it could be a surrogate, it could be a same sex couple, anything. But I think what happens when you’re expecting after the unexpected is you’ve endured a lot of loss. I mean, even if you have never had quote-unquote, a loss, there’s the loss of the way you thought you were going to conceive, or getting your period, that’s a loss.
Whittle: And so, when we’re expecting after the unexpected, I think we continue to worry that those things are going to happen, but we also want to enjoy what we’re feeling, so we create this milestone. And in our mind, I think we sort of lie to ourselves and say, “Okay, when we hit this milestone, I’m going to stop being anxious, I’m just going to enjoy my pregnancy.” So, typically the first one is, “Oh, when we have our first ultrasound.” Cool, and then the first ultrasound comes and then you remember all of the things you heard in your support groups, or that you read on Dr. Google, and you create a next milestone, and that next milestone might be your anatomy scan, or viability, or when you can hear the heartbeat, or the next, and the next, and the next.
Lozada: And when you’re milestone chasing, you’re just switching the anxiety.
Whittle: Of course.
Lozada: You’re just prolonging it, and then you’re in a constant state of anxiety that is not necessarily going to stop once you’re holding your baby.
Whittle: Definitely not, I had postpartum anxiety after Ingrid because once I was holding her, I was like, “Okay, now that she’s here something bad is going to happen.” I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. And I think you’re sort of wiring your brain during 30 plus weeks to just feel anxiety, why would that just stop after you give birth?
Lozada: Of course, so what was the most successful thing that helped in letting you sort of let go of that anxiety or focus on being more present?
Whittle: Sure, what allowed me to be more present is early on knowing I am doing everything I can, and if something happens, then it is out of my control, and just like with my first birth experience, I’m not going to look back and say, “I should have blah, blah, blah.” So, one of the big things I did was build my dream team, literally before I even told my husband I was pregnant, I was telling Melissa, I was like, “Okay, and you’re going to be my doula for this, ready? Okay.” The second thing that I wanted to do that I talked to people a lot about is, “Who is going to be my medical support?” I really wanted to have my daughter via a vaginal birth. And so, first and foremost, I didn’t want to find a provider who was VBAC tolerant, but rather pro-VBAC, so that was the first thing I had to check off the list.
Whittle: The second was knowing what I knew about COVID policies, where am I going to be able to have both my partner and my doula, because a lot of places were limiting the amount of support. And then the next thing I wanted to do was focus on my mental health. So, I made sure that I had my therapist on speed dial and sort of working through my fears and any trauma that I maybe didn’t realize I had from my first birth, knowing that my daughter was asynclitic and I could have done better work with my body, I also started doing chiropractic very early on, as well as pelvic floor PT, as well as prenatal massages, and I even started floating during pregnancy, which was so great.
Lozada: What were the benefits that you were feeling from it?
Whittle: Okay, so being pregnant when you have a toddler is crazy, because they’re not ready for the pause button, and just life, my business is really busy, and so it was like 90 minutes set aside that I had just for me and my baby to connect, which I loved. I also always walked out of there feeling much lighter and comfortable in my body. Sometimes I would be sort of puffy and swollen and I would come out and I could spin my wedding rings around, I felt the anti-inflammatory properties, and I also felt like I was giving her a lot of room to move, but just the relaxation benefits because sometimes it’s hard to just really stop and pause and do nothing, and so I loved that, I loved it.
Lozada: So, you have your team set up, you are working on your physical, mental, chemical, and emotional aspects, then how did it start?
Whittle: Just like the birthworker’s curse, you think it’s going to be what you want, right? So, pregnancy’s going pretty well, I think, and my providers just decide that they want to start checking my urine a little bit earlier because I had preeclampsia with my first, and while my blood pressure is okay, we were sort of seeing this rise of protein in my urine, so we’re going to keep an eye on it. And we sort of talked about an induction at 39 weeks, which I felt okay with, I knew it was my decision, and it was sort of, “Let’s see where we’re at, at 39 weeks, and if you’re not comfortable, we’ll wait.”
Whittle: So, two things about that, I weighed the risks and the benefits, I talked with Melissa a lot about it, the second thing is that I made sure I told nobody about a possible induction, because I knew I would get lots of calls asking what was going on, and I didn’t want to be distracted in my mind about just letting it happen. So, when I decided, “Okay, we can probably do the 39 week induction,” the first thing I did obviously was talk about like, “Well, how would we induce?” Because I’m trying to stay as intervention free as possible. Now, obviously I’ve already introduced interventions, but unnecessary medical interventions. And the thing that I decided to do was start acupuncture.
Whittle: So, induction acupuncture, I started at 37 weeks, twice a week, and then at the end of that first week, I agreed to a vaginal exam that if my midwife was able, she could do a membrane sweep so that I could try to show up for… My goal was to show up for my induction in a more favorable place. However, one thing that I did when I did do that vaginal exam for a potential sweep was I had decided early on that any vaginal exams that happened, I would not find out what the results of that vaginal exam was. I didn’t want the midwife to call out loud, “Oh, you’re at blah, blah centimeters dilated blah, blah.” Because it doesn’t matter, it’s not a good indicator of when we will go into labor. And I know me personally that I’m the biggest competitor with myself, and so what if she said something and I thought I was going through all this stuff and then I had another exam and I thought I made more progress than I actually did, I would’ve already started feeling down on myself, didn’t need that, right?
Lozada: Yeah, those are what I call disappointing vaginal checks, they can get in your head and really mess things up.
Whittle: Yes, and so I think I was supposed to go in on a Sunday morning, I was supposed to go in for my induction. So, I had an acupuncture on Thursday, the fourth acupuncture, now, every time I had acupuncture, something amazing happened, like I lost part of my mucus plug, or different things were happening. It was so different already for my first experience, and more than anything I wanted to experience labor. I wanted to feel an uncomfortable contraction, side note, be careful what you wish for. But I wanted to feel it, and I’ve seen so many people do it, and I just didn’t get to feel any of those things. I wanted so badly for my labor to begin spontaneously, and Friday I’m just like up putzing around, and I’m like, “Oh, did I just pee myself?” And then I was like, “Maybe I did, I just probably peed myself.” I went to the bathroom and then a little bit later I move to like, “Oh my God, maybe I peed myself again.” I’m like, “Is this a slow leak? What’s really happening?”
Whittle: So, I got on the ball, I bounced, nothing. So, I was just kind of hanging out and wetting myself over and over and over. So, finally, after a few hours, I was like, “Yeah, my water broke, this is not me peeing myself.” But I felt a success. So, right there, I paused, I made sure I paused, and I was like, “Okay, count this as a success because your water ruptured on its own, and so that’s cool, things could get started.” Adding the word yet, just because I’m not contracting like, “Okay, I haven’t started contracting on my own yet.” So, I wanted to really stay in that positive head space, and so I talked to my midwife at like 10 o’clock at night, and she’s like, “All right, look, let’s just see what happens, hopefully you call me overnight and you’re in labor, and if not, call me in the morning.” I was like, “Okay.” So, I slept through the night, I woke up-
Lozada: Which is probably the best thing you can do.
Lozada: To get some rest, you don’t want to go into labor having been up all night the night before.
Whittle: No way, totally so, woke up in the morning, no contractions, got our childcare all set, stopped at my eyelash fill appointment.
Whittle: Yeah, obviously, I wanted to make sure I looked beautiful when I was holding my baby. So, my tech was like, “Oh gosh, you’re so pregnant.” I was like, “Oh yeah, my water broke yesterday.” She was so freaked out, she’s like, “Are you sure you should be here?” I’m like, “Yeah, it’s fine, not having any contractions, it’s cool.” So, I showed up after that looking glam, ready, and so I got there around, I think, like around 11:00. And so, it’s like 11:00 AM on Saturday, and so I just wanted to sort of bounce on the ball, get myself settled, set up my space.
Whittle: So, setting up my space was really important, I wanted it to feel cozy and quiet, so I was just kind of joking around with my husband, and then Melissa came and I shared my birth framework, not a plan, but a framework with my providers, and we were all really excited, I felt really loved, and excited, and supported, and no pressure, there was no stress about the fact that I was ruptured for that amount of time. So, in that way, again, I already felt like, “Okay, so what if I’m here on this day? Everything can still go the way it’s supposed to go.”
Whittle: So, gave me some time, some little contractions I think were happening, and then around five o’clock after a check, again, no one’s telling me what my checks are, we decided to do a Foley balloon to do the catheter, again, I felt comfortable with this intervention, we asked about different things and we decided, “Okay, cool, let’s do the Foley.”
Whittle: This is amazing, so we do the Foley I would say like around five o’clock, and we’re up listening to great music, kind of having a dance, and legit, like a cork popping out of a champagne bottle, my Foley popped out and landed on the floor. Melissa and I had never heard or seen anything like that before, it sounded like a gunshot, we were kind of like, “What was that?” And pretty much like right after that contractions started happening, and I felt so excited, I felt so excited and I just kept saying out loud, and I made sure to say it out loud like, “I’m so excited, this is so great, I’m so appreciative of this contraction.” Did it feel great? No, it’s a contraction, but that’s like what I wanted, and then I went to the throne, and I sat on the toilet, and I don’t know why more people don’t like to sit on the toilet because it’s the best, it is the best.
Whittle: So, we turned off the lights in the bathroom, I had battery operated candles, so we had like a whole vibe. I worked for months on my birth playlist and that was all I heard for hours and hours, so that was in there, and I just sat there on the toilet, I remember I had my palms facing up on both knees and just breathing, letting the contractions come, riding the contractions. And then in my mind I remember like smiling in my mind and just saying like, “I’m so grateful to be experiencing this.” And then… There’s always an, “And then.” And then I remember, I can’t even remember who it was, but someone tapped me on the knee and like in a very soft voice, they’re like, “Desirae, could we check your blood pressure again?” I’m like, “Ugh, why?”
Whittle: And first it was like the electric blood pressure and then it was the manual cuff, and I’m like, “Oh man, all right, what’s happening?” And they’re like, “Look, let’s try to think of some things that we could do to get your blood pressure down, okay? Because it’s a little bit high.” And that was kind of all that was said instead of like saying words that would put me into like a negative place, like, “Oh, Desirae, we have to do something now.” I think like the way things are said so important, and I was like, “Okay, cool, so let’s try the nitrous, right? Because maybe it’s just that things are getting intense and that’s what’s elevating my blood pressure.” So, we tried the nitrous, and then I think this is where the things that people say about being out of your body happened to me.
Whittle: So, it’s kind of blurry here, but I think what happened was upon being offered the nitrous, they wanted me to sit in the bed. Okay, I don’t know how anybody labors laying down or sitting in a bed, once I was put in that bed, it was like an animal was let loose. It was so uncomfortable, so uncomfortable, and I think that my discomfort went from like a five to a nine probably. And it’s honestly is spotty, I remember that, going to me being on hands and knees on the floor, holding the nitrous to my face and just screaming as loud as I could into the nitrous mask. And I remember feeling like I was… It was like the Exorcist, I was at the top of this ceiling watching this happening.
Lozada: To me that doesn’t seem like something that’s going to help get your blood pressure down.
Whittle: No, absolutely not.
Lozada: If you’re like screaming and feeling dissociation, that’s not quite helping with that.
Whittle: No, definitely not, and one of the things that I remember, which was really helpful, was my midwife kind of saying, “Desirae, low and go slow, go low and go slow.” I remember this point and saying, “Okay, I just need five seconds to get ready for the next contraction, I just need a break.” And then I remember Melissa saying the single most beneficial thing she did to me the entire labor was telling me to stop shaking my head side to side and just move it up and down. And that brought me back to where I needed to be in gratitude. And I looked at her and I said, “Something’s not right.” And I think knowing that I was able to take control again, I was able to know without anybody else telling me that something just wasn’t right with my body, and I could identify that the pain in this one way was different.
Whittle: So, my blood pressure wasn’t coming down, obviously, I was having like an out of body experience, and I felt like something just wasn’t right, and so I allowed them to do another check, and we talked about options because my blood pressure, I think, was like 180 over 103 or 102 or something, it was high. And in the back of my head I’m like, “I do not want magnesium, I don’t, I hated it last time,” and I wanted to just see if there was anything else that we could do before that. And so, we decided together to try an epidural because we know that sometimes epidurals can lower your blood pressure, and truth be told, even though I honestly, both times, wanted an unmedicated birth, I was like, “Oh cool, I felt the pain, you know what, a little bit of relief doesn’t sound so bad, so I’m here for it, let’s do it.” We did the epidural, and ta-da, it worked, and my blood pressure was great, and it wasn’t preeclampsia.
Lozada: I mean, epidurals can be a great tool if you need a solid rest. If you are in a point overwhelm where things are miserable, and a miserable experience is no good, have it as pain management. And like you’re saying in this case, to bring down that blood pressure, because in fact, epidurals a really good at bringing down the blood pressure so much so that they give you two bags of fluid ahead of time before getting the epidural to sure up your blood pressure because they know it’s going to tank.
Whittle: Right, so I think I got the epidural like close to 11:00 PM, I think I slept a little, I think we all kind of just slept a little bit, and then I remember having a powwow with Melissa, and she came over and I just remember saying to her, “I just need reassurance again, am I going to do this? I can do this.” And I think the reason why I asked her in that way was not necessarily because I doubted myself, but because I knew she was someone that I could trust a hundred percent, and that she would be straight with me, which she was. And then a little while later, I think it was sort of close to 3:00 AM, because I thing was on three hours, I was like, “Melissa, can you wake up?” I said, “I’m really shaking a lot.” And so, a couple minutes later, my midwife came in and did a check and she’s like, “Yeah, you’re fully dilated.” I’m like, “Okay, cool.”
Whittle: And then I didn’t feel like the urge to push until after 4:00 AM. And so, during this time I’m like a little bit resting, but I’m putting myself in a more favorable position. And then I felt like I wanted to push. So, one hour became two hours, became three hours, and just kept going. And we just were really trying all of the things to get her to come down and engage, so many different positions that you could be in with having that epidural, I pushed on hands and knees, I was doing like tug of war with the rebozo, on my sides, trying everything, and then at the very end after the four hour mark decided to do Walcher’s.
Lozada: I do want to explain Walcher’s just really quickly, it’s a position to open the inlet of the pelvis, which means that just knowing that you were doing Walcher’s, your baby was really high still. So, it’s really hard to describe, you have to look at it, so you can see it in spinningbabies.com or Google it. But it is just a position that’s like really uncomfortable lying with your legs off the side of the bed and flat on your back and kind of like helping open that inlet, the top part of your pelvis.
Whittle: Yes, and that definitely worked, and of course, still had work to do after that. I never felt like I couldn’t continue pushing, I don’t even remember if I felt exhausted or not, I just felt so focused, and I tried to bring myself back to that place where I was in the bathroom between pushes, resetting, and gratitude, like, “Okay, I’m grateful that I got to do this push.” And then I think at the very end, I heard my midwife say the word vacuum, and in my head I was like, “No, so that’s not going to happen, you know how to motivate me, I suppose.”
Whittle: And then it was not very long after that, that I just was able to reach my hand down between my legs and feel her head there, which was so exciting. And then my husband, his name is Bill, he really wanted to help catch the baby, and what’s really funny is the song Easy Like Sunday Morning was playing while he had his hand on her head, and the song just changed over and then she was born, and he helped grab her and put her on my chest.
Whittle: And it was like the most… There aren’t words for that moment but, I was so blissed out and felt like Beyonce with like the longest superhero cape, the adrenaline high that you get like, oh my gosh, it was so incredible and so hard, and so empowering. And to this day, like if somebody had a magic wand and was like, “Okay, exact same birth, same level of pain, same length of time, would you do it?” Oh my gosh, I would do it again at this very second. It was amazing, it was so cool, and she was so cute, she was so covered in birthday frosting, and the cutest cone head off to the side because she was asynclitic.
Lozada: Showing you how asynclitic she was.
Whittle: Yeah, oh my gosh, so much.
Lozada: Hence, four hours of pushing.
Whittle: That was definitely the hardest physical and mental thing I’ve ever done, and it was like, I still feel it these months later, it was amazing, it was amazing, it was so empowering, that’s the number one word I would use for it.
Lozada: Well, and I do want people to hear that you pushed for over four hours, but you weren’t feeling tired. The power of those birth hormones, right? It’s a different mental space, it’s a different body space, and that coupled with having a team that is really invested in trying to figure out how to create a better path for this baby so that they can come out.
Whittle: For sure.
Lozada: Desirae, what a rollercoaster, what an amazing story, and thank you so much.
Whittle: Oh, thank you, it was my pleasure.
Lozada: That was VBAC mom and owner of Harmony Births doula services, Desirae Whittle. Desirae specializes in supporting pregnancy after infertility and loss, or as she calls it, expecting after the unexpected. You can find Desirae on Instagram at Harmony Births. One thing you can do for you is learn about the different positions that you use for labor and birth and practice them ahead of time. This is going to give your body some muscle memory and allow you to become familiar with some of the less straightforward ones like the Walcher’s position mentioned by Desirae. To make that easier for you, we’ve included a link to the position in the show notes. Then the one thing you can do for the rest of us is share, support, and contribute if you can, to the VBAC Facts Academy BIPOC scholarship fund, this fund helps make VBAC education more accessible, learn more at academy.vbacfacts.com.
Lozada: You can connect with Birthful on Instagram at Birthful Podcast, and to learn more about Birthful and my birth and postpartum preparation classes, go to birthful.com.
Birthful was created by me, Adriana Lozada, and is a production of LWC Studios. The show’s senior producer is Paulina Velasco, Jen Chien is executive editor, Cedric Wilson is our lead producer, Kojin Tashiro is our associate sound designer and mixed this episode. Thank you for listening to and sharing Birthful, be sure to follow us on Apple Podcast, Goodpods, Amazon Music, Spotify, and everywhere you listen, and come back for more ways to inform your intuition.
Lozada, Adriana, host. “[Birth Stories] How a Surprise Pregnancy After Infertility Led Her to A Successful VBAC.” Birthful, LWC Studios, November 10, 2021. Birthful.com.
About Desirae Whittle
Desirae Whittle is certified birth doula who specializes in pregnancy after infertility and loss; or as she calls it: Expecting after the Unexpected. She is the owner of Harmony Births Doula Services.
As a step-mother to three healthy and wonderful teens, Desirae never thought she’d have trouble conceiving with her husband. However, over the course of two plus years, she experienced what the frustrating diagnosis of unexplained infertility brings; the emotional rollercoaster of transformations in relationships, hormonal changes, failed IUIs, and changing doctors. In September 2017 she gave birth to a healthy little girl via cesarean after a 6 day induction and a complicated pregnancy.
Essentially being told Ingrid was her miracle, and after spending nearly 12 years together, imagine Desirae and her husband’s surprise when they found out in the middle of the pandemic that she fell pregnant spontaneously. Desirae openly shared the intense fear and anxiety this pregnancy brought with her community via social media. She gave birth to another girl in January of 2021 via vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC).
Desirae is enthusiastic about working within the infertility and loss community. Through her own experience and work with her clients, she has identified a unique set of needs and how they can best be supported.
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