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Maternal Death and the United States {Birth Without Fear}

Maternal Death and the United States {Birth Without Fear}

Maternal Death – the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and site of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management but not from accidental or incidental causes. (WHO)

This is a subject no one really wants to talk about. Mothers die. Mothers die in pregnancy and childbirth and just after birth. The weight of that reality is just so heavy and heart breaking. In our current birth culture, fear reigns. However, fear reigns without reason or knowledge of what really needs fear. And of course – all of us hope to Birth Without Fear. And so, I approach this subject with a heavy heart but hope as well.

Samantha's Birth

Where Does It Happen?

In short, it happens everywhere. However, some areas are more prone than others. This can be due to lack of care – think of sub-Saharan Africa or rural villages in some undeveloped countries. Maternal death in those areas is an unfortunate fact of life (though organizations are striving to change this).

But apart from the “obvious” places, where do you suppose it happens? Perhaps war-stricken places, or those places without advanced medical facilities? Would it surprise you to know that the United States has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world?

Yes – you read that right. Our current maternal mortality rate is 21 deaths per 100,000 live births as of 2010 (WHO). This rate went up from 2005 (18/100,000). The 2010 “Healthy People” Goal for the United States was set at 4.3/100,000 – we grievously missed that by a large margin. The 2020 goal is 11.4/100,000, which would only be a 10% decrease from what the US considers to be its current statistic (the 12.7/100,000). I find it interesting that the government decided after they missed the 2010 goal that maybe they should try less to save mothers, since their efforts before had no effect and saw a rise in deaths.

The WHO number is adjusted from the number reported by the CDC (12.7/100,000) – this is because the United States does not have a universal system of reporting maternal deaths and the CDC admits that our numbers are drastically under reported due to this lack of uniformity in reporting (See this CDC publication, specifically page 20). Currently, only 25 states make it mandatory to state that a death was pregnancy related on the death certificate – and even this method is questionable due to lack of doctor training in filling out certificates and the great fear of litigation in the medical system. Ina May Gaskin writes about the lack of reporting here.

Other countries have much better standards of reporting. The “gold standard” is considered to the be reporting system in place in the United Kingdom. The UK ensures that not only is every death reported, but they also compile the deaths and reasons for them in a report every three years. This report is available to the public and the locations and names of the deaths remain confidential. This allows the nation and the nation’s health workers to look at the issues without fear of litigation – meaning they have no reason to hide maternal deaths.

To provide some perspective, here are the rates of some other countries:

  • Australia: 7/100,000
  • Brazil: 56/100,000
  • Denmark: 12/100,000
  • Germany: 7/100,000
  • Israel: 7/100,000
  • Japan: 5/100,000
  • Netherlands: 6/100,000 – note that about 30% of all births here are at home.
  • United Kingdom: 12/100,000

As you can see, we are rather behind many other countries – and don’t worry, I am going to come back to Brazil and why I included that statistic which is very high for an industrialized country (as is the USA’s number).

Why Are Mothers Dying?

This question is hard to answer since as mentioned above the reporting methods are varied and not always followed. We do know that some deaths are simply not preventable, this is just a fact of life. However, looking at the much lower numbers in other comparable nations we know that unpreventable deaths are not the reason for the very high numbers in the United States.

We know that it is not from lack of care in general – reports show that over 99% of all women in the United States receive prenatal care. However, we have to look at the level of care women are receiving. We have to ask, does a 5 minute rushed visit with your actual doctor count as adequate care? Does more diagnostic testing equal better care? Does spending more money equal quality care? (The numbers say no – we spend more than any other country in the world on birth).

We see a HUGE disparity in death rates in regards to ethnicity. An African-American woman is 3.3 times more likely to die in childbirth than a white woman. This is simply not acceptable in a country as advanced as ours, and one that is supposedly equal. Midwives such as Jennie Joseph are helping to implement ways to combat this disparity – her creation of The JJ Way is an example of how we can work to correct this travesty.

A big question that needs to be asked in the United States has to do with who is providing this care – care that is obviously not saving as many mothers as it should. In the United States women overwhelmingly see Obstetricians. While Obstetricians are amazing for complicated and high-risk pregnancies, they don’t have much training in plain old boring pregnancy and birth.

A majority of the time pregnancy will proceed in a normal fashion, and birth will follow in the normal fashion. When we use care providers who are trained to search for problems there tends to be a trend of finding problems whether they exist or not, or whether they are actually emergencies or not. As the saying goes, “Give a boy a hammer and he will find something which needs to be hammered.”

We can see that in countries were the majority of care is given by midwives (or that country’s equivalent care provider) the maternal mortality rate is lower (and the infant mortality rate is lower as well). The United Kingdom is a great example of this. They are comparable to us in many ways (general health and population structure), and yet consistently have better maternal outcomes. And they use the midwife model of care in which all women start with midwives and only transfer if problems arise. (Note that a woman can opt for an OB to start with, however most do not).

Now for the elephant in the room: the United States cesarean rate. Our current cesarean rate is 32.8% (CDC). Yes – basically 1/3 of all babies in the US are born through cesarean. So are 1/3 of all US women somehow “broken”? Unable to birth? Producing massive or stubborn babies? NO – of course not. If 1/3 of all women in the US were “broken” then those numbers would be reflected all over the world, and the statistics show this is not the case. In the same vein, we are not producing massive babies either – in fact the average birth weight has gone down as the cesarean rates have gone up (and is independent of that rise or that of induction).

Remember when I said I would come back to why I included Brazil? Brazil has a rather good medical system and is considered a developed country, so why the massive maternal death rate (56/100,000)? Take a look at their cesarean rate – 52.3%. Yes – over 50%. Brazil is an interesting case since most of these surgeries are elective, even for the first time mothers. The fear of childbirth is so deeply engrained in Brazilian culture that women jump at the opportunity to have a cesarean and avoid labor totally. A vaginal birth is seen, culturally, as something only poor women do because they can not afford a cesarean.

That mortality rate could be the United States’ future. We see a fear of birth in the US, and a huge cultural love of telling horror stories about labor and birth. We see more interest in elective cesareans (though elective first time cesareans are not significantly altering the rates). As VBACs are “allowed” in fewer and fewer places and malpractice issues continue to rise we see more and more women forced into surgeries they do not want or need. Our rates are heading right up to that of Brazil’s, and our maternal mortality rates will be sure to follow. A Cesarean increases the risk of death significantly in comparison to vaginal birth.

In comparison, the rate of cesarean in the UK is 25%, the Netherlands has a rate of 14%. As I stated before, the UK has 12/100,000 rate and the Netherlands 6/100,000 – rather interesting that as the rate of cesarean is almost half in the Netherlands and their rate of maternal death is also half that of the UK. While in some countries a higher cesarean rate does not correlate to a significantly higher mortality rate, those countries with very high rates of cesarean typically have higher (or rising) mortality rates.

We also cannot forget postnatal care. The postpartum period is one that needs care just as much as the prenatal time period. In the US, typically a woman is seen in the day or two after birth, at two weeks or so, and then at six weeks…and that is about it. This is simply not enough during this time of life when hormones are changing, the body is attempting to heal from creating another life, and things like retained placenta or clots can cause major issues. A much better plan of postpartum care must be put in place.

What Can We Do?

Be Educated. That is the number one thing you can do to not only help yourself have a safe pregnancy and birth, but also to help the women around you as well. When you learn, share the information. Break down the myths that pervade this culture – break down the assumption that VBACs are dangerous, or that “big babies” need surgical birth. Share the studies and articles you read.

Be Fearless. Help to eradicate fear of birth. Can birth end in tragedy? Yes. Unfortunately is does happen. But with proper and evidence-based care we give ourselves and our babies the best chance. Share the positive birth stories you hear. Share your positive birth. How does this help? It helps women to not fall into a fear based decision that increases her risks of complications – namely induction and cesarean. When a woman can start her pregnancy and birth journey from a positive place it gives her more space for growth and research. Absence of fear is not ignorance of risks – it is not being beholden to the fear of risk.

Those two things hand-in-hand – education and fearlessness – can go a long way towards helping this mortality rate go down. An educated woman is better able to avoid situations or care providers that increase her risks, and a fearless woman is better able to stand up for herself and decipher what is really in need of intervention and what is not without cultural fears clouding her view. Lets do our part to save mothers.

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I Am Strong {Kylee}

I Am Strong {Kylee}

Trigger warning: contains loss

I am strong because when I was 19 I had my daughter Madison Lee. Madison was delivered all natural on Dec 3, 2005 and screamed from the time she took her first breath until she was all tuckered out 4 hr later.

I am strong because my second daughter Marrell Louis was born July 3, 2012 and didn’t make a sound. I am strong because we never got to take our daughter home. At 8 mo pregnant our daughters heart quit beating after the cord got wrapped around her neck.

I am strong because on July 9, 2012 I buried my child, and I never thought I would bury a child., but that my child would bury me.

I am strong because my husband Levi gave me strength and my other daughter Madison did too.

I am strong because even after a year of trying to conceive it hasn’t happened….

I am strong because I have faith in God and if it’s in his plan he will bless us with a Rainbow baby.

I am strong because all though you only see me parent 1 child, I’m actually a mother of 2.

A mother is not defined by the number of children you can see, but by the LOVE she holds in her heart.

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A Midwife-Assisted Cesarean for Breech Rainbow Twins Complete with Skin to Skin

A Midwife-Assisted Cesarean for Breech Rainbow Twins Complete with Skin to Skin

After a year of trying to conceive without success I saw a doctor and was diagnosed with PCOS. A year later I conceived with our first round of fertility injections and IUI. We were beyond excited…we ordered a crib the same day I got the call about my blood test! Sadly, I miscarried at 6 weeks. But our little one will never be forgotten and even has a name in our hearts even though we will never know the sex of the baby.

Two more rounds of injections and IUI brought us the delight of another pregnancy. This time it was twins! It was both a surprise and a wish come true. We had talked about how we would love to have twins if it were to happen. I had a rather uneventful pregnancy; no morning sickness or other early symptoms. In fact, the only discomforts were Braxton Hicks that started in my second trimester and lots of round ligament pain in my 3rd trimester.

We planned on an un-medicated natural birth in a hospital with a midwife, using the Bradley method. As time drew near it became apparent that my girls were still BOTH breech as they had been the entire pregnancy. I tried inversion techniques from SpinningBabies.com and saw a chiropractor for the Webster technique but nothing seemed to help. We scheduled a cesarean section. I was saddened to not be able to birth them naturally but decided there must be a reason and trusted God to keep us safe.

I couldn’t have asked for a better scenario. Our midwife accompanied us to the operating room and held my hand until my husband could be there. I was so grateful for her presence; she must have sensed my fear. She had gotten prior permission to let us do skin-to-skin in the operating room. Skin-to-skin was very important to me and seemed to ease the disappointment of not getting a natural birth. It’s one small thing I could do for my babies since it seemed so much was no longer an option.

I planned on nursing but couldn’t seem to get established so I decided to pump. Pumping was a constant struggle for me to maintain supply and I seemed to always have a blocked duct, but I persevered for 9 months.

In looking back, there are things I would change if I got to do it over again, but I realize that we did the best we could with where we were and the knowledge we had. I’m at peace with that.

Kristina's fraternal twin girls photo 1 Kristina's fraternal twin girls photo 2

Kristinas' fraternal twin girls photo 3

Baby Born Outside the Hospital ER Door {Rainbow Baby}

Baby Born Outside the Hospital ER Door {Rainbow Baby}

My birth story.

Hi Girls….the dust has settled, I’m out of the newborn fog and am so excited to share my birth story with you all.

Miss Elliette Mae dramatically entered the world at 10:37PM on 1/3/13. She weighed 8pounds, 8.5 ounces and was 20 inches long.

The morning of the 3rd I woke up and had an intense urge to reorganize my bathroom. Good thing I was in the bathroom, because by 11:00AM, I had been to the potty 4 times (in hindsight, two very strong indicators that labor had started; nesting and multiple potty visits) The rest of the day was spent running errands. I went to the post office, Target, gas station, grocery store, vacuum repair shop and frankly felt quite productive. I was 38+2 and had been pretty uncomfortable the past three days.

My husband arrived home early from work. I began to prepare dinner, had a contraction, and wondered if I should watch the clock, but quickly got wrapped up in dinner and didn’t notice any other contractions. After cleaning up dinner, my DH and I watched some TV. At 8PM, I looked at DH and said, “Something is different. I have a feeling she’ll be here sometime in the next 24 hours.” The feeling that things were different would not go away….at 9 my DH suggested we go to bed. He instantly fell asleep and I laid there trying to get comfortable. Suddenly I had a strong urge to go to the bathroom, but when I sat on the pot, I couldn’t go. I headed back to bed feeling like I was going to wet myself, so I again headed to the toilet, but still couldn’t go.

I went back to bed, lay down, and had a contraction that took my breath away. I thought, “Wow, better watch the clock.” I did and exactly seven minutes later, I had another strong contraction. I got up, headed back to the bathroom where I pushed to finally relieve my bladder. When I wiped, I was spotting. I immediately woke up my husband saying, “I’m in labor. We need to go.”

Well, DH asked how many contractions I had had. I told him two. He then proceeded to turn on the shower. He was convinced that the baby wouldn’t be here until at least the next day, so he thought he could take his sweet time. It was 9:37 and I called my doula. “I’m pretty sure we’re having a baby.” She said she’d be to our house within ten minutes. She made it in eight minutes and at 9:45ish walked in while I was having a string contraction. She took one look at me and said, “I think you’re in transition.”

At this point my DH was out of the shower, bags were in the car and my contractions were roughly 2-3 minutes apart and very intense. Our doula offered steady encouragement during four contractions before she said we needed to get in the car NOW. She told my DH to put towels down since my water would likely break in the car.

My contractions were coming one on top of the other and it was frankly the scariest car ride of my life. I vaguely remember crying, praying to God to slow it down, gripping the hand rail, and seeing the speedometer at 90mph only to tell DH to go faster. UCSD is roughly 25 minutes away from our house, and in hindsight, way too far away.

We exited the freeway, my water broke, DH took a wrong turn, and our baby was coming….after stopping to tell our doula that he was lost, she headed in the right direction and the hospital was in sight. DH asked where he should go and I said to pull in to the ER. He pulled in behind the paramedics, I stepped out of the car and DH ran in to get a wheelchair. When he made it back outside, he said get in…I said she is coming NOW. I lifted up my skirt and reveled her head, as she was crowning.

I remember keeping my hand on her head and thinking, “I am not going to drop my baby on the concrete.” The rest is blurry, but there were lots of people standing around; random ER patients, homeless folk, passer-bys, and hospital staff. I remember hearing someone say, “Lay down.” And then another voice said, “I’m going to catch your baby.” The next thing I remember hearing was, “I’ve got a shoulder…baby’s out.”

And there she was; just like that; born on the concrete in the driveway of the ER on her terms. My husband had the thought to snap one picture, and that’s all we have to commemorate what is likely one of the fastest labors in history.

Needless to say, I did some damage to my lady parts. But I’d do it all again and again if need be. My rainbow girl is perfect in every way, and my heart is full.

My doula gifted Elliette with her birth story, and in it she wrote, “to be a rainbow baby does not negate the ravages of the storm. When a rainbow appears in the sky, it does not mean that the storm never happened, or that the family is not still dealing with its sadness aftermath. What it means is that something beautiful and full of light has appeared in the midst of the darkness and clouds…..and that light is you. Storm clouds may still hover but a “rainbow baby” provides a counterbalance of color, energy, and hope.

What a journey this has been. Love and light to all, Jen.

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Homebirth of a Rainbow Baby

Homebirth of a Rainbow Baby

“My hope is that in sharing Jeremiah’s story, it will give someone hope or possibly inspire them to try whatever it is they want again. I hope that by sharing our struggle and joy, someone is inspired or given a little strength to try again.” – Ashley (previous Rainbow Baby story here: Letting Go of the Fear: A Natural Birth After 4 Losses)

Jeremiah’s story began with loss. Five babies lost to miscarriages, some in the early days, two boys lost in the second trimester. For me, the love for my children begins the moment I learn I’m carrying them. I dream of them. I dream for them. I dream of their tiny hands, the chubby cheeks I will someday kiss. I dream of who they’ll be, their futures, watching them grow. My husband and I had two children, they are the light of our life. Our children are our world, our everything, our reason for being. Our miscarriages ripped a gaping hole in our life that felt like it would never heal. In 2008 we lost a son unexpectedly. His traumatic death/birth left a hole in me that is so deep I don’t think anything will ever fill it. It is a deep, dark chasm. It left me angry, bitter, with PTSD, unable to function for months. Looking at our children was a constant reminder of what we’d lost. Their matching dimples, their monkey toes and the faces I kissed so often. Would they have had the same features? What would they be like? There were many days where the pain of loss felt overwhelming, days where I wanted to curl up and die just to make the pain stop. I just wanted to stop seeing my baby’s face in my mind and wishing for him. It’s an odd thing, missing someone you never really had the chance to know. It feels so unfair, how could I miss a child I didn’t know? Especially when I had two children already? Losing a baby leaves you with an indescribable pain, a fury over the life that was never lived, a wanting, but most of all just the constant ache of knowing what’s missing and feeling that you’d give your own life for the life of the missing child. You’d give anything for a year, a week, even a day with the child that should have been. It is hell.

We spent 2 years in that place, trying for the baby that we felt was missing in our family. Every time our older children asked for another sibling, every time we passed a baby, every month we were let down, the pain felt new. Every month I wanted to give up, I felt broken and defeated. I felt like my body was broken, I hated that it seemed like it couldn’t do what it was supposed to. Every month my husband would hold me, wipe away the tears and gently tell me it would work out, we’d be okay, we could try again.

Finally, we got pregnant with our first Rainbow Baby, Jacob. He was worth every tear, he healed my broken heart, he brought so much joy into our lives. I finally stopped mourning and started living again. He improved life for us all, especially his older two siblings. His birth was beautiful, healing, amazing. Our family felt perfect. Then, 7 months after Jacob’s birth we found out we were expecting again!

After Jacob’s birth I felt so empowered, I knew exactly what I wanted from his birth. I wanted a “life guard”, a good midwife to help if i needed it, but that would otherwise let me do my thing. I met with some midwives (I live in an area where we are blessed to have many amazing midwives), and I chose a midwife that I felt good with. She respected my plans & feelings, she was encouraging, she was perfect for us for this birth.

I expected to go past my due date as I had before, but around 37 weeks I knew I was in early labor. Early labor for me takes weeks, so it wasn’t anything to get too excited about. My body seems to prepare beforehand, I sit at 4+ cm & contract for weeks, then just randomly go into labor. Because my midwife thought I would have a quick labor and because of the almost constant contractions, I began checking my own cervix. I watched for significant change so I would know to call my midwife. I was planning a home birth, but I didn’t feel comfortable with an unassisted birth. In my 38th week, September 8th, I knew I was close. I felt like I was so close but I couldn’t focus enough to maintain my labor pattern and have my baby. The night of September 8 I put my kids to bed early, took a hot bath, relaxed and tried to be as present with my baby as possible. I knew it was so close and I wanted to soak up as much time being pregnant as possible while I could. I went to bed ready.

That night was a blur. I remember waking up a few times with my concerned dog’s wet nose pressed against me. Annoying me. I would wake to his wet nose and hear the sound of my moans and crying, but I kept trying to sleep. I knew I had a big job ahead and I wanted to do it well rested! In my sleep I wasn’t able to focus and handle it, but finally after he jumped on top of me and refused to leave, I figured I would get up. I used the bathroom,  had more bloody show followed by a hellacious contraction on the toilet and figured I should check my cervix. I’m glad I did! I was ready to have my baby soon!

I hadn’t timed my contractions so I felt kind of silly calling my midwife but I KNEW it was time. She asked what I was up to, I told her I was going to have a baby, and she said I sounded early on but that she’d be over to check things out. We said goodbye, I hung up and panicked. My house wasn’t company ready! I had laundry to do, my birthing pool wasn’t set up, I had nothing to feed everyone. This was about a month before I anticipated! I ran up the stairs, woke my husband up and hurried to prepare my house. Then I figured if my midwife was coming maybe I should call the photographer and my friend/doula too, just in case.

homebirth labour belly

Around 7:30 people started showing up. I was embarrassed, like maybe I had overreacted and it wasn’t really time.. until after my midwife’s cervical check, when she told me I was definitely in labor. I started baking banana bread for everyone for breakfast, making phone calls, and getting my kids dressed as they woke up.

Its funny hearing people talk about my labor and birth because everyone said I was quiet, calm and collected. I don’t remember it like that at all. I felt like I was losing it. I made my husband chase me all over the house to apply counter pressure to my back during contractions and tried to get things done in between.

I was starting to think I was crazy. I hid in my bathroom holding my husband hostage, getting so mad at him because I wanted him to press harder on my back and he kept telling me if he pressed harder he’d press right through my back. I contemplated how much effort it would take to punch him. For the record, he was pressing hard, hard enough to leave my back bruised! I wondered what the heck I was thinking planning a home birth. I was an hour in, I thought I had at least a few hours left and if it was this intense in the early part of active labor, it was going to be awful. I wanted to tell my husband to take me to the hospital because I wanted every single drug they had. But I couldn’t get it out. I wondered if I could get there in time? This was easily most painful labor. More painful than both my 9lb & almost 10lb posterior baby labors.

My midwife knocked gently and whispered that I could get in the pool any time I wanted to, my contractions seemed closer and she thought it would be soon. This annoyed me immensely. I said “I don’t want to” before having to stop for another contraction. I was thinking, “I don’t want to get in now because I want to be done and I don’t want it to slow down my labor and take longer.” She smiled kindly, said “whenever you’re ready” and turned to walk out. What felt like immediately after the previous contraction, I had another. Accompanied with a pressure feeling in my lower back, and I feel like I roared, “I want in the pool now!” And walked past her as fast as I could to the pool set up in my dining room.

I got in, sat up on my knees in the warm water and it felt like Heaven. The name of the birth pool was “Oasis” and I remember thinking it was aptly named and thanking God for birth pools. My midwife looked hurried to set things up for the birth, which annoyed me again. I had hours to go, why were they hurrying? She suggested gently that maybe I should take off my bathing suit bottoms, which just made me mad. Ha! I was thinking I didn’t want to be sitting there for hours with my bottom hanging out laboring and letting everyone see my junk. I took them off and planted myself back on my knees close to the edge of the pool where no one could see anything in front, with my husband standing behind me pressing on my back.

home waterbirth labour

I had another contraction, first one in the pool, accompanied by more pressure that was even lower. It no longer hurt, it was just so much pressure. I had another contraction and reached down. I felt the rest of my already leaking amniotic sac bulging, pressed gently on it and it popped under my fingers. I felt my baby’s head start to slide out and said, “okay, baby is coming”. Someone laughed because I hadn’t been pushing or making much noise, and I was close to the edge of the pool so no one could see. Someone laughed and said, “yeah right! She thinks she’s having the baby already?”.

At that moment I felt his body slide out of me, into my waiting hands.

I lifted him from the water onto my chest, someone said “Holy s***! What just happened?!”, ad we all laughed. I said, “Hi Beautiful! Happy birthday! We did it!” I was amazed by him, by me, by his birth. I really did it, I caught my own baby! I looked at his beautiful little face, my midwife unwrapped his cord from his neck. I kissed his hands, his face, we are all completely head over heels in love with him.

home waterbirth parents

rainbow baby

homebirth cutting umbilical cord

homebirth family

big sister meeting newborn

bonding after homebirth

newborn rainbow babyPhotos by Muir Photography

“Find a positive within this darkness.” | Infertility And Pregnancy

“Find a positive within this darkness.” | Infertility And Pregnancy

Thank you to Holly, for sharing your story and thoughts.

When I was first asked to write this piece, initially I was overwhelmed… Despite being completely content with all of it in my head, how do I put the last decade of feeling and emotion into words coherent enough for people to read and make sense of? But after sifting through years of thoughts and feelings, it seems it could be done… Coherent, I am not certain of, the reader may have to be the judge of that themselves!

I had my first born in 1998, at 21yrs of age. After being diagnosed pre-teen with severe endometriosis, I had always been told to expect that conceiving children may always be a struggle without the help of assisted conception. Luke was a planned pregnancy, and despite expectations that he would not be conceived easily, he was… And here he is now at almost 15yrs old. Lukes birth, unfortunately, was less than easy… and after 56hrs of active labour, a body that just would not (or could not) dilate, an emergency c section, and a handful of infections later, I was left with secondary infertility.

My second son was born in 2010, 12yrs after his brother, with over a decade of surgeries, different specialists, and multiple IVF attempts in between.

My first pregnancy was just amazing. A completely drama free, enjoyable, text book pregnancy. I had known only fortune in terms of fertility and health, and had absolutely no need to be anything other than contented and wonderfully in the moment.

Here’s the thing about infertility.

After experiencing the harsh reality of all that it is, it changes things so that they may never be the same again. Over a decade of doing my best to find hope, to find faith, to find belief… And then to hold onto those things in what sometimes seemed like an endless tunnel of darkness to fight for a positive outcome? That changes you.

After living with infertility now for as long as I have, I have learnt many things along the way.

I have learnt that there is a fine line between being cynical and being realistic. I think it’s important to acknowledge that in such a journey – in any journey with great disappointments – and then to have learnt to constantly remind myself of that fact in order to keep a clear mind and not fall victim to the cynical side.

Before infertility, and throughout my first pregnancy, I can honestly say any fears there could have been for me concerning the pregnancy or birth were just not even great enough to raise. After infertility, during my second pregnancy, I could not have been any further in the opposite direction.

After dedicating years upon years to this one focus of conceiving a child – once I was finally blessed with that miracle, it’s a hurdle I found I passed, only to then have a handful more presented to me.

I remember vividly the moment I was told I was indeed pregnant. I had the scan, I saw the heartbeat for myself and at that moment, I was told from this point, I would be just the same as every other pregnant woman now in terms of prenatal care. I remember smiling to myself at the irony of those words – words I had waited to hear and a situation I had waited to be in for so very long. But to be just the same as any other pregnant woman now? That was something that would never, ever be.

You spend such a long time getting to this point that once you reach it, it’s impossible to relax, to be just ok. It’s impossible to be like ‘just your average woman experiencing your average pregnancy’. Every twinge, every feeling, every EVERYTHING you feel throughout the pregnancy has the potential to send you into a state of panic, of paranoia – because this tiny growing life inside of you was so hardly fought for, all of a sudden it’s fragility has increased to a level beyond measure. An inability, really, to relax, as I just knew I could not breathe easy until that much awaited new person was safely earth side and inside my arms.

And safely earth side inside my arms…. There lies another fear and anxiety of how to bring that situation to head – the birth.

I have many good friends who have birthed babies in all ways we know are possible. Vaginal births, drug free births, caesarean births, home births, doulas, obstetricians, midwives.. The list is endless. And if I am to be completely honest, once upon a time I would have looked at all of these options and had a preference of how I envisaged this to play out.

My first birth I had plans, and dreams of a lovely active labour, drugs if only necessary, and a natural, vaginal birth. After 10yrs of struggling to get to this moment, to even be carrying a baby – for my second birth, I was just happy for this baby to be here.

Infertility will do that to you.

As it turned out, during the pregnancy, I developed placenta previa, and so any other birth other than Caesarean section was not an option. Honestly? I was completely 100% fine with that. I had so many people along the way tell me how sorry they were I didn’t have the ability to make the choice, but realistically, I just needed this baby birthed, safe, and in my arms. Some could say I was a little cheated in terms of birth choices but for me, personally, after everything I endured to get there, it was the last thing on my mind.

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I don’t think for a second that this is a generalisation of every woman though, who has gone through the hell that is IVF or infertility. I know many women – even most of the women who have been through this – and their birthing choices for them were just as passionate and determined as the dedication to the journey that got them there.

The most important thing? Acknowledgement. Acknowledgment and honesty within yourself. THAT’S the most important thing. Expectations. Hopes. Fears. Acceptance if those expectations fall short. To know them is to acknowledge them, and for me, admitting these things made it possible to get through the additional struggles of the pregnancy and birth that I believe the infertility contributed towards.

I am a huge believer in positive thinking. I do believe that in order to keep sane throughout this entire process, you need to have a certain level of positivity, of faith that everything will happen as it will happen, and you have the ability to endure whatever is put in front of you, regardless of the outcome. To be honest with yourself and know when you are great to continue on, and when to accept that you have come as far as you can.

To walk your own path, to have the strength to not let others who have not known your heartache to make judgement or have an opinion on your choices or your sacrifice.

They say never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes…. Never judge a woman who feels her purpose in life is to grow, birth and raise children – yet the Universe has decided that this simple privilege to so many others will be her greatest personal hurdle that she may ever have to overcome.

Infertility is hell. But that’s a topic all of its own that I could honestly write forever about. But I believe if you can find a positive within this darkness, it makes the experience or the living of it become bearable. To be able to continue on.

I have found many positives along the way – over the years to have found other women who have endured the same heartache, hopes & fears has been a lifeline for me. I have been incredibly lucky to have had amazing support from family and friends, however, having other women who have been through this experience to talk things through with is a gift that is priceless, and for me I could not be more grateful.

I am one of the lucky ones. I spent over a decade walking this road, but along the way met some of the most incredible people the world has to offer. Amazing women who have shared in similar heartache. An amazing fertility specialist of whom I could not have more respect, admiration or appreciation for. A team full of nurses and administration in my IVF clinic that have picked me up many times along the way without sometimes even knowing they have done so. An absolutely incredible husband. A relationship with him that plunged into hell and back many times over, yet reached a level of love and respect that otherwise I could not have imagined was even possible.
So much personal growth. So much I have learnt about myself and who I am – to have learnt how to allow something such as infertility change you – and yet not to define you. To have learnt empathy in its purest form, both to have given and received, that is a gift within itself.

And then at the end of it all to have been blessed with the ultimate prize, as my happy, healthy, perfect 3yr old goes about his day…. For that, I am eternally grateful.

Infertility is a change of life as you knew it previously. As you will never know it again. It becomes a lifestyle. It is not something I would wish upon my greatest enemy.
Enduring pregnancy and then birth after infertility – while it is indeed victorious – it is by no means any easier than the path that has been taken to have reached this point.
My experience proves that all of this can be done – I have a healthy 3yr old as evidence.

Will it make it any easier for me to endure the next time I choose to try again and experience another pregnancy? No chance. Infertility leaves emotional scars that for me will never allow that innocence to ever be again. But I am really ok with that. Finding the balance between acknowledging that and then the strength to know I can do this anyway is what will allow me my sanity to do it all over again.


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Born Too Soon {A Story Of Loss and Life After Birthing Micro-Preemie Babies}

Born Too Soon {A Story Of Loss and Life After Birthing Micro-Preemie Babies}

[Trigger warning: This post contains loss]

A heartfelt thank you to Abby, for sharing your stories with us xxx

In 2008 I was thrilled that after 3 years I was finally pregnant. My excitement grew when I had my first ultrasound and found out I had twins, although it was also tainted with fear. I have a congenital heart condition and had gotten pregnant against the advice of medical professionals… How would my body cope with the strain of twins?

I was heavily monitored from about 16 weeks with frequent checks on my heart, the babies hearts and their general growth. All was going well until 19 weeks where I was then told I would be admitted to have a cervical stitch as my cervix was short, thin and funnelling. I was basically told if I didn’t have the stitch my babies would be born in the next week or so. Terrified I went to theatre and had a spinal block while they stitched my cervix closed. A few days later I was out of hospital and recovering nicely at home expecting that I still had a while to go before I’d meet my babies…

Only 4 weeks later I started cramping which turned into severe pain. At only 23wks I was in labour. No medication would stop the labour, but I managed to hold on til 24+2wks before my babies were born via c-section due to breech presentation. The c-section went really well – my beautiful firstborn son was brought into the world weighing a tiny 784gms, but showing signs of life. My son was taken over to a table to be worked on while Drs tried to get baby number 2 out. My 2nd son was transverse so after having a vertical incision in my uterus they finally got him out. Twin 2 was a tiny 767gms and he too was taken away to be worked on… We named our tiny miracles Taite and Seth.

Although I was awake I didn’t get to see my sons until some 3 hours later when  I was finally able to be taken to the nursery. Unfortunately I was only able to see Seth, as Taite’s room had a sterile procedure happening.. I was very anxious and upset, but was so amazed by this tiny little person that was mine.. I loved Seth instantly and couldn’t wait to meet Taite. It wasn’t until the next day I met my other tiny miracle… Instant love!! It was so hard only being able to touch my babies through the isolette.

[Taite on the day he was born]

micropremmie twin cesarean

[Seth day of birth]

micropremmie twin born 24 weeks

I stayed in the coronary care ward so they could monitor how my heart was coping with the stress of the birth. My heart was fine and I moved the maternity ward after only 2 days.

Being born at only 24wks, my sons had many medical problems. One thing was certain though, they had an amazing twin connection and did most things together. I watched my sons fight for life. Unfortunately they both had too much and they died peacefully together at 12 days old with their Mummy and Daddy. I was heartbroken and had no idea how I’d ever smile again…

[My first twin cuddle, the day they passed, 12 days old]

micropremature twins

[My babies at peace, 12 days old]

babies at peace, born at 24 weeks

2011 brought a reason to smile when saw those precious 2 lines appear. I was finally pregnant again after another 3 years. This time, there was only one baby and medical professionals discussed how this could change the outcome. After a few scares of bleeding in the first trimester, I then had a stitch placed at 14wks, things looked positive and I settled in for what I’d hoped was going to be a long pregnancy. 19wk scan showed another complication though, I had placenta previa.. I was terrified of birthing another premmy, but tried to relax and rest as much as possible. I had progesterone pessaries from 16wks and I knew that there was nothing else I could do to prevent another prem birth if that’s what was to happen. When I reached 24+2wks I breathed with relief.. I was still pregnant! Then it happened, at 25+3 wks I woke up soaked in blood..I went straight to hospital and was monitored. Bub was doing well and my bleeding slowed. The stitch was holding my cervix together nicely so I set my pregnancy goal for 28wks. Just 3 more weeks I begged bubba to stay in for.

It was only 2 days later when I had more haemorrhages and my contractions turned from Braxton hicks to the real thing. A blood transfusion was ordered for me and theatre was arranged. The Obstetricians didn’t want me to labour as I had a previous classical (vertical) incision with my last c section. All of a sudden I was screaming that I had to push. We were on our way to theatre but bub didn’t want to wait. My waters broke with a huge gush, nurses checked bubs presentation and told me to push this baby out. I was terrified. The baby’s father hadn’t arrived yet and I was on my own. I was so scared of having another premmy I didn’t want to do this.. Eventually I succumbed to the contractions and went with it. I pushed my perfect 3rd son into the world and got to hear his cry and touch him before he was taken away to be worked on. I named him Jett, he was my biggest baby at 874gms.

[The day of Jett’s birth: 25w 5d]

25 weeks premmie

Soon after I felt I had lost a large amount of blood. The Drs explained they couldn’t get the placenta out and I was bleeding. They gave me an epidural so they could take me to theatre. I lost more and more blood. I was taken into theatre. By this time I had bled so much my body lost all clotting capabilities and I was bleeding out fast. I was awake as I heard Drs discuss the urgency of the situation..They were trying to gain IV access but my blood pressure was so low they were having trouble. I was so scared, I begged them to knock me out. They didn’t have time, they had to gain IV access and try to get blood into me as fast as it was coming out. I asked if I was going to die they responded “We are doing all we can”…

3 hours later I was stable.. I had vaginal packing to prevent anymore haemorrhaging and 5 IV access lines. 1 in each arm, 1 in each groin and 1 in my foot. I had plenty of bruising and mental trauma. That afternoon I was finally taken to see my son. I don’t really remember much of it, I was still very unwell, but I know, just like with his brothers I fell instantly in love…

[First cuddle, 16 days old]

first cuddle with mum at 16 days old

Born at 25wks, Jett still faced many issues from being a prem. We were lucky this time though and after 157 days  (just over 5 months) I took my Earthside miracle home. He is now 19 months old and developing beautifully. He is small for his age and is moderately hearing impaired, but apart from that you would never know the trauma we went through to get him home… Jett is amazing  and I strongly believe that we are both alive today because we had our very own guardian angels Taite and Seth.

[First breastfeed at 135 days old]
first breastfeed 135 days old

[1st birthday – photo by atomicbutterfly photography]
micropremmie first birthday

[Still Boobing at 18 months!]breastfeeding 18 months old

Abby has also shared her complete journey on two blogs: www.taiteandseth.blogspot.com and www.mybabybutton.blogspot.com

Testing, Testing, 1-2-3 {A Journey Through Infertility}

Testing, Testing, 1-2-3 {A Journey Through Infertility}

{Editors Note: This story comes to us from Erin, a doula whose story we reshared on the blog not long ago. Her story of being a doula with infertility can be read here. Here she has shared with us her journey through medical testing to get to the point where she and her husband are now – knowing that IVF is their only option for conception.}

I have never been, by medical standards, “regular.”  Since I can remember, my menstrual experience has been nothing close to what my friends had described.  I never knew when it was coming or how long it would last, but I did know 3-5 days was not in my cards, 7-10 was more like it.

Over the years I have been encouraged to go on birth control pills just to make me “regular.” The last time I took a birth control pill was around 2000. I was taking them to straighten out the menses and to lessen my discomfort.  They worked back then.  But then one day I was walking around my college campus and noticed my foot and ankle were incredibly swollen and tight but not sore… that is what led me to now. 

I went to the doctor and they thought I twisted something, but I had no pain like you would expect with a twist.  A few days later, with the swelling still present, I was sent from specialist to specialist. 

When a Vascular Surgeon asked if I was on birth control and then told me they wanted to check me for blood clots, as that is a risk, I freaked out to say the least.  The next day I was at school I took those pills right back to the health office and gave them all back.  I have not taken one since.

After being passed all around I was told I had Lymphedema in my left leg. During this time I was in a car accident that totaled my car. I started physical therapy a few times a week as well as wrapping my leg each day in mounds of gauze and ace bandages and foam.

wrapping supplies

I was advised not to go in extreme temperatures, not to do anything on my feet, elevate my legs, don’t shave for risk of infection…depression started to set in.  I could not manage keeping the wrapping going although I did for a very long time. The wrappings would slip down and take 30 minutes each time to redo. 

I realized I had to go forward in a way that made me feel better rather than worse.  I shaved, I went into snow and desert climates and I still worked and walked the dog. I still listened to not doing too much on my feet because that I had a direct effect – tons of swelling that made my leg uncomfortable. 

In 2004 I went to see a Specialist after a couple years of no support.  I have not had health insurance since around 2002.  The specialist upon walking in the room immediately said that other practitioners had misdiagnosed me, she could tell by looking at me. 

I did not believe her and thus she suggested a $1000 test that my previous doctor had never even mentioned. It would specifically check my lymphatic system.  That is where I see the start of my current medical journey.  That test came back showing a clear lymph system but with the understanding that it something could develop because of what I was told I do have – Lipedema.  The doctor cried with me when I told her about my experiences. 

To put it into layman’s terms, Lipedema is a condition where your body stores dead fat cells from the waist down.  Those fat cells cannot be shed with diet and exercise.  What can be done?  Well, according to medical professionals, liposuction is the answer.  I am just not ready for that.  So I continue to get bigger.  When I diet, I get thin on the top and my pant sizes don’t change.  I get disproportionate. 

Fast forward.  The Lipedema is still here and my body is increasing.  The HCG diet I did in 2008 helped my upper body but overall not my lower.  In 2011, the Women’s Clinic I was going to was once again concerned about my irregularity.  They started mentioning all these pills they wanted me to take to have a period more frequently, which to me in reality sounded like hell. 

So, in early November I went to Acupuncture and asked them to help me get my cycle naturally to avoid all the medicines. Within a week a cycle came.  My cycle lasted a long time.  I say that I bled for the next 6 months.  In reality I was bleeding 22-25 days each month for 6 months. 

So, in April 2012 they give me pills to make the bleeding stop.  I gave in at this point, knowing how backwards all of this was.   I was referred from the clinic to the County Hospital to proceed with figuring out my mysteries. The bleeding stopped and at that point they wanted to test me for PCOS.  This is when my feeling of being broken began.

As a doula, I have accompanied women to ultrasounds. I get to see their amazing miracles swimming around and sucking their thumbs.  I know that ultrasounds are often a part of the journey to motherhood. 

I went in for a vaginal ultrasound to look for Polycystic Ovaries.  I had not realized what my emotions would do, but when they were monitoring internally and looking for possible cysts, which thankfully they did not find, I basically lost it. 

There I was in a dark room alone with this tech, looking in my empty womb and I could not help but think about how it may always be empty.  I may never have that experience of an image being filled with joy, showing a life and the little heart beat that accompanies it. 

As a doula I have felt that ultrasounds are often over done and perhaps unnecessary, but right now as I type this, I hope someday to have my womb filled and to be able to get an ultrasound to heal that scar, to see that I am not broken… that I am not empty.

The ultrasound came back clear. However since I had just finished bleeding for 6 months they were very concerned about how thick the lining of my uterus was.  So much so that the first thing that they decided from that test was that they wanted to do a biopsy for uterine cancer. One thing after another – when would it end?

In the mean time I have another cycle, which is similar to what I had in the past. 7-10 days.  I decided to let them know this time about how much blood loss I had. Thank goodness for being a menstrual cup user. I let them know that over that cycle I lost about a pint of blood.  When I find out that a normal cycle is about 2-3oz over time I got more concerned. 

So I go in for the uterine biopsy. It sucks but I get through it as they collect samples.  I just want clear news.  Results came back – no cancer – but because my lining stays so thick I am at a higher risk. 

From this point on, the talk of Fertility really gets going.  I was told that in order to get pregnant, I would need a regular cycle. Knowing pregnancy was in my future plans as our wedding was around the corner they put me in the schedule for a Hysterosalpingogram (HSG). 

Engagement photo

On the day I started a cycle I had to call the hospital and in 10 days they wanted me to come in for a test.  So I called on the first day of my next cycle and my tenth day would land on a Saturday. I am told to try again next cycle as a Saturday appointment is not an option.

At this time she also says, “Can you please also give me some information…. Ok this is just in case we can not get you in over the next year we have to submit forms.” Um, a year?  At the start of the next cycle I call again, they get me in – thank goodness.  Meanwhile we are now married. We had an amazing honeymoon and came home NOT pregnant. 

Wedding Photo

The HSG is scheduled and all they say is to show up.  I get some warnings from friends that I may want to take an advil before the test.  Some say the test was uncomfortable and some say it is barely noticeable. 

My best friend drove me to my appointment where we waited a couple hours, which is normal for every appointment I have at the County Hospital.  I finally get in the room and undress.  They have me lay on a narrow table suspended rather high with a large machine above me. (It actually reminds me of my lymph test by the looks of it). I thought, oh this might be like my lymph test, that was not so bad… oh was I in for a surprise. 

The Dr. has me on my back, which is not actually my back because my butt is so big I am arched and they have no way to help that, and they have me bend my knees at the edge of the table.  The Dr. goes in through my Cervix and begins to inject liquid dyes. 

At first I feel cramping and within a minute I literally feel a loss of breath. Sweat drips down my face and neck, my body shakes and my insides feel like I am going to explode.  I cannot even control myself any longer, I can’t be laying down, she needs to stop. I ask her to stop and she reminds me to breathe, I try using my doula tricks the best I can and in my head I am thinking “F-THIS!” 

As the torture continues, the only other words from the doctor’s mouth, other than “Just try a little longer,” are, “That’s interesting, everything is just shooting right back out, it is not even going in at all.”  WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN!?

I am in tears, I have never been in so much excruciating pain, pain I was not prepared for at all, and forced in an awkward and awful position.  I finally go out to my best friend who hugs me and drives me home.  The fact that I have also had so many blood panels done, I have been poked all over with needles, and had bruises on my arms from the multiple tests and the biopsy, they had nothing on the HSG. 

The results came in. The HSG has shown that my Fallopian tubes are blocked. They are sealed shut and the likelihood of even a surgery being successful is close to 0%.  My eggs are trapped and dissolving back into my ovaries.  Nothing can get in or out and they say it is likely scar tissue from possible endometriosis. They have no intentions of doing surgery to see or treat endometriosis unless I am in pain from it. 

After they tell me these results, the doctor hands me a business card for a local Fertility clinic and says, “There is nothing else we can do for you here, call us for your next pap smear or when you are pregnant.”  And with that I am sent on my way.  I am a mess, physically I feel insufficient as a woman, and emotionally I am exhausted and lost.  

During the past five months, since those results, I have been working on me – self-care, healing and moving forward.  My husband and I attended a Fertility Conference. I have returned to acupuncture to ask for clarity, mental well-being, and overall fertility health. I have attended restorative yoga and visited an Osteopath doctor. I have had scar-remediation therapy, to work on those fallopian tubes from an emotional place of knowing I did something to make them feel better, not exactly to make them free of scarring. 

We met with a fertility doctor and we are just starting the next part of this journey.  My journey to self-care is continuing, I am seeking more ways to strengthen my body and my mind, to let go of the things I can not change and be present.  I am nervous but hopeful.  The next major steps in this personally is learning more about the effects of pregnancy on Lipedema and how to further treat my condition and cope during gestation and then to go forth and hope our IVF works. 

I Am Strong because {A story of multiple losses to get to the Rainbow}

I Am Strong because {A story of multiple losses to get to the Rainbow}

I am strong because at 21 years old we found out I was pregnant with twin boys. It was only a year before that I lost a baby girl at 16 weeks. Not only was I high risk for having a blood clotting disorder my twin boys were identical and shared a placenta.

I am strong because at 24 weeks my water started to leak. For the next 48 hours I had horrible contractions and the doctors wouldn’t give me anything to stop them.

I am strong because on December 20th 2010 at 12:20am, I vaginally gave birth to Wyatt Ward Hidy. As my husband cut his cord they wrapped him up and told us to keep him warm because he wouldn’t live long. My sweet baby Wyatt passed in my arms. I started to hemorrhage and was rushed into surgery to get Twin b out. Hunter Allan Hidy was born at 1:30am and passed away in the OR.

Lyndsay3

I am strong because I had to receive 4 bags of blood and came close to having to get a hysterectomy to stop the bleeding. Losing my boys was the hardest test God has given me, but the most beautiful memory. They made me the person I am today. They made my husband and my relationship so strong; nothing can break us.

I am strong because 11 months later we found out we were expecting again. This time I would be my own advocate I did my research about my disorders and I knew my body and what it needed over any doctor. I did my homework and I demanded that they listen or I would go to someone who would. My pregnancy wasn’t easy between weekly visits, bed rest, daily shots, and 10 pills a day. Without the support of my husband, my mom, and my dad, I don’t think I could of done it. At 36 weeks, I vaginally delivered a healthy beautiful baby boy! Mason Allan Hidy was born on July 17 2012 weighing 6lbs 9oz he is my rainbow baby!

Lyndsay5 Lyndsay7

Lyndsay1

I am strong because I use my story to raise awareness of pregnancy and infant loss and give hope to women who have walked the path I have; they are not alone!

 I am strong because I share my beautiful story with pride and I am honored to be a mommy of my 9 month old Mason and 3 angel babies!

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