How it all started
Heatherlee Nguyen shares about her dramatically different birth experiences: the emergency C-section with her first and her all natural, hospital VBAC with her second. Her learning along the way inspired her to launch her mindful pregnancy app.
It all started when...
I got pregnant in college. It was unexpected but we were thrilled! I was attending the Minneapolis College of Art & Design and we were asked to redesign a ward in the hospital. Naturally, I chose the Maternity and Birthing department.
As my pregnancy progressed and I researched birth settings, something didn't feel right. About midway into my pregnancy, I switched providers and sought out a midwife. I was leaning toward a home birth but soon found out that insurance didn't cover this.
The more I researched, the more I realized how taboo this has become here in the US. People thought I was crazy for wanting a home birth and no one in my circle had ever used a midwife.
I was reading a lot of Ina May and became intrigued with how women maintained healthy pregnancies and birthed throughout the ages. Midwives and home births are commonplace in other areas of the world where having a baby at home with your loved ones around is the natural norm. The evidence was there.
I became determined to do it my preferred way. I found a free-standing birth center that was covered by my insurance, and a CNM (Catherine) who showered us with endless knowledge and love. I was able to spend the second half of my pregnancy preparing for my organic birth.
Along my journey I discovered that there were many women out there like me - women who revere their birth as a sacred, transformative experience. Women who held it dear.
Birth Experience # 1 - 2011
Despite my work and planning, things didn't happen as expected.
After 4 days of labor I ended up transferring to the hospital for a C-section. I was devastated. In those moments and for years after, I struggled. When you plan for a peaceful birth and end up emotionally traumatized, when you are rolled into a cold operating room and left with a scar, it's hard.
What concerned me the most was knowing how hard it would be if I got pregnant again. I knew about the dilemma surrounding vaginal births after cesareans (VBAC)s. In the US, it seems to be risky territory for hospitals and insurance companies. Somewhere along the way the medical establishment's belief in women's bodies was disrupted. Only certain providers support VBACs, while many actually prefer a woman have a repeat C-section. In fact, what worried me the most was many hospitals around the country were actually banning VBACs!
To me this goes against a woman's natural birth rights.
Just because my body didn't do what it was supposed to the first time, didn't mean it wouldn't the next time. Beyond the trauma of the surgery, beyond feeling like a failure and beyond the exhaustion, it stung knowing how I'd have to fight for a natural VBAC the next time around.
Birth Experience #2 - 2015
Three and half years later I got pregnant again. This time though, everything went my way and I had the most powerful, uplifting experience! My pregnancy and birth were relatively easy, and despite the laws that limit women's options, I got my VBAC story.
It was amazing!
I was supported by Dr. Dennis Hartung, a local legend renown for his VBAC births and his "heart of a midwife." Finding him halfway through my pregnancy was a blessing: I felt calm, cool and collected. I felt in control of my body and baby the whole way through.
Ready for anything this time, bold with belief, I was stretching, walking, eating right and doing HypnoBabies. I stayed empowered the whole pregnancy, surrounding myself with people and ideas that brought out my conviction.
With the help of Catherine (this time as our doula), and my whole birth team, I found the perfect mind-body-soul connection to push out my baby girl in minutes, easy- after just 4.5 hours of labor.
It was everything I visualized!
It was SO healing.
A new sense of feminine energy
This experience was entirely different than my first birth, and it left me breathless.
I came away feeling closer to all the moms around the world, all the mothers who came before me. I felt powerful, feminine. I felt proud, more complete, and an even deeper longing to get back to my roots and to honor my asian ancestry. Overwhelmingly, I felt grateful that others believed in my body's abilities and supported me along this journey.
It was an accomplishment and a new beginning.