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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 Cole and Bray

We are sharing two birth stories in one today! Whitney, co-owner of Nashville Doula Services, shares about her first birth which was an emergency cesarean, followed by her VBAC birth with her second child. With each of her births came growth, transformation, and gratefulness.

With my first pregnancy, I knew I wanted a natural birth, but was not yet comfortable with the thought of home birth, so logically I decided I would choose to go with the local midwifery program that delivered at a big hospital in town. Their model of care completely reflected my personal goals and things I felt were important: A low-technology, high-touch philosophy of care, with much belief in the woman’s body and it’s ability to give birth without intervention. My husband Michael and I did a minimal amount of preparation, including attending the hospital birthing class offered at the hospital. We did not hire a doula, mainly to save money. My husband was confident he could help me through labor, and I agreed. If I was with a midwife group, and they are experienced in natural labor, why would I need a doula anyway?

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When “labor day” arrived, I progressed rather quickly for a first pregnancy, and a few hours into labor I definitely needed help getting through the contractions, so we headed to the hospital. The hospital was hopping that night with women in labor and I only saw my midwife for a few minutes because she was catching other babies. ☺ When I arrived I was 4 cm dilated, and pretty soon after being checked in I was begging for pain relief. My sweet husband tried to help me through the contractions but they were coming hard and fast and he didn’t really know how to help. We were basically hanging on for dear life, not really knowing how to handle these waves of intensity that were sending me over the edge! When the anesthesiologist arrived and administered the epidural, I felt so much better – but in a matter of 10 minutes everything would drastically change.

As soon as I started to feel relief from the epidural, my baby started to go into fetal distress. After multiple attempts to get his heart rate stabilized, I was quickly whisked away for an emergency C-section. I was devastated, terrified, and my poor husband was left in the labor room by himself while they got my baby out as fast as possible.  Michael was fearing the worst, understandably. My precious midwife Lauren was right by my side the whole time holding my hand, comforting me, and speaking life over me and my baby. I don’t know how I could have gotten through that 30 minutes without her!  It was traumatic for us to say the least. We were so incredibly thankful that our baby was fine and healthy when he was born.

Our adorable Cole Huckaby Cantrell came into the world on June 23rd, 2010 and changed our lives forever as he taught us to be parents!

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During my recovery and in the months to follow, I studied and researched all I could on Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) and natural birth. There was not a natural birth book I had not read. I read study after study on VBACs. I read all of the positive VBAC stories I could, and joined VBAC and natural birth support groups online. I came to the overwhelming conclusion that for a woman like me, a VBAC was not only do-able but it was a safe and healthy option.

When I became pregnant with our second child, we immediately hired a doula. I started going to a Webster certified chiropractor. I continued preparing my mind, body and spirit for a natural birth, prayed a LOT, and told myself every day that I could do it, and I was meant to do it! I spend many hours visualizing what I wanted the birth of my second child to be like.

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My second birth was also in a hospital, but I had a different plan this time. My doula and all of my reading and determination had prepared us well. At 39 + 4 weeks pregnant I woke up to my first real contraction, and after a day of sporadic contractions, my water broke late that afternoon walking through Babies R Us grabbing the last couple of things we needed because we knew our baby girl was on her way. We had just checked out and were headed to the door and I felt a gush. I couldn’t see below my belly so I asked Michael, “Does it look like I just peed my pants?!” We were so excited! After arriving at the hospital, my doula Lauren had me walking the staircase in the Vanderbilt waiting room to get my contractions going, and after two or three journey up and down, my contractions started coming steady and strong.

I remember thinking that the contractions felt the same as with my labor with Cole, but I handled them completely differently. I now had the tools, and knew how to form the delicate balance of staying in control yet relaxing my body. I never once got into the bed, even while being monitored the entire labor as per VBAC policy at most hospitals. My nurses and midwife Claire were so incredibly supportive. Everyone was cheering me on. It really felt like we were all a team to bring this baby girl earth-side safely and naturally!

From that point I had a fast labor of 4 hours and only pushed for 8 minutes before our beautiful Our Bray Madeline Cantrell was born on December 28th, 2012.

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It was one of the most amazing, empowering, beautiful experiences I had ever had. It seemed like the most natural and instinctive thing my body had ever done! Fear never once entered my mind. My baby even started breastfeeding right away, all on her own, and nursed until she was 2 and a half years old.

Soon after my amazing birth experience, I felt a strong desire in my heart to help educate and help other women achieve the kind of birth they were meant to have, and the kind of birth they wanted to have. I knew that there were many, many care providers out there that would never give women a reasonable chance to have VBACs despite ACOG’s (American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology) guidelines. I was VERY fortunate enough to have been with a midwifery group that did nothing but encourage me and tell me over and over that I could do it, and a TOLAC (trial of labor after cesarean) was a safe and healthy option for me.

So after my two completely different births, doors began to open for me to attend births of my friends, and I began studying to become a doula. I started officially taking on doula clients and in my first year as a doula I attended 40 births, and my second year I attended almost 80! It was without a doubt the path I was supposed to take. It has truly been an exciting ride. Even though each client is special and the journey with each one has been absolutely amazing, I have especially loved educating and supporting my VBAC clients.

Sometimes I just want to pinch myself – I’m so incredibly blessed to get to support women and their families through their pregnancies and births – what an honor! I am forever grateful for BOTH of my birth experiences, without which I would not be a doula today.

One day soon I will tell the story of my third baby, Asa. But that is for another time. 😉

The Birth of Atticus Eli

How can an emergency c-section be a mother’s most healing birth? You’ll have to read today’s birth story to find out! We are so honored to share the beautiful birth story of Atticus Eli and his powerful mama. #birthonpurpose
The Birth of Atticus Eli
By Melissa Bonar
I have had 2 previous traumatic birth experiences that resulted in c sections with general anesthesia. One of the hardest things has accepting everything that happened and the fact that I was not able to witness my babies being born. I knew this time that I needed to be prepared for absolutely everything that I may encounter in this pregnancy and birth, so my first mission was to hire only the best doula that money buy. I knew immediately after meeting Sandee and Whitney that I had the right doula services.
So after several inspirational and educational classes and motivational meetings with them I felt more than ready for the birth of my 3rd baby.
My mom and step dad had been staying with me to help with the kids while my husband had to travel for work.  I had been having several days of prodromal labor before I actually went into real labor.  Monday night was about 6 hours worth.  On Thursday the 25th around 4am I woke up with waves of cramps that I knew were the real thing, and they were intense and moving quickly together. I asked my mom to notify Sandee that I  thought she needed to head over. My husband was about 5 hours away, so Sandee helped pack up my things into her car and of we drove. It was going to be a crazy drive in morning rush hour. Throughout the drive Sandee was multitasking by soothing me and fighting traffic.  We arrived at the hospital around 9am and upon arrival when the midwife checked me,  I was 6cm dilated. I was so excited that all of my hard work was paying off that I busy into tears of joy. Laboring was amazing and the energy was unexplainable. I was able to move around and change positions and all along had an the most supportive birth team with me. I wasn’t having back labor yet, but the contractions were very intense. Mother nature was allowing me to rest in between, but then asking me for everything I had during these contractions.
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After 2 hours I was asking for the epidural because I was still at 6cm. I started to have horrible back labor pains that were taking over my body and concentration was going out the window. I knew I wanted to see my baby take his first breath and I wouldn’t be able to with how exhausting and torturous these last few hours had been.  I endured 3 contractions while they were placing it and I knew that if it weren’t for Sandee’s help and strength, that I wouldn’t have been able to sit still.
I got to 10cm in the next few hours all while comfortable and pain free. My husband arrived and I felt such a relief.   The nurses used a peanut ball to help position me,  and my water broke, but as it turns out, baby was posterior and not moving down.  We tried pushing for about 2 hours and got to a stage 0 and then things slowly started to go wrong.
The doctor on call recommended that I get a c section because it was not looking well. He suggested less then an hour before I get the surgery.  Shortly after I got a low fever, baby’s heart rate was dropping, there were signs of meconium,  and I had the most intense pain in my shoulders.  It felt like a gorilla was squeezing my neck. I knew in my mind that this wasn’t good. All signs of ruptured uterus.  We were rushed to the operating room in the next few minutes.
One of the most beautiful I things was about to happen. Atticus was born at 8:44 pm. I was able to hear my baby cry for his first time and then see my baby almost immediately. My husband was there to hold my hand and watch as they were checking him out.  He was then allowed to do skin to skin with the baby while they finished repairing my uterus and closing me up.
The overwhelming feeling of love and joy that came over me when I was reunited with them was so powerful. Tears flowed like a river as I  was handed  that little bundle. I greeted him by introducing my self as his mommy and kissing him in the forehead.  We nursed right away, with only a little bit of help since my body was weak and sore, and he was a bit groggy from the medications. Sandee stayed with us this entire time and insisted on staying until we were ready to be brought up to the room.  She truly went above and beyond her call of duty and I am forever grateful.
The last hour was scary, but ended more beautifully  then I could have ever imagined.  I feel so proud and so emotionally healed that I was able to really be a part of it all.  I finally felt like I had given birth.
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The Birth of Nora Marjorie

This is a story of courage and strength. Lauren went through days of early labor before discovering that her baby was breech. Read how she handled a change in her plans and how she bravely welcomed her daughter into this world.

<Written in the perspective of Lauren’s sister and doula> 

The Birth of Nora Marjorie
By Merrill Durham (Lauren’s sister and doula)I had just assisted a couple at a birth of their daughter when I switched gears to walk through labor with my twin sister, Lauren and her husband, Evan.At 37 weeks and 6 days (May 14th), Lauren had contractions off and on all day. We officially entered into “is this it?” mode. During the final weeks and days, a doula is there to keep the mom (and partner) sane. It is so easy to question everything. I responded to texts and phone calls and helped ease the concerns and questions. I am learning how to wait with the mom as well. Because during these days my life feels like it is on hold, too. But I’ve learned how to continue living my life while still being on the ready.On May 16th, Lauren recognized that she was focusing too much on the sensations and so she released the day and painted, something that she hasn’t had the energy to do in a long time.May 17th came and luckily she had a wedding to distract her.It was Sunday night, May 18th that things really became consistent. And as Lauren defines it, labor really began. So many times woman ask, “How will I know I am in labor?” and the best answer I can give is, “You will know.” Of course, that is not helpful at all for first time moms. But sure enough, they knew when things felt different than the practice contractions and Braxton Hicks they’ve been having before. That’s part of my job, to help moms know what they are feeling. Contractions started coming every 5-7 minutes and lasting 1 minute that evening. We went for a walk and then tried to get some rest. Nighttime brought a fizzle in contractions but they were still occurring every 10 minutes keeping Lauren from a goodnights rest.

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May 19th, Lauren and Evan woke up and went for a walk. She tried using the breast pump to stimulate contractions as well. By 9 am contractions were 6-7 minutes apart and lasting 1.5 minutes long. She was exhausted. So we tried the tub knowing it would give her some reprieve. It actually stopped contractions for 20 minutes giving her a good nap. A walk, a nap, rebozo, back rubs, pelvic rocks, birthing ball, card games, a walk, food… it was a day of alternating between rest and activity, stopping every 6 minutes to help Lauren through a contraction. It was such a mind game dealing with consistent contractions that would start picking up and get really intense, and then fizzle out in strength. By 8 pm everyone went ‘to bed’.
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May 20th came with hope in the air. Contractions were steady all night but Lauren needed a change of scenery and Evan needed a good nap after being up the last 2 nights with Lauren. So Lauren came to my house and my mom and I massaged Lauren and walked her through contractions while Evan slept for 3 hours. Things were picking up once again and we left at 12:30 pm for Lauren’s scheduled midwife appointment. The news was not the most encouraging, baby was station -3, cervix was very posterior and only 25% effaced and 1 cm dilated. They were having a long, prodromal labor. Lauren and Evan took the news like champs and decided to go to get milkshakes and walk in the park. I went home and had a major breakdown.

As a doula, it is very important to process your own birth experience thoroughly before helping another mom. I thought I had adequately dealt with everything that happened in my labor but after walking Lauren through 3 days of early labor (identical to mine) and then hearing that she really hadn’t progressed much (also similar to mine), it truly brought me back to the deep, hopeless feelings I experienced in my own birth. It was very painful. I held it together until I ran to the car and bawled my eyes out. I was so exhausted from 3 days of being with Lauren, I couldn’t even imagine how she felt. And then to find out that she was really still near the starting point just overwhelmed me. After talking to my mom and my husband, I realized that there was still trauma from my birth that was surfacing by watching my twin sister go through it. I was triggered by some post-traumatic stress that I experienced during my long labor. My mom graciously walked me through those emotions and helped me work through them. I took a break from seeing Lauren and Evan knowing that it was early labor and could still be days before anything happened. So I napped.

I checked back in with them around 7 pm and contractions were still 5-7 minutes apart and Lauren had just showered. She said it was during the shower that she felt like she let go of all expectations and told her baby and her body that they were free to do what they needed to do. It was her ‘moment of truth’. Moms face this moment in early labor. It is the point that most people who aren’t planning a natural birth get an epidural. The next 3 hours they ate food, played Monopoly Deal, and hung out with Evan’s brother. I came back over at 10:30 pm when she got in the bath to see if her contractions would ease off at all so they could rest. They didn’t. Lauren got out and looked me in the eye and said, “It’s time to go to the hospital, NOW.” I never question a mom when she says this. They know. Her contractions were coming now at 2-3 minutes apart. So we raced to the hospital. I knew something was strange because her contractions were so strong and close together and yet Lauren was still very alert and aware of her surroundings. So I really didn’t know what to expect when we got to the hospital.

Unfortunately, it was after hours so we had to enter in the Emergency Room. But 20 minutes later we made our way to triage. At 11:30 pm, Lauren’s midwife checked her progress. Baby was station -1 and the cervix was 90% effaced and 3 cm dilated. Progress! I knew that with contractions this strong it wouldn’t be long before she would be admitted. But I could tell that the midwife had some concern on her face. She said that she felt something soft, it didn’t feel like the baby’s head so she called for an ultrasound. Five minutes, two midwives, and two doctors later, they confirmed that baby Nora was breech.

All their plans for a natural, vaginal birth changed in a second. It was crushing. They hadn’t planned for a C-section at all. They had spent months preparing for a natural birth. In minutes, people came flooding into the tiny triage room to prep Lauren for surgery. Thankfully, we were able to ask a lot of questions and it was very important to me that Evan and Lauren knew what to expect. The staff were very kind and delicate knowing that this was so far from what Lauren wanted. The anesthesiologist went through the whole procedure with Lauren to make sure she understood what was about to happen. I just rubbed Evan’s back, hugged him, and kept him calm because I know he was very disappointed in the change of plans. Lauren was incredible. Of course this was not what she wanted. But she also knew that it was time to meet her baby. She had that sense at home knowing it was time to go to the hospital. She was so brave as she continued to work through painful contractions knowing that it would all be over soon. I just held her hand and told her that she was going to meet her baby in 30 minutes! They took Lauren back at 1 am to get prepped. The nurse came back with the protective clothing for both me and Evan. Vanderbilt has a policy that only one person can be in the operating room at a time but they were so kind to let me switch places with Evan once the baby was born and taken to the nursery. I called our families and they rushed over. I then walked Evan through what he should expect and helped him understand what would happen once the baby was born. They then took Evan back to the OR and I showed our families where to wait.

Nora Marjorie was born on Wednesday, May 21st at 1:37 am.

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Lauren’s midwife came out to get me and I JUST missed Evan walking out with Nora to the nursery. But I knew it was ok, because I really wanted to see Nora for the first time with my sister. I walked in and went straight to Lauren’s face. I sat down next to her, stroked her hair, and held her shaking hands. Over and over again I kept telling her how proud of her I was and that she is now a mommy! I was so touched by how Lauren was acting. She was so excited and happy. She kept saying, “Merrill, Nora is so beautiful, I love her so much! I can’t wait to see her again. I can’t believe she is mine. I love her so much!” I am so grateful for her midwife for staying in the OR with her and allowing them to have a minute of skin-to-skin right after delivery and giving Lauren and Evan a chance to bond with Nora before whisking her off. The doctor came to Lauren’s side and said they did an incision on her that will set her up for a VBAC during her next pregnancy (Vaginal birth after a cesarean). I sat with Lauren for 40 minutes as they sutured her back up. We were in so much awe that she just birthed a baby. Her daughter is here. It is a moment I will remember forever. Seriously, she was so strong and brave. I have so much admiration for her! Once they were done, we both went to the recovery room with a quick stop in the hallway to see the parents.

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And then the moment came where Evan came in with Nora. Goodness, it was so precious. We got the baby skin-to-skin with Lauren and Nora immediately went to breastfeeding. I stepped out of the room for 15 minutes and the three of them spent their first moments together as a new family. Parents and siblings said a quick hello and goodbye. We then got Evan and Lauren comfortable in their postpartum room by 4:00 am and I finally left at 5:00 am.

This birth taught me so much.

It is so important to be informed and educated on the type of birth you want, but ultimately you have to work with the situations you find yourself in. C-sections are rarely someone’s first option for birth, but in the case where it needs to be done, it is important to still empower the mother in the experience. It was very important to me that Lauren knew that there was nothing she did or could have done differently. That she did nothing wrong. It is also essential that the mom knows that she DID birth a baby. After 3 days of consistent contractions, she did go through so much labor and she did birth Nora. She worked hard! But when births don’t go according to plan, moms need to be given the room to process their disappointment. Most people say, “Well at least mom and baby are healthy”, which is absolutely true! But we must also recognize that moms can still feel a loss when their birth was different than expected. This doesn’t only apply to c-sections. It can happen to moms who, on paper, had the ideal birth experience. Childbirth is a powerful experience and every woman responds differently. I am there to help a mom and her partner still have an intimate, empowered birth if a c-section becomes necessary.

Lauren’s birth was so beautiful. As a doula, I’ve learned that it’s not about my strength for the mother that will get them through, it’s up to them. It wasn’t my birth and it wasn’t my mountain to climb. It is their inner strength that will carry them through. I am just their to walk alongside them. Lauren climbed her own mountain that she had to overcome and she did it with so much courage!

**Update**
Two year later Lauren had an amazing VBAC at home. Strong does not even begin to describe her strength. She went from 6cm to delivery in 3 contractions! She’s a rock star in my book. And witnessing both these experiences reiterated that birth is magical and birth is beautiful. Bringing life into this world is a big deal and walking alongside a mother in labor is always a privilege.

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Birth Story: One mama, Five unique stories

Nashville Doula Service’s very own, Jessica Caldwell, shares the birth stories of her six children which includes the birth of her twins, her multiple VBACs, and home births.

Before we get into her story, listen to these wise words from Jessica as she answers the question: What does it mean to you to birth on purpose?

 “To me, to birth on purpose means to set an intention for delivery. What is most important to you? What message do you want echoed back to you from your care provider? From your support team? For me it was peace. Safety. Knowing my team trusted the process of birth and what my body could do. I made a plan, prepared for plan B and plan C, and then let go once labor began. As mothers all we can do is trust the process of motherhood, coming through us and in us. I wanted to know that in the darkest moments of my labour and delivery, that the people I had chosen to be there could speak words of life to me, guide me and counsel me through to the other side, with my intentions in mind. That kind of support is what creates empowered mothers, regardless of what the labor may bring.” – Jessica

The Births of my Six Children
by: Jessica Caldwell

We found out we were expecting twins on our one year wedding anniversary. I was 20 weeks along, and ended up in the ER on a Sunday, due to crampy contractions. After some IV fluids, a routine ultrasound gave us a very unexpected surprise, two healthy babies. I had been raised around birth all my life. I attended my 5 sibling’s births, and the home births of some of my mother’s friends, and those experiences had impacted me profoundly. But as a first time mother I was nervous, and I allowed myself to buy into the high-risk label my obstetrician put on me. I felt that I had hired the best OB in the area and that he would know what was best for my babies and I. I told my OB that I wanted to try for a vaginal birth, and he assured me that if I made it to 35 weeks and both babies were head down, we could discuss it. I ended up going into preterm labor at 27 weeks, and went on full time bed rest until our boys were born, just shy of 35 weeks. We had been in the hospital all night, like so many times before, trying to get the contractions to stop. My OB came in the room around 4 in the morning, sat by the bed and said “Well, we’re gonna have babies today!” I was shocked and excited. He told that the babies clearly wanted to be born, and they weren’t going to stop my labor any more. I reminded him about wanting a vaginal birth and I remember this part so clearly. He reached up and put his hand on my leg and said “I would really hate for you to have to recover both ways. Chances are once baby A is born, baby B will flip around, and we would then have to do a cesarean to deliver him. I really don’t want you to have to heal from both a vaginal birth and a cesarean. Besides, labor will be hard on the babies and I don’t want to stress them any more than needed. So let’s just do the cesarean.” I was fully trusting of his decision, but was by no means informed about what lay ahead of me. I was 4 cm dilated when they wheeled me back to the operating room.

Our boys were born two minutes apart, first Avery (4lb 8oz) and then Ezra (5lbs 10oz). I remember laying there with my arms velcroed to the table, and feeling like I might not be breathing because I couldn’t feel the rise and fall of my chest. Everyone was staring over the blue curtain and I was certain that if I died or went unconscious, no one would know. The only way I knew I had become a mother was because I heard my husband say, “Oh hey buddy! I’m your dad!” as each baby was born. And I remember watching my husband, so much emotion and expression on his face, trying to imagine what he was seeing. He was so happy, and I felt so scared and distant from it all. I remember hearing their sweet cries and that brought me relief, and then they were whisked off to the NICU, and by husband with them.

They moved me to my recovery room once the surgery was over, and then time just sort of stopped. I wanted so badly to see by babies. I asked one of the nurses when I would get to see them, and she told me very firmly that my babies were “very very sick” and needed to in with the special care nursery, and that the best thing I could do for them was recover. I had not been told anything about my babies being sick, so this rattled me. Another nurse came in and assured me that my babies were indeed healthy and fine, but just needed monitoring and help maintaining their body temps. I didn’t get to hold them until they were 2 days old. I pumped a lot of colostrum for them. My mom had a good firm talk with the nurses and demanded they let me nurse the boys. That was day 4, and I’m grateful that my mom helped me see that sometimes mamas need to speak up and fight for their babies.  I too had been a 34-week preemie, so my mom had lots of helpful advice about breastfeeding. She really was my cheerleader through that and I’m grateful. We spent a good long week in the hospital and then we all went home. I recovered rather quickly from my cesarean, and felt lucky about that since I had two babies to care for. It wasn’t until a couple weeks after, once everyone left town and I was alone to care for my babies that I started to feel like something wasn’t right. I struggled a lot with my feelings. I didn’t know why I felt how I did because I had never been a mom before, so I had nothing to compare it to, but I just felt like maybe, just maybe, these babies could be someone else’s and I wouldn’t know it. Like I was playing a part. It took a long time before I could admit that to anyone, because I really was happy, but I was overwhelmed and isolated. Breastfeeding became our way of bonding, we worked hard together, the three of us, and it empowered me a great deal. I was determined to nurse my twins and overcome all the obstacles we faced. It was hard earned but I was able to nurse them for a full year, until I was 4 months pregnant with our third son.

I found out we were pregnant for the second time when the twins were 9 months old. I knew I wanted a different experience the second time around, but I didn’t know where to find it or how to achieve it. I found a local ICAN group and nearly burst into tears sitting in a room of strangers who shared my feelings about their own cesarean births. For the first time I didn’t feel alone, or weird for how difficult of a time I had had after my twins were born, and I had hope that I could heal and make peace with those feelings. After reading a lot of books, and doing all the research that I should have done during my first pregnancy, I found a group of midwives at a local hospital, and planned to have a VBAC. I went post dates, and worried my body was a lemon, and bounced on my birth ball, and said my birth affirmations, and really tried to believe what my midwives told me which was that I was made to do this and my baby knew when he was ready to be born. Trevor, our VBAC baby, was born sunny side up, after a 24 hour all natural labor and 2 hours of intense pushing. There were so many moments during his birth that I felt tired, and like I might give up, but I felt so supported, and safe. No one made me feel like I was in danger, or that my baby was in danger. I was able to move around, and rest when I needed to. Kyle, my husband, was always close by and the room felt so still and intimate. There were a few moments I remember wanting my midwife to DO something. But she sat there quietly knitting in the corner and her casual attitude made me know that all I was going through was normal, and nothing to be worried about. The moment of Trevor’s birth was so climactic. I feel in a way that in those hours of pushing, I was pushing out all three of my boys, because when I reached down and grabbed my baby and lifted him to my chest, I felt in that exact moment that I had become a mother. And I was carrying Avery and Ezra in my heart at that moment, feeling closer to them and more connected to them than ever before. I didn’t know why I felt that way, but I did. I was never the same after that, and I knew that it wasn’t about some badge of honor for having achieved a natural birth. I was just so grateful to finally feel what every mother should feel for her children, that unexplainable riveting devotion, that biologically stamps us as mothers.

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In the year following Trevor’s birth, I became certified as a labor doula, and when we moved back to Tennessee, I started a local ICAN chapter, which I co-lead for 4 years. It felt so good to give back and help other mothers who had walked a similar road as I had. I went on to have 3 more babies, Eden in 2010, Quentin in 2012, and Rowan in 2013, all of them born peacefully in our home under the watchful supervision of our precious midwife. My homebirths were all so different, and each challenged me and taught me something new (much like the children themselves!).  During my daughter Eden’s labor I made blueberry cobbler and watched the movie Julie and Julia while bouncing on my birthing ball. She was born so quickly and easily, it’s like she just decided she was ready and out she came. A nature she is true to, to this day.  With Quen I had the most joyful labor, laughing with my husband and midwives. I made it to 10 cm with no pain at all. I pushed for a good two hours with him because his shoulders were stuck and I was grateful to have the skill of my midwives who helped me move around and work with him to help him be born. With our last baby, Rowan, I walked around 4 cm dilated for 3 weeks, and went 3 days past my due date. My labor finally began and it went so quickly that my midwife barely arrived on time. I remember feeling so alive and aware during her birth, like I had with all of my home birthed babies. I could feel them with me through the entire process and we were working as a team. I think this is because my midwives supported me in a way that allowed me to listen to my motherly intuition. I was able to maintain a real connection with my babies, and that was important. Nothing compares to those moments after birth where you are seeing your baby for the first time, holding him to your chest and just breathing them in. What a sweet reward for all that work. It is true what they say that once you have a baby at home, you never want to do it any other way. It is so reverent and special.
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I am grateful for each one of my children and what their births have taught me.  I am grateful for my cesarean, and my long, difficult labors too because I know that they taught me things I needed to know, and I have grown in ways I might not have otherwise. And our experiences as mothers do matter because we are teachers, and we are givers. Our stories impact other people’s stories, and what we believe about ourselves becomes our truth.

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