The Birth of Jack Ford

One of our clients, Amy, shares her transformative birth story of her sweet baby Jack. “Childbirth really is instinctual. Your body knows exactly what to do – you just have to allow it to happen.”

If you are looking for inspiration as you prepare for your upcoming birth – look no further!

The Birth of Jack Ford
By Amy Kortman

I had decided that I was the first person that was going to be pregnant forever. After spending most of my pregnancy thinking I would go into labor early, I was shocked to find myself 40 weeks pregnant with our first child. I had read so many books and heard so many birth stories, I felt like it was my turn! I had no fear. I was ready.

I began seeing a chiropractor when I was 32 weeks pregnant to make sure my body was fully prepared for childbirth. She promised me that if I made it to 40 weeks, she would “work her magic.” On my due date, I went in for my appointment and had my regular adjustment in addition to acupressure and dry needling. Just 30 minutes after I got home from my appointment, I noticed some bloody show! Despite my excitement, I decided to take a nap and get some rest just in case. I woke up at 6:30pm and noticed significantly more bloody show and started to feel some mild cramping. It was still early on but I had a pretty good feeling that this was it.

I took a shower and my mom made me dinner. She and I sat down to watch Bachelor in Paradise and joked that I would pick the baby’s middle name based on one of the guys on the show. I texted my doula, Vicki, and let her know what was going on and she suggested that I start timing my contractions.

At 9:30pm, I had a few slight gushes of water but didn’t feel like my bag of waters had fully ruptured. My contractions were getting closer together and stronger but I could still talk through them. When Vicki arrived around midnight my contractions were 7 minutes apart and becoming more uncomfortable. I tried to find the most comfortable position – sitting, standing and swaying, bouncing on the birth ball, hands and knees. Vicki reminded me to relax my shoulders and when my discomfort increased, she suggested vocalizing my breathing.

My contractions were lasting a minute and a half and coming every 3 – 5 minutes. Around 2am I asked to go to the hospital. While my husband, Erik, was packing up the car, my mom grabbed my face and gave me a pep talk. I wish I could remember her exact words. She told me I would probably have 4 contractions while we were in the car and then something along the lines of “You are doing amazing, you can do this, you were made for this.”

We arrived at the hospital and at 3am, I was checked by the midwife. She confirmed that I had a slight tear in my bag of waters, I was 4cm dilated and 90% effaced. I was slightly disappointed that I was not further along. My husband and I walked the halls for about 30 minutes before I just wanted to lie down. Erik was able to get a little sleep and I got some rest.

At 5:30am, I felt a huge surge of water and knew my water had broken. Contractions immediately became more intense and we called for the nurse. The midwife came in to check me at 6am and I was dilated to 7 centimeters! The pressure was so intense, I felt like I couldn’t relax my bottom or everything would fall out. I think this is when I begged for Nitrous. I wanted to crawl out of my skin and get away from my body. I was trying so hard to do everything I had learned – breathe, relax, visualize. I felt like nothing was working, My mind was spinning, the contractions were coming so quickly. I really started doubting myself and a few times said “I can’t do this!” Vicki and Erik reassured me every time “you ARE doing it”. I tried several different positions and at some point I ended up on my side with a peanut ball between my legs. When the anesthesiologist came in with the Nitrous, I grabbed the mask out of his hand just as a contraction started. The Nitrous did not take the pain away but it definitely helped to distract me during the contractions. It also made me breathe more effectively – I felt like I was getting light headed with each contraction so the added oxygen definitely helped.

At 7am my body started bearing down – it was uncontrollable – Vicki told me to breathe, relax, and just let my body do the work. She assured me that I was bringing my baby down. She then told me “You are going to meet your baby really soon!” I think I asked her “How soon?” I wanted a number. I wanted her to tell me how much longer I had, how many more contractions, how many minutes!

At this point we asked for the midwife – I was convinced I was fully dilated. We were told by the nurse that she was in a meeting, “but” she said, “I can go get her if you want.” I think Erik and Vicki both yelled “go get her!” When the midwife arrived, I was fully dilated and she told me I could push. I remember asking “how?” and felt so silly asking that! She instructed me on what to do and when my next contraction started, I pushed as hard as I possibly could. I felt so much pressure and knew my baby was moving. On my 3rd contraction, I could feel his head and remember thinking to myself “so that is the ring of fire?” On my next push, I felt his body slide from mine and then instant relief! My baby boy was immediately on my chest, looking up at me with these huge eyes.

I pushed for 4 contractions, 20 minutes total. Jack Ford Kortman was born August 15, 2017 at 8:04am.

Erik took a video of the delivery and I am so glad that he did. I will admit I was a little embarrassed watching it. The noise I made while I was pushing and immediately after delivery is really indescribable. It’s kind of eerie in a way, but also so powerful. That video captures the greatest pain, shock, disbelief, joy, and love within a matter of seconds. We also noticed while watching it back that during one contraction he said to me, “Get it Girl.” Yes, those were his words!

There are so many unknowns about labor and delivery. Looking back, there were a lot of things that I just didn’t even think about in the moment. Such as: how much my baby weighed, did I poop on the bed (I was shocked to find out I didn’t), throwing up, going through transition. I think that because things progressed so quickly, I really didn’t have time to think about these things. And let’s face it, 110% of my focus was on my contractions!

Childbirth really is instinctual. Your body knows exactly what to do – you just have to allow it to happen.  I am so thankful for Vicki but honestly, I think Erik is more thankful. He didn’t really understand the need for a doula during labor and delivery. He expected the nurses and midwife to be more present during contractions but was surprised when they only came in the room every 30-40 minutes to check the heart rate. He is now a firm believer after seeing the support we received from Vicki.

While I was pregnant, I read that by choosing to have a natural childbirth, there would be pain during labor but the postpartum pain and discomfort would be significantly reduced. For me, this was 100% true. I knew how hard to push, I knew the limits of my body. I ended up with a very minor tear that only required two stitches. Having a newborn baby is a lot of work so I was so thankful that I healed quickly!

Looking back on my entire birth story, the most memorable moment (apart from Jack being born of course) was during a really strong contraction – I was listening to worship music and just started crying out “Lord Jesus, Lord Jesus!” My midwife grabbed my hand and started praying over me. I had no idea that she was a believer but it was just what I needed in that moment.

The Birth of Adelaide Grace

Introducing Adelaide Grace + Birth Story | Lemons and Basil

She’s here! Our little Adelaide Grace Pauley arrived on Saturday, September 9, 2017 at 11:19 pm, measuring 21″ long, and weighing 8 lbs 4 ounces. Our hearts are so full and beyond grateful that she is healthy and thriving, not to mention perfectly beautiful {even if we are a bit biased ☺️}. It’s been an amazing blessing to watch Brighton fully embrace her, loving her, and continuously wanting to hold her while offering endless hugs and kisses. We are all quite smitten with our little Addie Grace.💗

It’s only been a few weeks, but we are settling in and while two is certainly more challenging than one, I am loving every second of it! I feel so incredibly blessed and honored that the Lord has entrusted me to be Mama to these two precious little ones.

Introducing Adelaide Grace + Birth Story | Lemons and Basil

It’s fascinating to me how each and every birth story is different from the next. With Brighton we went through a birthing class, drafted our birth plan, and did what we felt we could to best plan for the birth of our son, but there is little you can do to really prepare for giving birth. And with Adelaide, while we had done this once before, we had no idea if her birth would be similar to her brother’s or completely different.

With Brighton my labor started in the early morning hours of his due date. It ended up being a very long, fairly slow progressing labor and after 32 hours he was born the day after his due date at 10:24am. I never went to my 40 week checkup and never had my dilation or effacement checked prior to labor. All things that did happen this time as my due date came and went with no signs of our little girl. I had it in my head that baby number two would arrive early. But she didn’t, and while I didn’t feel any more pregnant at 40 weeks and a day or 2 days than I did at 40 weeks, it was a bit of a mental battle to stay positive as the days came and went.

Now that she’s here, it seems so silly that those extra 4 days felt like such an eternity, but I was just so ready to meet the little person inside of me, to see her with her daddy and big brother, to cuddle her on my chest, and to be able to hold our two-year old again without the challenge of a huge belly in the way. But looking back at the timing of her arrival, and the extra days we had together as a family of three, it’s abundantly clear that the Lord knew what we needed regardless of what I thought I wanted.

Introducing Adelaide Grace + Birth Story | Lemons and Basil

On Friday before she was born I finally decided to blow up our exercise ball and sit on it whenever I could to see if I could get this labor going. Both Friday night and Saturday morning, after continuously doing pelvic figure 8’s on the ball, along with walking lunges, squats and pliés, I found myself feeling really crampy. However, it wasn’t until about 2pm on Saturday that I finally keyed in and realized that these cramps were getting more severe and were coming and going – aka contractions! I had been busy making lunch, getting Brighton ready for his nap, etc that I really didn’t realize labor had begun. I took a hot shower and focused a little more on what my body was doing and acknowledged that I was pretty sure this was IT.

With Brighton’s labor progressing so slowly, the rapidness of this one completely caught me off guard, and if I’m honest, I was in a bit of denial about how quickly it was happening. Thankfully Josh was already home with me, so we called our doula, got her thoughts, and then spent the next 30-45 minutes timing things and trying to decide if we needed to call my dad to have him come stay with Brighton. We had already called Josh’s mom, who is in Virginia, to let her know labor had begun and she could start her journey to Tennessee as soon as she was ready. The plan was for Josh’s mom to come stay with Brighton while we were in the hospital, but my dad would be the one to keep him if we needed to head to the hospital sooner, which we did.

Before I knew it I was folding the last of the laundry I’d been working on, putting food out for Brighton’s dinner, making a list of his bedtime and morning routine with food, milk, etc, all while pausing to cope with contractions that seemed to be rapidly progressing both in time and intensity. Josh threw our bags in the car and packed the last-minute things like phone chargers, laptop, etc. and by about 6pm we were headed to Vanderbilt Midwives with our doula, Whitney, in route to meet us there.

Introducing Adelaide Grace + Birth Story | Lemons and BasilIntroducing Adelaide Grace + Birth Story | Lemons and Basil

Sometime around 7-7:30pm, we were checked in with the midwives, and learned I was about 6cm dilated and 90% effaced. Having tested positive for Group Strep B, they got my IV in place in my right arm {after having blown a vein in my left hand which was extremely painful} to get the antibiotic going. Once they had monitored Adelaide’s heart rate for 20 minutes and the antibiotic was complete, an hour-long process, I spent the next hour or so coping with contractions and laboring in the tub. If I’m honest, at this point my legs were trembling and my body was started to feel extremely fatigued as the contractions just kept getting closer and stronger, with what felt like no time to rest in between.

With Brighton I was mentally and physically exhausted from so many hours of a slow-progressing labor that when the time came to finally push, I wasn’t sure where to find the energy. With Adelaide, I was surprised how physically exhausted I felt being that the labor was so much shorter, but with it being shorter it was also much more intense.

When it came time to push Brighton out, I was in tears and honestly didn’t know where to find the stamina mentally and physically. They asked if I wanted a little Nitrous Oxide {laughing gas} to get over the mental hurdle. It was the one thing I was pretty open to being that it’s self-administered and doesn’t cross the placenta, nor numb the pain or my legs. It was exactly what I needed to just let my mind have a small break so I wasn’t so overwhelmed at the task ahead.

With Adelaide, by about 10:45pm and with my body feeling the urge to push with each contraction, I once again felt overwhelmed knowing the hardest part was still ahead and feeling so physically depleted. Remembering the mental relief the Nitrous brought with Brighton, I asked if they could have it set up. Again, things were moving so fast, that by 11pm I was pushing with everything I had in me and by 11:19pm, and one final push, our little girl was instantly here, and in my arms, pressed against my chest. The immense joy, the overwhelming relief, and the feeling of her slimy little body against my own was simply glorious. That feeling, that high, it’s unlike anything else. I’ve only experienced it twice, first with Brighton and now with Adelaide. A love unlike anything else, truly a gift from above.

We spent the next hour bonding skin to skin, Josh was able to hold her a few minutes, but she came out hungry and instantly wanted to nurse. We laid there while the nurses took care of everything, smiling ear to ear with our sweet baby girl, laughing about how quickly it all happened, and already looking forward to the next morning when Brighton would meet his baby sister for the first time.

Introducing Adelaide Grace + Birth Story | Lemons and BasilIntroducing Adelaide Grace + Birth Story | Lemons and Basil

We didn’t get to our room that night until about 1:30am, and it was a small overflow room, but we didn’t care – she was here and she was perfectly healthy, there was nothing else we needed. Just like with Brighton’s birth, our doula, midwife and the entire team at Vanderbilt were truly amazing, I couldn’t wish for anything better. And Josh was exactly what I needed him to be – 100% present, full of compassion and love and my ever-present source of encouragement. My physical recovery has been absolutely amazing, even quicker than it was Brighton, and I am beyond grateful.

Josh’s mom arrived the next day, along with my dad, my sister’s family and a few friends to celebrate and meet our little Addie – all of which meant so much to us! But Brighton was the very first to meet her, and he was every bit as sweet and loving with her as we had imagined he’d be. {You can see some pictures from that first day on my personal Instagram}. I can’t say there hasn’t been some adjustment on his part, having a little sister now, but overall he has gone with the flow so well and he absolutely adores her. We have so very much to be thankful for.

If you’re still reading…thank you from the bottom of my heart! This is way longer than I had intended, but it’s our story, and hopefully one day Adelaide can read it and feel all the love that surrounded her on that very special day.

Introducing Adelaide Grace + Birth Story | Lemons and BasilIntroducing Adelaide Grace + Birth Story | Lemons and BasilIntroducing Adelaide Grace + Birth Story | Lemons and Basil

The Birth of Agnes Rose

“Our VBAC was about to be successful. Our baby was about to make her entrance. Once the head was out, the nurses told me what Justin’s face had already communicated: it was over. Seconds later, they put her in my arms, and my crying husband and my crying self and my crying baby were embracing”

After Tilly’s first birth (Read the story here), she was determined to have a natural VBAC. Read about her preparations and experience as she welcomed her second daughter.

The Birth of Agnes
By Tilly Dillehay

Even in the haze of love-drunkenness that I experienced for Norah’s entire infancy, I was afraid to think or talk much about the labor process. I knew that there were too many voices in my mind, too many conflicting opinions about what had happened and what should have happened.

I only knew that I was terrified of getting pregnant again. I didn’t talk much about that, but I was rigorously careful with my husband during that first year.

My husband, when we did talk about it, spoke reason to me. I kept calling the c-section a worst possible outcome— “but that, Tilly,” he said, “that was very far from a worst outcome. You are fine; she is fine. Do you see that?” I saw that. I prayed for help with my mind and heart, not to be afraid. I was blessed to read some helpful Christian authors online, who talked specifically about c-sections and natural births with a measured hand.

Then I got pregnant again, rather unexpectedly. It was sooner than we’d thought—we’d tried for almost a year to get pregnant with our Norah, but our Agnes was ready for us before we had time to ask for her. One morning, about a month after Norah turned one, I carried a pregnancy test into the room where my husband was doing his devotions and asked, “Does this look positive to you?”

It did look positive to him.

So we were off to the races again.

This pregnancy felt harder to me; I think it was because of chasing down a little girl. I’d never felt desperate for rest during pregnancy #1, but this time around, I had a panicky feeling on several occasions that there was simply no way to survive this thing while also making regular trips to the local park.

I felt heavier, sooner. More stretched, more fatigued. More Braxton Hicks—way more. My diet was better this time around. A determination was building in me, and had been ever since I brought Norah home. This time, if we do this again, I must know that I have done everything in my power to successfully push out this baby.

There will be rest, good food, and good exercise. There will be training. There will be a doula (this was a later decision and one of the best I ever stumbled upon). There will be no misery or despair if the Lord sends things another way—but if I have given everything the old college try, I’ll be able to rest in that and manage my disappointment better.

I briefly, at the beginning of the pregnancy, tried to convince my husband to try a home birth. He understandably balked; I was a VBAC case, living an hour from a major hospital, who had been told by the surgeon that I possessed an unusually small pelvic inlet and that repeat c-section was fairly likely.

So when I knew that I’d be back in the same hospital as last time, I focused my efforts on preparation, and hiring a doula.

I hired Vicki Woods, and you guys, I would recommend her to anyone. I’m convinced that in human (rather than spiritual) terms, she was the main reason I ended up with such a good outcome. I knew, this time around, that the nurse midwives at Vanderbilt are great, but not able to be in-the-room support during most of labor.

Vicki ended up being exactly the person I needed. I don’t think she missed a single contraction.

We also made the decision, the second time around, not to tell every person on both sides of the family and expect them to wait in a hospital for over a day while I labored. This time, we made it clear to everyone that there was no need to come over until the business was over; in the end, this helped to give the labor an intimate and relaxed quality that just wouldn’t have been possible if I was trying to multitask, greeting people between breathing exercises.

Another random thing that I’ll mention, that you can take with plenty of grains of salt: I started eating 3-4 large medjoul dates a day in the last six weeks before due date, because of this article. And I started drinking several cups of red raspberry leaf tea a day in the last two months of pregnancy, because of these articles (here and here) and advice from the Vanderbilt team. The tea is supposed to tone the uterus and prepare it for effective contractions, and the dates were shown to reduce labor time by about half in one (admittedly very small) study.

I really hate giving random advice like that online because it’s just so hokey sounding, but hey, I did it, and hey, I had a great labor, so what can you say?

It was certainly a harder pregnancy the second time around. I had lots of aches and lots of Braxton Hicks. When more serious contractions started, a few days before real labor, it was very difficult to gauge how serious they were because I was so used to discomfort.

But one Saturday morning, I started having real, honest-to-goodness contractions. I went ahead to a Pampered Chef party that I’d been planning to go to; you have to pass the time somehow before you know if things are serious. The contractions never got closer together; all day I puttered around. That night my husband and I went out to dinner with friends; we sent Norah to spend the night at her grandparents’ just in case.

False alarm.

At church the next day, I had my contraction timer out during the sermon and clocked some as close as six minutes apart. But these went away completely in the middle part of the day.

At home that afternoon, watching a little show with my daughter, the contractions returned, and I started timing them again—they began to steady out at ten minutes apart. Nine minutes. Eight minutes. Soon I tracked a few that were seven minutes apart, and stronger. I decided to tell Justin. I took a bath to see if they’d subside.

They only got stronger. We packed Norah up, in her jammies and ready for bed, and sent her to grandmother’s house at about seven. Before she left, I suddenly realized that I hadn’t taken any pictures with her while pregnant—so we rushed into the living room and took a few. I hugged her and fought tears; she cheerfully put on her coat and little backpack.

We’d arranged to do some laboring at my sister’s house because she’s only a few minutes from the hospital. This is what we were trying to do last time when my water broke. This time, with bedtime coming on, she and her husband arranged to go to a friend’s house so that we could spend the night if things slowed again.

We arrived at about nine and put on The Office for old time’s sake. Contractions were getting longer and stronger but not terribly close together. I toasted a bagel and ate it between contractions. We called Vicki the doula and asked her to come on over. I took a bath.

When I got out, Vicki had arrived and my husband went to take a nap in preparation for a long night. (He didn’t sleep, and later confessed that what kept him awake was not the thought of me in labor, but thoughts about the sermon series he was preparing for.) Vicki started doing breathing exercises with me, and warmed up this wonderful heat pad thing that she had that ties around the belly.

I began to get a little fearful when the intensity picked up here. Some nausea was already hitting, and it seemed awfully early for that.

I guess it was midnight or so when I started to talk about going to the hospital. Vicki talked me through that decision—she knew I was determined to wait as long as possible. But despite the contractions not being quite four minutes apart, I was feeling the strength of them—I knew that things were getting serious. I was beginning to be worried about how to manage contractions in a vehicle, during transition from home to hospital.

After a little discussion, Vicki agreed that it was time to move, and we got Justin up. I brought the heating pad, and a container for if I got sick in the car. I remember one contraction in the yard, holding onto the roof of the car before getting inside. I remember telling Justin, as we drove through deserted city streets for exactly nine minutes to the ER entrance, that these had gotten as hard as when I was at a five in the last labor—right before begging for the epidural.

But this time, I was so far from begging for an epidural. I’d gotten it in my head—almost two years earlier—that if I could just get to the pushing stage without an epidural, I’d be home free. If I could just feel what I was doing while I pushed, surely the effort would be more effective. Surely I could walk away from that experience, even if it ended in another c-section, knowing that I’d done everything I could.

And I was just so much more prepared and determined. I had a slideshow of family photos set up in the room, and glanced over at it during the later stages. It was just a little surge of incentive, to see my sweet older daughter smiling and to remember that there was a sweet younger daughter coming. I’d also picked some bible verses and printed them, and Justin put them in front of me at crucial times between contractions.

I had a rhythm going—something I never knew about last time. I read about this in a very helpful book recommended by Vicki—The Birth Partner, by Penny Simkin. It was a strange technique that developed as the labor went on: I was using the word “ooookay,” spoken very low and gutterally, to ride out each contraction. And it just worked for me. A few times, I spoke to myself about what was happening—“Mooove down, baby, move on down,” I said once or twice. (I know this is weird stuff but for some reason, it made sense at the time.)

I prayed. I’d never prayed much during the last labor, but this time I simply prayed at moments when I felt like I was losing control. I asked simple things: Lord, please make this next contraction just a little easier than the last one. After that, they can be harder again, but I need one easier one. And I would be given just that grace or rest that I asked for.

Vicki was so helpful too because there was something about her soothing, and cheerleading, that made me feel like every wave of pain was witnessed and somehow more effectual. She also had me change positions when I seemed discouraged—because there’s nothing like a change of scenery to brighten one’s mood.

Once, leaned up at the foot of the hospital bed, on a birthing ball, I looked up at my husband and said, “I feel terrible.” I was doing an impression of Han Solo when he’s been tortured by Darth Vader in Empire Strikes Back. Justin had a look of shock on his face—She’s making jokes? Now?  (But apparently this is a thing with me—during Norah’s labor, at one point I looked at him and said, “You did this to me! You!” And then I laughed drunkenly and said, “I’ve always wanted to say that.” Just like in the movies.)

At every point that I was discouraged, I would bargain with myself about timing.

“I’ll ask them to check me,” I would think. “If I’m not at an eight, I’ll get an epidural.” Or I would say, “Just make it to four-thirty. If you make it to four-thirty, you’re almost there, because you’ll be able to push by five.” Every time I asked to be checked, and hoped for a certain number, I was dilated to that number. I don’t think this is a luxury I could expect again, but this time, it was the particular gift I was given. When I got to the hospital at 1 a.m., I was already at a six—farther than I’d made it without medication last time. Two hours later, at an eight. Thirty minutes later, a nine.

I’d felt the need to vomit on and off throughout. Several times, I asked for a bag, thinking that this was imminent. At 4 a.m., it finally happened. I vomited quite a bit, and this was actually the force that made my water break—really fantastic timing. (I’d also prayed several months in advance for my water to stay intact longer this time around… and it sure did.) After the vomit finally came, I looked up at my husband, the doula, and the nurse, and said, “Oh man, I feel great now.”

The ladies around me just couldn’t have been more supportive. “You’re a rock star,” the nurse-midwife kept saying. “It’s like she’s done this a million times before,” one of the nurses kept saying conspicuously to the others, within my hearing. These comments were super helpful; like toddlers, ladies in labor don’t need subtlety. They just need to be told they’re rock stars now and then.

Soon afterwards, with a little bit of wishful thinking, I told them all that I was “feeling pushy.” This is a strange line they’d given me when I asked them when we were supposed to know when I was going to push.

So I decided that I felt “pushy,” sure that this would be a process of relief, an oasis in the desert of work and pain. They told me to go and pee, and while I was in the bathroom I remember saying to the nurse, “What are we going to do? What are we going to do now?” Like it was some kind of group effort and we needed to map out our next move and get it on the calendar.

“We’ll help you,” she said. “You’ll know what to do.”

They checked me, said I was almost a ten, close enough that pushing would be permissible.

I leaned against the back of the bed, knees on the bed, and began to push with the next contraction. I think I got about two of those in before the thing I thought had already happened actually began to happen.

The urge to push hit.

I’ve been told by various sources that the Urge to Push is a force that will not be resisted. It is powerful, urgent, and designed to tell women for thousands of years what to do, even if they haven’t read What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

Man oh man, my sources were NOT KIDDING.

Throughout the labor, I was pretty well under control. My husband told me later that it was hard to gauge what kind of pain I was in because I was so methodical in my vocalizations, so still and quiet. Just that same “Oooookay. OoooooooKAY.”

But when the Urge hit, I began to scream like a wild woman; I was completely outside of the realm of control. It was like a freight train. Apparently, the needle in my arm became jostled out of my arm at this point, and there was a moment when one nurse held this arm still in order to give the other nurse the opportunity to get it back in. I was unaware of any of this happening.

Between contractions, they got me moved around to a seated position on the bed, and here’s where I discovered that those beds are actually perfect for giving birth to a baby; the front part in front of where you sit actually sinks down and out of the way, so you end up setting on a sort of edge, even though you’re in the middle of the bed.

I was coached well at this point. I’ll make an aesthetic decision not to get more graphic here; all I can say is that they helped me to direct all that screaming energy in the right way, and the Ring of Fire, like the Urge to Push, is as real as a hammer. When I compare the two experiences of pushing, I can’t even put them in the same universe.

Pushing without sensation was like bringing a pointer finger to a cow tipping and trying to just sort of poke him onto his side. Pushing with the full aid of the Urge, with all my muscles on deck, was like tipping a cow with a bulldozer. It felt inevitable. She was out in twenty minutes.

I remember two things my husband did during this time. Once, he suddenly ran to a corner of the room, after seeing something that, I believe, shocked him. But soon after this, he was back next to the nurse, and it was the expressions on his face, as he watched his baby appear, that helped me comprehend what was happening. Our VBAC was about to be successful. Our baby was about to make her entrance. Once the head was out, the nurses told me what Justin’s face had already communicated: it was over. Seconds later, they put her in my arms, and my crying husband and my crying self and my crying baby were embracing. 

Another nice thing about not being in an operating room was Vicki being able to capture us as a family seconds after the birth.

Extra notes: I wanted to just get back on here and clarify a few things about these birth stories. 1) It’s important to me that these not be postured as a “terrible hospital story” followed by “success story.” My point in writing these is not anything like “Do this, and you too can have a successful birth… because what matters most is that you get what you want in your delivery!” The fact of the matter is, every birth is different, and these things are simply not under the control of us humans. Trusting God in labor is just as vital as trusting him in every other challenge that we encounter. 2) Remember, the fact of the matter is, first labors are always longer. And longer = harder. That’s just the way it is. I recognize that the biggest difference between one and two was that I didn’t have to do it as long.

That’s all.

The Birth of Norah Grey

“When Norah was lifted up into the air an instant after they pulled her out, and a plastic window was opened in the curtain at my waist, allowing us our first glimpse, we cried and clung. It was every bit as sweet a meeting as any you could hope for in a birthing pool.”

We are sharing Tilly’s two birth stories (check out their website here). This week is the beautiful story of her first baby, an unplanned c-section. Read as she bravely accepts the change in her birth plans and prepares to meet her daughter.

The Birth of Norah Grey
By Tilly Dillehay

I’ve been meaning for three months to write out the birth story of little Agnes, but somehow not gotten down to the job before now. I had three reasons for waiting this long. 1.) Most obvious reason: I have lately had an infant in my house. 2.) I realized that in order to write Agnes’ I’d have to also write out Norah’s, which I never did. 3.) There are three ways you can tell a birth story—funny, sentimental, or technical, and I didn’t know which way to go with it.

In the end, a few folks asked me whether I was planning to do these, and their inquiries made up my mind. So I’m doing them, but with some reluctance.

Because here’s what I think about birth stories: I’m not a fan of placing too much importance on them. Like a wedding day, it makes me uncomfortable to hear people say that the day their child was born was best day of their lives. The days that my girls were born were memorable, beautiful, hard, and unalterably life changing; the day I married my husband was all of those things as well. But none of these days were ‘the best day of my life’. I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on any particular day. That kind of pressure is usually aesthetically driven anyway; it belongs to the internet world of Pinterest and Instagram, not to the real world of experiences and decisions that change us over time.

I just feel the need to lead with these caveats, because I just don’t want to be misleading to some poor pregnant lady out there, who is googling “successful vbac story” to pass another nervous afternoon.

Not that I ever did that.

For the men out there, you may be asking yourself, “But why? Why write about this?” Well, you can just move along. This is something women in their childbearing years tend to want to talk about. I can’t tell you how many unsolicited birth stories from women—at work, school, church, the library, the street, and Walmart—I have been privileged to hear.

We’re just talking shop.

Norah

I was confident and relaxed about Norah’s birth. The pregnancy had gone so well, and I was young and relatively healthy. Plus, I’d been told for a lifetime that I had “childbearing hips.”

I was planning to have a natural birth at Vanderbilt Medical Center, but trying to hold the ‘natural’ part loosely. After all, I’d never experienced what was going to happen to me, and I didn’t want to be setting myself up for failure.

What I knew, absolutely knew, was that I emphatically didn’t want to have a c-section.

Labor with Norah started in the wee hours. I was eleven days overdue. Contractions got longer and closer together all day, without becoming very uncomfortable until my water broke in the early afternoon. I was at my sister’s house, around the corner from the hospital, when the water broke; I was watching The Office. It was the episode when Dwight is using excerpts of speeches from famous dictators to address a bunch of salesmen at a convention.

I was at the hospital by 2 p.m., and this is when labor began to get hard.

Here’s the thing about the word “hard.” It means so many different things—something different almost every time it is used. I could say, “Labor was hard when I realized that I was in the worst pain of my life, and it had been regularly hitting me at three-minute increments for five hours.” But I could also say, “It was hard when I was in labor for three more hours and I began to vomit, and I asked for my mother and she came in and concluded that I was in transition.” Or I could say, “It was hard when I had been through all of the above and then they checked me and I was only at five centimeters, and this made me believe that I was only halfway there, and I cried like a child.”

But another woman could use the word too; she could say something like, “It was hard, when I realized that there wasn’t enough water to last my family through the rest of the week and the well was dry, so I had to strap the baby onto my back and carry the water jug over to the next village, twenty miles one way.” And that, obviously, would be another kind of hard. But despite the many and various meanings of the word, I’m going to have to use it here.

It was hard. So at that point, at about ten p.m., I asked for an epidural. They gave me one and I was greatly relieved, though a little bit ashamed. Ashamed was not a reasonable way to feel, but that is how I felt. I’ve known a lot of women who gave birth naturally, and I wanted to know what it was like.

Then, the entire night passed as my dilation slowly progressed. My husband and I slept. In the late morning of the next day, they told me that it was time to push. Gamely, serenely, I began to do so. They had to tell me when to do it, to try to help me time my pushes with the contractions. I did this, without feeling any loss of energy or spirits, for four hours.

I couldn’t move any part of my body below the ribcage. I didn’t know what kind of effort or sensation I was shooting for, but felt totally comfortable as these four hours ticked by.

It was then that they brought in the surgeon to do a quick analysis of the situation, and it was truly not until then that I realized I might not be able to push her out at all.

The c-section thing was pretty much the only delivery preference that I was passionate about: I really really didn’t want one. Grateful as I am to live in a time and place where c-sections are an option, the first time I really clung to my husband in fear was when I was told that the c-section was the only option left. They wanted to try forceps, but they wanted to try forceps on the operating table.

I began to clamor for ideas when they said that. I asked the nurse if they could maybe just ease back on the epidural now so that I could feel what was happening and use my useless and floppy legs, and other important muscles. She said that my pushing had apparently been effective because baby had been progressing but then inching backwards again, over and over without progress. Also, she said, it would be cruel to hit a person with the full force of end-stage labor pain when they’d been feeling nothing; it would be inhumane. I didn’t know what to say to that.

This is one of the clearest memories I have of the entire labor: the conversation between my husband and I when the room cleared of all family and medical personnel so that we could discuss our options. I cried; I said that I didn’t want to be a statistic. He comforted me and said that this was a small price to pay to meet our baby. We wouldn’t have come here if we didn’t trust this medical team, he said.

I acquiesced, but truly, this was the first time I was really gripped by fear.

It was pure disappointment and trepidation and shame, tempering all of my maternal excitement, as they wheeled me into the operating room.

The team was fantastic and quick. I had no rational fears for either myself or the baby. Still, I shook visibly—my hands were vibrating like fish fighting for air next to my head as they strapped me down. (The drugs often cause shaking, but the shaking can sometimes retroactively generate more fear: usually, you shake when you’re afraid.)

The bright lights and ceiling tiles are branded into my memory, along with the sensation of having my body tugged with the full strength of two nurses to the right and the left, the sensation of instant emptiness as my stomach cavity was relieved of its then-largest organ, which was relieved of a screaming infant and then returned to its former resting place.

My husband was sitting near my head, reciting scripture to me in my weak and cowardly state. And by weak and cowardly, I mean that I groaned and cried during the operation without any feeling of control over myself. When Norah was lifted up into the air an instant after they pulled her out, and a plastic window was opened in the curtain at my waist, allowing us our first glimpse, we cried and clung. It was every bit as sweet a meeting as any you could hope for in a birthing pool.

Justin was holding her a few moments later, and I was touching her with my shaking hands. I couldn’t have been less aware that they were stitching me closed during these first moments of seeing and touching her.

Norah was placed onto my chest in another room just a few minutes after that, and she learned to nurse instantly. Love had a new name. She was everything in the world, and I was hers and she was mine; seven pounds and eleven ounces of human flesh, groping for her mother.

I never had trouble connecting with this child, as some women say they struggle to do after a c-section. If anything, it took me a few weeks to emotionally connect to my second child, and never to the same pitch of obsession. Like a first crush, something irretrievable lives in those first few months with Norah. But this is part of the beauty of having more than one; you must take each new little pair of eyes as they come, and acquaint yourself with them on their own ground. 

The Birth of Emerald Nanette: Part Two

Rachel continues her birth story as she recounts the details of her daughter’s arrival and how she found healing in the weeks after. (Read Part One here

The Birth of Emerald Nanette: Part Two
By Rachel Stockard

So here we are…the birth of my baby is imminent and all I want to do is escape. I am waiting for someone to tell me what to do. We go back and forth for a while. My indecisive nature is showing up at the worst possible time.

I have this image and memory on repeat in my brain, just like one of those old film reels: my second baby, Moses, was plopped onto my chest, fresh and slippery with a little scrunched up face. This was everything I wanted in a birth, and yet I feel completely empty and emotionless. I feel the aftermath of an unmedicated vaginal delivery- the stinging reminder that I just pushed a tiny human being out of my body. But I look at my son, my child- and I feel nothing. No connection. It’s like the oxytocin just refused to flow. Is this even my baby? I think. He seems so unfamiliar. This child and I have been physically connected for nine months now, but he feels like a total stranger. And now, I am about to give birth to my third baby, and I am so scared that the past will repeat itself and I’ll be stuck in that same situation. What if I don’t love my baby? What if my kids lose their mom? What if my husband isn’t up to dealing with a psychotic wife and my marriage really does end this time around?

I am surrounded by some of the most understanding women that walk the earth, but the nature of birth work is that it isn’t your story. You can’t tell a mom how or where to give birth, and that’s exactly what I’m asking them to do. Sandee, who has had six babies with a variety of births and outcomes, has been there. She has no judgment and wants the best for me- such fitting traits for a doula. But I- I am struggling between the disappointment of a “failed” homebirth and the inability to cope with the pain of labor. I obsess over the financial aspect of transferring to the hospital. It wasn’t easy for us to pay for a homebirth, but I worked childcare for next to nothing to make it happen. If we went to the hospital now, we would have to pay out of pocket for our birth up to our deductible, which wasn’t something we could afford. Still, my husband said not to worry about that. He was so torn between wanting to push me to have the birth I wanted and just wanting my suffering to end. And suffering is the only word to describe the place I was in at that point.

The rest of the story goes like this: I stayed home.

I pushed my baby out quickly and effectively for about fifteen minutes until I felt her head crowning. I continued to push, but nothing was happening. Up to this point, I had been guiding myself through the pushing process, manually feeling her progress as her head moved in and out, and it was such a lovely process. I was in a squatting position on my knees. After three minutes of crowning and pushing and pushing and pushing, my midwife asked if I could feel my baby moving. I misunderstood this as fetal movement in utero and said yes (I could still feel her kicks during pushing), but she was really asking if she was moving through the birth canal- basically, if my pushing was working. And it wasn’t.

It’s kind of a blur from here because panic mode ensued. They lifted me up to a runner’s position- standing with one foot on the edge of the birth tub- pushing, pushing, still nothing. Baby’s shoulders had to be dislodged one at a time (this is called shoulder dystocia and occurs when the baby is partially birthed but one or both of shoulders get lodged in the birth canal, which occasionally can be dangerous or even fatal for the infant). To give you a mental image you probably don’t want, she was basically elbow deep uprooting my wedged baby, which literally felt like someone was ripping apart my uterus. And then I just laid back and her 9.5 pound body slid right out. I pulled her up out of the water and held her blue, virtually lifeless body, but I was so thankful it was over that I was totally oblivious to her condition. Everyone else was running around and I was in my own world with my baby, admiring her. Carissa grabbed the oxygen mask but so quickly she inflated those little lungs and her blood started flowing to her brain once again, so assistance wasn’t even needed. We stared at each other, feeling the connection of thankfulness from our mutually traumatic experience.

I’m so glad I had people on my team who helped me formulate a plan to combat my inability to process my emotions and helped me sort through resources to find the right fit for me. There were certainly bumps in the road- not everyone was on my team through it all; but my husband insisted on the right care for me and gave me time and space to work through it. My primary care provider at Cole Family Practice (who I just cannot say enough good things about- thanks, Annie!) came right on board with my plan to start medication immediately following birth, so they worked me in and I began taking Zoloft just 6 days postpartum. A few weeks later, I began seeing a counselor at the Hope Clinic and later started seeing a psychiatrist there who now manages both my medication and therapy. I have learned so much about myself, but the healing has only just begun. The on-boarding time for SSRI medication is 4-6 weeks, so those first couple of months were really difficult. My father-in-law also passed away when Emerald was six days old, so that added to the difficulty of this season for our family, and especially for my husband. We have grown exponentially in our marriage, but it’s still difficult to juggle our support for one another and the everyday craziness of raising three small children.

Postpartum depression is the ugly beast I have kept hidden in the closet for the past three+ years, using my well-formulated excuses to shut myself in that dark space just stroking the identity of that monster time and time again. And I returned to those tendencies during the initial weeks of Emerald’s life. I sat in my dark room, unable to move and having little or no desire to live. I drove away from my family late at night, just to drive right back because I didn’t know where to go. I obsessed over the most ridiculous things with no realization of how minute they were. I couldn’t give my baby a bath because I had recurring thoughts of drowning her. I couldn’t cook because I had images of cutting myself with knives or burning myself on the stove. I had so much anxiety about driving and would picture the most horrific wrecks imaginable or driving my minivan off a bridge. I have since learned that these are intrusive thoughts and are irrational, but rarely dangerous. Still, they are absolutely terrifying, and will make you feel like you are unfit as a mother. But just in case nobody else will say this to you: you aren’t.

Look, birth doesn’t have to look this way. The postpartum period does not have to look this way! There are so many resources for new moms and for seasoned moms too! This is a biochemical response, not a choice. The idea that mental health is anything other than a physical condition is just absurd. People of faith, hear this: no matter how much you believe in the power of Christ, not everyone can just believe themselves out of depression. And although some things can help, there are situations in which no amount of worship music, yoga, meditation, service to others, etc. can undo the complicated chemistry of your brain and teach the neurons to fire the right way or the hormones to produce at the right rate. I am the last person on earth to want to take medication, trust me. I try to out-will a headache like the best of them. But every week that I put my compilation of pills and supplements in their little bright green daily organizer, I am making a choice to put my mental health- and my family- first. I have been in a place where I was so close to choosing not to live, and that’s no longer my reality. For my kids, for my husband, and for all the other moms who are fighting, I am choosing to live.

My message to fresh mamas is this: you may have heard of the baby blues…you know, a little weepiness and some irritability after birth. No big deal, right? But if your baby is six weeks old, it’s time to stop masquerading it and call it what it is; there is no shame in that. I’m so sorry for the stigma you have to face, but I can absolutely assure you that there are good people who actually want to help you, and you will not regret seeking that out. If you feel like this may be you, let somebody know! I am in no way a mental health expert, but if you feel like you have no where to turn, I am more than happy to meet you for coffee and just talk through it. You are not alone in this.

And hey, hiring a postpartum doula can help too! 🙂

The Birth of Emerald Nanette: Part One

One of our doulas, Rachel, shares the story of the birth of her third child and the postpartum season that followed. It is an honest look at postpartum depression and how she found the strength to get the support and healing she needed. 

The Birth of Emerald Nanette: Part One
By Rachel Stockard

My first daughter was born about a week “late,” so when my due date came and went, I wasn’t exactly shocked or surprised (even though my second was a day early). Each day that passed afterwards felt like a year, though, and my frustration just kept growing. I had looked forward to being pregnant during fall, but Tennessee had other plans and the 80 degree temps in December were making me a crazy person. I was not interested in seeing anyone or talking to anyone and felt like some sort of hybrid between a dump truck and a blubbery whale. After months of remodeling and adding on to our house, just hoping the baby didn’t come in the middle of laying grout or hanging doors, the time had come…but baby wasn’t budging.

And seriously, I was completely over chasing after two toddlers like the Michelin Man.

On Monday, I cleaned my house for the thousandth time that week. I had been having plenty of cramps and irregular contractions for days, but I knew baby wasn’t low enough yet. A couple of weeks earlier my midwife confirmed that baby was low and engaged, but then I felt like baby had moved. Sure enough, at my 40 wk. appointment, baby was no longer engaged (did you know babies could disengage? I did not). So that afternoon I put the kids down for a nap and started the Miles Circuit to try to move baby into position for labor. I started watching the show “This is Us” to keep me entertained. When I finished the circuit on the birth ball, I definitely noticed baby was much lower. When my husband Blake got home from work I mentioned I had been having increasing cramps and even threw out a nonchalant “I think we may have a baby soon.”

We did dinner and bedtime routines with the kids as per usual. I settled on the couch, but was pretty uncomfortable and ended up going to bed early. I told Blake the cramps were just really intense so I wanted to rest.

(at this point, using the term “cramps” was my way of not actually admitting that I was having contractions…)

We had set up the Christmas tree in our bedroom this year (because, toddlers) so I kept the tree lights on and laid in bed all night, getting little spurts of sleep….8 minutes….5 minutes….3 minutes. I had to pee at least seven thousand times that night and every time I got up the pressure would intensify. I knew I had a choice to either rest for few hours or go ahead and get up and walk around to really get things going. I chose to rest, as I was no stranger to the exhausting process that was to come.

Sometime around 4am I just couldn’t lay down anymore and decided to get up. I let Blake know things were pretty real and I got in the shower for about half an hour, which felt nice. At around 5:30am, I let my midwife know I was ready for some extra support. At this point I was pacing and walking circles around our house because I was still in denial that I was in labor. Blake started to get the house prepped and asked his mom to come get the kids to take them to their mother’s day out program. We had several friends on-call for help with childcare because Blake’s dad was in the ICU and we didn’t expect his mom to be available to help, but it just happened to work out that she could, which was really helpful. Lucy, our 3 year old, woke up pretty early because I guess she realized something was going on. She was so interested in everything and helped Blake get the birth pool set up.

My birth team arrived at about 6:30am and my mother-in-law came to get the kids at about 7am. I love my babies dearly, but they were such a distraction and getting them out the door was crazy, so I was glad to be able to focus again. I was gathering backpacks and finding little shoes in between contractions. When I did regain my focus, things had intensified quite a bit. I had a protein drink that I was sipping on to stay hydrated and to keep my blood sugar up. I do not like eating during labor but get really weak and trembly, so I knew I needed to stay on top of hydration.

The pressure was getting really, really strong and the contractions harder to work through. It seemed like it was taking for-e-ver to fill up that dang tub and I desperately wanted the relief of the water. I was having some urges to squat when the contractions came, which in the past has been a sign I was pretty far along. My midwife asked several times if I’d like her to check my dilation, but I was so very anxious about not being where I wanted to be (which of course was like….at a ten, please??). I finally decided to relent and had her check my progress. I was dilated to 7cm at that point, but she stressed that she thought once baby slid down just a little bit more it wouldn’t be long at all. I was a little discouraged, but the tub was ready and the water was such a relief.

I continued working through the waves and relaxed into the warm water in between pains. Sandee, my doula, encouraged me to get up and move around a little and to empty my bladder (Sandee’s signature move, for which I have a love/hate relationship). I labored on the toilet for a little bit, which is my very least favorite, but one of the most effective places as far as gravity and pelvic positioning are concerned.

I got back in the tub. From this point, things get a little fuzzy to remember. And honestly, the rest of this story isn’t pretty. It really just isn’t. This is the part that has kept me from putting this experience into words, but it is so very necessary for me. It is here where I place my trigger warning for anyone who has experienced emotional birth trauma.

First, a little back story: after my first daughter was born, I wanted so badly to be a good mom and thought it would come naturally, as I had always been told I had a maternal sense about me. It turns out it was anything but that. I felt so awkward and out of place and struggled with intense guilt, confusion, and paranoia. I was finishing college at the time & had to leave my baby at 4 weeks to go teach 9th graders every day. I wept every single day. I pumped constantly, obsessed over her schedule, berated my husband for giving her a pacifier, tried “sleep training” which was truly a terrible experience, and never slept. I would lay her down in her crib in our tiny little apartment and go downstairs to the furthest corner from her room and just scream on the floor as she screamed in her crib. I was a total mess and had no idea that this was not normal. Fast forward to the birth of our second child, my son. I call this postpartum depression: take two + toddler. This time it presented itself as intense rage. Tiny daughter doesn’t clean up her blocks? All hell breaks lose. Husband home two minutes late? Time for a divorce. Baby needs to feed at 1.5 hours instead of every 2 hours? I wanted to die. Seriously…I was absolutely out of my mind. I tried to get help, but for the sake of time and space and protecting the character of others, it was a failed attempt, several times over.

So now, here I am in my living room. Everything is set up exactly the same as it was for Moses’ birth…down to the same set of ratty purple towels for cleaning up all the messes a homebirth brings, the same people talking amongst themselves, and the same dreary winter weather. At some point, I just lost it. The physical pain triggered all the emotional pain and helplessness and guilt I had felt as a wife, mom, and human being over the past three years. I needed out…now. I started to beg to go to the hospital, saying over and over again “Take me to the hospital. PLEASE, somebody take me to the hospital.” Looking at Blake with desperation and physically shaking and tensing and pounding on my belly telling my baby to stop. I got out of the water and continued to insist I couldn’t do this…we needed to go to the hospital and I needed them to put me under and cut this baby out of me. My midwife asked if that was what I really wanted and I felt paralyzed; I didn’t know how to answer. I could see the worry and fear in their eyes and I knew something was going wrong. What I really wanted was to have the baby at home. It’s what I planned for and paid for and prepared for, and yet here I was begging to be dismissed from it all. But each wave of pain that hit me pulled me further from reality and the pain-tension-pain-tension cycle persisted. I was so, so very afraid. I didn’t worry about postpartum depression, I was already dealing with it. The anxiety ran through my veins in the same capacity as the blue tinted A-positive. I was in full panic mode. I threw on clothes and flip flops and began to talk through the hospital transfer process with the birth team. My midwife started explaining it, and it hit me that I wouldn’t make it through all of that. Because it wasn’t a truly emergent situation, we would have to go through L+D, wait in triage, be moved to a room, wait on an anesthesiologist, etc. etc. etc.

“I cannot do that.” I said, trembling from the cold and my fear.
My midwife said “You’re right. I think you’ll have the baby in the car.”

(Stay tuned for part 2)

A Post Birth Story: Megan

Megan bravely shares her experiences from the past 6 years as she walked through and overcame postpartum depression. 

*Trigger Warning**

My name is Megan Helton. The year is 2017 and I hope this story helps someone some day. 

2011: I don’t have much of a birth story. For some reason, during my first pregnancy, I didn’t think to educate myself beyond what my OBGYN was telling me. I assumed the hospital knew best. So I followed the system the whole way through. My water broke as a trickle, we went to the hospital several hours later, I got my epidural and subsequent Pitocin, and I ended up with a C-Section because the baby was under stress. I didn’t really care because the baby was healthy and I felt fine and I didn’t really know how it would affect my next pregnancy. I received a ton of brightly colored papers from the hospital including the Postpartum Depression/ Baby Blues sheet with a number to call. I figured I had enough Jesus, husband, family, friends, and a healthy psychology to survive the new stress of having a baby at the house. I tucked them away in my giant take-home plastic hospital baggie filled with newborn shirts, cotton swabs and boogie-suckies. As soon as we got home three days later, I was surrounded by physical support. My parents stayed with us, friends brought meals, and my husband was at my side helping me with healing and the new baby. 

And then it hit the first night home. I was so sad. I had ruined my life. No more life. My entire future looked like that moment of latching struggles, incredibly lop-sided boobs, walls caving in, my bloated body, night sweats, eye-shaking exhaustion, constant alertness and worry, desperation and endlessly scrambling through my disorganized boxes of bottle-cleaning supplies, vaseline and breast-pump parts. I was hopeless and grasping for a firm hold on something normal. My husband assured me that we would go on vacations again and that he didn’t regret marrying me. My friends assured me it would get easier. My parents said they would stay as long as we needed them to. But I couldn’t shake the deep deep heartache that had a tight grip on my core.

I cried in the bed. I cried in the shower. I cried in the mirror. I cried when I would come out of the bedroom and see my parents loving faces. My usual fun-loving and social personality was gone and I couldn’t handle any visitors or even consider the thought of getting dressed and going in public with one large right boob and huge bloated thighs. As I sobbed, I knew that it was bad. It was worse than just the baby blues. I couldn’t function beyond just keeping the baby alive and dressed. I was overwhelmed to even think about the next hour and completely panicked when anyone wanted to come see me or the baby. How could they even ask me to tell them a good time to come or ask me to answer the door? Didn’t they know how impossible that was? My parents and husband suggested I call the hospital to see if I could get some help. How could I find a good time or mind space to have a conversation on the phone about all this? Nobody on the other line would understand and they would try to talk me out of my feelings. I never made the call, not because I didn’t believe I needed it, but because I couldn’t do it. 

I saw glimpses of myself from the outside. I saw all the guilt I was having about not being able to feed the baby well, not being able to keep up with the bottle washing, the laundry, or even get into the kitchen to make myself a plate of food that someone else had cooked. I saw the irrational perfection that I was demanding in my medication and pumping schedule and the baby’s feeding and sleeping. I saw the exhaustion and hormonal releases that were making me feel sick. I knew I didn’t love the baby or feel a bond. I told my parents after two weeks that I was ready to try to handle the baby myself out of stubborn hope that I could get a schedule going and push through. My mom showed me how good it was for me to sit outside in the sun and clear my head. That worked well. I liked to watch my husband take the baby on a walk so I could go inside and file my nails or do something small. It was fun to dress up the baby in his clean little baseball pajamas and rock him to sleep. Things were starting to feel slightly more manageable during the day and some of the sadness started to go away.

But when night fell, and the mechanical waves of the breast pump drowned out all other sounds, and exhaustion visited again, the baby started to turn into a [monster]. I looked away as I fed him so that I wouldn’t have to check if it was real. My nightmares would keep me awake even when the baby slept. I would lose the baby in the sheets and feverishly dig for him even though he was really in the crib across the room. I don’t know what week it was when my worry for the baby’s safety turned into compulsive thoughts of me hurting him during the day. I imagined doing the worse things to harm my child. It was horrific. Could I do it? Would I do it? The thoughts consumed me and I couldn’t shake them.

I joked about selling him to friends. I joked about it because I didn’t know how to cope with my strange feelings while the other moms doted on their little toddlers, covering them in sunscreen and feeding them home-made avocado and banana soufflé. When it came time in the parenting book to put the baby upstairs in his own room, we did it and I used a baby monitor to check on him. I heard and saw [monsters] in the monitor and was convinced that they were upstairs every night waiting on me and my child. I was paralyzed in fear for days. I finally went to my pastor with my husband. He helped a lot with my fears and comforted me as I laid out all of the horrible thoughts I was having. He told me that I needed help from a medical professional and I wasn’t alone because of how many women come through his doors with the same problems. 

So at the next OBGYN appointment, I told her about my problems.  Her face became alert and serious and she said “I’m not allowed to let you leave without seeing our psychiatrist. Is there anyone that can come help you with the baby right now?” and that was the start of the best thing that could have ever happened to me and my family. They started treating me with medication for postpartum depression and anxiety that day. I eventually learned that it was not my fault, not a weakness, and not true feelings, but a chemical and hormonal illness. I started functioning well and learning to how to spot, name, and manage my compulsive thoughts and triggers. The medications worked. 

2013: I went on to have a second baby, this time fully ready to try an Ina-May-documentary-fueled VBAC, but eventually having a 2nd C-section after 26 hours of labor. It felt a little defeating but the baby was fine and I was fine and postpartum depression never returned. But the Postpartum Anxiety came back in full force. Because I was already under the care of a psychiatrist, I was able and willing to tell her immediately when I had an almost robotic episode of holding my new 5 month old baby on the balcony of a beach condo and unable to hold myself back from the enormous urge to toss him off.  I handed him to my husband and let him know we were in trouble. They upped my meds to the maximum amount and there it stayed. It knocked out everything completely and I was able to care for both of my boys well. Albeit unfortunate that I was an unemotional zombie for most of their diaper years (side effect of medication), I developed a healthy care for them both, had energy to play with them and keep them safe and active, and returned to nurturing my own friendships. 

2015: When we became pregnant with the third baby, I was on 250mg of Zoloft (thats a lot) and very confident in my ability as a mom. The doctor told us at about 6 weeks that it was not a viable pregnancy and offered us an evacuation pill to help the miscarriage have a more predictable timeline and be more smooth. We declined (I cried a little but not enough because my meds were strong) and I decided to go to the beach to let it happen naturally. Well, long story short, the baby fooled everyone and kept growing and living. Weeks later I started suffering partial placental abruptions (this is where you bleed a lot and its possible your placenta is coming off the uterine wall I think) and spent 124 days on bedrest. She was born a few weeks early by C-Section, my third C-Section, and we decided that I should no longer have anymore pregnancies and took out my tubes in the same operation. The baby had two holes in her heart and she fought hard and we made it home without any extra days spent in the hospital. I loved her hard and that love spilled over to my other children. Bonding started happening all around. The medication did its job completely and I had no postpartum anxiety ever again. Under the care of the psychiatrist, we slowly started weaning off the Zoloft after she was a year old, when breastfeeding finished and my period returned. 

2017: Now, over two years later, I’m completely free of all medication and free of postpartum illness. I function well (in an ADHD sort of “well”) and I’m happy. I cry under too much stress like most other moms and I hover frantically over the kids in busy parking lots and around the pool deck (where they bump around like pinballs into each others puddle jumpers making it even more awesome). Life is chaotic and my van is disgusting, but the [monsters] are gone and I’m super glad to be out on the other side with all the feels and a happy ending. My boys are now 5 years old and 4 years old, and my baby girl is 2.5 years old. They are all pretty dadgum adorable. I only want the very best for them all. When I see old news stories about a mom driving her vehicle full of kids into the waves in Florida, or a mom drowning all her kids in the bathtub in Texas, I shake my head and say, “I know.” Mental Illness is not your fault and I hope this story can help you.  

A Post Birth Story: Felicia

By Felicia Dougherty

I remember a friend in high school shared that her mom suffered from depression. She confided in me that she feared she would one day too. At the time I couldn’t really grasp what depression really meant or looked like. Later one of my closest friends even today suffered from panic attacks, anxiety, and bouts of depression and still I had no framework beyond someone being just really sad. That is until this past year happened.

I’d say looking back that I was already dealing with a bit of prenatal depression. (Which is a thing! I had no idea… hindsight!) A mother figure had recently passed too soon along with two friends following the two years after. Grief is one of those awkward emotions that makes so many of us uncomfortable because we’ve mostly been taught it’s weak or that there’s a limited amount of time. Grief is also a beautiful thing because it opens the door to greater healing for areas of trauma we might have never noticed.

“We run from grief because loss scares us, yet our hearts reach toward grief because the broken parts want to mend.” – Brené Brown

“I had no idea that the gate I would step through / to finally enter this world / would be the space my brother’s body made.” -Marie Howe

Grief, hormones, a cross-country move and then the last straw: gender disappointment. You can read my full “Post-birth” story on my online journal, but essentially this happened: I had no doula to tell me “you can do this” (which was absolutely needed even on my second birth and even with the supportive partner I have), I was at a hands-off birth center (which I loved but later realized I needed a little coaching) and my mantra I was holding onto internally was “just a little longer until you meet your little girl.” …Then I birthed a beautiful baby boy.

Symptoms.

“The Baby” was his name. – a distancing tactic I had no idea I was doing.
(Postpartum Depression in Plain Mama English)

Anxiety Attacks.

One in particular where Ezra wasn’t latching well, my then two-year-old, Harper, was being a sweet big brother and giving too many kisses while I was trying to nurse and internally I felt this constricting tension. I wanted to scream. After pleas, I pushed Harper back, not hard, but enough to where he stumbled on his own feet and fell on his bum. He was crying, I was crying, “the baby” was crying and I was alone. I called my husband, Ty, at work and thankfully he was able to come home for a few hours to help get us resettles and me reset.

Numbness.

I would never wish depression on anyone but there is something to be said about the often used adjective: sadness. It really shouldn’t be used at all because it’s not a deep inconsolable sadness, it’s a deep void of no emotion. And something I had never experienced up to this point. It was like a heavy slime all over me making the task of getting out of bed daunting. Thank god breastfeeding was going well because I’m not sure I could have managed making and washing bottles every two hours.

Help.

The trouble with getting help with PPD is the stigma. Well meaning family members asked if the kids were okay and safe at the mention of “baby blues.” I get it, a lot of the stories we’ve heard are mothers who have gone too long without support which caused heart-wrenching actions like harm to herself, her children, even suicide or infanticide. Like I said, most of these are undiagnosed. No mother wants to even remotely be accused of being a “bad mother” or “unfit”? Not one.

Thankfully, I have an extremely understanding and caring husband. He listened to me as I sugarcoated what I was feeling, “some light baby blues” and was unwaveringly there for me when I was brave enough to say “postpartum depression” out loud.

I barely mentioned it to my midwife at my 6-week postpartum visit and without hesitation handed me a number of a therapist who specialized in PPD. I plopped down on a couch in her waiting room the very next week. I was nervous, for sure, but wanted this icky slime off of me.

She led me into her office which was very un-alarming. No squeaky leather couch, she didn’t have me lay down, close my eyes and spill my guts. Instead it felt more like a living room at the perfect temperature. She offered me tea and the room smelt wonderful but not as though she tried, just as though it was. I sat in silence for a moment and then we started with just my birth. I had what she identified as “birth trauma” which is essentially PTSD.

The Healing.

What I learned is that there’s incredibly hard trauma that immediately causes PTSD and then there can me trauma that triggers tension in the body that has been there for who knows how long because undealt with trauma never goes away. Thus all the past trauma and undealt with trauma creates a break. And this, I have now come to be desperately thankful for– my birth trauma created a pathway to further healing and I am more whole and happy then I’ve ever been.

What made facing and naming PPD so hard for me is that I wasn’t depressed always. I wasn’t anxious always. I’d just have moments that would last minutes or hours. And instead of reaching a point of “healed”, I still have moments. Yet there’s bigger and longer gaps of time in between. My therapist calls this “post traumatic growth”. I also started writing more which is so healing. Finding space for me, self-care; important in every part of motherhood.

I continue seeing my amazing therapist weekly, we’ve now are working on a past undealt with trauma using a type of therapy called “timeline therapy” but there is always space to debrief if there were “moments” throughout the previous week.

This was my journey. Every mother’s looks different and I would encourage every mama to get curious and look within because you matter, you are enough and you are worth being taken care of.

Some resources I found incredibly helpful on my journey:
Playing Monopoly with God
Postpartum Progress
IG account: motherhoodrising

*all images meghan klien photography (http://www.meghanklein.com/ &/or https://www.instagram.com/meghanklein/)
——

The Birth of Josiah Graham

This is a beautiful story of infertility, miscarriage, and redemption. This mama learned to trust God and her body in her journey. And was able to meet her precious son the way she always dreamed.

The Birth of Josiah Graham
By Cassandra Thon

This story starts years before our little guy was born.  After 4 years of being married we decided to start trying to have a baby.  To our surprise we struggled with the frustration of infertility and the difficulty of having two miscarriages.  Our first miscarriage was at 10 weeks into the pregnancy and came 2 years after we started trying.  We recovered from that loss and began to try to move forward.  We became pregnant again 7 months later.  We cautiously made it to 15 weeks, complications arose and we lost that precious baby, too.  We were devastated and unsure of what to do next.  After taking a step back and letting our emotional wounds heal we started to try again.  After a year of no success we decided to have ourselves checked for infertility.  We pursued fertility treatments for 6 months.  After no signs of improvement we decided to stop the fertility treatments and began looking into the possibility of adoption.  ONE MONTH later I became pregnant.  I remember literally laughing at the positive pregnancy test.  It was a miracle.

I have always wanted a natural childbirth.  My mom had to have C-sections with my brother and I and not many of my friends have had a baby natural without pain medicine.  This didn’t leave me with much background information on natural childbirth.  So, once I was well into my second trimester I began researching natural childbirth and ways I could accomplish it.  I talked with a good friend that delivered her firstborn all natural with the help of a doula.  I discussed options with my husband, Ethan, about my wishes for labor and delivery and the possibility of hiring a doula. I was unsure how he would react to this somewhat crazy idea. To my surprise, he was completely supportive and interested to hear more.  I contacted NDS and was connected with Sandee and Emily.  When we met for the first time, I was able to voice my concerns and they were able to tell me how they could help and encourage me.  They let me know I could do this!  Each time we talked about labor and birth Sandee and Emily both looked so excited and passionate about the amazing journey of natural childbirth. They kept telling me two things that I would soon understand and agree with: “your body is meant to do this” and “this is what women are made to do.”

On Monday, January 16th I went for my weekly OB appointment (I was 38 weeks and 4 days), Dr. Rebele checked me and said I was a “soft 1cm” dilated and 75% effaced!  She was really encouraged by the progression and that made me so happy.  Dr. Rebele wanted me to schedule an induction just in case I didn’t progress into labor on my own.  I have some potential high-risks during pregnancy and going past the 40 week deadline was not advisable.  The induction was scheduled for Friday, January 26th, but I was praying I would go into labor on my own.

On Friday, January 20th I made it through my last FULL week of work and I was getting so TIRED!  I was hoping and wishful that I might go into labor over the weekend.  Ethan and I had talked about going to see a movie after work, but after a full day of work I decided we should just watch something at home. My lower back had been feeling a little different that day and I was really tired from the busy week of work.  My mom brought us dinner, and around 6pm I began having my first contractions! I relaxed on the couch with the heating pad. The contractions felt minor like really bad period cramps, but nothing I couldn’t handle. At this point I had not experienced Braxton Hicks contractions, and I honestly thought that was what was happening. I texted Emily to keep her updated, she encouraged me to have a good nights sleep and check back with her once I woke up.

On Saturday, January 21st, I woke up to more contractions, it was light outside, I looked at my phone and it was 5:30am.  I tossed and turned, trying to fall back asleep but couldn’t get comfortable.  So, around 6:30am I finally got up and laid on the couch with the heating pad.  I began tracking my contractions from 7-8am to see if I had any labor progression.  I was shocked that the contractions were still consistent.  I texted Emily a screenshot of the contractions app, they were not really getting any stronger but just continued to happen and not go away.  I asked her if this was considered Braxton Hicks or early labor?!? I was in denial! Haha!  She said it sounded like early labor, but that it could go on for days.  She reminded me to rest as much as possible, drink plenty of water, and eat well during this time.  I was nervous and excited at the same time.  I had plans to go wedding dress shopping for one of my friends and dinner after; however, with the possibility of being in pre-labor I wasn’t sure if it would be wise to be out and about. I ended up going back to bed, cuddled my hubby, and slept from about 9am-11am.  After we woke up I decided to take a bath and see if that would help the pain from the contractions I was having.  It felt so good.  I sat in the bath thinking… wow, I could really be having my baby soon.  Once I got out of the bath I could feel the contractions were not any easier.  Ethan talked me into going out to lunch with him to try and get my mind off the contractions.  We had a good lunch, but the contractions were still really noticeable. After we made it back home, I planted myself on the couch with the heating pad again.  We watched a movie from 2-4pm and I tried to just relax and rest as much as possible.

Around 4:30pm I got into bed and attempted to take a nap.  I didn’t lay there very long, I couldn’t really fall asleep because of how much discomfort I was in.  Around 5pm I felt a little pop or burst.  I got up, called for Ethan and ran to the toilet.  At the time we thought it might have been my bag of waters breaking, but we would later find out that it was my mucus plug.  After that happened, I started getting more and more uncomfortable.  I realized my contractions were at an appropriate frequency and intensity.  It was time to race to the hospital. Ethan packed up the car and we drove to the hospital I tried to relax as much as possible.

We left our house around 6pm and arrived about 35 minutes later to the hospital.  The ride to the hospital wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be. We were about 10 minutes away and I saw a bunch of traffic backed up.  I just tried to relax and close my eyes and focus on how close we were instead of focusing on the traffic.  We finally got to the hospital, checked in, and were lead to a triage room.  I was beginning to get more and more uncomfortable, feeling burning hot one minute and cold the next.  When we got into the room the nurse instructed me to leave a urine sample and change into a gown.  We followed her instruction and I sat on the side of the stretcher.  When the nurse returned she began asking me questions and going over my medical history.  All of the sudden I started feeling really sick, I said, “I’m gonna get sick!” Ethan grabbed a bucket for me just in time.  I will just say my lunch from earlier ALL came up….ugh.  Ethan and I were starting to think this was going to be a really LONG night!  After that I felt better, just had continued contractions and was ready to get into my room so I could get comfortable and work through them easier with Ethan.  The nurse checked my dilation and said I was 4cm.  They admitted me into the hospital labor and delivery department and off we went, wheeling to our delivery room!

Around 7:30pm we arrived to the labor and delivery room and I met my new nurse.  She began my IV and gave me some anti nausea medicine since I had thrown up earlier and didn’t want to deal with that issue during delivery.  We agreed since the baby and I were doing well I could just have a hep lock instead of an IV connected to a bag of fluids. Once I got settled, the nurse checked my dilation to see if it had changed since we had first arrived to the labor and delivery triage.  She said it felt like it had advanced to 5 cm!  Shortly after, my doula, Sandee walked in and I was so glad to see her.  I was ready to get this party started and get into our groove.  Since I was doing well and showing no sign of distress, the doctor agreed to let me be off the monitor a majority of the time.  I only had to be monitored during the first 20 minutes of every hour.  While I was getting monitored the first time, Ethan and I caught Sandee up on where I was and how I was feeling.

Around 8pm Sandee and Ethan started getting the room ready.  Ethan put on my labor playlist, which was a Bethel Music album.  They started my essential oil diffuser with some stress balancing blends and got the lights dimmed so that I didn’t have to deal with bright florescent lighting.  Once I completed the first 20 minutes of monitoring I was able to get on the ball.  I sat on the ball and leaned my upper body forward onto the bed or back onto Ethan.  Ethan was being a BOSS of a husband helping me relax, massaging my back, telling me to breathe properly and talking to me about how our lives were about to change with this little guy that I was about to birth.  During labor I kept getting hot then I would get cold.  During the cold moments I would need a blanket, but then I would quickly get hot and need the blanket removed.  I was worried about explaining myself during labor, but Sandee told me to not worry.  I didn’t need to waste energy in explaining something, I just needed to say what I needed and have it done so I could focus on the contractions and myself.  As each contraction came I just tried to lean on Ethan and listen to Sandee’s voice.  I remember talking about this process in our classes and I wasn’t sure how exactly I would handle the pain and what I would do or need.  As the contractions came I just tried to really focus.  I did this by keeping my eyes mostly closed, listening to the music, praying, leaning on Ethan and listening to what Sandee was telling me.  She kept reminding me that each contraction got us closer to our baby.  She also reminded me to just concentrate and get through that ONE contraction instead of thinking about the other contractions I would need to endure through labor. This helped me so much. She reminded me to rest during the rest time and try to relax my body and breath during the contraction.  After a few contractions we got into a groove and discovered how to endure the labor.  I felt so relaxed and at peace.  During this portion of labor, I feel like time went by really quickly. I would breathe through each contraction and eventually started moaning as each one came and went. I felt like this helped me really relax and let the contractions do their job.  The times when our baby needed to be monitored I was able to stay on the ball, which helped me to stay in my labor groove.  At one point Sandee encouraged me to try and stand while holding onto Ethan in order to help the baby move down more.  We did that for 2 contractions, the contractions were pretty painful and I felt like my legs were so weak.  After that, I sat back down on the ball. I think being able to sit on the ball helped me to relax and really let go of everything including my body. I remember just really relying on Ethan to hold me and support me during each contraction.  I am usually someone that doesn’t like physical touch when I’m in pain but this was so different. I needed Ethan there next to me holding me the whole time. It was late and I knew Ethan hadn’t eaten dinner, but I still didn’t want him to move.

It was a little after 10pm and I felt like my back was literally breaking.  It felt like I had so much pressure on my lower back as if I had bent over for hours in the flowerbed pulling weeds.  I got in bed to lie down for a minute.  Once I got in bed Sandee suggested we use the peanut ball between my legs while I layed on my side.  I stayed like this for a few minutes and remember the contractions started to feel different and more intense. My body started shaking involuntarily so we took away the peanut ball and I remember my right leg was comfortable lying straight out on the bed while my left leg was more comfortable bent with my foot on the bed. My moaning got a little louder and my nurse came in and decided to check how far dilated I had progressed.

It was 10:30pm and the nurse said I was 7cm dilated.  I was happy to hear I had progressed but was still unsure on how long it would take for me to be completely dilated.  I kept my eyes closed a majority of the time so I could focus through the contractions.  But I opened them after hearing the nurses begin to get the lights and sterile equipment ready.  At this point I realized I must be getting close, I just tried to concentrate on each contraction and get through each one while trying to relax and let it all happen.  Ethan could tell that the nurses were preparing for delivery.  We had discussed having my mom in the room during the delivery, so he went to the waiting room to bring her back.  I still wasn’t fully dilated, but could tell I was in transition and on my way to 10cm.  I feel like this was the hardest part of labor.  I was thankful to have Sandee, my mom, and Ethan by my side.  The encouragement helped me to push through the pain and focus on having my son.

At 11pm I said, “I feel so much pressure”. I was thinking that this was SO HARD!  At that moment I felt the need to push, but the nurses and Sandee encouraged me to just breathe short quick breaths instead.  I needed to endure the feeling and try not to push at this point.  As the contractions came it felt like my body took over. I wasn’t trying to push but I could tell my uterus was moving all by itself.  After each contraction the nurses would lift my blankets and check my progress. They kept doing this, but never made any comment other than to not push.  Its funny now, but I was thinking can they see a head?!

At 11:15pm the nurse said I had completely dilated.  Dr. Cox, the doctor on call, walked into the room.  The delivery was a blur, but slow and vivid at the same time.  The nurses helped my legs up into the stirrups while Dr. Cox told me instructions on how to push through during the contractions.  She explained I needed to wait until I had a contraction, take a deep breath, try to hold the breath in and push as long as I could.  It took a couple of contractions to get the hang of what I needed to do.  Sandee and Ethan were on one side and my mom was on the other.  They helped support my neck and upper back as well as my legs. Sandee told me to try to push as hard as I could and visualize my body doing what it was built to do.  She told me to think about my uterus pushing my baby down. I put my chin to my chest, closed my mouth, and pushed as hard as I could through every contraction.  At this time I remembered reading that some women can possibly push for hours.  So, I tried to mentally prepare myself, but little did I know it wouldn’t be anywhere near that for me. The doctor and nurses kept saying they could see his head and that he had so much black hair.  The room was full of nurses and everyone was yelling different things.  I just tried to focus on the directions Sandee was speaking in my ear.  I also listened to the nurse counting during my contractions so I knew how long I was pushing for each contraction. My heart was racing, my mind was focused, I was burning hot, and I felt like my bottom was ripping open. It took exactly 15 minutes of pushing and our sweet boy was here.  He was quickly put on my chest, his tiny warm body, umbilical cord still attached, making the most precious little noises.  He opened his eyes and looked around, this moment was incredible. I looked at his sweet face, all that black hair, and was just overwhelmed that he was here in my arms! He was perfect, and I couldn’t believe he was finally here… our baby was finally in our arms!  Ethan kept telling me how proud he was and how beautiful our boy is. After we had a few minutes to see him and catch our breath, Ethan had the honor of cutting the cord. It was the sweetest moment.  What an incredible experience.  The pain was real, but unexplainably worth it.