When you think of birth (in most cases, especially first time moms) the first thing that comes to mind isn’t that you have options – it’s that you’ll do what the doctor says to do and when they say to do it because they know best. For most women, this is fine, but then you get the group of mamas who step back and say, “wait, what the hell?” I truly wish we could all be like that, because our world would totally rock if we all came back to our natural roots and could take back what was ours. To all the mamas who do this – continue to be awesome and have control of your vaginas. For the rest of you (I was there once) listen well, because what I’m about to tell you is what birth is all about. This is what our bodies were made for, believe it or not.
Let me start out by telling you a little about myself. My name is Jess. I have been through the ringer of obstacles when it comes to life. But each one of them has made me the person I am today, and I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. Some may trigger mamas, so I would just like to disclose that this will involve sexual abuse, loss, and depression. But you will also find triumph, hope, and love.
When I was in 2nd grade, a family member sexually abused me – this went on until I was in 8th grade. Rape, sexual actions, and emotional abuse were all involved. I didn’t come out to anyone about this until I was 21 years old. It’s taken me a really long time to get through this in my life, and continue to do so. When I was 14, I was driving and was run off the road by a semi-truck, I wasn’t wearing my seatbelt and my head hit the windshield. I now suffer from epilepsy because of it.
At the ripe age of 19, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. I soon started radiation therapy, and had several small surgeries to remove the cancer spots. It would come back five times before my first living babe was born, and once more after, which all resulted in scar tissue on my cervix. In between all of the cervix issues, we found out that my left ovary had a spot of cancer on it. Small, but there. We radiated it and killed it, but did not remove the ovary. After my first was born, we soon found out that I had thyroid cancer. When she was only 8 months young I had my thyroid removed and did a round of radiation to kill any cells that may have traveled. I have been cancer free since March 29, 2011. In between all of the radiation we lost several babies.
I am a mother of 13 babies – 2 living and one on the way. Yes, you sure did read that right. I feel it’s important to acknowledge my angel babies when telling you about my children. Mamas who have lost, don’t be ashamed to claim your angel children, after all, they were real, and they were loved, for however short the amount of time you had with them.
My two little rainbow babies (babies born after losses) are now 3 1/2 & 21 months. They were atrocious pregnancies; from hyperemesis, seizures, hip and pubic bone issues, heartburn, and exhaustion. But, they are the most awesome little offspring anyone could ask for. From the tantrums to the kisses, I couldn’t imagine my life without them. I am currently 28 weeks with our third. I’m sure he/she will also be a poop head like the other two, but what’s not to love about a little personality, right?
Let me start with my first living pregnancy and birth. This is where my journey all began. Little did I know this birth would impact the rest of my life, and change who I was as a person. In 2009, my husband and I found out we were expecting (again). We waited for that heartbeat to show up and then we shared with the world that we’d have a little nugget to hold in our arms. We were naive, new, and uneducated when it came to birth. I thought it was just like the movies, go into labor, get an epidural, and scream bloody murder while pushing out a baby. Little did I know.
Shortly after announcing our pregnancy, I started violently throwing up. It got to the point where I couldn’t even drink water without getting sick. I was soon diagnosed with Hyperemesis Gravidarum, which is where you are basically sick all day every day. I would spend most of my pregnancy in the hospital and on bed rest. At 28 weeks, I went into preterm labor. After a ton of medicine, the doctors were able to stop the labor.
After this, I was put on a short leash. My doctor made me come in every week for ultrasounds and other tests to make sure everything was ok. At this point, I also started having seizures. They put me on a medication that I now know actually made my seizures worse. At 35 weeks, the doctor finally told me that they needed to do an amniocentesis to see if the baby’s lungs were mature. This is where they stick a ginormous needle in your stomach and collect amniotic fluid, not in the least bit pleasant.
Earlier in my pregnancy I was told that I was unable to have a vaginal birth because I would die from an aneurism during the pushing stage, so I knew I would have having a cesarean section. I was ok with that, because I thought I would get to skip all the pain of labor and birth (haha, right). They also told me my baby was sideways, which meant I couldn’t have a vaginal birth either (keep in mind, they told me this before I was even full term). We went in on July 27 to have the amnio done, because – you know, what doctor says is what goes. After having to poke around several times, that of which even poked my poor babes bum and caused her to bleed (she still has a scar on her butt from it), they finally got a good amount of fluid to test.
A few hours later we would find out that her lungs were mature and they would be doing the cesarean. I was 35 weeks and not prepared for this major life event about to happen. We got to the hospital and they started prepping me, and then took me back to the operating room. My husband was left behind to wait. They administered the epidural and had me all ready to go on the table. The doctor started cutting and I screamed that I needed my husband in the room. They forgot to get him. I still to this day can’t imagine the pain that must have caused him. After he got there, they continued. It was all a blur for me, because I was so drugged up. But then I heard a cry. A cute, raspy baby’s cry. I remember wanting to hold her so bad, but at the same time I wanted to vomit because all I could smell was my burning flesh from the open wound on my stomach.
I didn’t get to hold my sweet baby girl until I was in the recovery room. I suffered from horrible postpartum depression, I didn’t want to hold her, I hated the fact that I didn’t want to do anything with her. I only breastfed her for six weeks before giving up, we will say lack of support was a huge thing here. We gave her formula the day she was born, and honestly, she barely got any breast milk. The recovery from the cesarean was beyond anything I was ever prepared for. I couldn’t pick up my own child, stairs were impossible to go down, the pain was so unreal that I sometimes look back and wonder how I even got through it. It took a good year for my body to come back to life and not feel broken. I could go on about this birth story, but I feel I have more important things to cover.
Moving on, a year after Hazel was born, we found out that we were expecting again after a few losses in between. Excitement filled us, but at the same time, I feared having to go through what I did again, and with a toddler to take care of. Of course, another round of hyperemesis hit me. Harder than the first time. I was on IV fluids basically the whole 20 weeks of the pregnancy. I only gained 11 pounds my whole pregnancy. I knew that this time I wanted something different, what it was, I wasn’t sure.
That’s when a friend introduced me to ICAN. For those of you who don’t know what this is – it is International Cesarean Awareness Network. I highly recommend joining your local chapter for support. I soon discovered that I was able to vaginally birth after a cesarean. You know when they say once you have a cesarean, always a cesarean? What a load of crap. This is when I set out to find a doctor who would allow me to do so.
I live in Nebraska, so homebirth wasn’t really an option with me (unless I wanted to do an unassisted birth), and there weren’t a lot of hospitals that allowed VBACs. I ended up finding a doctor who was located an hour away from where we lived. My husband and I took a local hypnobabies class, and felt prepared for what was about to come. All was well; I was planning a hospital VBAC. The day before I went into labor, my doctor went out of town. The day I started having contractions was exciting for us. I was 36 weeks. After 24 hours of laboring, we went into the hospital where I found out I was still only 1cm. Let down, what a huge let down.
We headed back home to keep on keeping on. Things started to slow down, then they would pick up, and it became a pattern for 6 days. Finally I had enough and we went into the hospital again. My doctor was still out of town. I was at 7cm, and the backup doctor (who was new to the practice) told me that she did not want to do the VBAC for me because I was not her patient.
After fighting and fighting with her, we finally said screw it and went to a local hospital. I ended up with a repeat cesarean. The emotions that I went through after this birth were insane. I was angry; I felt like a bad mom, I felt like a piece of me was ripped away, I felt empty. This is when I decided I needed to better educate myself on pregnancy and birth. I was able to successfully breastfeed Harper for 10 months. In that time, my world turned upside down, or right side up, I suppose you would say. I became a childbirth educator, and a doula. I knew what I could do in birth, and I knew I wanted to help mothers around me avoid going through what I had gone through with my first two births. Again, I could go on about this, but my next pregnancy and birth is where I’d really like to focus.
I hope everyone is still with me here; this is where I get to my initial point – taking control, and knowing your rights.
Here we are again, looking at that beautiful positive line on the pregnancy test. Being an educated person on birth, I knew that this wasn’t going to be easy, but I was ready to fight. At this point, I had been following the Birth Without Fear blog for a while. I found a lot of strength and hope from all of the birth stories there. I knew what I wanted – I wanted a natural, vaginal birth, without the doctors telling me what I could and could not do. Easy enough, right? So one would think.
At 6 weeks, I once again began my hyperemesis journey. This time around I decided to be a little bit more proactive and take control of my medical care for it. I ended up finding a very supportive doctor that would do anything that she could to help me battle this horrible disease. I had a picc line placed at 8 weeks of pregnancy. I then spent most days going into the hospital with my kiddos and getting treatments so that I could live without throwing up every hour. It helped, but didn’t do the trick all the way.
At 14 weeks pregnant, I decided to take a leap and attend the first Birth Without Fear conference. I was scared out of my mind. What would everyone think of me with this thing stuck in my arm, puking all day, not being able to enjoy my time there? Little did I know that this weekend was going to change my life forever. Reading that, it probably sounds like a corny thing, but let me explain.
150 moms. 150 beautiful mamas who have been there, done that. 150 mamas to support me with my decisions, and to guide me through a difficult time. 3 amazing roommates who encouraged me (and even gave me shots in my butt to help my nausea, I will forever be grateful for that!) the whole weekend, and who never left my side. A roommate who herself, had suffered through hyperemesis, and could connect with my pain. A roommate who had suffered loss, and could connect with my pain. A roommate who had achieved a successful VBAC and could connect with my pain. SO many women who have been through what I have, in one way or another. So many mothers who constantly asked me if I needed anything, who made me feel like I was worth something.
The speakers gave me hope; hope that I could do this, and that I wasn’t broken. A beautiful founder who herself had experienced loss, had experienced cesarean birth, and who had experienced vaginal births. A beautiful support team who had been through what I had. The support I received here was unbelievable. For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel alone. I felt like I had a voice. I didn’t get sick once the whole weekend, and for all my fellow HG mamas out there, you know how amazing that was. Truly amazing.
During the conference, we had this life changing session that was meant to release fears. This is really where a lot of things came out that I had no idea I was feeling. This little thing was so huge. This little session changed me. I was scared, and I didn’t know it. I was scared of feeling like a failure, I was scared of having flashbacks of rape when I started to transition or push during birth, I had fears that I would be letting myself down as a parent; I was scared of being judged by everyone around me.
It was when I wrote out the word ‘failure’ in the sand that I realized I had control. I had control of my birth, of my life. I could not let anyone get in the way of my dreams. I wiped the word away, and with that, I became a stronger woman. It was in this moment that I decided what I truly wanted. I wanted a homebirth. I wanted to have control of my birth. And that, I would do. I flew back to the good ol’ state of Nebraska a changed woman. I was ready to fight for what I believed in, and I would do anything in my power to make sure it happened.
The obstacles that I have had to go through to make sure this birth is what I want have been unbelievable. I was expecting a few challenges, but nothing close to what I was about to face – from the lack of support, to the state laws, to being turned into CPS, to all the attacks and judgment. In the beginning, there were few people that supported my decisions to have a VBA2C, I hadn’t told many that I was planning a homebirth, as I wanted to look into all of my options first. It took a lot of convincing to get the people I loved on board. I’m sure some are still having reservations as it is.
In Nebraska, it is illegal to have a midwife attend your birth at home. This put a bit of a damper on some plans. We moved four hours away from a VBAC friendly hospital, so our options were limited if we did want a hospital birth. I began researching our different birth options. Hours and hours of research, talking in support groups, asking friends who had done homebirths anything I could think of, contacting the hospitals in regards to who would allow me to VBAC and who wouldn’t.
After carefully weighing all of our pros and cons, we decided on an unassisted birth. It was not easy deciding this. We changed our minds like we changed our underwear. But in the end, it is where my husband and I both felt safest, where we knew we would have the power to control our birth. We put together a kick butt birth team – consisting of a massage therapist, a chiropractor, two doulas, and a photographer, and of course my mom. Every laboring woman’s dream. Yes, you may be jealous.
I thought all was well, I thought I had everything in place, and this is when the attacks came, when the obstacles came. My doctor was suddenly unsupportive, telling me I was going to kill my baby. The ‘dead baby card’ is the worst thing that doctors can say to you. I was mad, I was hurt, and I wanted to fight back. I ranted back with scientific studies that showed VBACs were in fact safer than repeat cesarean sections. I even pulled out ACOGs guidelines for VBACs. (If you haven’t read the blog post on birth without fear regarding all of those guidelines, I highly suggest you read it).
After fighting with my provider and getting nowhere with them, I decided to fire them. Yes, you can fire your doctor! I decided that I needed to find someone who could just give me basic prenatal care, and help me survive living with hyperemesis. I wasn’t going to worry about telling them about my birth plans, because they were not going to be involved. This was my first action in taking control of my birth. Let me tell you, that felt good. After researching doctors in Nebraska, I decided to go back to the doctor that was supposed to deliver my second baby. I had a huge chip on my shoulder, but decided I should give it a shot. Maybe it would be good to have a backup plan with a VBAC friendly doctor just in case something happened that I was unable to do an unassisted birth.
I finally met with the doctor, got my care all in place, and was feeling really good about everything. We decided that I should have some ultrasounds done just to make sure baby was doing ok, because I had been malnourished most of my first trimester due to the HG. For the first ultrasound, we decided to have it done at a local hospital so that we did not have to travel four hours away. The doctor at the hospital told me that I had low amniotic fluid and my placenta was covering my cervix (placenta previa). For most doctors, ‘low amniotic fluid’ is measured at 5 or below. Mine was measuring at 12 – this was the second time the doctor had used some kind of scare tactic on me.
My placenta was also only partially covering my cervix, so little that it ended up moving up three weeks later. And this was the third scare tactic that the doctor had used on me. It was obvious that the doctor didn’t get my hint the first time when I came back with evidence-based research for them to go over. Yet again, I had to take control of my care, and tell the doctor that even though I respected their input on my birth, I would continue to plan for a VBA2C. We finally got to the point with our new doctor where he would let me do what I wanted, when I wanted. All was well in that department.
Next came the judgment and attacks. No one prepares you for how harsh words can be. You don’t expect them to hit so hard, but they do. The whole saying ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’ – complete crap. Words are a powerful thing. There were people telling me that they hoped I failed at my birth; that they hoped my child died in my arms. The constant judgment from people saying ‘oh let me know how that works out for you.’ It got old, really fast. It was impacting my birth plans. It was making me feel like I was doing something wrong.
And then I realized that these people that were constantly attacking me were just validating their own feelings. They had to make me miserable for doing something amazing in my life because they wouldn’t be able to. Yes, that sounds wrong saying, but why else do we attack and judge each other? It’s a constant war out there, and if we stepped back to realize why we were doing it, we would all see that it was because we were missing that piece in our lives, that we so longed for what the other person has. It’s an honest thing that we all do as parents. But, how we choose to react to these words is all on us.
It was shortly after the verbal attacks that I found out someone had turned me into CPS (child protective services) for planning an unassisted birth. The feelings that I had about this could never be put into words, but I knew that this would just drive me to follow through with my plans even more. Obviously, CPS could not do anything about my birthing plans; after all, what I was planning was not illegal. After an interview with them, and handing them a printed version of my legal rights and the rights that I was not violating, they decided to drop the case.
It was after all of this that I decided to kill with kindness. I removed every single person from my life that had a negative impact on it. I created a bubble, where only people who were supportive of my decisions were allowed in. Sure, that bubble started out small, but it eventually turned into something much bigger than that. I started to take a stand in my life, to stick up for what I believed. To not let people push me around for the decisions I was making. I was going to birth this baby out of my vagina and into the arms of my husband like it was intended to happen. Anyone that got in my way would be pushed aside, and I would keep on keeping on. No one could tell me I was broken, or that I was being irresponsible.
We have a few weeks to go until we meet our newest sweet baby, and you can bet your bottom that we will be doing it how we want to do it. My body was meant for this, and I am going to carry out its purpose in life. My bubble is up, I know my rights as a woman, and I am educated on birth.
I refuse to become a victim. I refuse to dwell on what someone did not do for me. I refuse to dwell on what someone did to me. Instead, I dwell on what I can do. I can forgive, I can serve, I can love. I can demonstrate self-respect and say no to toxic people. I can live with joy inside. I can assume the best instead of the worst. I can kill with kindness. I can make this birth what I want it to be, no matter what someone else does or think.
Your birth will stay with you for the rest of your life. Make it matter. Remember every second of every moment, because you cannot get them back. Research your hospitals policies on childbirth. Know your options; know that you can sign AMAs (against medical advice) for anything you want. Remember that you are hiring your doctor to work for you, not the other way around. This goes for midwives and homebirths too.
In the end, you should have the final say in how your birth goes; no one should ever be able to take that away from you. Find a local childbirth educator and educate yourself on everything you need to know about birth. Learn about the values of a support team during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. Doulas, postpartum doulas, breastfeeding counselors, even placenta encapsulators – research them. Invest your money in a good support team, they are worth every penny, and you will not regret it.
In the first year of my doula career, I attended 30 births. Each birth was different, unique, and beautiful in their own way – regardless of how the women birthed. But something that I realized along the way was that the moms who had educated themselves and taken control of their births had the best outcomes. They had a deep connection with themselves and their babies the instant they were born. The world would seem to stop in its place, and you could feel the triumph, the joy, the utter feeling of power fill the room.
It is in these moments that I realize how important it is to know your options, and to know that you are the owner of your body, and you can birth how you want. Regardless if these moms had epidurals, inducing medications, natural births, cesareans…the moms who owned their births were brought to life, and a new kind of respect surrounded them. And this, this is what birth is all about.