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The BIRTH Project Network Meet-up: Home Births

On Tuesday, May 7, 2019, The BIRTH Project Network held its first-ever online meet-up. This inaugural meet-up covered the topic of home births, and featured an experienced home-birth midwife as the subject matter expert.

Click here to learn how you can participate in upcoming meet-ups.

The conversation covered the home-birth process from pregnancy, to labor and delivery, and through the postpartum period. You can watch and listen to the whole conversation above, or see time stamps for highlights listed below.

Learn About the Subject Matter Expert

Kelly Olmstead, LM, CPM, is an Iowa native who has been in Santa Cruz, California, for 17 years. A mother of three, she has been active in the Santa Cruz birth community since shortly after the home birth of her third child, Henry, in 2002.

Her particular passion is ensuring that women understand they have options in birth—and the benefits and risks of various choices—so they can make the best choice for themselves and their babies.

After four years of midwifery school and apprenticeship, Kelly was licensed by the Medical Board of California in March 2010. By the close of 2017, she had attended more than 450 births. She’s also served on the board of directors for Birth Network of Santa Cruz County for several years.

Additionally, Kelly is the co-founder of a midwifery advocacy group called Birth Santa Cruz. Check out BirthSantaCruz.com on Facebook—it’s a great way to stay up to date about what’s going on with birth locally and nationally.

More recently, she joined forces with two other amazing midwives to create Pacific Community Midwives. They each have independent practices but collaborate and back one another up.

From 2011-2014, Kelly was Regional Co-Rep for the California Association of Midwives (CAM). She remains active on projects with their sister organization, the California Association of Licensed Midwives (CALM), including keeping midwives updated on continuing-education opportunities, meeting with state legislators on midwifery issues, and creating welcome packets for newly licensed midwives in the state.

Highlights and Time Stamps

19:07- Kelly discusses an effective written home-birth birth plan.

13:00- Amara shares her takeaways after experiencing a home birth turned hospital transfer.

24:00- Katy shares her home-birth takeaways.

28:15- Kelly suggests what to look for when trying to find the right midwife for you.

29:20- Katy shares the story of when she got in a car wreck at 8 months pregnant.

31:45- Katy shares her biggest insight after working with a midwife and experiencing a home birth.

34:00- Participant question about not wanting any ultrasounds, but suspecting she’s carrying twins.

38:00- Participant question about a safe distance from home to hospital when planning a home birth.

41:50- Participant question about responding to family who are hesitant about home births.

47:15- Kelly discusses the hospital vs. home-birth experience.

49:08- Kelly addresses how she remains confident as a midwife.

51:00- Kelly discusses how she handled an emergency with a patient who had Hellp syndrome

54:20- Participant question about assuring women that their births will work out the way they want them to.

Birth Stories

Birth Story of Jade Harper Ortlieb

I want to preface this by saying every single birth is magical, and every single woman who brings a human into this world is a damn powerhouse. This is just my story, so please, before reading any further, if you have given birth before, I ask you to please not compare your story to mine. It’s not about who had a “better” birth or the “perfect” birth. It’s about sharing the experience so others are aware of all the different scenarios of birthing a baby. This is just one of those scenarios. I kept this story extremely raw and real, mostly because I want Jade to be able to read this one day, in all its realness, so please be kind and enjoy!

It was about 8:45 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 5, when I was laying on our couch with my husband, Nick, when I felt my first real-deal contraction. I had been feeling a lot of Braxton hicks and crampiness for a little over a week, but when I felt that contraction that night, it was like nothing I had been feeling before. It popped into my mind that this could be the start of labor but I didn’t want to get too excited. I decided to start getting ready for bed to try and get some rest just in case. As I was getting ready for bed, I lost the rest of my mucus plug (I had lost a little bit of it a couple nights before). I got into bed and couldn’t help but time the contractions that were coming. They were about 10-15 minutes apart, so I called in Nick just to make him aware. Around 10 p.m., we decided to text our birth center to let them know what was going on. Our one midwife called us to talk through what I was feeling and told us that this could be early labor and in that case I should try to get some sleep because my future laboring self would thank me. That was a funny joke. By 12:30 a.m. I was on all fours on our bed breathing through contractions. I told Nick that I couldn’t lay in bed any longer and was going to go out to the living room but he was welcome to try and sleep. He said, “Well, I definitely won’t be able to sleep so I’ll come out there with you.” I’m so thankful he did because that’s when contractions really picked up.

Kelsey and Jade

Nick laid out a big padded mat on the floor with a blanket where I spent a lot of time roaring (yes, roaring) through contractions on all fours. I also spent some time side lying on our couch while working through contractions, which was nice because in between them I could totally relax my body. I was also up moving around a lot because I was in and out of the bathroom (my body clearly wanted everything out of me so I could push this baby out when the time came). Throughout my whole time in active labor, I just kept picturing my vagina as a blooming flower, that visualization really helped me to surrender to each contraction and not try and fight them. A word I kept repeating in my head was “surrender” to keep from tensing up. My contractions came on really strong and were pretty close together until I tried laboring through one on my yoga ball and immediately threw up (luckily Nick had gotten a trash can beforehand). This was kind of early on, and I was told throwing up is a big sign of transition and my first thought was, there’s no way I can be in transition and if I am I’m going to have this baby in the car! But Nick was doing an amazing job timing my contractions and just being so in tune with me that we both knew it wasn’t transition. Once I threw up that first time, my contractions backed off a little and weren’t so close together.  I threw up two more times at home. (Side note: If you know me, you know I have a sweet dog named Mo. He laid on the couch nearby the whole time I was laboring, and every time I would throw up he would come over to check on me—so adorable!) Nick will tell you he didn’t do much but let me tell you, I could have never done it without him. He was so calm and supportive the whole time and just having his presence there put me at such ease. He knew I wanted to labor at home for as long as possible, so I knew we were getting close to leaving for the birth center when Nick started to get things together in between contractions. I asked him if he thought it was getting to be about time to leave and he said yes, my contractions were pretty steady at 3, sometimes 2 minutes apart, lasting a minute and that had been going on for about an hour. I’m so thankful that he knew I needed him to make that decision, it was one less thing taking up space in my head. At around 4:30 a.m., Nick helped me waddle to the car and we were off to the birth center.

The car ride was kind of a blur and I just kept roaring through each contraction and ended up throwing up in the car as well, but luckily we had brought the trash can. As we were turning onto the street of the birth center my water broke, gushed all over the backseat, but thankfully Nick had put down two big blue hospital pads so it didn’t get anywhere on the car. Nick parked the car, and as I waddled into the birth center, our two midwives greeted us and one says, “Well, we know Kelsey is in active labor, she’s not smiling.” (Which was such a cool experience that they knew me so well!) They took mine and the baby’s vitals and everything was looking good. They got us situated into our room where they drew a bath for me and checked on my progress. They announced that I was basically fully dilated and to keep doing what I was doing! That was literal music to my ears and gave me the extra strength I needed to finish out the work! I think my actual words were, “fuck yes, let’s get this baby out!” I got in the tub, which felt so nice and helped ease the pain and discomfort of the contractions, but I found I couldn’t rest/get comfortable in between contractions and that’s what I needed so desperately. So after about 45 minutes of being in the tub, I started to feel like I was needing to push. When people say you just know when you need to push, they aren’t kidding! It was like all of the sudden I had this immense amount of pressure that I needed to try and get out of my body. So the one midwife came in to check me, per my request, and says, “Oh yeah, I can feel your baby’s head, you can push whenever you feel ready!” Again, MUSIC TO MY EARS!

Jade Harper Ortlieb

Pushing was hard for me to grasp at first. I got on the bed and went on all fours, and the next time a contraction came and I felt the urge to push, I did. Except that was not a comfortable position for me, I was too exhausted to try and hold myself up and I couldn’t get comfortable enough to relax in between pushes. I decided to lay down on my side and Nick held one leg and knee up for my next push. After it was over, my midwife asked if I was truly pushing and I told her I didn’t think so because I was kind of just expecting to keep doing what I was doing during contractions by just breathing my way through them. She informed me (very sweetly) that I was really going to need to push on this next one. She put two fingers into my vagina and told me to push against her fingers the next time. So the next time I had the urge to push, I used the contraction and roared with all my might into her fingers and she immediately said, “That was it! That was exactly what you need to be doing!” So now I knew I actually had to push (silly me). So every time I felt that urge to push, I used the contraction and gave it all I had. My midwife told me she would let me know when baby was crowning so I could give little, quicker pushes to help prevent tearing. During this time, I could literally feel her getting closer and closer, and I just kept going back to picturing my vagina as a blooming flower during every push, and that continued to help make my pushes count and helped me stay calm. There was a time during my pushing when baby’s heart rate dropped a bit, nothing that was too alarming, but my midwife did suggest trying to move more on my back to see if that would help adjust baby’s position and help bring the heart rate back up. Thankfully, that worked. My midwives and Nick were all really good at reminding me to breathe and relax as much as possible in between pushing to help get oxygen to baby. I did end up going back to my side when pushing because it hurt my back too much to lay completely flat. They monitored baby’s heart rate with a doppler to make sure all was good and it was. At one point in between contractions, I remember looking up at Nick and saying, “Are you crying yet?” and he said, “No, not yet” and our midwife goes, “No, but he’s giving you very loving looks right now,” and I said, “Yeah, who wouldn’t be?” Granted, I was butt naked, sweating my ass off from pushing and the room being kept warm for when baby came, and I hadn’t put deodorant on since the previous day, so I was definitely smelling like roses.

Nick and Jade

So remember when my midwife told me she would let me know when baby was crowning? Well, she didn’t need to tell me, I knew instantly. Some people call it “the ring of fire” and now I understand why. I think this was probably the most painful part for me. It burned in a way I can’t describe. But my midwife just said really calmly, “Kelsey, this is just your baby, this is just a sensation, it’s your new normal right now.” That helped me avoid getting caught up in the pain and allowed me to refocus mentally. As she was crowning, I gave a couple little, quicker pushes like my midwife suggested (which worked! No tearing, other than 2 small lacerations on the sides of my labias) and her head was out! The second her head was out I felt instant relief, and I felt like a damn warrior. Then I heard her chatting, no not crying, she was chatting with her bright eyes wide open! The cord was wrapped around her neck (which sounds scary but it’s actually pretty common) so she was probably just so happy to have that away from her neck. I just kept saying, “I hear you baby, I hear you!” I then gave another big push and her shoulders were out and Nick swooped in to catch her as the rest of her body came earthside. Nick was the very first person to hold her and I think that will bond them forever. He laid her on my chest and I just kept saying, “You’re here, you’re here, I’m so happy you’re here.” And then he said, “I think it’s a girl?” I had totally forgotten that we didn’t even know the gender! The midwives double checked and sure enough our babe was a little girl! The second I heard that it felt so right. After about 9ish hours of labor, at 7:30 a.m., our sweet Jade Harper Ortlieb (7 lb., 3 oz, 20 in. long) met us earthside and we were completely smitten!

I honestly could not have asked for a smoother birth and I am so thankful for Nick, my team of midwives, Jade, but most importantly, myself. I put so much work into mentally preparing for this day and to have it all go so smoothly makes me so, so grateful.

Written by Kelsey Ortlieb

Birth Stories

Birth Story of Charlee Elaine Sperrey

The universe has a plan and it may not be yours.

At 39 weeks and 6 days pregnant, it certainly is not following my plan. Tonight, per my doctor’s strong recommendation, I am getting induced. The primary reason is because I have a velamentous cord. This means that the umbilical cord is not fully on placenta and therefore, not 100 percent protected by Wharton’s jelly. I also have an accessory lobe placenta and being 35 (geriatric pregnancy), they are being cautious and I’m accepting it (sort of).

I get that my birth plan is not a guarantee—in fact, I’ve been calling it my “wish list,” instead of “plan.” What has been most frustrating is that they did not tell me about the recommendation to induce until 38 weeks. I asked when we found out about the velamentous cord if I could still plan on having an intervention-free birth. I was told yes, and continued doing what I do unless they said otherwise. They never said otherwise, and the word “induce” did not come up until just over a week ago. Then, after reluctantly scheduling the induction for Dec. 24, the doctor called me on Tuesday, Dec. 19, saying the nurses are giving her a hard time for scheduling the induction on the 24th. I was with her when she made the call to the hospital to confirm they would take us on Dec. 24. Also, due to the holiday, they are concerned about staffing. Oh, and after the last ultrasound, the recommendation was to induce by week 39.

Brandon and Liz

If I had it my way, we would wait until Charlee is good and ready. However, that is not the case. Overall my pregnancy has been great. Other than working through learning about the velamentous cord and accessory lobe placenta, I have felt good and have kept my energy up throughout. I think a lot of this has to do with my regular chiropractic care, eating well, and staying active. I haven’t done as much working out for the past couple months, but I have continued to walk when I can and attended prenatal yoga 1 – 2 times per week throughout. That class has been a savior! I love the teachers and the community it creates. I’m not sure this pregnancy would have gone so well without that, not to mention the physical activity on Tuesday nights and Saturday mornings!

With all that being said, I still want to be sure we make the right choice to ensure our daughter arrives safely, so tonight, in about 45 minutes, I’ll call Mercy Hospital to make sure they can take us as planned at 7:30 p.m. Then we will head into town (through a snowstorm no less!), stop and pick up dinner, and go to the hospital. I have tried everything I can to get this baby to budge. Acupuncture, acupressure, additional chiropractic visits, bouncing on my exercise ball as often as possible, and moving as much as I can without exhausting myself (I did some walking hills in the snow this afternoon!). Clearly, she isn’t ready to come on my terms and I’m OK with that. It tells me that we are doing the right thing by starting the induction process. Step 1 will be cervadil when we get there. After that, we will sleep overnight and see how things are in the morning. If things aren’t progressing, I’ll try pumping. If that doesn’t work, we start pitocin. We shall see what happens! Our birth team is on call for when we need them. Our team consists of Brandon’s mom (a trained doula) and my mom.

I just called the hospital—they’ll take us at 7:30 p.m. as planned.

Charlee Elaine Sperrey arrived on Dec. 25, 2017—yes, we have a Christmas baby! Don’t worry, she’ll be fine and won’t miss out on having her birthday celebrated. I’m excited to share our birth story because it’s nice to get it down in writing and maybe my experience will provide insight to other moms giving birth down the road.

Getting to Dec. 25 was quite an adventure. We arrived at the hospital a little after 7 p.m. on December 22. We checked into room 3005 and the nurse told us to eat our dinner and she would be back in an hour or so to start the first round of induction drugs. Cervidil is the first drug I would be getting. It is a drug on a vaginal insert meant to help your cervix gradually open. I was told the reason they started with Cervidil is should I start contracting heavily from it, they can remove it and I would be intervention free from there.

We ate our dinner, a steak bomb on a gluten-free sub for me—man, was it good! I put on my pajamas and we settled in to enjoy some cable TV (we don’t have it at home). The nurse checked back in stating they had gotten busy with labors, so it might be a few hours before they could start anything. OK—understood (kind of—we were super anxious to get things rolling). She said she’d be back to check my blood pressure and the baby’s heart rate. More hours went by with a couple check-ins from the nurse at 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. Neither of us slept well in anticipation of getting things going.

Around 7 a.m., the nurse came in to let us know she was switching shifts and said it was likely I’d get the Cervidil in a couple hours. The Cervidil was inserted around 8 a.m. and it would stay in me for 12 hours, unless I went into labor. It is essentially a string and small piece of what looks like cardboard—not as big as a tampon. It did hurt and cause some discomfort when inserted, but once in, I barely noticed it. I had to lay still for an hour or so. They also put monitors around my stomach to watch contractions and Charlee’s heart rate.

We gave Theresa and my mom an update. Theresa had stayed at our house in case things got going during the snowstorm, so she arrived around 8:30 a.m. My mom started driving down arriving around 10 a.m. Our expectations at this point were that we might have a baby by the evening.

Twelve hours of Cervidil did result in some contractions toward the end—no lion, but more than I had felt. I walked and walked, did some yoga stretches, squats, bounced on the ball and had acupressure done on the small pins my acupuncturist had left on me. I was able to walk the floor while the nurse watched Charlee’s heart rate and my contractions because the monitors were wireless (thank goodness!) However, every now and then, the nurse would come looking for me because they lost the signal. It was kind of humorous, but also annoying.

At one point, they told us a concern was Charlee did not have consistent fluctuations in her heart rate. We learned that fluctuations in the heart rate signify she was thriving and moving around inside me. From time to time she would do well, but then she would not. Because of this, at one point, they made me get back in bed and lay on my right side on wired monitors. I wasn’t overly concerned because I could feel her moving, but of course, it became an obsession to watch the monitors when in the room.

At 8 p.m. the Cervidil was removed. The doctor checked my cervix to see how far I was dilated—not fun! She had to reach way up in me to do this—whoa, painful and hopefully good practice for contractions (come to find out, it’s not nearly as intense as contractions!) I was 2 centimeters and 80 percent effaced. The small dilation was discouraging, but being 80 percent effaced was encouraging. Effacement is the measurement of how stretched and thinned the cervix is. When you are 100 percent effaced, labor is said to be right around the corner. The doctor said my progress was not enough to break my water.

The next step, because of my goal to have as little intervention as possible, was to pump. Pumping can induce labor, so I wanted to try this versus Pitocin first. Pumping didn’t really do anything. So, around midnight, they gave me my first dose of Pitocin. This meant continued constant monitoring. They started with a low dose, increasing it slowly every half hour. After having the Pitocin pumping through me overnight … NOTHING! Contractions actually slowed down from when I was on the Cervidil. Clearly, Charlee did not want to come out on demand! We were all very disappointed and more frustrated because regardless of my progress, I had to stay in the hospital because they wanted to be able to monitor me as soon as my water broke due to the velamentous cord.

After the Pitocin, the doctor checked my cervix again and a little glimmer of hope was that I was now 3 centimeters dilated and 90 percent effaced. This was still not enough to break my water, but a sign that things were at least moving.

It was now Christmas Eve. My sister Nellie had flown in from Atlanta the night before. Her and my Dad were hanging at my house, likely a bit bored, waiting for Charlee’s debut, and wanted to come by for a visit. Originally, Brandon and I said no visitors while going through the laboring process. However, it had been a rough couple days, so I opted for the distraction of visitors.

As soon as Nellie and my dad walked through the door, I started crying (just writing about it brings me to tears!). The emotions running through me were incredible, I’m sure all the extra hormones helped, too! We had come into the hospital more than 36 hours prior with very little results. Not to mention the holiday—I really felt like we were screwing everyone’s Christmas up (even though deep down I knew they were fine). Their visit was a great distraction, helping to burn an hour of the day.

After they left, we continued to wait for the next step due to another influx of deliveries coming in the door. We spent the early afternoon doing laps around our floor, trying to get something to happen. Still nothing. We continued to wait around due to other deliveries coming in the door as a priority. At one point, Brandon and I were walking and we saw a woman, in a wheelchair, looking to be in immense discomfort, most likely in full fledged labor. I told Brandon that I was incredibly jealous and broke down into tears. We went back to the room and we were all very frustrated as we continued to wait around.

When we got back to the room, Theresa and my mom had been chatting about how ridiculous it was that we continued to wait. After nicely complaining to our nurse, we decided to call Theresa’s partner’s brother, Ray, who is a doctor, to get his perspective.

This was a great move due to the frustration (the poor nurse who was getting the brunt of it!) Ray helped us understand that the reason we had to wait around is because they needed to monitor us 100 percent of the time. What they were doing was for the wellbeing of both Charlee and me. He said based on the influx of unanticipated deliveries, it made sense that they were holding off. We all understood and it was incredibly helpful to get his perspective.

Around 4 p.m., the nurse came in and gave me about a quarter of a pill called Misoprotosol. To summarize, it is another induction method similar to Cervidil, and it helps to soften the cervix to induce labor. The difference is because it’s in a pill form, you can’t slow it down like you can Cervidil. If contractions come on heavy, you can’t take away what you swallowed versus you can take out the Cervidil. Four hours after taking the Misoprotosol, there was no change in contractions.

Around 8 p.m., they gave me another dose. At that point, we were all incredibly exhausted. Our moms decided they were going to give us some space and camp out in the solarium room down the hall. Brandon and I settled in for the night and actually got about 10 hours of sleep (other than a few vital checks).

Liz and Charlee

The next morning (Christmas Day) there was still no major change. At 7 a.m., the doctors switched out. We met with the new doctor who explained how she saw the day going. She said that they had a c-section they had to perform and a delivery on the way in. After each of these, if no other unanticipated labors came in, they would start me on a higher dose of Pitocin. They would see how that went, and then most likely break my water.

Things get a little fuzzy here. They started me on the Pitocin and around 2 or 3 p.m., as promised, they broke my water. Just as uncomfortable as having your cervix checked followed by a gush of warm water! There was meconium in the water. Meconium is the baby’s first poop. When it’s found in the water, it’s a concern because of the potential for the baby swallowing it through the amniotic fluid. There is a high risk of it blocking the baby’s airway, so they are unable to take their first breath after delivery. What this meant was they would have more hands on deck when she arrived should there be any issues.

With my water broken and a higher dose of Pitocin, the contractions started to quickly increase in intensity and timing. I now understand what they meant in my birth class when they said you go from the lamb to the lion in labor. There is a clear difference and you will know when you are there! The lion came on strong!

I started off contracting in bed because they wanted to have a consistent read on Charlee’s heart rate. Laying in bed was not an optimal position for me—my hope was to be able to move around to help with the discomfort. As the contractions intensified, I asked if I could at least move to the rocking chair. They granted my wish!

I then started to need more support from my birth team. Brandon was with me throughout. He sat in front of me holding my hand as I breathed through each contraction. Theresa was there, too, coaching and encouraging me. My mom gave us space, but I gladly felt her presence the entire time.

The experience of having Brandon be able to read me through these contractions was amazing. He seemed to know what I needed without me saying a word. At one point, he saw in my face that I just wanted him and he let his mom know. Then not many contractions later as they intensified more, I switched from focusing on him to focusing on Theresa 100 percent. Brandon knowingly stepped away and let his mom step in.

Up until this point, I stayed in the rocking chair. First squeezing Brandon’s hand then the arms on the chair. When I switched off Brandon to focus on Theresa, I felt like I had to go to the bathroom. Theresa went with me. When I sat on the toilet, I felt like I had to go so bad, but could not go. This all happened as contractions continued. Being unable to go for a few minutes, they brought in a portable toilet for me to sit on so they could continue to monitor. Not long after getting on the toilet, I told them I felt like I had to push, really bad.

Brandon and Charlee

It was about 5 p.m., so about 2 hours of intense labor. The nurse’s response to my need to push was I likely had only dilated 6 centimeters at that point, so do not push. She said the doctor would come in at 8 p.m. to check my cervix again. I looked at the clock and in my head I thought, “There is no way I can make it through 3 more hours of this.” I think this is also when they turned off the Pitocin drip. I told Theresa that I felt like I was going to pass out. She said focus on your breathing. The nurse told me I was doing awesome and to keep it up.

All I could think was: “Is this when I should ask for an epidural?” After one contraction, I was in so much pain, I felt like I was passing out. As another contraction came, I shook myself awake, thinking, “Did I just pass out?” After the contraction passed, I asked Theresa, “When do I ask about an epidural?” She looked me and said I was doing great and could do without. The nurse reinforced this message (awesome nurse!) They also said that Dr. Wadland was on her way to check my cervix. I looked at the clock and it was about 6 p.m.

When Dr. Wadland arrived, seeing her face relieved so much anxiety for me! They got me into bed—not easy with the contractions happening pretty rapidly at this point. I laid back and held Brandon’s hand as she check my cervix … 9.5 centimeters and 100 percent effaced!

Dr. Wadland said she wanted me to have a few more contractions before pushing. She had me get on my hands and knees in bed (thank goodness for all the cat/cows I did throughout pregnancy!) This is the moment when I felt most natural and was the experience I was expecting for my labor. I was going through the contractions, my bum and lady parts fully exposed, feeling like and saying I might poop. Thinking, “Wow, this is surreal!” I did in fact poop—most women do. When Brandon and I sat down and talked about the experience, I asked him about this. He said he wasn’t looking, but he did notice Dr. Wadland would very discreetly and quickly clean up any poop. For some reason, this made me feel better about this, so I wanted to share.

After a few contractions, they said it was time to push. She had me get back on my back. My mom came to my right hand and Brandon to my left. They both helped me bring my knees toward my head in a crunch position. When my next contraction came on, Dr. Wadland told me not to breathe now, to push through the contraction instead, pulling my upper body toward my lower body, almost a crunch motion.

Charlee

Everyone was cheering me on. After the contraction passed, Theresa told me to stop pushing and coached me to breathe in between. At this point, all I wanted to do was push. They told me to wait for a contraction. I did my best, but I was outside of my body at this point, not really knowing if a contraction was happening. So whenever I felt like a minute went by and what might be a contraction, I pushed again and again.

At one point, the night nurse came in. She said hello to me and was very excited to get to see I was in full fledged pushing mode. She remembered my birth wish list and asked me if I wanted her to bring in a mirror so I could watch. I said, yes! She brought a mirror in and I could see everything. They asked me if I wanted to touch the head—YES! I touched it—surreal and motivating for me!

Shortly after this, Dr. Wadland said the baby’s heart rate is going down when I push, so we need to get her out in the next couple pushes or she’d have to use the vacuum. Hearing this motivated me even more to get her out. I could also sense there were a lot more people in the room at that point beyond the nurse and doctor.

They had me get on my right side again to help with Charlee’s heart rate—it is so hard to push in this position, but entirely possible! As a contraction came on (or so I thought)—everyone was cheering for me to push. My mom was there cheering me on as only she can.

Liz and Charlee

A few more pushes and out came Charlee, pooping and crying! This was great news and Dr. Wadland immediately plopped her on my chest! I remember her with wide eyes looking right up at me and wailing—such an amazing moment. After the umbilical cord finished pulsating, Dr. Wadland asked Brandon if he wanted to cut the cord. He said yes—awesomeness. My mom snapped photos with my phone capturing all of this. They briefly took Charlee to the small station in the room to do her initial tests. She weighed 6 lb., 14 oz., 19.5 inches, arriving at 7:19 p.m. on Dec. 25, 2017.

After Charlee joined us, my placenta came out nicely, accessory lobe and all. Dr. Wadland said I did tear, so she needed to stitch me up. At this point, she could do anything down there, I was so focused on Charlee. She did numb me up with something and I could feel her working down there, but again, nothing mattered now that I had a thriving Charlee in my arms.

All in all, after trying to induce labor for almost 72 hours, Charlee joined us after 4 hours of intense contractions and 45 minutes of pushing. It may not have been how I pictured it all coming together, but I wouldn’t change any of it. The experience of going through this with our mothers, the amazing nurses that we got to know and appreciate, and having Dr. Wadland deliver Charlee will never be forgotten. I am eternally grateful that I trusted the journey.

A few tips that I offer to moms about to welcome their little one (or ones!) to the world:

-Cover or remove any clocks! Especially once the lion hits—you do not need to know the time, trust me!

-Get to know your nurses. We will never forget Vanessa, Brenda, Cathy, Emily, Allison and Kayla. Each of them made our experience the best it could be. I could tell they all read my birth wish list and they respected it the best they could. The timing of each of their involvement was also perfect. We didn’t meet Cathy until delivery day and she was the perfect nurse to have present at that time. When Brenda arrived when I was pushing, I couldn’t have been happier to see her face and I think we made her day as well!

-After delivery, cover up your nipples for a family photo. We have so many amazing pictures after Charlee arrived, but my nipples are out loud and proud in all of them!

-Document your experience so you can remember all the little details. It took me a month to complete and some of it was hard to remember just 30 days later. What I did find helpful is a bulleted timeline to reference as I typed this up. I’m so happy I now have it written down so I can share it with Charlee when she grows up.

-TRUST THE JOURNEY! We are not able to control how our labor goes, but what we can control is our trust in the process. If you have a bad feeling about your provider and their support for your birth intentions, find a new provider. I know a woman who changed in her third trimester. If you have trust in your provider, you will be able to trust the journey. Remember, at the end, you will have your baby in your arms and that’s all that matters! Having these affirmations written and on the wall as a reminder is one of the best things I did for our birth room.

Written by Liz Sperrey

Birth Stories

Birth Story of Barrett Amelia Walker

After the birth of my son in December of 2014, I told Alex, my husband, that I didn’t want to talk about having another baby for about three (3) years. Low and behold, 3 years and 2 months later, on Feb. 7, 2018, I sat on the grass in my front yard, enjoying the sunshine and my pre-delivery maternity leave. I’d had contractions throughout the previous night, strong enough to wonder whether it was the real deal but also infrequent enough to dissuade me from that notion. That morning I’d spotted a little, but contractions were only every 45 minutes or so, so I continued relaxing, eating, practicing hypnobirthing meditations, and took a seat on my front lawn in a tank top and sweats to enjoy the sun and warm, crisp February air.

While sitting on the lawn (OK, it’s improperly installed turf, but I love it), I felt a contraction coming on. I started to maneuver my top-heavy, bulbous self onto my hands and knees to achieve a more comfortable position. While in the process of this hoist, I heard a pop and then felt liquid … all over my lap. Because the wetness was body temperature, it took a second for me to register what this sensation meant—that my water had broken, a lot of it, all over me and my turf. In addition to the excitement I felt in that moment to experience such an integral part of birth (which I did not get during the birth of my son), I laughed at my good luck to have been wearing black pants (no stains) and sitting on my lawn (no clean-up) at that time. It was 1 p.m., it was on.

I started making phone calls from my puddle. First, I called Alex who shortly thereafter began to make his way home to La Selva Beach from Davenport where he works. Then I called my doula, Stephanie, who happened to be nearby and would come check on me. Then I called my midwife, Kelly, who was also nearby and would come over to do a vitals check on me and the baby.

After these phone calls, I went inside to change my clothes and to make sure that what had poured out of me was indeed my waters and not blood or something alarming (it wasn’t). At this point, I got excited and settled deeper into our decision to do a home birth and was ready to practice the hypnobirthing teachings I’d imbibed and marinated in over the past few weeks.

After about 15 minutes, Kelly and Stephanie arrived. At the time, my contractions were about 10-15 minutes apart but mild enough that I could talk during them (although I probably sounded like I was being crushed). My vitals were great. Baby was great. We all talked excitedly about various pregnancy related goos and fluids before Alex arrived. After staying about 45 minutes, Stephanie and Kelly left, leaving me and Alex at our home with the instructions of “try to take a walk,” “eat some food,” “go to bed as soon as possible and try to get some rest,” “it’s possible that you won’t go into active labor for 24-48 hours.” Just before Kelly and Stephanie left around 3 p.m., I had another solid contraction. Forty-five minutes later, Alex called them and told them to come back (during rush hour I might add)—my contractions were much closer together and were getting quite intense. Things were progressing quickly.

In the short time between Kelly and Stephanie’s departure and Alex’s follow-up phone call, Alex had a ton of work to do. Embarking on the journey of a home birth is preceded by enormous preparation. The weeks and weeks of preparation aside, Alex was immediately tasked with unpacking and organizing various kits and packs for the birth itself, and most importantly, trying to get me to eat. I recall very clearly sitting on our kitchen couch, breathing and visualizing “opening” as my hypnobirthing lessons had taught me to, while Alex tried to make me a smoothie that I could drink between contractions. A smoothie is not normally complicated or time consuming to make—but when you have to drop what you’re doing every 45 seconds to run to your wife and apply pressure to her hips (assuming the contraction subsided at all since the last), it takes a long time. The final product did turn out delicious.

Stephanie arrived back at my house shortly before 5 p.m. At that point, I had moved into my cave-like bedroom and was on my hands, knees and chest, laboring on my bed. As I would learn later, Alex had been in communication with Kelly who told him to fill the enormous inflatable birth tub in our bedroom, although based on information provided to her, we probably wouldn’t need it by the time it was filled.

My best friend, Becca, had made me a thoughtful labor package of candles, essential oil sprays and Himalayan salt lamps, and I remember the evening, starting around that time, being lit with the calming orange glow of those lamps. It still relaxes me to think about it.

Alex and Katy

Around 5 p.m. Kelly arrived. She advised me that I needed to switch positions to keep things moving, so she told me to sit on the toilet and labor there for a while. Let me say that up until this point in our 10-year relationship, Alex and I were the type of couple that kept our bathroom experiences VERY private from the other—we gave each other a lot of space and privacy in that regard. I’d always dubbed it, “Keeping the mystery alive.” That notion and era was shattered around 5 p.m. on Feb. 7. Alex held me, lovingly and without judgement or disgust as I labored through frequent and excruciating contractions, nearly naked on the toilet. The mystery died that day. RIP.

At 5:15 p.m., my midwife’s assistant, Flaura, arrived. Flaura was our doula for the birth of our son a little over 3 years earlier. If there was any panic or uncertainty in my mind about this birth or birthing at home, it fell away when Flaura arrived. My trust in her and her comforting and knowledgeable spirit put me at ease. That being said, I was still on the toilet, which I didn’t much enjoy because it made the contractions extraordinarily painful.

Around 6:10 I was back on my bed and lying on my side. To my shock and absolute glee, my midwife said my dilation was nearly complete at that point, with only a cervical lip (9+ cm), only about 5 hours after my water broke. I was so proud of myself in that moment for helping my body prepare and allow itself to dilate so quickly, especially given that labor with my son lasted nearly 38 hours and I didn’t fully dilate until about hour 37.

Kelly told me to give a couple of good pushes while lying on my side to see if she could hold the lip back while I pushed baby past it, so I could move on. It was time to push! I couldn’t believe it! Already?!? Game ON!

Now I consider myself a pretty strong woman, physically at least. I’d CrossFitted throughout my pregnancy and was bolstered by this fact, confident that I could labor and deliver efficiently, and that it wouldn’t be any more difficult than doing some of the CrossFit workouts I’d done recently with a watermelon on my frontside. However, when I attempted to push at that time (around 6:30 p.m.), I felt like I had no power, like I was pushing down on the gas pedal but a line had been cut somewhere in the engine that was draining my acceleration. Kelly told me to stop pushing, not only because it wasn’t doing anything, but because the cervical lip wasn’t moving.

A cervical lip, as I learned, is basically the equivalent of having a fat lip, but on your cervix. It can swell and possibly tear if you push or deliver while the lip is present. We would have to wait a little while and let the lip subside.

Then I started to feel “pushy.” Great timing.

In my opinion, what is commonly referred to as the “urge to push” is a bullshit misnomer. The “urge” I felt was similar to the “urge” you feel to throw up when you’re dry-heaving. Your body is in control when it’s “pushy:” It’s contracting, spasming, it’s straight up pushing. It is literally a force of nature, and it’s the boss. That being the case, I was confused and a little exasperated to learn that I needed to breathe through the “urge” so that my body wouldn’t push on its own. I needed to utterly relax my body—the involuntary spasm pushes were making my cervix swell, and I couldn’t deliver baby girl until the swelling subsided. It was 7 p.m.

To achieve this kind of muscle relaxation, I needed to blow raspberries with my mouth whenever a contraction came, the idea being that I would focus the tension on my lips so that my uterine muscles wouldn’t engage. At that point we also decided to try all the relaxation tools that we had available. First, I got in the shower with a large yoga ball. I leaned over the ball and let the water run down my back. This helped with the pain of the contractions quite a bit, and by blowing through the contractions I was able to avoid some of the pushing spasms that my body was trying hard to complete. I remember being in such a daze while I was in the shower. It was dark outside, and the bathroom was magically lit with candles and salt lamps. It was like a cave, a sanctuary. I think I drifted in and out when the contractions ebbed, coming to from time to time when I needed to bypass my body’s vice-like pushing, endure a contraction, or when someone put a washcloth under my knees or put a straw to my mouth so I could drink cold water.

I got out of the shower at about 8:35 and moved to the bed. Kelly checked me, and my cervix was still swollen, lip still present. Keep in mind that since about 6 p.m. I had been nearly fully dilated, and had now spent a few hours in an extended period of transition. {Midwife’s note: This is one of the most challenging situations in an otherwise normal labor: not pushing when your body so desperately wants to. But the risk of tearing the cervix in a situation like this could become an emergency situation or cause permanent damage. In this instance, the baby’s head was facing Katy’s hip, and position changes to help baby rotate weren’t working, so we needed the “tincture of time.”} When lying on the bed on my side, contractions would last anywhere from 1 minute, to 20 minutes, ebbing and flowing but not subsiding entirely. Being on the bed in any position was so painful and uncomfortable. I remember during those 5+ minute contractions just screaming, growing louder and softer with the rhythm of the pain—kind of like an ambulance siren. I asked for help. I asked nicely. “Please, please somebody help me.” I realized later that we should have let more of our neighbors know that we would be doing a home birth—I’m surprised no one called the police on account of my anguished cries. Despite the crying and the yelling, I was truly working my ass off to relax through the contractions, blow raspberries through the pushing, to be mindful, to feel Alex’s hands in mine, to feel his support, to know that I was safe, I was OK.

Eventually around 10:15 p.m., after trying a few more positions on the bed  I moved to the gigantic neon green birth tub that fit neatly between our bed and the closet doors. Being in the birth tub, submerged to my collar in warm water, reduced the pain about 75 percent. The pushing still continued, but it became more of a practice in relaxing through the pushes rather than surviving the painful contractions. Kelly told me that birth tubs are often referred to colloquially as “the midwife’s epidural.” I couldn’t agree more. While in the tub, sitting on my knees and resting my arms and face on the side of the tub, I dozed in between contractions/pushes. Once another one began, I would work through it, supported by Alex or Stephanie, either of which would give me sips of water or spoonfuls of yogurt with honey at the end of each contraction. I was well taken care of. I actually fell in love with Stephanie at one point when we had a particularly intense moment of eye contact after a contraction and she read my mind and responded with, “Yeah, this really fucking sucks.” She and Alex let me squeeze their hands during each contraction—there were bruises.

About an hour after getting in the birth tub my mouth was starting to swell from the hours of raspberry blowing. Kelly instructed me to get out so she could check me again, although getting out was less romantic and beautiful than me simply climbing, glistening, out of tub and onto the bed, and more like a crane hoisting a wrecked car out of a lake. Once out of the tub it was discovered that my cervical lip was still present, but the swelling was way down and the lip was soft rather than rigid and impassable. Kelly told me to give a few good pushes during contractions while she held the lip out of the way. Again, lying on my side on the bed left me feeling like I had no power to push, no intensity. Moreover, Kelly was trying to hold the small lip out of the way during these pushes, which somehow peaked the pain I was feeling into an unmanageable crescendo. So I got back into the birth tub with the hopes of reducing the lip even further, blowing through contractions.

At about 11:30 p.m., 10 hours after my water broke and five hours after reaching nearly full dilation, I got out of the birth tub and moved to the bed once again for pushing. It was clear at this point that the lip was gone, my cervix was not swollen (although my mouth was), I was well hydrated, fueled by honey and yogurt, and ready to move to the next phase. I was physically exhausted after the hours of trying to trick my body out of its natural inclination to push. I would learn later that Kelly was only going to wait another 20 minutes or so before transferring me to the hospital, concerned that my anterior lip would be too much of an issue, or that my cervix would be damaged or seriously torn during birth. However, despite my physical exhaustion, I was ready and looking forward to pushing. Probably because of my years of CrossFit, especially during my pregnancy, I knew how to lean into the difficult task ahead, go to the “pain cave,” and appreciate that what I needed to do would end relatively soon. Again I tried pushing in various positions on the bed, but did not feel like I was capable of engaging the different parts of my body I needed to accomplish the task.

Alex, Katy, and Barrett

At that point someone suggested I switch to the birth stool, which is basically a wooden toilet on short legs that opens in the front (basically a horseshoe) so the midwife can really get in there. After moving what can only be described as a medical tarp to the foot of my bed, I got on the stool and was given instructions. It was midnight. I was on the stool and began to feel my power click on. I felt muscles engage, I felt adrenaline and excitement, I felt Alex’s hand in mine, his supportive body behind me and various voices coaching and encouraging me. I felt the contractions and felt finally free to utilize my body’s natural pushing mechanisms, I engaged with my body’s natural pushes and added my own reserves of strength to them. At 12:30 a.m. I felt a very distinct, sharp pain. I remember saying, “Wow, that really hurts!” and Kelly replying, “Well yeah, that’s why it’s called the ring of fire. She’s crowning.” A minute later Barrett was out and was immediately lifted up, plopped on my chest and started nursing, cord dangling between my legs. The three of us, Alex, Barrett and I, held each other then for a few minutes. Alex and I looking down upon her. Barrett looking back up at us, content and calm. I felt then that our family was complete and wished our son could have been part of that moment with us.

Shortly thereafter, after some quick preparation/protection of the bed, Alex lifted me up by curling his arms under my armpits while I was still holding on to Barrett, still attached to her by our cord and by cosmic mother/child connection, and pulled us back onto the bed. What happened thereafter was a bit of haze of emotion and activity, but I know I felt no pain. Stephanie asked me if I wanted anything to eat, and I replied quickly and surely, “Pizza!” which she promptly grabbed out of the freezer, cooked in the toaster oven and brought to me (which to me seemed like only seconds).

At a little past 12:30 a.m. on Feb. 8, 2018, I held my daughter in my arms, her gooey body pressed against me. After the birth of both of my kids, my immediate feeling was never what most moms describe as overwhelming love. That feeling, or at least my ability to recognize that feeling, didn’t happen for a few days. In the moments after her birth, I felt protective, connected to her, inseparable from her as if she were still living inside me, just simply transitioned to the outside where I could touch her face, her feet, her large baby belly. I smiled at Alex, so grateful for his support, energy and unwavering love, so grateful for his multitudinous contributions to this moment, for being my partner in everything. As Kelly, Flaura, Stephanie and Alex continued their various post-delivery jobs, I sat there naked with my daughter, eating pizza in my bed, relieved, relaxed, happy, complete.

Written by Katy Walker

Birth Stories

Birth Story Of Wyatt Owen Linehan

On Wed., Sept. 6, I went to prenatal yoga. I had been waiting months for it to be my turn for the class to chant to me. The class will chant to any mama who is close to her due date to help get things going. It rarely ever works, but I had been chanting to women for almost nine months, and I was so excited—it was finally my turn. While everyone chanted to my cervix and yelled for Wyatt to come out, I tried to relax everything and visualize everything opening. There was a another gal who we chanted to who was past her due date and I was hoping I wouldn’t be like her and need another round of chanting—but I was pretty convinced our baby was coming early.

At 4 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 7, I woke up for my millionth time to pee and there was a little bit of blood. I was so excited because I knew that, unlike losing your mucus plug, this meant things would be happening within the next few days at most. As soon as I saw the blood, I started experiencing real contractions. They were very mild, but definitely not Braxton Hicks anymore. They felt like sustained period cramps in my lower abdomen. I didn’t want to wake Joe because I knew he wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep and he would need his rest if this was going to happen soon. I told him I couldn’t sleep and was going to read in the other room. I anxiously awaited his 6:15 a.m. alarm so I could tell him the exciting news. I tried to sleep but couldn’t, I was just too excited. I waited for Joe to get up and make his coffee and then I asked, “Are you ready to meet your son this weekend?” He was definitely taken by surprise. I told him he should still go to work as we were probably still a ways out from anything happening, but he didn’t want to be away so he worked from home.

The rest of the day I just relaxed, finalized my birth bag, updated my family and my doula. I spent time on the birth ball doing a lot of circles to open up my pelvis. We went for a short walk in the neighborhood, but throughout the day my contractions were really far apart and not really gaining in intensity. I decided to try and lay down for a nap in case things picked up in the night. I slept in the nursery in the guest bed since it’s darker in there. Joe turned on the two-way monitor so I could call for him if I needed anything. I was laying on my side, trying to calm my thoughts so I could finally get some sleep when I felt a gush! I called out to Joe so he would hear me on the monitor. It felt like he took forever to respond. He came upstairs with a towel—I didn’t want to have to change the sheets and I could tell it hadn’t hit the bed yet. I rolled out of bed and was shocked that the water just kept coming! It was a lot, but then stopped as I went to the toilet. I was concerned because my doula had told my husband (who mentioned to me but wasn’t supposed to) that it can be more painful to labor naturally if your water breaks so early in the process.

I sat on the toilet while my husband called the doula. She said to call Kaiser and see what they say to do since my contractions were still sporadic and not intensifying. Kaiser has you come in even if you sneeze funny, so of course, they wanted me to come in. By now, my contractions were getting uncomfortable and it was better to breathe through them, but I didn’t HAVE to. I had made a day-of packing list and taped it to the front door, so while Joe loaded the car I paced outside. I was nervous to go to the hospital so early in labor, I knew we weren’t close, but I wanted to make sure our little man was OK.

Just before leaving, we folded a large beach towel so it was 3 in. thick for me to sit on as I was still leaking water. Once we were in the car, I kept getting more gushes of water. I’m talking gallons. I quickly soaked through the towel, onto the car seats and was puddling on the floor. I was sitting in a puddle of water. No one ever said the gushes keep coming! I kept asking Joe to look to see if the fluid was clear—didn’t occur to me that he should focus on driving. He stayed so calm and I was convinced there was an odor (which is a very bad sign) but Joe kept reassuring me. He later said he too was freaking out because it was so much!

We made it to the hospital around 6 p.m. and I put on my hypnobirthing script as we walked in to stay calm and focused. I started crying when I saw that Nurse Kathy was on duty. We had seen her the last two times we had to go in for having too many Braxton Hicks contractions. She switched with another nurse to be assigned to our room, which was awesome. I got hooked up and the midwife confirmed that I was having good regular contractions but she didn’t want to check me and risk infection since my water broke. Wyatt was handling the contractions well and she said she wanted to admit me. I told her I wanted to leave because my plan was to labor at home until I couldn’t talk between contractions (I wanted to do as much at home as I could). She said they would leave me alone to labor as long as I wanted if I stayed and I was torn. We called our doula and she said that if the midwife wasn’t trying very hard to convince me to stay, I should leave. We decided to leave, and the midwife was really great about letting us go, we just had to sign an AMA form. Kathy and her both said they would see me later. They also told me which midwives were on duty and even though mine wasn’t, the next shift was being covered by a midwife I had seen a few times and I really liked her.

Tawny during labor

I was nervous to drive the 25 minutes home, because I didn’t want to deal with the drive back when I was further along, so at 7 p.m. we went to my sister-in-law’s house to labor there as she is 10 minutes away. By now my contractions were more regular and definitely much more intense. I told Joe to stop the car at a right-hand yield turn because I could feel a strong contraction coming on. He wouldn’t stop because there were cars behind us, and I remember being so mad in the moment. After that, he drove so well! When we got to Meghan’s (my sister-in-law), she had the downstairs dark and quiet, with the best pillow nest I’ve ever been in set up on the couch. I was so worried about leaking water on her brand new couch, but she kept assuring me she had covered everything. Our doula met us there and I was finally able to relax and rest in the pillow nest and we settled into a rhythm with the contractions. I started toning—making a low tone—throughout each contraction. I told Joe I needed him to make the sound with me, and from that moment on, he moaned through EVERY contraction with me for the remaining 18 hours of labor!

I tried to rest in the pillow nest, and then we went for a walk in the neighborhood. The doula had me walk with one foot on the sidewalk and one in the gutter to open my pelvis, which was more awkward than uncomfortable. We labored on the birth ball, on the toilet, and tried all fours for a bit on the yoga mat but that wasn’t very comfortable. For some reason, I would burp at the end of every contraction. I couldn’t control it, and my poor husband had to deal with me burping in face as we breathed together. The contractions were stronger, but still not very close together and I was still able to talk in between them. I decided around 11 p.m. that I wanted to get to the hospital so we could get in a groove there. I was nervous that the car ride would be too uncomfortable if I got much further along and I knew it would break my focus. I just wanted to get to the hospital ASAP so we could regain our groove. I was also afraid I was going to throw up, so I clung to a bowl the whole drive back to the hospital.

When we checked in to triage, I begged them not to make me pee in a cup and do the whole check-in routine again since I was there four hours earlier. The clerk said I had to, but Nurse Kathy came to the rescue again and just took me straight back to a triage room. I got hooked up and my contractions were showing stronger and I was ready to be admitted. I don’t know why, but I didn’t want to walk to the labor room, so they were nice enough to wheel me in the bed to our labor room. All throughout the pregnancy I had visualized the labor room as having the window on the left side of the bed (I think that is what I saw in the tour) and when we got in, Room 209 had a window on the left and I thought, “I can do this, the window is on the left.” It was surprisingly comforting. Our nurse introduced herself to us but said she was going on break for a bit and introduced our temporary nurse. She let that nurse know that I had refused to get the IV saline lock (I just didn’t want that to distract me, and my team had been keeping me hydrated). The temporary nurse didn’t like that and then took one look at my contraction tape and started spouting off about how worried she was and how awful the baby was doing. Keep in mind, everything looked fine in triage and we had just transitioned to a new room and bed. She ran off dramatically to find the midwife. I told our actual nurse that we were planning to have a calm birth environment and that I didn’t like that nurse’s tone. I told her we needed to find someone else, and thankfully, we never saw that lady again. I changed my position and the baby responded better to the contractions. After that, we hunkered in and got back in our rhythm of breathing and changing positions every so often.

Tawny during labor

We tried all kinds of positions—all fours in bed, hanging over the back of the bed, standing, yoga ball, toilet. I had no idea that the first contraction in a new position was alway more intense, so it took some convincing from the doula for me to change positions. I kept my positive birth affirmations playing on a loop and would tune in to certain phrases throughout labor. We held off on getting checked because I didn’t want to get too hung up on the number. Eventually, I was concerned that I could still talk in between my contractions, which I was afraid meant I wasn’t very far along. I told myself that if I wasn’t a 7, I would get the epidural. The midwife checked me and said I was a 6 but she could stretch me to a 7. I was so disappointed because I was so close to my target number. My doula was great about keeping me distracted and said we would call it a 7 and just kept me moving along through positions.

At some point, the baby just wasn’t recovering fast enough after my contractions and the midwife said the best way to support him was IV fluids and oxygen. At this point, I didn’t want to risk stressing him out further and needing serious interventions, so I got all hooked up and he responded well to this.

We kept on laboring and I still could talk in between contractions, which kept freaking me out. I thought I had so much longer to go because everyone said they knew they were in active labor when they couldn’t talk in between.

At one point, I actually nodded off in between contractions and I remember dreaming about the Mindy Project—which I had been binge watching while on leave. I remember waking up and thinking how strange it was to be thinking of that at a time like this.

I told everyone to chant the number 8 through the next several contractions and everyone did! I asked to be checked and if I wasn’t an 8 I was going for the epidural—the process was just feeling endless. I was a 9.5! I was so excited that I was in the home stretch … or so I thought! I wasn’t fully effaced, and the doctor said there was still a “lip” of my cervix that was in the way of his head. She said she needed to manually flip the edge of my cervix out of the way. The kicker was, she said she had to do this DURING my contractions and that it would take several tries! This sounded like the worst idea ever, but I was ready to be done, so the next contraction she got to work. I don’t remember it being that bad, and eventually she got it cleared and it was time to start pushing—around 9 a.m.

I had heard that pushing without an epidural could take up to 2 hours, but I was determined to get him out and be done with this process. My doula said that the first push will push him forward, but then he will retract a bit. The second push is where you make progress, and if you can get a good third push in, you will hold our progress. I felt like I could only get two good pushes per contraction and I was just faking the third. We tried pushing in several positions: squat, on the toilet, on my back and side. We got out the squat bar, but it was too intimidating so I didn’t use it. The new midwife checked me after pushing for a while and said that Wyatt was getting stuck on my pelvis and in order to clear that part I needed to push flat on my back. We pushed for a while here but eventually I just needed to change positions. We think I eventually cleared the pelvis while pushing on the toilet.

I pushed for a long time on my side, but would get a horrendous cramp in my hip the minute the contraction was over. There was a peanut-shaped exercise ball they put between my knees after each contraction, but I felt like they could never put it in place fast enough and I would scream for the peanut ball until they got it in place and I could rest.

At one point, a nurse wheeled in a tray that was covered and I thought for sure this meant I was close to delivery. But, they kept it in the back of the room FOREVER and I kept wondering when it would be time. The midwife kept checking in on me and every time she came in I would ask, “Are you going to stay until the end?” I thought each time she entered, “This will be it.” But then she would have to leave and I knew I wasn’t close.

Eventually, Nurse Cynthia said it was time to massage me and get me ready for delivery. I’ve come to learn that no part of any “massage” in the hospital is fun. While she massaged the birth canal, she’s chatting with me in between pushes and asks if I do CrossFit! She said my glutes were in the way and that I have a really strong pelvic floor. Not the conversation I expected.

When the midwife came in next, I had been pushing for 4 hours and she was concerned that, because my contractions were still 5 minutes apart, this was just taking too long. I was getting tired, and so was Wyatt. She suggested giving me pitocin to speed up contractions. I was worried because I thought this would make things more painful, but the contractions actually didn’t hurt much at this point and she said it shouldn’t cause more discomfort—just less rest in between. I asked if we could try a few more positions and we did for 30 more minutes, but not much progress came so we started the pitocin. I don’t recall things picking up. But apparently my contractions got to 2 minutes apart. The midwife asked if I wanted to watch in a mirror and I said yes, even though I was unsure. At first, I could not see his head at all—everything looked the same down there and nothing like my vagina. But eventually I saw him and it was so motivating and incredible to see him pushing through. Because he went slightly back in after each push, I was determined not to let him go too far back so watching really helped me focus. I touched his head, but I felt like it broke my focus, so I kept my hand behind my legs to push.

Seeing him come into this world was the most incredible thing I have ever seen. They put him right onto my belly as soon as he came out. I went to pull him to my chest, but the midwife said to wait. Apparently the umbilical cord was pretty short, so he couldn’t reach my chest until the placenta came out. I rubbed him and talked to him, it was such an incredible moment. A few minutes later I did a short push and the placenta came out and I was able to pull him to my chest. The way he looked up at me melted my heart—it was the greatest feeling ever. He wasn’t interested in eating just yet so I just held him and talked to him and we just stared at him in awe that he was finally here.

Written by Tawny Linehan

Birth Stories

Birth Story of Dreyer Lee Grantham

 

Click the image above to watch the video of Dreyer’s birth

The Struggle

Oh boy, where do I even begin this story? I guess at the beginning … or maybe even a little before Mr. Dreyer was in the making. Early in 2016, Darson and I had determined we were ready to take on the next chapter of our lives: parenthood. We began actively trying to get pregnant in May 2016. Fast Forward nine months and that dreaded little pee stick finally had two lines … PREGNANT!

Those nine months were exciting at first, thinking about making a baby, having fun with that week window, and dreaming of how we’d announce our pregnancy to everyone. But then as any couple who has had trouble getting pregnant knows, with every negative pregnancy test comes the letdown, the fear, the sadness. I know our story ended with a happy, healthy little boy and not everyone’s does. To those of you whose story hasn’t ended in such a way, my heart goes out to you, and I can’t begin to try to understand how you feel.

As we neared the nine-month mark of no pregnancy, we began the steps of infertility testing. Me, always the worry wart, feared the worst. Darson, always the positive one, wasn’t worried. We had Darson checked out … swimmers are good to go, wahoo!

I had a hysterosalpingogram, a test for blocked fallopian tubes, which by the way is super painful. They tell you it’s going to feel like period cramping … ugh no … it’s like a knife in your gut! Anyway, thankfully everything was normal so we didn’t pursue any further testing or interventions at this time. We were told that the hysterosalpingogram sometimes increased the chance of pregnancy because it opens up and clears out your tubes.

Darson and Sarah

During that next cycle, I was trying to be patient and wait to pee on a stick until I had more of a likelihood for it to show positive, but if you’ve been in my shoes you know it’s so hard to wait. So one day, even though it was early in the process, I had this feeling like maybe I should take a test today. It wasn’t even early morning or my first pee of the day. I decided what the heck and took the test. My heart skipped a beat as I saw that first positive. The second line was so faint I almost didn’t believe it. I snapped a picture of it and sent it to my friend, Ashley. She agreed with me that there was a second line! I can’t even explain to you how excited I was, but also very nervous and trying not to get my hopes up, which was next to impossible. Ashley offered to bring me another test after she got off work. I think I ended up taking three tests that day.

Finally pregnant … now what? I wanted to wait to tell my husband for his birthday. I spent the day looking up fun ideas on Pinterest of how to tell him. Who was I kidding? I couldn’t wait. I ended up running to the store before he got home to get a baby photo frame, wrote a note on it: “Baby Grantham Coming Fall 2017,” and put it on the table with another note that said, “Happy early birthday, Daddy.” When he got home that night, I videotaped him coming into the house. I had little notes with silly hints posted as he came in the door. Seeing his face and the tears of joy in his eyes as he realized what it was all about made me so incredibly happy! One of the many precious moments to come.

The Pregnancy

Ohhhhh pregnancy … I have a love/hate relationship with you. It was the most incredible, worst, hardest, most amazing thing I have experienced in life. I was super sick for the first four months and had to take medication until 18 weeks just so I wouldn’t throw up all day. One of my many memorable vomit experiences was while driving down I-80. I had just dropped a friend off and was headed home when I started to get that feeling … you know the one … I tried to pull off the interstate, but I didn’t make it off the off-ramp before … yep, there it came in all its glory as I’m pulling up the off-ramp to a stop light. Thank goodness I had a large cup in the cup holder, that caught most of it, and my lap the rest. Ugh!

People kept telling me, “Oh, you forget the sickness. You won’t even remember how bad it was.” Wrong people, wrong. I remember all too well! Those days I didn’t feel like I could go on, laying on the floor telling Hayden, my one-year-old niece whom I babysat daily, I was so sorry I couldn’t play with her because I couldn’t lift my head up. Don’t get me wrong it’s SO worth it, but I haven’t forgotten how hard it was.

Sarah during labor

Pregnancy is also the most amazing thing I’ve ever done and experienced. There is nothing in the world like hearing that heartbeat for the first time. I remember being so nervous as we went in for our nine-week appointment. I was a wreck until I heard that heartbeat come up. It was funny because I automatically let out a sigh and the ultrasound tech heard me and said, “Ah, we can all relax now.” She read my mind. And then when you start to feel those little baby movements, hiccups, kicks and rolls inside your belly. There are literally no words I can use to explain the crazy, weird, awesomeness. I know it’s cliche, but pregnancy truly is a miracle.

I knew early on in this pregnancy that I wanted to do things, as we do most things in our lives, a little outside the norm. I knew there would be some controversy if we chose to do what I call “hippie things” such as having a home birth, using a midwife, encapsulating my placenta, choosing not to circumcise, and not vaccinating, but what I didn’t realize is that I would receive such aggressive personal attacks.

Sidenote: I refer to myself and these things as “hippie” because to me, that word signifies living outside the box and not allowing society to dictate life decisions without being fully educated.

This controversy and the personal attacks fueled my passion to learn as much as I could about all of these things, educating myself on the pros and cons of both sides of all these topics, and being vocal about our decisions in an effort to educate others and bring light to all of the choices women have that most don’t even realize.

I could talk all day about the things I learned and why I’m so passionate about the holistic, natural-care route that we chose, but that’s for another day. What I will say is that I am so grateful that we found our midwife, Dana Ericson, doula, Virginia Traxler, and the close-knit community here in Des Moines that focuses on holistic care. There have been so many awesome resources sent our way from connecting with this community from our birth class instructor, Amy Brooks-Murphy, to our lactation consultant who saved us on Dreyer’s Day 2, Angela Swieter. It has been an incredibly supportive community and we feel so lucky to have found it.

The Birth

Now to the good stuff: the birth! I thought pregnancy was the most incredible, worst, hardest, most amazing thing I had experienced in life, but then came giving birth!

Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, 40 Weeks pregnant. The planning was done, the prepping was complete, but no sign of baby. I had the list of supplies tucked neatly away in a laundry basket in Dreyer’s room. We had gotten all of our midwife’s medical supplies and tucked them away in our bedroom corner. Everyone knew our plan and was ready for our all-natural home birth.

Sarah just after giving birth to Dreyer

As we patiently (most of the time) awaited our little one’s arrival any day now, this mama tried every wives’ tale and trick in the book to try and get things moving. I ate an irrational amount of dates and pineapple, had awkward sex (I mean, come on, if you’ve had sex at 40 weeks pregnant, there is just no other way to describe it), went for long walks, ate spicy foods and jalapeños, rested, chiropractic, acupuncture, you name it and I probably did it. My decision is that these are exactly like they are named: tales. Like fairy tales. They’re just not true and they don’t work!

Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, I had another uneventful day of relaxing, baking cookies, and waiting for the babe. I was 40+4 weeks gestation, and in all honesty, I still felt great. I decided to go to the chiropractor in the afternoon and then I went for a walk around a nearby lake. I walked the entire way, just over 2 miles, in hopes that it would put me into labor. Well, it did … sort of. I began having some mild contractions during my walk. I assumed they would stop after I had rested for a time as they had in the past so I didn’t get too excited. I sent my husband off alone to teach our Financial Peace University class that evening and I rested on the couch.

The contractions continued through the evening, and by the time my husband got home, I was certain that this was the beginning of early labor! I sent off a message to my midwife, doula, and photographer updating them so that they would have a heads up if things progressed in the night.

My midwife instructed me to go to bed, get some rest, and call if I was in active labor. I went to bed for a bit, but soon after, I got up and went to the couch so that I didn’t keep Darson awake with my contractions, which had increased in frequency to around every 3-10 minutes varying in time. Contractions every 10 minutes or less … you know what that meant for mama: no sleep. But I was OK with it as I was excited that things had finally started!

By Tuesday morning I was exhausted. Contractions started to space out a little to maybe every 15-30 minutes. This allowed me to get some rest. My midwife came over that morning to check on me. She listened to baby who sounded perfect, checked my blood pressure, and looked me over. All checked out so she said to keep resting and we would wait for things to progress.

I had Darson stay home from work that day thinking, this is it! He later reminded me that when he asked me if he should stay home from work, I said, “You better if you want to see your child born.” Ha, little did I know I was getting my panties in a bunch. He could have worked until Thursday morning!

As you can imagine, by Tuesday evening I was not a happy camper when nothing seemed to be progressing, but the contractions continued on. I remember thinking as the sun was setting, “I can’t do this again,” referring to going all night with contractions and no sleep, but that’s exactly what happened.

As soon as the sun set, my contractions picked back up. This night they were only around 3-8 minutes apart ALL NIGHT! I couldn’t bear this alone again all night so I stayed in the bedroom and Darson woke with me during the contractions. As each contraction passed, he reminded me to close my eyes and try to rest between. For those of you who know what contractions feel like, even early ones, you know how hard it is to sleep through them. At least it was for me. I would start to doze off and be rudely awakened with the feeling of my insides forcefully tightening up and being twisted (that’s the best way I can describe it).

I’m not sure if it was the lack of sleep or if the contractions really did get stronger through the night, but I was so exhausted that every contraction felt more unbearable than the last. I got in the bathtub a couple of times, which seemed to help with the pain, but I nodded off and almost fell asleep in the bath water. Then came the lovely contraction to wake me up and I had to pull myself up to a sitting position to bear it. Oh yes, and this was the night I lost my mucus plug. To this day, I will tell you that this was the grossest thing out of the whole birthing process. That’s all I’m going to say about that. Eek. Losing my mucus plug brought me more hope, though—it meant that we were getting closer and things were finally progressing!

After a VERY long night, we had made it to Wednesday morning and it felt like an eternity had passed. Again the contractions spaced out. I think they were more like every 10 minutes again at this point. My midwife came over again to check on me. This time she checked my cervix: 1- 1 ½ centimeter dilated and 75 percent effaced. All I could think was, “Seriously? Two flipping nights of contractions and I’m only at 1 centimeter?!

However, my midwife said something that sounded like music to my ears after she checked me: “Let’s have this baby today.” I was like, “YES, LET US.” We decided to bring out the big guns at this point and call on the dreaded castor oil. I took the first dose mixed with some OJ and ice—not so bad. About 30 minutes later, I threw it all up … gross. We waited awhile, took a walk, and then took another dose. This time was just plain yuck! OK, here we go, this has got to do something.

Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, noon, I feel a gush. Yep, my water broke! My heart leaps! Here we go, FINALLY! I run (OK, waddle) to the bathroom to make sure it is my water. My heart sinks—I see green fluid in my pad. For those of you who don’t know, that means there was meconium (baby’s first poop) in my water bag. I automatically knew what this meant. We would have to transfer to the hospital due to the concern of respiratory complications for the baby. There goes my plan, there goes my home birth. I was crushed. Mind you, I was going on 48 hours of no sleep so I was exhausted and very emotional.

As I walked out to the living room to tell my husband, I remember tears just welling up in my eyes, the same as what’s happening this moment as I’m reliving it while I write this. I took a deep breath and sent a picture to my midwife. She confirmed that it was meconium and said she would call me shortly. Those moments as we awaited her call I was a mess. My husband was so sweet, talking me through it and being so supportive. I knew we needed to go to the hospital for the safety of the baby, which was the most important thing to me, but I also could not help feeling all the emotions going through me and all I could think at that moment was, “I wanted this so badly. What about all those people who didn’t believe I could do it? What about our plans? What about the birth banner and Christmas lights I hung up? This was supposed to be perfect.” With the support of my husband, I began to come to terms with what was happening. Above all, I knew it was for the best and I knew that this had been a possibility all along.

My midwife called us and we discussed options for transfer. We decided to transfer to Broadlawns Medical Center to the care of another midwife, Rebecca Schleuger-Valadao, who had recently started practice there. We feel so blessed to have been able to transfer into her. She was amazing and the staff at Broadlawns were wonderful. I felt good knowing that I was going into the care of a midwife whose background was home births. I knew she would understand and respect my wishes for a natural birth. So we quickly loaded up and headed there. On the way, I let my doula and photographer know the plans.

When we arrived at the hospital around 1:30 p.m., my contractions were getting much stronger and I could barely walk. I remember the 10-minute wait in the registration area seemed like forever. I hated being out in the waiting area where everyone was walking by. There was no privacy as I was wriggling around in pain trying not to make any sounds that would draw more attention to myself. Once we got to our room, I began to feel more comfortable—not as in having less pain, that continued to increase. But I was at ease with the transition.

The transfer into the hospital was fairly smooth. The staff came in and introduced themselves, the nurses, the midwife, the pediatrician, the residents, etc., which was great and they were all very nice, but it was so distracting to me. I was trying to zone out and concentrate on making it through each contraction and in the middle of one, someone would walk in and tell me who they were and explain that they would be there for the birth and why. Honestly, at this point I didn’t care who was in the room during the birth, I just wanted them to get the heck out of my room so I could get through my contraction. It was so frustrating at that moment. I was trying to be patient with them, though, because I’m a nurse so I know that they are just doing what they are supposed to.

Rebecca was wonderful. She gave me a warm welcome and talked me through my options, giving me the rundown on how things would progress, but I have to tell you, I about lost it again when I heard those dreaded words: “We will get the Pitocin started.” I mean, I knew that I didn’t have a choice at this point but to be induced due to my bags of water being ruptured and meconium in the fluid. I knew I was now on the clock, but to hear it out loud and know that it was real, I had to take another deep breath and come to terms with the fact that this was all in my baby’s and my best interest, and even though I had my heart set on an all-natural birth, this was best.

Sarah and Dreyer

We started Pitocin around 2:30 p.m. and I continued to labor. My husband, midwife, and doula were all with me helping me through each contraction. I had to be moving to make it through them, sitting on the birthing ball, moving my hips in a circle, or dancing with someone. I just had to move and breathe through them. They became so strong that it took all my energy to get through them. I was going on three days with no sleep and constant contractions. It’s an understatement to say that I was exhausted.

My team of support kept me going. They were incredible! I honestly don’t know how I could have done it without them. Baby’s heart rate stayed perfect—he’s a champ! So we continued on. My midwife and doula were huge advocates for me. They got the staff to bring in the water tub. I got in that for a while and continued to labor there as long as I could.

Around 7:30 p.m., I was having very strong contractions and my bloody show. We decided to have the nurse check me again thinking I would be around complete. My heart dropped when the nurse said I was only at 6 centimeters dilated.

I thought, “OH MY GOSH, how the hell am I going to do this any longer?” I was so exhausted and the contractions were so strong. If you don’t know anything about Pitocin, it can make the contractions bigger and stronger than normal contractions. I don’t know for certain, but I truly think that is why my contractions were so strong and almost unbearable … well that, and simply because my body was SO tired.

Dreyer Lee

After I had been checked, and it was determined I was only 6 centimeters dilated, my midwife questioned an epidural. Up until this point we had not even talked about an epidural because everyone knew that it was not what I wanted. My midwife, being so incredibly wise as she is, knew that I was exhausted and needed rest in order to gather the strength to push this baby out. We all discussed it. No one pushed it on me, we simply talked about the pros and cons. At one point, I even turned to Darson and asked him if I should do it. His reply was, “I’m not going to tell you what to do, but if you do it, you’ll be so mad at yourself.” His reply wasn’t wrong at the time. After talking it through with everyone, I decided I needed to have an epidural. I think I had the sarcastic thought at one point, “Might as well, everything else has gone the opposite that I planned.” I knew that my midwife was right, though, and I’m so grateful for her knowledge. I needed to get some rest while I continued to dilate in order to muster up some energy to push.

I cannot even explain the relief I felt when that epidural took hold. I hadn’t realized how tense my whole body was until I felt the release when that medicine kicked in. I think that is why I wasn’t progressing. It was around 9 p.m. by this time. Everyone except my husband went home, and we settled in to get some rest. It may not have been the best sleep I have ever gotten, but it sure felt like it to me.

By 3 a.m., I was complete (my cervix was fully dilated)! YES! From then until 8 a.m., I labored down (meaning we let my contractions do the work of bringing the baby down further before doing active pushing). I continued to rest feeling only some pressure during contractions.

Sarah, Darson, and Dreyer

At 8 a.m., everyone had returned to the hospital and it was time to push. We decided to turn my epidural down so that I could feel the contractions and have more effective pushes. When the medication started to wear off and I began to feel the contractions and pressure again, I thought to myself, “Why the hell did I do that? I was so relaxed before.” I am so glad that I did, though, because I felt everything as I birthed my child. I felt so strong and powerful as I felt his head crowning. I don’t know how to explain the pain and experience in any other way than an out-of-mind experience. It was more pain, stronger pressure, and different than anything else I had ever known, yet my body knew exactly what to do and it took over. I knew I couldn’t stop the pain and I knew I had to get through it. One of the most vivid and memorable moments to me was feeling my baby move through my birth canal and into this world. They say you forget the pain, but I don’t think I will ever forget that feeling. It was incredible.

Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, at 9:39 a.m., Dreyer Lee Grantham was born! In the midst of all the unexpected and all the unplanned is where all the beauty of it is. Dreyer did not have any respiratory trouble from the meconium. He was a perfect little baby. I only had a second-degree tear, was healthy through the incredibly long week of prodromal labor, and with the rest from the epidural, I was able to push Dreyer out in just an hour and a half.

Everything was perfect in all the imperfections. We couldn’t have asked for a better ending to a perfect story!

Written by Sarah Grantham

Birth Stories

Birth Story of Hugh Archer Whipple Callahan

Meredith and Liz Callahan recently welcomed their second baby into the world. As a lesbian couple, they have come to expect the questions they get asked about conception: “How did you do it?” “Am I even allowed to ask?”

Their first baby was conceived through reciprocal IVF, in which the eggs are retrieved from one partner (Liz), inseminated with donor sperm, and then placed into the birth mother (Meredith). With their second baby, Hugh, they chose to utilize traditional in-vitro fertilization, in which they used donor sperm and Meredith’s egg.

To read more about the options for same-sex couples who are trying to conceive, check out Meredith’s blog here.

Our little man was originally due on Sept. 6, 2018, smack in between our wedding anniversary and my birthday. Considering the advice that second children often come sooner than first and knowing my history of a late first arrival, my wife, Liz, and I prepared ourselves to have a due-date baby. Yes, he could be early or late, but the smart money (i.e., our midwife, our doula, our OB/GYN friends) put their bets on the ‘on-time’ category. And so, we were ready. Not that there was much to prepare this time around; we knew how little he would need in the first few weeks, and we already had all the baby gear anyway.

His due date came and went. And, day after day we waited. Evenings brought increased fetal movement and thrills of excitement. Was tonight the night that I’d wake everyone up at 2 a.m. with labor pains? No. Morning after morning, I got up to report that I slept shockingly well; there was no baby. To encourage the little man along, I tried evening primrose oil, pineapple, bumpy car rides, pumping, eggplant Parmesan, acupressure, and red raspberry leaf tea—all to no avail.

And so, at 41 weeks and three days, I headed to the hospital for an induction. It was strange to arrive to the hospital in such a state of preparedness. Here we were, hospital bag in hand, no contractions yet, bellies full of breakfast, childcare in place, everyone calm. Based on my first child’s birth, I had come to see childbirth as a crazy ride of “expecting the unexpected.” Curiously, the planful approach of an induction was so very expected that it felt even more unexpected to me.

Hugh Archer Whipple Callahan

I started on an IV drip of pitocin and waited. At the time, it felt a bit annoying; after days of anticipation, the hours remaining grew even more difficult. But, in retrospect, Sunday morning was a beautiful time to build relationships with the people who would attend my son’s birth later that day. Looking back, I can see how, person by person, my crew slowly assembled. I started this whole adventure with Liz at my side. My sister-in-law and mother both showed up in advance to take care of our toddler daughter; they gave me the opportunity to yield last obligations and focus entirely on this birth. Then, upon arrival to the hospital, we added the labor and delivery nurse who started my IV and would finish the day coaching me through pushing. Soon my doula joined; she intuitively knew what I needed and was on my spiritual wavelength. Finally, the midwife with decades of experience and lots of pragmatic love arrived.

By the early afternoon contractions began, gently at first and then increasingly. Liz and I walked the halls haltingly, stopping every minute or so for a contraction. Each time a contraction came, I grasped my IV stand, picked a point on the wall for visual focus, and breathed through it. Reflecting upon my first birth experience, I remember the contractions only as pain to be endured; this time, I felt them more as energy moving through me. It was almost as if spirit was pouring energy right into the top of my head, through my body, and out my vagina for the purpose of bringing this baby out with it. If I hesitated or resisted, that flowing energy would get stuck. If I let it simply course through me, it felt painful but also useful.

As I rode contraction after contraction and came to see that pain differently, I knew: This is what I had hoped for in childbirth. I had hoped to learn things about myself, about pain, about presence, about motherhood, and about life through labor. This was a fundamental human experience, consistent over the ages. I wanted to experience every aspect of it. I wanted to receive the wisdom of generations of women participating in this process. I wanted to see what I would learn from it and how I might evolve. My underlying assumption was that I would learn the most by having a natural birth; drugs would disrupt and obscure what I was meant to experience.

Yet as the birth progressed, my fears crept in. My biggest fear was not the pain of the current contraction; I had found my way to be present to that. Instead, my biggest fear was the expectation of where those contractions might go. How much longer would this take? How much more intense would it be? Would I be able to stand the sensations? How much did I believe in myself? Aspirationally, I wanted to do all of it without drugs; I wanted to trust in nature and to believe in myself that much.

But I didn’t. Eventually, my question turned from whether I would be able to be with the pain to why I was choosing to experience it in the first place. While laboring on all fours on the bed, I uttered out loud, “Why am I doing this?!” for all to hear. I asked: Why am I bearing such pain when there are options for relief? Is it better for me? Better for the baby? Was there really some great spiritual insight to uncover?

Meredith and Hugh

And so, around six or seven centimeters, I got an epidural. Part of me is still tempted to judge myself for doing so; I feel that if only I had been stronger, braver, more spiritually centered, I would have had the capacity to be with the experience. And yet, I have to let that go. As in all life experiences, my learnings came not from running some externalized gauntlet—in this case, giving birth naturally.  Instead, learnings came from more deeply being with the experience that was right in front of me and the struggle that it prompted inside of me. My real insights came from seeing how an expected plan can still feel unexpected, from challenging my views of necessary and unnecessary suffering, from reconciling the coexistence of spiritual fullness and modern medicine in my mind, and from examining my assumptions of where and how spiritual growth occurs. Ultimately, it was not about some womanly secret revealed only if I endured; it was about me in the here and now.

Labor progressed swiftly from that point; and by early evening, I was ready to push. At that point, a fair amount of assistance was required to ultimately deliver the little man into the world, but this was less of concern to me. By that time, I wasn’t focused on my learning anymore. I was focused on having a healthy baby—and it was time for the little man to come out.

And so, my son joined us at 7:05 p.m. as healthy as could be. He had none of the complications that my first child experienced (meconium in the amniotic fluid, jaundice shortly after birth). And in the month since his birth, he’s proven even stronger. He’s made breastfeeding easy, he’s gained at a remarkable rate, and he’s even giving us some reasonable opportunities to sleep.

Liz and Hugh

So welcome to the world, my little Hawk (a nickname derived from his initials—HAWC). In giving birth to you, I learned new lessons beyond those I learned giving birth to your sister. The experiences may be similar, but the edges of learning are all new and unique. I know that I’ll continue to learn new and different things from parenting you as you grow; I’m excited for this journey together with our whole family.

Written by Meredith Whipple Callahan

Birth Stories

Birth Story of Callahan Alexander Bruner

I want to start by saying I had grand romanticized notions of childbirth, and this overachieving idea that I would write my birth story while in labor and keep a journal for my son to read one day as a way to give him insight into his arrival and birth into existence. I would journal the days leading up to his birth and during the time spent waiting in the hospital for his emergence, chronicling his first few hours of breathing in his own oxygen, as if I was some kind of Nat Geo journalist. Well, it turns out I was a bit more preoccupied than I had anticipated.

There’s a lot they don’t tell you about giving birth …  a lot. We are now approaching three months postpartum, or as the mama boards say, 12 weeks, and I have barley scratched the surface of my Nat Geo journalism experience. I will say, however, after my flower rupturing experience, I think they should start sex ed at two days postpartum and go backward.

My life partner and I are both in the horse world and have participated in more than a few horse births, so this being our first child, our experience with giving birth to a human was native at best. Lets put it this way, when horses give birth, there’s not a whole lot of screaming, cursing, or threats of physical harm.

I use the term “life partner” rather than “husband,” “partner,” “baby daddy,” or “sperm donor,” because after the last 14 months, you better believe, for better or worse, he’s in this for 18 to life.

Throughout my pregnancy, I was under a great deal of stress. I am a self-proclaimed workaholic, go-big-or-go-home kind of person. Yes I was pregnant, yes I was growing a life, but I also had deadlines. I waddled from business meeting to business meeting, took care of horses, lifted bails of hay six days a week, and became frustrated with the increase in my yoga pants size. (Side note: I don’t do yoga. I just like being able to go through my day knowing if I choose the big mac and milkshake for lunch, my yoga pants will accept me and adjust instead of constricting with judgement like my jeans.)

I went through my pregnancy not giving much thought to the big day. I mean women have been doing this for quite a long time, since the beginning of time in fact. I had this idea that I would be in and out. Baby knocks, door opens, baby comes out. We all celebrate, back to work.

This … was .. not … what … happened.

Callahan Alexander’s eviction notice was sent on July 1, 2018, two weeks earlier then our 40-week due date. (By the way, 40 weeks is much, much longer then nine months.) It took him almost 52 hours to concede to the demands. It was much like a hostage negotiation.

On the morning of July 1, I wasn’t feeling myself. I had experienced high blood pressure since the 20th week, and was being closely monitored by my doctors. I had my OBGYN, and two specialists on our team, all three of whom warned us to be prepared for a preterm delivery, and advised us to get a blood-pressure machine and test at home on top of the four times a week they had us in the office for testing. We got the BP machine, but did we pack our hospital bag? Nope. Denial is a powerful thing.

On July 1, I went through my workday but came home early and decided to check my blood pressure: 190/87. Well, that could not be right, I mean anything over 150 was not good, there must have been a glitch, so I took it again: 192/97. Hmm, OK, well the anxiety of the first read must have made it go up. Wait, that means the first read was accurate, I thought. I called my LP (life partner) into the living room and showed him the reading. I’ve never seen his face go so white. We began the mad dash of waddling to the car and off to the hospital we went.

I was admitted into the ER and my BP was taken again: 187/92. Oh good! Improvement! I wish I could have freeze framed the look on that ER nurse’s face. An EKG was ordered and the staff started moving very quickly around me. The decision was made to move me out of the ER and up into labor and delivery. I wasn’t having contractions, our baby’s tests had always come back normal, including the ones they just took, so I figured it was just going to be another baby welfare check and we would be good to go home in an hour or so.

Spoiler alert: This is not what happened.

It turns out my BP levels were that of someone likely to have a stroke or heart attack in the near future, and my body’s decision to totally overreact like a Kardashian who lost a shoe, was endangering my life and thus our unborn baby. The only way to eliminate that threat and get my BP under control, was to change my baby’s title from unborn to born. The attending OB on the floor that night looked at my chart and introduced himself. Our exchange went as follows:

Doctor: “Hello, Mrs. Michelle We’re going to have a baby!
Me: Hello! You are not my doctor.
Doctor: I am tonight

Touché, doc … touché.

I was then hooked up to all kinds of monitors. I was given medication to lower my BP out of the red zone, and medication that notified my son of his impending eviction. I was put on bed rest and my LP was told it was safe to go home and pack the hospital bag we should have packed weeks ago. I imagine the scene at our house was much like the scene in the movie Blow with Johnny Depp, as he frantically packed his wife’s hospital bag—only without the drugs. We were not ready mentally or physically. We had both been living in this world of denial and now that D day had arrived, we were both terrified and feeling very unprepared. We kept saying “we’re not ready” to anyone within ear shot—nurses, cafe delivery employees, people who mistook our room for a loved one’s—pretty much anyone we came into contact with. Their hellos were greeted with “we’re not ready.” I was in the midst of a huge negotiation with millions of dollars on the line. I needed to close this deal before I locked myself away with my new baby. I definitely wasn’t ready!

I called my best friend, took a deep breath, and started in on my laptop. I had some pressing business emails that needed to be sent, and then, all of a sudden, I too received the eviction notice. That hurt!

Three hours later, my laptop had been closed and flung across the room, I had sent numerous texts to my sister demanding she put her Starbucks down and get to the hospital, and more than a couple threatening texts to my LP.

One of our nurses came in to check my cervix. My LP reached our room just in time to see the look on my face when my dilation was checked. Ummm. WOW. I was not expecting that. It turned out that after three hours of minute-long contractions, one minute apart, I was barley 2 centimeters dilated. This is right about when the realization and gravity of our situation started to sink in. This was going to take more than just a knock on the door—more like a sledgehammer. We were going to be here for a while, and my schedule no longer mattered.

Thirty-six hours in with no sleep, and still 2 centimeters dilated, they upped my pitocin … again. This time, however, I insisted the nurse who had the smallest hands check my dilation. No joke, I made my attending nurses line up and show me their hand sizes. I wasn’t messing around with that again.

My water broke around the 28th hour, but still lots of contractions and not a lot of progress. I asked Nurse Thorn (yes, her name was Nurse Thorn) why I wasn’t progressing? Apparently the drugs they had me on to keep me from stroking out, counteracted the induction drugs I was on. They were slowly increasing the induction drugs hoping they would overpower the drugs working to keep my BP regulated. With 20 being the highest level they could go, we were at level 18 of pitocin.

On the morning of July 4, 38 hours in, I had had enough. One way or another, this baby was coming out today! After threatening to find a scalpel to cut him out myself (that seemed to get the nurse’s attention), Nurse Thorn came into our room and announced she had given away her patients for the day. She then told me to get up because we were going to have a baby today! Damn right! It’s the Fourth of July, I’m not missing out on giving my son free birthday fireworks for life! Besides no one wants to party on the fifth.

She gave my LP and I the opportunity to take a warm shower together … it was the best shower. Ever. As I was getting dried off, I realized my water had broke again, this time for really reals. Apparently, it can kinda break and then REALLY break. Another one of the many things they do not tell you.

Things began to happen very quickly after that. I was put into another room with a fake blue sky on the ceiling. By the way, the fake blue sky doesn’t help, not one bit. I was feeling OK, and then they put my pitocin up to 20. Everything seemed OK until it was NOT. All of a sudden, I had a contraction come through that made me freeze. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t breathe. After it passed, I look at my sister and said, “What in the hell was that?!” It was such an intense pain, something I had never felt before in my life. And I’ve been thrown off a lot of horses! As the next one rolled in and the one after that, and the one after that, I remember asking the nurses, “Is this what dying is like?”

Having an epidural was always in our birth plan. My feeling is to each their own, but if you slice your arm open let’s say as big as 10 centimeters, for me, I’m not going to look at the ER doc and say, “Nah, no numbing drugs, just go ahead and stitch it up like they did in the Civil War days.” Nope, not me. Give me the drugs! Then I got hit with the big kahuna contraction. My sister looked at me and said, “Do you want me to ask them to call for the epidural?” I said, “No, let’s see how the next one goes.” My sister, who has four kids, looked at me and said, “You know they are not going to be getting any better, right?” The next one hit 68 seconds later. As I watched the monitor climb to the highest level, that was it. In between the swearing, I started screaming for the drugs! The anesthesiologist came pretty quickly and during his list of possible side effects, when he mentioned paralysis, I screamed, “I hope so!”

In a matter of four hours we had gone from 4 centimeters to 8 centimeters, to “Dear, God, where are the drugs?!” During transition, as the tears streamed down my face and the nausea that I hadn’t experienced since my sophomore year in college kicked in, the epidural started to waiver a bit, and I started to feel the “feels.” Every time a contraction would build, I felt like I was having PTSD symptoms. At one point, one of the nurses started to roll out a mirror. I quickly told her to, “Put that away! The only one of us who needed to see that is the guy who caused it!”

My LP was given the opportunity to catch our son and hand him to me. I hadn’t slept in three days and all I could think was, “Dear, Lord, please don’t let me drop my child.”

On July 4, at 4:44 p.m., after 10 pushes, Callahan Alexander Bruner took his first breath. The doctor commented that I only had a minor tear and that I only required three stitches. Ummm … her idea of a “minor tear” was MUCH different than mine. After the nurses weighed Cal and handed him back to me, I looked at my son for the first time, really looked at him, and said out loud, “Oh thank God we didn’t have an ugly baby.” The nursing staff once again held back there laughter from my ridiculousness. At 7 lb., 13 oz., Callahan Alexander had sky blue eyes, wisps of platinum blonde hair and lungs like his mama.

Cheers to the nurses at Twin Cities Hospital. You put up with me for over a week. Without their help, expertise, and sense of humor, my birth story would have been much different, with potentially a much unhappier ending.

Callahan is now a happy bouncing blue-eyed baby boy who loves ceiling fans, his daddy and early morning snuggles with mommy and daddy. And dear, God, this kid can eat! I am extremely grateful I get to forever be his mommy. He is our whole world and the only deadline now is story time.

P.S. No, he is not sleeping through the night. I’m going to get a T-shirt that says that so the next person who feels the need to ask me won’t.

Written by Laura Michelle

Birth Stories

Beach Day: Birth Story of William Alexandros Tuddenham

It’s Sept. 28, 2010, and it’s a perfect 91 degrees F in Athens, Greece, a great beach day. I mean, why not? So what if I’m 85 lb. over my normal weight and have high blood pressure and I’m 9 months pregnant—a beach day is a beach day.

I arrange to pick up my sister and head for the beach, which is a 20-minute drive. I go by her house, go upstairs, and all of a sudden I start seeing the little sparks that my doctor had warned me about. I, of course, ignored them because it was a beach day.

The sparks went on so I decided to call my doctor and, of course, he panics and yells at me, shouting the name of a pill that I have to take as soon as possible—that, of course, I do not have—and he says to get to the hospital.

I told my sister that I had to go to the pharmacy but she went to the beach instead. So there I am, in a tiny car (not because I’m big, it actually was tiny) sweating, fat, seeing stars, and I start driving on a crazy-busy road looking for a pharmacy. I found one and ran in—no luck, they did not have the pill. Back in the car again. Well, four pharmacies later, I found it.

Then, it’s off to my house, I get the pill, sit on the balcony with my husband, chat a bit, and decide to go have this baby. I called my mom and told her that I was going to have the baby and I will see her later. Of course, she yelled at me and requested to come with us.

Finally we got to the hospital. I was about to get the epidural but had to have an emergency C-section because of the high blood pressure.

My biggest concern was my husband who was stressed out, in a hospital waiting with hundreds of people, and a person announcing the births over a mic in heavy Greek. Lucky for him, around 20 family and friends—who are drunk and smoking—are with him. My doctor was asking if we were gypsies.

Kony and William

For me, it was simple. I got my epidural, went into the operating room with my doctor and another doctor, no nurse, (no one else was allowed in) and listened to Enola Gay and U2 while they cut me open. All of a sudden, I had a perfect baby boy laying on me. The way I had been and who I was changed forever in a second, but once that baby left my arms to get cleaned up, I thought, “Shit, my husband?!”

I told the staff I needed to see my husband NOW. After trying for a good amount of time to put some decompression socks on my spaghetti legs, they put me in a room next door to see my Nate.

All of a sudden, the door opened and 20 drunk people came in (Nate wasn’t drunk, he looked frozen), and they were all taking pictures and saying congrats. This all happened at 7 p.m. I sent Nate home to rest and sent my mom home, too, because she was too drunk and being rude, and could not stop commenting on the decor of the room.

It took 48 hours to walk again, a big fight to keep my catheter in (yes, I wanted it in), and a lot of phone calls from my doctor telling me to behave well.

My friends and family saw me suffer but I was truly having the time of my life with my new friend, William Alexandros Tuddenham, even if I missed the beach day.

Fin!

Written by Kony Filippou

Birth Stories

The Modern Mamas Podcast: The BIRTH Project

I’m so excited to share this podcast I recorded with my amazing friend Laura Bruner of Radical Roots and the Modern Mamas Podcast. In the episode, Laura and I delve into my “why” behind The BIRTH Project, and we chat about parenting, birth, fitness and more. You’ll learn a bit more about me, my background and why I’ve become passionate about the birth community.

My husband Chad and I, our daughter, Isla, and our son, Ellis.

Give it a listen and let me know your thoughts! Download on iTunes HERE and on Stitcher HERE!