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My CBAVBAC – Cesarean Birth After VBAC

My CBAVBAC – Cesarean Birth After VBAC

The birth of my second child was shared on your blog several years ago: Long Labor Ends with Beautiful HBAC. With my home birth I really wanted to inspire other women. I wanted to show them that they are capable of having the birth that they want. This time around, I think it’s important to share that sometimes the birth you want ISN’T the birth you get – and that’s okay too. Here’s my story that talks about when VBAC doesn’t happen…

The birth of my sweet Kelsie.

Every labor is different.

How many times have I heard that sentence? How many times have I said that sentence? I thought that I understood that as well as anybody. My first two children had completely opposite births. My son was born at 36 weeks via emergency C-section and my daughter was born at almost 42 weeks, at home, after 35 hours of drug-free labor. Because of these completely different experiences, I really thought that no matter how Kelsie’s labor and birth went I would be pretty prepared.

I wasn’t.

My water broke at 4:30am on June 15th, 2015. I was 41+1 weeks pregnant. I woke up to a small gush and quickly ran to the restroom. Broken water – Check. Bloody show – Check. YES!!! It’s baby time! My water has never broken at the start of labor before, but I had dozens of dreams that it would this time around, so I really wasn’t too surprised. I went and woke up Eric and let him know that my water broke and we would be having a baby either that day or the next. I knew that it could be several hours before contractions kicked in, so I kissed my hubby, told him to let his work know that he wouldn’t be in that day and advised him that we should both try and get a bit more rest since we would probably need our energy later that day.

About a half hour later I gave up on sleep and went downstairs to make some coffee. Eric joined me and we had a light breakfast, played some cribbage, and talked about what we thought our labor would be like and how excited we were to finally meet our newest daughter. A couple hours later my two kiddos and my parents (who flew out to stay with the big kids while we were in the hospital) got up and I told everyone that I was officially in early labor. We decided to try and get the contractions started by going to Ikea to eat some breakfast and to walk the entire store. We spent over an hour and a half walking around. We left Ikea and decided to take a drive by the hospital to show my parents how to get there later. We also wanted to show them how close the hospital was to the beach, an awesome park where they could play with the kids if they needed to burn some energy, and most importantly, the closest coffee shop.

We went back to the house after and I decided to rest. A little bit later I decided to try the breast pump to see if I could get contractions going. Afterwards, my hubby and I went to a park and walked close to a mile as quickly as I was able to (which isn’t saying much). My water had now been broken for almost 12 hours. I started to get really emotional and frustrated. I decided that I must have been imagining what had happened that morning. I called my doctor, Dr. C, to give him an update and after going over our options in lengthy detail Eric and I decided to go in to the hospital to get confirmation that my water had broken.

We took our time getting our bags together and made sure to give the big kids extra hugs and kisses. I cried off and on the entire way to the hospital. I told Eric that my two best case outcomes would be that either my water had in fact broken and I wasn’t losing my mind, and even though the contractions I was having weren’t super uncomfortable I would somehow still be dilated to 6cm OR that I had completely misread the situation and my water had NOT broken.

Then we could just go home and come back a few days later to have a baby. We got checked into the hospital and were taken to our room. I got changed into the hospital gown and went and sat on the bed; my husband said I looked so scared and anxious that he decided to build my confidence by dancing for me like Ray Lewis (you can see it here…). My goofy husband was able to make me smile but I was definitely not feeling any more relaxed.

Not long after we arrived it was confirmed that my water had broken. A bit later Dr. C came in and checked me. I was dilated to 2 to 3cm on the bottom, but my cervix was still very posterior and almost cone shaped, meaning it was still closed pretty tight at the top – not at all what I had hoped for. Because I am a VBAC, we were told that we would be staying put, but that we would not be on any clock – meaning that even if my water was broken for over 24 hours as long as the baby and I were doing well we would be able to continue labor as long as we needed to. This was not at all our original plan, as we had hoped to labor at home as long as possible and only go in to the hospital once, in my doctor’s words, there was a “baby coming out of my vagina.” However, I knew there was nothing I could do about that now. Dr. C told me I needed to have a good cry about it and then I needed to get out of bed and see what I could do to get this baby coming.

So I did. I sat there and cried, trying to understand why my body didn’t want to start the process that would bring my baby into my arms. I sent Eric out to the car to grab our bags and tried to focus on the few positive things that came with being at the hospital so early. We had plenty of time to set up our music and oil diffuser and for me to spend a few minutes playing birth photographer for my own labor. I changed into the labor gown that I made and called my parents to bring my kids over for a visit. I really just wanted to hug and kiss them and needed a bit of a distraction. My family showed up soon after and I snuggled my babies and my oldest read me a bed time story.

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After they left, we called in my doula. I paced the room back and forth as far as the monitors I was hooked on to would allow. I paced and paced and paced and began to feel increasingly like a caged animal. I was so frustrated having to be attached to those stupid monitors and not feeling like I was really being given a chance to get things going. My wonderful nurse Lisa came in around this time and reminded me that no one could make me do anything that I didn’t want to do. She had to have some record of monitoring, but that if I refused there was nothing they could do. So I did. I said I needed to use the restroom for a long time and removed the monitors so that I could have at least a half hour of freedom to move about the room. I walked some more and spent some time on the birth ball. A little after 10, I got back on the monitors to try and give my poor nurse some more readings. She had been so kind to me and I didn’t want to put her in a bad position.

A few minutes later my wonderful doula Crystal arrived. She was quick to offer help in any way that I needed. She rubbed my back and shoulders and feet and prayed for me. She whispered words of encouragement and when I wanted to try and sleep she sat beside me and held that stupid monitor in place since my little lady inside insisted on kicking it off.

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Now I know that during the next several hours I had another visit from Dr. C, I cried and felt like I was on an emotional roller coaster going from completely defeated, to motivated, to crushed, to relaxed. I was emotionally and physically exhausted. We were coming up on 22 hours since my water had broken and I had slept less than ten minutes. Around 2:30 in the morning, the nurses moved me and my crew into a different room with wireless monitors. YES! But they didn’t work. NO! So we continued pacing as far as they would allow me and bouncing on the birth ball. And many times I crawled into bed hoping that rest would bring something on. My doula kept offering things that we could try. Some of them I did, others I looked at her like she was crazy.

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This pattern continued for the rest of the night and well into the morning. My big fears at this point weren’t only what would happen if my body never went into labor, but also what would happen if it did? I had been awake for going on 30 hours and I could barely put together full sentences. How was I going to push through a labor?

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I was anxious for Dr. C to come in for a visit. I really wanted a check to see if anything we had tried throughout the night had helped. He arrived a bit after 9:00am. It had been 15 hours since my last check. I tried so hard to remain hopeful, but as soon as the check started I knew.

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Before he even had the chance to say anything I looked at Eric and Crystal, shook my head no and let the tears fall. There was no change.

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No. Change. At. All.

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My heart broke. Off and on throughout the night I had thought, talked, and prayed about what to do if there was still no change the next day. I didn’t feel like I had it in me to keep going. Dr. C sat down and we started to talk about options. As far as he was concerned I had several. First, everyone looked good so I was free to continue laboring as long as I wanted. Second, we could start to talk about other ways to get this baby out. Third, I could take off the monitors, go to sleep and not decide anything at all. I had already shared with Eric and Crystal what I was thinking. I feel so strongly that babies know how to be born and I know for a fact that my body is strong and capable of birthing a baby – so in my heart I felt that if Kelsie wasn’t coming there was a reason for it. I didn’t want to make this decision based solely on exhaustion or fear so Eric and I asked Dr. C a bunch of questions and then agreed that we would all just take a break before we made any decisions.

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Dr. C left, saying that he was hoping that rest was all I needed and he hoped I woke up in active labor. I no longer felt as hopeful. Crystal left shortly after to get some rest and to allow Eric and I some time together. While Eric and I were alone I was able to be completely vulnerable and vent out everything that I was thinking and feeling. I told him that I was leaning towards a gentle cesarean, but I needed to know that he wouldn’t be disappointed in me. He hugged me close, kissed me lots and told me that no matter what choice I made he knew I was making it for the right reasons. He reminded me that I was strong and that I was a wonderful Mom just trying to take care of our baby. He told me that he was proud of me.

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He laid down to get a much deserved nap, while I laid in bed, finally free from the dreaded monitors. I tried to sleep, but wasn’t able to. I don’t think I could possibly put into words how much I battled with myself during this time. I tried to rest, but when I wasn’t able to I decided to call my munchkins and make sure that they each knew how much I loved them. Hearing their sweet voices calmed me.

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A while later Crystal returned and Eric woke up. I didn’t tell either of them what I had decided. Our nurse walked in to check on me, “What do we think?”

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My eyes filled with tears and I looked at her and answered, “I think it’s time to meet my baby.”

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Even the nurses knew that Kelsie was in charge.

At this time things started to move pretty fast. Despite the speedy pace though, I felt in control and respected, which is so different then my first cesarean. Everyone was kind and went out of their way to try and keep things as calm as possible. Eric was given his awesome new duds, Kelsie’s blanket and hat were brought into the operating room and I was introduced to the anesthesiologist that would be working with my doctor. I sat on the bed in our hospital room, trying to just remain calm and cling to the small moments of peace that I felt. As I was sitting on the bed, letting Eric put some cozy socks on my feet, I heard my phone vibrate next to me, indicating that a text message had arrived. I had mostly been ignoring all messages since we had kept the news that my water had broken very quiet. But for some reason I decided to read this message before I walked into the operating room. It was from my best friend Lisa:

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“I love you so much. You are an amazing mom and will see that sweetie soon! Enjoy as her story happens knowing that God wrote it just for her!”

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Wow. The exact words I needed to hear in the exact moment that I needed to hear them. Eric helped me out of the bed, we walked to the operating room and I kissed him and let him know I’d see him soon.

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This cesarean was so different than my first. The operating room, while busy, was not at all chaotic. Everyone let me know what was going on and what to expect next. I was treated with respect the entire time and even felt comfortable enough to make jokes. For instance, when the nurse asked someone to let Justin know that he’d be able to come in just a few minutes I calmly replied, “Actually if you don’t mind I’d rather Justin just wait outside, but if you see my husband, Eric, he’s welcome to join us.” Prep went quickly and easily and before I knew it the drape was up and Eric was sitting next to me holding my hand and waiting on our girl. Before we knew it the drape was being lowered and the anesthesiologist was lifting my back up a bit so that Eric and I could watch our daughter being born. I cried and cried. She was here. 32+ hours after my water broke – and born at the exact same minute that I was: 12:31 p.m. She was perfect and pink and loud and tiny and COVERED in meconium. I mean head to toe covered in poop. And I had only ever seen anything that beautiful two other times in my life. She was quickly looked over while Dr. C did his best to get her as much cord blood as possible, while still keeping me safe. And less than two minutes later she was in our arms. As requested she hadn’t been bathed or weighed or measured. None of that mattered.

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One of the nurses came over and helped pull my pajamas down and slide Kelsie in so that we could lay skin to skin while the surgery was completed. Eric also held her during this time and we all laughed at how much she was rooting. The anesthesiologist mentioned that he had never seen a baby with such an immediate and enthusiastic root instinct. While she was laying on me and trying so hard to find what she was looking for I said, “I’m so sorry baby. You have to wait just a few more minutes.” Her response was the most perfect, most dramatic pouty lip that you can imagine. She had Eric and I and several others in the room laughing. Before I knew it everything was done. Eric held Kelsie while I was moved from the operating table to a bed. Kelsie was again tucked in with me skin to skin and we were rolled back to our room together.

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Eric, Kelsie and I were left mostly alone for more than an hour after she was born. Everything else that needed to be done was done with her in my arms. She wasn’t measured or weighed until we requested and when I did decide to have them rinse some of the poop out of her hair, they were quick to honor my request that they only use water.

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We stayed in the hospital for two days and were blessed to be taken care of by so many wonderful nurses and one exceptional CNA. I have had a few moments where I have felt sad about the way everything went down – like when I had to sign my consent to have cesarean, because of a “failed trial of labor” (I don’t think that’s the right reason – I never went into labor and I certainly didn’t fail). But the fact is I made the best choice that I could make with the information that I had at that time. I was supported and respected in all of my choices and I felt like I was in control. I never felt bullied or pushed into anything I wasn’t comfortable with. I wanted Kelsie’s birth to be joyful. I prayed for that for the entire 10+ months that I carried her. And when I look back at her birth, I will remember laughing at her silly faces right after birth and joking with my doctor about a dream I had where I had a C-section, but in the dream he had bleached blonde backstreet boy hair and him asking someone to bring him a wig. I will remember the jokes and fun that I had with my husband and doula in the middle of the night when we were all so exhausted that we were borderline giddy.

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I will own the choices that I made during this labor and I choose not to regret any of them.

This is Kelsie’s story and I will tell it to her proudly and remember it with joy.

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Welcome to the world, Kelsie.
You are loved.
You are wanted.
You are precious.

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*** I wrote Kelsie’s birth story the week that she was born. That was over 6 months ago. One thing that I wasn’t prepared for after her birth was how hard it would be to process everything. How much I would doubt my choices. How often I would ask myself, “What if…” Not having a VBAC when you prepare for one and want one so badly is HARD. With my first child’s birth his emergency C-section was out of my hands. It was easy to be frustrated with everyone else, because I had zero control in that situation. But this time around the decision to have a cesarean was mine alone. Processing Kelsie’s birth has been hard. For over four months I obsessed over everything that had happened. What could I have done differently? How much better would it have been if I had just planned a home birth? What if I had just given myself more time? Did I give up too easily?

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The self-doubt that comes in can suffocate you and it felt like nobody really understood WHY I was upset. My baby was healthy after all and my recovery had been as easy as it could have been. Yet still, I felt like I had let myself and my daughter down. For months (and sometimes even now) I couldn’t read birth stories without feeling sad, disappointed, and even jealous of these other women achieving their drug-free vaginal births and VBACs. My sweet doula sat me down and told me, “You’re only thinking of this one way. But what about these ‘what ifs?’ What if you HADN’T had a cesarean? What if you HADN’T followed your instinct? You birthed a beautiful baby. Be kind to yourself.”

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And you know what? She was right. The decisions made that day were mine alone. I chose the decision I could live with and now, over half a year later, I truly can accept that. Her birth story is unique to her. I did the best I could do and I am so grateful that the choices I made led to a beautiful, healthy, joyful baby girl. I think that I will probably always have moments when I wonder “what if,” but I no longer feel like I failed. Kelsie’s birth story is her own. I hope that other women reading this, possibly in the same situation, will know that they aren’t alone. It’s hard when VBAC doesn’t happen. Those feelings of disappointment, sadness, and anger are real. But in the words of my favorite doula, “You birthed a beautiful baby, be kind to yourself.” ***

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Community Support and Breastfeeding {Make a Difference}

Community Support and Breastfeeding {Make a Difference}

(Editor’s note: this was originally posted in 2013.)

I would like to start this post with a story.

Imagine a mother – a fresh new mother – with a baby just barely 24 hours old. She drives to another city the day after her birth for her first post-birth checkup with her midwife. After leaving the appointment she and her husband decide to stop for lunch. It is late afternoon, so they have their pick of places as none are crowded. A Red Lobster is calling mom’s name – she is famished after the long work of labor the day before and seafood just sounds heavenly. And maybe a little indulgent too!

Mom, Dad, and newborn are seated right away and order their food. Mom orders crab legs (her favorite!) since baby is sleeping peacefully in his wrap against her chest. Surely he will stay asleep long enough for her to shell the crab and eat. (More experienced moms are probably giggling right now!)

The food comes out, hot and steaming. On cue, baby wakes up and wants to nurse. Mom stares longingly at her plate, knowing she can’t bother with it right now because it takes two hands to get this newborn latched and stable for the whole feed. Dad offers to help her but mom declines – at least one of them should get a hot meal after all.

The server comes out to check that everything is going well. She sees mom’s predicament and says she will be right back. She comes back, with gloves on, and starts to shell all of the mother’s crab legs for her. All the while she talks to the couple about her children, her nursing experiences, and how great it is to see a young mother breastfeeding. She also shares stories of many cold meals because of the uncanny ability of babies to wake just when dinner comes out.

She finishes shelling the still steaming crab and gives the plate to mom. Mom figures out how to support baby’s head with the wrap so she can slide one hand out to eat her still hot dinner! Mom and dad get full bellies with hot food, and so does baby. What could have ended in mom sadly eating stone-cold crab legs instead has a happy ending.

That mother was me. I have *never* forgotten that server’s support and love in that moment, and I never will. One mother, reaching out to another giving simple and practical support. That one encounter gave me the pride and hope and confidence to nurse in public in the years that followed. That one encounter helped my husband to feel 100% comfortable with nursing in public as well – knowing that people would not always be rude to his wife. While we have had rude encounters, I can always look back to this first one and radiate with joy.

The support of the community can make a huge difference for mothers who take the journey through breastfeeding. In fact, in studies and interviews women tend to rate social support as more important than professional support on the duration of their breastfeeding experience 5. Why is this?

The answer is simple – we spend far more time in the world at large than sitting in a professional’s office. We need support from our partners, family, and community at large. We need to feel supported by other mothers. When a person feels like they are doing something alone – no matter what it is – they are far less likely to succeed or meet goals. Emotionally, we feel more able to succeed with social support.

The United States has some of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world among developed nations, and when you look at the rates of exclusive breastfeeding it becomes especially dismal. While about 75% of woman initiate breastfeeding – this is a very large category and a bit misleading. This includes one attempt in the first days of life. While this is great (so many mothers attempting to breastfeed!), it gives false hope as the total rates of breastfeeding. In 2007, at 6 months of age the rate of exclusive breastfeeding was only 13% 1. Lets keep in mind that six months of nothing but breastmilk is the current recommendation from every major group with an interest in infant health (this includes the AAP and WHO). What is happening to cause a drop from 75% of women attempting to breastfeed, to only 13% succeeding at 6 months?

The simple answer for most cases – lack of proper support. Study after study shows that our support network is vital to breastfeeding success. For most women, one caring and helpful IBCLC cannot undo the “work” of a society that does not really support breastfeeding. While it is possible for a woman to physically or psychologically be unable to breastfeed that sub-section of woman is statistically small – most certainly not 87% of woman or the human race would not have made it very far.

The Surgeon General put out a “Call to Action” in 2011, urging America to support breastfeeding. Much of the document focuses on increasing community support across the board – from the family unit, to the care provider, to society as a whole. Some highlights from the document include:

“Women with friends who have breastfed successfully are more likely to choose to breastfeed. On the other hand, negative attitudes of family and friends can pose a barrier to breastfeeding. Some mothers say that they do not ask for help from their family and friends because of the contradictory information they receive from these sources.” (pg 22)

What this little gem tells us is that mother’s who DO succeed in breastfeeding need to talk about it. We need to share our wonderful experience – it actually encourages other mother’s to more seriously consider breastfeeding in the first place. This also tells us that hearing conflicting and outdated information from “well meaning” family and friends is NOT helpful. (Big surprise there, right?)

Now, there is a whole section on Embarrassment. Yes, in the great nation of America, the Surgeon General actually has to address embarrassment as a barrier to breastfeeding.

“A study that analyzed data from a national public opinion survey conducted in 2001 found that only 43% of U.S. adults believed that women should have the right to breastfeed in public places. Restaurant and shopping center managers have reported that they would either discourage breastfeeding anywhere in their facilities or would suggest that breastfeeding mothers move to an area that was more secluded. When they have breastfed in public places, many mothers have been asked to stop breastfeeding or to leave. Such situations make women feel embarrassed and fearful of being stigmatized by people around them when they breastfeed. Embarrassment remains a formidable barrier to breastfeeding in the United States and closely related to the disapproval of breastfeeding in public. Embarrassment about breastfeeding is not limited to public settings however. Women may find themselves excluded from social interactions when they are breastfeeding because others are reluctant to be in the same room while they breastfeed. For many women, the feeling of embarrassment restricts their activites and is cited as a reason for choosing to feed supplementary formula or to give up breastfeeding altogether.” (pg 23)

This section goes on more but let me pause here. No matter how you choose to feed your child, I hope that above statement leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Only 43% of adults feel that a mother should feed her baby in public. Lets not even give the cop out of breastfeeding and “modesty”. This statistic literally translates to mean that 57% of Americans are uncomfortable with a baby being fed in public in a normal way. Only 28% in this particular study believed that breastfeeding should be portrayed on television 4.

Then we see proof that managers and business owners do ask women to leave if they breastfeed and refuse to move or stop. We see this in the news from time to time, but many people think it is rare. Is it really going to be a rare occurrence when over half of all Americans are uncomfortable seeing normal infant feeding? It also goes on to say that we are not just talking about public situations, that last section literally means that within their own homes and social units, women are being made to feel uncomfortable because they breastfeed. What woman is likely to keep breastfeeding if she doesn’t even have acceptance in her own home or social group?

To continue with the “Embarrassment” section:

” In American culture, breasts have often been regarded primarily as sexual objects, while their nurturing function is downplayed. Although focusing on the sexuality of female breasts is common in mass media, visual images of breastfeeding are rare, and a mother may never have seen a woman breastfeeding. As shown in both quantitative and qualitative studies, the perception of breasts as sexual objects may lead women to feel uncomfortable about breastfeeding in public. As a result, women may feel the need to conceal breastfeeding, but they have difficulty finding comfortable and accessible breastfeeding facilities in public places.” (pg 23)

This section speaks to how our breasts are viewed. First and foremost in our culture they are viewed as sexual. This context of breasts as primarily sexual is actually not the predominate view in the world as a whole by the way 3. This portion also speaks to an issue that comes up more and more with social media – the posting and viewing of breastfeeding photos. These studies and surveys prove that women need to see breastfeeding. The more you see it, the more normal it becomes.

Our sexual view of breasts did not just evolve from thin air – it evolved through a constant presence of sexual images of breasts in our culture. Simply put, the more we can promote and share the non-sexual view of breasts, the less sexual our breasts will become in the culture as a whole. I, for one, would be very happy to see that happen – not only for breastfeeding rates but also for the self-worth of women in general.

In the last sentence, the Surgeon General notes that even though women may feel compelled to hide breastfeeding because of these pressures, there is no where to hide! Our society seems to insist that we breastfeed “somewhere else” but where exactly is this wonderful place we are supposed to hide? Very few places, especially outside of large cities, have breastfeeding spaces. When was the last time you saw a breastfeeding room at your local grocery?

In the section of the document about ways to help increase breastfeeding rates, special attention is given to educating the fathers/partners and grandmothers. Studies show that lack of support from those two sources can lead to shortened breastfeeding (or never starting). There is also special attention given to strengthening and supporting woman-to-woman support groups, such as local La Leche Leagues or other community breastfeeding groups. Those two actions in our communities would be especially helpful to low-income women, where studies show that social support and acceptance are paramount to breastfeeding success 2.

Now I would like to switch gears. We know that community support can make a difference, but we hear little about it. Normally, we only see stories of mothers being harrassed for feeding their babies. If positive stories and experiences with breastfeeding can make a difference in breastfeeding rates, then we need to share them. I reached out to our support group and got many stories and photos, all about positive experiences with nursing in public!

“The first time I ever breastfed in public was last summer when my daughter was 8 months old. My family and I were on vacation in Austin, TX and we were on a tour in some underground natural caverns.  We were at a resting area and I chose a rock to sit on and started nursing her.  I was so nervous that someone would give me a dirty look or say something rude, but a woman came up to me and thanked me for nursing my baby.  That one little comment gave me the confidence I needed to keep nursing her in public and I have been doing so ever since.” – Jennifer

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“Over Memorial Day weekend there is a big festival by the beach where we live, so my husband and I invited our folks to join us and our 2 month old daughter. It was HOT with very little shade! My daughter was getting fussy so I sat down on a bench behind one of the vender’s who had an umbrella up. My mom, who is easily embarrassed, kept trying to give me a cover but I told her no and proceeded to nurse my baby. The vender turns around to see me nursing my daughter and says, “Good for you! Not enough mother’s breastfeed any more! Keep doing what’s best for your kid.”‘ – Beverly

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“We took a vacation to Vegas with our daughter. We had just finished a limousine ride, and walked back into our hotel. I sat in the lobby and started to breastfeed my little girl. A lady came by and told me breastfeeding is the most beautiful thing in the world! I wish I had taken a picture with her. It was such a positive experience for me.” – Krystal

Below is Brianna nursing at Disneyland. Just a fun fact, from a former Cast Member – Disney Cast Members are instructed specifically in training about the importance of nursing in public and that it is 100% legal and acceptable for women to do so anywhere in the parks or property. Some companies do care!

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Below is Katelyn nursing her son at the aquarium, her supportive husband at her side!

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If you have a positive nursing in public experience, please share it with us! And remember that the “other person” in these stories is someone just like you. Just one person reaching out to another and saying “Good Job” – it can literally change a mother’s whole outlook on breastfeeding. Next time you see a mother nursing in public – no matter how she chooses to do it – give her a smile or even better, a kind word.

References

  1. U.S Department of Health and Human Services. The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding. Washington, DC: U.S Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Surgeon General; 2011.
  2. Pugh, L., Milligan, R., Frick, K., Spatz, D., & Bronner, Y. (2002). Breastfeeding Duration, Costs, and Benefits of a Support Program for Low-Income Breastfeeding Women. Birth: Issues In Perinatal Care, 29(2), 95-100. doi:10.1046/j.1523-536X.2002.00169.x
  3. Wolf, J. H. (2008). Got milk? Not in public!. International Breastfeeding Journal, 31-3. doi:10.1186/1746-4358-3-11
  4. Pettis, C. T., & Miller, M. K. (2007). PROMOTING BREAST-FEEDING THROUGH SOCIAL CHANGE. Women’s Policy Journal Of Harvard, 439-47.
  5. McInnes RJ, Chambers JA. (2008). Supporting Breastfeeding Mothers: Qualitative Synthesis. J Adv Nurs. 2008 May; 62(4):407-27. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2008.04618.x.

Selah’s Birth Story

Selah’s Birth Story

Autumn shares with us the birth story of her fifth child.

“Honey, we are pregnant!”

And just like that, baby number five was on the way. Actually, it had taken over a year of trying after number four, but once that test showed positive, I was ecstatic. I’m sort of a pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding junkie, and we always wanted a big family (but perhaps at some point I should get a new hobby or become a midwife – someday!).

All of my births were incredible journeys of learning, experiencing the power within myself, discovering strength I didn’t know I had, and wonder at meeting a new human. My first birth was a planned unmedicated hospital birth; but I was young, uneducated and I ended up falling prey to their cascade of interventions. So for number two I educated myself, hired a doula and had a textbook wonderful, unmedicated hospital birth.

For number three, I decided I wanted a home birth. At 32 weeks, I started having lots of Braxton Hicks contractions and went into labor at 36 weeks and two days. It was a beautiful, empowering and life-changing experience. At that moment, I decided I always wanted to birth my babies at home; but rarely does life go as planned. I went into preterm labor with number four at 32 weeks, and was admitted to the hospital. They were able to stop me from progressing with medication, but the contractions themselves wouldn’t stop. I was released from the hospital on medication and instructed to be on modified bed rest (Ha! I was a mother to three other children…but I did my best.) From 32 weeks until my water broke at 38 weeks I literally contracted every five minutes – even on medication. I think my body was exhausted.

My water broke spontaneously at 4 a.m. on Christmas morning with no contractions. My husband was only comfortable waiting for labor to begin for 24 hours. So when it didn’t, we headed to the hospital, got some Pitocin, and two hours later without any other medication, I was holding baby number four in my arms. I then proceeded to hemorrhage, and things got a little crazy. Number four’s birth was a little traumatic and went nothing like the plan, but it was still oh so worth it. So when I found out I was pregnant with number five (which is supposed to be our last), I was set on another home birth. I envisioned a perfect birth with a midwife and a photographer capturing all the intimate moments so I could treasure them for a lifetime. And this was my last shot at it!

First on my agenda was to locate a midwife, and then hire a birth photographer. Since we are a military family, all my babies have been born in different states; so I’ve never had the opportunity to have the same midwife with any of my babies. So I located a midwife and began seeing her. Through a misunderstanding on my part at thirty weeks, I realized that I needed a CNM for my insurance to help cover the home birth. So I contacted a different midwife, and she was willing to take me so late in my pregnancy. I loved her. I had never really “clicked” with my first midwife, but after the first time talking with our new midwife I loved her. She felt like the perfect match for our family. The only drawback in my mind was that she lived over an hour away; and we live in the Washington, DC area, so traffic can turn any drive into a much longer adventure.

At 32 weeks again, my Braxton Hicks contractions started in fierce. Given my history, we monitored them closely and I rested as much as possible. I tried all sorts of different strategies to try to keep the contractions down to a minimum. I absolutely did not want to go into preterm labor. I desperately wanted to make it to at least 36 weeks, if not longer; so I was willing to try anything that would help. My mom decided to come when I was 34 weeks to help with the other children and around the house. I homeschool my older kids, so “resting” during the day isn’t very easy. Once we made it to 36 weeks, my mother-in-law decided to go ahead and fly in so she could be at the birth as well.

Two days before my 37-week visit with the midwife, my contractions picked up in intensity and frequency. As the day progressed, they got closer and stronger. I tucked all my little ones in bed around 7 p.m. and then went to take a bath. By about 9 p.m. that night, my contractions were about three minutes apart and a little longer than a minute in duration, and I even a little bit of bloody show; so I called the midwife. In my mind I thought, “This is it!” (I should know what labor is, right? This is baby, number five after all).

My midwife checked back in about an hour later and the contractions were still going strong. She decided to go ahead and come over. Her assistant arrived first and started taking my vitals and helping me through the contractions. Shortly after the midwife arrived, the photographer arrived as well. The contractions were strong enough that it was difficult to talk through them. Then, about three hours after everyone arrived, they just stopped. We waited all night and nothing happened. So the next morning everyone left, thinking that my labor would probably start later that night again.

But nothing happened. My contractions just went back to their regular pattern. About a week later, this happened again. My 38-week appointment rolled around and everything looked great. Physically and emotionally, I was tired due to all the contractions, but baby was doing great. Then 39 weeks came and went as well. By this point, I was so ready to have this baby. I wasn’t sleeping well due to all the contractions, my hips were so sore, and I was tired of wondering, “Is this it?” My best friend had flown in for this week because we were sure baby would be here. But alas, my friend had to get back home to her family while there was still no baby.

At 40 weeks, my midwife arrived at my house for another weekly check. I had all my supplies ready, baby was doing well, and the grandmas were still at our house waiting for baby to arrive. At this point I was not feeling confident in my ability to be able to “know” when I was truly in labor. We had had several “this is it” calls, only to be disappointed… This was baby number five and I still couldn’t figure this out!

My midwife ad I had talked many times about what I envisioned the birth to be, what I wanted, and so forth. My biggest fear for the birth was that my midwife wouldn’t make it in time. I did not want to birth my baby without my midwife there. Especially since I had hemorrhaged after my fourth. We talked extensively about what to do if I had the baby before she got there. I felt so relieved; and for the first time, I felt at peace with the possibility of doing it without the midwife there. I still didn’t want it to happen that way, but I felt prepared in the event that it did. We parted ways with a hug, and a 41-week visit scheduled.

Before bed that night, my contractions had moved a little closer together, but I was not concerned since this had happened many times before. I honestly didn’t even give it a second thought. At 4:30 a.m. on March 23, 2016, I woke up to a contraction. I also needed to go pee, so I decided to get out of bed. While going to the bathroom, I noticed a little bit of bloody show. But again, this had all happened before in the few weeks prior. So I decided to lie back down. I lay down for about 20 minutes and had a couple more contractions, but I just couldn’t get comfortable due to my hips hurting. They had been bothering me so much over the course of the last few weeks of pregnancy.

Most mornings, I had been getting up at around 5 a.m. because it hurt too much to lie in bed any longer. So I slipped out of bed without waking my husband up, and decided to go downstairs and eat something. I made myself some eggs; and while doing that, I had a few more contractions. These contractions maybe felt a little stronger than my normal everyday Braxton Hicks contractions, but were nothing close to being painful. I went upstairs and decided to read. After about 30 minutes I decided to give the midwife a call; it was about 5:30 a.m., since the contractions were coming about every 5 minutes now. They still were not painful or unbearable, but I was still having a little bloody show. I figured we would have the baby sometime that day, perhaps around noonish.

I unlocked the front door and made my way upstairs to get in the bath to see if that would slow the contractions down. Before I got in, I thought I should wake my husband up, just to let him know what was going on. He immediately sat up and was ready to go. I reassured him he should just get more sleep as I didn’t need anything at this point, and told him I just wanted to let him know the front door was open and that the midwife would be there in about an hour. He insisted he wanted to get up, and I finally agreed.

Before I had gone downstairs to eat, I had set up the video camera just in case this was it. This was my last baby, and I did not want to miss getting it on camera. It was about 6 a.m. now and my tub was full of warm water. I put my sports bra on and got in to relax. A few minutes after I got in the tub, I had a contraction and I felt my water break. I immediately knew this was REAL labor and that this baby was coming fast. As soon as my water broke, I felt like I needed to push and I knew she was really close to being born. Mind you, less than five minutes before this I was reassuring my husband he could stay in bed because I didn’t even know if I was really in labor.

As soon as my water broke, I felt intense pressure. I screamed for my husband to get back in the bathroom, call the midwife, and press record on the camera. In my mind I knew the midwife wasn’t going to make it, but I was hoping she had somehow miraculously covered a large distance and was about ready to turn onto our street. But that wasn’t the case. She was still a little over thirty minutes away. We decided she would stay on the phone with us. As we were waiting for another contraction, she asked if I had called the photographer. SHOOT! Given the fact that I wasn’t sure this was it and then now the craziness, it hadn’t even crossed my mind. I texted the photographer to tell her that I was in labor and that she should get there fast. She texted back saying she was on her way.

I had another contraction, and it was all I could do to keep from pushing. The contractions were so strong and powerful all of a sudden. My husband was a nervous wreck. He kept pacing; and all I wanted was for him to hold my hand. I did not want to have this baby by myself. The midwife wanted him to go get a few things ready, but I did not want him to leave me. At around this time, another powerful contraction began. The midwife was talking me through it, but about halfway through I could no longer hold off on pushing. My body just took over; and my daughter’s head was born. The midwife continued calmly talking with us, and I just patiently waited in the water for the next contraction. Even over the phone, our midwife was calm, collected, confident, and reassuring and a source of comfort for me. Her confidence and reassurance translated to a level of peace and confidence in my heart and mind.

The next contraction came at 6:15 a.m. and our fifth baby – our second daughter – joined us earth side just 15 minutes after my water had broken and I realized I really was in labor. She slid into my arms, and I immediately brought her to my chest. It was the most surreal moment. She snuggled in, and within a few moments let out her first cry. What a relief. I had done it. Selah Grace was here, and we were now a family of seven. Just my husband and I were at her birth. My mom, his mom, and our four older children had no idea the baby had been born.

Since the midwife was still about 30 minutes away, we decided to go get my husband’s mom to come assess my bleeding since she was a labor and delivery nurse. She told us she was in shock when he came back downstairs and told him the baby was here. She made her way up the stairs and monitored the situation until the midwife arrived. While we waited for the midwife I tried to get my new little one to nurse, but she was happy to just stare at me and listen to me talk to her.

The midwife arrived, the placenta was born, and everyone finally made it in our room to meet the new addition to the family. The photographer had also arrived so she was able to at least capture these moments. It was so beautiful to have all my children in bed with me marveling at our newest baby. She finally decided it was time to eat and she was a champ from the get go at breastfeeding. It was magical. Everyone enjoyed the next few hours of skin-to-skin, weighing baby, looking her over, and taking her in for the first time.

Her birth happened so quickly that it took me several weeks – maybe even a few months – to come to terms with it. In some ways, I felt like I couldn’t even process it because it had felt like such a whirlwind. It was peaceful and awe-inspiring, but it was just difficult to wrap my mind around. Now, eight months later, I feel empowered. It was a magical moment being the only ones there, and I realize there was no way for me to guess that it would have happened that quickly.

Photographs by Alhalia Photography.

A Home Birth Story

A Home Birth Story

Robin shares the story of her daughter’s birth at home.

Baby H’s birth story really starts with the birth of her older brother two years earlier. I had a very fast labor with him; and by the time I realized I was actually in labor, I barely made it to the hospital before he arrived. Despite him being born about 10 minutes after our arrival, my experience there was very negative, being forced to lie on my back, being given an episiotomy and having a vacuum delivery without my consent, performed by an impatient doctor. It took me a while to realize why it all upset me so much before I realized it was like I had climbed a mountain – and a few steps from the top, someone came along and said no, I’ll finish it for you. When we decided to try for another baby, I knew that I would be doing things very differently. I was able to get in with a midwifery group right away with baby number two, and we started planning our home birth.

The evening before baby H’s arrival was nothing out of the ordinary; I took my toddler to his gym drop-in, then bought our fruits and veggies for the week. I was exhausted being two days past my estimated due date, so I sent my husband out to pick up dinner. I ended up eating too quickly and throwing up my entire meal, which was an ongoing theme throughout this pregnancy. As I was contemplating what to have for dinner attempt number two, I noticed I was having some very mild cramps every 20 minutes or so; they were barely noticeable.

The cramps continued throughout the evening but weren’t really getting any stronger; though I did let my husband know that things might be starting when I went to bed around 10 p.m. I laid in bed reading for a bit, then as soon as I turned off the light to get some sleep they started to get stronger. (Why do I always go into labor right as I’m about to go to sleep for the night?) They were still totally manageable, but I decided to time a few just to get an idea of what was going on; and they were anywhere from six to 15 minutes apart and about a minute long. I decided to try to get some sleep.

I woke up at around 12:30 to much stronger contractions. I couldn’t lie down anymore ­– I had to be pacing around to get through them. I got out my phone to try to time a few, but because I needed to keep moving, it was hard to do; they were definitely two to three minutes apart and at least 45 seconds long, but probably longer. Because my first labor was so fast, the plan was to call the midwife as soon as I was sure I was in labor; so I woke my husband up and told him I needed my pool set up, and I paged my midwife.

The midwife called back a few minutes later. She was skeptical because I was easily able to talk through my contractions; but because of my history, she said she would come, and that she would hold off on calling the second midwife until she arrived. I went ahead and made the bed with plastic and extra sheets, and my hubby got working on filling the pool. I really wanted to get in that water!

I headed out to the living room to lean on my exercise ball while I was waiting. My contractions got stronger while I was out there, and eventually I needed to be on all fours for each one then went back to leaning on my ball in between. During this time our two-year-old woke up, but luckily my hubby was able to get him back to sleep.

The midwife arrived and things were pretty intense at that point; I was needing to breathe through every contraction, she told me she had called the other midwife and that my pool was ready and I could get in! That was the best thing I’d heard all night.

The pool was set up in our bedroom and we just had a very dim lamp on in there, with the glow of the Christmas tree in the background. It was just perfect. I had put a yoga bra top in my supply box to wear in the pool, but by this point I just wanted to get in the water NOW; so I stripped off my pajamas and got in. The temperature was perfect and it felt so nice to finally be in the water. The midwife came and did what would be the only heart-rate check my entire labor, and everything sounded great.

I had a few of the same contractions after I got in. I was able to lie back in between and lean on the edge of the pool; then transition hit, and I had to be on my hands and knees the entire time. I had a few really intense contractions with very little break in between. I had that moment that so many women have where I decided I didn’t want to do this anymore, which meant baby was almost here!

At the end of the third or fourth really intense contraction, I felt her suddenly move all the way down the birth canal; such a strange feeling. I reached down and felt the bulge of her head, and told the midwives that baby was coming. Luckily the depth of the water was enough that I could stay on hands and knees and keep everything under the water. They reminded me to stay down low enough to keep her head under when it came out.

At the next contraction, my entire body decided to push; it just happened, and there was nothing I could have done to stop it. It really didn’t even feel like I was doing anything myself; it was so much different from the coached pushing I went through with my son. It wasn’t even painful, though it got very loud; it was just such an intense effort. One of the midwives put pressure on my perineum, which felt so good. I had three contractions like that, pushing the entire time on hands and knees with my face just barely above the water; and at the end of the third one, her head was out!

The midwives told me the hard work was done, and to just push her out the rest of the way on the next contraction. This was the most surreal moment of the entire experience and something I will never forget – still on hands and knees in the pool, holding her head with one hand while waiting for that last push. She was so soft and perfect. I’m sure that moment only lasted maybe a minute, but it was just the best thing ever being the first person to ever hold her while she was still in between worlds.

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The next contraction came, and I easily pushed her out. The midwife caught her then passed her back through my legs so I could lift her up to my chest. We laid back in the pool with her on my chest crying; it was the most amazing moment. I did it!

After a few minutes, the midwives (the second one arrived sometime during transition, I didn’t even notice!) needed some light to check on us; so we turned on a lamp. They did their initial checks, and everything was fine. They were referring to her as “him” until one of them asked if we had confirmed the gender; (we didn’t find out the sex beforehand) and the other one said that no, we hadn’t checked; so I got to lift her up and see that we had a girl! I was so surprised since I really wasn’t expecting a girl at all.

I had planned to deliver the placenta without an oxytocin injection, so they said to just gently push when I felt a cramp. Well, H’s cord was quite short – barely long enough for her to reach my chest – and the way it was touching me, I just couldn’t push so they suggested we cut the cord and I move to the bed. The cord had already stopped pulsing, so the midwives helped my partner cut it then we passed H to him while I moved to the bed; then she was back on my chest. I was easily able to push out the placenta now that the cord was out of the way. The midwife checked me for tears and I only had a tiny one that didn’t even need a stitch.

Then we were left to cuddle in bed skin-to-skin for a while; she even latched on like a pro. Eventually she had her newborn exam and everything was perfect; she was 5 lbs 10 oz and 19½” long, born at 2:31 a.m. after about two hours of active labor. It was such an amazing experience; there is not a single thing I can think of that I would change. Our son slept through the entire thing. He woke up at around 5 a.m. to meet his new sister, and was so excited that he couldn’t go back to sleep.

Our son was quite small, too, which resulted in a very frustrating hospital stay with formula forced on us because of concerns with his blood sugar and then weight loss. Being at home with midwives was a totally different experience. They told us that because of her weight we could either go to the hospital for blood sugar monitoring or supplement small amounts to keep her blood sugar up. I wanted to stay home, so we just supplemented with donor milk until my milk came in on day three. She only lost about 7% of her weight and had minimal jaundice thanks to being allowed to make an informed choice about her care rather than being forced into hospital protocol. She regained her birth weight by day six, and continues to grow at an amazing pace.

Hypnobirthing: A Drug-Free Birth Story

Hypnobirthing: A Drug-Free Birth Story

Eva tells us about the drug-free birth of her first child.

At the advice of some friends, I prepared for my first baby by I taking Hypnobirthing classes and listening to the Rainbow Relaxation track daily. I did yoga weekly, had an affirmations wall, drank raspberry leaf tea in the third trimester, and ate dates. I hired a great and attentive doula. I was doing freelance design work at the time so work was spotty, but it gave me a lot of free time, which I am grateful for; but I actually worked full-time the week before my son was born, and walked up 60 steps at the subway stop every day! Whew!

I knew I could and wanted to give birth to my baby naturally, as my mom had me (her first child) with no drugs, and I was frank breech! I planned on giving birth in Mt. Sinai Roosevelt’s Birthing Center (I was not comfortable with the idea of a home birth in our tiny apartment, but I didn’t want to be hooked up to machines or an IV.) And shockingly, I qualified for the Birthing Center’s strict policies, despite a bout of high amniotic fluid over the course of the last month.

On October 24th I had pretty much the perfect Saturday: yoga, followed by leisurely time with my husband, Chris, and a long walk in the park to admire the foliage until it got dark. We planned for a friend to come over on Sunday and carve pumpkins.

Sunday morning I had trouble sleeping, and kept getting up to use the bathroom. I had light menstrual-cramp-like feelings that came and went, but I didn’t wake Chris up because I didn’t want him to get over-excited (he really wanted the baby to come!). At 6 a.m. I gave up attempting to sleep, and I woke Chris up to tell him today was probably the day. I timed the sensations and they were very accurately five minutes apart. This was pretty shocking to me as I thought early labor involved widely or irregularly-spaces contractions.

I tidied up for a while to get everything around the house as orderly as possible, I finished packing the suitcase, and I put fresh sheets on the bed in anticipation for when I would come home and lay in bed with our new baby. I then took a shower; and what everyone says about water in labor was true – it felt wonderful all over, but it also made my contractions less regular (and this played into the doctor’s misjudgment about how far along I was). I called our doula, Victoria, who said she would start getting ready to come over, then I called my mom to tell her the baby would probably be here today. It was around 9 a.m. and she wished I had called her as soon as I had woken up! (She was ready to drive from Virginia to New York at a moment’s notice.) Then I called my OB, Dr. F, who asked me to come to his office in Manhattan for a check. I knew he would ask this; and since I wanted to have an enjoyable, relaxing labor and not spend the day on public transportation, I suggested that I go to his cousin’s office, Dr. G, in Forest Hills. He called Dr. G and they were okay with that plan; so I scheduled to meet him at 1 p.m.

Chris and I went grocery shopping for every snack I could imagine wanting in the Birthing Center. The surges at this point were enough that I had to stop for a second or two, but generally I could continue shopping normally. I trudged around in comfy pajamas, and Chris carted all of the food home. I had a light lunch of an English muffin with cream cheese and sliced cucumber.

We took a cab to Dr. G’s office, and this is when my suspicion that being in a car while in labor would be miserable was proven correct. I only had a handful of surges in the cab (it may have only been two or three; I can’t remember), but I had to hold onto the seat and brace myself. More than anything, I was aware that sitting that way was a big no-no! The angle of the seat didn’t help, either. The cab ride, which should have only been 10 minutes, felt like forever; and I was wondering if the driver was being slow on purpose!

At Dr. G’s very lovely office, we waited for a bit before he showed up, then in the exam room he asked me to sit on the table. I really preferred to stand (since sitting was so uncomfortable in the cab) and I hoped the exam would be short, but instead of getting down to business, he started on a long spiel about what Braxton Hicks feel like. He went on and on, and internally I was rolling my eyes, and also hoping that Chris wasn’t disappointed and thinking perhaps the baby wasn’t coming. I thought that Dr. G must’ve thought I was really dumb. He finally checked me, and was noticeably surprised when he said my cervix was 2 cm dilated and 80% effaced! That was also a pleasant surprise for me, but half of my brain was also saying, “I told you so, moron.” He left the room for a minute to call my OB, and I could finally stand up to better work through the surges. When he came back in the room I was leaning on the counter and breathing through a particularly long one, and his eyes popped out of his head. I thought, “Aren’t you an OB? How is this news to you?” He said that because of the way I calmly spoke on the phone, he assumed I wasn’t really in labor.

Our doula, Victoria, showed up at Dr. G’s office, and we discussed how to proceed. Dr. G wanted us to go straight to the hospital, but I said that all of our stuff was at home; and plus, I really wanted to spend the majority of labor at home. He said that when you are very effaced things can sometimes go unexpectedly fast. Dr. F suggested going to the hospital around 3 p.m. (I think it was around 1:30 at the time.

Since the cab ride sucked so much, we decided to walk back so I could be more comfortable. The way home was two miles and took about an hour, considering I was stopping for each contraction. The walk turned out to be a really enjoyable part of the day – the sun was out, it was warm and breezy, and we chatted the whole time about what a beautiful day it was for our son to be born, about the neighborhood and different buildings we passed. Victoria kept making little jokes at Dr. G’s expense, such as, “When we get home we’ll have lunch, since these are only Braxton Hicks.” During contractions I leaned on trees (Victoria suggested this), or on Chris, or occasionally on a wall. Victoria was very protective of me crossing streets; maybe I was a little spaced out and she was afraid I would stop in the middle of the street during a contraction.

We had to walk on Queens Boulevard for a couple blocks, which unfortunately was more crowded, dirty and noisy. I heard someone calling my name, and it was a property agent we had worked with in the past – I had to stop and make small talk with her! She asked how many months along I was and I just said, “Nine.” Then she gave me a little hug – thankfully I was between contractions – but I was all sweaty and just wearing a baggy t-shirt and lounge pants! I never thought I would have to hug an almost-stranger while in labor.

We made it home and I checked the suitcase and all the stuff we’d packed, and slowly ate a couple of cucumber slices. The contractions were much more serious and I kneeled on my yoga mat on the floor by the bed while Victoria applied pressure to my back. I could not get comfortable; the sensations were truly hard to deal with, and there was a sense of things getting real. This is where I started to lose awareness of time because Chris says we were only home for about 20 minutes before they decided it was time to get going. We had so many bags, and we almost forgot the birth ball (I was so fixated on that ball and I didn’t actually use it in the hospital at all!) Chris could hardly carry everything. I remember spotting a larger SUV-type cab but I don’t remember the process of getting into it. Chris had been nervous about leaving at the right time but says he knew we got it right because of a rule of thumb I told him from Natural Hospital Birth: “It should take you 10 minutes to get to the car.” He said it took forever.

The cab ride was the part where I was nervous I would lose my cool. There was NO way I was sitting on my butt at this point so I kneeled awkwardly over the birth ball so Victoria could access my back, sometimes facing the window and sometimes the back seat when each way got uncomfortable. I plugged in to my rainbow relaxation track, closed my eyes, and totally focused on the track and breathing to deal with the disconcerting motion of the cab. I hardly believed it when Chris said that we were in Manhattan. He said later that the cab driver knew what was going on and was on-point and quick, even paying a toll in cash because the e-z pass lane was backed up. I am thankful for that cab driver.

When we got to the hospital, I was happy to get out of the cab and eager to get into the nice whirlpool tub in a Birthing Center room. In the lobby, Chris called Dr. F to see if we were supposed to go to the Birthing Center floor or the Labor & Delivery floor – he wasn’t there yet (even though Chris has called him when we got in the cab) and said we should go to triage on the L&D floor. Thankfully I knew where the elevators were that went directly to that floor, and we scurried.

In triage the nurse started asking me a bunch of questions about my medical history, allergies, etc., that were really stupid since I had pre-registered online! The redundancy was not a surprise though, but I really wished I did not have to think about the questions.

When I initially went to the triage area, which was a hospital bed with the external monitor condoned off by a curtain, I had to go alone, which was scary. I truly think that it should be a hard and fast rule that no one in labor should be left alone – that’s just common sense. A nurse was asking me MORE questions. They had to do the cervical exam and I even asked if I really had to lie down for this (I imagined it would be possible on all fours), but no such luck, I had to lie on my back, which was excruciating. They had me butterfly my knees out, and then the woman stuck a whole hand in me. This is the only part of labor I would really describe as unbearable, though thankfully it was short; and after this, I decided I’d like to do baby number two at home! What a terrible thing to subject someone to, I felt like a freaking turkey!

She said I was 8 cm, which was good to hear because it meant not much more to go. She then put a big, stretchy band on me to hold the external monitors to take a 20-minute intake reading. Only one person could join me in triage, so I chose my husband. He helped me labor on all fours on that stupid triage bed by doing some light-touch massage on my hips and butt, which helped me focus, and he whispered soft encouragements. At one point another girl was brought in (remember, we were only partitioned by curtains), who was SCREAMING and crying out in pain, and it was deeply disturbing to hear. I used my hands to simultaneously plug my ears and cover my eyes until Chris came back from the triage waiting area with my iPod and headphones. This was another most difficult point.

Unbeknownst to me, Chris was in communication with my OB, who was stuck in an Uber and was still an estimated 40 minutes away. Thankfully Chris didn’t tell me. A nurse came in and said the monitors were messed up or something, and that I had to continue being attached to them, and so in retrospect I essentially spent transition in triage. I worked on letting go of my dream of luxuriating in a fancy whirlpool tub and totally turned inward.

(Afterward, Chris told me that I was thirsty and he asked nurses multiple times for water, and they told him to go get it from a fridge – he had to demand that someone bring it to him so he didn’t have to leave my side. When they did bring some, it was a tiny little bottle. Ridiculous.)

Then my water broke while kneeling on the table! It was a very sudden and powerful explosion that made me yell because of the intensity. A nurse reassured me that it was just my water breaking, and I thought, “No shit.” I wasn’t confused, just shocked; it was such a powerful physical sensation! I instantly felt the pressure increase. The resident asked if I felt like pushing, and I said yes. She said to hold back and not push, which I thought was the most idiotic thing ever because it was my body doing it, not me. [Side note: the resident and the triage nurses all looked really young, and the whole time I had the sense that nobody working there had actually had a baby.

I was vaguely aware that my baby was moving down, and I said, “Baby’s coming – get me a room!” I just wanted to be put somewhere private and not give birth in triage. There was no time left to be concerned about having a nice Birthing Center room. They brought a wheelchair and I said, “Can I walk?” But for some reason I wasn’t allowed to. It seemed like I would be sitting on my baby’s head – it seemed impossible to sit down – but somehow I got into the wheelchair, half suspending myself with my arms so I wouldn’t rest on my pelvic floor.

In the delivery room, things moved quickly; the room was freezing, so someone put a blanket over me. There was a strange background noise, and Chris realized that the TV was on and he had to ask them to turn it off (what the HELL??) Victoria gave me sips of coconut water while I kneeled on the bed and leaned on the top half of the bed, which was angled up. I can only describe the pushing contractions as overwhelming and scary, as though I was hanging on to myself by a thread.

The common metaphor for labor is running a marathon, but I would describe it more like rock-climbing without a safety – I had to reach for the next hand-hold, and each one seemed physically impossible and took all of my strength, but there was no other option.

Victoria’s voice came in as if from a distance, prompting me through short inhales and lonnngg exhales to breathe the baby down (there was even a nurse contradicting her and saying long in-breath; but Victoria knew the Hypnobirthing style of breathing I had been practicing). She reminded me to visualize a thousand-petal lotus to encourage openness. Someone gave me an oxygen mask. Somehow I moved to a standing position, leaning on the side of the bed. Chris said I lamented the fact that the monitors were still on me (honestly I don’t remember feeling the elastic band at this point; it was more of the awareness that I was attached to the machine); Dr. F asked the resident to take them off, and she said, “Really?” (The nerve.)

I was getting tired (so they say), so Victoria asked if they had a birthing stool – they didn’t (who knows why Birthing Center rooms have useful things but L&D rooms don’t?); but Dr. F said a segment of the bed dropped down to make it essentially like one. These last few contractions were super intense, and I remember a sense of changing from focusing on keeping my body very still, relaxed and calm, to mentally letting myself get swept along in the contraction. I felt the burning, which was scary, but somehow I also knew that if I relaxed/lowered my pelvic floor things would move along quickly, so I went with them.

As soon as I moved into the sitting/squatting position of the chair-like delivery bed, baby came rocketing out of me all at once! Chris said he and Dr. F and Victoria’s hands all shot down so the baby wouldn’t land in a bucket, and he and the doctor scooped him up to put him on my chest. It’s hazy, but I remember saying, “Is it over?” Hahaha! I had my moment of shock and awe as I gazed at Luca’s round little face, his warm body covered with a blanket. He had lots of dark hair like I hoped and such a sweet, squishy face. Chris cut the cord so the baby could reach my nipple; Luca latched, and we were so happy.

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The golden hour passed quickly, but I didn’t even mind when they took him away to go under the warmer briefly (Chris was with him) – I was so relieved and sort of dazed. MY OB gave me two stitches, which was quite painful. He said I could have given birth in a field, and that I lost very little blood. The three of us then went to Postpartum and I had some rest. I don’t remember who diapered and dressed Luca, but he never left my side in the little bassinet.

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There were two moments I remember that reminded me why I chose to give birth drug-free. One was my stepfather remarking about the baby that evening, “He’s so alert!” The other was the first time a postpartum nurse came in; she asked what my pain level was on the chart, and I just stared at her thinking, “Huh?” I had two Motrin, and continued to take it on and off for about a week postpartum.

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Everyone comments on how cheerful and calm my son is, and I’m thankful to my birth team and thankful for my quick postpartum recovery.

A Long-Awaited Natural Birth: My VBA2C

A Long-Awaited Natural Birth: My VBA2C

Michaela shares with us the story of her son’s birth. 

My husband and I had our first child in 2006, when we were 18 and 17 years old respectively. I had a healthy pregnancy with no complications, but my doctor suspected fetal macrosomia and said that I wasn’t progressing at 37 weeks, and subsequently insisted I have a c-section because he felt that would be for the best. I had planned to have a natural birth without medication, but I was young, scared, uninformed and pressured into a scheduled c-section; my body wasn’t even given the chance to go into labor. My daughter was born at 38 weeks gestation, weighing 8 lbs 6 oz; she was a healthy and beautiful baby. My recovery was horrible, though, and years later I learned that I had suffered from a staph infection, which my doctor failed to discover in the hospital. My uterus had so much scar tissue that I was told if it hadn’t been cleaned out via laparoscopy, I may never have been able to get pregnant again.

During my second pregnancy in 2009, I was seeing a different doctor and had planned a VBAC. He was very supportive of my VBAC goals until the end, when fetal macrosomia was suspected again in my otherwise complication-free pregnancy. My doctor used the common scare tactics regarding all the risks, and insisted I schedule a c-section. I was quite upset about it, but I didn’t want something bad to happen to one of us, so it was scheduled.

The day of my scheduled c-section, I awoke to clean myself with the iodine and I felt weird. I thought it was merely nerves for the upcoming surgery, but when I told my husband how I felt, he knew I was in labor. We had a 45-minute drive to the hospital, and had to drop our daughter off at my mother’s place. The contractions kicked in full-force our entire way there, continuing about every 2-3 minutes. When we arrived at the hospital, my husband told the staff I was in labor and was scheduled for a c-section in a couple hours. The staff had me signing paperwork through the pain, and nobody was particularly taking me seriously; but eventually I was taken back.

Once we were in our room, no one bothered to check me; they just slowly went about prepping me for the c-section – that is, until my water broke. Finally, the hateful nurse checked me, and in a panic, went to get the doctor. The doctor came in and discovered that I was 9 cm dilated; then for no medical reason, the nurse give me a shot to slow my labor and continued to prep me for the c-section. At the time, I was in too much pain to say “no”, and my husband, in the midst of the situation, didn’t know what to do either. So instead of being given the chance to have the natural birth I wanted, I had yet another c-section. Our son was born weighing 10 lbs 11.6 oz; he was a healthy little boy.

My recovery went extremely well, aside from suffering from postpartum depression, but I felt like I recovered better because my body was ready to give birth. I was upset I didn’t get my VBAC, but I was extremely happy that I got to experience labor, and that we had a beautiful son.

I didn’t think I would have more than two children, but I had this constant yearning to have another child. I still felt disappointed that I had never experienced the natural process of pushing my child into this world on my own; I wanted that natural birth. Then in January of 2015, I became pregnant with our second son. This pregnancy and birth, I told myself, was going to be different. I studied like a mad person and gathered all the information I could on the pros and cons and statistics for a VBA2C birth. I knew that after two previous c-sections, it was unlikely that I would find a supportive provider, but it didn’t matter; I had my mind made up and the knowledge to fight for it.

In the beginning, I went back to the same doctor who had delivered our son, but I soon became fed up with his negativity, rudeness and lack of support. I continued to go to the same office, but there were 15 other doctors and midwives that I could see. I chose a midwife, and at my first appointment, I was in tears from her positive attitude and encouragement for my VBA2C. She was wonderful, but I feared that she might not be the one to deliver when I showed up at the hospital, as I did not have the power to choose. However, I continued to see her because I needed that positivity in my life. My husband stood in place of a doula; he was my rock, and was ready to fight for my right to have a natural birth.

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As my pregnancy progressed, I grew larger and larger, despite my commitment of working out four or five days every week. I walked up to six miles in the beginning, and continued doing PiYo, T25, and prenatal yoga. At my 37-week checkup, I hadn’t progressed, and my midwife was starting to get nervous about his size, as she was guessing he was weighing around 9 lbs at that point; but she agreed to give me another week and then weigh out our options. I instantly felt overwhelmed and discouraged. I told my husband I wasn’t going back to the doctors, and instead I would just show up at the hospital when I was in labor. Talk about some foreshadowing – because one week later, on October 4th at around 2:30 a.m., I woke up feeling weird.

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My husband once again knew I was in labor and was ready since my last labor happened so quickly. I wasn’t sure though, and I didn’t want to be one of those women who shows up in false labor, so I debated taking a shower while walking around eating a bowl of cheerios; but one big contraction later, I decided maybe he was right. The entire hour-long ride to the hospital, I endured contractions every two to three minutes. I read my birth affirmation cards, which I totally laughed about because I was not “enjoying the moment”, and tried to deal with the pain as best I could while our son and daughter traveled with us in the backseat.

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When we arrived at the hospital and were heading in, I felt a trickle and I knew my water was breaking. My husband explained to the receptionist that I was in labor, which was pretty obvious by my appearance. As they continued to ask us a few questions, my water completely broke, leaving a huge puddle on their waiting room floor. This wasn’t just a small amount of water, either – this was like a movie scene puddle of water. The nurses came quickly and were guessing I was maybe dilated to 7 cm. My husband and our children followed behind shortly, noting my amniotic fluid trail on the way. The nurses looked at my chart and saw that I had had two previous c-sections, but my midwife had also included my birth plan, so they followed along with it.

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Once I was undressed and checked, they discovered that I was fully dilated and ready to start pushing. Finally my husband was by my side, and our children were being taken care of by the sweet nursing staff in the opposite room. It was time to push, but I was so concerned that I wasn’t doing it right. I pushed as hard as I could – so much so that I broke blood vessels in my shoulders. I yelled out, “I can’t do this anymore!” and the staff yelled back, “Yes, you can!” I can still hear them saying that.

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The midwife told me to reach down and feel my baby’s hair; and a few pushes later, he was out. They placed him on my chest during the delayed cord clamping; my husband got to cut the cord for the very first time, and I was able to breastfeed him and snuggle him without being hooked up to any cords. He weighed 10 lbs 1 oz and was 22½” long.

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I did it. We did it. It was one of the most intense, painful and beautiful moments of my life, and it made me appreciate all three of my birth experiences. They were all unique and special, and it’s amazing that I got to experience giving birth both ways. My natural birth was everything I had dreamed of, and it was definitely worth the wait.

The Freebirth of Poppy

The Freebirth of Poppy

Kerry shares with us the incredible story of her daughter’s freebirth at home. 

This was my first unassisted pregnancy and planned unassisted birth, after two beautiful midwife- assisted home births. At around 37 weeks I began experiencing intense exhaustion; I couldn’t rest enough. All I wanted to do was sleep, and I felt extremely fatigued. Fast-forward to 38 weeks, and my energy level took a 180. I couldn’t sit still, dragging my poor husband and children out for walks even though it was mid-December and raining in Washington. This continued for a few days. On Sunday, December 13 (38 weeks 5 days pregnant), I stayed home from church, not having slept well the night before. We were in the process of selling our house and packing for a cross-country move, so things were pretty hectic.

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That Sunday evening, I experienced lots of mild toning contractions; but that was very typical for me.They didn’t increase in intensity, and even though it was typical for my body to do this, I sensed that my body would soon be in labor. I went to bed at around 10:30 p.m. and finally fell asleep at around 12:30 or 1 a.m. A toning contraction woke me at around 1:30; so I emptied my bladder and went back to bed. A strong contraction woke me at 3 a.m.; I went pee, and tried to go back to sleep. Another wave came a few minutes after I’d gotten back in bed, and it was uncomfortable enough that it required me to get on all fours in bed until it passed. I tried to sleep again. This repeated every five minutes or so for half an hour before I decided I wasn’t getting any sleep and it probably was labor – excitement! Yay!

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I planned to labor quietly on my own until things picked up in intensity before waking Forrest, my husband. This resolve lasted for about 15 minutes before I knew I had to wake him to start filling the pool (my other labors were only four hours long). At 3:45 I sat down next to my sleeping husband and gently shook him, “I’d like the house straightened… Can you help me?” “Right now??” “Yes, right now!” Looking back, I now understand the crazy look he gave me. He tried to go back to sleep, and that’s when I told him that I thought I was in labor. He got up, and began the task of dealing with the pool and hose while I decided it was a good time to sweep the house and change the sheets, having to stop every few minutes to lean against the wall and sway through a contraction.

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My youngest, 3-year-old Phoebe, had woken up at this point and was meandering about, helping me with the bed and asking why I couldn’t talk and why I had my eyes closed when I leaned against the wall. The waves were picking up in intensity; I got in the shower and let the water run down my back through a few contractions, but wanted to conserve hot water for the pool so I got out quickly. It was around 5 a.m. when the pool started getting filled, and I jumped in as soon as there was a few inches of water in it. Phoebe was still awake and wanting to help, so she got her big cup from the bathtub and brought it to the living room and would take turns with me pouring water over my back or belly when a wave would hit. Forrest continued to fill the tub, having to boil water on the stove since we ran out of hot water pretty quickly. I was able to comfortably labor sitting down while pouring water on my belly till around 6:15 a.m. or so.

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I was leaning over the side of the tub as Forrest poured water over my back when a double wave hit, and lasted about two minutes or more. The tightening of the previous contractions changed as I felt my body begin to bear down. I was no longer comfortable in one position or sitting still, and became extremely active in the pool, attempting to get into any position to get some relief, vocalizing through each wave. This was the first unmedicated birth Forrest had seen, and also my most vocal; he asked if I was alright and if this was “normal;” “Yes, dear,” I replied, smiling; “It’s normal.” He may have ended up with a bruised calf with how tightly I was holding onto him through some of the waves!

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I put my hand down expecting to feel a wedge of baby’s head, but there was nothing. Another strong wave passed over me. I felt a bulging bag of water right inside, but the head was still a few inches up behind my cervix. Fetal ejection reflex took over and I had a contraction with my body bearing down as hard as possible. I like to feel my baby continually throughout this stage, so I kept my fingers near baby’s head. Baby’s head didn’t budge, but the bag of water continued to grow/descend. I knew I needed to break the bag to bring baby down, so I pinched it and it emptied into the pool.

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Another wave hit, and I roared as I felt the baby fully descend into the birth canal and out into my hands in that one wave. It was 6:30 a.m. The tentative plan had been for Forrest to catch, but the baby descended so quickly that I wasn’t able to verbalize what was going on. I sat back and began to pull the baby out of the water; the cord was wrapped once around the neck, so I unwrapped it and brought the baby to my chest. This all happened in a matter of a minute; and Forrest kept saying, “I can’t believe there’s a baby! Just like that!” The baby felt so tiny in my arms! Levi, our oldest at 6 years old, had woken up about 15 minutes before, so two of the kids were standing in the doorway and got to see their baby sibling being born. (And they’ll tell you alllllll about it!) Sadly, we didn’t get any pictures or videos of the birth itself, but we got the gender reveal on video, which I’m grateful for. We were both certain this little one was a boy, but turns out… she was a girl – our third daughter!

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Baby and I cuddled in the pool for a while, just soaking in this amazing new person in my arms. I finally got out and onto a stool to try to expel the placenta; even though she was nursing, contractions had halted. The stool wasn’t very comfortable so we moved to the toilet and nursed and hung out there for a bit until the placenta delivered. At about 9 a.m. or so we cut the cord, weighed and measured her (she was my smallest baby by quite a bit… no wonder she felt so little!) and spent the rest of the day cuddling in bed. Two days later she finally had a name – Penelope (Poppy) Eileen – after her great grandmother. This pregnancy and birth were such an incredible journey. Trusting my body, learning to listen and be in tune with my baby, and experience the undisturbed wonder of this process that God created so perfectly and that brought our daughter into the world.

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Penelope Eileen//12-14-15//6:30am//7lbs5oz//19.5″

 

Battling Hyperemesis Gravidarum

Battling Hyperemesis Gravidarum

We often share photos of women, moments after birth, with their eyes wide and full of excitement and joy as they process this new life that they have brought into the world. For nine months their bodies spent creating this miracle; then there is birth – and regardless of how a woman gives birth, there’s always a bit of fear and anxiety mixed with the excitement of meeting this gift your body has worked so hard for. But sometimes, birth is neither the hardest nor the scariest part of the journey. Sometimes it’s the beginning.

We were happily surprised when we found out that I was pregnant with our third child in February of 2013. I loved being pregnant with my first two; and for the most part, they were smooth, non-complicated pregnancies. But at about 6 weeks along, our lives were turned upside down. Everyone told me that I was just experiencing a bad case of morning sickness; but what I didn’t know is that sometimes it’s NOT just morning sickness.

Sometimes it means not being able to keep down even a sip of water the whole day – not being able to eat even a bite for days at a time – not being able to acknowledge the other children that are begging for your attention. Sometimes it means falling into such a deep depression that you become scared of where your mind and thoughts find themselves. You question your sanity, ability and purpose in life.

In just a few weeks, you find that your clothes don’t fit and you don’t recognize the person in the mirror. You lose an unhealthy amount of weight (21 lbs in my case) in a very short period of time. You throw up so severely and so often that you burst every blood vessel under your eyes. Your normally tidy house becomes a place of shame; the laundry piles up, and your husband is forced into taking your place while you are permanently situated in the same place on the couch and in the same clothes for days at a time.

You convince yourself that you are dying.

This is NOT morning sickness. This is someone’s life being thrown upside down for months. Because it is something that we rarely hear about or talk about, it left me feeling like there was something wrong with me or that maybe I was just being a big baby and this was all normal (until my doctors informed that it was not). I was fortunate to find relief half way through my pregnancy; and that is when Marisa Pellerin Photography caught this picture of me. I barely recognized my body or myself at that point, but seeing this beautiful picture with the sun peeking through gave me hope after some of my darkest days. Pregnancy can be hard but even then, it sure is beautiful.

I hope that by sharing this, we can help those we love in the future and bring some awareness to Hypermesis Gravidarum. Pregnancy is beautiful, but it’s not always easy.

Photograph by Marisa Pellerin Photography.

A Restorative Water Birth

A Restorative Water Birth

Blythe shares with us the story of the birth of her fifth child. 

I had my fifth baby 16 months ago – I had an induced birth at 39 weeks and 3 days pregnant. I wanted so badly to have a water birth. I fell in love with birthing in water back in 2008 when I was pregnant with my second child. Unfortunately, being a military spouse and delivering at military hospitals, this wasn’t an option for me. I knew my fifth baby was going to be my last, and I was determined to birth my way this time.

I hired the best doula, and chose the OB office with one of the most amazing midwives around. On August 16th, 2015, I entered the hospital to start my induction. I walked the halls with my friend and photographer, shared in squats with my doula, and swayed with my husband. Things started to get real and intense and as I labored in the bathroom, and I caught myself trying to give up.

I was quickly reminded of my goals and the pool filled with warm water awaiting me. I managed to climb back in the birth pool and finished the rest of my labor, and give birth to my son. My husband was in the pool with me and caught our baby. It was the most amazing feeling in the world. I was holding my brand new son sitting in the birth pool, and all I could say was, “I did it! I did it!”

I have birthed four other babies on land, but this one was special and so different from the rest. My dream birth finally happened; and I was now officially a water birth mama.

Photographs by Jessica Stollings.

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