Watch January, Brandon, their kids, and grandparents hunt down Birth Without Fear: The Judgement-Free Guide to Pregnancy, Birth, and Postpartum at the book store!
January and Brandon are back from hiatus to discuss none other than THE BIRTH WITHOUT FEAR BOOK!!!
They discuss the entire process, from the initial email January received from a book agent, to the 41 page book proposal, to their trek across New York City with their book agent to meet with six editors, to the actual writing and editing of the book!
It’s a story January and Brandon have been itching to share for a year and a half, and it’s finally here! It’s so exciting that Brandon even busts out his Moviefone voice!
Pre-order your copy of Birth Without Fear: The Judgement-Free Guide to Taking Charge of Your Pregnancy, Birth, and Postpartum today! If we want to see real change in our society where pregnancy and birth are concerned, let’s use our collective voice to change the narrative by getting a copy of this book into every birthing person’s hand! Pre-order a copy for yourself, or pre-order a few copies to hand out to friends and/or family!
You hear it all the time. Mothers and fathers saying they fell in love with their baby from the minute, the very second he was born. I expected that. I planned for it and I was excited to experience the immediate high and the rush of joy and love that happens when you see your baby for the first time. But that wasn’t my experience.
As soon as my son was born, I heard my husband talking to him, saying “Hey buddy”. I heard him falling so deeply in love. But before I’d even laid eyes on my baby, all I felt was fear. When my husband passed him to me, through my legs, and I held him and touched his tiny hands and stroked his cheek and wiped the blood from his brow, I had feelings of curiosity and interest, but not love. I waited.
Overwhelmingly, above everything else, I remember feeling intense, ferocious protectiveness over him. I didn’t want anyone else to touch him. Before I did or said anything else I asked the midwife if he was okay. She reassured me. An hour later, before he had a name, my son began to struggle to breathe.
When I lay in my hospital bed, on a separate ward from my son, having just heard from the neonatologist that he had an abnormality of the heart, an enlarged diaphragm that was pushing up towards the lungs, and an extra set of ribs that may indicate a congenital disorder, I felt pain like nothing I’d ever experienced before. It was a hard rock in my chest, making it difficult to breathe. So I took stabby little breathes, and forced myself to choke down the tears, and told my husband a bunch of lies about how we’d make it through together, no matter what.
And then, when I could hear that my husband had exhausted himself into sleep, I prayed. I prayed to God for hours. I prayed for him to take it back, to give me a miracle. I told him to take me if he needed it to be someone. I told him I wouldn’t live in a world where he would not allow me to keep my baby, and that he would have to take us both – all or nothing. I told God that he owed me. I was selfish and desperate, and I tried it all. The excruciating ripping of my heart was almost more than I could endure. This pain, my initiation into motherhood is something I am now truly thankful for. My heart needed to be pushed beyond the brink of agony further than I ever knew it was capable of.
I realize now that when my son first opened his eyes and looked into mine, with his umbilical cord still pulsing, and I felt such an animalistic and fierce desire to protect him above all else, above myself, like it was my life’s one and true purpose – that was the highest form of love that exists.
Birth experience submitted by Ashlea G.
Photographss by L. Hinchey.
Birth is an amazing, beautiful thing! The birth story of Evangeline Lily began on February 28th, 2017. Actually, it began a few months before because I always said I didn’t want a February birth day. On Tuesday, February 28th, I realized a would get my wish of a March baby. I told my friends and family that we need to make it to March 1st. In no way did I think I would begin labor that early because our baby had been measuring small my entire pregnancy. I was fully prepared to go past my dates and told my family that the previous evening.
Tuesday evening, Aaron and I were hanging the last decorations in the nursery. The bags were ready to go, just not packed. I had a list of things to get done the next day before the baby arrived such as organize the freezer, monthly budget, last minute shopping, and purchasing more nursing bras. Ha! That evening, Archer, our dog, was acting very strange around me. He wouldn’t stop looking at me, sniffing me, always had to be touching me, and even jumped on our bed twice, which he’s never done before. Aaron and I joked that maybe I was in labor and he was the only one that knew. Boy, was he right!
The next morning, Wednesday, March 1st, I woke up at 5am to losing my mucus plug and having bloody show. I later texted our midwife and she said that it could be early signs of labor or could still be weeks away. I tried not to get too excited because I knew it could still be a while, but these were the first actual labor signs I had besides Braxton Hicks contractions for the previous few weeks.
Around 9am I began having what felt like period cramps, which became stronger throughout the morning. I had a lot more bloody show but still didn’t think I was in labor. The contractions began at 10 minutes a part, which I thought was pretty close together. We were told that early labor could take hours, I would be chatty and full of energy, and contractions could be anywhere from 15-20 minutes apart. Around 11am I ran to the bank and my contractions were about 5-6 minutes apart. At this point, I had been talking to Aaron about what was going on, but still didn’t think I was in labor. It’s supposed to take a long time, right?
Driving in the car on the way back from the bank was rough. I had to really concentrate and breathe through contractions. I needed to go to the store but decided to stop by the house to pick up a few things. Around 1, I told Aaron that I was not feeling well. I was hot, nauseous, and having to breathe and sway through the contractions. The funny thing is, I still kept saying I don’t know if I’m actually in labor or not. The contractions were happening about 5 minutes apart and lasting for 45 seconds—not what I thought “early” labor looked like! I finally told Aaron I thought he should come home because I was not doing well. I also updated my midwife and doula, still telling them I didn’t know if I was in labor. He called me on the way home and I couldn’t talk through my contraction.
By the time he got home at 2pm, he had to call the midwife because I wasn’t able to talk. They said to come in and they would check me, if I was 1cm they would send me home. I told him I don’t know if I’m being a wimp or not but we needed to go get checked. I quickly had him throw the rest of the bag together and out we went. He was probably only home from work for 20 minutes. We had a 35 minute car ride and I timed the contractions on the way. They were happening every 2 minutes and lasting for 45 seconds. By the time we got to the birth center, they took one look at me and said “yeah, I think you are in labor, you’ll be staying”. When we got up to the birth room, they checked me and I was 8cm! I asked, “So we are staying, right?” I did NOT want to do that car ride again! I was laughing and smiling so much when they told me how dilated I was because I didn’t think I could handle things if I wasn’t in actual labor.
We arrived at the birth center around 4pm. Our doula was amazing. Anytime I had a contraction she was right there, rubbing my back, which helped with the pain immensely. I got in the tub soon after I got there. The water was amazing and made my body relax and float. I switched positions and places a few times while laboring. I sat on the toilet for a while, which was so difficult and scary, but very effective. I labored in bed while leaning over the birth ball. Aaron was by my head the entire time. Telling me what a good job I was doing, holding me, putting washcloths on my neck and face, and the rest of my birth team did the same. There were a few times during transition when I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore. I got sick and threw up. My body knew exactly what to do during this whole process. It was in my mind that I had to talk to myself, pray, and let my body take over. It is true that you go “inside yourself” during birth. I was hardly talking to anyone and was fully aware of what was going on, but it was a different instinct that took over.
I never really knew how far or what stage I was in during labor, it just happened on its own and my midwives didn’t keep me updated on progress. A part of me thinks it would have been more helpful to know what all was happening, but the other part knows it allowed my body to do its job and shut my mind off. When I was laboring on the bed, they told me I could start little pushes if I felt like it. I did that for a while then got back in the tub. The water helped my body relax and float because I was getting really shaky on the bed. I pushed in the tub for a bit and it was really difficult. They told me later I was pushing really hard. I could reach up and feel my baby’s head at this point. Her heart beat was so strong during the entire process. They had me get out of the water because for the amount I was pushing, the baby wasn’t making much progress. Kim told me I could go get in bed if I wanted to slow things down. She said I was having a very fast and intense labor, but I just wanted it to be over. I got on the toilet and this was one of the hardest parts. I thought something was wrong with the baby, but they assured me she was fine. I labored on the toilet for a bit, threw up again, and could really feel the baby coming down. At this point, I got scared and didn’t think I could do it. I remember thinking I either wanted to die or get the baby out. Anything to stop the intensity. I don’t remember there being overwhelming amounts of pain at this point. Sure, it hurt, but mainly just the most intense and difficult thing my body had done. The pushing contractions reminded me of when you have to throw up and your body just takes over, only much more intense.
Meredith asked me to move positions off the toilet because she didn’t want me to have my baby there. I got up and could hardly walk because the baby was between my legs. I got on the bed and laid on my back and left side. They helped hold legs up and I pushed in this position. I was way more vocal than I thought but tried to keep my sounds low. It was a very intense and scary moment as the baby was crowning. I could reach down and feel her. At this point, I definitely felt pain. They had me stop and breathe in between contractions to avoid tearing. They said I did a great job at this even though I didn’t even realize it! The most encouraging part was when Aaron told me he could see her head and she had a lot of hair. I didn’t know how much more I could take, and this made me realize I was almost done! Once her head came out, it was the most amazing feeling of relief. Her head was out and I was waiting for the next contraction, she started to cry and Kim told me I needed to push her out. Once her head was out, her body slid right out. She came out crying and Aaron and Meredith helped put her up on my chest. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the baby had her hand by her head when she was born. That’s one of the reasons my body was pushing so hard. Meredith realized it when I was on the bed and she checked for a cord.
When I saw her face, I started crying. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Aaron cried too because he realized we were both healthy and safe. We laid there for a few minutes, all of us crying. At this point we didn’t know if we had a little girl or boy. We checked together and she was a girl! Those first few moments together were something I’ll never forget. Evangeline Lily Teter was born at 7pm on March 1st, 2017. She was born to the song “Over the Rainbow” by Iz. Even while pushing her out I smiled when I heard this song playing. She weighed 6lbs 12 oz and was 18.5 inches long.
I am amazed and humbled at how the Lord created life and my body to do this. The whole time, I never really felt like it was “me” doing anything, but my body. I know he created all of the processes to work together from conception to birth. We are truly fearfully and wonderfully made. I am so thankful for the safe, positive, and encouraging atmosphere that she entered the world in. Never was there a moment of interruption or panic. The lights were dim, candles lit, beautiful music playing in the background, and a birth team full of love and confidence. They encouraged, supported, and affirmed me the entire time. I had a husband who was strong and reassuring. And I had God who promised to give me strength and to never leave me. I am so thankful for such a wonderful, healthy birth of our daughter.
Birth experience and photograph submitted by Sadie T.
I have five children! This is amazing, coming from a woman who never wanted to have children. In my early 20’s I didn’t want to marry or ever go through the pain of childbirth. When I married at the age of 25, and soon found myself pregnant, my life changed forever.
My first son was born in the hospital. I had a midwife, and wanted to have a natural childbirth, but was horribly unprepared for unmedicated childbirth. My birth was beautiful, but I had asked for an epidural once we arrived at the hospital. My intention was to labor as long as possible at home, which I did. Upon arrival with all the bright lights and paperwork, I could not concentrate on my labor. Our first son was born naturally, but with my lower body pretty numb. The moment was wonderful but when you take away the “bad feeling” you kind of take away the good too.
When I found myself pregnant again a little more than a year later, I knew I wanted to try a homebirth. Subsequently, my next three children were born in water, at home with the same midwife. Each birth was glorious. The moments my next three boys emerged from my body into the world were so powerful. I wish I had had that with my firstborn. I love him dearly, but there is something magical about a natural birth experience.
This story though is about my fifth child, a daughter. Yarow was born just this year, 7/7/2017. Above all my birth experiences, this one was the most incredible so far. I attribute it to much more preparation, meditation, visualization and prayer. Although I enjoyed the homebirthing experience of my boys, I had some fear which caused my labors to more like a roller-coaster, and somewhat painful. For Yarow, I knew I wanted to have a peaceful, pain-free birth.
I can honestly say that I accomplished that seemingly impossible task! There was a lot of intensity, strong rushes, and feelings, but no real fear and no real pain. It was a beautiful, sweet, loving, and anointed birth.
It was 9:00pm, and I was reading to my children, when my water partially broke. I felt a pop in my stomach and gush of water. I asked my oldest son to get me a towel. I wrapped myself in the towel and wobbled to my bathroom to see what was truly going on. I was having contractions and little gushes of water. I called my midwife and she suggested I try to take a nap and call her in a few hours.
After fifteen minutes of contractions, I called her back. I knew I would not be able to nap. I was surprised how fast things seemed to be progressing. She told me she’d leave right away to come to our home. Since she had a 45 minute drive, I was glad to hear she was leaving immediately. I then asked my husband to fill the birthing pool, because I was planning on having a water birth. We told our children that they would probably have a baby brother or sister by the morning, and hurried them to their beds. I went downstairs with my husband and labored on one of those big exercise balls, while he filled our birth pool.
I knew I wanted a very peaceful birth. We kept the lights really low, and one candle lit in my kitchen. I had relaxing music playing. I also had a few “tools” to use during contractions. Sometimes I breathed in essential oils. I also had what is called a worry stone, and I squeezed it in my hand as I contracted. When the midwives arrived, I was temporarily distracted and felt a few contractions get away from me. I forced myself to stay focused and began fixing my gaze on the lit candle as I contracted. While they were setting things up, my husband was free to be supportive. At this point it, was 10:30 pm and I did not know how close I was to the end. Everything was happening so quickly and I felt really good. I remember thinking, why are they (the midwives) hurrying so much to get set up. I still had a little doubt in my mind that I was in actual labor.
Contractions kept coming in waves. Some were very easy to manage, and every few there would be a very intense rush. I read about a technique in one of Ina May Gaskin’s books, where you blow raspberries with your lips to keep your mouth loose. I had been doing this, but as the waves of contractions became more intense, I really utilized this technique because I wanted every rush to count. It also helped distract my mind from thinking of pain.
Around 11:40 or so, I felt an urge to enter the pool. It was now nice and warm and ready. It felt great to sit on the soft cushiony bottom of the birth pool. I now knew I was truly in labor because I had no more concern about how much clothing I had on. I remember this from other labors. Initially I would feel a little modest laboring, but as I got close, my inhibitions would disappear.
My contractions were really getting strong in the water. I asked my midwife is she checks dilation, because she had not done this. She told me she would if I wanted her too. I hesitated and thought to myself, “what if she says I am only 4 cm?” So, I waited. After two more strong rushes, I knew I had to be very close. She checked me and I was 9 ½ to 10 cm. Almost fully dilated! I was relieved, the end was close and I would soon be holding my baby!
It was now just midnight, when I began feeling urges to push. My midwife really encouraged me to wait until I felt a strong urge to bear down. I always pushed a little soon in my other births, eager to have the baby be delivered. However, I followed her advice and waited until my baby was almost crowning. I had to squeeze my husband’s hands really tightly with the last few contractions. The feelings were so strong. I don’t want to call them painful, but just strong sensations. The strongest sensations I’ve ever felt, but not the pain injury.
I pushed my baby girl out in 9 minutes! Her head came first and I expected her little body to slip out quickly. She got a little stuck at her middle and I had to bear down on one last contraction to get her fully out.
The relief and euphoric feeling of your baby entering the world and into your arms is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It erases all the weeks and months of any discomfort, or negative feelings you may have had as a pregnant mother. I remember laying my head back against the pool, holding her and seeing that she was a girl for the first time. I kept repeating “thank God, thank God.” My husband and I were laughing and crying at the same time. It was amazing!
My husband then woke up our other children come down to see their baby sister. I will never forget that peaceful evening as we all gathered in my kitchen to witness the miracle of birth as a family. I am so glad we had our daughter at home with a great midwife team, in familiar settings and the love of family. I believe that is the best way to enter into life, surrounded by peace and love and baby staying close to mother and father the whole time.
I told myself before my daughter was born that this was my last pregnancy. After such a transforming, I mean soul transforming experience, I cannot help but want to try this miracle again! My husband and I have 5 children. I will be 37 this year, and I don’t know if I am “finished” having children. Children are the biggest challenge of my life. Every aspect of being pregnant, giving birth and raising them is a challenge, but it is also the sweetest blessing.
Birth experience and photograph submitted by Jenel S.
“Awesome! Yesterday we birthed the triplets! And Joaquim was born veiled (when the waters/sac does not break). We were delighted. But then came Adeline… she was also born en caul, and left us all admiring her as she slept soundly. We stayed (that way) for 7 minutes observing her behavior as if it were still inside her belly. It’s the magic of life. The perfection of God!!” —@dr.rodrigorosa
Incrível! Ontem fizemos o parto dos trigêmeos! E o Joaquim nasceu empelicado (quando a bolsa não rompe). Ficamos encantados. Mas aí veio a Adeline ( as mulheres sempre superam os homens) e arrasou! Também nasceu empelicada e deixou todos nós a admirando enquanto dormia tranquilamente. Ficamos por 7 minutos observando o comportamento dela como se estivesse dentro da barriga ainda. É a magia da vida. A perfeição de Deus!
Sortudos por presenciarem:
@dra.julianahalleyhatty @ornellaminelli@gicassavia @katiarochafotografa@marianacaniato
#partoempelicado #triplets #trigemeos#lindodemais #obstetrafeliz#birthwithoutfear #cesareanwithoutfear#cesareanbirthisbirth#optionssupportrespect
I’ve been floating on that post-birth cloud that only the miracle of new life brings. Soon enough, or perhaps it is happening already, I will slowly float back to the ground as Holden and I navigate the fourth trimester together.
The joy, pain, awe, intensity, shock, and gratitude of Holden’s birth are still so near to me. Andrew and I have been like cloud gazers pointing to the sky and marveling at the shapes and patterns displayed as we recall his birth.
The clouds are slowly drifting to make room for new stories and memories to be formed.
April 22 2017
It was an ordinary Saturday that began as most do. We woke with more ease and less rush. I had already surpassed 37 weeks and 5 days which was when our first son was born so I adjusted my mindset for this pregnancy to not anxiously anticipate labor any moment until closer to 42 weeks so that I would patiently wait for this baby’s own timing.
My MIL texts me: “Are you feeling anything? Contractions?”
I respond: “No contractions…he feels lower though. I could see going into labor tonight or being pregnant for weeks still haha…I have no idea anymore.”
I was 38 weeks and five days. Andrew and I took Eli, our two-year-old, to the aquarium in the morning and then out to lunch. We told Eli that we would get him ice cream on the way home, but he soon fell asleep in the car.
Andrew and I stole spoonfuls of Eli’s ice cream until it was almost gone. We all laid down once we got home in the living room. Eli woke up, found his toy doctor kit, and put the stethoscope to my belly to “check baby.”
I walked around our backyard as I had done many times this pregnancy. The last few weeks of this pregnancy were remarkably different than my first pregnancy with Eli. Even when I was extremely active with walking, squatting, and cleaning, I would not even get one Braxton Hicks contraction this time. I was expecting prodromal labor like I had with Eli for two weeks.
I began to feel pressure. A burst of excitement filled my heart and mind. After not feeling any signs of labor, I was overjoyed to feel my baby move lower in preparation for birth. Because of my previous experience with prodromal labor, I thought that labor would be far off.
A contraction. I felt a real contraction. I told myself that I would not tell Andrew about any contractions until it became completely obvious I was having them without even exchanging words, but I was too excited. We stood in the kitchen as I leaned over the counter, and he looked at the clock to note the time-just in case we would want to remember this moment.
We put Eli to bed. I rocked him in my arms as I dreamed of tonight being the night, but quickly stopped allowing myself to dream too much. I still had a lot of pressure and could feel that Holden was low, but there was no time-able pattern to the contractions that seemed to be fading away. I could still move freely and focus on everyday thoughts and tasks so I talked myself out of thinking labor could be near.
Suddenly, intense contractions bringing me to my hands and knees hit me. I welcomed these 15-30 second contractions, but their short length and inconsistent nature made me think active labor was still far in the future.
I tried lying down in bed for the night to see if I could sleep. Instead of drifting off into sleep, being alone in the darkness of our room with these contractions scared me. I didn’t want to be alone anymore.
I knew in that moment that tonight actually could be the night. I got Andrew, and we decided to watch a show together. Soon enough, I told him to turn off the TV because I could not stand the noise anymore. Contractions seemed a bit more intense, but still under 30 seconds long.
I texted my midwife Laura: “I’ve been having contractions for a few hours but they haven’t been consistent…and now I can’t remember when exactly I should call you?…I think they’re starting to pick up but I’m also not sure if it’s prodromal labor.”
I called Laura. I debated after I texted her whether or not I should even call thinking it could just be prodromal labor. On a deep, intuitive level, I must have known that it was time. I told her what I had been experiencing including my doubts about it possibly just being prodromal labor. She told me that she could leave now to come over or I could wait to call her if I wanted more time alone with Andrew to see how things progressed. I was leaning toward waiting to call her back.
After she explained when I should call her back, Andrew said, “Yeah, I think we are already at that point.” She said that she was going to leave right away then.
I sought the peaceful and familiar darkness of our bedroom. Andrew unlocked the front door to welcome Laura in once she arrived before coming to my side. It was as if unlocking the door unlocked anything holding me back from fulling going into active labor.
Contractions were suddenly much longer and more intense. I could barely talk. I felt as if everything was in fast-forward. Previously, I had imagined hours of laboring around the house, but I now knew I would not be leaving the room or maybe even the bed without our baby being born first.
Laura quietly arrived and found us. I was relieved to know she was here, but could not focus on anything but the intense contractions. I did not want to make eye contact with anybody. I was in my own birthing zone. She came to my side acknowledging that labor must have gotten more intense since I had called her. She found Holden’s heart rate in between a contraction.
I felt my body gently pushing. “I think I’m pushing!” I said in slight disbelief. I knew that my body was pushing, but I couldn’t believe it.
I moved to a smaller bed in our room that we had set up specifically for labor. I felt the welcomed release of my water breaking with the next contraction. I felt my baby move down. I felt like the pain was too intense. I felt like this couldn’t really be happening so quickly.
“I can’t do this. I’m not doing this anymore,” I said multiple times. Even in the moment, I almost laughed at myself for saying that because my body was involuntarily pushing even more strongly. I was doing this. Any words of fear were met with gentle and quiet encouragement.
I did not want to leave the bed because I could not imagine walking over to the tub at the time, but with more encouragement, I got into the water. Peace and relief instantly filled my body and soul. I felt Holden moving downward with each contraction.
I felt his head and with the next contractions, he was born into the water. I pulled him onto my chest in complete awe.
I looked at his face and thought, “It’s you. It’s always been you.”
There we were: in the water surrounded by Andrew and our midwives.
There we were: held in a space of love, safety, and respect.
There we were: in the same room where I had dreamed about this moment for so long.
There we were: in our first moments apart yet still connected.
We moved out of the tub and onto the bed where I soon birthed the placenta with Holden on my chest.
Holden weighed 8lbs 14oz and was 21 inches long. Just a few hours after active labor started, Andrew and I found ourselves lying in bed with our newborn baby drifting off to sleep in the bassinet next to me. There were details of the birth for which we had prayed specifically, and in God’s amazing goodness, came into being in ways we cannot fully express our gratitude.
Eli woke up after sleeping through his baby brother’s birth. Andrew brought him to our room to meet Holden for the first time. Eli was amazed by every movement Holden made and even ran downstairs and back up to bring him a toy.
Just as clouds do not suddenly disappear, it’s hard to find the right ending to Holden’s birth story.
We are out of those hazy, magical hours immediately after birth. My milk has come in, the adrenaline of birth has worn off, and the clouds are slowly drifting.
The sun is shining through, and I’ve never felt more tired and alive all at once.
“There is power that comes to women when they give birth. They don’t ask for it, it simply invades them. Accumulates like clouds on the horizon and passes through, carrying the child with it.” -Sheryl Feldman
Birth experience and photographs submitted by Carolyn F.
In her first book, Birth Without Fear: The Judgement-Free Guide to Taking Charge of Your Pregnancy, Birth, and Postpartum (Hachette Books; March 5 2019), January Harshe, mom of six and founder of the Birth Without Fear website, delivers an inclusive, non-judgmental, and empowering guide to pregnancy, birth, and postpartum life.
Each chapter provides you with the all the necessary information, options, and tools to help you take charge of the experience of welcoming your child into the world.
Unlike other pregnancy, birth, and postpartum books, Birth Without Fear will also help partners understand what mothers are going through, as well as discuss the challenges that they, too, will face—and how they can navigate them.
Shattering long-held myths and beliefs surrounding pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum experience, Birth Without Fear is an accessible, reassuring, and ultimately inspiring guide to taking charge of your pregnancy, birth, and beyond.
The Birth Without Fear movement began as a voice for change in the standard of care in today’s birthing world, and Birth Without Fear will empower YOU to be a voice for change in your own pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. Options, support, and respect should be the norm for every pregnant and birthing woman, and it can be if YOU, the Birth Without Fear community, vote for that change by pre-ordering your copy of Birth Without Fear today!
January Harshe knows firsthand how widely birth experiences can range. She has run the gamut from an affirming and joyful planned cesarean to a traumatic emergency cesarean, as well as a VBA2C (vaginal birth after two cesareans) in the hospital, and two home births. One of these home births was such a dramatic departure from the confusion, uncertainty, and fear of her other births that a beautiful idea was born — she would make it her life’s mission to promote a revolutionary birth and parenting message: you can have a birth without fear, no matter how you birth.
January is the founder of the Birth Without Fear community, as well as Take Back Postpartum, Don’t Forget Dads, and Mothering Without Fear under the Birth Without Fear tent—all of which today collectively represent a social media following of over 1 million and counting.
Within each chapter of Birth Without Fear is a Partner Point of View written by Brandon Harshe. Having been by January’s side for six pregnancies, births, and postpartum experiences, Brandon has learned a lot about what it takes to support the woman he loves through the biggest changes and experiences of her life. In Birth Without Fear, he’s shared some of that knowledge to help husbands and partners be the steadfast support person that all birthing people need and deserve!
Members of the Birth Without Fear community on social media are familiar with the conversation shifting regularly to postpartum, and Birth Without Fear is no different. The focus of so many pregnancy and birth books is on, well, pregnancy and birth. But what about after the birth? You have the entire rest of your life to live, only now with a new baby!
This is where Birth Without Fear comes in. With chapters on breastfeeding, self love, self care, mental health, and sex and intimacy, no stone is left unturned for those of you wondering “what next?” after the baby has arrived.
When January Harshe created the Birth Without Fear community in 2010, she wanted options, support, and respect to be the standard of care for every pregnancy, every birth, and every postpartum experience. Individually, we all have a voice. As a united community, we can affect real change in the conversation about pregnancy, birth, and postpartum in our culture. Pre-ordering Birth Without Fear is a vote for real change. Order your copy today!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
No. Change. At. All.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
My eyes filled with tears and I looked at her and answered, “I think it’s time to meet my baby.”
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:
“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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Welcome to the world, Kelsie.
You are loved.
You are wanted.
You are precious.
*** 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?
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.”
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.” ***