Jeannie + Bryan
I worked up to the day my water broke. (I don’t recommend this to anyone by the way.) As I was checking emails on that Monday morning in September I felt a pop then a huge gush. I was so excited that I texted Bryan and he immediately rushed home. And then…crickets. Labor didn’t kick in at all that day so we decided to have one last dinner out before two became three. Kara and I called each other throughout the evening to check in. Contractions had finally begun late that evening. They intensified through the night but quickly drifted away as the sun came up the next morning.
Tuesday had arrived and I felt great, with irregular yet noteworthy contractions throughout the day. With my amniotic sac open, I had 48 hours left before I had to transfer but I knew in my heart that our girl was on her way and that I did not have to worry. I trusted in my body and my baby, in their wisdom, and I felt a primal calm as I surrendered to their plan. As the sun went down we started encouraging labor to progress with herbs and pumping, per Kara and Ami’s instructions. Labor started to get really intense, but the contractions never organized into a pattern. They were four, then eight, then three minutes apart. They were a minute, two minutes, then a minute long again.
At 4 AM I was nodding off between contractions under a boiling hot shower where I had stationed myself for the past three hours. Kara called to let me know that she and Ami were on their way over to check on us. An hour later we all sat around in the living room chit-chatting and logging my contractions. They were still unorganized and I was. So. Exhausted. It was all a mystery at that point, especially since checking dilation was a no-no with an open bag. The midwives prescribed me a beer and a nap, which I attempted after they left at 7 AM. As soon as I laid my head on the pillow I howled with discomfort and made a beeline for the shower. I needed to move, sway, squat, and rock!
I was really in the zone now. Nobody existed in the world–not even me. I finally learned what it meant to “be present.” As I labored the next three hours I went to a deeply inward place that I didn’t know existed. At 10 AM, Kara checked in and gave us the green light for me to take castor oil. Joy. Bryan did his best to mask the castor oil in two delightful fruit smoothies that I slammed ice cold in the hot shower. And the timing couldn’t have been more comical as I sat on the toilet and felt the urge to push. Turns out I didn’t need the castor oil after all, but I chalked it up to a free colonic.
Pushing felt great, though it took a lot more pushes than I had imagined. Into the second hour Euna’s head was poking out and slipping back in for what seemed like eternity. I asked Kara, “How many more pushes do you think?” to which she said, “I don’t know honey…maybe 20?” 20??? Twenty?!?! You’ve got to be out of your $#(%)&ing mind!…And then I remembered that gentle and patient pushing has its rewards, like less tearing. Sold! So we went on for at least twenty more pushes.
After two hours of pushing, Euna’s head popped out, with a double-wrapped cord which Kara slipped right off, then her shoulders and body followed suit. She was here! As I held her in my arms for the first time, Kara and Ami admired her still-pulsing cord, which they said was the thinnest, most perfectly stretched one they’d ever seen. And we had in front of us the answer to the great labor mystery. My body and my baby tailored labor to stretch the cord without causing her distress so she could find her way to the outside when the time was right. Though I felt confident in my body’s ability to give birth before this moment, I now knew without doubt that the body is infinitely wiser than we could ever fathom.
I felt so lucky. My baby girl was healthy and I got through pushing without tearing at all. As if that wasn’t great enough, our midwives took their time to answer questions, clean up, do some charting, and to make sure we felt comfortable before they left about four hours later. The aftercare over the next six weeks was invaluable with their support in physical and emotional healing, lactation, newborn care, and best of all, their friendship. Kara’s concern and thoughtfulness made us feel so safe and special throughout pregnancy, labor, and the postpartum period, and even to this day, more than a year later, I know we are still in her thoughts as she is in ours.
Melissa + Jay
I was at a burger joint dining with friends on a Friday night at about 7:30 p.m. when I felt a warm, wet feeling down below. “No way,” I thought to myself. “My water cannot be breaking- that only happens in movies!” My friends called my husband Jay, and an uber. The driver asked me if he should take me to the hospital.
“No, take me home please,” I said proudly. “I’m having a home birth!”
After a glass of wine with those same friends and Jay, the contractions kicked in. At first, they felt like period cramps and I was still able to chat for a bit. Then they started getting more intense, and my friends politely excused themselves and went on their way. By around 10:00 p.m., I began to figure out which positions helped me deal with the contractions. The only position that felt good was sitting on a yoga ball in front of a desk, allowing me to lean over and rest my head on the surface. I wanted to lay down, but the lower back pain I felt during the contractions (and all throughout my pregnancy) did not allow me this luxury. I remember telling Jay that if I could just lay down and sleep for a bit, this would be so much easier. This wasn’t in the cards though, so I mustered up the strength to deal with the exhaustion. Thankfully, my body went on autopilot and knew exactly what to do; it even felt like it sent my mind off to a place to rest.
I didn’t open my eyes the entire time I was handling the contractions. If I did, they barely stayed that way. At one point, I asked Jay to watch while I forced them open. They were all over the place, as if I had kaleidoscope eyes. Looking back, I wish we would have filmed it to see how truly out of it I was during this time.
I was surprised by my strong urge to get naked throughout the birth. I’m far from an exhibitionist, but I started stripping down during the first intense contraction. My body was extremely hot during contractions, so I threw everything off trying to get comfortable. Then I’d get freezing cold, like teeth-chattering cold. It helped having a blanket nearby, thanks to Jay. Whenever I’d throw the blanket off, he’d pick it up and wait until the next contraction was over to place it on me again. He also timed every contraction and massaged me or applied pressure wherever I needed it. Sometimes I desperately wanted pressure on my lower back; other times I did not want to be touched. The poor guy never knew when to step in! I knew exactly what I wanted though, and had no trouble asking for it when I needed it.
Jay was in contact with Kara and Rebekah, our doula, throughout the night. He updated them on how I was doing and how far apart my contractions were. At around 9:00 a.m., Rebekah, who’s also my neighbor, came over and instructed Jay to fill the birthing tub. Kara checked in at that time too and listened over the phone while I had a contraction. Based on the intensity, she headed over. She watched another contraction and based on what she saw and heard, she gave the okay to get in the water. Let me tell you, I could not have been happier being in that tub! The warm water eased my back pain and was extremely soothing. I’m a huge fan of baths, hot tubs, and hot springs, so this came as no surprise to me.
In the tub, Jay and Rebekah took turns massaging my back and applying pressure to my hips. They kept me hydrated and nourished, though I wasn’t very hungry during labor. I was extremely thirsty, though! I still think about how wonderful my water bottle filled with coconut water was at the time.
After being in the tub for about an hour, I began transitional labor. The urge to push is almost uncontrollable, kind of like having to go number two really badly, but worse. I wasn’t fully dilated yet, so it was important for me to resist the urge. I even told myself, “No, no, no, stop pushing, stop pushing!” Once you do get the okay to push, it’s glorious! I almost couldn’t wait for another contraction to come just so I could do it. Again, this sensation really does feel like you’re going number two. They told us in birthing class to expect “extreme rectal pressure,” but I didn’t expect it to feel like that.
This part of the labor was relatively short, lasting about two hours, but it felt like I was pushing him out much longer. The crowning did not seem long though, and thank goodness for that! They don’t call it “the ring of fire” for nothing. I didn’t expect to scream during my labor and I hadn’t before this point. Our apartment is small with thin walls and there are 6 other units in our building, so I had this in the back of my mind, but in that moment I did not care. Surprisingly, no one complained or even knew that I had a home birth in the building. It was also 12:28 p.m. on a Saturday, so I’m sure most of my neighbors were out to brunch like most San Franciscans are on the weekends.
As soon as Jack came out, I scooped him up as fast as I could and placed him right on my chest. Jay was behind me in the tub, hugging me while looking over my shoulder at his brand new baby boy. It was a spectacular moment and one I’ll never forget it.
We left the tub after 15 minutes or so and then went straight to our bed. Jack crawled to my breast while we laid there and he latched on beautifully. I was so proud of my boy for nailing it on the first go! While I nursed him, Jay and I examined every part of his body. We can happily say that we counted all 10 fingers and toes! Once he finished nursing, it was Jay’s turn to hold him. Watching him hold his son for the first time was amazing, and I couldn’t help but be proud of the family we created together.
It only took 20 minutes or so for the placenta to come out and when it did, it felt amazing! Sort of like an “Ahhh, what a relief!” feeling. Kara waited until the umbilical cord stopped pulsing and the placenta born before cutting the cord. Once it was out she clamped it and Jay cut it. I can even say that the placenta smoothie was tasty (strawberries and vanilla yogurt are essential to a great placenta smoothie)! Kara stitched up my few tiny tears, and afterwards, we ordered pupusas from the local Salvadoran restaurant. The whole crew sat around our bed and ate while we talked about how wonderful the birth was, and how lucky we were to have such a happy, healthy, lovely little boy. I couldn’t have asked for a better home birth experience. The amazing support I received from Kara, Rebekah, Michelle (the assistant midwife), and Jay allowed me to relax and let the process unfold naturally.
Colleen + Sam
There are so many reasons I am thankful for Kara. I am sure that the birth stories of my children would have been no where near as awesome without her in them. If it weren’t for the trust we built when she was our doula during our daughter Riley’s birth, we probably wouldn’t have had a homebirth with our son Max. Having a homebirth with Kara as our midwife was absolutely one of the best decisions we have ever made. As my husband Sam would say, “Kara is punk rock.”
Max was born at home on May 14, 2012 at 6:49 pm. When I went swimming that morning, I felt a little crampy and like something might be starting, but I did not want to tell anyone for fear of jinxing myself.
I went with my daughter Riley and Sam’s parents to Riley’s gymnastics class, but I didn’t feel that great. When Carolyn asked if I wanted to go out to lunch, I knew that I needed to go home instead. During lunch at home I was pretty sure that I either really needed to go to the bathroom or I was in labor. It turns out both were true. I went to the bathroom and after I put Riley in her room for quiet time at around 1:30, I had to stop outside her door and breathe through a contraction.
My friend Bonnie, who was a part of the birth team, had impeccable timing, and just happened to call right after my first major contraction. She was at work, which just happens to be across the street from where Sam works, which meant they would be carpooling to the birth. I filled her in, called Sam, and then went to tell Carolyn that I was in labor. Carolyn and John had been staying with us, but were moving to a hotel that afternoon. Carolyn asked if they could go check in and I figured we had time, so I said I’d be okay to stay with Riley.
To make a long story short, I got back on the phone with Sam and Bonnie and told them to get home as soon as possible. Riley loves TV, but rarely get to watch it. She sits incredibly still and tunes out everything else around her. If ever there was a time for TV, this was it, so her Sesame Street marathon began. By the time Sam and Bonnie got home at around 2:30, the contractions were so intense that I have a picture of me on my knees, with my head on the bed with Riley next to me, eyes glued to the screen.
Knees on the floor, head resting on the bed was a position Kara had taught me before I had Riley and it was one I was again able to rely on while having Max. I have another picture to remind me of how quickly and intensely my labor progressed. At 3:04, Bonnie took simultaneous pictures. One of Riley sitting crisscross on the couch, eyes glued to the computer and another of Sam and I lying on the bed with my head on his chest, resting between contractions.
I remember that when Sam’s parents came back to pick up Riley, I had to be very deliberate about when I left my room to say goodbye to her. At that point I had to do some serious moaning and deep breathing during each contraction and they were coming so close together that I made it a very quick goodbye.
The next three hours were HARD. Being at home felt so right. Kara, Cynthia, Bonnie and Sam were all I needed and exactly who I needed.
Bonnie’s excitement turned quiet presence is one of my favorite memories during my labor. She went from running excitedly into the house, bouncing between rooms taking pictures, to sitting quietly in the small space between the door and the dresser, watching intently, and getting up to make snacks and bring me popsicles. It was around 3:45 that she was on the phone with Kara because both she and Sam couldn’t believe how intense my contractions were and they wanted to make sure she was going to make it over the bridge in time to catch this baby. Luckily, she was already safely over the bridge and very close to our house.
Sam was right next to me, providing incredible physical and emotional support as each contraction came and went. He let me squeeze and hold and lie on any part of his body I needed to. I remember thinking that my actions might be worrying or scaring him or making him uncomfortable in someway. But when I would check on him, he always had this awesome smile on his face. The look on his face told me he believed in my strength and I had nothing to worry about.
Cynthia was an amazingly quiet, supportive and knowledgeable presence. I had to have an IV because I tested positive for Group B Strep and she somehow managed to practically make me forget it was there by holding the bag up and moving with me wherever and however I moved. When I was fighting the contractions as they got stronger and I became discouraged, she reminded me that the most painful moment was right before the contraction was on its way down. This enabled me to think to myself that at the apex I should relax because it wasn’t going to get any worse.
Kara was THERE. We were at home because we knew she would be there and that was all we needed to feel safe having our baby at home. Kara brought many things to Max’s birth, laughter being one of the most important. She did many things to make me smile and laugh, which helps me when things are hard. One time when Kara was checking for Max’s heartbeat, she said she could hear a little acceleration in it. Kara said, “He’s excited. He’s like ‘I’m getting born!’” When I was at the end of my labor and my cervix only had to open a little more she told me to imagine the last bit melting away. I told her that there was no way anything was melting. We laughed and I can’t remember her alternative that she came up with, but she forgot it a few times and we laughed again as she caught herself talking about my cervix melting. My favorite of her affirmations as I breathed and moaned were, “that’s the way” and “you are doing this”.
I remember hitting a point at which I stopped fighting against the pain of the contractions and became determined to move my baby out of my body. I kid you not, I really remember having a WWJAD (What Would Jane Austen Do) moment. So I squatted during a contraction and felt some serious relief. During the next contraction I really wanted to push. So I did. I remember thinking, if I push as hard as I can right now this will all be over. So I pushed with everything I had. First push, his head was out. Sam motioned to Bonnie to get the camera because he could see the baby’s head. Second push, Max shot out into the world.
It is amazing. It is amazing how in one moment it is all over and in almost that same moment you get to hold your baby. And when you have your baby at home, no one tries to take him away from you for a really long time. And even when it is time to take care of the placenta and the stitches and everything else, you still get to hold your baby in your bed.
When I was ready, I got to get out of my bed, go to the bathroom in my own bathroom, take a shower in my own shower and eat a meal cooked in my kitchen made by Bonnie. Eggs and greens and leeks never tasted so good.
It is hard not to cry thinking about the 24 hours after Max was born. The whole world stopped and we got to just be in our home with our new baby while people we knew took care of us. It turns out that new babies and mamas are just fine and don’t need to be checked on every hour and get woken up to have their temperature taken. Before the birth, Sam and I had worried about what it would be like when Kara and Cynthia went home and we would be on our own. The night Max was born I remember being impressed by how long Kara stayed and how fine we were when it was time to say goodbye. Max and Sam slept well in our bed that night. I couldn’t because I just kept waking up in disbelief at how okay and amazing we all were.
The next morning, Sam’s parents brought Riley home to meet her brother. It is hard to imagine that moment being anywhere near as perfect as it was if we were in the hospital. Our bed was big enough for all of us and Riley had all her books to choose from to read to Max. Best of all, we were never interrupted.
Liz + Paul
I really wanted to be the valedictorian of having babies. I always knew I wanted a natural, unmedicated birth – partly because the idea of an epidural seems more scary to me than labor, but also because it seemed like the ultimate challenge, an opportunity to prove (to myself) that I’m tough, as tough as my mother. I was going to take on labor like a killer set of hill sprints; I was going to kick childbirth’s ass. It turns out that childbirth doesn’t like to be challenged, nor used as a platform for toughness-proving. It turned around, yawned and kicked my ass, twice, and I should send it a thank you note for doing so.
Round 1: I approached Jack’s birth it like an athletic event, and I expected myself to perform well. I trained (via bradley birth classes), got a coach (doula extrodinaire, Kara), and chose a location that would increase my chances of success (St. Lukes). With a week to my due date, I took a break from charging through my to-do list to take a nap and awoke to my water breaking. I set forth on my labor plan – bake for the nurses, take a walk, stay at home as long as possible, basically totally ace this labor thing. Part way through making pumpkin bread, I started to think that baking was a silly idea and took a break to time a couple contractions. Things were moving more quickly than anticipated. I called back Kara and asked her to come. Labor was like runaway train – quick, direct and overwhelming. I didn’t have a chance to catch my breath let alone kick its ass. In the midst of it, I listened to Kara, whom I trusted implicitly, and accepted the support of my awesome husband, but still in much the same way as at a track event – heeding my coach’s direction and registering my families’ cheers while charging ahead by myself. I wanted to be calm, relaxed, efficient and strong, and I was for the most part, but it didn’t really matter. When it was over, I didn’t get a medal for my performance. I got my baby, a sweet, cone-head baby with a natural baby faux-hawk, and a collection of hormones that forgot how to behave. It was nothing I had prepared for. I had prepared myself to take on childbirth, not for actually having a baby. The adjustment was difficult – with no help from hormones or my self-sufficient attitude.
Round 2: Everything was different Quinn. I knew I wanted to work with Kara again and she was now a student midwife, so I signed-up for a homebirth. When I signed-up for this homebirth, I thought I would get a birth at home and the convenience of not having to go to the hospital for appointments. What I got was so much more and for me, much for valuable. Having trudged through postpartum depression once before, I was petrified of having to do it again. Throughout my pregnancy Kara (and midwives Nancy and Ami of Rites of Passage) spent time checking in with me and helping me do everything possible to diminish the chances of going through it again – finding a counselor, homeopathy, supplements, and perhaps most importantly, encouraging me to accept help, allow myself to be vulnerable and to be cared for in the midst of a situation I cannot control.
A week past my due date, my water broke in the middle of the night. I called Kara and we expected this labor to proceed much like Jack’s – fast and efficient. It did at the start, but then it seemed to lose traction at a pretty intense point in the process. I could tell that the contractions weren’t as productive as they should be even though the pain was the same. It was frustrating. I felt like a skipping music track, repeating the same contraction and unable to move forward. Kara checked to see where I was (9 cm) and found the source of the delay – a big bubble of water cushioning every contraction. With a quick pop, labor went into overdrive and in a few contractions I was pushing. With Jack, the pushing was the best part and not really painful, but with Quinn it hurt. It really hurt. This baby’s head did not mold. She arrived, round-headed and pink as pink can be. I heard my husband sweetly and unforgettably say ‘I have a daughter’, and we cozied up on the couch. I was tired and completely spent – emotionally and physically, but I didn’t feel like I needed to be anything else. This time I was ok with being a mess and with just having finished.
In hindsight, I needed childbirth to kick my ass, to make me feel out of control, and to fail at being my idea of the awesomest baby birther ever. Birth wasn’t just about my baby arriving or proving I was tough enough to do it without drugs; It was about learning to embrace an uncontrollable situation – labor, the possibility of PPD, and perhaps child-raising in general – while accepting the support of the people around me. Thank you, childbirth.
The name homebirth puts so much focus on the moment of arrival and fails to capture the entirety of the experience. The midwives supported me through her birth, but they also walked with me through the whole pregnancy and into her first few weeks as part of our family. This was invaluable. Thank you, Kara, Nancy, Ami.
Phoebe + Mike #1
My due date was November 10th, but an ultrasound at 20-something weeks mentioned possibly November 4th, so I thought all along that he might arrive a few days early. I finished up my last day at work on Tuesday, 11/4 (I was supposed to finish on 10/31, but I unexpectedly had to train our new front desk coordinator at my orthodontic practice before going on official maternity leave). Luckily, Mike and I got in a last minute reservation to Gary Danko’s on Tuesday night – we had never been and I’m so glad we fit in a romantic dinner together “before-baby”. After Tuesday, my schedule was clear. A friend of mine mentioned that she thought our baby would arrive on the Full Moon (which was Thursday 11/6), so that is what I started visualizing and telling people. On Monday, Kara even wrote in my chart that I wanted him to arrive on Thursday. I felt that little Phineus was ready (his head dropped lower, his movements were settling down, and he was resting for his job ahead)… and I felt ready (nothing else in my schedule, I didn’t want to be bored, and my blood pressure shot up in anticipation of becoming a mama).
On Wednesday, Mike and I finished up the last of our work obligations. I mostly hung around the house, only stepping out for a quick grocery shop and what ended up being my final pre-natal acupuncture appointment with Linda Gruber. She must have hit all the right trigger points that appointment! Wednesday night 2 of my close friends came over to eat dinner, and I decided I just might have a few sips of wine to help relax my body. My friends really noticed that I was exhausted and that things had changed just in the last couple weeks.
On Thursday, Mike and I planned to stay around home. He was working around the house, and I took my final “nesting projects” of cleaning out and organizing the hall closet shelf of cosmetics/medicine and making a big pot of chicken soup. I had read online about a few “natural techniques” to help labor get started. Some of the ones I tried were: evening primrose oil pills 2x/day, eating spicy foods (had Indian for lunch on Thursday), took a couple of 1 mile walks at a decent pace, and had a few sips of wine a couple nights in a row.
Mike and I went for a walk around 7pm, during which I felt more pressure in my pelvis than before – causing me to actually pause walking for a few moments. In retrospect, these were likely some early labor contractions, but at the time they felt almost indistinguishable from the Braxton-Hicks contractions I had been feeling for the past 2 months, so I wasn’t fully aware that I was in early labor.
We decided to watch a movie, and while lying down on the couch at about 9pm I felt intense menstrual-type cramps, so I got up to pee and low and behold I had bloody show and saw the mucus plug in the toilet (I snapped a photo of it with my phone of course). As my brain started processing what was going on, I asked Mike to get in touch with our midwife and doula. The 3 of them were texting/talking back and forth for what seemed like a while. They both asked Mike to keep them updated, suggested that we have a glass of wine, for me to relax in a warm bath, and to let them know as things progressed.
We did listen to their advice of having a glass of wine, and we sat back down on the couch to resume our movie watching, thinking that things might take a while to pick up. About halfway through my glass of wine my contractions started getting more intense, longer, and closer together – as Mike was timing them on his phone App. Between 7-9pm Mike noticed I had a general anxiety, that I couldn’t put my finger on, but it seemed to Mike a bit like a panic over something that needed to be done or was about to happen. Also, the infamous bout of “clearing of the bowels” occurred over several visits to the toilet. It hit both of us that this was the real deal, so Mike got out all of the homebirth supplies, made up the bed with the drop cloth and old fitted sheet, he got back in touch with Kara and Shannon, and I got back in the bath to try to sooth the cramping feelings and slow down the surges per Kara’s suggestion.
From 9:30-11:00pm the contractions were every 3-5 minutes, at the beginning lasting 5-10 seconds and growing to about a minute, each one coming and going in a wave. At around 10:30pm the contractions were becoming a lot for me to manage, so I went to the bath tub to get some rest. The bath felt ok for a while (about 30 minutes and ~6 contractions), but then it started feeling uncomfortable, as the contractions were becoming really quite painful – it felt almost like the water was stinging my skin and I had no place to turn to. Mike described me as looking spacey and restless, so he asked if I’d like to move to the bed.
I realized that my contractions were more intense than I could talk through so I asked Mike to see if Shannon could come over right away, and he got Kara on the phone so she could hear me experience one of the surges. As soon as she heard one, and my accompanying moan, she said she’d be right over.
Mike walked me carefully to bed between contractions, and that’s when the first BIG one hit. I was barely able to crawl onto the bottom edge of the bed. I spent the next hour in some variant of cat-cow or child’s-pose (a-la-Jane-Austen’s pre-natal yoga class) with my forehead and face pressed into a damp washcloth, and resting on my elbows and knees. I was already having full-on active labor contractions when Shannon and Kara arrived because I barely remember seeing anyone’s faces. (I found out a couple days later that Shannon arrived at 11:10pm and Kara at 11:20pm – baby Phineus arrived at 11:51pm!) As soon as Shannon arrived, I asked her to put a TENS unit on my lower back – it was really helpful for a few of the surges. The support from Mike and Shannon was really helpful in guiding me to breathe through the peaks and valleys of the contractions. In retrospect if someone could hear me from outside of the house they might have thought I was turning into a werewolf for the full moon! As things were getting intense and I wasn’t sure if I could handle it, Mike told me, “they said that if you’ve made it this far without any medication, then you can most definitely make it through the rest with some support and guidance.” That was what I really needed to hear to feel safe and let go into the experience.
From the time I moved to the bed to the time he was delivered, my sense of time was elusive, as I really felt focused on being in my body to get through the contractions. Mike noticed that as the contractions got stronger, I became more in my body and less cognitive. I’m pretty sure I did feel a slight pause in the intense contractions (transition stage) as my body switched gears, and then I felt the urge to push. My body just said push, I asked Kara if it was ok to push, she said yes, so I pushed. As our baby was moving down the birth canal I felt the pressure in different places: pressing on my sacrum/tailbone, stretching the perineal tissues, and pressure of feeling like I had to go #2 (I’m pretty sure that happened a bit during pushing despite early labor’s attempts to clear the way). Hearing Kara, Kelly Murphy (who arrived just minutes before birth as the midwife assist), Shannon, and Mike describe what was going on is what helped me to focus and visualize on what my body was feeling. I wanted to know the correlation between my body’s sensations and the progress of labor/pushing.
My bag of waters broke sometime during the pushing stage, sounding like a water balloon bursting followed by a gush of fluid. It seemed like I had a total of only 7-10 pushes, and Kara encouraged me that each one was working as little Phineus was progressing down the canal. The most difficult few pushes were to pass his head – once those were over it was smooth sailing after that. When his head started showing, Mike said “Cool”, and about 3 contractions later he fell into Mike’s hands. Once Phineus started vigorously crying (which sounded incredible to hear for the first time), Mike and Kara passed little Phineus through my legs for me to see him. I was still on my hands and knees, and when I saw our baby I felt a huge emotional relief, repeated the phrase “oh my god”, started crying, and I was somewhat frozen and shaky as I had to collect myself before being able to pick him up and regain a sense of my surroundings. Mike wiped Phineus’ skin and we all rested for a while soaking it in. It was a nearly indescribable and surreal feeling that 10 months of pregnancy instantly turned into a real human baby squirming beneath me.
Everyone in the room helped me regain my calm, sit back, pick up our baby, and find a comfortable position with little Phineus on my chest as we waited for the placenta to deliver. The placenta came out without complication, I continued holding little Phineus with Mike by my side, and Kara and Kelly got to work suturing some minor tearing. Once Kara and Kelly felt confident that they had finished their “knitting adventures of the most sensitive part of a woman’s body”, Kara helped me to take a shower. It felt really good to take a warm relaxing shower and hand over baby Phineus to Mike (placenta still in tow). Mike took Phineus on a tour of the house, they sat for a while taking pictures, and then returned to bed to lay chest to chest. After the shower I rejoined the boys in bed, and the midwives and doula occupied themselves in the kitchen drinking tea, making some nutritious food, charting notes, and preparing a sitz bath solution for me to use during healing. Mike placed Phineus on my chest as the 3 of us focused on little Phin’s first moments, and experienced uninterrupted bonding with our newest family member. Phineus started to root and he actually breast fed for a few minutes, which was really fun to watch for the first time!
What time was remaining of the first night and day with little Phin was spent sleeping on and off between nursing – alternating napping on mine and Mike’s bare chests. It took a few days to process all that had happened during what Kara has referred to as “my precipitous labor” of 2 hours and 51 minutes. Mike and I are so thankful for all of the help, support and guidance from Kara, Kelly and Shannon throughout this miraculous experience. I am thankful to Mike for his constant emotional and physical support, and beautiful perspective throughout my entire pregnancy and birth. And kudos to you Mr. Phineus for your swift arrival!
Phoebe + Mike #2
My due date was originally June 27th, but at one of the early ultrasounds they changed it to July 4th. Since our first son, Phineus, arrived 4 days early, I finished up my last day at work and closed the office for the entire week after that. So then the waiting game began!
I had my last acupuncture appointment and was anticipating a slightly earlier-than-due-date arrival – similar to our first son, Phin. But that wasn’t what Elan had in mind! From June 24th until the evening of July 5th I spent most of the time wondering when my contractions were going to begin. With the time off from work, I tried to fill the time with other activities: hung art work on the walls around the house, organized baby clothes, went out for labor-inducing pizza, and we met up with friends for breakfast.
Finally at 7:26pm on Tuesday, July 5th, I started feeling real contractions and my mucous plug started releasing. I texted with Kara Engelbrecht:
Phoebe: Hi! Starting to have a bite of bloody show, but not really any “real” contraction. Just wanted to give you a heads up. We’ll keep you posted if things pick up. My sister is coming over in a bit just in case to be available for Phin.
Kara: Great, feel free to call whenever you want me to come. How is baby moving?
Phoebe: Still moving, Seems like he’s tightening up/flexing more often. Or it’s just Braxton Hicks?
Kara: Sometimes when they move it stimulates your uterus a bit.
Phoebe: Right… that’s what it feels like. He’s kicking right now.
Kara: That’s good. He’s finding his way. Eat some food. Get some rest. Looking forward to meeting this guy!
Mike put Phineus to sleep, and Chloe was on her way over. At 8:26pm contractions were closer together but still mild, and Mike got in touch with Kara again:
Mike: contractions 5 minutes apart, mild.
Kara: Great. Looking forward to meeting Elan.
Mike: Phoebe said she’d feel good to start antibiotics, thinks she’d like you here.
Kara: Great. I’ll come on over.
Mike: 40sec duration, 5min apart, last was a bit more than mild.
Already this labor was different than my first – it was slower to start and slower to progress, which was welcomed after the precipitously fast labor for Phin’s birth. Kara said that it was likely because Elan had a lot of work to do during labor – he needed to flip himself around and drop several more centimeters.
Kara arrived around 8:45pm, while my contractions were still infrequent and short (early labor) – but I wanted to start antibiotics for GBS+ and have midwife present, since last birth was super fast. Kara got all he supplies setup, Chloe arrived around 9pm, and we started the first round of IV antibiotics to combat heavy GBS colonization. Chloe stayed close by, giving me a shoulder rub. IV antibiotics were disconnected once they were finished, so I was then free to walk around.
Contractions were steady but very mild still, so from 10:30pm until 1:30pm we were just waiting. Mike, Chloe and Kara all took a little cat nap in anticipation of not getting much sleep tonight. I tried lying down with Mike for a few minutes, but I could not sleep – I was just too excited to actually be in labor after waiting for 2 weeks!! I tried a few tactics to get labor to pick-up: took a warm shower, walked in circles around the kitchen/living-room/dining-room, ate chocolate, and did deep squats I learned in prenatal yoga. At 2 am Kara started the 2nd round of antibiotics, and that’s when I started feeling afraid. Since this labor was progressing slower than my first, and it was a different experience, I thought that something could be wrong. Kara assured me that this labor was moving along normally, and that there was not anything to worry about – Elan was moving, his heart beating strong, and he was getting ready for his entrance.
The 2nd round of antibiotics was administered slowly, taking a full hour, during which time contractions were picking up. At this point I moved into elbows and knees, started feeling really nauseated, and puked right after the IV was disconnected at 3am. Active labor contractions started around 3:40am, yet I was only 5-6cm dilated. The next 40 minutes were the strongest contractions. The only relief was when Mike and Chloe were pushing on either side of my hips during the height of each contraction. It felt like the painful contractions would never stop, but they did, and I got a bit of relief as I transitioned to pushing.
Since I had Phin exactly 20 months earlier, I was able to control the pushing to prevent tearing (as it turned out), so after 10 minutes of pushing, water breaking, Kelly (assist midwife) arriving, and a few good pushes, Elan’s head, then shoulders, and rest of his body landed into Mike’s hands at 4:30:19 am with a vigorous cry! Somehow Elan was passed between my legs, I picked him up to my chest, and we waited for the placenta to be delivered a few minutes later. Elan started rooting right away, and he was nursing soon after being born.
Phineus woke up during the commotion, and joined everyone in the room. Now we were a family of 4!
There was nothing to repair down yonder, so the next few hours was spent cleaning up, eating eggs and a smoothie, completing Elan’s newborn exam, and shuffling Phineus off to Aurora’s. Mike, Elan, and I spent the daylight hours resting from the long night of activity. The group efforts worked again.. Baby #2, Mr. Elan Holmberg Good, was here and ready for action.
Meredith + Ed
Chronicles of a Breech Baby
Part I - Intro
At my 28 week appointment, my midwife palpated that my babe was breech. I was able to feel his little head and bum after she showed me and it was amazing. Being breech at 28 weeks is quite normal as there is still plenty of time to turn and most babies do. I began seeing a chiropractor at this point to ensure my pelvis was in proper alignment and to ensure baby had as much room as possible to turn. At my 32 week appointment my midwife confirmed that our baby was still breech. I started to get quite anxious knowing midwives cannot legally assist breech deliveries at home. The mere thought of having to get a c-section was terrifying to me.
At that time, I continued seeing the chiropractor and receiving acupuncture. I was doing forward leaning inversions and breech tilts every day. I tried moxibustion, swimming and every possible recommendation to help turn a breech baby vertex. I was able to feel his head so I knew day by day that he remained in the breech position. At 36 weeks we knew we had to explore other alternatives to home-birth. I had an ECV done at 36+2. It was unsuccessful. Another ECV was attempted four days later at 36+6 with no success.
It was a very stressful time and many tears were shed throughout the weeks. I believe my baby was breech for a reason and truly believe it is a variation of normal. In an effort to get him to turn head down, I felt I was fighting against nature. After the second failed ECV attempt I stopped trying to get the baby to turn. I was very disappointed and somewhat angry in the lack of knowledge and support of vaginal breech deliveries in the medical community. When I told family and friends that the baby was breech, most of them asked when my c-section was scheduled for. Some family members were concerned about my adamancy of having a trial of labor and whether or not it was considered “safe”.
I was able to get an appointment with a physician at the Sutter Davis Birth Center at 37 weeks to be evaluated to determine if I was a candidate for vaginal breech delivery. After checking the babies size and getting an MRI of my pelvis to ensure it was “adequate”, I was given the go ahead for a trial of labor. At this point I had already mourned the loss of my home-birth and was grateful and relieved to have the opportunity to try a vaginal breech delivery rather than having a c-section. For the last few weeks I finally felt at ease and was able to relax and enjoy my breech babe.
Part II – Birth Story
I woke up at 3:58 am on October 26th when I felt a small gush of fluid. I was 39 weeks and 6 days pregnant (my due date was the 27th) and while I wasn’t immediately sure it was my water that had broken, I couldn’t help but become excited that I was going to have our baby soon! I went into the bathroom and my pajama pants were fairly wet and when I sat on the toilet more clear fluid released. My husband Ed woke up when I went back into the bedroom to change so I told him my water had broken. He was very excited as well. I waited about 20 minutes and then called Kara (I was not having contractions at that time). She said to try and get some more sleep and to check in with her in a couple hours. I couldn’t sleep, clearly, out of excitement and anticipation. I laid down for a bit and around 6:30 am I got in the shower. I was feeling very mild contractions at that time. Kara and I checked in with each other a little after 7am. She said that herself and Hana, her student midwife, would arrive in about an hour and decide on when we would travel to Davis, CA, about an hour and a half away from San Francisco. My mom was now awake and I informed her of the news. I think she was a bit anxious but excited as well. Kara and Hana arrived around 8:15. She listened to the baby’s heart rate which was steady and strong and had good variability. She asked if I wanted to labor at home for awhile or if I wanted to head to Davis. My contractions were still very mild at that time but I felt it was appropriate to head to Davis now rather than later. I didn’t want to be stuck in the car for an hour and a half if contractions were strong.
My mom, Ed and I were in our car and Kara and Hanna drove in Kara’s car. We arrived at the birth center around 10:30 am. They put me in a room, checked me in and monitored myself and the baby for about an hour. The nurse told us Dr. Fineberg would be coming over on her lunch break to see me. Dr. Feinberg came in around 12:20 pm. She did not want to do an internal exam due to the fact my water had broken so she did a visual exam of my cervix with a speculum and said I was probably about 2 cm dilated. She recommended that I go to a nearby hotel to relax and continue laboring. There was no need for me to stay at the birth center at this point.
We left the birth center around 1:15 pm and checked into the University Park Inn Room. My contractions had started to slightly pick up in intensity around this time but I wasn’t uncomfortable. Ed had gotten us lunch so we ate and watched some T.V. When we left the birth center, Kara and Hana headed back to San Francisco so Hana could get her car in case another client went into labor. Kara texted me around 2:30 pm and said she was leaving San Francisco and would meet us at the hotel. At this point contractions were becoming more consistent and getting stronger. Kara arrived at the hotel sometime around 5 pm. We were all anxious for her to get there because my contractions were getting more and more intense and we weren’t sure if we should head back to the birth center without her. She listened to the baby again and checked my vitals, all of which were good. She told Ed that he and my mom should eat so he went to Whole Foods to get them dinner. I labored mostly on the bed. I used deep, steady, slow breaths to get through each contraction. I would lie on my side and sort of writhe my legs up and down. I had imagined myself being more active during labor, and needing support from Ed but it felt the best to be lying in bed and I did not want to be touched. I was drinking a lot of fluid to stay hydrated so I felt like I was in the bathroom every 10 minutes. Sitting on the toilet through contractions was a nice change but the toilet was quite uncomfortable to sit on. I was laboring on the toilet and Kara was in the bathroom with me around 6:50 pm. She could tell by observing me for the past two hours that things were really progressing and that my contractions were very intense. She decided that we should probably head back to the birth center soon. I got dressed and had a few more contractions on the bed.
I wanted to minimize the number of contractions I had on the way to the birth center which was about 10 minutes away so as soon as the last contraction finished we went straight to the car. I had one contraction on the way there and one really intense one in the parking lot walking in. We arrived around 7:30 or so. We were given a room right away and I was connected to the monitors again. It was nearly impossible to stay still at the point. The rushes were extremely intense. A few times I had them back to back lasting 2 ½ to 3 minutes long. When things seemed unbearable I tried to remind myself that each contraction was bringing me closer to finally meeting my baby boy. All the contractions I had gone through already were in the past never to be felt again; and that between the contractions I would be able to rest.
My nurse Antoinette had called Dr. Feinberg to let her know that I had returned to the birth center. She was not on call but she is only one of two doctors that will assist with vaginal breech deliveries in that practice and she will come in when a mother with a breech baby is in labor. Dr. Feinberg asked Antoinette to do an internal exam to check my progress. I had to wait until I was in between contractions to get comfortable enough to lie on my back while Antoinette checked me. She was a bit confused at first because she wasn’t quite sure what she was feeling. The baby’s testicles presenting first may have been the reason why ☺… but she estimated that I was approximately 9cm to fully dilated. Hallelujah!!! I must say I was very surprised that I was 9 cm, but I was oh so relieved as well. Antoinette left the room to call Dr. Feinberg and update her.
To say my contractions were intense at this point is an understatement. Penetrating might be a good word. I turned over so I was on my knees and elbows. I’m not sure how long it was before Dr. Feinberg got there, but when she arrived, she wanted to check me. I had to manage to turn over on my back again which was not pleasant. She confirmed I was indeed fully dilated, but the baby was still fairly high up. She said I could get in the birth tub for a while if I wanted to but I honestly didn’t think I could move from the bed. I turned back over onto my elbows and knees. She said if I was feeling pressure I could push and that may feel better. I was feeling pressure so I started pushing, not hard like I was trying to push the baby out, but enough so that it relieved some of my discomfort. It really did make things feel better. At this point Dr. Feinberg told Antoinette that I needed a heplock. Oh joy, this should be fun. I put my right arm over the top of the bed and continued to labor and breathe through the rushes while she put the heplock in. Around 9:10-9:15 pm or so Dr. Feinberg wanted me to turn to my back again. She checked me again to see if the baby had descended any more and he had. She wanted me to start real pushing now. I did around 3 rounds of pushes with contractions and the baby’s testicles were starting to emerge. It was around 9:34 and they wanted to transfer me to the operating room. They want all vaginal breech deliveries to take place in the operating room so that if there was a need for an emergency C-section, everything would be ready and all necessary personnel are present. Hana had driven back and arrived just shortly before I was taken to the OR suite. Ed, my mom, Kara, and Hana had to put white jump suits on and OR hats. They had me put on a hospital gown at some point and I took off my shirt and sports bra. They put an OR hat on me and wheeled me back to the OR room. This part was kind of a blur to me. I was just trying to focus on myself and the baby. While they were wheeling me back, I continued to push with my contractions. Once we got into the room, I had another contraction on the bed and then I sort of rolled over onto my hands and knees onto the tiny operating room table. It was 9:39 pm at this time. They hooked up the monitors again to track baby’s heart beat and my contractions. I pushed with another contraction and then Dr. Feinberg wanted me to get on my back again and continue pushing that way for a little I believe because it facilitates the baby’s descent. My gown was now off, and I was completely naked but I certainly didn’t care. Two more contractions and rounds of pushing and his testicles were completely out. Kara had me reach down and feel him. There was meconium everywhereeeeeee. Kara was on my right and one of the midwives from Dr. Feinberg group was on my left. My mom and Ed were towards the foot of the bed. There were apparently a lot of people in the room. Vaginal breech deliveries are not too common. I believe it was the OR staff, the anesthesiologist, a pediatrician and pediatric nurse, a respiratory therapist, Antoinette (my L&D nurse), the midwife, Dr. Johnson (another doctor from the practice who is learning breech deliveries), Ed, my mom, and Kara. Hana was asked to watch from the observation room. Four more contractions and pushing and his little bum was starting to emerge. 9:51 pm and Dr. Feinberg wanted me to turn over onto my hands and knees again, at which point I politely cursed. Back to the hands and knees position, 9:53 pm, testicles out, bum emerging… At this point I can look between my legs and see my progress. And basically I didn’t care if I tore, I want my baby out and in my arms. So I start pushing with every bit of strength I could find. I don’t really remember his legs popping out, but I remember a lot of relief. And everyone was so excited and encouraging. The baby was now out to his above his belly button. He was just hanging there, I was so exhausted. At this time you want the rest of the baby to come out fairly quickly because the cord is being compressed. Dr. Feinberg helped slip his arms out he was now hanging outside of my body with just the top of his head inside. All I wanted was for her to get his head out, which she did assist in doing. There was so much pressure and then a huge release. Before I knew it, his head was out and he was in my arms (9:57 pm). It was the most amazing and miraculous feeling in the world. I remember Kara telling me weeks before to grab him and stimulate him so the pediatrician will not feel the need to intervene. Breech babies are more likely to need resuscitation. I was kind of in shock but Kara helped rub him. He did not need any help, he was doing great! He was so calm and quiet, he barely even cried. I managed to turn around onto my back and put him on my chest. He was wide awake and perfectly quiet. It was so amazing. Welcome earthside Sawyer Dylan! He stayed on my chest and we waited a bit before the cord was cut. The placenta was delivered shortly thereafter and they stitched me up in the two areas that I had torn. We were transported back to the L&D room. Kara and Hanna stayed to make sure Sawyer would latch properly and start breastfeeding, which he did like a champ. It wasn’t until almost two hours after I had delivered that Antoinette took Sawyer to weigh and measure. That took place right next to me in the room. 6 lbs 10oz, 19 3/4 inches. He was given back to me and we continued skin to skin all night long. I couldn’t really sleep. It was all so amazing and surreal.
Looking back I would not change anything, not even Sawyer being breech. It was how he and our birth were meant to be. I’m so grateful to have had Kara by our side throughout my pregnancy and birth. She was incredibly dedicated, supportive and encouraging.
Mandy + Marshall #1
We’re pregnant! Marshall and I looked at each other in shock and excitement when we saw the test say “pregnant”. We didn’t quite believe it so we took another one. Still in disbelief we thought, lets wait till tomorrow and do it again. Morning came, and yep still pregnant! Very exciting, yet what do we do now?
My sister had done a home birth the year before and I learned so many wonderful things about midwives. I also met, a now good friend of mine here in SF, who did a home birth in Sausalito. I started quizzing her on her experience and the midwife she used.
I discussed my ideal birth plan with Marshall and he wasn’t quite on board. I informed him of all the great benefits of having a homebirth and he still was skeptical. It wasn’t until I made him watch the Business of Being Born that he said, “Ok, I’m in!”
From here we began interview midwives and fell in love with Rites of Passage, Nancy, Ami, and Kara. They were warm, friendly, and super educated. Hired!
From 10 weeks till birth Nancy, Ami, and Kara took amazing care of my baby and me! I never went to another doctor or hospital, except for one appointment to do my prenatal blood draws and the 36 week check in with UCSF Midwifery unit to have them as a back up. I never did any ultrasound or additional tests. I trusted in my team and my body that my baby was healthy and happy.
We began our monthly home appointments with either Nancy or Ami, and always Kara. I had a strong bond/chemistry right away with Kara. It was as if my best friend had come over for coffee. Kara was a doula and midwife in training at the time, so Nancy and Ami allowed her to do most of the appointment analysis. Being in your home laughing while getting an exam is amazing. They would take an hour or two out of their day to review my vitamins, food in take, measure belly, listen to the heartbeat and be there for all my odd, hard, or uncomfortable questions. You do not get this kind of time or care from an OBGYN.
Kara, Nancy, and Ami (along with Jane Austin’s homebirth class) made me embrace pregnancy, enjoy it, and not be scared of birth. They let me still enjoy the things I love to do in life; running, skiing, eat sushi, drinking wine, traveling… as long as I felt ok doing it they were on board. They educated me in prenatal yoga, massage, and herbs. They made Marshall feel confident and safe in having a home birth, which was HUGE.
Since we didn’t find out what we were having we called our baby in womb Minnow. I swam a lot during pregnancy, so this was a perfect name.
Here is how Minnow entered the world. My Mom arrived on Tuesday, so I knew mentally now it’s time to do this; any day from here on out would be okay. Wednesday we got a 70 minute foot and reflexology massage in China town. That night we were out in the bay on my friends boat. Had some nice wine, cheese, and bounced around on some big waves. We drove home and I told my Mom “I’m going to have this baby tonight”.
I went to bed at 11:00pm and at 11:10 I heard a “pop” and I knew it was my water. I woke Marshall, as when his head hits the pillow he’s out, and said, “my water just broke”. I was excited. I text Nancy, Ami, and Kara to inform them. I didn’t have contractions right away, so Nancy said to go back to bed and call her in the morning if nothing had changed. I laid back down and in 15 minutes, BAM! Strong contractions! Two and a half minutes apart 45 seconds to 1 minutes long. We went right into active labor. Marshall put the TENS unit on my back (like a muscle stem machine that women can use in labor) and I’d push the button to provide relief through each contraction. We stayed in the bedroom for 2 hours doing this. I found it most comfortable flopping my upper body over the bed and swaying my hips side to side (lots of juicy hips), and moaning. I told Marshall to, “call the midwives.” He said, “No we need to wait for 4-1-1.” He was remembering contractions 4 minutes apart, for 1 minute long, for 1 hour. I said we’re pasted that we are at 2 1/2 MINUTES apart! He said “oh yeah, your right!” He woke my mom to come help me as he went to go fill the Aqua Doula and call the midwives. He came back to the room to tell me Nancy and Ami were both at births and Kara was on her way. I was THRILLED to be getting Kara, and in a ton of pain, so knew they would figure out the two other certified midwives to attend. And they did, Michelle Wellborn and Sue Balen. I was in great hands.
Kara and Michelle arrived at 1:30 am, not sure when Sue shown up. I was thrown over the back of the couch when they got there. Kara checked me and I was 5 1/2 cm dilated. She told me I could move into the Aqua Doula if I wanted. I was a little afraid to take the TENS unit off as I felt it was a way for me to battle back on the contractions, but I wanted to try the tub. I moved into the tub and was in there for several hours on hands and knees and thrown over the sidewall.
Marshall and Kara were amazing talking me through breathing techniques, rubbing my back, letting me squeeze/bite their hands. My Mom too was a huge help, running around getting anything needed, telling me I was strong and can do this, and boiling/adding additional hot water to the tub! I think I was in there 3-4 hours and then I wanted to push. Kara checked me and I was only 8 cm, so I couldn’t push. She told me to empty my bladder and that would help give me room and for my cervix to fully dilate. I couldn’t focus on peeing, so she got me out of the tub and put in a catheter! That was tough to do, as I had to lie on my back, hold through a contraction as she did this. I guess I drank too much Gatorade. I was not going to the hospital for dehydration!!! It worked and it gave me room to fully dilated, so after resisting the urge to push for an hour, Kara gave me the green light and on I went.
The pushing I must say was WAY harder then I planned. I guess because stories I’ve heard where the active labor was tough and the pushing was easier. I always hear women say, “I pushed 3 times and out came my baby.” I pushed for 2 1/2 hours changing and trying positions constantly (squatting holding a railing, birthing stool, kitchen breakfast bar, over the couch, kneeling, and then child’s pose) asking, “can you see the head???” Kara always answered me in a calming voice “You are doing so well. You are so strong.” Thanks, but not what I wanted to hear!!!! I want to see the head as this hurts. I got a little discouraged during this time and just had to remain strong and know this baby will come out. There were moments I wasn’t sure.
Kara suggested moving into child’s pose on a yoga mat in our living room, and through lots more bearing down and pushing, our baby Minnow was born!!! Kara told Marshall to come down here and get ready! Marshall put his hands on Minnow’s head I heard him say “WOOOWWW!” Another push or two and out came the shoulders and body. They passed Minnow through my legs onto my chest where Marshall and I held our baby for the first time!! It was the most amazing moment. We cried and just hugged Minnow sitting there in awe. We were so excited we didn’t even know the sex right away, or cared, it was such a precious moment that WE have a beautiful healthy baby! I eventually looked and said though lots of tears, “it’s a boy”.
We lay back to hug our baby and soak in this moment, the 3 of us.
Then for the delivery of the placenta. Mine didn’t want to detach. We waited 20 mins, nothing. I was bleeding a lot so the midwives gave me a shot of pitocin in my leg. Now 40 mins nothing. I could sense the midwives whispering and knew I had to deliver the placenta and soon. They did another shot of pitocin in the other leg, nothing. I asked if it would help if I stood up, and they moved me to the birthing stool. Here Kara had to make the decision to go in and sweep my uterus to assure the whole placenta came out. She did and yeah the placenta was delivered!!! Whew! We DID it!!!!! We had a beautiful home birth to our baby Shane. Born at 8:21am on 4/7/11 weighing 7.05 lbs and 20.1/4” long.
The postnatal care was amazing as well! Ami and Kara preformed 10 second degree stitches on me, clean up my home, let me shower, helped with nursing, and tucked the 3 of us in our own warm bed. They continued to check on Shane and I for the next few weeks, which was so helpful and needed.
We are blessed to say we are now pregnant with #2 and have hired Kara to be our midwife!!!! We couldn’t be in better hands. We are 28 weeks along and again I enjoy every coffee visit (appointment) with my friend/midwife Kara.
Mandy + Marshall #2
On August 26th 2012 Marshall and I were thrilled to discover the home pregnancy test read loud and clear “pregnant”. We were very excited to add to our family and have another child close in age to our funny little boy Shane.
This pregnancy was totally different then Shane’s. I wasn’t sure if the pregnancy was different due to having a toddler to chase after all day so rest was limited, or that is was “a girl”! I had multiple sicknesses along the way and I’m typically a very healthy person, very bad varicose veins in the left leg, more hormonal (Marshall can contest), and nesting all the time!
Marshall and both knew we would like to hire Kara Engelbrecht to be our midwife as she delivered Shane. At the time she delivered Shane she was just a midwife in training. When I called her at 8 weeks pregnant with Bubba (that is what Shane nicknamed this baby), she was on her way to take her midwifery exam. Obviously she passed the test and we were her first official clients!! We couldn’t be in better hands.
We cruised along week by week. Kara took great care of Bubba and myself. I always enjoyed our home appointments. Bubba had a strong heartbeat that ranged from 130’s to 120’s so then I switch my mind to “it’s a boy”. We thought this baby was going to be smaller then Shane as due to all my sicknesses I wasn’t putting on a lot of weight. After I visited my family in Florida I got healthy and started adding the weight, and it worked. I made sure I grew a bigger baby and the belly started to really POP out. Bubba’s movements were always very soft and rolling in my belly. No hard kicks like Shane, so I switched back to “it’s a girl”.
It wasn’t until about week 36 it all sunk in that “Wow! were going to have a baby and soon!” I now thought “nope it’s totally a boy”. I’m going with a boy!
On Monday March 11th I woke twice in the night with two contractions! Wednesday 13th I was up several hours in the night doing my yoga moves as I was very uncomfortable. It felt like the baby flipped sides and dove down. And that’s exactly what happened! I called my Mom and said, “I think Bubba is coming early”, but after that no more contractions.
Mom arrived on Monday March 25th. That Wednesday we went and got a foot massage as we did this with Shane and with Shane that massage, set me into labor. We then picked Jessy up from the airport (she was going to be there for the birth by had to leave by 1st), so I was now officially READY to birth this baby! But nothing happened that night. I didn’t think I’d be antsy and I’d just let it happen, but I was. I was excited to meet my baby! I had Kara come over and sweep my membranes. She said if I was on the verge this could help and it’s not harmful in anyway. Thursday night no baby. Friday day no baby. I had Kara come sweep my membranes at 4:45 pm Friday night and by 5:40 pm I had strong 40 second contractions! I knew it was time. YEAH
Mom started dinner and Marshall and I walked the block for ½ hour. During that time I had 4 strong contractions. I sat through contractions through dinner, Shane’s bath and putting him to bed. I cried when I put him to bed, as I knew it would the last time I had “just him”. I then could focus on my labor. Contractions grew stronger for a full minute but remained 5-7minutes apart. Marshall called Kara and her and Michelle Wellborn stopped over around 10pm. They could tell I still had some work to do so they said they were going to go back home and keep them posted. I felt like I had been working FOREVER, yet it was frustrating the contractions weren’t getting closer. I asked Kara what I could do to make them closer and she said just try to get some rest in between and relax. Don’t waste energy moving around. That was HARD to do. Marshall and I lay on the floor on the yoga mat. I had the TENS unit on my back fighting each contraction with it.
Finally around 1:30am my contractions were around 3 mins apart Kara and Michelle came over. They told me I could get in the aquadoula. I did and felt the urge to push. I asked Kara if I could and she said, “Go ahead”. She checked me and I was fully dilated. I pushed and pushed and pushed, but nothing was happening. It was hard work, but I didn’t feel like the pushing was quite as excruciating as Shane. I also had some breaks in between still, which I didn’t have with Shane. After an hour of pushing, Kara rechecked me and informed me “your cervix has come back”. WHAT!!!!!!! She said there must have been a bag of water in front of the baby’s head that allowed me to fully dilate and when that bag broke I went back to 8 cm. HOW DEFEATING. She said I couldn’t push anymore and need to now get up move around and go back into active labor to get me back to 10 cm again!!! I felt like I just got to the end of my Ironman and the referee said, “sorry you’re DQ’ed so go back to the beginning, start over, pace yourself and you’ll get there.”
Marshall, Mom and Jessy were all so encouraging telling me to stay positive and you can do it. I must say I had doubts. I did. It took everything for me to refocus. Marshall was my solid rock! He never doubted me, and moved me into different positions, held my hand, and supported me with kind words along the way. Kara and Michelle told me how to breathe and what to try next.
As I was squatting by the banister Kara noticed I was bleeding and knew my cervix was swelling. She said, “ok we can’t do that position, you need to lie down and labor through these.” We put back on the TENS unit, Kara held my leg and we worked through more UNBEARABLE contractions. I can’t even explain. I finally said “I can’t do this, what can do we do to make me fully dilate”. Kara said she could break my bag of waters and that would most likely allow me to fully dilate. I know the baby needs it’s bag of water if it’s not really ready to come, so I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to do this, but then again I couldn’t keep up this pain/pace. I confirmed with Jess that her midwife broke her water with Charlotte and it was ok right, she said yep. I asked Marshall what he wanted to do and he said, “Lets break it”. Kara did and the contractions somehow became even more unbearable then they were. I got back in the tub and had the urge to push again. She checked me and noticed I now had an anterior lip of the cervix. She said she would hold it back while I pushed. She did and it slipped over the babies head, I felt the ring of fire did a few more pushes and my babies head was out. Kara said reach down and feel your baby. I did, it was so surreal, but I just wanted Bubba out A few more pushes and Bubba was born underwater!!!!!!!! Kara pushed her through my legs and onto my chest. Marshall and I held our baby. I was in shock and so relieved, we are FINALLY holding our baby. We both looked down and checked what Bubba was and said “OMG it’s a GIRL!!!!!” We were bawling. We have a daughter. A funny handsome son and now a beautifully little girl, wow we are blessed. She was cubby and adorable.
We moved us out of the Aqua Doula and now needed to birth the placenta. Kara knew from Shane’s birth the placenta had a problem detaching and same thing happened with Bubba. I was losing a lot of blood, Michelle gave me a shot of pitocin in the leg and Kara said, “Mandy, I’m going to have to go in for it”. As if I couldn’t have gone through more pain I did! But I had full faith in Kara, and knew we needed to do this. After some minutes of Kara physically working to detach my placenta she DID IT!!!!!!!!!! THANK GOD!
We stabilized me and Bubba and Marshall, I and our new daughter Jordan Lynn Boyd lay there in tears. WE DID IT WE DID IT. Our bodies are meant to do this and thank god for the wonderful midwives like Kara and Michelle who are SO skilled in their profession they are able to handle anything. Thanks you guys!
Our little chubby bunny Jordan was officially born on 3/30/13 at 4:32 a.m. She weighed in at a whooping 8.4 lbs and is 20 ¾” long. She has brown hair, long fingers and toes, small waist, broad chest, a cute chubby face and the Thompson nose. We are in love with our little girl.
What a nice Easter gift.
Mandy + Marshall #3
I good friend of mine said, “You will never regret having a third baby, yet you may always regret not”. I totally agree, as I lay with my newborn nestled on my chest, knowing there is nothing out there that fills this love and emotion but life itself.
Ok, so let’s back up to how Jose (now Colton) came to life :) Marshall and I were out with our NightTrain swim friends (same group that gave me above advice). We had completed a lovely swim in bay, a 5 mile run around Angel Island, and were sharing few drinks at San Francisco yacht club. All the sudden a dare started and the next thing I knew I was taking a shot of Tequila (Jose Cuervo). Now I had just stopped nursing Jordan 1 month ago so my alcohol limit was low, I never do shots, and I HATE tequila! That said the song holds true “tequila makes your clothes come off”. I knew the next afternoon we were pregnant! By 3:00 pm I had implantation cramping (I’ve felt this before when I got pregnant with both Shane and Jordan). I was suppose to be tracking my period, but having had only 1 since I stopped nursing was bit hard to track. Plus the tequila :)
I didn’t mention anything to Marshall and thought I’d just wait a few weeks till I truly missed my next period. This was so hard to do, but I didn’t want to scare him quite yet if it was a false alarm :)
That day came and no period. Jordan and I rushed out to Walgreen’s to get a pregnancy test. I took the test and within 15 seconds it clearly read “PREGNANT”. I scooped Jordan up giving her big hugs with tears of joy in my eyes saying, “you’re going to have a baby brother or sister!” I was thrilled!!! I knew I wanted more kids but Marshall saw two as very manageable. I viewed Jose as my lucky charm, he just happened, and it was all meant to be.
That night Marshall got home from work and I was dying to tell him but thought it was best once kids were in bed. He literally came home telling me he just had lunch with a friend who had their 3rd baby and “wow it’s methane there! They are bringing in a live in au pair from Brazil”. I was biting my tongue; I knew there was no au pair in the cards for us. We sat at the breakfast bar and ate dinner. After dinner I handed him a little white bag. Marshall opens the sack, pulls out the pregnancy test, turns it over, and over again, looks at it still dumbfounded for two whole minutes. Then he starts laughing and says “NO WAY, HA”! I’m now shaking and crying. He hugs me; still laughing I think in disbelief and nervousness, and says just as my positive, calm, devoted husband would “let’s do this”!!! We cry, hug, kiss and start to vision Boyd family of 5!
We had our amazing midwife Kara (who also delivered Shane and Jordan in our same home) caring for Jose and I through out our pregnancy. We were in the best hands anyone could be in. All our appointments were positive, fun, with no issues. Jose heartbeat remained in low 130’s to high 120’s. I just knew he was a boy! My varicose veins were the worst thing about my pregnancy. They were bad and hurt a lot but I could handle it. I loved feeling Jose move in my belly, his hiccups at night, even big kicks under my right ribs. Its just soooo fascinating the body makes a baby!!! As usual we chose to forgo all ultra sounds and do no testing. Kara listened at first with the Doppler to hear baby’s heartbeat then just the stethoscope and it was always strong. I knew my baby was perfect, I just felt it.
We cruised along during pregnancy and a few weeks before Colton was born really started wrapping our heads around the birth and having a newborn. Marshall and I attended Kara’s refresher home birth class. I took a month long prenatal yoga class, and I mediated often. Jordan and Shane started sharing a bedroom (you should see what a 2 and 4 year old can create before the sun rises) and we got the house ready for baby. Well, really me nesting; installing new shelving in all closet and garage, deep cleaning house, doing big Costco runs.
Jose’s due date was March 16th. I started having contractions on and off a few weeks out. Saturday 7th I had many that day and that night thought “Marshall this could be it, get hose ready (for birth tub)”. No baby. Sunday and Monday more contractions but less often. Tuesday 10th I picked my Mom up from airport and now didn’t feel any contractions. It was so great to see Mom and have her with us. That Wednesday we had a meeting with Kara and everything was perfect with Jose. That week we did our usually routine with kids and had fun. Mom did a ton of cooking, baking, organizing, and laundry in preparation for baby. Every day wondering “was this the birth day?”, and everyday (besides cold/cough I got) I said, “Nope I feel just fine! Nothing happening”. Monday 16th came and no sign of Jose. Kara came Tuesday 17th and all was still normal. I had her do sweep the membranes with Jordan, as I was getting antsy when she was a day late, and I think it lead to more difficult labor/birth. This time I wanted him to come when he was ready. I was fine with waiting. It was hard and I did try all natural things (spicy food, sex, acupuncture, foot reflexology, and walking a lot/stairs) but God had a plan and he was going to come when we wanted too.
Jessy arrived on Thursday 19th!!! She had a ticket booked with plans to be meeting the baby yet maybe now she’d get to be there for the birth! She got to be present for Jordan’s and it was so great so maybe this one too!
Friday morning I did acupuncture again and did lion street stairs 3 times that night. That night 10:30pm while cleaning up the kitchen before going down to my room I had a strong contraction. I got down to my bedroom and felt dad’s presence. I felt as if he was sitting in my brown chair where he sat and held Shane and Jordan. He was there and I knew it was all going to be fine. I had 3 more strong contractions. I read my “Jesus calling” page and knew this was it! My contractions lasted ALL night long every 10-15mins. Some were more intense then others. I remained lying in bed as to not waste energy. Breathing through the contractions as the midwives suggest, trying to sleep. Let me tell you that sleeping during labor is not possible. Marshall would hear me moan and roll over pat my side and say “ohhh” and go back to sleep. At 5am Marshall texted Kara to let her know I’d been having contractions all night but they were still far apart. We had an appointment with Kara that day at 9:30am so she’d come see me then. At 6:30am I told Marshall to go wake my sister and have her feed and dress Shane and Jordan and drive them to my friend’s house. Mom woke too to help and was very excited. Everyone got out of the house around 9 am and my mind was at rest knowing the kids were gone and in fun good place.
We continued to labor in the bedroom. Kara arrived and said we were doing great. I was keeping it very mellow (Marshall was shocked at how I handled this labor). I was rolling on a ball, holding his hand and needing to be in child’s pose through every contraction but would then go back to reading Us Weekly, talking/telling stories, and listening spa music. Mom made me a protein shake, eggs, and English muffin. You can always count on my mom when it comes to excellent food, along with love and support.
Kara asked if I wanted her to check me I said “yes”. She did and I was 5cm dilated and cervix thinning!!! She said “honey you’ve made such great progress”. I said “thank you”. I told her to continue on with her Saturday as she had an appointment and she said, “No I’m going to wait around for an hour”. As she did the labor grew more intense. I couldn’t talk as much and the contractions became closer together and much stronger. I requested Marshall to put the tense unit on my back (muscle stimulator to help combat contractions). I leaned on Marshall SO much during my labor. He is my best friend, my rock, the calm one. He knows how to comfort and encourage me in any situation. He honestly held my hand though every contraction! I began pacing around room, sitting on chair, rolling on the ball, hugging pose, and even went out in backyard. Kara said, “I’m not going anywhere” and went to call Michelle Wellborn our secondary midwife. Marshall called his Mom too as we wanted her there for the birth.
We were still in bedroom and I had urge to bear down but it wasn’t quite as intense as I remember with Shane and Jordan. Kara washed her hands and her and Michelle put on gloves. Mom, Jess and Debi were all in room too. We were thinking this is it, but then it all slowed down a bit. I started get 15 mins breaks. I asked everyone but Marshall and midwives to leave room. They did. I tried to really absorb my breaks and rest. I was getting tired though. I had been drinking my Gatorade and doing GU (thank you Debi for running to sports basement to buy more) but could start to feel the long night weighing in. I had Kara check me again and she said I was only at a 7cm and still had a bit of cervix left. This was discouraging to hear but I wasn’t giving up. Giving up wasn’t in cards for me. My process was normal, natural, what a women’s body is suppose to do.
Kara and I discuss possibly breaking my bags of water (we did this with Jordan too) and I said “yes”. She said, “let’s wait an hour, ok honey, and see where you’re at”. “Ok,” I grunted. Twenty tough more minutes go by and I’m feeling this can’t get any harder but deep down know IT WILL. We decide to try the birth tub. Marshall basically carried me up the stairs and I got into the warm tub. The contractions were so painful that I’m moaning and whimpering all at once, wondering when can this will end, and I’ll have my baby! I remember having a glimpse of doubt and I looked up at Marshall who was draped over the side of the birth tub holding both my arms, and in his calm voice he reassured me that it was going to be fine, that I am strong, and I am doing great.
I hear Kara say “how about 20 more mins hon, and we can open your bag of waters”. I grunt “ok”. I was struggling not to bear down, but this baby was there and wanting me to push! Kara says “ok hon, let’s get you out tub and open your water”. I’m relieved, as I know baby will be here soon. I lay on my back on my yoga mat (same one Shane was delivered on) and she broke my bag. Whew and SHIT as pressure, contractions are SO intense now. I quickly reverted to hands and knees squeezing Marshall’s hand and pushing. Kara was amazing and noticed I had an anterior lip of cervix (same thing that happened with Jordan), she held her two fingers inside and slipped the cervix over Jose’s head. The midwives yell to my Mom, sister, and Debi to come! They come flying in the living room. I push once and push his whole head out!!! I let Marshall’s hands go so he can catch our baby! I push twice and push his whole body out. I hear him cry and Kara and Marshall pass him under my legs and I see he IS a BOY. We lay down with our son our third beautiful healthy baby!!! Oh my gosh we did it! We cry, kiss, and hug our baby. It’s an amazing miracle. Circle of life. He’s a big boy and Marshall and I lay there with him and kiss. I feel a contraction come and out I push my placenta!! This might seem normal for most of you, but the past two kids Kara had to manually remove my placenta (which is not pleasant and pretty scary on both our ends) so we were THRILLED it came out on it’s own. We all cheered and did high fives.
My mom cooked up an amazing dinner for all and poured glasses of Rombauer wine to celebrate. We toasted to Colton Vincent (my dad’s name) Boyd’s birthday and sat around chatting how beautiful and big he was :) We are blessed.
Marshall cut the umbilical cord; Jessy adjusted Colton (she adjusted his head sutures and his neck. We love that she can adjust him so soon into life) and Kara took baby vitals. We all were guessing how much Colton weighed. I said 9 lbs. He was 8.11lbs and 22” long with head circumference of 14”!!! Big big boy! He was nursing great. The only issue we had was his temperature was low.
We got us moved into our bedroom and midwives stay to clean up. His temperate was still low. Around 8pm everyone said good night except Kara stayed to make sure his temperate was ok. My mommy’s instinct kicked in and I told Marshall to grab me the space heater. He looked at me like I was crazy even said “Mandy this isn’t going to work”. And I insisted. “Lay it horizontal on bed and I’m going to unswaddle Colton and really dry him out. All his little creases and folds are clammy and wet”. We had him laying on me and both of us were just sweaty and clammy. The heating pad I felt was creating wet heat. We blasted the dry space heater heat and I laid over him talking to him telling him “come on Colton, we can do this!” Jessy got me some essential oils that had cinnamon in them which can help create heat. I rubbed them on his back and feet. I dried out his neck, arm pits, and rub our noses together talking to him whole time. Heat blasted away. Kara took his temp 96, but then in a few minutes it was 97! It was working! I knew it. Follow your gut :). By 10:30 pm Kara said she felt ok leaving. His temp was better, but to keep checking it every hour and text her. We needed it to be 97.7-99.
I made Marshall sleep with Colton on his chest while dry heat blasted them. Imagine sleeping in dry sauna :) I took it again 97. By 12:30am it was 97.7!!!! I text Kara. Finally we could all rest a bit. I set my alarm for every hour to be sure to nurse him and check his temp. By 7am he was perfect 98.3! Yeah we did it. All in clear.
Marshall and Jessy went the next morning on bikes to go pick up Shane and Jordan from our friend’s and brought them home to meet their new baby brother! They came rushing in our bedroom and they loved Colton. I was surprised how much Jordan really liked him. They were very sweet to him. Touching, kissing and looking at him. They both wanted to hold him too.
We are now a lucky blessed family of 5! Marshall and I love each other more and more everyday and strive to show our children the passion we have for one another and life itself. Thank you God.
Penelope + Mikiya
A love letter to my childbearing years
After my second daughter was born, I struggled to get her birth story written down. It was really important to me to write it, and I kept meaning to get it done, but when I sat down to write, the words just didn’t flow out of me. I was confused at first. My labor and Zoë’s birth went beautifully. She was born in our living room in the wee hours of April 20th, in what was the most purely exuberant, life-affirming experience of my 36 years on earth to date. My husband, my parents, my midwives, my sister, my older daughter, Isis, and my niece, Sasha, were all there to welcome her into the world. It was intimate, and joyful, and empowering.
It was everything I ever hoped for out of childbirth, really.
So, I didn’t understand why it was so hard to craft the narrative. My first daughter’s birth story also took several months to write, but that made sense to me because my labor experience had been more emotionally difficult to process. We planned for a home birth, but had to transfer to the hospital when we discovered thick meconium in my waters midway through labor. I felt really sad about the transfer, but I knew it was what we had to do, and I lucked into the care of an amazing nurse—Heidi—so, I was grateful for that. She helped make space in the hospital for some really beautiful, intimate experiences, like the moment I touched my little girl’s head for the first time, as I was pushing her out. That blew my mind—to reach inside my own body and feel the hardness of another person’s skull. Of course I knew through my whole pregnancy that I was carrying another human being inside of me, but honestly, she didn’t become real to me until I touched her. That was the moment I truly understood that I had made a child, and she was here, with me. A new little soul, just two knuckles away from being born.
Heidi gave me a gift, by keeping the labor room as calm and private as possible until the last minute, but as Isis was getting close to crowning, it felt like the rest of the hospital flooded into my room. Besides the neonatal team chatting with each other off to the side, I suddenly found myself with a resident at the foot of my bed, being supervised by a hospital midwife, who, for reasons no one ever explained to me, was being hovered over by a perinatologist. They all seemed to have talked to each other about me, but none of them thought it might be a good idea to include me in the conversation. One minute I was calmly pushing, having been told I was making great progress, and then suddenly the doctor at the foot of my bed was holding episiotomy scissors and staring at my vagina while the hospital midwife tersely informed me, “Okay, we need you to push this baby out on the next contraction or else we’re going to do a vacuum assist.” There was no explanation offered, and certainly no discussion of the risks or benefits of episiotomy and instrumental delivery. I was educated enough to know that in certain emergencies, the time saved with a vacuum assist can really matter, but we were not having an emergency. My child was not in distress, and no one saw fit to explain to me what the great cause for concern was in this case.
I remember feeling discouraged, vulnerable, and rushed along by authority figures who it seemed were either impatient or simply did not believe that I had the strength to push my baby out on my own. My homebirth midwife, Nancy, was beside my head, and I remember her whispering into my ear, “I don’t know why this is happening, your baby is doing fine, but push like hell on the next contraction.” I gave it everything I had, and apparently that was enough to fend off the doctor, because he lay down the scissors after that, and they told me I could have another chance to deliver on the next push.
As I sat there waiting for the contraction to build I remember feeling confused, afraid, and utterly resigned to the idea that I would end up with an instrumental delivery. These clinicians at the foot of my bed filled me with self-doubt, and I somehow couldn’t find the words to advocate for myself. My baby was not in distress, I had been pushing for under two hours (which I knew was totally average for a first time mom), and my daughter’s head was visible and close to crowning. What was the rush? Why was I suddenly being told out of the blue that I had to have a vacuum assist? Even today, as I remember those moments, I desperately wish I could teleport back into that delivery room and stick up for the me that was lying on that bed. I wish I could look them straight in the eye and insist on better communication and more respectful bedside manner. In my normal life I am assertive, but as a laboring mother I needed to keep all my focus and energy on the task at hand. I didn’t have it in me to pick a fight with the doctor, so I just stayed silent. I closed my eyes, I put my head down and I pushed… I channeled all my anger, and sadness, and frustration into that push, and to my shock and relief, that got her out.
I got her out.
I heard her wail immediately. She came out pink and healthy and screaming. We had waited to find out the sex, so the first words out of my mouth were “What is it?!?” As my husband checked, my sister heard the doctor bark, “Get him on the table, now!” My husband announced that we in fact had a little girl, and then followed her over to the side table, where the pediatric team apparently wanted to suction her despite the fact that we had been told earlier that she would stay with me unless she presented poorly at birth. They suctioned her anyway, figured out quickly that my baby was fine, and sent her back across the room to me. Gradually the throng of people departed from our room, until it was quiet and intimate again, and we were free to focus on falling in love with this thoroughly delightful little creature who had joined our family.
My first daughter’s birth taught me to let go of my expectations, and embrace the complex grief and beauty of a different journey than the one I had planned. I learned that childbirth is an awesome rite of passage, no matter where it happens, and I developed an earnest and entirely new respect for my own body after seeing what amazing things it could do. Nevertheless, the change of venue made me feel sad and cheated, and my too-close-for-comfort run-in with episiotomy scissors and clinicians with poor bedside manner left me even less enthusiastic about hospital birth than I had been to begin with. I processed my feelings about Isis’ birth by writing about them. I made her a picture book with the story of her birth that focused mostly on the profoundly beautiful aspects of the journey, and I wrote a letter to the hospital that let me say my piece about the parts that particularly sucked. Once I had done those two things, I wrote a letter to my future self about what I thought I would need to feel supported, should I have another chance at childbirth.
When Isis was three years old, I got that chance. We learned that I was pregnant again, and that we had another little girl on the way. My second pregnancy was smooth, healthy, and low-risk, just like my first. Both times, I loved being pregnant, and absolutely marveled at the whole thing, from conception to birth to postpartum. I know for a lot of women it can be quite a bumpy road, but in most things pregnancy-related, I really got the lucky draw. I conceived babies easily and never suffered the loss of a pregnancy. I didn’t have morning sickness, and never faced any serious complications. I kept my normal commute, biking to the Caltrain right up until I was 37 weeks pregnant. I taught two consecutive quarters of my introductory human rights class at Stanford with Zoë growing inside me, and we even took a trip across the Atlantic together for work when I was big enough to get plenty of nervous side-eye from the flight crew.
I know that pregnancy can bring tremendous discomfort and complicated feelings about all the changes that happen to our bodies, but I found that pregnancy made me more confident and at home in my body than I had ever felt in my adult life. Both times, it made me feel strong, and beautiful, and tremendously capable. It felt like something I was meant to do, and I honestly loved doing it. I was grateful I had the opportunity to take this journey twice in my life, and I felt preemptively nostalgic the whole time I was pregnant with Zoë, knowing that this would almost surely be the last time I got to experience it all.
I re-hired Nancy and Kara, and started planning again for a home birth, but truthfully, I was afraid to hope. The whole time I was pregnant with Zoë, I was scared to believe that I might actually get to birth a baby in my own home, on my own terms, surrounded exclusively by people I loved and trusted. I had longed for it and fantasized about it for so many years, but I felt like I needed to guard my heart against disappointment. So, I spent much of my second pregnancy trying not to have any expectations for where or how Zoë’s birth would happen. This was more easily done in the beginning, when work kept me busy and distracted. In the final weeks of pregnancy, I had much more free time, and I spent most of my days at home with my thoughts wandering toward visions of her impending arrival.
At 38 weeks pregnant, I lay on my couch, gazing out my living room window at the beautiful mural on the front of the Women’s Building. The whole mural is built around a cascade of clear blue amniotic fluid flowing down the side of the building from the womb of a peaceful and powerful mama with a baby girl inside her belly. Because of my first and (until then) only experience with childbirth, I could scarcely imagine my bag opening and seeing anything other than that green stain of meconium. But Nancy and Kara kept telling me, “this is a different pregnancy, Penelope,” and as I lay there on my couch with Zoë wiggling inside of me, I used that mural to help me visualize something different. For the first time in my entire pregnancy, I nervously entertained real hope about giving birth right there. It scared me to allow those expectations to form, but I just couldn’t help it any longer. My living room felt like a place a child was meant to be born, and as fortune would have it, that is indeed what came to pass.
At seven days past my “due date,” following two weeks of maddening on-again, off-again contractions, my labor began on the afternoon of April 19th, after I drank four ounces of castor oil in a chocolate milk shake. Within a few hours, strong contractions were coming in a regular pattern. At 5:00 I had a run of some really powerful ones right on top of each other. I alerted Kara and Nancy to the shift, and they said they were on their way. Minutes later, as I was standing in the hallway, I felt my water break. I happened to be in the exact same spot where I was standing when we discovered the meconium with my first, but this time I was relieved and frankly astonished to see clear fluid running down my legs. I think I hollered, to no one in particular, “It’s clear!!” and then I just laughed and laughed as fresh bursts of fluid leaked out on every subsequent contraction. I moved to the bathtub just to let the fluid run down the drain, and that’s where I stood—joyfully leaking—when everyone started to arrive. In that glorious moment, when my water broke clear, a burden of worry lifted, and I suddenly had faith. I felt totally present. My body was working. My people were there. And I thought, “Yes. This is everything I wanted. Let’s do this.”
I labored through the evening with my family around me. The mood was joyous and loving and peaceful. When contractions would come, I closed my eyes and trusted my intuition to find coping methods that carried me through each one. And in between contractions, I just really enjoyed being in that space, and in the company of these ones I loved. Sometime after 11:00, once Isis and Sasha had fallen asleep, I started to feel an urge to push. It wasn’t overwhelming, but bearing down had definitely become the coping technique my body preferred with each contraction at that point. I asked for a midwife to check me, because I suspected this urge was still premature. Sure enough they discovered I was at 5cm. I think Nancy was worried I would be really discouraged by this news, but actually I was mostly excited to learn that Zoë would be born on the 20th, and end up sharing a birthday with a very special cousin.
Nancy and Kara sent everyone to bed, and I lay down with headphones and a mellow playlist of songs, trying to rest and avoid the urge to push. That worked for about an hour, until I couldn’t handle being horizontal anymore. I spent another hour pacing around the apartment, trying to find some magic spot or position or thing to squeeze that would take away my increasingly urgent need to bear down. This was both the quietest and the loudest part of labor—quiet because it was the dead of night, and all the lights were dim, and it was just me and my husband and Kara taking things one contraction at a time… Loud because oh my gosh the sounds that were coming out of me. The incredible power of my uterus amazed me. How can something be so strong and yet delicate enough not to crush the baby inside? Before I ever had children, I imagined contractions as something that happens to you during labor, as if some outside force is responsible. But after going through labor twice, I realized, that power is me. It cannot be too much for me to handle because I am the origin of that force. I could feel myself involuntarily pushing as I heaved and bellowed my way through each contraction, and when that started happening I looked at Kara pleadingly and said, “I’m trying not to push, I swear! But it’s just happening. I can’t stop it. I know I shouldn’t push, but what if I can’t control it??” Kara looked me straight in the eye, nodded her head and said, “That’s fine. You’re just going to do the very best you can with each contraction, and that is going to be enough.” She believed in me, and that meant the world to me.
I asked Kara to check me again, thinking surely I must be fully dilated by now if I was pushing uncontrollably. She obliged, and when I heard her say, “you’re at a seven. Now is not the time to push,” I just thought, “Are you fucking kidding me?” She moved me face down on the ground with my butt up in the air to get the baby off my cervix. I remember lying there with my check against the floor, and saying to Kara, “I know you can’t really answer this, but seriously, how much longer do you think it’s going to be?” Thankfully, I didn’t feel afraid, because Kara was just so calm and composed. She looked at me with such kindness her eyes as she said, “Could be an hour? Maybe two?”
“No. No way. That is simply not happening,” I thought.
My mind reached for alternate possibilities. I knew that an epidural would take away premature urge to push, but for that I would have to get to a hospital, which required getting down my stairs, riding in a car, and, most inconceivably sitting still while someone inserted the catheter in my spine.
“Nope. That’s definitely not happening either.”
It was funny. It wasn’t a feeling like “I can’t”—it was much more matter-of-fact than that: I just thought, we’re not transferring to the hospital, and I’m not doing this for two more hours, so something else must be about to happen.
And in fact, something else did happen. A new contraction came along with unbelievable force. My brain switched off, my body heaved, and my magical cervix dilated from a seven to a ten in one contraction. I heard Kara say, “I see a head,” and then there was a scramble to rouse everyone from sleep. Within just a few minutes, my husband woke up our older daughter, my sister grabbed my parents, Nancy was there ready to catch, and Kara was back by my side. I was on another planet trying to catch up with what was happening when I heard Nancy’s voice say, “Penelope! Penelope. Everything is good here. You’re fine. Everything is great actually. You’re having a baby!” I realized it was now okay to push with my contractions, and what a relief that was! I took a deep breath, heard Kara whisper, “you’re safe,” and on the next contraction, Zoë’s head was born. The rest of her flew out ten seconds later, right through Nancy’s hands and onto the mat below. Nancy scooped her up and handed her to me, and I was a new mother all over again.
Our family was complete, and we were home. It was everything I wanted it to be.
I realize now why I struggled to write Zoë’s birth story. I actually had two stories trying to make their way out into the world at the same time, and they were getting mixed up in my head. There was a story to tell about the night Zoë arrived. That was her birth story, and it could stand on its own, without all the prologue about her big sister’s birth. I wrote that story in long form this week, and put it in a book for her with beautiful pictures from her birth. But I also needed to write the story of my birth into motherhood, because we’re stopping at two kids, so I am reckoning with the realization that my childbearing years are complete, and I needed a place to reflect on the full arc of that experience. When I was young I thought you became an adult and that was pretty much your last big transformation until you became old. But of course it turns out, there are seasons to adulthood. The last five years of my life have felt like a metamorphosis. I feel wiser and more self-confident, and somehow tougher and more tender all at once.
Its an amazing privilege to have become a mother twice, and I could not be more grateful for the people who have cared for me and guided me and believed in me along the way.
~Penelope Van Tuyl~
October 20, 2017
Celeste + Jon
Naomi’s birth story begins on Friday October 28th, 2016, with a suspicious leak. I had taken some pH strips from Kara just for this event, and sure enough after a few different tries confirmed that I was in fact leaking amniotic fluid. If I had been GBS negative as I was with Thea, this news would have been met with excitement that the birth was imminent. But this time around I was GBS positive. I knew we would have to start IV antibiotics soon, and that my runway to get this labor started was short.
Once I got confirmation I sent Jon the text that I needed him to come home because this was it (!). I then paced the house for an eternity waiting for him to arrive. Once he finally walked in the door I started the final preparations; getting the congee out of the freezer, packing some last minute things for Thea, and collecting the various pillows and props for labor. I was encouraged to take a long walk to see if I could get things moving, and we also needed to take a little space and time to digest what was happening. Fortunately Erika was free and came over to watch Thea while Jon and I went for a labor induction walk down the Panhandle. It had been raining and the trees and ground were damp, giving everything that magical feel. We strolled and reflected on the fact that we would shortly be meeting a new member of our family and there would soon be four of us! As we walked I felt a twinge here and there, giving me some hope that perhaps labor was on its way. Around halfway we stopped at a bench and had a couple of teenagers take our picture to memorialize the moment. We shared a hug. Then we started in on the real meat of the walk as we discussed strategy based on information from Kara- when to start the antibiotics, what labor induction we should begin, and the what ifs. I was anxious. While we walked and talked about risks associated with GBS and the not so glamorous induction methods (namely castor oil). There was no clear answer on what to do next so we decided to call Ami and Nancy to get their opinion too. Ami seemed to be on the more conservative side and wanted to get the antibiotics started sooner, while Nancy and Kara were willing to give it a little more time. The kicker here was that the leak had mostly stopped. If I were having a hospital birth, I would have gone in to see a midwife to confirm the leak. If I arrived and the leak had stopped, they would have sent me on my merry way without starting any intervention. But I knew that I had had a leak because I tested it myself, and that was something that we could not un-know. I just didn’t want to take a chance, and the final decision was to start antibiotics that night. That got us on the penicillin-every-four-hours train. While there was peace of mind in starting the antibiotics, we also knew we were starting the countdown for potential transfer and induction. After a few phone calls and texts letting people know that baby Naomi would be arriving soon, we headed home to start working on the labor.
Step one was to send Jon to Scarlet Sage to get our induction potions. We would begin with the Black Cohosh and Cotton Root Bark every two to three hours, while Castor Oil would be reserved for the next morning so that I could maybe get a little sleep. The breast pump came out too for some trusty nipple stimulation. Perhaps it was the tinctures mixed with the anxiety but I just felt terrible; heart racing, stomach churning, totally unable to relax. We ate a little dinner and Jon tried to get some sleep in preparation for the unknown. I had already been sleeping on the couch with a mountain of pillows around my hugely pregnant body for a couple of weeks, so I continued to camp out in the living room. Kara came over at 9:00 to check in on us, and we agreed on a plan to start the antibiotics later that night. The schedule for the antibiotics was fairly brutal for all of us. Kara got the IV started at 1:03 am. Then another visit at 5:43. It felt as though I had had no sleep at all between Kara’s visits, and just before she came back in the morning I threw up the horrible red Cotton Root Bark tincture.
Once Jon and Thea got up it was time for round two of induction, the Castor Oil. I had decided on a delicious Castor oil milk shake with ice cream and blueberries. While trying to chug the concoction, my body made it clear that this was an oil which was not meant to be ingested. I fought hard and was able to keep it down, but it was unpleasant. I started with the recommended 2 oz; nothing. Then Kara came over for the next round of antibiotics, and recommended another 2 oz of the Castor oil. Yes, then it started working. The process was not as horrible as people had described, but still no labor. I pumped, I paced around the house, I even walked up and down the block while people in costume passed by me (it was Halloween weekend after all).
Around 2:00 pm Ami came over to join Kara for the next intervention, and it was a deja vu of Thea’s labor. In just about the same place on the couch as last time, Ami and Kara broke the waters. The tricky thing here was that the timer really started for getting this baby out. Yes, I had a leak before, but it was probably a tiny leak high up. Now that we broke the waters Naomi no longer had her amniotic buffer. I was hoping to start heading in the direction of active labor after that, but the contractions still weren’t conforming to a pattern.
By 4:00 it was starting to feel like Thea’s early labor- contractions that would come and go in intensity and duration but didn’t seem to move toward active labor. I was feeling increasingly discouraged. Besides the fact that I felt absolute fear and dread of another labor that went on for days, we simply did not have that kind of time before I would have to transfer. I paced up and down the sidewalk outside while people (still in costume) gave me funny looks as I paused and bent over to moan through a contraction. I came back inside and paced the hall, this time pausing to hug the chair through contractions. I did hip circles on the ball, hip circles with one leg up, then the other leg, I got out the bolster and blocks and all the pillows to try out the positions we learned from Britt during our partner yoga session. Although the contractions were not exactly progressing in a linear fashion, they were becoming increasingly uncomfortable so Jon suggested I get in the shower for a while to cope and clear my head.
When I finally got tired of the shower I came back out to the living room for a heart to heart. After opening the bag, walking, yoga, nipple stim, herbs and Castor Oil, we had really run out of options for intervention at home and were just waiting impatiently for my body to get coordinated. It was just before 6:00 pm and getting dark. It just felt late. If transfer was inevitable I wanted to do it sooner rather than later and not have to labor into the night. I also wanted to get things moving so that we weren’t out of touch with Thea for too long. But Jon and Kara both agreed; we had four more hours of runway and we should just max it out. Kara said once we transferred, that was it. Even if I went into active labor spontaneously the minute we got there, we couldn’t come back home. I agreed, somewhat reluctantly, because I didn’t want to have any regrets. As was getting close to dinner time, we made preparations for the evening and Jon called Anna to come over and sit for Thea and get everything ready for her upstairs at Pete and Tracy’s. I thought about packing myself a bag for the hospital, but I just had to convince myself it was possible to have this baby at home within the next few hours.
Kara had one last trick for us to try and induce this labor. It was kind of a long shot but couldn’t hurt, so we got out the ring sling to try Rebozo sifting. At 6:17 pm I got on my hands and knees while Jon jiggled my belly with the sling. We had only been at it for a couple of minutes when I had a hard contraction, then another, and I asked Jon to stop while I leaned forward and buried by head in my arms to try and cope. Anna arrived and Jon left to help them transition Thea upstairs.
I remember the spaces between the contractions during Thea’s labor as surreal; I would be hit by a contraction that felt like an oncoming train, then it would be over and I would be in no discomfort at all. This time around, the contractions of active labor started and didn’t stop. It was one wave after another without time to collect myself between them. At some point Jon came back from getting things settled upstairs and I remember the two of them reclining on the couch giving each other nods as they timed the contractions. Meanwhile I was on hands and knees on the floor trying desperately to keep on top of the relentless surges. I asked Kara if I could please please get in the tub. Ruthlessly, she replied that we should give it four more surges. After all, it had only been maybe twenty minutes of real contractions. She casually got up to use the restroom down the hall, and as she left the room she asked if I felt the head changing position. I grunted yes, but inside I was screaming, YES how did you know!? Because at that moment I felt Naomi travel down the birth canal.
It was only a few minutes later that my deep moans changed to shrieks as I tried to indicate to Jon that her head was right there and I was ready to push. Kara got the message, and frantically texted Ami that baby was coming right now and ran back down the hall. I still had pants and panties and socks on and was holding her head back with my hand. We pulled everything off and somehow Jon managed to get a couple of chux pads down on the carpet for me. At 6:51 I started pushing, cautiously and with a lot of panting in between because, wow, is it really okay to push right now? With a good push she crowned, and a couple of slow pushes I delivered her head, then her body with a big gush. Jon had grabbed the camera and was somehow capturing shots even though tears were streaming down his face. Kara placed my very tiny soft baby on my chest, and all I could say was, “oh my god oh my god!”, which meant: “My beautiful baby is here!” as well as, “That was the craziest birth!” We were all so surprised- it had only been a total of 37 minutes from the time we started the Rebozo to when Naomi was born.
At some point I made it up onto the couch and the postpartum activities followed in a blur; Naomi immediately latched, Ami arrived, Kelli the photographer arrived, Jon cut the cord, I birthed the placenta, a small but painful tear was repaired. I got up for the first momentus pee and ate some quiche. Since we transferred to UCSF shortly after Thea was born, we had missed out on the quiet bonding time together right after birth. This time we were ceremoniously tucked into bed with Naomi- the culmination of the home birth. Thea then came down to join us in bed and complete our new bigger family. It was an intense moment for me to have my first baby meet my new baby for the first time, and my love for them was overwhelming. Thea was in awe of her new little sister, and I was in awe of Thea. It was an amazing to see the start of their relationship together.
I had started this labor feeling discouraged, particularly because of the history of Thea’s long and arduous labor. But I could not have hoped for a more spectacular conclusion! I feel so lucky not only to have had the experience of giving birth, but to have been able to do it my own terms in my own home.
Natalie + Jess
Jess and I kept hearing that only about 4 percent of all babies are born on the due date, and that first babies typically arrive late. With that in mind, as our due date approached we figured we had at least a few weeks to go. Between prenatal yoga, acupuncture and naps, I was feeling pretty good. Then at 2 a.m. on January 11 my water broke. I remember sitting in our bathroom and feeling excited, but also knowing that I had to try to stay calm and get some rest. We debated calling Kara since it was the middle of the night, but eventually we worked up the courage to text her. Kara was at a birth and told us to get some rest and to check back in the morning.
In the weeks and months leading up to this day, knowing that there was no way to predict exactly how things would go, I simply envisioned staying calm and focusing on my breathing. I knew I would have to trust my body and my baby. So when my water turned from clear to green at 6 a.m., I knew that things weren’t going to go “as planned”. We once again called Kara and talked through the presence of meconium in my water. We knew that this could be a sign of fetal distress or that it could simply pass, so we gave it two more hours and then decided to have Kara come over to figure out our next move.
Kara came over and listened to our baby’s heartbeat. It was a little fast, and because my contractions had not yet started, Jess, Kara and I decided it was to transfer to the hospital. Jess and I had decided early on that our priority was to ensure our baby was healthy above all else, so the choice to transfer was easy. As I packed for the hospital I started to get nervous, but both Jess and Kara seemed calm so that helped me stay calm as well. While Kara called the hospital to arrange the transfer, Jess went out for snacks and other necessities for our hospital stay. Soon it was time to go.
When we arrived at Labor and Delivery I felt uneasy. The waiting room was full, and we had to wait in the busy hallway as doctors and nurses ran back and forth. During my pregnancy I couldn’t imagine giving birth in a hospital. It was a source of anxiety for me that lingered until we decided to have a home birth. I wanted to feel connected to my baby throughout the entire birthing process, and I didn’t think that I could have that experience at the hospital. When we told the admitting nurse that we were transferring in from a homebirth I was relieved to sense that she understood our situation and was willing to work to make us comfortable in the hospital environment. She told us about her grandkids who were born at home. She was kind, patient and didn’t make us feel strange for wanting a home birth. We didn’t have a written birth plan but it was important for me to have an un-medicated birth, as well as mobility during labor, delayed cord-clamping, and immediate skin-to-skin contact with our baby. She made a note of these things and said she would make sure that our care team knew our plan. So far so good.
By this point it was around 11 a.m. and my contractions still had not started. The same nurse that admitted us suggested that I take misoprostol (“miso”) to get my contractions started. Looking back, I wish that I had taken more time to think about the decision to take miso. It was not until later that I realized what it means to have contractions that are not your own.
At first my contractions were light, but they very quickly became more painful and intense. I barely got a break between each contraction, and at times there were two to three in rapid succession. I tried hard to focus on my breathing, squeezing Jess’s hand during each and leaning on him for rest in between. Since I wasn’t hooked up to a monitor I was able to switch positions – resting on a yoga ball, on hands and knees, and leaning on Jess. I remember feeling too hot and then suddenly feeling too cold. Even before we were moved from the triage room to a labor and delivery room I went into a sort of daze – I don’t think I really opened my eyes until our baby was born.
Jess was great during the entire labor. I don’t remember a lot of what happened, but without his presence, encouragement and care I would not have been able to get through it all. As for the nurses, they came and went, occasionally adjusting the fetal monitor and checking in on us. By 6 p.m. the contractions were extremely painful and the nurse came in to discuss pain medication options. This was a low point for me. I was exhausted and in pain and agreed to listen to my options. All I remember hearing was that Fentanyl would be ineffective but that I could have an epidural. Every part of me wanted to say yes so that I could get some rest and relief from the pain.
I didn’t know this at the time, but Jess had texted Kara letting her know that we were discussing pain medication. She was on her way back to the hospital and asked if we would wait until she got there before deciding on the medications. Jess and Kara both knew that this was not part of our birth plan. Kara’s arrival was a turning point in my labor. She had me switch positions and got me to sit on a birthing ball in the shower. The hot water provided a lot of relief, and from then on it was all about getting through the contractions one at a time.
I don’t remember how long I was in the shower but afterward Kara had me sitting on my knees with my chest facing the back of the bed and the bed raised so that I could drape my hands over the sides. Jess stood behind the bed and I squeezed his hands during the contractions while Kara applied pressure to my lower back and hips. I remember Kara telling me that I was safe, and to let go once a contraction was over so that I could rest. And we went on like that for hours.
I also don’t remember the doctors ever checking to see how much I was dilated but at 9:15 pm the doctor did check to see if I could start pushing. I remember it being extremely uncomfortable and painful when the doctor pushed aside the remainder of my cervix so that I could start pushing.
I pushed for what seemed like eternity —- and in reality it was four hours. Our nurse helped me maximize each push by counting, while Kara and Jess encouraged me to rest and relax between contractions. At one point they could see the top of our baby’s head and told me our baby had a full head of hair! Kara asked me from time- to-time whether I wanted to see using a mirror. I kept saying “no”. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see our baby but rather, I was determined to get our baby out and I didn’t want to see how far our baby was because I thought I might give up from exhaustion. So Kara suggested that I talk to our baby —- I remember saying, “come on baby, come out, I am tired. Please come out, I am so tired.”
I was not very convincing but labor is truly a beautiful process and a woman’s body an incredible being. The last few pushes were the hardest. I knew we were close but I just couldn’t see how I could push any harder. It as at the moment when I felt I gave up that our baby’s head cleared and the rest of the body flowed out with it. Seeing our baby held up by the doctors was an incredible sight and filled me with pure joy that it completely muted all the pain for several seconds. The doctors immediately placed her (although we didn’t it at the time) on my chest, and I was surprised by how calm she seemed to be, despite all the pushing and painful labor. Her eyes were open and looking at us, and Jess and I were immediately transfixed. We were so awe-struck that we completely forgot to check her sex! Jess checked and told me that we had a little girl, and we laughed and kissed each other, thinking of all the predictions and wagers around if our baby would be a boy or girl. I remember thinking that she was beautiful and perfect in every way. The doctors delayed having Jess cut the umbilical cord, and we were able to enjoy our baby’s first few moments of life together as though it was only the three of us in the room.
Maya Rani was born on January 12, alert and ready for this world, and we were ready to be her parents. Maya’s birth was not the one we planned but it was just the way it needed to be. I truly couldn’t have done it without Jess and Kara. The gratitude that I have for them, for their patience, love, strength and support is beyond words. We were overwhelmed with love and joy when Maya was born and still are. Holding her in my arms the day she was born was an indescribable experience and the bond that we have both as mother and daughter and as a family continues to grow stronger everyday.
When we brought Maya home it was as if she had always been a part of our lives. She was instantly written into our every memory. Being at home with her after nine months was an incredible feeling and Kara’s daily postpartum care was an indispensable part in helping us navigate the early days of parenthood. I always knew that I wanted to be a mother. Giving birth to Maya was the hardest thing that I have done, but the day that Maya made me a mama was one of the best days of my life and worth every minute of my labor. Maya teaches me every day to be patient, loving and strong. As new parents our lives have changed forever, and our promise to Maya is that we will always keep her safe and help her learn to be a good person.
Lizzy + Luke
On the morning of February 26th we had a team meeting with our midwife Kara and our doula Murial. I was just shy of 37 weeks pregnant, and Kara mentioned that we could have the baby today safely. I spent the day aggressively nesting, making a long list of “things to do before the baby comes” and organizing the house. I kept telling myself, “thank goodness I have at least two more weeks!”
Well, that night I woke up with contractions. I wasn’t sure what was going on…I really wasn’t ready to have this baby. I had only finished client work several days before, and I was really looking forward to having some free time before he arrived.
Yet by the time sunrise rolled around, the contractions came to a complete stop. Then on Friday night, a similar thing happened. A few hours of contractions a few minutes apart, lasting a minute (or more). Then the sun rose, and they faded away. My midwife Kara stopped by on Saturday morning to check baby’s heart tones. She also did a vaginal exam. I was one centimeter dilated and baby was at zero station. The contractions were making progress, but I wasn’t in labor. Just labor-y.
The medical term for my pattern was “irritable uterus,” which is a truly horrible name. She prescribed a glass of wine and a bath before bed to calm everything down so I could sleep. It was important that I sleep so when active labor began I would have enough energy to make it through.
After months of no alcohol, I brought out my favorite wine — a frappato by a female producer from Sicily who makes beautiful biodynamic wines (seriously). If I was going to drink something, it was going to be really good! Thankfully the wine and the bath were enough to calm down both my uterus and my nerves. It was really challenging to go through night after night not knowing if I was in labor, or if I’d wake up the next morning pregnant.Thank goodness, I knew that in max five weeks, he would be out, but five weeks was a long time to wait…
Because I didn’t know when I was going to have the baby, we canceled most of our plans. I told myself I was on my “birth retreat.” And I tried to make the most of it, taking long walks, cooking good food, taking some flower essences, enjoying my nightly baths, and resting as much as possible. And I continued talking to my baby, letting him know that he was welcome whenever he was ready.
I asked my spirit guides what was happening. They told me, “Low and slow, and then we go!” So I believed them, knowing that it might be awhile before the baby came.This pattern lasted about two and a half more weeks, although the contractions stopped for a brief few days when my dad was in town. Thankfully, I was able to get a few nights of good sleep, which really helped my body and my spirit.
The morning of Friday, March 11th, I woke up with a huge amount of wetness in my bed. I texted my midwife that it’s possible my water broke, but I wasn’t sure. She did a test to see if it was amniotic fluid. Nope….I had actually peed myself.
I texted my friend: “When you think your water broke but you just peed your pants.”A little disappointed, I still couldn’t help thinking he had to be coming soon.
That afternoon, I started feeling more contractions. I went to the park and spent a while on a tire swing, just swinging around and enjoying the solitude. My friend came over later, and as we were talking, I could feel the contractions starting to pick up a bit. She’s in acupuncture school, and I had her feel my pulses while I was having contractions. The pulse was definitely “scattered,” which is a pulse you feel if a woman is in labor, but I didn’t think too much about it, as I was so used to the surges by now. They had become my new normal.I decided to take an early bath to see if the contractions would settle down like they normally did. I filled the bathwater with some mugwort flower essence and some essential oils for opening and expanding. Every other time, the contractions would slow down while I was in the bath, but this time they didn’t. I rubbed my belly with more flower essences and essential oils, and went to lie down in the bedroom.
At this point, I also decided to use some acupuncture needles to help with the crampiness and to move the energy downward. I used the acupuncture points Large Intestine 4 and Spleen 6 bilaterally. I’m in acupuncture school, and I promised my acupuncturist I wouldn’t needle myself in labor. But I didn’t really believe I was in labor at the time! The needles helped a lot with the intensity.
Around this point, my husband came home and I was seriously craving some gluten free cheese flavored crackers. I’ve never had this sort of craving in my entire life, and my cravings had largely gone away during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters. I remember how delicious they tasted, even though it sounds gross to me now.
Around 9 pm I asked my husband if we could watch a stupid Julia Roberts romantic comedy. Notting Hill was available on Netflix, so he turned that on. By this point I was using a TENS unit to help manage the intensity of the surges., and I was still in complete denial that I was in labor. I was sure that morning would come, and I would still be pregnant.
After a certain point, I said, “I can’t watch this anymore.” I made my way upstairs to the toilet where I would labor for the next four or so more hours. My husband sat in the dark next to me, and with each surge, he said “You can do this.”
Deep in labor land, I remembered the miscarriage I had before conceiving this child. I cried away the deeper layers of grief I hadn’t yet healed.
When the doula Murial came around 2:30 am, I was vomiting. I have blurry memories of thinking the contractions were going to kill me. I also thought I wouldn’t be able to physically handle twelve (or more) more hours of this. But she coached me through each surge, and she held the bucket as I continued to vomit. I was either really cold and shaky, or overwhelmingly hot. I didn’t know this at the time, but at some points the contractions were back to back, up to four minutes long. Each one would come and surprise me with its intensity, but I was able to sink into them and let the energy course through me.
I had a memory come to me of a miscarriage my mother had when she was seventeen weeks pregnant. I was twelve years old at the time, and I remember holding the baby and being so sad. I held my doula’s hand as I cried it out, continuing to labor on the toilet. I had yet to move.
After this cry, everything started to speed up. After awhile, I decided to try moving to the bed. I had tried moving to the bed once before, but the contractions had intensified, and I moved back to laboring on the toilet. At this point, I moved to the bed and prepared for another super intense surge. But they didn’t intensify at all, and I took a 15 minute nap.
I woke up to the sound of my water breaking (pop!) and very intense pressure in my pelvis. I screamed out, “What’s happening?!” because it felt like there was a sharp pencil scraping the inside of my birth canal. I also had an uncontrollable urge to push.
At this point, we called our midwife Kara who arrived at 5:15am. We were lucky she only lives two blocks away!Pushing was quite a different sensation. When Kara arrived, she asked me to use my fingers and tell her what I felt. I could feel my baby’s hairy head, and also a bit of tissue. There was still a lip of my cervix that had yet to dilate (causing the pain), and she helped maneuver his head over the lip so I was free to push. After a few pushes, I had a vision of him being born in the birth tub. My baby made it very clear that he was going to be born in the tub! Thankfully, the tub was just full enough, and I made my way into the most delicious water I’ve ever been in. I tuned into my body and my baby and pushed whenever they wanted me to. It was such a physical, primal, intuitive process.
Around 6 am, Kara asked me to move to hands and knees. I pushed on all fours as his head came out, then Kara helped somersault him through the cord. I went on one knee and the rest of him came out in the water, so beautiful and blue. As we pulled him out, he just reached his arms out to me as we cuddled and I sang to him a song I wrote for him before we conceived him. It was the most beautiful moment of my life.
After gazing into his eyes, we moved to the bed where I held him skin to skin and let him make his way towards my breast. Kara helped me birth the placenta. I needed to talk to the placenta, to tell her that her work was done, before she was born. When the placenta came out, I felt a huge sense of relief.
We had done it!
Throughout the process I had so much doubt. How could I ask my baby to be born vaginally, when I didn’t do it myself? But I trusted my body. I trusted that the story of my birth was separate from the birth of my baby. I made peace with my own birth story (thank you flower essences!), and that made all the difference.
Adam Hiroki Swartz was born at 6:07am on March 12th, 2016. It was absolutely transformative. Absolutely beautiful. And I would do it all again.
To this day, whenever I’m having a challenging moment as a mother, the mantra still comes back to me.
“You can do this.”
Gwen + Andrew
After 41.5 weeks for pregnancy, I finally went into labor (with the unglamorous but very effective help of a castor oil milkshake)! I loved the experience of labor. I know that’s not a commonly expressed sentiment, but with so many narratives in our culture around birth being painful and something women suffer through, I want to share an alternative side to that coin. My mom always told me and my sisters that natural birth made her feel strong and empowered, and it laid a foundation for me to enter labor without fear. My experience was not painful but instead I felt very grounded in my body. Yes, the contractions were intense, but I was with Andrew, our Doula, Midwife, and my mom. I felt safe, loved, and supported and therefore I was able to harness a deep courage during the intense moments and surrender to my body instead of fight it. The next morning, our baby was in my arms and I was in awe, awoken from a trance and feeling like the dream I had experienced that night had followed me back into reality.
The first week of parenting was humbling. Andrew and I have had the classic hilarious moments of spit up and poo explosions at 4am. We also had more trying moments since my milk had been really slow to come in, and sweet Eliot was inconsolable the first week. But more so, we experienced a renewed faith in the goodness of people. I know the current events in our country are filled with hate. In contrast, that week we experienced connection and community - from the moms, most of them complete strangers, who donated 100oz of breastmilk for Eliot, to the friends and family who cooked, cleaned, and managed to make me laugh and lift my spirits. They say raising a child “takes a village.” I now believe most challenges in life takes a village - a community fueled by the kindness of strangers. I hope you each get a chance to experience this sense of community, and the fountain of courage and resilience that is born from it.
Michela + Brent
Choosing what kind of birth I wanted to experience had everything to do with choosing Kara as my midwife. Kara was there for my first son’s birth as a doula three years prior and I was thrilled that she had since decided to become a midwife. She is attentive and sensitive to my needs and my husband’s, she has the most gentle yet commanding presence in the moment, you simply feel that you are in the best hands with her by your side. I gathered so much strength from her, knowing that she believed in me, I was able to find the strength and courage to stay in the moment and meet my baby on the other side.
All of this was of course set up over the course of my prenatal care. Kara was super in tune with everything I was experiencing over the months, very quick to respond to any question or concern I had, resourceful with her suggestions to what I needed to heal common ailments during my pregnancy. She always seemed to have just what comforted me the most at any given time. It was bliss not having to go to a hospital or other facility for prenatal visits! Having Kara show up at my door was not only a great excuse to bake something and sit down and have tea, but take care of what we needed to do in the comfort of my own home and bed (an extra bonus with any older child in the house!). I could depend on her for anything. And I trust her implicitly. No one else but me was going to get my baby out and that took a lot of self preparation. But I feel like that all hinged upon what team I had set in place for pre and postnatal care and for the actual birth. In the final moments after two hours of labor and two hours of pushing, my baby’s head came out and was stuck. With a completely calm disposition, Kara helped to get me on my hands and knees and perform the Gaskin maneuver to deliver a beautiful 9 lb 11 oz baby boy. I remain forever filled with deep gratitude that Kara was there with me for one of my life’s greatest moments!
Phoebe + Geoffery
Around 8:00am on Friday March 30th, 2018, my water bag broke at 38 weeks and 2 days.
Geoffrey and I were home and had just gone to check on laundry and prepare our downstairs suite for our last Airbnb guests before we took a break from hosting for three months due to the upcoming birth of our first child. (Oddly enough, we were always concerned about the timing of these last guests and thought we should have cancelled their reservations months ago because we feared it was maybe just a bit too close to our due date.)
Upon feeling liquid trickle down my leg, I quickly made it to the toilet and told Geoffrey that I thought my water bag had just broken and asked him to grab a test trip that our midwife, Kara, had given me some weeks earlier so I could determine if the liquid was amniotic fluid or urine. Sure enough, I tested it, texted a photo to Kara, and she texted back that it was amniotic fluid. Geoffrey and I went back upstairs and with every movement more fluid would leak out. She called me some minutes later and explained our situation given that labor hadn’t yet started. We made an appointment for her and her apprentice, Brigette, to come to our home later that afternoon.
Shocked and surprised, Geoffrey and I spent the rest of the day in a bit of a panic as we hadn’t planned on an early arrival. Geoffrey called our Airbnb guests and cancelled their reservation, fortunately they were very understanding, as was Airbnb. I quickly tried to wrap up several loose ends at work, given that my last day would now be that day, Friday March 30th, instead of a week later, Friday April 6th, as I had planned, given our due date was Wednesday April 11th. Geoffrey, did the same, notifying his company that he planned to take the following week off. When Kara and Brigette stopped by that afternoon they checked me and the baby and fortunately our vital signs were healthy and normal. Since surges (contractions) still hadn’t started they gave me a series to steps to follow throughout the weekend to try to get labor going, including homeopathics, acupuncture, herbs, breast stimulation, and castor oil (in that order).
Geoffrey and I planned to have a home birth and because of this we had 72 hours (until Monday morning) to be in active labor before we would have to go to the hospital for an induction - after 72 hours with an open water bag, the risk of infection increases.
The plan for the remainder of the day was to rest, eat well, and relax. Geoffrey ran out to do some errands and I tried my best to take it easy, knowing that if labor started the following day I would need my strength and endurance to get through it. We had a quiet dinner at the house and went to bed at a reasonable hour.
We woke on on Saturday with still no signs of labor. Since we figured we might have some time, we decided to run a few more errands and enjoy the afternoon. I advocated for a manicure, pedicure, and car wash knowing that it might be months before I had time to fit these in and I had intended to get to these over the weekend assuming it was just another weekend. Before we left the house that morning I started homeopathics, which consisted of alternately ingesting Caulophyllum and Cimicifuga pellets over the course of two to three hours. I had also scheduled an acupuncture appointment for 1:00pm that afternoon as another method of inducing labor naturally. Geoffrey accompanied me on all of our errands and even worked in a visit to Tone of Music, his favorite audio store in San Francisco (finally putting down a deposit on a pair of coveted rosewood Harbeth 30.1 speakers). When we got home, we had another visit with Kara and Brigette and started the breast stimulation using my breast pump as well as the round of herbs (a combination of Black Cohosh and Cotton Root Bark) for the next three hours. Following these steps, I had surges for two to three hours, but they gradually slowed down throughout the evening. We wrapped the day up with some spicy Thai takeout, trying to do everything we could to get labor going. We attempted to relax and stream some shows on Netflix. The unknowingness of the situation was beginning to challenge me and I became emotional at times, thinking that I would indeed end up being induced in the hospital and that would likely be a more challenging experience and birth.
By Sunday morning, labor still hadn’t taken off and I was coming to terms with what seemed like a hospital birth. We got up and went for a walk, heading down to the Inner Sunset, grabbing coffee from Snowbird, pastries from Arizmendi, and jianbing from Nabe, sitting in the sun at the parklet on 9th Ave, and enjoying a beautiful, sunny Sunday morning. We stopped by the Farmer’s Market for some strawberries before heading back to the house and working in the 162 stairs on Oakhurst Lane that connect Warren Drive to our cul-de-sac. Back at the house, we made a castor oil smoothie as the last and final step to to get labor started. (Castor oil is a natural laxative that can stimulate the uterus and kickstart labor.) Within an hour of ingesting the smoothie, I had thrown it all up. By that point, I was convinced that this baby just wasn’t ready to be born and that the hospital was our next step. Kara and Brigette came back that afternoon and gave me a castor oil massage plus a castor oil and ice cream concoction to ingest. We talked about going to the hospital the next morning and made loose plans for when to meet there. Kara and Brigette left around 3:00pm and just before then the castor oil started emptying my bowels and I began to have a few mild surges. For the next three hours I was making bathroom trips every twenty to thirty minutes, as the castor oil worked through my body, cleaning everything out. Geoffrey ran out of the house around 3:30pm to pick up sandwiches from Bi-Rite Market and I started having more regular surges that were growing in intensity. Before he left, he set me up on a blanket in the sun on our back patio so I could enjoy the weather. After twenty minutes of lying down on the blanket, I got up and moved inside, wanting to be a bit more comfortable on our bed downstairs. Geoffrey returned home and I re-joined him outside, eating bites of turkey sandwich between surges. I made it through half the sandwich before I had to go back inside and focus on getting through the surges. At around 5:00pm Geoffrey started timing my surges and they were averaging about a minute in length and about two minutes apart. As labor had stopped and started throughout the weekend we weren’t sure if these surges were simply going to fade away after an hour or so and we would be back in the same position of waiting for this baby to make his arrival.
Prior to labor and even in the early stages, I wasn’t certain what to expect from the surges in terms of the physical intensity and pain. In retrospect, I realized I was having intense surges for awhile, but I kept thinking that maybe they were going to get worse and that what I was experiencing was minor compared to what was coming. It’s really hard to put a measure on physical pain since everyone has a different threshold and tolerance. In the beginning the surges were similar to bad menstrual cramps and they lasted several seconds. As labor progressed, they became longer and felt similar to a wave of pain coursing through my body and the pain was always worse near the beginning and then gradually faded. I coped by breathing through the intensity. Prior to labor, I had purchased several hypnobirthing tracks by Rachel Yellin and the breathing techniques really helped my get through them. I tried my best to just breathe in and out through my nose and not to yell or scream during the surges, thinking that if I could stick with my breath as long as possible I wouldn’t get distracted by the pain and lose my focus. I also tried to welcome the intensity, by simply repeating “Yes” at each wave of the surge and not fighting the feeling - believe it or not this actually helped!
At around 6:00pm, I believe I transitioned to “Labor Land”, in which women enter a trance-like state and give in to the power of their surges and the birthing experience. I was sitting up on the bed with pillows propped below me and I remember looking to my right and seeing the Monterey Pine trees on our hillside swaying in the sun and thinking how peaceful they looked - I was definitely in a different head space!
Geoffrey stopped timing my contractions around 7:00pm after checking in with Kara. She was most interested to know that things were staying consistent, still thinking everything might slow down a bit as the evening progressed. Around the same time I got into the shower to let the water help take the edge off of the surges. The hot water helped and I gradually made my way onto hands and knees in the shower, with Geoffrey’s yoga mat underneath me for support. By 7:30pm, I decided to get out of the shower as I felt like I needed to lie down and let my legs rest. Before I did, I was actually able to really shower, washing my hair and body. It’s almost as if there was a brief pause before my body was ready to start pushing. I dried off, laid down on the bed, and within seconds another surge started and it was just too painful to be lying down. I ran into the bathroom feeling like I might have another bowel movement, though it felt different than a bowel movement, the pressure wasn’t directed quite towards my anus, it was closer to my vagina. All of sudden, this wave of fear washed over me as I realized that my body was telling me to start pushing. I screamed for Geoffrey and told him, “I think I need to start pushing!”. Geoffrey was startled and dialed Kara immediately. She responded that she was getting in her car and instructed me to get on hands and knees and start taking slow, deep breaths. She told Geoffrey to get the towels and supplies ready and she stayed on the phone as she made her way from her home in the Mission to our home in Forest Knolls. While on the phone she asked me to insert one finger into my vagina and to tell her what I felt. I did and told her that I felt a soft, round bump. Though it didn’t register at the time this was the very top of our son’s head! She then asked how many knuckles deep my finger went in before I felt anything. I told Kara it was about two and half knuckles and though she didn’t say it on the phone she was relieved because she knew she wasn’t going to miss this birth! (Had it been closer to one knuckle deep she would have likely been instructing Geoffrey on how to catch the baby!)
Once I was on my hands and knees, my instinctual response was to scream when the surges started. It wasn’t a decision I made, my body was telling me to scream my baby out of me. The screams were so loud, guttural, and primal. I’m certain I’ve never screamed quite like that in my life. I remained on my hands and knees for several surges and screamed for Geoffrey to put pressure on my hips as I was feeling such intensity in my hips, butt, and thighs that I needed something to counteract that feeling. At some point I stood up and went through at least one or two surges on my feet with Geoffrey facing me and me holding onto his forearms. Standing proved to be too intense for my legs so my next and final position was back on my knees with my elbows resting on the edge of the bed. At some point Kara instructed me to reached underneath me to feel our baby’s head and when I did I was completely overwhelmed and became emotional that he was actually arriving! Up until that point I had felt stretching in my lower labia and perineum, but as Ashby’s head moved down and out of my vagina I started feeling intense stretching and pain at the top of my labia, near my clitoris. I screamed and told everyone that the top of my vagina was in pain and with another surge or two Ashby’s head came out and his body quickly followed. Kara and Geoffrey caught him and handed him to me. I looked down at him and the first thing I noticed was that he was breathing and softly crying. Upon seeing this I felt a huge wave of relief and that set forward a wave of emotion, tears, and happiness. The room was dark but I could see that he was a light reddish, brownish, grey color. I picked him up under his chest, but it was hard to do so because he was so slippery! I looked into his eyes and then saw his penis and scrotum and immediately commented to Geoffrey that he was a boy and that we guessed right! Geoffrey and I looked at each other and then at our son. I pulled him in closer to my chest and continued to inspect him. We could see he had a conehead from the journey out and one of his ears was folded in a funny way. After a few minutes, the midwives moved us into bed so we could lay down for the first time as a family. The midwives started to clean up as we all held each other in bed. Maybe thirty minutes later they removed the placenta which I didn’t even need to push out as it was basically out of me. They tucked it into a ziplock bag and went upstairs to make a sitz bath remedy and give us some time to bond undisturbed.
Geoffrey and I were shocked, amazed, and in complete love with Ashby. We couldn’t stop looking at him and just thinking how perfect and beautiful he was - we couldn’t believe it!
Some time later Kara came back and prepped the umbilical cord so Geoffrey could cut it. Brigette showed us the placenta and the sac that Ashby had been living in along with the placenta. It was really amazing to see everything.
I felt an immense sense of gratitude to Kara and her team that she assembled. What they did for our family and do everyday as midwives is amazing and inspiring. I was beyond happy that we were able to have a homebirth and undergo this experience from the comfort and familiarity of our home. Given the personal and intimate nature of birth, I’ve also been left with an understanding that all women should have the freedom and opportunity to choose how and where to birth.