The Birth of Johnathan and Madison

Jessi is a powerful first-time mom who was determined to have a natural delivery of her twins. Read her honest story of birthing two lives!

“I don’t think it matters how messy or crazy things get, how you look or the way you act. I think once you have given birth you will look back at your story and think – Wow – I really rocked! I can’t believe what a boss I am”.

Birth of Johnathan and Madison
By: Jessi Canales

January 17th started just like any other Saturday. I was just one day shy of 37 weeks and I felt great. (As great as you can feel when you’re 37 weeks pregnant with twins). Franklin had picked up a work job that day helping someone paint a house. I had a baby quilt that I was determined to finish that day. Franklin left early and I got a lazy morning started eating breakfast, watching a show and finally starting on my quilt. During the morning at some point my doula, Merrill, texted me to see how I was feeling as she was considering going for a hike. I replied to her that I wasn’t feeling anything and to go for the hike that I really didn’t think I was going to go into labor any time soon. She sent me her husband’s cell phone number – just in case. At this point I had only been checked once, at 35 weeks when they were testing for the group b. At that point I was 50% effaced and 1 cm (to me I felt like this was basically nothing) I declined being checked at the 36 week appointment as I didn’t feel it was beneficial to know. I was nervous that in the coming weeks I would have to make some hard choices (I thought the babies would not come during the doctors ideal 37-39 week time frame) so I wanted to leave well enough for now alone.

After telling Merrill to go for her hike, I continued on with my quilt. I was at the point of putting the backing on so I spent I lot of time bending over and crawling around the floor pinning. I had the back finished and decided to make some lunch (lemon chicken) and sat for a while as I ate lunch. After lunch, I took a nap and set my alarm for 4:00. I got up from my nap intending to do the binding on my quilt. I went to the bathroom and had a strange feeling about it, thinking my water may have broken – but just pushed the thought out of my mind and went to the kitchen to get a cookie and milk for a snack. At that point I felt a small leek and thought it must be some discharge (as I had had lots of discharge during my pregnancy) and went to the bathroom to clean up. When I pulled my pants down I dripped on the floor and knew at that point that my water had broken. I remember feeling really awkward (mostly because situations like this make me weird – any type of highly “exciting” situation just ramps up the awkwardness in me, its like I don’t know how to act and that makes me feel awkward). It’s like you know what is going to happen and your ready for it and not ready for it all at the same time. I kind of cleaned things up, I had dripped a little bit on the floor but had sat down on the toilet and let some of it drip in there as well. The liquid was slightly pink in color. I called Franklin and let him know. He was just finishing up his job and said he would be home soon. I also called Merrill, and told her I thought my water had broken. We talked a little bit and I explained what was going on. I still wasn’t feeling any contractions. I was a little bit worried contractions wouldn’t start because it could be twin ‘b’s’ water and therefore wouldn’t be in position to move down the birth canal.  (I had fraternal twins, so they had their own placenta and sac, although most identical twins also have their own placenta and sac, but some do share).

Merrill said she would start kind of getting ready to come but since I wasn’t feeling any contractions she would wait a while. She said she would call in an hour. I also called my mom at this point and asked her to come get my dog. I also called the hospital and found out Dr. Woodall was on call, which was great. She was the Dr. besides my primary Dr (Sizemore) that I really liked. Franklin got home and I think we just were a little bit unsure of what to do. I felt fine but you know your life is about to change big time. My mom arrived and I asked her and Franklin to help me hang some stuff in the nursery that I still hadn’t hung up. I directed as they hung stuff and I packed our bags. I just grabbed some random clothes, as I had no idea what to pack (I had taken a wonderful birthing class that addressed this, but I’m a horrible packer and at the moment I didn’t care what I was packing). Shortly before my mom left with Emmaline (my dog) she asked if I felt anything at all. I said, “maybe a tiny bit, but it this was labor then I don’t know what the big deal is.” She said, “Oh, it gets a lot worse.” Thanks mom – super helpful! After my mom left I decided to take a bath.

This is the moment I knew I was in labor. I love taking baths. They are so relaxing to me. When I have menstrual pain they always help. I was in the bath and I just felt uncomfortable. This was a big signal to me. Merrill texted around this time and I told her I was feeling slightly crampy but I thought she should go ahead and come over. It was about 5:30 now and I remember getting on my bed and I just felt uncomfortable. I remember rolling back and forth trying to find a comfortable position. Franklin was sitting there with me. I don’t remember being in pain, just that I couldn’t get comfortable. At some point I went into my bathroom and things were picking up. I wouldn’t say I felt what I would call contractions at this point. I just felt really uncomfortable. I remember feeling really focused and there were periods I can’t really remember what was happening because I was just so inwardly focused.

Merrill came in at 6:30 and I was in the bathroom. I remember her asking how often I was having contractions and I said I didn’t know. She had me drink some water. I remember I was just kind of dripping everywhere and she told me she had stood in her tub when she was in labor so I moved to standing in the tub too. I know at some point she said I was having rolling contractions (which is why I couldn’t really define them and why I didn’t really recognize them- to me it was just a constant discomfort more than a coming and going sensation) I wouldn’t really call it painful either. Merrill had Franklin called the hospital and by 7:00 we were on our way. Franklin had been saying before Merrill got there that maybe we should head over there, but honestly if Merrill hadn’t have said we should go I probably wouldn’t have left. I just felt like, this was just the beginning. I only just started feeling uncomfortable and crampy and I probably had a long labor ahead and I wanted to stay at home for as long as possible.

I put some clothes on and we got in the car. I remember being so uncomfortable sitting in the car. I was half standing half sitting in my seat. The hospital was less than 5 minutes away but I hated every second of being in that car. We pulled up to the ER and of course they ask you about 100 questions and while we were getting checked in a woman came up to the desk to complain about a man with a knife and they had to call security. Franklin continued to check us in and a nurse came down for us. She came down with a wheel chair but I refused it, as sitting did not feel good at all. Merrill, my nurse, and I made our way up to the room. I remember taking off my pants and shoes and I think they offered me a gown, which I didn’t take. They also had me slip on a band to hold the heart monitor. The nurse asked me to lie in bed so they could get the heartbeats. I tried to lie down but it was so uncomfortable that I got back up. The nurse tried to find the heartbeats while I was standing but she was having a hard time. I remember being so annoyed. She was touching me all over and moving the monitors and wasn’t finding the heartbeats. I just wanted to be left alone and to focus. She was really struggling and I was trying to be patient but it was so irritating at the same time. After a few minutes she got frustrated and said, “Sweetie, you have to lie down so we can get the heartbeats.” She was frustrated and I wasn’t having it plus people other than my parents or my spouse calling me pet names drives me insane. So I said, “honey, I can help you find the heartbeat while I stand up or you can get a different nurse but I’m not laying down.” Needless to say the tension was pretty high. The nurse kinda huffed and backed up. Merrill said lets just give her a minute. After a second she came back and said, “I’m sorry I called you sweetie, I just said that because I’m so much older than you.” She said, “I’ve helped with lots of natural birth and am comfortable with it and I’ve had 4 babies myself, I know it hurts but don’t you want us to monitor their heartbeats?” I told her I didn’t have any problems with them monitoring them and I would help her find them. I showed her where the nurses usually find the babies heartbeat. After a little bit more trying she was able to locate the heartbeats.

Then the nurse tried to check my cervix. It felt like it took her forever to find my cervix! I was trying to just ignore it. Finally she was able to find my cervix and I was already 8 cm! (this is at 7:40). Then a nurse came in to put in my hep-lock. She also wanted me to lie down, I said no you can do it here. I kneeled by the bed while she put it in. She put it in my hand which was very uncomfortable so I asked her to move it to my arm – she tried but after her first failed attempt I told her never mind and to just leave it in my hand. I remember during all of this that I was just dripping all kinds of fluids everywhere and I kept apologizing. They brought in towels to clean it up and left some for me to stand over. They kept assuring me it was ok. What a funny thing to care about while you’re in labor. Its kind of awkward to have a bunch a strangers watch you leak bodily fluids. After a few minutes Dr. Woodall came in and starts saying we have to do an ultrasound stating that I haven’t had an ultrasound in several weeks and they had to make sure the babies are both head down. I said, I had one on Tuesday and they were both head down. She kept insisting saying, “We are going to be having a very different discussion if they aren’t head down.” She wanted me to get into bed so that they could do the ultrasound. I remember just glaring at her. Both my babies had been head down for many many weeks. Franklin said, “Baby why don’t you lie down for just a second and let them see.” At which point I got in the bed. It was so painful! But they quickly saw that they were both head down and checked me again. I was now 9 cm with a little anterior lip (8:20).

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For the next two hours my nurse and Merrill worked with me to try different position to get Johnathan’s head to push on the lip to get it to open my cervix that last cm and get rid of the lip. I remember they both trying to find different positions to get me into and supporting me and talking me through it. I remember being very focus though and really just remember moving position and every once in a while looking up at the clock. It felt like hours were going by and we were still working on that lip. I know Franklin was there with me the whole time, and I remember him rubbing my arm here or there or Merrill pushing on my hips, or my nurse helping me move but for those two hours I really don’t remember more than a snippets here or there. Finally at 10:30 I was at 10 cm! I started to do some practice pushing with my nurse. She was rubbing my perineum and pushing down at the lowest part saying to push from there. I was lying mostly on my back at this point and did some pushing. I remember being aware of the fact that the doctor was nowhere around and honestly I didn’t care at all. By this time I felt really comfortable with my nurse and I was happy to give birth with just her.

During this time tons of people started coming in. They brought in extra nursery equipment. They brought in several nurses for each baby and several nurses for me, and lights. There was a lot of activity in the room for the next 30 minutes and I was pushing some and being coached on how to grab the bed and they were setting up everything. I remember pushing so hard and just screaming not like in pain screaming just like you are working so so hard and making noise feels like it will make you stronger screaming. Like you are concentrating so hard and pushing so much you just have to yell to do it better. Dr. Woodall came in and Merrill told me that meant we were close. That the doctor only comes when the baby is about to be here. I remember there was a nurse standing in front of me that we very pretty with dark straight hair. She was young and had a very cheerful face. She was smiling and saying I was doing great and way clapping and cheering me on. My nurse came to my one side where Franklin was and Merrill was on my other side holding my leg while I pushed. My nurse told me I had to stop yelling because I was wasting my energy doing that. I knew she was right but it just felt so good to yell. They kept telling me to push one more time.  I would push so hard and after I was done pushing I would say “is he out?” Finally, at one point they said I could feel him. I reached down and touched his head that was crowning. It was so weird and honestly kind of creepy feeling and I remember just being freaked out by that. The only moment I really remember what I would classify as true pain was when I was about to push Johnathan out and I ripped slightly on those last few pushes. I remember saying it hurts and Dr. Woodall said, “this is what you said you wanted” (since I was not medicated). I remember feeling like that should make me mad but it just mad me motivated to prove to her I could do it. After another push or two, pushing as hard as I could, taking a breath and pushing hard again Johnathan was born! (11:21 – 5lb 8oz).


I remember them setting him on my chest. He was so tiny. I don’t remember looking at his face as much as his body probably because of however they placed him on me. I was such a crazy moment! I remember telling them to let the cord finish pulsing then they clamped it and Franklin cut the cord. Dr. Woodall then broke Madison’s water (when she broke Madison’s water fluid just gushed everywhere) and told me to push. I said, I don’t need to push and she said to do it anyway. It felt so odd to push when I felt no urge to do so, but I tried to push anyway. Dr. Woodall guided Madison’s head into the birth canal and when her hand came out I thought it was Madison coming out. At some point Franklin took Johnathan and they weighed him and stuff while I started pushing with Madison. I pushed for a sort time with Madison and then she was born! (11:31 – 5lb 9oz).


I remember them setting her on my chest too and how little she was also. They were just so precious and I couldn’t believe they were here! I looked at Franklin holding them and how sweet the moment was. Things got slightly difficult at this point because we were waiting for the placentas to deliver and they were not coming. After a while my nurse started pushing on my belly trying to get the placentas to come. It was extremely painful. I was already sore from giving birth and the longer she pushed the harder she pushed. We tried for almost 40 minutes to get the placentas to come before Dr. Woodall finally manually extracted both placentas. By far, delivering the placentas was the most painful part of the whole process.

They then gave me Pitocin and cytotec to help with the bleeding; at this point I had lost a lot of blood because of the placenta problems. They also pushed on my belly some more to get the bleeding under control, which was very painful every time they did it. I was freezing at this point and shaking uncontrollably and kept asking for more blankets and I wanted something to eat and drink but they were still worried about my bleeding so they wouldn’t let me have anything (they were afraid I would need a blood transfusion and you can’t have food in your stomach when they do it). Finally, I requested a sugar IV just to get my levels back to normal and to warm me up.  This is the first time I had received anything through the hep lock.

During this time my parents and my sister came in to see the babies. I had also nursed both babies separately and together. Finally in the early morning hours they finally had all the bleeding under control and they brought me a popsicle, which was heavenly at this point! I stayed at the hospital all day Sunday and was discharged from the hospital Monday morning. We kept Johnathan and Madison with us in the room the whole time. Franklin bathed the babies late on Sunday with a nurse but I was very weak on Sunday so I only got out of bed a time or two with assistance until I had regained some of my color, strength and stamina. When we got Johnathan and Madison dressed to come home on Monday I had my first mommy fail as I realized the clothes I had for them were gigantic! The clothes were about twice the size they needed to be. I had opted not to buy the newborn size thinking they would out grow them with in a week or so. My main frame of reference for baby sizes was my family – my three siblings and I were all over 9lbs when we were born and so I didn’t account for having babies nearly half that size! We had to rush out the next day and buy clothes that would fit them. My babies were tiny for a long time. Johnathan never reach the 1st percentile in weight until he was 12 months old and Madison always weighed within an ounce or two of Johnathan but she hit 1 percentile by 4 months (Girls don’t have to weigh as much to be on the chart 😉 Needless to say, we wore newborn clothing for a long time! I exclusively breast feed for 6 months and the only fluid they had till their first birthday way breast milk. At 12 months I introduced them to water but continued breast feeding until they were 16.5 months old and it seemed to faze out on its own as they ate more and more solid food.

IMG_2430 IMG_2429 Giving birth and being a mom is such an amazing experience and unlike anything else! It really is a magical day. I’m not a big medicine person, which is why I choose to go natural – I’m a bit of a hippy in that way so it made a lot of sense for me but looking back on the experience I can see why people talk so much about their births and talk about how empowering it is. It really is a magical time and such a significant way to step into this new identity of being a parent. I don’t think it matters how messy or crazy things get, how you look or the way you act. I think once you have given birth you will look back at your story and think – Wow – I really rocked! I can’t believe what a boss I am. I know not everyone’s birth stories end with a cherry on top and I’m so thankful mine ended with two healthy babies. I want to encourage other mothers that you can do this. Your body was made for this. I know that there are times when the best decision is to change your plans for the sake of your baby, and by all means do that, but until you have reason to believe your baby is in stress – just stay focused. Turn your mind off and your body on. Stand up for yourself and do the right thing. Just be present and don’t worry. I know my story looks long (and I do remember lots) but there are honestly large chunks of time that I couldn’t tell you what was going on around me at all. I might just remember a snippety here or there. I remember looking at the clock or moving positions but for the most part I just remember being in the moment. Unaware of what was going on around me. What I remember (except for a few events) is mostly like still pictures in time – like a dream that you know has gone on and on but when you try to remember the details it’s much shorter than you thought. But the best part is, unlike a dream, when the birth is over your reality is better than you could have ever imagined. You are left with the most precious life (lives) and your identity has just changed in the best way possible.  IMG_2427

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.


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.