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The Birth of Hayes Alan

Allison’s second birth was completely different from her first. She recounts the process it took her to gain the confidence to birth at home. In the end the journey was so worth it!

Hayes Birth Story: My Empowering Decision to Birth at Home
By: Allison Slaughter

“Wherever and however you intend to give birth, your experience will impact your emotions, your mind, your body, and your spirit for the rest of your life.” –Ina May

As I prepared to give birth to my second child, Hayes Alan, the quote above spoke to my soul. My first birth experience (which you can read here) left much to be desired. I was thankful to achieve a natural delivery; however, labor was wrought with restrictions in movement and pressure to comply with hospital policies. I was struck by memories of darkness surrounding my labor. For hours, I felt unsupported and stressed while lying in a hospital bed attached to monitors. While I persevered through the pain, I struggled to feel like I had any control in this major life event. After much reflection, I was determined to create a more peaceful and joyful birth experience. This story details the journey that led me to confidently decide to give birth at home. I felt so empowered in this decision. It also describes the quick, intense, and beautiful labor and delivery that followed. I will cherish this sacred, life-giving experience forever.

Surprise!!!

The morning of Tuesday, November 4th, 2015 was full of shock, awe, excitement, and thankfulness. These feelings were mixed with anxiousness, fear, and disbelief. Matt was traveling on a business trip to Mexico, and Lydia and I remained at home in Nashville. Monday night, I was exhausted, and I fell asleep soon after I put Lydia to bed. I clearly remember waking up suddenly around 3 am after I had a vivid dream that I was pregnant with twins. For some reason, this dream caught me off guard. I deliriously walked to the bathroom and took a pregnancy test. I set the test aside and thought to myself, “That was crazy…why would I be pregnant again six months postpartum?” It felt like an out of body experience. So, I went back to bed without even looking at the result. I suppose I was too tired to care. Or, maybe I felt content to remain in denial. I slept the rest of the night and awoke in the morning to the sound of Lydia talking. She was my alarm clock.

While I was getting us both ready to go to bible study, I walked back into the bathroom and the pregnancy test caught my eye. Chuckling, I picked up the test stick and realized the second line was dark! It immediately took my breath away. I sat down and stared at the test in utter disbelief. My thoughts and emotions were jumbled…Positive. Whoa. Really? Big eyes. Deep breath. Is it possible? Smile… It was a struggle to concentrate as my mind flooded with questions and excitement.

Once I regained my composure, I realized our babies would be about 15 months apart and my mind was overwhelmed with fears. How exactly would I keep my life together and my kids scheduled, while also keeping myself sane (and because I assumed it was another girl, how would I keep their bows on straight)?! Nevertheless, when I thought deep into my core, I proclaimed prayers of thankfulness. I thought to myself, “I absolutely love being a mom to the sweetest little girl, Lydia Riley. And, I get to experience motherhood AGAIN.” I did not have to endure cycle counting, ovulation tests, worry, or doubt. What a gift and a blessing! I felt a great sense of humility, joy, and responsibility that God was entrusting us with another precious life.

The Journey to Choose Home Birth:

The first half of my pregnancy proved to be a physically challenging experience. The exhaustion was brutal. I generally felt like a walking zombie. The numerous headaches and resulting nausea were tough to manage while caring for a 6-month-old infant and working part time. Lydia was breastfeeding large volumes of milk and my body was struggling to keep up. I felt like I was eating and drinking constantly, but it was never enough. However, I was determined to continue breastfeeding for as long as my body would produce enough milk. So, I pressed on.

In addition to the physical challenges, I was trying to process my first birth experience. I realized I was traumatized by the gestational diabetes diagnosis I received during my pregnancy, and I was constantly fixated on the matter. Here is the back-story: My one-hour glucose test came back at 206, which is high enough to automatically diagnose gestational diabetes. I was immediately sent to an endocrinology doctor and was instructed to test my blood sugar after each meal for the rest of my pregnancy. From the day I started charting, I did not have one result out of the normal range. This left me perplexed by the diagnosis. In fact, when I cut out carbohydrates and sugar, my readings would be borderline hypoglycemic, and I felt light headed and shaky.

My best friend, Lia, was pregnant as well with an estimated due date two days ahead of me. She passed her glucose test, so we decided an experiment was necessary. Lia brought Jimmy Johns sandwiches for dinner and we ate them at the same time. An hour later, we both checked our blood sugar. While both of our results remained in normal range, Lia’s blood sugar was higher than mine. Now, I was really curious to see if there were any foods that would trigger a spike. I tested skittles, milkshakes, and soda, but the results remained unchanged. In turn, I spoke with several midwives in the practice about these odd findings. I even asked to take the three-hour glucose test to see whether the diagnosis was accurate. In response, I was told that this test could be harmful to my baby because my one-hour result was so high. As you can imagine, I was frustrated. I so deeply wanted to confirm whether the first test result was a lab error. It cost me a great deal of stress, money, and time not knowing the truth.

Several providers reassured me that I would not be treated as if I was gestational diabetic during labor because I was diet controlled. However, as I explained in Lydia’s birth story, nurses were checking my blood sugar while I was laboring and it was a major distraction. Of course, my result was five points higher than the normal range. I was in a stressful environment laboring naturally. When my blood sugar had not normalized immediately after my unmedicated delivery, I was given insulin per hospital protocol.

In the end, I struggled most with the fact that none of the care providers I spoke with were willing to look further into the diagnosis when my blood sugars were completely normal. In processing, I realized I was ultimately looking for a care provider who would listen to my story, treat me as an individual client, and seek the truth. Generic answers would not suffice. This dilemma revealed important desires that led me on a mission to find the best provider.

Seeking expertise and advice, I took a list of questions to a trusted midwife. I hoped to gain perspective on my gestational diabetes saga. In our discussion, she asked whether I had considered delivering at the birth center or at home. While I was so thankful for her honest encouragement and genuine guidance, my immediate gut reaction was that a home birth was not for me. As a Neonatal Intensive Care nurse myself, I thought, “that’s too risky!” However, I was willing to consider the birth center.

Shortly thereafter, I went for a tour of Baby and Co., and I fell in love with the calming environment. The rooms were gorgeous, it did not feel like a hospital, and I loved the midwifery model of care. However, I quickly realized this option did not accommodate several of my desires. While there was a smaller group of providers, the midwife on call would deliver the baby. In addition, if my glucose test result was abnormal and I received a gestational diabetes diagnosis, I would be transferred out of the practice. It did not matter if my sugars were diet controlled. This protocol made me feel anxious. I was terrified that I would be forced to transfer my prenatal care during my third trimester. Most importantly, I gained the perspective that a birth center has the same emergency equipment, medications and resuscitation capabilities as a home birth team. To be accurate, Baby and Co. does have a contract with Angel Transport for any emergent baby transfers (a relief for my NICU heart). However, this luxury aside, the medical capabilities are equal. Finally, our medical insurance proved to be another hurdle. According to our plan, the birth center was out-of-network and it would cost more than a hospital or home birth.

With this knowledge, I continued my prenatal care with the midwife I trusted. I tried to convince myself that I was comfortable with another hospital birth if she could be there for delivery. She was so patient with me as I nearly begged her to agree. But, she gently reminded me that there was no guarantee due to practice requirements and personal obligations. I knew the uncertainty would leave me feeling stressed. At this point, it was clear, I needed to explore the possibility of a home birth.

I was nearly halfway through my pregnancy researching to educate myself on this birth option. I soon acknowledged that prior to my reading, I had fallen into the strong American stigma that home birth was not safe. I realized that with a low risk pregnancy the number of negative home birth outcomes was alarmingly comparable to that in a hospital setting. I sent my findings to Matt, and I asked him to objectively consider the information. I found him supportive of the idea and willing to explore this option. Soon, I consulted friends who had chosen a home birth to ask about their experiences. I contacted Merrill seeking advice and she encouraged me to meet with a midwife. As I read home birth stories, I realized the only thing holding me back was fear. Therefore, I set up a consultation with Vines Midwifery. Matt and I were excited to meet Jennifer and learn more about her practice. We felt a connection to her immediately and were comfortable asking our questions and discussing our fears. She exuded confidence, and she had a wealth of knowledge. She seemed calm-spirited yet cautious, and we felt confident in her midwifery skills and ability to intervene if necessary. Following our meeting, I felt a new passion welling up in my heart, and I knew this option encompassed all of my birth desires. Though it took a few weeks of processing to commit, I finally felt empowered to confidently choose a home birth.

Here are the reasons behind my decision…(Disclaimer: I am not projecting that home birth is the correct choice for every mother. In fact, it is only deemed safe for low-risk, healthy mothers with no prenatal complications. Every woman is in charge of her own experience and must research and decide where she feels comfortable giving birth. Obviously, I have strong feelings about natural childbirth and the experience that surrounds this sacred experience; however, that does not mean there are no other positive birth experiences outside of the home. I chose a home birth because it encompassed the experience and environment that best aligned with my birthing goals.)

  1. The stable, trusted relationship with our midwife was extremely important. As I mentioned above, I desperately wanted to know and trust the provider who would deliver this precious baby. We fully believed in Jennifer Vines and I loved developing a relationship with her at all of my prenatal appointments. She gave me grace as I ran in ten minutes late most days with my one year old in tow. She had time for me. She knew my pregnancy history. She knew my family. She knew and believed in ME.
  2. I desired a comfortable, peaceful environment. Hospitals are for sick people and high-risk pregnancies. I had no reason to believe I fit either of those categories. I felt comfortable in my own home, and I knew I could relax in my own, peaceful environment. I did not want any intervention the hospital had to offer unless it was absolutely necessary.
  3. We lived in close proximity to a reputable medical center and neonatal intensive care unit. – We lived less than a mile from Vanderbilt Medical Center if transfer was necessary.
  4. This was a low risk pregnancy. – I was healthy. Baby was healthy. And, I had already experienced a natural birth. I knew my body was fully capable.
  5. The research upholds that with a low risk pregnancy home birth is a safe option.
  6. If I did in fact have gestational diabetes this pregnancy, I could still have a home birth if my sugars were diet controlled. I felt confident that even if my blood sugars were elevated I could tweak my diet to ensure they were controlled. I no longer feared the glucose test. This was a huge relief.

At 25 weeks, my dream birth team was established, and I started receiving prenatal care from Jennifer Vines. While I was confident and passionate about my home birth decision, I was reserved about publicly displaying my plan. At Lydia’s one-year well visit, I told our pediatrician we would be having a home birth, and her fearful reaction felt overwhelming and burdensome. She was adamant that I bring the baby into the office within 24 hours of delivery, and she made it clear that she was uncomfortable with my decision. After this experience (and choosing a new pediatrician), I guarded my mental health by keeping this decision relatively quiet. I knew I would struggle with various reactions, and I was determined to keep a positive perspective. Fearful commentary would inevitably keep me up at night, and I certainly did not need an added sleep disruption.  

Between 30 and 40 weeks of pregnancy, it got HOT in Tennessee. I do not exaggerate when I say the heat was almost unbearable, but Lydia and I kept moving and sweating with the hope that baby brother would begin to descend and engage. We ventured to nearby parks, picnicked on Belmont University’s lawn, and spent every Tuesday at the Farmer’s Market with friends. The Braxton Hicks contractions were constant when I was in motion, and the ligament tension, back pain, and pubic bone discomfort were increasing weekly. Around 39 weeks, it took us an hour to complete 1.5 miles because the back pain was so overwhelming that I could not walk through contractions. These physical constraints often a made it a struggle to function until bedtime. When Matt got home from work, he would help with Lydia’s routine, and I would take a hot bath to relieve my aches and pains from the day. I did not think my belly could possibly expand further. Hayes was occupying so much space that I had no appetite. I began to survive on popsicles and smoothies. I had to have all things LIME. It was an addiction I chose not to control. When the lime popsicles were gone, we walked to the store to buy more.

During this timeframe, we were so busy moving to a rental house, starting a construction project, battling a roach infestation, and celebrating Lydia’s first birthday that I failed to focus on connecting with Hayes. Lia helped me plan a small blessingway with close friends to honor his unique pregnancy and journey to birth. During this sacred time, I acknowledged and released my fears concerning labor and delivery. We prayed over the birth space, labor process, and birth team. My friends read blessings they had written to encourage me, and I found the reflection time healing, strengthening, and empowering. We ended the night by creating a labor tank top with my friends’ handprints encircling an anchor. April Lussier perfectly illustrates, “Just as a tree grows best when anchored firmly in the Earth, so can a pregnant mother feel strong and capable when supported by a sisterhood of nurturing friends.”

Labor Day:

Yet again, my due date came and went quickly; however, I was not shocked. Every morning, I planned a new activity with friends, and we engaged in story time dates, play dates, park dates and pool dates. I wanted to enjoy every moment I had left with Lydia as my only baby. Chik-Fil-A Appreciation Day was Tuesday July 12th, so Lia, Adair, Lydia and I made an appearance in full cow costumes. The crowds were crazy, but the pictures are priceless. The next morning, I had the brilliant idea to go hike the ridge at Radnor Lake. Deep down, I hoped hiking with a 26-pound toddler on my back might start labor, so I coaxed Lia into going with me. The journey did not last long and we never made it to the ridge because the girls were hot, hungry, and did not want to be restrained in carriers. It was a memorable experience to say the least.

Thursday, I was 40 weeks and 5 days, and my doula, Merrill, checked in to see how I was feeling. After informing her that there was no significant change, I invited her to the Williamson Public Library story time Friday morning so that we could catch up. We planned to meet Lia and Adair at 10:30 AM for story-time and a picnic lunch.

I woke up Friday morning feeling rejuvenated, and we made it to Franklin as planned. I remember feeling tightening during the program, but I was distracted and had no sense of frequency or intensity. Inwardly, I was feeling irritable because Lydia kept diving into my lap when I wanted space. Following the show, we decided to picnic outside by the playground, and I started to notice I was having some aching and cramping low in my pelvis. I tried to ignore the feeling; however, I soon realized the cramping had a defined start and stop. I felt un-phased by these contractions, and I made no mention of the change.

When they kept happening about 6 to 10 minutes apart, and I was starting to wince if I was speaking at the onset of a contraction, Merrill and Lia immediately called my bluff. I preferred to stay in denial, but Merrill started timing my contractions. We decided to wrap up our picnic and I planned to take Lydia to Lia’s house for a nap so that I could lay down to rest. I was starting to concentrate more during contractions; therefore, I felt comfortable driving ten minutes to Cottonwood, but the 35-minute drive back to Nashville seemed daunting.

At 12:10 PM, I alerted Matt that I was contracting. We decided that Lia could drive me back to Nashville once both girls went down for a nap, and he would meet me at home. Luckily, Sean was working from home and he was willing to watch them for the afternoon. I laid on the couch while Lia got both girls in bed, and the contractions continued. We started our journey toward Nashville, but we stopped for strawberry-mango smoothies along the way. I texted Libby at 1:07 PM to let her know I was having contractions, and I wanted her to meet us at the house whenever she was available. We arrived at 1:17 PM and Matt was already there with music playing and a hot bath ready. I clearly remember when I walked into our house, Matt greeted me with a huge hug and a smile. I immediately felt at peace.

At this point, I was not comfortable calling this active labor so I decided to relax in the bathtub to see if the contractions would continue. When I used the bathroom before my bath, I discovered I was losing my mucous plug. This finding left me excited as it signified that some cervical change was happening. We lit candles and played the “I am They” album as I relaxed in the tub. Matt, Libby, and Lia took turns hanging out with me and timing my contractions. I sang.. I breathed through contractions.. I prayed.. I happily ate skittles and sour patch.. I laughed.. I loved every minute of the rest and relaxation with contractions about 45 seconds long and 5 minutes apart. I was easily breathing through them while spending time with my friends.

Lia was keeping Merrill and Jennifer updated, and I assured them that the contractions were not bad and this was just early labor. Jennifer said she was going to come check on me before rush hour started and I laughed. I was happy for her to come hang out, but I figured she would be heading back home after she confirmed that my body was just warming up.

At 2:45 PM, Lia and Libby prepped our bed and I got out of the tub to relax on my birth ball. I found my happy place on top of my bed draped over my ball. Matt was massaging my back and giving counter pressure during contractions. I continued to feel calm and confident as I could sink into the ball to relax through contractions. The house started to smell amazing as Lia and Libby baked Hayes’ birthday cake. I was relishing this moment of glory where time seemed to stand still and I could feel the overflowing love filling my home.

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By 3:00 PM the contractions had lengthened to a minute long and were 3-5 minutes apart. I was starting to work harder and breathe more deeply, but the rest in between felt rejuvenating. I remember feeling like I was handling this labor pattern with ease. It was a breath of fresh air to the constant back pain I endured throughout my labor with Lydia. Matt. Lia, and Libby were taking turns providing counter pressure during contractions. I was enjoying silly videos of Adair and Lydia and appreciating the conversation with some of my favorite people. At 3:49 PM I received a text from my Dad that said “what you waiting for.” As I only receive about 3 texts from my Dad a year, it made me laugh. I was just starting to believe that maybe these contractions would bring a baby. But we had not alerted our families because we assumed this was just the beginning of a long night.

Jennifer and Carissa arrived minutes later and I was excited to see their smiling faces. They decided to go ahead and set up their equipment in the dining room and then assess my progress. At 4:21, Jennifer listened for heart tones, checked my blood pressure and attempted a cervical check. Because my cervix was so posterior and high, she gently informed me that she could not make an accurate assessment, and she was not going to be forceful because it would produce unnecessary pain. She truthfully told me I was less than 5 cm. I had no real expectations at this point because the contractions were so bearable. Matt and I decided to let our family know I was in early labor, and we expected it to be awhile. He called our parents and texted our support team to keep everyone updated.

I was really comfortable on the bed, but around 4:45 PM, Lia suggested we go for a walk to get things moving along. Moving from the bed to a standing position caused a major shift in intensity. My bearable contractions were suddenly excruciating and coming quickly. I got dressed for our walk, but I could only take a few steps before another intense contraction would start. It took me 25 minutes to make it from my bed to the front door (a short distance) because I kept stopping to work through multiple, long contractions. This was getting intense and it shocked me. I could no longer relax through the contractions and I was not getting a break in between to refocus. My hips felt like they were ripping apart, but I was struggling to communicate the support I needed. All I could say was, “It won’t go away.”

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When I made it to the front door, sweet Dee Dee was there to pick up our crazy vizsla and some things for Lydia to stay overnight. I could hardly manage to greet her in between contractions, but she encouraged me and told me not to worry about Lydia. She assured me she would love on her all night, and it made my heart smile in the midst of my struggle. I could feel the heat coming through the front door, and I was highly reconsidering this walk. But, at this point I felt committed. I was silently having a mental battle because if I was truly less than 5 cm, I was using far too much energy to work through contractions. Internally, I knew I needed to pull myself together and relax to make progress.

I struggled to regain my composure, but finally at 5:15 PM Matt, Lia and I managed to walk across the street before I completely broke down crying. “I don’t want to do this anymore! They won’t stop, and it hurts so bad!” I was overwhelmed and my raw emotions were spilling out of my mouth before I could contain them. Logically, I knew that self-doubt was a common sign of transition, but I did not believe it was possible I had progressed that quickly. I don’t think Matt or Lia knew how to respond considering that 45 minutes ago we assumed I was in early labor. This was unexpected behavior. When Matt looked at his phone and laughed quietly, I proceeded to lash out at him because I expected his full attention. This behavior was also out of character. It felt like an out of body experience because I could see myself acting in ways I would not imagine, yet I could not control it. I was trying to communicate to Matt that I needed to hang on him during contractions because I was struggling to stand through them, and felt like my pubic bone was breaking. I think the anger was an ineffective communication tool, but thankfully he gave me grace. Moments later, I was vomiting and then apologizing for my unsolicited irritability. With their encouragement, I proceeded to re-center myself. We made it to the first stop sign and I surrendered. That’s as far as I could push myself, and I knew we had to try something else. As we headed home, I remember seeing Libby, Jennifer, and Carissa on the front porch and it gave me great comfort. I was never scared. I just could not logically understand this bizarre labor.  

When we made it back home, Jennifer said she would check me again to see if I had made enough progress to get in the tub. At 5:47 PM my cervix was 5-6 cm dilated and 90% effaced. I was excited by the progression, but the intensity remained overwhelming. I slowly made my way back to the dining room so I could get in the tub for relief. Lia had alerted Merrill on my progression sometime during our walk and she arrived at 6:00 PM. I was happy to see her as I swayed by the tub waiting for it to be the right temperature to get in. At 6:13 PM, my water broke as I was standing by the tub. I felt a POP and then baby’s head DROPPED. “Ouch!” was all I could manage to say, but I felt very in tune to what was happening inside my body.

When Jennifer told me I could, I jumped in the tub as fast as possible. With my water broken and the head engagement I felt, I knew contractions would intensify greatly. I had two contractions in the water and the urge to push suddenly overwhelmed me. At 6:16 PM Jennifer checked to see if I was complete, but I was only 8 cm. Within the next few contractions, I completely lost control. The urge to push was impossible to ignore. In fact, my body was instinctively pushing. Jennifer instructed me to blow through the contractions because it was very dangerous to push before I was completely dilated. I started freaking out, “I can’t do this…I don’t know what to do..I can’t relax…I can’t breathe..HELP me, PLEASE!” The comments go on. I needed all hands on deck because I had completely lost my coping abilities. Merrill kept reminding me I just needed to get through this one contraction, but I just kept yelling “help me” in her face. To say I was thankful for her presence is an understatement. All my body wanted to do was push. After two more contractions, I was screaming for Jennifer to check me again to see if I was complete. I was 9 cm and spontaneously trying to push. Jennifer quickly grabbed my attention. “Look at me..You are pushing…You can’t push yet.” I started crying. The pressure I was feeling was ungodly. I was squeezing Merrill’s hands as hard as I could, and in between contractions I begged Jennifer to see if I was complete. At this point, I feared every contraction. I had no ability to work through them. All I wanted to do was push this baby out. After what felt like an eternity, I was complete at 6:34 PM.

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I regained control but all I could think was, “Get this baby out of me NOW!” So, I instinctively got into an upright squatting position that felt comfortable and pushed as hard as I possibly could with the next contraction. Everyone was cheering for me and I was determined to make this quick. I could easily feel the progress I was making with each push. When I was trying to push him under the pubic bone, the pain was excruciating but I knew it was almost over. After this contraction, I could feel him slide back inside, and I knew I had to push HARD. After about 3 contractions, I was sure he was close, and I asked Jennifer to help me get his head out. His broad shoulders and long body followed, and he was delivered completely OP at 6:43 PM. Matt got to catch him and pull him out of the water. At first he appeared stunned, but he soon let out one large screech to let us know he was ok. I sat down carefully and Matt placed Hayes on my chest. The relief was instant as I pulled him close, and I was completely overwhelmed with emotion as I looked up at my husband and my dream birth team surrounding the tub. I had tears streaming. They all had tears in their eyes. It was such a powerful moment.

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A couple minutes later, I felt another contraction and Carissa said there was cord lengthening. So, they quickly helped me out of the tub intending to assess my bleeding and deliver the placenta on my bed. Jennifer was holding Hayes (still connected to his cord) and I followed close behind. Suddenly, there was a stream of blood and Jennifer caught my huge placenta in her bowl (amazing). I wish we had a picture or video of this scene. It surely made for a good laugh.

Matt took Hayes for some skin to skin bonding while Jennifer assessed my bleeding. I was truly amazed when she told me I had no tears. I showered almost immediately and got comfortable in my own bed. Hayes latched to breast-feed and has been eating like a champion ever since. We all enjoyed pizza and guessed Hayes’ birth stats.

9 lbs 8.5 oz and 21.5 inches of pure love. Matt and I were shocked!

The intensity of such a fast labor with a large baby is hard to put into words. However, the experience was stretching and powerful. This was a new level of surrender I had never experienced. It was life-giving. And, the second time around…it was still hard. I will forever remember the joy I saw in Matt’s face as he was genuinely excited that this experience was so positive. It birthed in me a new passion for empowering mothers..a passion so strong that I would soon make a huge career change.

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In reflection…

I love birth. To me, it is a truly fascinating and miraculous process, complicated yet natural and instinctual; unique to every person in a sacred and spiritual way.  It is raw and emotional. It challenges my innermost being. It causes me to surrender control and trust in my heavenly father. It makes me feel brave and strong. It is truly a sacrificial process. It inspires a passion within me.

Hayes, your pregnancy was a journey! It stretched me as a person and a mother. I became more confident in making decisions for myself. I gained a new passion for birth and empowering mothers. I relied on my faith and trusted my body and the birthing process. Fear was not an option. You were my hope and my inspiration! I love you, my son!

“Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast. Hebrews 6:19

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The Birth of Vera Bea

Today we share the third birth story of a three part series. Each of Lillian’s babies have a unique story, but in this story of her third baby, she shares the raw emotions and physical challenges that even a veteran home-birther must face to bring another sweet baby earth-side.

The Birth of Vera Bea
By Lillian Keil

It was early Wednesday morning, and I couldn’t sleep. Being 9 months pregnant, I was no stranger to middle-of-the-night restlessness, but this time it was different. My back was hurting in a precise kind of way I recognized as contractions. I never have noticeable contractions until I’m in labor, so even though the backaches were not intense, I figured it was probably our baby’s birthday.

I got out of bed around 4:30 and felt a burst of energy. I put away all the dishes and laundry, tidied the fridge, took out the compost, and started cleaning the inside of the recycle bin and trash can- something I literally had not done since moving into this house a year ago. At one point I was even cleaning the railing of the sliding pantry door with a q-tip. I tried to move the washing machine so I could clean behind it, and all the banging around woke up my mother-in-law. She claims she discovered me with a huge grin on my face “like Christmas morning.” The contractions were consistent and slowly getting stronger, but I was trying to wait until a reasonable hour to contact my doula and my midwife.

I finally sent them both texts around 6am, finished responding to a bunch of craigslist ads for our rental houses, and tried to spend some quality time with my older kids. We had breakfast and played for a while before Simon had to leave for school. I started to feel really tired when he left, so I left Porter with his grandmother and tried to sleep between contractions. After an hour or so Jason came in to check on me, and I started crying. The excitement was wearing off, and I was remembering what hard work it is birthing a baby. I’d looked forward to my other labors, but having had two natural (read: excruciating) births before, this time I felt I had nothing prove. My attitude about labor was a kind of grim resolve. I tried to focus on anticipating the first few hours postpartum, when I would get to hold our daughter and eat donuts.

My mood lifted when my mom and sisters showed up. My sister Marion suggested we go for a walk, so she and I set off with Jason and my sister Rosie. When we left I was feeling totally confident, but by the time we got a ¼ mile from our house the contractions were coming faster and stronger- sometimes less than 2 minutes between them. We took a break and made a massage train in the middle of the park near our house, joking about how funny we probably looked and whether we could get a stranger to jump in at the end of our massage train.

We started walking again, and suddenly nothing seemed funny anymore. I realized going so far was entirely overambitious- the contractions were so painful at this point that I was literally on my knees whimpering on the sidewalk near Simon’s school. This would have awkward under normal circumstances, but it became totally mortifying when I realized that Simon’s preschool was getting out a half hour early, and all the moms I know from school started walking by with their kids. I tried to look ‘normal’ but it was pretty obvious what was happening.

Jason ran off to get the car and drove us one block home. I made it inside and collapsed on our bed. I was stayed there on my side silently until my dear friend and doula/photographer Ciara showed up. We called the midwife and agreed that maybe the walk had temporarily worsened my labor and decided to check in again in half an hour to see if things would slow down at all.

Things did not slow down. The contractions were really hurting, and I was screaming through them until Ciara coached me to breath or make low moans. The big kids would pop in the door periodically, and I was so happy to see them. I could clearly feel the baby descending which I’d never felt before. I felt the urge to push and starting yelling, “Where the fuck is the midwife?!” Jason called her, and she rushed over to our house – thankfully her office is only a few blocks from our house. I asked if she wanted to check my dilation before I got in the birthing tub and she said sternly, “I don’t have time to check you because you are about to have a baby and I need get set up here.”

She was right- our girl was born in the water only an hour later. But it was a looooong hour for me. I was feeling super impatient and saying the things I always say during labor like, “why isn’t she here yet” and “what’s taking so long?” The birth assistant showed up (an emergency room nurse at her first ever home birth!) and checked the baby’s heartbeat, which was reassuring. My mom, mother-in-law, sisters, and Jason were all in the room and they were so affirming and helpful. Everyone kept saying how powerful I was, how well I was doing, and how great I looked – ha! Meanwhile I was thinking, “I hate giving birth” and saying “no no no no” every time I had a contraction – to which the rest of the room kept replying, “yes yes yes!”

My bag of waters was still intact. My midwife offered to break it, but I decided to wait and see if she would be born in the sac. The burning, the tearing, the unsatisfying work of pushing, the popping of my water… and then out came her head! I didn’t bother to look or feel for her head; I was so focused on finishing the damn thing. I pushed her body out and they put her in my arms at 2:26 pm. Relief!

Ciara took many beautiful photos, but this first one best depicts how I remember it…

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…until…

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I wasn’t totally convinced she was a girl until I saw it for myself. She looked exactly like her brothers, only a little smaller, and I loved her instantly. I got a shot of pitocin, delivered the afterbirth, and was still in the tub with her when the boys came in to meet her. They even got to see their dad cut the “food cord” and examine the placenta, which they’d learned about while I was pregnant. The midwives helped me move to the bed, then everyone filed out to eat some Cuban sandwiches. Jason and I laid on the bed together, looking at our daughter and talking about how perfect she was and whether the name we’d chosen for her fit.

Vera means faith, and Jason had discerned the name for her at sunset on top of Mt Pilchuck this summer. (To mark the occasion, he built the cairn in the photo below.) There were a few contenders for middle names, but looking at her we settled on Bea, which means “bringer of joy.”

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Today our Vera Bea is one week old, and already she’s living up to her names, restoring our faith and filling our home with happiness. We are so, so blessed.

Without further ado…

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A huge thank you to our families, friends, and midwives who have been so kind and supportive this week. You have made our first days as a family of five so sweet!

Welcome to the world, Vera Bea. We love you already!

The Birth of Porter Levi

Just as the New Year seems to creep up quickly and unexpectedly, so did this baby as his parents were celebrating New Year’s Eve. Little did they know they were about to be celebrating so much more…

Find the stories of Lillian’s second and third babies here.

The Birth of Porter Levi
By Lillian Keil

How to throw a raging New Year’s Eve party: Invite your friends over to ring in the holiday with gourmet sliders and wooden airplanes, then spend the entire meal having contractions on the couch, trying to convince yourself and everyone else present that you are not really in labor. At 9pm admit that this might be the real deal and call the birthing tub rental company to let them know your “two-weeks late” baby is actually going to be a week early. Text the midwife and hastily gather half the items from the home birth supply list. In an effort to fill the birthing tub: empty the house hot water tank, drain the hot water dispenser, boil 4 pots of water, and run a second hose from your neighbor’s place to finish the job. Climb in and have a baby…

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Things I remember: making lots of one-word demands for “ice” and “help.” Feeling sad that I had put Simon to bed without any warning of the changes to come. Asking to put my contacts in so I could see my son when he came. My arms falling asleep from dangling out of the tub. The camera click, click, clicking in the background. The gold NYE dress the birth tub rental gal was wearing and that she decided to stay, crying quietly in the kitchen while he was born.

By the time I got in the water, the contractions had become very intense but the time between them seemed long and almost serene. Between bouts of excruciating pain, I would become strangely clearheaded and sometimes talkative. I remember once looking around the room and seeing all my favorite people there, feeling so happy and normal that I asked the midwife if maybe the baby had gone the other way and I wasn’t in labor anymore… only to be bowled over by a contraction so intense it convinced me I was dying.

I did not die; instead I pushed. Simon slept miraculously through my loud screaming, and eventually Jason got in the tub with me. My water broke and it was clear; I felt the burning and bursting and at 1:55am he was born: waxy and wet and so, so perfect.

We stayed there in the tub gawking and trying to keep warm, the cord pulsing and the baby crying and me saying over and over that I could not believe he was here early and with such short labor. We tried out the name we’d chosen and it fit… hello, Porter.

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Porter must like champagne and fireworks, because New Year’s Day is a pretty special birthday. His name means “gatekeeper,” which is rather apt since he arrived right as the gates to 2014 swung open. His middle name “Levi” is a tribute to Jason’s family, a tribe of worshippers like the Biblical Levites.

Although one of us is a bit sore and one of us is a bit jealous, our family of four is doing great, and we could not be prouder to introduce to you our smallest and newest…

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Porter Levi Keil, 1/1/14. Happy new year, indeed!

The Birth of Lucienne

Today we are sharing a beautiful story of a magical home birth. So supernatural, in fact, that this mother could’t believe what the midwife discovered upon arrival.

The Birth of Lucienne
By Kirsten Kelly

Our home birth was sincerely epic.

Even though we are approaching two years since my first, and thus far only, birth I still remember it so vividly. It was early December, I was 4 days past my guess date and Sean and I were SO very anxious to meet the sweet, sweet life inside of me, Lucienne. We had the birthing tub set up in the nursery and all of our supplies lined out and ready to go. The previous 2.5 months had been something close to the birth equivalent of training for the Navy Seals. I made it my utmost goal to do everything I could humanly (and heavenly) do to create the peaceful, natural, beautiful and spiritual birth experience I’d dreamed of.

The two biggest tools in my arsenal were Hypnobabies (HB) and Supernatural Childbirth. Hypnobabies applies science-based practices to the way we think about and experience childbirth pain. It changes our language toward birth, retrains our association with the expectation of pain, and teaches how to “turn off” pain receptors in the brain. This all is working toward the goal of a pain-free or minimal pain birth. Supernatural Childbirth applies God’s promise for what Jesus did for us on the cross. He died for our sickness, suffering and pain and that includes childbirth. Everyone has a different birth experience, but I know that I know that I know between the daily (more often, hourly) practice of these methods- I absolutely had the birth of my dreams. After all, we are mind, body and spirit. I am so thankful I was able to equip all three of those facets of myself for the most intense and incredible thing I have ever done.

Now, let’s get to the birth.

I woke around 1 am to use the bathroom and discovered I had slight cramping and red blood in the toilet. My first response: total excitement. We let our midwife know immediately, but I knew that there could be a very long road ahead so I kept my cool as “cool” as possible. We went back to bed to get as much sleep as possible before the real deal. I slept until 8 am and woke up surprisingly refreshed too much, much more intense birthing waves (HB for contractions). The shower was high on my list for pain management so I hopped in a warm shower and allowed the heat to keep my muscles as relaxed as possible to let my body do its job. I began using my HB techniques to stay focused and calm. I should probably include that I am stress/anxiety/panic prone, especially when I am out of control or cannot change my state. I can’t express enough how DIFFERENT I was during this process because of the HB tools, never once out of control or panicky!

Around 9:30am things had progressed greatly so I moved to a birthing ball and Sean helped soothe me. I remember looking up at him and saying “Babe- I do not know if I can do this.”  My thought was “If it’s THIS bad now, how bad is it going to be in 5 hours?!?”

Right around that time Whitney, my life-saving doula, arrived. When I think back on my birth I think “That one time I birthed a baby and Whitney carried me all the way through”. I genuinely don’t know how women give birth naturally without a doula. Like, is that even a thing?? She knew how to position me to progress labor, ease pain, used essential oils to tame my nausea- all things I would NOT have been prepared for even through all of my preparation. I labored in the bathroom for (what felt like) quite some time and “emptied out”. Thank God because I was about to get into a personal indoor pool and did not need any of that in there with me! During this time (not the pooping, just the bathroom labor in general) I distinctly remember Sean walking by saying “Guys, I really feel the Holy Spirit right now”. I really loved that moment.

Then, around 11am my midwife arrived. Now, this being my first birth she (and I) expected it would be a lengthy one. I moved to the bed for her to check my progress. She just looks up at me and says “We are about to push this baby OUT. You’re 10cm dilated!” This is the moment I realized that I had just been through the toughest part of the journey and didn’t even know it! I couldn’t imagine it getting worse because I had just experienced the most intense part of labor! The light at the end of the tunnel was so, so very close. I had a whole new energy and excitement come over me. All I remember saying is “ARE YOU SERIOUS?!”

This is when the birthing tub came in. It felt so wonderful! The buoyancy, the warmth- all of it was so nice. Whitney continued to aid by pressing on my hips and poured water over me, sometimes hot and sometimes cold depending on what my body was doing at that moment. The contractions had slowed in time but not intensity. My midwife and her team could not believe how well I was handling my first birth. They said my ability to remain calm, the way I was breathing and had peace was more like a 4th birth! (This was because of my HB techniques) Another hour of moving positions and primal, deep moaning and then it came. My body’s urge to push. I am so thankful I was able to experience the power and intuition my body possesses. I had no idea what to do and yet…it did.

The pushing began and I remember thinking in all the intensity and chaos “Am I even doing this right?!” and then a little soft head was visible. So yes, yes I was doing it right. Lu’s head was born after roughly 45 minutes of pushing. And then there was trouble. Her shoulders were stuck. I had been pushing sitting with my knees pulled back, so the crew helped move me to my hands and knees with my daughter’s head sticking out! After about 2 more minutes, lots of pushing and kind of freaking out… She was here. My baby girl was born. Perfect and fat and magical. All 9lbs and 21 inches of her was absolute beauty. Sean cried and was in awe of what just happened. He was a father. I held her and just stared! I couldn’t believe she was real and she was mine. I finally saw the face that I had longed to see for 9 months! Then there was birthing the placenta which was about as difficult as sneezing after what I had just done. So, there’s that.

We were ushered into our bedroom (the best part of home birth- straight away to your own bed!) where Lu was weighed, cleaned, measured and tested for all the normal things. She was still perfect. After we were semi-settled, Whitney sat on the bed and said to me “You realize that was a supernatural birth, right??”

From the start of active birthing time to the moment Lu was born was a total of 5 hours. I am not genetically prone to quick births. I cannot say it was a painless birth but it was completely manageable and beautiful, and I know that the next time around, through more practice and faith building, it will be even easier than the first time. I truly believe that preparing my mind, body + soul and the blood of Jesus totally delivered. (See what I did there?) I can’t imagine what my birth experience would have been without so many of the vital components in my story- my husband, my incredible midwife, Angel Wings Whitney, Jesus, Hypnobabies and my desire and drive to commit to making it what I wanted. I am truly, truly thankful for the grace I experienced the entire way through my birth journey and will absolutely use all the same methods for our next baby!

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The Birth of Easton Briggs

Happy Monday! This couple didn’t make the decision to have a home birth until their their trimester, but they were so happy they did. Be inspired by the birth story of baby Easton and the beautiful pictures to follow!

The Birth of Easton Briggs
By Laura Robinson

I feel like I had the perfect textbook pregnancy, labor and birth and I am so thankful for that. It all started on July 14 when I found out we were pregnant. I could not be more excited but nervous at the same time. I immediately changed how I ate and exercised. I knew everything I did had an affect on the baby.

We announced in September and was surrounded by love and excitement with family and friends!

I started going to prenatal yoga 2-3 times a week and focused on pelvic floor exercises. It was so relaxing and helped me get my mind set on track. “I can do anything for 2 minutes” is what I told myself during ” keep up exercises.” Theses really came in handy during labor.

Now to the decision of a home birth. I knew I wanted natural but a home birth really didn’t come to my mind till later. I also knew I did not want to deliver in a hospital! Justin and I checked out a few birthing centers but it just didn’t feel right! At this time I was working with a group of amazing midwives but the problem was they only delivered in the hospital so my search continued. Maybe a home birth is something I can do! At this point I was in my third trimester and knew time was moving fast.  I talked with many friends that had experienced home births and started interviewing midwives! The emergency department nurse in me wanted a provider that still knew what to do in emergent situations while maintaining calm. I finally found one after weeks of searching and was thankful that Jennifer Vines of Vines Midwifery took me as a patient in my third trimester!

During pregnancy I went to the chiropractor, prenatal massages every two weeks in third trimester and floated! Floating, it’s a sensory deprivation float tank and for pregnant woman, being able to float in Epsom salt on your stomach is heaven! I walked at least 3 days a week and worked a few 12 shifts a month all the way till 38 weeks. My diet was pretty healthy besides a few cheat days for frozen yogurt! I am vegetarian and really try to limit dairy and soy. I did increase my eggs for protein. All organic produce! I really didn’t have cravings. If I can think of one thing it was oranges!

Fast toward to May 19th… I was one day away from my due date and we were just now getting the pool together and the house clean. I had always heard that babies are not born on their due date! Midnight hit…March 20th!

I was woken up about 1am to pressure, lots of pressure so went the restroom and my mucous plug fell out. It was a perfect plug just sitting in the toilet. I had texted my midwife a picture, she asked questions and told me to go back to bed. I had read that some plugs come out weeks before so back to bed I went! An hour later I was woken up again to menstural type cramps! They were strong but not consistent. I think they call this early labor, I kept telling myself. Luckily I was able to handle them and got a few hours of sleep. Come 12pm the next day they same feeling was occurring so my midwife came to check me. I was only dilated 1 cm. 1 CM!!! “This is going to suck,” I told myself. I really thought I was a 5 or so just because these early labor contractions had been occurring now for 11 hours! I was cleaning and trying to stay busy and was able to sway my hips and let out a deep voice moan when the contractions would hit. I did this for the next 7 hours! Around 7pm the night of March 20th something changed! The contractions were stronger but still just felt like bad menstrual cramps. Laying in my own bath tub I was imagining my baby boy being here. Telling myself, “you can do this Laura” “Your body is made to do this.” I was reading birthing quotes that my dearest friends had wrote on pieces of wood for me a few days before! 9 pm came and I needed help! I was not able to get comfortable so my midwife sent my doula. I waited all day because I like to do as much as I can myself and mentally prepare. I think that’s the introvert in me. One of my amazing doulas named Sandee came around 9pm. I still remember her telling me, “your contractions need to get longer and stronger.” I was mentally prepared for this! I need to get into active labor!

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10pm my midwife came and checked me right away. “You are at 8cm and have a bulging bag of water and his head is there!” “Am I in active labor?” I asked. “Yes” she replied! We called my sister and photographer real fast!! I was soo proud of myself at this point! I was relaxed and I got myself to an 8! My birthing crew hustled to get my birthing pool filled with water and other supplies they needed because my baby was coming fast!

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I began laboring in the water for about 45 minutes when my midwife broke my water! I asked, “Does this mean its going to get worse?” I was swinging my hips in the warm water to Coldplay. That music pushed me! The room was filled with love and music. At one point the music had stopped and I looked at Justin as if the music was making my dilate to a 10! “Turn it back on,” I yelled!

At 1:30am on March 21st, his due date….something changed! I felt my contractions get different, Its hard to describe how they were different, but they were! “You are a 10 and you can start pushing,” my midwife said! Now that was a challenge! My body was tired and I kept thinking, how am I going to take care of this baby when I am so tired? Your body naturally pushes so trying to sync that with my pushing was tiring.

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After about 30 minutes of pushing in my birth pool, I needed a change! I could tell that his head was not over my pelvic bone and into the vaginal canal yet. I walked and sat on my toilet and pushed 3 times there and felt my baby come in to the vaginal canal. As I attempted to walk back to my birthing pool to deliver I had to pause to breathe through a contraction. I was pushing so hard, I felt like I might pass out and just needed to lay down. I went down on my bed, laying on my side and pushed one more time and my baby was born! He was born on his due date on my bed!!

All the pressure and pain I had felt was completely gone. A healthy, 8 lb 1 oz baby was born, crying and ready to nurse. He latched right now for his first meal!

A few hours after loving on him, pictures, showers and eating we went to bed and had the best sleep!

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Beautiful birth photos by Kailee Riches!

The Birth of Ezra Patrick

This mother had a marathon early labor but when her baby decided it was time to come, Julie was just hanging on for the ride! Luckily the birth team arrived just in time for her beautiful home birth. Enjoy!
The Birth of Ezra Patrick
By Julie Eliserio

On March 16th at 3:30 AM a light contraction woke me. I was three days past my due date. I knew I was supposed to go back to sleep and ignore it, just like I had mentally prepared to do for past 8 months. I could not. I woke up and started to time my contractions. I even thought about waking my sleeping fiancé, but I decided it would be best to save his energy for when we would actually needed it. Contractions were 10-15 minutes apart and stayed that way for the next 8 hours until my appointment with my midwife, Jennifer Vines.

Jennifer reassured me that everything was going according to plan and we should have a baby in the next few days if this keeps up. I went home and finally slept. I woke up closer to the sun going down to find my contractions had picked up to roughly 5-7 minutes apart and were requiring much more of my focus to breathe through. This is also a good time to point out my body has always had a very strong connection to the lunar cycle. My sleep has always been greatly affected by the moon, and oddly enough my mother is the same way. It also seems the lunar cycle had a large role in my labor. My labor was always much more intense at night. I finally was able to find a position I could sleep in, and when I woke up around four in the morning I found my contractions had gone back to being 10-15 minutes apart. It was tired, sore, and felt like I had been putting in a lot of work for no progress.

This pattern of very active labor during the night, followed by significantly slower labor during the day would continue over a total of 119 hours.

Over the next five days my birth team, Jennifer Vines, Carissa Gay and Merrill Durham came to the house to check on me, or would stay in touch via text. I was so lucky that my team with Vines Midwifery all lived so close to our house in East Nashville. Jennifer left it completely up to me if I wanted them to stay at the house or give us our alone time. Labor was intense, but for me personally, I did better when I wasn’t being watched. I knew that nobody could do this work for me, so I had them do most of their check ups over the phone. Jennifer came over on Wednesday to check in, and while she was at the house I requested to be checked vaginally. I was four centimeters dilated. Slowly but surely, we were making progress.

On Thursday we thought my water might have broken. Jennifer came by on Friday to check on me. If my water had broken on Thursday, it would put me over the limit of 24 hours, and I would have to go to a hospital due to risk for infection. After reassuring me that my water bag was very much intact and bulging, she informed us that I was 7 centimeters dilated. She then had me do several positions that would give the baby more room to shift around and get into the correct position. This brought much needed relief from my hours and hours of back labor. Jennifer gave me a tincture for stalled labor and told me to call her if anything changed. Also, more importantly; get some sleep.

There was zero sleep that came that night. Contractions washed over me 4-5 minutes apart for hours. Ryan was getting used to my wailing at this point. He was out in the living room at 12:30 when I screamed from the bathroom. My water had without a doubt broken. Ryan and I sat pretty dumbfounded in the bathroom for a moment before I had him bring me my phone to text Jennifer. I told her that my water had broken and asked what next. Jennifer told me to let her know when my contractions picked up again. With all of the excitement of my water breaking, I had almost forgotten about my contractions. I climbed back in bed with Ryan by my side, when I immediately remembered my contractions. They came hard and fast. I cried for Ryan to text Jennifer back and tell her to send Merrill my Doula for support. Ryan was just about to lay down when my water broke, so I thought I would let him rest and have Merrill with me.

Before Ryan had hit send, I felt an overwhelming intense NEED to push. The next few moments seemed like a blur. All I could tell Ryan was that I needed Jennifer immediately. Hindsight allows me to see that Ryan was texting Jennifer how urgent the situation had become, and he was also preparing to deliver our baby. Thankfully, we had already gotten our bed ready for the birth. This was not how I envisioned things going. I now know that nothing about a birth can be planned. Ever. No birth pool in the dining room, no yoga music playlist and no anthropology candles.

A short ten minutes later, Jennifer walked into my bedroom (like I said…I was unbelievably lucky Jennifer lived so close to me, and grateful that she doesn’t mind speeding). I have never been happier to see any person in my entire life. Jennifer checked me immediately. We find out what I think we all already knew; I was about to have this baby. Jennifer said “If you feel like pushing, go for it. Take all the noise you are making and all your energy and bear down.” It was simple,  and it connected well with me. Also, it was damn effective.

2:15 AM Ezra Patrick Alger was born after twenty five minutes of pushing. I was lucky that I didn’t tear. I labored in our dark bedroom. During that twenty five minutes Merrill and Carissa arrived and joined us after setting up their equipment. Carissa took the amazing photos that are attached. This team of women will undoubtingly have a lasting place in my heart for being there for us at such a special time.

Jennifer helped Ezra with his first latch, and he took to breastfeeding like a champ(side note: We ran into some  issues in the first few weeks, and we contacted a lactation consultant. With a lot of patience and practice, we were able to overcome the early hardships of breastfeeding). A few hours had passed since the birth, the team made sure we were comfortable and packed up all of their things to leave. That night/morning, Ryan, Ezra and I slept in our bedroom as a family of three.

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The Birth of Moses Lee

Rachel shares her story of strength and perseverance to bring  Moses Lee earth-side in the comforts of her home. Read how she found the strength to keep going during the birth of her second baby.

The Birth of Moses Lee
By Rachel Stockard

In the late winter months of 2014, I had a hunch that I might be pregnant. It had only been a couple of months since we made our cross-country move from Mississippi to Pennsylvania, which proved to be a challenging adjustment for me. I took my little 8 month old baby girl with me to the Super Fresh market & spent an exuberant amount of money on a home pregnancy test. I went right into the grocery store bathroom because I simply couldn’t wait the 10 minutes until I got home. Instantly it read “pregnant.” I simultaneously smiled and panicked. Then I took the 8 month old home and tried to figure out how to tell my husband. Things just didn’t seem right, though, so I waited. Day after day, I kept feeling more and more weary and concerned that things just weren’t going how they should. I told Blake about it and we decided it was best for me to make an appointment. I learned that I had miscarried, and the following weeks were some of the most painful, isolating, and terrible I have ever experienced.Our rainbow didn’t wait long, however, as we conceived again very shortly afterwards. It took a long time before I felt like I could accept the reality that this pregnancy was real and valid. I’m surprised, in fact, that I didn’t put us into deep debt with the number of pregnancy tests I purchased in my frenzy of doubt and worry. At twelve weeks, the “safe point” when many people are publicly announcing their pregnancies, I decided it might be time to make an appointment with the birth center (and we didn’t announce until after 20 weeks). I remember hearing the heartbeat on the Doppler at nearly 14 weeks and it finally hit me: I was pregnant! We caught our bearings and began preparing to welcome another member into our family. I had my prenatal care at a local birth center outside Philadelphia where we were living at the time. After having an OBGYN clinic/hospital birth experience with my first baby that I just wasn’t crazy about, I was very comfortable with the atmosphere of the birth center and the midwives who saw me. Soon things changed for our family, and we decided we would be moving to Nashville in December.

We contacted a few midwives and Jennifer agreed to take us on since it was my second birth. At over 30 weeks pregnant, we moved into our fixer-upper home and began serious renovations (did I mention the very, very pregnant part?), but I was excited to experience birth in the home we were making.Apparently we didn’t leave all of Pennsylvania behind us when we moved, because in February a series of ice and snow storms hit Nashville that were fairly unprecedented. I stayed in contact with my birth team and we all hoped that I wouldn’t go into labor until things cleared up. On Friday, February 20 (39 wks 5 days), it rained and the temperatures rose just enough to melt away the snow and ice, turning everything into a mess of melting slush. That night, I had the urge to bake a cake (I should have known at this point, as this is the same thing that happened when I went into labor with Lucy). I had been feeling plenty of early, irregular contractions and things seemed to be progressing, but I didn’t have any intuitions on how soon things would really kick in. My contractions continued that evening as we put our 19 month old to bed and I fixated on the ganache for the cake. I had big dreams for this cake but after a couple of hours of baking, mixing, melting, and cleaning on swollen feet- all while pretending the contractions weren’t really contractions- it ended up being an ugly mess of chocolate layers crammed into a cake dish (but yes, it did taste good). My contractions were about 10-12 minutes apart. I knew I couldn’t avoid it any longer and told Blake that I thought labor had begun. He immediately went to bed because he knew what was coming (my first labor was well over 30 hours, I think he was a little scared).

I walked and swayed for a while and gave some attention to my birth affirmation cards I had prepared in the weeks prior. I eventually decided to try to get some rest as well. I actually did feel fairly comfortable laying down. During contractions, which at this point were around 8-10 minutes apart, I would reach out and grab Blake’s hand to squeeze until it passed, then rest again until the next one. Sometime around 3:00am I contacted my midwife Jennifer to let her know I was in labor with contractions now about 5-7 minutes apart. I told her I was managing pretty well and would keep in touch until the morning. Soon laying down just wasn’t working for me anymore, so I decided to get in the shower for a bit. It felt good to stand and sway in the water and helped to relax me a bit. At around 5am Blake got up with me and helped to prep the house a bit, knowing that things were moving along pretty well. Soon we contacted our birth team to give them the heads up that it was time. We woke Lucy up and called Blake’s mom to come get her. She was so concerned to see me in pain as I worked through the contractions, laying on the couch and moaning through them. She held my hand and offered her lovey, Owl, for comfort.

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Shortly after Lucy left, our doula/midwife assistant, Merrill, came around 8:30am. She walked in during the middle of a contraction and watched me work through it. I looked up when it was over and she smiled at me and said “you are doing so great! You’re really laboring!” I remember immediately feeling that missing link and couldn’t have been more grateful that she was there.

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Blake got my birth playlist going and Merrill began diffusing lavender oil. I was feeling a little weak but didn’t feel much like eating, so they suggested apple juice to get my blood sugar up a bit. At around 9:30, the rest of the birth team (Jennifer, my midwife and Carissa, midwife assistant) arrived and began to set everything up, including the birth tub. The pressure continued to intensify and Merrill used lots of counter-pressure to help ease the pain. I just remember everything feeling very calm, and I was so reassured in my decision to have a homebirth and in my selection of my birth team.
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I got into the birth tub and the water felt so amazing. I was instantly able to let my body relax a bit. At around 10am, I asked Jennifer to check me to see what progress I had made so far. I was feeling pretty confident at this point that we were getting really close. I was 7cm and I felt a bit defeated. I was in tears; this was the first time I lost my way and began to fight the pain and contractions. I remember wishing I could maybe just go sleep for a while and then resume again tomorrow, I was tired and weak and I just wanted to give up. All of the sudden everything around me was so agitating. My husband made coffee for everyone and I was sensitive to the smell and snapped at him. They literally ran the coffee out to another room and started diffusing orange oil. The orange gave me a boost of energy and I decided that nobody could do this but me and sometimes, you just have to do hard things. I ate a bit of a Cliff bar, drank some water, and got right back into things.
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I labored for a while on the toilet and remember one of the more comforting things to me during labor was laying my head on Merrill’s stomach. I felt a strange but real maternal connection…knowing that this tummy had grown a child and this woman birthed a baby in her own unique way, and now it was my turn to continue this beautiful cycle of life by bringing my baby into the world. Merrill was more of a comfort to me than she’ll ever know. The contractions and pressure were ridiculously intense during this time, but I knew I was making great progress. I know I probably changed demeanor every thirty seconds or so between a sad puppy and a roaring lion…I was still fighting the temptation to quit. A couple of beautiful songs played, including a song by a dear friend, Christa Wells. I felt unbreakable, fierce and empowered.

At around 12:30pm, I moved into the kitchen with the team and just really felt like squatting. It was completely involuntary at this point- I held the ledge of our kitchen island and worked through the intensifying contractions here for some time. I looked up at my midwife at some point and said “PLEASE tell me this is transition…?” to which she answered “Um, yes!” I was so afraid to even ask, but so relieved when she assured me that yes, I was finally getting there! Soon I was feeling even more pressure and asked Jennifer to check my dilation again. I laid on the couch and waited out a contraction. She checked me and immediately another contraction hit-hard. It hurt and I screamed in pain. Jennifer told me I was about 9cm with a bulging bag of waters. I asked her to break my water because I felt this would help things progress more quickly. She couldn’t find her amnio hook and like magic, both of her assistants whipped out crochet hooks. A quick sterilization and she broke my water…with a crochet hook. There was a bit of meconium in the fluid, so I knew it was time to go ahead and have this baby.

I got back in the tub and the primal birthing goddess in me emerged. I needed all hands on deck at this point and really wanted my husband’s support. I needed a hand to squeeze through the surges and warm water poured over my back as I leaned over the tub. At around 1:20 I decided to experiment a bit with pushing. It felt really good and relived some of the pressure (that “urge to push” you hear about, which I hadn’t experienced with my first birth because I had an epidural late in labor).

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Things moved quickly and all of the sudden everyone seemed to be swarming around like bees getting everything ready, all the while supporting me and being so patient with my ever-changing needs. I changed positions several times throughout the pushing process, but really felt most effective in a semi-reclining position, relaxing into the water in between contractions/pushing. (side note: I found out later that the bottom portion of the tub indeed does inflate, but was an oversight on my dear husband’s part. Thankfully nobody told me this during the process, or I may not have a husband today)
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I reached my 2nd standstill in labor when I really just wanted to quit during the pushing phase. I told Jennifer “I just really cannot do this” and she said “you’re between a rock and a hard place, I know.” It was such a simple thing, but visualizing that was a great help to me. You don’t want to stay pregnant and in labor forever, but it seems impossible to allow the pain to overtake you and get that baby out. There’s nothing easy about being in that place- right there between that enormous, seemingly insurmountable rock and the daunting hard place- but you just have to figure a way out. So, that’s what I did…I kept going, kept pushing, kept summoning that strength.

At approximately 2:07pm, I birthed my baby boy into the world. And he screamed like a little girl. It was absolutely beautiful.

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We planned on Blake catching the baby, but right before I delivered, Jennifer noticed prolapsed cord (when the umbilical cord emerges before the baby) and immediately stepped in and took over. Blake was a little stunned I think, but we’re so glad she did this as prolapsed cord can be very dangerous for the baby. He also had nuchal cord (when the umbilical cord is wrapped around the neck), which is fairly common, and which Jennifer also very quickly attended to. Despite these issues, Moses was born extremely healthy with no complications! We’re so grateful for our wonderful birth team from Vines Midwifery. After the cord had finished pulsating, Blake cut it and I delivered the placenta. We moved into the bedroom while Jennifer repaired a couple of minor tears. After he pooped all over Blake (I mean all over…), Moses weighed in at 7 lbs. 15 oz., the exact same as his big sister weighed at birth. He immediately took to breastfeeding like a champ (and hasn’t stopped since!). Probably my favorite element of having a homebirth was this time. Our birth team finished cleaning up and made sure we were good, then left us. We rested and basked in the peace of having our baby in our own home.
Midwife Hospital Birth

The Birth of Nora Kate

This is the birth story of Nora Kate written by her powerful mama. Erin was so prepared for and relaxed during birth no could believe she was so close to delivery. She made it look easy! Enjoy this story of a first-time mom surrendering to her birth.
The Birth of Nora Kate
By: Erin Hinger

It all started on Thursday morning. I was 39 weeks and 3 days. I woke up feeling slightly crampy. It was the same type of cramps I would get with my period. I didn’t think much of it and carried on like any other day. I got ready and Steven dropped me off at work. I told him to keep his phone near just in case this was the real deal. I doubted it though. I had experienced lots of Braxton Hicks through almost the entire third trimester, which was frustrating because many times I would mistake them for real labor contractions. Honestly, I had no idea at this point that this was the beginning of early labor.I started getting contractions at work that felt different than BH. These were painful and hurt mostly in my back. They started coming regularly around 1 pm, but were 10-20 minutes apart. This continued on for the rest of my workday. I could’ve gone home early, but felt that the contractions were bearable enough to finish my shift. I didn’t say a word to my boss or any co-workers because I still wasn’t convinced that I was in labor and didn’t want to give them all a false alarm. Steven picked me up at 4:30 and we headed home. We had dinner around 6 and went for a walk. During the walk I felt lots of pressure, but the contractions spaced out a little bit. At 9 I decided to try to get some sleep. I used the bathroom first and saw a small amount of blood on the toilet paper. This was the moment when I realized that I was truly in labor. That bloody show was the evidence I needed. I knew I would need energy later so I laid down and tried to rest, but the contractions started becoming more painful. Plus, I had so many thoughts racing through my mind, “Am I going to be able to do this naturally?” “How long is my labor going to last?” “Oh my goodness, I might get to meet my baby girl in a few hours!” I was filled with such a mixture of emotions from excitement one minute to nervousness the next. The contractions were still 15-20 minutes apart. I was sleepy, but when I would just be dozing off each contraction would wake me back up. By 11 pm I gave up on trying to sleep and went to the couch. I watched a comedy show (Impractical Jokers) to distract myself. I had been texting Merrill, my doula, all day letting her know how things were progressing. She told me she would come over as soon as I said I was ready for her. I felt that I was still in the early stage of labor and was comfortable working through it on my own. I also wanted Merrill and Steven to get sleep so they would have energy to help me when things got more intense.Friday May 9, 2014 (39 weeks and 4 days)

I woke Steven up at midnight and asked him to go on another walk with me. I was hoping this would help to pick things up a bit. When we got back home I told Steven to go back to bed and I would wake him when I was ready. He would have stayed up with me, but I wanted him well rested. I sat back down on the couch and opened the contraction timer on my phone. They were ranging between 6-13 minutes apart. They were quite painful at this point and each time one would come I either walked around in the house or got down on all fours to ease the pain in my back. I was still able to work through them on my own because there was enough time in between to relax. Each contraction lasted less than a minute so I would watch the timer on my phone and with each passing second I knew I was that much closer to it being over. Given the timing in between each one, I figured I was still in early labor. What we had learned in our birthing class and from our midwife was that typically active labor begins when contractions are consistently 5 minutes apart lasting at least 1 minute for 1-2 hours.

By 5 am the contractions were 6 minutes apart. I was very uncomfortable by now and woke Steven up to go on one last walk with me. The walk was tough to get through. I had to stop with each contraction and Steven did counter pressure on my back. It felt good to walk around in hopes of moving the baby down. After the walk Steven took off to Dunkin’ Donuts to grab us some egg sandwiches and hash browns. We figured we had a long day ahead of us and needed to eat a decent breakfast before heading to the hospital. I called the midwife at 6 am because by now the contractions were pretty consistently 5 minutes apart and had definitely gotten more intense. I was anxious to find out how far along I was. The midwife advised me to go to the clinic to get checked. I was thinking I’d probably only be dilated to 2 cm or so and they would send me back home until I was further along.

We got to the clinic at 7 am and there wasn’t a single midwife there yet. Oh, I must add that the drive there was the worst car ride of my life. Every bump in the road, even the small ones, made the contractions tremendously more painful. I was fighting back the tears so bad. Steven felt horrible, but there wasn’t anything he could do. One midwife finally arrived at 7:30. I was in so much pain at this point that I was ready to get an epidural. I needed Merrill’s support now! The midwife checked me and made a funny face. I nervously asked, “What is it?” She says, “You’re at 7 cm!” I exclaimed, “Are you serious?!” I was completely shocked! She quickly says, “Girl, you get to the hospital now!” Apparently the timing rule for contractions was different for me. Here I was in active labor most of the night and had no clue because the contractions weren’t 5 minutes apart. After the midwife left the room I told Steven, “No wonder these contractions have been hurting so extremely bad.”

My mindset completely changed after realizing how far I had made it. I felt encouraged that I could totally finish this without an epidural. I called Merrill right away and told her to meet me at the hospital. Steven called the hospital and told them we were on our way and asked for a room with a labor tub. They said, “It will be waiting for you.” I was so thrilled to hear this because I knew the tub would be a huge relief for me. We learned in our birthing class that hydrotherapy can relieve up to 70% of the pain! That’s huge! Steven also called our parents to let them know.

At 8 am I was admitted into labor & delivery. My nurses were incredible from the get go. The midwife on call, who I had never met before, was wonderful as well. I had to be on the monitor for 20 minutes. They put a heplock IV in and filled out some paperwork. Merrill arrived at 8:30 and immediately started doing counter pressure on my back while I was in the bed. I was so ready to get in the tub. Around 9 am everything looked good on the monitor and I got in the tub. Oh man it felt so wonderful and quickly eased my tension. Merrill & Steven took turns doing counter pressure with each contraction and the other would stand by my head rubbing my shoulders and arms. The nurses left the room to give us peace. Steven played some relaxing classical music and Merrill rubbed lavender oil on my neck. They prepared the perfect setting for me. All this allowed me to just let go and let my body do what it needed to do naturally.

My mom and sister arrived at 9:45 and came in to say hi. They only stayed in the room for a minute to give us space. Steven and Merrill never left my side. Steven became the pro at counter pressure and Merrill would softly whisper “breathe” in my ear through each contraction while rubbing my neck and shoulders. She also kept handing me my water bottle to make sure I stayed hydrated. Every contraction was so excruciating and I had to deep breathe through each one. With each breath I reminded myself that it was almost over and I was that much closer. I was solely focused on the moment. At 10 the nurse used the waterproof Doppler to check the baby’s heart rate and everything looked good. At 10:15 I was feeling tons of intense pressure. Merrill reassured me that this meant the baby’s head was very low and I was so close. I had to get out of the tub to use the bathroom and had some bloody show. I got back in the tub and continued to deep breathe through each contraction. They were intensifying and coming every couple minutes, but honestly I wasn’t even thinking about how frequent they were. I just concentrated on getting through each one and reminding myself that each one was bringing us closer to meeting our baby.

My water broke at 10:30 during a contraction while in the tub. I wasn’t even positive what had happened, but then the pressure got overwhelmingly intense and I felt a huge urge to push. I got out of the tub at 10:45 to be checked and I was 9 cm, station +2, 100% effaced. So super close! I stayed in the bed from this point on and this was the absolute hardest part. I got on all fours in the bed because that was the best position to ease the back pain. I was struggling to keep my composure and almost threw up with each contraction. My nurse, midwife, and Merrill kept reminding me that I was so strong and doing such a great job. Steven continued doing counter pressure. I know it was wearing him out, but he was such a champ and never stopped. In between, he wrapped his arms around me and gently rubbed my legs. His touch was so comforting. The urge to push was so hard to manage at this point, but at the same time I was terrified with the thought of pushing the baby out. I voiced my concern and Merrill and my midwife reassured me that the pushing phase was a relief and gives you a sense of control since you’re actively participating in moving the baby out.

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At 11:25 my midwife checked me and I was fully dilated at 10 cm! I remember saying, “Thank God”. I began pushing at 11:30 and they put a mirror in front of me, which helped tremendously because I could see how effective each push was as the baby moved down. I could literally feel her moving through the birth canal. It was incredible! Everyone was so hands off and just let me push as I felt each contraction. It was so awesome to let my body lead and not have anyone telling me what to do. I was pushing as hard as I could with every ounce of energy I had left hoping to get the baby out as quickly as possible. I just wanted to be done and was so exhausted. My midwife kept reminding me to look in the mirror, saying, “Erin, look her head is right there!” At noon I felt like I still had several more pushes to go to get her out, but with my next push I felt the severe burning “ring of fire” sensation that I was warned would happen when the head crowns. Within a matter of seconds after that feeling, out came my baby girl.

Nora Kate was born at 12:01 pm. Only 30 minutes of pushing and she was here! My midwife immediately put her on my chest and I was in complete awe. There is not a word that can describe what this moment feels like. As I was holding Nora skin to skin I remember saying, “Hi baby” “Hi sweetie” “Steven look, this is our baby.” It was the most surreal moment of my life. Even after being pregnant for 9 months and going through labor and birth it was still unbelievable that the baby in my arms was mine. Yet, at the same time I already loved her so much.

Steven cut the cord and I pushed out the placenta within 10 minutes of Nora’s birth.  I had a significant amount of bleeding and tore in three places so my nurse gave me Pitocin in the IV and then again as a shot in my thigh to get the bleeding under control. My midwife was stitching up the tears. All this time I was hardly aware of what was going on and didn’t really care about anything other than holding my sweet baby. By 1:00, my midwife was still concerned about the bleeding and asked me to try to use the bathroom as my bladder felt really full. Steven was able to hold Nora skin to skin while I got up to the bathroom. I wasn’t able to go since things were swollen down there and they had to put an in-and-out catheter in. After they emptied my bladder, the bleeding slowed down. They handed Nora back to me and helped her to begin nursing. It took a few minutes, but once she latched on she nursed for 20 minutes!

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By 2:20 I was transferred and settled into the postpartum room. My mom, sister, dad, and stepmom had been anxiously waiting the whole time and finally got to meet Nora. It was so wonderful having those first couple hours to ourselves to bond with our baby before the family came in. We had told them several weeks previously that we didn’t want them in the room during the birth or for the “golden hour” as Steven and I felt that this was our own special time with our girl. We were so glad to have made that decision.

When people ask me how I went through labor and delivery without any pain medication, I simply say, “You know what, our bodies were designed to do this and honestly God gives you this amazing inner strength to get through it.” Giving birth naturally is the most empowering thing I will ever experience and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. There is nothing better than experiencing the miracle of life.