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The Birth of Atticus Eli

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

What a special birth story to share as we celebrate “Labor Day!” This mother truly embraced her long prodromal labor period and was rewarded with her sweet baby that was born en caul – a true rarity in birth! We hope you’re inspired as much as we were reading the birth story of baby Jonathan Edmond.

The Birth of Jonathan Edmond
By Rebecca Moody

I started having contractions on and off as of my due date, November 30th. They were never very painful or intense, and would go back and forth between being super regular to nearly disappearing. This is the “prodromal” part of labor, and for some lucky moms like me, it can last weeks. While this was emotionally exhausting (Jonathan and I both thought true labor would kick in any minute), it was all-in-all a real blessing. I got lots of sleep, my mom and aunt and dad were all super amazing and kept me preoccupied so I didn’t go crazy while Jonathan finished up the semester, and as a bonus, I dilated to 3 cm with very little pain. Life during the last two weeks of pregnancy felt a bit like being in a holding pattern waiting to land.

At 41 weeks anxiety started to build about whether or not induction would be necessary. That week, we had to do a few tests with the midwives to make sure baby was still doing okay and that we weren’t hurting him letting him come out on his own. I also started trying everything proven and rumored to help induce labor. The last of these efforts, castor oil and a second membrane sweep, seem to have done the trick, as labor started Thursday afternoon! (Much to our relief!! We did not want to be induced!!)

Thursday afternoon my mom really sweetly canceled a phone meeting at work so that she could be with me while I took castor oil and Jonathan wrapped up his last exam. After drinking the nastiest concoction imaginable (Champagne, orange juice, almond butter, and castor oil), I took a nap while my mom finished up some work in the other room. By the time Jonathan got home and my mom headed out, I was having stronger contractions at very irregular intervals. Over the next hour or two, they gradually increased in intensity. I got in the tub while Jonathan made dinner- macaroni and cheese and homemade mashed potatoes. Then, Jonathan and I tried to watch a movie as I worked my way through more contractions, Jonathan massaging my back when they hit.

We texted our doula, Jeannie Casey, and she recommended getting in the shower with the yoga ball on all fours since the majority of the pain was in my back. Contractions really started to pick up, and when Jeannie texted at 9:30 I let her know that I thought this was it and she said she would come over.

By the time she arrived, I was in a lot of pain, and I think I was also experiencing a lot of fear. Jonathan was being amazing, massaging me or holding me through each contraction, but as each one began I felt myself fighting the pain. Our doula helped a lot to calm me down, which I think was really key in the end. She reminded me that I didn’t need to be afraid — the pain that I was experiencing was the power of my own body at work, doing what it needed to do. I think that reminder really freed me up, and I quickly found myself “in transition.” At around 11, we decided to head to the hospital, calling our moms so they would meet us there.

Jonathan says the car trip felt like a scene out of a movie. I was really letting go vocally through each contraction – I can’t sufficiently explain the volume – but Jonathan did an excellent job en route to keep me calm and productive. All the traffic lights were green, we managed to just miss a train, and we got to the hospital in ten minutes tops.

When we got to the hospital, there was another woman laboring in the ER as well. We ended up in the elevator with her on our way to delivery, and it was humorous the comparison between our behavior – she gave a very polite little moan when her contraction hit — I did my customary wail at the top of my lungs with my head thrown back seconds later.

When we got to labor and delivery, all of the labor rooms were full!! We managed to get one of the last triage rooms, thanks again to Jeannie, who was very assertive in stating that I was in transition and needed attention now. (I keep wondering what would have happened if we’d arrived a little later — would I have delivered in the hall?)

The midwife came to check me and asked if I wanted to know how far along I was. I said, “I don’t know, do I?” I didn’t want to be discouraged if I was only at 4 or 5 cms after all the pain. She smiled really sweetly and said, “I think you do. You’re at 9!” I was so relieved and excited! I knew I was mere hours away from getting to meet my baby.

The next hours are a blur to me obviously. I remember being incredibly loud. I was never angry or upset, and the contractions no longer scared me at all, I welcomed them and felt how productive they were and tried to sing and breathe the pain out of me. I remember eating ice chips out of my mother-in-law’s hand. I remember Jonathan saying to me, “Rebecca, I’ve loved you since you were 14.” I remember how proud my mother looked at me each time a contraction was over.

I started feeling the urge to push, I was rechecked and was told I was 10cm, and I began pushing, Jonathan coaching me through each contraction. (He was such an amazing help the whole time – it blows my mind.) I felt the notorious ring of fire, and knew after a few more contractions my baby would be born. I feel one of the strangest experiences of the whole evening was the time between his head coming out and the rest of his body. After delivering his head I didn’t feel the urge to push, and it felt like I waited an eternity for the urge to come.

My dad, who was sitting out in the hall this entire time, says that around now he heard my usual wail, but that this time he heard a chorus of voices urging me on. Then there was silence. Then he said he heard an even louder surge of voices, telling me to “push, push, push.” This moment was Edmond coming into the world.

Ultimately, Jonathan Edmond Moody was born at 1:59 A.M. on Friday, December 13. He weighed 6 pounds 9 ounces and was 20 inches long. Edmond was born en caul — which means that he was born with the amniotic sac of waters intact. This happens in fewer than 1 in 80,000 births and is rumored in Irish/Appalachian folklore to bring good luck and/or endow the “caulbearer” with special qualities including a sixth sense. Other folklores have their own version of what this phenomenon means about the baby (Edmond can even join a cult if he wants to– caulbearer.org– we hope he passes on that opportunity), but it is certain that he is a special baby.

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Jonathan gets delivery credits as he actually helped pull Edmond from the womb, with the midwife guiding his hands. Jonathan announced that the baby was a boy (which I had intuited from the beginning) and then my handsome, squirmy, skinny son was placed on my chest, where he spent his first hour of life, surrounded too by his dad, two grandmothers, and grandfather Don.

Giving birth naturally was absolutely one of the best experiences of my life and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Currently, I am nursing an extremely adorable three-day-old. Despite the fact that he kept Jonathan and me up all night last night, we already feel he adds so much meaning and purpose to our lives, and feel so completely in love.

Happy Birthday Jonathan Edmond Moody! We love you, son!
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Mother c-section

The Birth of Nora Marjorie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This birth taught me so much.

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

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

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

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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 Genevieve Lark

Merrill, co-owner of Nashville Doula Services, shares the powerful, transformative home birth of her first baby. It was a long labor, with many trials to overcome. Read how she found the strength to birth her baby at home.
The Birth of Genevieve Lark
By: Merrill Durham
Video of birth is at the bottom of the page!

What a daunting task – trying to put into words the hardest, most intense, miraculous, life-giving, four days of my life. I will do my best to adequately express all the emotions and details involved in the birth. When I was pregnant, I found reading other birth stories to be so uplifting and encouraging, especially difficult births. It gave me confidence that despite the circumstances of the labor, I will get through it. It also helped me realize that no two births are the same and I must hold my expectations loosely. Most birth stories are not simple, textbook, 12-hour labors, but labor will come to an end and you will hold your beautiful baby.

Monday, November 4th:
It all began on Monday morning, November 4th. I had been feeling a little crampy in my back but nothing noteworthy. That morning I used the bathroom and, lo and behold, I lost my mucous plug. I had my 38 week appointment with my midwife at 11 am and conveniently my mom was already planning on going with me so she could meet my midwife before the birth. Jennifer, my midwife, noticed my uterus contracting and made a mental note of the progress. I felt the cramps but at this point I couldn’t really feel the start or end of a contraction. I had to touch my belly to feel the uterus tightening in order to know I was even having a contraction. She also told me that Genevieve was fully engaged in my pelvis. During the appointment contractions went from 15 minutes to 10 minutes apart. I was officially in early labor. My mom and I chuckled because we’d both known that I would go into labor early. I called my office and told them I was officially going on maternity leave.

I was so glad my mom was with me! We ran to the grocery store to stock up on food and get all the last minute details in place. I let my birth team know that things were starting. I felt like I was floating, my mind was so scattered but I also felt so calm and full of peace. I spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning, eating and resting, knowing that this could last a while. By 4:00 pm contractions were 8-10 minutes apart but easy to work through. My mom left and Michael came home from work. We spent our last few hours alone together. That evening we walked around our neighborhood hoping to get things going.

By 7:30 contractions were more like 7 minutes apart. I wanted to distract myself, so Michael, my mom, my mother-in-law, and I played a round of dominos. By the end of the game I was over it and wanted to focus on the contractions. At 9:30 I iced some birthday cupcakes for when we would celebrate Genevieve’s birthday. And then I was ready for bed. Everyone left and I tried to ‘sleep’. I was really restless and just wanted the heated pad on my back. Contractions were 6 minutes apart. Karlie, my doula and dear friend, showed up at midnight and we all tried to get some sleep. I woke up at 5 am and barely felt contractions. It was so strange because all night I was feeling so much. When contractions pick up and slow back down, it’s called prodromal labor.

Tuesday, November 5th:
Tuesday morning we woke up, ate some breakfast and took a walk in Shelby Park. It was so nice to spend a few hours outside getting some fresh air. Contractions picked back up and were again at 6-8 minutes apart.
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My midwife came over around noon to check on me and see how things were going. She asked if I wanted to be checked to know my cervical dilation.

Here’s some backstory: When I was young I experienced sexual abuse. Because of this I have had issues with pelvic exams. It is something that I have worked through in counseling, some physical therapy, and just time. But it is still difficult for me to physically get my pelvic floor muscles to relax. It’s a condition called vaginismus. It definitely crossed my mind that this would play a role in labor but I never really gave it much thought because I didn’t want to believe that my dreams of a natural, vaginal birth could be hindered by trauma I experienced years ago.

Suffice it to say, Jennifer tried to check my dilation but wasn’t really able to because it hurt me too much and the last thing she wanted to do was cause more trauma. Everyone who was at my house left so I could be alone with Michael. I was feeling really down after the failed cervical check and I started crying. After 2 hours of feeling weepy, my mom, sister and a couple of close friends came over to cheer me up. Contractions were still regular but I could work through them by simply breathing. They gave me massages and lifted my spirits. My midwife came back over and felt it would be best if everyone left so I could try and get some more rest. I cried again and we went to bed at 6 pm. In the middle of the night the contractions got really intense. Michael got up and made me some eggs, lit some candles and helped me through the contractions. I knew that this was still early labor and I was just so tired, I wanted to go back to bed. So I worked through contractions the rest of the night, falling into deep sleep in the minutes between them.

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Wednesday, November 3rd:
Wednesday morning my mom and Karlie came by the house. They lifted my spirits once again and painted my toenails. I then had a chiropractor appointment at noon to see if my chiropractor could help with the intense hip pain and to help baby get into a better position. For the next 2 hours Karlie, Michael and I walked around the neighborhood, stopping when contractions hit. Our midwife came back and checked my cervix, this time with a little more help and coaching from Karlie and Michael. I was only 4 cm dilated. Jennifer decided to take some blood to make sure it wasn’t an infection causing the contractions because I wasn’t really progressing at all. Jennifer left to run my blood to the lab. Right after she left I had an intense contraction and noticed clear fluid running down my leg; it was around 5 pm that my water broke. Contractions felt like they were picking up so we called our midwife and Michael started setting things up. I was so excited that something was happening! Jennifer showed up at 8 pm with all her supplies (By the way, midwives come with LOTS of supplies. She had 3 trunks full of equipment). By 9 pm the tub was set up and I got in. Mary, the midwife assistant, also showed up at this time. I was in the tub for about 30 minutes but couldn’t really feel the contractions anymore. I could tell that the warm water was slowing labor down, but it really did feel so good! I got out of the tub and at 10 pm Jennifer checked me again. I was still tensing up really bad but it seemed like my cervix had made progress. At that point we believed we were in active labor.

From 10-12 Michael and I worked through contractions like champs. We were pulling out all of our tricks from our childbirth classes. I remember thinking, ‘why am I so alert?’ ‘This isn’t that bad, I mean the contractions are really intense but not impossible to work through’. By 2 am my midwife checked me again and could not feel any cervix, we thought this must mean I was fully dilated. It was so strange because I had no urge to push. For the next hour, Michael and I were in the nursery while the birth team got rest and we were seeing if I could ‘push’. But nothing. Karlie had to leave at 5 am to go back to work in Chattanooga and I started feeling frustrated. We were so close to meeting our little one, we were absolutely exhausted and I knew things were strange.

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Thursday, November 4th:
By morning my midwife knew that something was not right. We decided to get me on the bed and try some assisted pushing. She wanted to feel my cervix while I pushed during a contraction to get an idea of what was going on. With the help of Mary and Michael, I was able to fully relax so Jennifer could do another cervical check. They massaged my legs, used hot compresses and even lavender oil. It was at this point that Jennifer realized what was really going on. In the gentlest voice and with tears in her eyes, she told me that she was finally able to feel the cervix for the first time. Jennifer had been concerned that the reason I was not progressing was because my pelvis was too small. But after that last check she knew I had room to get my baby out. However, I was only 4 cm dilated with a very posterior cervix. Because of my previous trauma my pelvic floor muscles were so tight that she was not able to do an adequate exam the night before; the muscle felt like a bone. She had to put transferring to the hospital on the table because instead of being 10 cm dilated without the urge to push, I was barely in active labor and my water had been broken for over 12 hours. It is my midwife’s and Vanderbilt’s policy not to wait more than 24 hours after the membrane has ruptured due to the risk of infection, especially without any progress. Because I was exhausted, they thought maybe an epidural is what I needed to facilitate the relaxation of the pelvic floor.
This is when we hit rock bottom. We were pretty much told that after 3 days of consistent contractions, and what we thought was the end in sight, we were starting all over. We were still in early labor. I was exhausted, Michael was exhausted and we did not know what to do. I was in shock. I didn’t know how to process it all. I remember not feeling any emotion, like I was numb. I asked her if we could have a minute and once she left, Michael and I sobbed in our bed for almost an hour. So many thoughts were racing through my head – What do I need to pack for the hospital? Will I be sleeping at the hospital tonight? Should I just get a C-section? How will we pay for it all? So I am not having a home birth? And more than all of that I was thinking that I can’t do this anymore. I have no energy. I have no drive. I am done. Can someone just knock me out for the next 3 days? And as I am feeling those emotions, contraction after contraction continued to hit me. These were really hard to work through emotionally because I had thought they were transition contractions and now I know these were only early labor contractions. I was struggling.I left Michael in the bedroom and went out to see my midwife and her assistant. Jennifer recommended that Michael try and get some sleep because if we were to transfer to the hospital he would need as much energy as possible to support me. It’s all a blur what happened next. I needed my mom. Conveniently she was across the street at my sister’s house waiting to come over. Once she arrived I broke down in her arms and continued to work through contractions. Next thing I remember, I am laying on the couch in my mom’s lap and Jennifer and Mary are sitting next to me. Jennifer told me that we do have a time constraint because my water had broken but she affirmed me that I could do it. Because I was able to relax during the last cervical check, she told me, my body knows how to relax but I have to keep doing that in order to progress. I didn’t want to be a victim to my abuse, something from which I thought I had already healed. Everyone in that room really believed that I could overcome this. Michael came out from the bedroom because he didn’t want to sleep and told Jennifer in tears that he could not be away from me and that he really wanted this home birth for my sake. He switched places with my mom and we got down to business.Two things needed to happen in order for us to continue with a home birth. First, I needed to fully relax my pelvic floor. I was not going to progress if this didn’t happen. This would be quite a feat because I had spent years struggling to do this. Leg massages, warm compresses, and lavender oil are what it took to help me achieve this. I think the fact that I was utterly exhausted also aided in the relaxation. Second, I needed to have more intense contractions. So we used pressure points, different positions, nipple stimulation and black and blue cohosh. Jennifer wanted to do another check. With Michael’s encouragement and Mary relaxing the muscles in my thighs, Jennifer was able to check my cervix without any trouble. There was a lot of blood and I was 5-6 cm with the cervix moving more anterior, which meant things were progressing! If I had not shown progress at this point, we would be going to the hospital.
This is when everything got real. Something happened in this moment. I really believe it was all the prayers that were said for us that morning because the hope and strength I felt right then was powerful. I actually believed I could have a home birth. With my new wave of energy I managed to get all my clothes off, I took another dose of black and blue cohosh and I was doing nipple stimulation all in hopes of getting things going. My midwife laughed and said, ‘This is what a laboring woman looks like’. It was such a contrast from the night before when I thought I was in active labor. All my inhibitions were gone and my only thoughts were getting this baby out. I could care less about a water birth, who was there, if it would end but being filmed, how I looked, etc. My ‘plans’ and expectations went out the window. It was raw and intense.I was officially in labor land. Other moms who have had natural labor know what I am talking about. I was focused and in another world. I wasn’t really talking between contractions I just wanted to labor uninterrupted. I worked through a few contractions on the couch, then I moved to the bedroom with the yoga ball on the bed and worked through contractions standing up leaning on the ball. I even tried on my hands and knees in the shower to see if the warm water would help. Through every single contraction I needed Michael by my side and Mary massaging my legs. It was the only way I was able to fully relax all my muscles. My body was developing a routine and system for working through each contraction.

I moved to the bed and once there, I didn’t want to move. I was leaning up against Michael and using his hands for stability. Unfortunately, a water birth was off the table. I needed Mary and Michael to actively assist me through each contraction and they couldn’t have done that if I was in the tub. I didn’t expect to be so vocal. I was seriously loud. They were deep, primal groans that came from who knows where. I learned later that I was so loud my neighbors across the street thought there was someone in their house The low groans helped me so much! It’s like I got lost in the noise and the vibrations in my head. It’s what I focused on during each contraction.

As they intensified, I knew I had to throw up. I remember vomiting quite a few times and feeling so much relief. It was hard though because I would finish a contraction then during the break I would be throwing up and then move right back into a contraction. That was tough. Jennifer checked me again and I was 7 cm. More progress! Anytime Mary would leave the room, I would yell out, “Mary, I need you! Another contraction!” She never got a break! Such a rock star.

I started to get the urge to push so I gave it a try during the next few contractions. It felt so amazing to finally be doing something proactive. Jennifer wanted to check me again before I got serious with the pushing to make sure I was fully dilated. I was only 8 cm. She instructed me to not push, to fight the urge because pushing right now could mean damaging the cervix. My goodness this was the hardest part of the entire labor process. I got flat on my back and when a contraction came on I would breathe through it as long as possible until the urge got too strong and then I would vibrate my lips to fight the need to push. It was excruciating. I still remember how I felt looking up at my ceiling thinking I was dying. No joke, I thought I was dying. I looked at both Jennifer and Michael many times saying things like “I can’t do this, I can’t handle any more contractions, I want to die”. But there comes a moment that you realize – there is no way out. I can’t push pause. I think I even said something like can we try for babies next year, I am not ready. It was seriously overwhelming. My dear husband was totally prepared for this. He knew that when I was giving up, that was a good sign. So he really got in my face encouraging me every second. I was in transition. About 30 minutes of fighting this urge, my midwife checked me right when a contraction hit. I didn’t know what she was doing at that moment but I remember thinking she was ripping something. I yelled her name and dropped the F-bomb. She was moving the tiny bit of cervical lip over the baby’s head. I asked her if I could push now and she said yes.

When it’s time to push, it’s like a whole new surge of energy hits. Out of instinct I stood up at the foot of my bed and during the next contraction I pushed with all my might using my midwife for support.  It was so relieving! In our childbirth class we were instructed to take 2 breathes and then push for a count of 6. That went out the window. By the time I had pushed for 6 seconds, I was just getting started. I probably pushed for 20 seconds at a time. I was using the power of the contractions with the pushing and it really did feel so much better. My groans got louder and deeper, if that is even possible, and I yelled out, “If anyone is in the living room they can come in!” My mom, sister and our videographer stood at the door as I pushed again squatting on the bed with Mary and Michael supporting each arm. There was a lot of bleeding and my midwife wanted me to lay back on the bed with Michael supporting my body so she could get a better look of what was going on.

I remember feeling my baby move down the birth canal. It was incredible. During the next contraction my midwife said “I see her blonde hair.” Whoa. I couldn’t open my eyes though. I was so focused that I kept my eyes closed the whole time. By the next contraction I could tell she was starting to crown. I felt what is known as the ‘ring of fire.’ It is an intense stretching, burning feeling but honestly, it didn’t even phase me at that point. I was so ready for it all to be over. It could not have been more than 3 contractions that her head was out. Michael started to cry and I could hear the gasps from the onlookers. I opened my eyes for a minute and remember seeing them all at the door. I was so glad my mother-in-law made it at the last moment, too. After 33 minutes of pushing, at 3:57 pm, I birthed Genevieve Lark into this world.

She was immediately put on my chest and I just said over and over again “hey baby, hey baby, hey baby”. Michael was crying and I was just in shock. I was out of breath. I’ve heard people say this and I found it to be true, my baby was both a stranger and someone I have known all along. The familiarity was from the bond we had while she was in my womb. I was so happy that it was over but I didn’t feel total relief because I knew the placenta was next and then potential stitching. Things were still burning down there. After a few minutes of bonding and waiting for the cord to stop pulsing, Michael cut the cord and Genevieve was separated from my body. My placenta was not detaching on its own so I started to breastfeed to try and keep the contractions going. She is a natural latcher and did great! However, it was 40 minutes after birth and my placenta was not moving. I gave Genevieve to Michael and carried her out into the living room to meet the family. He also held her skin to skin to keep her temperature regulated and to encourage the attachment between the two of them. Jennifer had me stand up off the bed and gave me a shot of Pitocin in my thigh. She was worried about me hemorrhaging. Once she gave me the shot, one contraction later I birthed the placenta. I only needed a few minor stitches for one 1st degree tear and with a shot of Novocain, my midwife was able to suture me up right there. Jennifer then weighed and measured Genevieve. She was 6 lbs 13 ounces and 20.5 inches long.

Everyone left the room so Michael, Genevieve, and I could have some time just the 3 of us. Everyone else started to clean-up in the rest of the house. I will always treasure that time. After 15 minutes I was ready to get cleaned up. So with Michael’s help I took a shower and washed my body off. By the time I was done my room had been completely cleaned. The bed was remade with clean, fresh sheets. Michael’s family brought champagne and we sang Happy Birthday and ate the cupcakes I made 3 days earlier. Then it was time to rest just the three of us. And let me tell you, the morning after, waking up in our bed with the sun shining in the window and our baby cuddled up with us, that was pure joy!

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My Reflections on the Birth: 
-Birth is hard. I don’t care what type of labor and birth experience you have. It is hard. Enduring birth makes you a champion. I am amazed by all women who give birth.
-I would choose a home birth every time. Had I labored in the hospital I would have faced two traumas – the physical challenges from abuse and my fear of hospitals after my surgeries as a child. Not to mention, there is no way I would have had a natural birth in a hospital with such slow progression. I would have had interventions. My home was where I needed to be in order to fully relax and feel safe. Our house feels so sacred and special now.
-Thankfully my daughter was never in danger. If that were the case, I would be the first in the car to go to the hospital. Her heart rate was perfect and she endured that long labor beautifully. All the hiccups along the way were handled perfectly by my midwife. Jennifer and Mary really believed in me and stuck with me for 4 days to help facilitate the birth I really desired.
-I was able to tap into some deep inner strength in order to relax my body. Women have the incredible ability to this. I am definitely stronger than I ever thought possible and I now feel capable of anything! I really feel like the last evidence of the abuse that I experienced was released during this labor. I accomplished something I didn’t think I would ever overcome.
-Having a natural birth was so meaningful for me. I experienced labor the way that so many generations before me had also experienced it. I feel connected with sacred femininity and so amazed that I actually did it! Feeling my daughter move down the birth canal and learning to read every sign of my body was so empowering. I did it! I endured the hardest moments of my life and survived. My body knew what to do and I had to surrender to the process. I still can’t believe I did it. I must also add that you really do forget the intensity after the first few days.
-Education makes all the difference! No, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee an easy labor but it helped us immensely. Michael knew what to do in every stage of labor and he was not freaked out when things got super intense. He knew what to expect, and so did I. Not to mention, the only reason we were able to endure 4 days of labor is because we knew how to handle early labor. I knew that rest, food, and drink were essential. Michael and I knew that there were times to simply rest and times to get labor going. Pacing myself and using the tools I learned in our childbirth class made all the difference.
-My goodness, my husband. I have to end on that note. He went through labor with me. He did not leave my side and was always there with me through each contraction. Yes, I was feeling the pain of labor but he was right there with no sleep, supporting and encouraging me. After Genevieve was born, Michael kept saying how amazed he was with me. He had never seen me so strong and powerful. There was a primal beauty to the whole experience. And those days after birth I was so overwhelmed with my love for him. He really did go through it all with me. The depth and intimacy of our love for each other increased exponentially because of this experience.