Raleigh Birth Photography is excited to feature Jessica’s Birth Story and some photos from her Birth…
I wanted to write about the birth of Mattis, our third baby boy, but I quickly realized in order to get to the point of my husband and I deciding to have a home birth, it would take a little back ground info, well actually, a lot. This maybe more of a book than a typical “birth story” but I wasn’t one of those women that initially desired a home birth or even a natural birth. I think those women that know exactly what they want with their first child are incredible, and inspiring, but for me it wasn’t like that. Childbirth for me has been more of a “you live you learn” and confidence building journey more than anything else in my life. I didn’t really know what I wanted, or have the confidence in myself, because let’s face it, labor and birth is rarely shed in a positive light, and I had no idea how much it would mean to me to have a positive birth experience. Most think hey heathy baby, healthy mama, that’s all that matters….in my opinion, that isn’t true, the way you birth, the knowledge you have about it, and having medical professionals that TRULY support you MATTER!
In 2010 my husband and I found out I was pregnant with our first son. He was due October 17 and I was fortunate that I had a very smooth, easy pregnancy, although it was a record breaking heat that summer. Also, we were very fortunate that my husband was able to be there for the whole thing, every appointment with the exception of a few weeks away in Florida. Being a military spouse this is nearly unheard of. We didn’t have to worry about him not being there for the delivery. October 17th came and went and like most first time parents we were so anxious for our new arrival. Also as a lot of first time parents I had very little expectations for the labor and delivery. I knew what I knew about it from friends, movies, doctors, and a few terribly written books. So at 5 days past my estimated due date (which still in my mind was an expiration date) I decided well I guess my body just CAN’T go into labor….ill just settle for the hospital evicting this little guy. So I asked my doctor I’m ready when can I go? She said well we can schedule you for tomorrow. We went in and they just acted as if it was the most normal thing on earth, sign this, consent to this, do you want an epidural? Well of course why would anyone willingly go through the pain? So they hooked me up to monitors, IV, Pitocin, and epidural all within what seemed like 15 mins. I had already been dilated 5cm and 80% effaced since I was about 35 weeks, so things progressed rapidly. Although the person who did the epidural was a student he clearly did a great job, because I couldn’t feel hardly anything. I thought this was what I would have wanted, but I felt completely out of control and it didn’t help that I was shaking uncontrollably. A couple hours in, although I couldn’t feel much I felt pressure and let the nurse know, she came in and said I could push. She sat on one side, and David sat on the other and held my legs because I couldn’t feel them at all. I pushed and pushed and pushed, all directed by the nurse…finally after about 30 minutes of that she said oh that was it, that’s what you’re supposed to be doing…geez I was pretty disappointed and exhausted, but eventually about 30 mins later he was born. 8 lbs. 12oz and 21 1/2″ long! We had never guessed he would have been so big neither did the doc, they guessed around 7 1/2lbs the day before. The whole labor was about 3 1/2 hours long.
Birth is special no matter how it’s done, but for me his birth seemed to lack something, I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I don’t know if it contributed but about 2-3 months afterward I still didn’t feel anywhere close to myself, or how I anticipated myself as a mother. I was ashamed to admit I didn’t want to take care of my baby. It wasn’t that I didn’t love him, or that I literally didn’t care for him, but I was overwhelmed and didn’t feel motherly to him. I never told this to anyone except my husband and of course he didn’t understand, so we decided I should start therapy ASAP. I did, and was clinically diagnosed with postpartum depression, started several prescriptions of antidepressants and therapy sessions. Over the course of the next several months, and adjusting meds thankfully I was able to feel like a fog was lifted. I started asking to be taken off the meds although the doctor told me its best effective when kept on for a year to ensure stability. I reluctantly agreed, knowing the possible negative side effects of trying to wean myself from the meds. So I decided to trust her, until….2 blue lines…again!! Just over a year since Abrams birth. The doc assured me it was safe to continue meds while pregnant but I refused, I told her I just didn’t want to be on anything while pregnant that could possibly have a side effect on our unborn child. So she took me off, and all was well…
….until we realized that my husband was slated to leave on his 3rd deployment right as I was going to be 13 weeks pregnant and raising our 1 year old….well that’s the military life, if we were to have multiple children it was inevitable. Next we find out he would be scheduled to come home about a month after my due date. Talk about stressful; we lived 5 hours from our nearest family. Over the next few months he spoke to his commanding officer about of course wanting to be present for the birth if it was an option. So they made a deal of sorts. David, at the time, was an osprey airframes mechanic, and his CO ( Commanding Officer) agreed if he worked the entire deployment to become a CDI (collateral duty inspector- someone who inspects maintenance jobs to ensure they are done properly and signs off, which is a big deal on aircrafts ) and also run the Corrosion Control Shop. Both jobs were something that takes a while to learn and they needed more guys that knew the jobs inside and out. Upon learning these two things they would allow him to leave on an advanced party to return home prior to the birth, so he could re setup shop in the states and wait the arrival of the rest of the unit. He worked diligently and accomplished both task of course, and returned stateside on a Friday, I was 38weeks 2 days.
The entire time he was gone I had told him, this time I want it to be different, I don’t want to feel medicated, I don’t want to not be able to move, Abrams birth felt Sooo unnatural to me, it didn’t feel like how I thought it should have went, it was special of course, but lackluster. He basically said mmkkk whatever you want lol. I had been going to my prenatal appointments and toward the end they mentioned induction, I just told them no. I’m not doing that this time, UNLESS, it is a TRUE medical need.
40weeks 2 days rolls around, exactly 2 weeks after he arrived stateside, I woke up around 2:45am and felt cramps. I eventually got out of bed and started timing them. I wasn’t convinced in the least THIS was labor. About 30 mins or so later I woke David up and said I “think” I maybe in labor?! I had never experienced “true” labor so I just couldn’t believe it. I called the hospital and told them my symptoms, they assured me oh just wait at home at least another hour. Ok, so I got off the phone and called my friend Cara, the plan was whenever I went into labor she would watch our son while we went to the hospital, until my parents could make the 5 hour drive down. She came right away, by that point contractions were probably 3 mins apart. We hop in the truck around 5 and make the 15 min drive to Camp Lejeune. The drive was terrible and looking back I know why, I was in “transition” meaning the time that it takes to go from 7cm-10cm. When we arrived at the hospital we hurried in, stopping along the way for contractions. Finally once in labor and delivery they needed some documents signed, but I had other plans, kneeling in the hallway to push out a baby! Nurses came from everywhere at probably 5:25am shouting “don’t push! Don’t push” I was in another world, one where I was pushing out a baby! They got me on a bed, checked, yep he’s coming, down the hall we flew into a labor and delivery suite, the doc was already in there he grabbed a pair of gloves and within a couple mins at 5:30am he handed me my baby. THAT IS HOW IT’S DONE!!! 2 hours and 45 minutes from first cramp to holding my baby. He was 7lbs 4 oz. and 19″ long. What a sense of accomplishment, empowerment, my baby was here and I didn’t really need anyone telling me how, or hooking me up to machines, I was able to have my baby, just like women had done for 1000s of years, before doctors decided we needed all this “help” to get them out. I feel like in the little bit of time between pregnancies the more research I had done the more it led me to believe a lot of times “help” leads to complications and I didn’t want that. To me this natural birth was a major accomplishment, although I totally acknowledge a lot of women, if not most, prefer my first experience or something totally different than my first or second which is TOTALLY ok, because it’s YOUR experience and how YOU feel about it that matters, no one else. I also acknowledge that for some high risk women, how they give birth isn’t always a choice, and I truly empathize, I can imagine having to relinquish control of my whole birth experience to ensure safety of my baby, is something that is very difficult to deal with.
Trying to avoid depression-
Another thing that I had researched throughout that pregnancy was how to avoid postpartum depression naturally. I found article after article on placenta encapsulation. Gross, eww, right?! People have been doing this for centuries, it’s not a “new thing” more ancient if anything, but not well known in our medicated culture. In this process someone takes your placenta, which is enriched with tons of your natural hormones, iron, and nutrients that are used to sustain your pregnancy, dehydrates it, then grinds it into powder, fills capsules, and then you take it like a super vitamin over the next few months to level out your hormones, it increases milk production, increases energy levels, and overall helps with recovery. When you are pregnant your hormones are obviously at an all-time high at the end, then after delivery you plummet back down to a baseline, which can cause “baby blues” or worse, postpartum depression. Some say it’s a placebo effect but hey I was willing to give it a shot since the potential positive effects would be great, and there are little to no negative side effects. It. Was. Life changing. Seriously, my husband thought I was looney for even considering it, but after several months he couldn’t believe how well I recovered and felt amazing, which was a good thing since he was working up to leave me with 2 kids under 2 years old for deployment number 4 a few months post-partum. I rarely talked about this to anyone, because I feared everyone’s judgment. I only shared with a few close friends, or pregnant women I thought that may benefit from it as well. Now I can look at it and say if it helps one person reading this that is worth the judgment of all the others.
Fast forward to May 2015 we find out we are surprisingly expecting our third! I wasn’t sure how to feel about it, I was excited but it was such a shock, and I had just started a new job. Also, my husband had started a new path in his career as a recruiter which means he works…all. The. Time. Like 16-18 hour days. I felt as though this couldn’t be a “good time” but of course you make plans and God laughs right? We had no idea how bad we needed this third baby, but God did, and perfectly placed him in our lives. We decided I wouldn’t be able to return to work after the baby, the cost of childcare for 3 children is astronomical and just wouldn’t make sense financially, not to mention I couldn’t send a newborn to daycare. But guess what just as we are getting used to have a double income, then finding out I’m pregnant and won’t be returning to work, my husband worked super hard and eventually got a promotion….once again God took care of it. After we had our second child we decided if we had any more children, which we planned to have at least one more at some point, we would have them at home. The last labor and delivery was so easy, David said well we could have done that at home! Then we wouldn’t be trapped in a hospital for 3 days while someone else cared for our other son. So, I was on the search for a midwife, and met with Nancy Harman on a Saturday in June. I already loved how different the experience started out because I was able to take my whole family to the consultation, at her home office, on a farm, on a Saturday. Yep, that’s not the norm; she worked around us, rather than the other way around. I knew immediately after meeting her she was our midwife. She encouraged David to take the boys outside to see the cows, and her “mud hut” out back while we discussed previous pregnancy experiences. She determined I was definitely low risk enough for a successful home birth. In North Carolina homebirth is legal, however it has to be attended by a CNM (certified nurse midwife) and you also do parallel care with a supportive ob, for us it was UNC family medicine, where you do labs, ultrasounds, and any further testing. So we did our prenatal appointments with her, and saw UNC once per trimester, we found out at 19 weeks 2 days on September 1 that we were expecting our third boy! How perfect!! My pregnancy really flew by, easy and uneventful. We got down to the last appointments and all had gone so well, the weekend of my due date, our area was expecting our first snow storm! Take that lightly, it’s NC, we are in the south, “snow storm” is a strong term, and however Nancy lives about an hour and fifteen minutes away, and in snow and ice we started to anticipate the idea of her maybe not making it! Thankfully her assistant Edie, whom is a fellow midwife, lives about 30 mins from us, so we knew she would be first to the house. That Saturday (the day before my due date) I had experienced contractions about 5 minutes apart for several hours. Of course since the storm was hitting it brought on babies and Nancy was attending a birth, come to find out I think she had 5 in just a few days! She sent her assistant to the house to check and make sure it wasn’t the real deal and that she needed to come after she finished at the birth she was present for. The other midwife came, checked 1cm. It was sort of disappointing just because I’d been so dilated with my previous pregnancies by that point. We decided it was prodromal labor or “practice labor” and she went home. This happened at least 2 more times over the next week, but thankfully I knew better than to call every time. The next Sunday rolled around, 41 weeks, I had been in contact with Nancy discussing what we should do to encourage him, and we didn’t want me to go into the 42nd week just because the hospital REALLY wants you to come in for an induction at that point. I had set up ultrasounds for 41weeks2days and 41weeks5days to check on baby, and I wasn’t prepared to defend my choice not to induce to the hospital. She said we could do a membrane sweep after 41 weeks. In the non-traditional relationship of a midwife and client she told me she would meet up with me on Sunday after church to do that, how convenient! So we went to the appointment she did the sweep, informed me I was now 2cm, wow, just 2, and this was 8 days since last check. We discussed some other ways to encourage labor, she gave me a labor tincture that has black and blue cohosh, and some other herbs, told me to take one dropper full in a shot of juice per hour for 3-4 hours, and also if I wanted to use a breast pump 20 minutes on and 20 mins off 3x….then call it a night. I did everything she said, had a few irregular contractions but went to bed.
12:30am I woke up with a major cramp. I laid there for a while, bam another. I decide to get up and walk around, I came in the living room and pulled up my app to time them, first 2 were 15 mins apart, so I wonder if this is just another “practice”. Shortly after another, I check the app it was only 5 min interval. Over the next 30 minutes they remain steady 5 mins or so apart and about 1 minute long. I stood behind the couch and leaned over it, swaying and squatting. I went to wake up David and told him, then called Nancy about 1:40. To be the middle of the night she was so alert and happy to hear from me! She asked me about what was going on, I let her know then she said she would call Edie, the assisting midwife, and she’d be on her way. We decided to go ahead and put a few inches of cold water in the tub while we waited, I walked around stopping wherever a contraction would hit. I drank some water, read my birth affirmation cards that I had written out a few weeks before. I had written some positive scripture and words affirming that I CAN do this, and I HAD done it before. In the midst I had called our birth photographer also.
Eventually about 2:45 Edie arrived, like a ninja she came in through the garage with her bags and swiftly started setting up. I asked her if she wanted to check my dilation, just to see where I was, at that point contractions had been about 3 mins apart. She texted Nancy and asked if she wanted her to, Nancy told her she was still about 20 minutes out so if I wanted her to check she could. I told her nah we can wait for Nancy….until the next contraction, nope I want you to check now! She says ok! She checked 7cm!! Oh wow what a relief! All this work hasn’t been for nothing!! I jumped up from that bed reenergized and excited! I was so excited to report the news to David! I bounced back into the kitchen holding up 7 fingers, and told him to get the hot water in the tub and let’s have a baby! About 3am our photographer snuck through the garage door, and got to work. I informed her I was already 7cm. We all stood around and talked, they brewed coffee; David loaded the dishwasher just to be doing something. They took turns filling pots of water and heating them on the stove since the hot water heater ran out rather quick. Every few minutes I would either grab the kitchen sink, sway and squat or grab David’s neck, and we would sort of dance around the kitchen. Nancy arrived at 3:30am; things were slowing down some, but intensifying. I passed her walking to the bathroom, and said hey, she was busy setting up her equipment; she looked up and said hello, then back to the kitchen. At some point I did get sick and threw up a couple times, throwing up while mid-contraction wasn’t pleasant, but it was over quickly. They told me whenever I felt like it I could get in the tub. Sure, that sounded like a great idea! Before the birth I decided in order to be as comfortable as possible I would wear either a maternity bathing suit top or a tank top and a skirt. I’d heard of other moms laboring in a skirt, sounded like a great idea, so I had bought a knee-length yoga style knit skirt and had been wearing it and a tank top throughout the labor. I decided to just keep it all on to get in the tub, may sound a little silly, but even something as small as being comfortable in what your wearing can make a huge difference in labor. I stepped in the water, and knelt down on my knees and leaned over the side to rest, I could just let my belly sort of hang down the warm water felt Sooo good! Contractions were slower but when they came they were intense. Both midwives were standing by watching I think Nancy was knelt down beside the tub, occasionally she would whisper some type of affirmation, “you can do this, slow deep sounds, and you’re very powerful”. David was directly in front of me sitting on a stool, holding my hands. The entire time I was pregnant we had planned at some point he would get in the tub and catch our baby, but at that point I didn’t realize how much I wouldn’t want him or myself to move out of that squat position. So I told him I don’t want you to move! He says ok ok, whatever you need. I asked if one of the midwives would check dilation again, Nancy came over and had me flip over so she could, she said I was 9cm, thank goodness! I quickly flipped back over onto my knees, leaning over the tub, and grabbed David’s hands and we said a prayer out loud, I prayed for it to be over soon, and we would have our healthy baby boy. The next few contractions I felt the urge to push so I did with everything, with each push I could feel baby moving, holy moly this is really happening! Then I felt a sort of pop, and gush, oh my gosh my water just broke! It was so neat to actually experience that on my own, because in my last 2 deliveries, even with my natural birth, the doctor broke my water just to get it out of the way, I assume?! When my water broke it was in the height of a contraction so I couldn’t speak, but right after I told everyone. Nancy asked to feel what was going on, she did, but nearly right as she pulled her hand back up out of the water I pushed twice and his head came out! She felt again and told everyone the head is out and there was no cord around his neck (remember no one could really see what was going on because I was kneeling, with the skirt on, and it was very dim lighting). I rested for maybe 20-30 seconds and one more push for the rest of his body. I flipped over so quickly and reached down to pull him up to my chest! He was born at 4:14am. Wow, what a relief. He and I both let out a cry! Nancy and David helped me get my shirt off so he could be skin to skin and wrapped us both in a warm towel. Then all was calm, it was so surreal, I just delivered my own baby, myself! Nancy said wow that was fast! Just a minute after maybe in walks Cannon rubbing his eyes, they lit up when he saw what I was holding, what perfect timing. Since cannon had awakened I told David he should probably go wake Abram up. He went upstairs and got him, although he was sound asleep. Both of the boys leaned against the pool to touch their new brother. Only a few minutes went by and with a little effort the placenta was passed, the older boys acted as if it was just whatever, didn’t faze them a bit, in fact at one point Abram said “mama can you get out of that tub so we can go somewhere?” Yes, just minutes after birth, at like 4:30am! I sat in the tub for 20 mins or so and latched baby on to nurse for the first time. Eventually we let the older boys cut the umbilical cord, each got a snip, then I passed baby to his daddy. They all went to the couch to check him out while the midwives helped me out of the tub, and to the bed. My bed, ahh, how nice! Nancy did her assessments on me and decided a shot of Pitocin would be good to slow bleeding, which I was fine with, and I felt really good! (Without going into great detail I now know that being in different positions other than your back is extremely beneficial, especially a kneeling position, it works so well with your body and gravity, I wish this option was more mainstream especially in the hospital.) Meanwhile Edie drained the tub, cleaned up supplies, and got the house probably cleaner than before they arrived. David brought me the baby to nurse and went to cook breakfast, while the older boys went upstairs to watch a movie. He brought me breakfast in bed and we watched Nancy do her newborn assessment, apgar scores and measurements. He was 7lbs 15oz and 20 3/4″ long, with a head full of dark hair just like his brothers. Once they were done they finished packing up and went over some postpartum instructions, asked if we had any questions and they were out the door to enjoy our new family of five by 9am! Our older boys laid down around 1:30pm to nap, and David and I said we were going to too, but we just couldn’t. We sat around and talked about the whole event for nearly three hours, how amazing and how natural and mostly how easy everything was being in the comfort of our own home.
Labor is hard, although David claimed I made it look easy it has definitely been the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but of course the absolute most rewarding thing also. Even though it’s probably not a good thing, I had SOO many expectations for this birth, I had talked about it, prayed about it, and dreamt about it for months, well really a few years. And to my surprise, it really, truly couldn’t have gone any more perfect. Nancy returned the next day and after she did assessments on us both, she asked me if I could change anything what would I change? Absolutely nothing, it was purely magical.