This story was written by Melissa Harness, who has suffered through five miscarriages. She has carried eight pregnancies, given birth to three healthy children, and lost five angels. She wants to tell her story to “give a voice to all those that have suffered in silence behind closed doors … who have hid their tears and tried to put a smile on their face when they just want to collapse.”
“We need to normalize loss and grief, ” Melissa says. “We shouldn’t be hidden away or forced to deal with this. We all grieve differently and we need to openly support each other in these times of loss.”
I said positive affirmations. I had more people praying for us than I can even count. This baby defied all the odds. You were so strong. We were told we would lose you so many times, but each time you proved that wrong. Each time my love grew stronger and I knew you’d make it through … until the day I knew you wouldn’t.
At our ultrasound appointment, we heard a tiny heart beating 119 times a minute. The moment the sound came on, I burst into tears. I couldn’t even hold the phone steady to record video for Eddie since he was unable to get off work. The nurse so kindly took my phone and helped me. I was overwhelmed with joy. The sweet sound of your beating heart made it all worth it. Loss after loss after loss. After three losses, we had Bryson, so we know it’s possible to conceive a healthy child. But why all the losses. We were told to come back in a few weeks for a repeat ultrasound. The yolk sac was still measuring large but maybe it would go away in a few weeks. We waited … the waiting is horrible. You dwell on the what ifs, you push yourself to remain positive and go about your normal life. Be a good mom to the other kids, be a good wife, go to work, put a smile on your face, but inside you’re a wreck. Loss changes you. Each loss has changed me differently. I proceeded to our repeat ultrasound on Monday, May 6, 2019. I had Bryson with me. Eddie had to work.
I purchased a baby giraffe with a heartbeat recorder the day before the appointment. Eddie hadn’t had the opportunity to hear our baby’s heart beating due to work conflicts. They pointed out the baby and were able to pick up a beat here and there, nothing consistent. I knew that moment that something wasn’t right. We made excuses, trying to hold on to the hope we had been given. This was an abdominal ultrasound … I’m early … my bladder wasn’t full … The sonographer was either picking my heart beat up (not sure if that’s possible), or picked up the last few beats of our baby’s heart as he/she faded away.
Onto the repeat ultrasound. As we waited an hour after our appointment time, we were finally brought into the dimly lit room where the fate of our baby would be revealed. Ugh, my stomach was in knots. I sat Bryson on the chair next to the bed. I undressed from the waist down and covered up with a sheet. Early ultrasounds are usually done vaginally. I looked forward to a clearer picture of our baby, and I grabbed the recorder so I was ready when we listened to the heart. My heart was beating so fast, my eyes fixated on the screen as I waited. Nothing. The blood flow was showing up, but not inside the uterus. There was no flicker. She tried and tried. She gave me a smile and told me the doctor would be in. I feel sorry for those girls. It must be so tough to see those things. I didn’t shed a tear. I knew it was coming. The doctor came in holding my chart close to her and told me, “I’m afraid I don’t have good news.” I told her we expected this at some point. We were instructed to head to the birthing center to discuss our next steps with the midwives. We were greeted with the familiar faces who had helped me through Bryson’s birth, and had been there for our last miscarriage a year ago in March. Hugs. They helped. I still was in shock? Maybe? I hadn’t cried yet. A script for Cytotec was called in, and I was instructed on what to expect. The next few days were not going to be easy. I walked out to my car and called work to tell them I’d need to take off and get through this at home. Severe cramping, backache, heavy bleeding and passing tissue was not going to happen at my job. Not to mention the emotional trauma of going through this. As I prepared to leave the hospital parking lot, I caught a glance of my pregnant belly … ugh.
You were there, then you weren’t anymore. I put my hand on my belly and cried. I didnt think I’d ever stop. I cried for the pain my heart was feeling. I cried because I heard your heart beating. I cried because I just didn’t understand God’s plan. Why??!!! Why give us hope just to take it away!? Bryson kept asking, “Mommy, what’s wrong? Why you cry?” I just kept telling him, “I’m OK.” But I wasn’t. I texted Eddie. No words can describe the feelings you go through. Finally, after we settled in at home, and decided to start the process. Mom picked up Carter and we got Bryson some toys to distract him. I went into the bathroom and stared at the three little white pills that would bring this journey to an end. I cried more. I can’t believe it’s over. Just like that your gone. Another loss … my new number is five. Five angels in heaven. I used to look back on my patients’ charts and feel so bad when I would see a mama pregnant six, seven, eight times and (with) maybe one child … how could they go on? How did they do it?? Here I stand … eight pregnancies … three children … five angels. I took a deep breath, said a little prayer asking God for peace and comfort and inserted the pills.
I walked out and sat on the couch awaiting my worst fears. Eddie and I watched TV, talked, tried to pass the time. After only a few short hours my back started to ache. Soon after, the cramping started. It became more intense. I couldn’t sit still, a heating pad wasn’t helping, so I went into the bathroom to sit in a tub of warm water. As I undressed, I felt something warm trickle down my leg … I heard drops hit the floor. My hell was beginning.
I sat in the bath for quite some time. It eased the cramping and pain. When I stood up to get out, another gush as I lowered myself to sit on the toilet. Large clots had fallen out. To look or not to look. I was scared to see my baby, formed … forever imprinted in my memory. Just clots and nothing more … that’s all I saw. I cleaned myself up best I could and got dressed. We went to bed soon after. I was up and down numerous times through the night. One big gush soaked through my clothing and onto the bed … a reminder this morning of what will never be.
I got up and showered again. More gushes, more clots … more feelings of sadness and confusion. With the others I had D and Cs (dilation and curettage) … I went to sleep, I woke up and besides a small amount of spotting, it was over. It was hard emotionally but nothing like this. I opted to go this route. This was my choice. I had an assignment (optional, luckily) due last night. I couldn’t do it … I couldn’t even think straight.
The process continued until my uterus was completely empty. The fullness in my belly that I so eagerly embraced was now fading away slowly. My breasts hurt. I know what’s next. No one prepared me with our first loss. My milk came in. A few days after our loss, I woke up to find my T-shirt soaked. My body knows I had the baby, but it doesn’t know they passed. My body is still trying to produce milk and nourish my baby. I relive the trauma of my loss as my body takes the steps to care for my little one. I’ll go through this again. People have asked me so many times, “When will you stop? When will you say enough is enough and quit putting yourself through this!?” To you, this is my answer: “We have Bryson. We know what God can do. We believe in miracles. We have one running around our house right now. We aren’t giving up. Our journey has taken a long time and been so very hard, but if we are meant to have another child it will happen.”
I’m just focusing on breathing today. Trying to take in what has happened and move forward. Trying not to let this lost feeling consume me. Trying not to feel broken in this mess. A friend recently told me that the God of the Mountain is also the God of the Valley … so very true. I will lean on him in these times of frustration and sadness. We aren’t meant to understand … you just have to have faith. I sit here on the couch writing this … using this as my therapy to work through the loss of my baby. I’m searching for a tattoo in memory of all the babies we have lost along the way. When I find the right one and it’s the right time, I’ll know. For right now, I just have to breathe and trust in God. Thank you to everyone that has been a part of this journey with us. We can’t thank you enough for all your kind words, prayers, thoughts and so on. We will get through this, too. One day at a time. Fly high sweet angel, mommy and daddy will see you again one day.
Danny Lesslie of Dadswagger wrote this story about his second-born daughter, Ace. Dadswagger empowers fathers to be present with their families. His Instagram account features images of dads being dads in their everyday lives, and illustrates the power of a present father. Hear more on Danny’s birth and fatherhood perspective here.
Birth Story of Ace
Birth—what a crazy experience! It really is hard to put into words and feel like I have even scratched the surface or the emotion/experience of it all. The first birth was a true rite of passage for us. I have never been a part of something so visceral, and wildly joyful at the same time. There were moments of sheer terror, and moments of unequaled gratitude. My wife, a warrior and a champion of humanity, took no drugs, and fought tooth and nail for hours for us to meet our first daughter. I watched and was by her side as it all went down, with the few bouts of nausea, and 2-3 near blackouts. Not to downplay the pregnancy, because that was no easy task. I just got to go along for the ride and see what strength really is.
After all was said and done with our first, it turned out that we were still discussing the birth all the time. My wife was, and still is dealing with the psychological and physical implications of creating, and birthing a human. This is quite a journey and everyone has some serious adjusting and healing to do. If I had it all to do again, I would do exactly what I did. I believe my wife would say the same. We would change nothing. Our daughters are beautiful and bring us more joy than I can explain. But birth is traumatic, it is not a pleasant experience. Each birth is in the wild success column, and each birth was completely different, and equally as traumatic.
For the birth of our second daughter, my wife was 7 cm dilated when we got to the birth center. If you don’t know this is well on your way, 10 cm is the number to start pushing and baby is coming soon. We got to the birth center about 6 a.m., and she had our daughter by 8:45 a.m. This birth was way faster than our first. My wife was also present the entire time. In the first birth, it was almost like she left her body, and her body did the work. I distinctly remember the moment she left, and the exact moment she returned. This is part of the mysteriousness of the whole experience. In the second birth, she was lucid and battling demons and pain the entire time. It was truly an amazing thing to be a part of. Let no one ever tell you birth is easy, or downplay the strength of a mother. I am about to reinforce this with our birth story. The pushing, the screaming, the vicious reality, the hope and excitement when you see your child’s head. I can’t help but get teary eyed talking about it.
Then came the moment, my wife pushed one final time and our baby’s head came out, then quickly came the rest of her beautiful little body. The first time you lay your eyes on someone you created is a moment I wish for all of you. You can’t help but lose your breath and just feel humility for the blessing. The sense of warmth in my heart and soul radiated through my whole body. We still didn’t know what we had. Boy or girl. Our trusted midwife Robyn immediately laid the baby on mama. So then we looked, we had a girl. YES! We couldn’t be more proud, and grateful. I cannot explain to you the sense of relief when your child is out safely on mama’s belly. Everyone was finally calm. The crazy confusing hurricane of birth was past us. While you are anxiously awaiting the birth, contraction to contraction is like a roller coaster if you were blindfolded, you are on the verge of sick the entire time, sweating, and your heartbeat is through the roof. This can go on for hours, with no end in sight. And finally it comes to an end, and all your anxiety melts into pure joy, relief.
Our midwife then began to do the post-birth activities, one of which is clamping the umbilical cord. She grabbed onto it, as mama and I were fawning and feasting our eyes on or new baby girl. When suddenly we realized something was awry. The umbilical cord just pulled right out. It was attached to nothing. This is a big “no bueno.” If you have never been a part of a birth, the baby is the first thing to come out of mama. Then must come the placenta. This is attached to the umbilical cord. Typically, you grab ahold of the cord and apply traction. While doing this mama, has a few more contractions that help push her placenta out. This is not a pleasant or comfortable thing for mama, either. The placenta is not meant to stay inside the mama. When it does, it is called a retained placenta. Although somewhat rare, this definitely does happen. Our well-earned relief quickly took a very sharp and treacherous turn. As if birth was not enough of a traumatic experience, we then learned that our midwife was going to have to go on a recon mission for the placenta.
You can use your imagination as to what has to go on here, but this bad boy has to come out. Our midwife calmly went through the options with us about how to frame this and move forward. After a painful and exhausting 30 min. or so of failed attempts at getting the placenta to come out, we as a team—midwife, mama, and papa—decided it was time to go in. By going in, I mean going in to the hospital, which means drugs, and a whole host of things we specifically chose to avoid. Herein lies a risk in out-of-hospital births. There are some things that are just not possible. We were willing to accept these risks. We were all heartbroken. Such a moment of joy, and still mama was not in the clear. She was far from it. In these moments where she should be basking in the warmth of her new baby on her chest, she was quivering with exhaustion, and facing the reality that she still had work to do.
We made the choice to send our older daughter home with grandma, I would stay at the birth center with the new baby, and our midwife and my wife would go to the hospital. I almost threw up even playing this out in my head. Fuck no! I won’t let my wife go alone, without me. But we were not taking our just-born daughter into a hospital waiting room. Not a chance. So I was stuck. Then my mind began to race. In this moment that is supposed to be so perfect, I am horrified as I hold my brand new daughter. What a weird moment in time. My heart didn’t know whether to be completely broken, or to be exploding with joy. I now have two baby girls, and I am shuttering at the thought of my wife not being OK. What if by some crazy circumstance my wife doesn’t come back? What if something goes wrong and I am not there? How is this now a life and death thing? Is this a possibility? My heart was hurting, I wanted to burst into tears as I watched my wife endure this. But we were going forward. It was the only way.
My wife stood up off the bed, quivering. We all felt so defeated. We began to wipe her off, and wrap a towel around her to get ready for the trip to the hospital. I had a thought, and asked her to squat down and see if that might help the placenta move along. As she squatted down, all that once was hope, like a small candle in the distance began to grow. She peered down between her legs, and there it was. She said she could see the placenta. So Robyn encouraged her to try to grab it. I was fully goose-bumped and almost shivering as this went down. It was like God put a handle on that weird looking squishy thing. My wife grabbed onto her placenta and pulled it out. WHAT?! Let me say that again: MY WIFE GRABBED ONTO HER PLACENTA AND PULLED IT OUT! Now THAT is some POWER OF A WOMAN WARRIOR SHIT! What was a terribly dismal and heartbroken scene, exploded into pure awestruck jubilation. I swear my heart skipped 20 beats. We were all in tears, we were all just giddy. My wife was OK. I cannot relay the sense of calm in my heart at this moment. It almost seemed like we just played out some sort of unrealistic fantasy together. Reality was bent. I still have to pinch myself to know it’s really true. No matter what happens, you better read the last page of that book. Holy moly, is there some serious truth to that statement?!
Then our midwife helped my wife to the shower where she helped her to shower off, and we were good to go. With a little bit of relaxing we were in the car headed home. We joked about going to get waffles for lunch. This was crazy, this whole thing still has me speechless. It still seems fake.
I was seriously taken aback at the thought of possibly losing my wife while sitting there holding our daughter. For some reason, when you think of having a baby, you don’t think about loss, or problems, or that everything and everyone might not be OK. These moments are burned into our story, and they are forever etched into the story of my wife’s strength as a human and as a mother. I am in awe! I am so blessed to have such a wife, and two powerful and beautiful baby girls.
My wife and I always spoke about having many kids. I was the one who wanted to push four to the craziness of six. After this birth, my wife said that might be the last baby she has. I couldn’t be more in agreement. I harbor no ill will to this perspective after watching her give birth to our two daughters, and watching the recoveries from both. Each birth had its own drama, and its own trauma. Don’t let anyone tell you birth is not beautiful, but there is also a dark side. It forever leaves scars, it forever leaves emotional and psychological hurdles to be dealt with.
I can tell you this: I don’t want to be back in the shoes of being in a life and death situation again. Making those choices haunts a person. We were crazy fortunate to have made out like birth bandits on this day. We have two beautiful girls, I have my warrior of a wife, and I have to tell you there is nothing more I/we need.
Each day, I see my three beautiful girls, and they all remind me of the strength of the others. I will never forget the experiences of seeing them both come into this world. I look at them and I see the strength of my wife, I look at my wife and am eternally thankful for the two amazing gifts she has given me. This is all positive. Granted, birth is like going through the ringer and then being run over by a truck, and I am the dad. I don’t know how my wife does it. Let me tell you, watching someone go through and experience what I have described is an amazing thing. Talk about falling hopelessly in love. This is my life.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
I have been thinking about featuring birth stories written by dads for a while now. My goal with The BIRTH Project is to empower women but I don’t think that should exclude dads. One of the most empowering things during my birth experiences was hearing afterward how my husband viewed me during labor. It was incredible to hear that he was in awe of my strength while enduring contractions and delivery.
Below is the first birth story I have published written by a dad. Danny Lesslie of Dadswagger wrote this story about his first-born daughter, Rue. Dadswagger empowers fathers to be present with their families. His Instagram account features images of dads being dads in their everyday lives, and illustrates the power of a present father.
Birth Story of Rue
As I lay here with my 5-day-old daughter on my chest sound asleep, and her beautiful mother by my side, which by the way is the definition of magical, I am thinking back to the moment she came into this world.
I have been thinking about a way to describe what went on Saturday night for days now. I had no idea what we were in for on the way in on Saturday. We took birthing classes and talked to people and thought we were super informed, but there is definitely a reason that people talk about a “Rite of Passage.” You just don’t know until you experience it.
I want to make an attempt at describing to you the power and the beauty of this night. I have always respected women since I was young (kudos to my mother and father on this one). I have a whole new respect and wonder for women after this past weekend, however.
The contractions just kept getting stronger and stronger as the day went on. I have never seen such effort, such struggle, such calm, and such chaos all in the same moment. Each contraction was like a whole roller coaster, and there were a lot of them. The intensity and anticipation in the room built for hours. I was getting tired. I can not even believe what my wife was enduring. Then came the point of doubt, when she was beginning to falter in her struggle. You could see the battle in her eyes, and the exhaustion in her body. She pushed through.
Then, things got real. It was “go time.” All of what had been endured was just getting her and us ready for what was to come. With every push I think all of our hearts stopped. The intensity in these moments towered over all that we had seen. Then, the baby’s head started to show! If you can imagine all of the instruments in an orchestra playing as loudly as possible with all the stage lights flashing, followed immediately by cold silence. This was each moment.
I am not sure how many contractions there were, but it had to be more than 20. With each one, the excitement would build and build, and then drop. It was like a drumroll getting faster and faster each time, and then just going away. Then with exhaustion thick as a deep fog, I want you to close your eyes and imagine sitting in a dark cold cave with no light, cold enough to see your breath. When you realize you’re really alone and you shiver and begin to doubt your safety. Then, I want you to imagine a lion roaring right behind you, the depth of that sound, the primal rawness to that sound, the majesty in that sound. It is unmistakeable. It engulfs you. It can only be seen and experienced in the wild. All of the hairs stand up on your body, you can’t move, you are in it, and your heart is beating out of your chest.
This is the moment.
When my wife screamed on the last contraction, this was the sound, this is what I felt. This was the surge of warmth, and vibrance. This was the most powerful, beautiful, raw, and joyful moment of my life. This is when we met our baby girl. I am forever indebted to my wife for this moment and this gift. All changed on this day!
To all those moms out there. This one goes out to you. What you do … well, there are no words that can do it justice!
Mason Benjamin was born still on May 12, 2002. My pregnancy had been near perfect. I never suffered from morning sickness, I was relatively comfortable right up until the end, and my energy levels were good throughout my 8 ½ months of pregnancy. It wasn’t until the day before he was born that we realized something was very wrong.
My husband and I tried to conceive for several years before finding success, and I had two first-trimester miscarriages before we got pregnant with Mason. We saw several doctors in hopes they could help with our fertility issues, but no one seemed to have an explanation as to why we were having such a hard time.
When we got the positive pregnancy test with Mason, we were cautiously optimistic. After experiencing two miscarriages, I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high. But once we crossed over into the second trimester, I began to feel a bit more secure in the pregnancy.
Late in the second trimester I began to feel Mason move. It was the most incredible feeling. He was a mover! Not a day went by in which I didn’t feel him moving around in there. So when I noticed a decrease in his activity at 39 weeks, I became concerned. I tried all the usual things to get him to move: drink something sugary, lie on my back, eat something. But still no movement. Though I was concerned, I remember thinking, “He’s fine. I’m being paranoid.” My past experiences seemed reason enough to worry. To be on the safe side, my husband and I decided to go in to the hospital.
The nurses took my vitals and the doctor came in with a doppler. Time seemed to stand still as he searched for a heartbeat in my belly. We heard nothing. He assured us that sometimes the baby is hiding, or in a weird position, etc., so not to worry, we’d do an ultrasound.
The ultrasound confirmed our worst fears: Our baby boy had passed away in the womb.
The flood of emotions that came over me is hard to describe. I was sad, angry and confused. Why had this happened? How could this happen? No one had a good explanation. There was no obvious cause for Mason’s death.
At 39 weeks, there was no option other than to deliver Mason. Knowing I’d have to experience labor and delivery and not have my baby afterward was almost more than I could take.
My birth plan was to deliver naturally. I didn’t want any pain meds, and I hoped to avoid a c-section if possible. But under these new circumstances, I hoped they’d offer one. In hindsight, I could’ve asked. It felt as though this was all just happening to me. I wasn’t myself and I couldn’t voice my wants and needs at this time. I couldn’t even tell my husband what I was thinking. Looking back, I think I must’ve been in shock.
I was induced that evening and labor began the following morning. The pain got very real, very quickly, and I screamed for an epidural. Nobody questioned me. I think the emotional pain I was going through was more than I could handle. The physical pain was just not tolerable.
I got the epidural and looked to my doctor for advice on when to push. When the time came, it only took a few pushes before Mason was here. His lifeless body came out gray and floppy. All I could do was cry hysterically. My heart ached so badly knowing I’d never hear his voice. I’d never feel that first latch, or watch him grow into a little boy. I was sad for my loss, but also for his. He was never given a chance to live this life. This innocent baby wasn’t given the life he deserved, the life my husband and I wanted to give him.
They examined him briefly and to my own surprise, I still wanted to experience skin to skin with my baby. I didn’t think I’d even want to see him, but he was still my baby, and I am still his mother.
I’ll never forget the moments I had with him. He is in my heart forever.
What I went through with Mason is something I don’t think I’ll ever fully recover from. It’s the kind of trauma that just doesn’t subside. But what I can say for sure is that my story is not entirely unique. When I confided in friends and family about what had happened, I learned about so many other women I know who had experienced pregnancy loss. It’s important to acknowledge and honor those women and their experiences that forever changed who they are and the paths of their lives. They are mothers without babies. That’s why I’m sharing my story in honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.
My journey into parenthood started Monday July 31, 2018—just three days before my due date. I started feeling mild contractions after my morning workout at CrossFit Aptos, but they were so subtle that I continued about my day without thinking anything of it. As a first-time mom, I had no expectations of what was ahead of me and had no idea the pain I was about to endure.
As the evening approached, the contractions were getting stronger and stronger so I downloaded a contraction tracker and starting tracking! By early Tuesday morning, I was on my hands and knees and in full body shakes.
My husband, Tyler, works about an hour away without traffic. Before he left for work that day, we called labor and delivery and they told us to come in. Although I was having contractions, I wasn’t dilated enough so they sent us home. This was my biggest fear: having to labor at home for an unknown amount of time.
The nurse said I might come back that day or as late as the next week depending on what my body was ready to do. Luckily, I only had to labor until early evening on Wednesday, which is the same day I had my 39-week checkup. I saw my OBGYN at the medical offices near the hospital. I wanted to power through the pain until my checkup so she could check my progress. I feared going back to the hospital and being sent home again.
As soon as my OB checked me, she said, “You are ready to go back to the hospital.” She told me to go home, take a shower and wait for my husband to get home from work. Within that time, I lost my mucus plug and could no longer wait for Tyler to get home. My mother-in-law took me to the hospital. On Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. we were officially checked in!
Going into this, I had no birth plan. The only thing I knew I wanted was an epidural. At 9:30 p.m. the epidural was in! One thing no one ever talked about was how painful it was trying to stay still, hunched over while having contractions but unable to move because I couldn’t disrupt the process as they inserted the epidural. Once it was in, I was finally able to relax. I slept for a few hours until I started feeling pain again. At first, I thought that I just needed to stretch out my back but it turns out I was having back labor contractions. So there I was, in so much pain again!
At this point, there was nothing I could do about it. Soon after, my water broke and I was almost dilated to a 10. I powered through the pain with meditative breathing. I imagined that with every deep breath I took, I sucked up the contraction and released it from my body with every exhale. Even though I felt all the pain, it worked in my favor when it was time to push. I knew exactly when to start and stop. The pushing was the easy part for me. She was out in less than 40 minutes with 15-20 pushes! I had second-degree tearing but thank goodness for the epidural, I didn’t feel it when it happened.
Demi Tyler Molinaro arrived Thursday Aug. 2, 2018, which was pretty special because it was her due date! Demi was 6 lb., 11 oz. and 19.5 inches long.
Holding her was the most beautiful thing I have ever experienced. Seeing Tyler hold his daughter is something I will never forget in my heart. I didn’t think I could love him any more than I already did, but I was so wrong.
My journey into parenthood was so long but worth every moment. My experience at the hospital (Watsonville Medical Hospital) was so positive. All of the nurses and doctors we worked with were so caring and really took their jobs seriously. As long as Demi was doing good through the monitoring, they let my body do all the work without rushing the process. I can’t thank them enough for keeping us both healthy and alive. It is true that every birth story is different and beautiful in its own way and I’m so happy that I can share mine as a positive one. Our lives are forever changed and we couldn’t be happier. Welcome to the world, Demi!
Welcome to The BIRTH Project! This inaugural birth story is the reason The BIRTH Project exists. The best way for me to explain how I became passionate about birth stories is to tell mine. The experiencing of birthing my first born opened up a whole new part of my mind and my heart. It empowered me in ways I had never imagined.
Isla Eve Peyton was born on Jan. 23, 2016, at 12:27 p.m. She weighed 7 lb., 12 oz. and was 21 inches long. She had a full head of black hair and big blue eyes. She was—and continues to be—more than worth the work it took to get her earth side.
I had a grand plan to go into labor about midday, when I’d be nice and showered, dressed, and hopefully with a nourishing meal in my belly. But as birth goes, Isla had a different plan.
I woke up around 2 a.m. knowing either my water had broken, or I had peed the bed (which was entirely possible at three days post-date). I told my husband, Chad, I thought it was my water because it kept coming. I decided to lie back down and try to sleep. I knew I was about to embark on a very taxing journey, and the docs had recommended that I try to get some rest if this were to happen, as some women are able to sleep through early labor. Not me.
I tried to fall back asleep but the contractions started coming and quickly became far too uncomfortable for me to sleep through. We called Sutter Maternity Center, in Santa Cruz, California, grabbed my bag and off we went. As we drove down the empty roads somewhere around 2:30 in the morning, Chad passed the entrance to the hospital. He must’ve been as nervous as I was! A quick U-turn and we were checking in.
We thought they’d examine me and send us home to experience several hours of early labor in the comfort of our own surroundings like we had hoped for—another plan that didn’t pan out the way we thought it would. They admitted me right away as my contractions were only a few minutes apart and getting stronger.
I got settled into a comfortable room with a big tub that someone had filled with warm water. For the next couple hours, I still felt like me. I was present and communicative, aware and alert. But once I transitioned, I was in what can only be described as a trance. I needed to focus, moan through the contractions, and try to relax. The contractions were without a doubt the most excruciating pain I had ever felt and my plan to have a natural birth was starting to seem ridiculous and impossible. In birthing class I learned that “contractions will be about a minute apart” means the contraction will start at the top of the minute, last for 30 seconds or so and start again at the top of the next minute. So 1-2 minutes apart is deceptive. I’d get 20-30 seconds of “rest”—maybe. I asked for drugs once and Chad gently reminded me why I wanted to do this naturally. I remember thinking even an ibuprofen might help. Silly me.
It’s a bit of a blur for me after that. I recall moving back and forth from the bed to the tub, I remember switching positions from a squat to my side to my back. I remember the nurse, Valli, teaching Chad how to apply pressure to my low back to help ease the pain of the contractions—a true lifesaver. I remember my mom, Leslie, and my mother-in-law, Janet, around me, supporting me, patting my forehead with washcloths and giving me sips of water.
Amidst the blur, I vividly remember the nurse saying it was time to push. Hallelujah! I thought this would be the quick part. I was almost done! Pushing felt amazing. It relieved the pain of the contractions. But exhaustion soon set in. I had just endured 8 1/2 hours of labor and pushing with everything I had was easier said than done.
I never felt the “urge to push” that so many women say they experience, so in hindsight, I think my body might not have been 100 percent ready to start. Regardless, I listened to my care team and kept pushing.
After more than an hour, Dr.Moore—our awesome OBGYN who had been working with us since the start of the pregnancy—told me I needed to push harder. The truth is, I know I wasn’t pushing as hard as I could. Isla’s head was partway out and I was terrified to tear. I wanted someone to do it for me at that point. Just reach in and grab her!
I heard Dr. Moore ask the nurse to get a local. She was going to give me an episiotomy if I didn’t get Isla out in the next few pushes. I mustered up the strength—mentally and physically—to get her out of there. No tearing, no episiotomy, no drugs—just like I wanted. A few things went as planned! They put her on my chest and life was never the same.
The birth of our daughter was impactful in the most profound way, and while I was proud to have experienced the process mostly like I wanted to, I was disheartened at the thought of any woman coming out of childbirth feeling defeated. The idea that a woman would be ashamed that her experience didn’t go as planned made my heart literally ache. And so The BIRTH Project was born. It wasn’t until the birth of my second child (a birth story for another day) that I actually realized the aspirations I had to help women feel empowered through their childbirth experiences, but the seed was planted when Isla was born.