Though I haven’t had an operating-room birth or an unassisted road-side birth, I have given birth in just about every other location with just about every type of birth attendant. For those who may want to know how my births compared, I thought I’d give my pros and cons for each scenario. Before I do, however, I’d like to emphasize that I don’t think birth location is as important as who you choose for birth attendants. I believe most women can have a positive birth experience in any location as long as the people they are surrounded by are kind, supportive, and capable. See my post on this topic here. Keep in mind that these were my personal experiences, and I do not intend to imply that my experiences would be expected to occur in every hospital, birth center, or home birth.
For home school, I try to have my kids write something in their journals several times each week. I let them pick what they want to write about, and they usually come up cool stuff. In the week after my baby was born, we mostly took a break from “school,” but we did have the kids write in their journals a few times. It was my 10-year-old’s idea to write about Hope’s birth. As soon as I found out what she was doing, I was eager to share her account on my blog. At first she didn’t want me to post it, feeling a little self-conscious. But I’m so glad she decided to let me go ahead. With her permission, I will transcribe her journal entry here:
On the early morning of Christmas day my parents woke me up and told me that my mom was in labor and said if I wanted to come I had better get up and find something to bring. So I changed, got my water bottle, some snacks, and a magazine my parents gave me.
That’s when I dropped my pants.
Funny how few circumstances there are when going bottom-less in front of other human beings is totally appropriate, but childbirth is one of them. I was ready to get in the tub. So I settled into the warm water, my husband held my hand, and Cherise knelt beside us and started pouring water over my belly. A few moments later, Mary came and stood at the foot of the tub. She must have known somehow that I was still feeling guilty about giving birth on Christmas, and she knew I needed a way to let that guilt go. The words she said to me… oh those words… those beautiful, beautiful words. Perhaps I’m not quoting her exactly right, but she looked straight into my eyes and said words very similar to this:
There is no greater gift to God’s service than what we’re doing right here right now.
As soon as her message penetrated my heart, it was as though the guilt instantly released its grip on me, and I began to cry. It was a massive, monumental, beautiful release. I sobbed, “Thank you…” and Mary didn’t skip a beat before responding, “Thank YOU.” Cherise and Mary both encouraged me to cry and let it out. This was the first time I had ever cried in labor, and it felt good. Releasing those trapped negative emotions allowed my body to move forward, and the contractions became even stronger.
My midwife partners and I at the The Farm learned by observation and experience that the presence of even one person who is not exquisitely attuned to the mother’s feelings can stop some women’s labors. All women are sensitive. Some women are extraordinarily so. -Ina May Gaskin
Apparently, reading Ina May Gaskin is a great way to boost oxytocin levels. My contractions had fizzled out when I curled up in bed to read, but within twenty minutes or so they were back. I kept reading for a while, but eventually I turned off my lamp and slept through the waves. As I slept, I noticed the contractions, but they were never strong enough to wake me completely.
Sometime around 4:00 a.m. my husband got up with an earache. I decided to get up too and start timing my contractions again. It was not the ideal time for him to be sick (ha, is it ever?), but I did my best to make him more comfortable with all the various natural remedies up my sleeve. It was looking highly likely that we would be having a Christmas baby, so he promised he would focus on supporting me despite his aching ear.
I really didn’t want to call my midwives. It was Christmas morning! And I especially didn’t want to bother them if it was just a false alarm. I waited until contractions were coming between 5 and 10 minutes apart and lasting a minute. And finally I bit the bullet and paged them. Amy was the one who called back (she was on-call until 7:00 a.m.). I told her I felt like maybe I was holding my labor back because I wasn’t yet at my birth location, so I felt like I should probably come in. She said that was fine and that she would meet us at the birth center.
[The first part of Hope’s birth story is HERE.]
As I wrote in the first installment of this story, giving birth is such a multi-layered experience. And what a woman is feeling has such a deep impact on how the birth unfolds. With that in mind, I can’t really give the full scope of what I went through with Hope’s birth without sharing some deep emotional upheaval I experienced a week before. In my last post I shared one layer of my pre-birth emotional state: fear about letting my baby come out. Today I’ll make Brené Brown proud with some hard-core vulnerability and share another layer.
He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust. -Psalms 91:4
With each of my births it has gotten harder and harder to write about the experience. A birth carries with it so much depth, so many layers of emotion. I feel like human language doesn’t have the capacity to truly encompass or articulate the profundity of it all. At the same time, I think that writing is an important way to process intense experiences, and I value having a record of important events. So, despite the weakness of the written word, I am sitting here with my baby strapped to my chest and my birthing music playing in the background with the intent of documenting my fifth venture into giving life.
I was afraid to let her come out. Having this baby inside of me had been such a peaceful journey. As my belly grew, my mental health steadily improved. I felt so stable. I felt so safe. But giving birth was going to create a lot of inevitable upheaval. And I was afraid of what was going to happen to me. Would I plunge into darkness again? Would my stable, happy world crumble to pieces as it had more than once before? Would I be able to give my baby the love she deserved?
In the weeks leading up to the birth, I spent a lot of time processing those fears. And I knew that those fears could potentially interfere with labor progress if I didn’t figure out how to let them go. When I woke up early in the morning on Christmas Eve with contractions, I felt a bit of panic. And when I used the bathroom and noticed the blood, I knew I had to finally come to peace with letting this baby come out of my body. My husband comforted me for a bit, and then I told him to get some sleep. I texted several friends and family members about the bloody show and mild early labor contractions. Then I sat in the early-morning glow of the Christmas tree and meditated.
Science has suggested that it is the fetus itself who signals the start of labor. This is related to certain proteins in the baby’s lungs, but proteins aside, it does seem fitting for a baby called Hope to choose Christmas morning for her birthday.
I really didn’t want to give birth on Christmas, but give birth I did anyway. :-) The experience was so many unexpected things, just as this pregnancy and all of the past year has been. I have never been so emotional during a birth, never before cried, never before vomited, and never felt so supported. I have never been filled with so much gratitude even amid the hardest pains. Most of my tears were just that… thankfulness… to my birthing team, to my baby, and to the Divine forces at work. I will post the full birth story later. Still processing.
Last January, while I was attending my therapeutic imagery facilitator training, my mother was babysitting my kids. On the second evening, we had a powerful conversation after I practiced the Special Place journey with her. Something about the journey allowed her to open up emotionally in a way she usually doesn’t. At that time she shared a revelation about her mother, a missing piece, that made so many other things make sense. A part of me was hesitant to share this post, wondering if the information was better kept private. But then I thought of Brené Brown’s words about shame:
Today I am sixteen weeks pregnant with my fifth baby.
Just a few more weeks before I reach my 120th day of pregnancy.
“On the 120th day, we give our women a blessing and tell them to meditate more, and look toward God, so that they may have very calm, quiet, intelligent, self-creative children.” -Yogi Bhajan
Each pregnancy has come with its unique set of concerns. During my first, I was focused on the upcoming birth and how I would manage the pain. The second pregnancy brought concerns about having a precipitous labor since my first had been less than six hours from start to finish. During my third pregnancy, I had fears about my baby dying in the birth process (it was our first home birth). As I prepared for my fourth birth, my primary fear was that I would need a cesarean, that I had somehow used up my “smooth birth” allotment and was due for a complicated delivery.
In the end, none of my fears panned out. Giving birth to my first baby was smooth and “easier” than I had feared it would be. My second baby came after a long, drawn-out on-again-off-again 24+ hours of (posterior presentation) labor, not the 3-hour birth I had feared. Our third baby arrived alive and kicking (or rather, peeing and pooping on me right away). My fourth birth experience was nearly-painless, and I pushed her out in less than five minutes despite the nuchal hand up over the top of her head. My fears, while very much real, all proved to be unwarranted.
The following is a guest post from my friend Brittney. I met Brittney at my DONA doula training back in 2009. She and I will be collaborating on a new book project—Light in the Mourning—a book for mothers grieving pregnancy losses. I was inspired to create this book last year, but the pieces weren’t falling into place until Brittney offered to help. I’m so grateful she did. I look forward to working with Brittney and reading your stories.
Light in the Mourning
By Brittney Walker
I’m sad to say we are latecomers to the Noelle Pikus-Pace fan club. It’s nothing personal. Before the 2014 Sochi winter Olympics I couldn’t have named a single athlete that competed there. Since the Olympics traditionally air during school hours, the boys and I have always missed out. So this, our first year homeschooling, I printed an awesome educational packet I found online and we’ve homeschooled the heck out of the winter Olympics. That means all of us, watching almost every night from 7 to 10:30 pm.
My boys invested like I’d never imagined. They’ve learned all they can about Sochi, the sports, the athletes and the countries they represent. Their excitement is contagious and I quickly joined them in Olympic fandom.
One of those first nights we saw that AT&T commercial where Noelle Pikus-Pace wakes up before her family to work out. Then she feeds the kids breakfast, takes them to school and plays soccer mom until her husband picks up the kids so she can go train late into the night. There were tears in my eyes by the end of the commercial. So I looked her up.
I never considered that some of these athletes were juggling parenthood with Olympic training. This still blows my mind. I can’t fathom the kind of commitment and sacrifice it would take to be Mom and manage to keep up with (and even crush) the competition, many of whom have nothing to worry about but themselves.
Before my most recent birth, I made a list of “Hopes for next time.” I outlined the ways I hoped to make my fourth birth even better than the previous three. (Most of the items on my list didn’t happen. Oh well.) My first pregnancy was the beginning of my childbirth obsession, but I had no idea back then just how deep the things-to-learn-about-birthing “rabbit hole” was going to go. Now ten years down the road, it goes deeper still.
If I were to write another “Hopes for next time” post, I have another item I’d now be putting at the top of my list: singing.
My youngest woke me up at around 4:00 a.m. this morning. As I lay there after getting her back to sleep, unable to drift back to sleep myself, there was a near-constant nudging telling me to get out of bed and write. I kept asking, “What should I write about?” I got out of bed, still not really sure what it was I was going to write.
A couple of weekends ago, I attended a yoga/meditation retreat taught by my soul sister, Felice Austin. It was a life-changing weekend. It’s hard for me to even describe or comprehend everything that happened inside of me over the course of those three days. But I feel nudged to share a bit about three of the powerful experiences I had that weekend.
On Saturday, Felice guided us in a rebirthing meditation. Knowing that I was conceived as the sixth child in an unhappy, stressful marriage and baked for nine months in that negative environment, I went into this meditation with some trepidation. I wasn’t sure what to expect from it, but I knew I didn’t want to relive my original gestation experience or find out just how painful it might have been. As it turns out, this rebirthing meditation had very little to do with how we were actually born and everything to do with transformation.
This experience really was transformational for me. I was reborn. I was healed. It was perhaps the closest I’ve ever come to pure ecstasy. It’s hard for me to describe what happened in a way that truly conveys its power. What happened was within the realm of my subconscious, but it was also more real than many of the physical experiences I’ve participated in. I experienced a new gestation. I was birthed and attended by women who love me, embraced in tenderness, re-took my first breath in euphoria.
Afterward, Felice told us that part of the meditation was to get up and talk to each other. I turned to Wendy who was the closest person to where I was and said, “Can I hug you?” We didn’t talk. We just held each other, and I sobbed. Then Sheridan came over to us and wrapped her arms around us. She doula-ed me in her gentle, perfect way… coaxing the wailing out of me in a massive release. And I sobbed and sobbed with these two beautiful women holding space for me and filling me with their love and light. I will never forget it.
On April Fool’s Day of 2009, I gave birth to my third child (my only son) at home (10:55 pm, 7 lbs 8 oz, 19 3/4″ long). After two smooth and low-risk pregnancies and births, losing our maternity insurance, and lots of prayer, we knew home birth was the right path for our third (and fourth) pregnancies.
It was a near-perfect birth from start to finish. My water broke in the afternoon, I relaxed at home, contractions started a couple of hours after membranes ruptured, I ate dinner, my birth support team arrived, labor picked-up, I hung out in the birth pool during the most intense contractions, I pushed for five minutes, baby boy was born on my bed. You can read all the details HERE.
It was magical. And I’m so glad I had my friend Cassie and my sister-in-law Brooke there as my doulas/photographers. I created a slideshow with my birth photos that you can view HERE. But I realized yesterday that I’ve never shared the photos themselves in a blogpost. Here are some of my favorites, taken by Cassie (and Brooke) at the end of my pregnancy, during labor, and afterward:
I was talking with my friend, Morgan, at the park this past week. We got on the subject of miscarriage, and she told me about her miscarriage experience. Then I asked her if she’d be willing to share it here. I learned some things from her story. Maybe you will too.
Morgan has “five wonderful, crazy, adorable children and a perfect match of a husband.” She dabbles in a little bit of everything, and she spent a little bit of time as a midwifery apprentice until she moved away from her mentor. Morgan loves to sew baby stuff like baby carriers and cloth diapers. Her main pursuits lately are mothering her brood, building her business, and learning energy healing.
Plus, I’d love to add, she is one of the most genuine, kind, radiant people I know. Love her.
Here’s her story…
“In encountering death, you are now at the very centre of human experience. You are in the presence of the sacred. Do not let anyone minimize its importance or make you feel that grieving is anything other than an absorbing, life-changing experience.” -Jerusha Hull McCormack
So I’ve been wanting to give you all something more informative and less me-centered for a while now. I have a few different posts I’ve been doing research for. But my mind and spirit are absorbed with other things, so I just haven’t had the time or energy to tackle those “real” blogposts I’ve been wanting to give you.
The stuff I’ve been writing about doesn’t technically have a whole lot to do with birth, per se, so I worry that you’re all tiring of reading about it. I feel bad… like I should apologize for writing so much about myself and what’s been going on with me, but then I step back and realize… this is where I am. Maybe I’ll lose some readers, but maybe there are others out there who need to hear what’s in my heart. And then I step back again and see that what I’m experiencing has everything to do with gestation and birthing.
So, rather than giving you something informative and science-based (those posts will come), today I’m giving you something from my heart and soul. And right now my heart and soul are waist-deep in grief, trying to get the courage to allow myself to become totally submerged.