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The Birth of Agnes Rose

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

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

The Birth of Agnes
By Tilly Dillehay

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

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

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

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

It did look positive to him.

So we were off to the races again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

False alarm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The urge to push hit.

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

Man oh man, my sources were NOT KIDDING.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s all.

Baby, mother, father, birth, VBAC, pitocin, hospital birth

The Birth of Asa James Cantrell

As co-owner of Nashville Doula Services, Whitney, recently celebrated the first birthday of her third child, Asa James, she reflected on the day he was born. Whitney had already experienced two births of her own and supported so many mothers through labor as a doula, but she was thrown a curve ball during this labor! You won’t believe this amazing story full of strength, power, and beauty! This is a story that every VBAC mama or any expectant woman should read! Enjoy!

This is the story of my precious Asa James Cantrell, born February 6th 2016, and my second VBAC.

It was the evening of February 4th and I was 38 weeks, 6 days pregnant with Asa. I was even more exhausted than normal and decided to go upstairs and lay down while everyone else was eating dinner. I had just laid down and closed my eyes when I felt my water break. I jumped out of bed and as I stood to my feet, Niagra Falls was happening in my pants. I went to the bathroom and cleaned myself up as my adrenaline was pumping like crazy. We are going to meet Asa soon! Or so I thought…

My labors with my first two babies were fairly short, with my second labor only being around 4-5 hours. So naturally, I expected contractions to quickly follow and to be pushing out my baby in the next 3-4 hours. I called Michael to come upstairs and help pack for the hospital, and I continued to wait for contractions. We were excited but all of a sudden I was NERVOUS. I am a doula and have been to tons of births and helped many, many women through natural labor, and I had even done it before myself…but I really had not prepared for this labor, and I had a big, huge moment of self doubt! I sent a text to my midwife and friend, Lisa, to let her know what was happening, and also to my doula Sandee. They both expected my contractions to pick up soon. A couple hours passed and still no significant contractions, so we decided to try and get some rest while we could. I drank a half glass of wine to calm my nerves so I could rest, but as soon as I laid down, oddly enough, that’s when my contractions started coming regularly. I contracted all night, with contractions coming every 3-10 minutes. At about 2am they were so intense that I had to get on all fours and moan through each one. Then I would lay back down and pass out in between. About 3:30 they were around 2-3 min apart, so I told Michael it was time to go.

I got up to go to the restroom for probably the 15th time that night (and I had to change my enormous pad each time because I was losing so much water!) and wouldn’t you know it..my labor came to a screeching H – A – U – L – T. I was still feeling Asa move quite frequently and my water was still clear, so we decided to try and sleep some more. I got to sleep a couple more hours before the big kids were up and raring to go, asking for breakfast. 🙂 Still, zero contractions. Where did they GOOOOO?!?! I was totally baffled, wondering what this lil guy had planned.

We were so blessed to have Michael’s parents living with us so they agreed to take the kids for the day while Michael and I got serious about getting labor started. I checked in with my midwife that morning after we ate breakfast, and we agreed that I would give it a few hours and then go to the clinic for a non stress test and then make a decision on whether or not to go on in for an induction/augmentation. Hearing those words really stung. I couldn’t believe I was potentially facing an induction. Why was my body playing this mean trick on me?? I was in a pretty sour mood about this for the next few hours. We tried absolutely everything to get my labor going…chiropractic, acupuncture, lots of stairs at Cenntennial Park, Spinning Babies, lots of prayer, you name it! But nothing helped. Asa had his own plans despite my efforts to try and control the process.

After Asa and I got a clean bill of health at the midwife clinic, we decided that we would check into the hospital the next morning if labor hadn’t started by then. Michael really had to shake some sense into me, and remind me that we were going to meet our third child soon and that sometimes we just can’t control the process and have to trust that God has a good plan. I really needed to hear this. He was so encouraging and reassured me that getting things started with Pitocin didn’t mean I couldn’t have the epidural-free, active birth that I wanted. I had had a traumatic experience associated with an epidural with my first baby, so my desire to avoid that at all costs ran much deeper than a desire to check another natural birth off my goals. I made the decision from that point forward to be happy and to except with open arms the journey that God had for us. It was a freeing moment, and I literally felt the weight lift up off my shoulders. I started to feel JOY for the first time since my water had broken the night before.

We got a pretty good night of sleep that night, with just a handful of contractions, and I checked into the hospital at 7:30am, with Michael, Sandee (doula), and Kingsley (my sister) surrounding me and we joyfully proclaimed we were “Team Asa!”. It was VERY weird to check into the hospital not even being in labor! You have to have a supportive birth team in moments like these..Michael, Sandee and Kingsley brought the perfect mix of humor, compassion, love, and strength. I felt very safe, very cared for, and that everyone in that room believed in and loved me and my baby.

They checked me before starting pit, and I was about 3cm dilated and Asa was -2 station. No wonder labor was stalling… he was up in my rib cage!

 

I started out sitting on the birth ball when the pitocin drip started. We were joking around, telling stories, and laughing. Active labor kicked in at just 5mil of pit, and from that point on, it was game on. Michael applied counter pressure to my lower back and Sandee talked me through each contraction, reminding me to relax every muscle in my body. After about 1 hour of steady contractions, the midwife Stephanie checked me and I was 5-6 cm. We all agreed that we wouldn’t raise the pit anymore because just that little bit was doing it’s job! I was thankful. I was still handling the contractions super well, and I felt very much in control. I labored mostly standing/sitting on the side of the bed, but had gotten on my knees in the bed after I was starting to get tired, and switched back and fourth from knees to “throne” position. About an hour later I started to feel more pressure, so my midwife Stephanie checked me and I was at a 7. It’s weird laboring after you’ve become a doula… I was well aware of my body and the labor process, and even though things were getting really intense I could still think logically about what was happening and what was coming next. I knew that with my second birth, I moved from 7cm to birth in about 20 minutes so I knew we were getting close!

 

Just like that, transition set in, and boy did I know it. I looked at Sandee and said something like, “this is hard! Help!” She continued to encourage me and I felt her strength pour right into me for the home stretch.

Just a few minutes later, I finally felt the urge to push. I was so relieved! I pushed for about 10 minutes and my sweet baby boy was born and I pulled him up on my belly, although he was a little blue and the cord was around his neck. I very instinctively grabbed the cord and pulled it over his head.

He was beautiful! He looked JUST like my first son, Cole to me. I couldn’t believe it. At that moment I felt I had known him my whole life.

I am so thankful for the BEST birth team ever. Sandee was that calming, peaceful presence and reassurance when I had many moments of self-doubt. Michael was such an amazing support to me. He has become quite the doula himself after going through three of his wife’s labors. 🙂 And my sister…I was so excited for her to be at Asa’s birth after I had helped her through labor just a few months before. Birth is such a majestic, life-changing moment that you’ll absolutely never forget once you experience it

The Birth of Cole and Bray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birth Story: One mama, Five unique stories

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

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

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

The Births of my Six Children
by: Jessica Caldwell

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

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

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

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

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

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