Book review: Hannah, Delivered by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

NOTE: I was given an advance copy of the book Hannah, Delivered (affiliate link) in exchange for my honest opinion. Review and opinions below are my own.

"There's three things to learn about labor. It's work. It hurts a lot. And you can do it." - Hannah, Delivered by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

When I got an email from a publisher with the subject line “Midwife Fiction”, you know that I was in! I am a bit of a natural birth junkie. I just love to hear how women learn to trust their bodies and how they discover their strength through childbirth. I actually visited my midwife just last week for my annual checkup and fell in love again with the entire practice. The old Victorian house, the cloth robe and cover, the corner of the exam room filled with toys for the kids, the comfy chairs I sat in while we chatted, with the sunlight streaming in the huge windows…So far removed from what I’ve heard about OB/GYN offices. I just love sharing the stories of my first natural birth and my second natural birth.

The mind-body connection espoused by midwifery is not so far removed from what we practice in yoga. The book that I was given a chance to read definitely delivered (if you will excuse the pun) on that reality. The book is called Hannah, Delivered by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew (affiliate link) and it is about a young woman on her journey to become a midwife. She has built a safe, secure life for herself working in an administrative position at a hospital and one evening is called to assist in a birth. She accidentally ends up catching the baby and BAM! catches the midwifery bug. She will have to leave everything she knows: her job, her relationship, her state, and her security to train as a midwife, only to return to practice in a town where midwifery is only barely legal. Is that how this really happens? BAM!, just like that? To a woman who has never been a mother herself? I am not sure. I didn’t know much about birth, myself, until I read the book Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born by Tina Cassidy (affiliate link) almost 10 years ago. Shortly after, I also read Taking Charge Of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler (affiliate link). To say those two books shook up my idea of what my body was capable of and how our society has treated women would be an understatement. Some of these same injustices, mistrust, and misinformation are touched on in Hannah, Delivered. It is plausible that activism is a response to correct a wrong. But more importantly, Hannah’s journey to midwifery is a journey that has a goal of creating what is right: assisting women in the positive aspects of birth and allowing them to be free. The book is about how Hannah delivers herself from her old ideas of what she “should” be or isn’t, and allows herself to be born into what she is meant to be. She struggles with her place in the world as well as her own spirituality and the spirituality of her parents. It’s definitely not a Christian book, as the main character remains agnostic throughout the book. But I did not feel uncomfortable with it as a Christian, either. The Christ-followers in the book were presented in a positive and loving way.

The characters in the book were believable and I found myself caring what happened to them. There was enough of a twist for me to wonder what was going to happen, but enough of a reassurance that I didn’t feel the need to skip to the end to keep from getting anxious (not that I ever do that…) . I also found the end satisfying, unlike some of our recent Book Club books. I would happily recommend this book to anyone who enjoys good fiction, whether or not you are a natural birth junkie.

Hannah, Delivered by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

So if you’re getting ready to build your summer book list, add Hannah, Delivered — and let me know what you think!

Guest Post: What is embryo adoption?

What Is Embryo Adoption?

When I found out that my friend Merritt was raising money for her embryo adoption, I had no idea what that even meant. But when I found out, I thought it sounded like such a great idea for everyone involved. I asked her to do this guest post with the original idea of helping her raise the money they will need for the first stage of the adoption, but they’ve met that goal! However, I still really want to a) answer the question “What is embryo adoption” for all of you who, like me, didn’t know, and b) put her story out there because they are not finished with the financial part of building their family! There are still many other steps for her and her husband, Todd, to take and I’d love for you to follow their story going forward so that you’ll have the chance to participate too, if you choose. Here’s Merritt!

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Hi! My name is Merritt! When Jenny heard about our need to raise nearly $10,000 for our embryo adoption, she wanted to help! She offered her little piece of the blogosphere so I could share our story and ask for your assistance in spreading the word about our fundraiser.

But wait! {insert record-scratch-sound here} In just under a week we’ve surpassed our goal! Yes, that’s right, our adoption is funded! So, I’m not here to ask for your money, instead, I want to share the fascinating journey toward embryo adoption, which will—hopefully—grow our little family of two into something more.

First of all, you’re probably asking, what is embryo adoption anyway?

An embryo adoption is a legal transaction. A family chooses to donate their frozen embryos to an adoptive couple, the embryo(s) will be implanted in the wife’s uterus and she will have the opportunity to become pregnant. When the baby is born, he or she is legally the child of the adoptive couple.

Who would choose embryo adoption?

Embryo adoption can be a source of hope for couples who have been unable to conceive through natural means or who have had several failed infertility treatments.

Where do the embryos come from?

Embryos are not created for the purpose of adoption. Instead, they are available because couples who have struggled with infertility have pursued IVF (in vitro fertilization) treatments. The couple’s doctor will harvest and fertilize several embryos for their treatments. Oftentimes more eggs are harvested and fertilized than are needed for one IVF cycle. Those embryos are frozen until they are needed for subsequent treatments. Our agency, Nightlight, calls those little babies “Snowflakes®.” There are currently 600,000 embryos in frozen storage, but not all of them are available for adoption.

How does embryo adoption benefit the genetic parents?

When the couple is finished growing their family (or if they run out of funds or time to continue fertility treatments), they have four options for their remaining embryos:

  1. Thaw & discard (destroys the embryos)
  2. Donate to science (destroys the embryos)
  3. Do nothing (embryos remain frozen indefinitely, but the family continues to pay storage fees)
  4. Donate for adoption (saves lives and gives hope to a family)

Couples can chose to give their children the gift of life through adoption by a family like ours. We understand their decision is not an easy one; it’s truly a sacrificial choice to allow another family to give birth to and raise their genetic children.

Our Story

Although we married in our late 30s, it was still hard to imagine we’d have trouble conceiving. We’re both pretty healthy, but after a year and a half of dedicated “trying” a fertility specialist told us we had a miniscule chance of conceiving on our own.

I felt a great deal of pressure to pursue infertility treatments in an “everybody’s doing it” kind of way. But we knew we weren’t prepared for the costs (physical and financial) of IVF. We were just beginning to test how my body would respond to fertility drugs when I got pregnant in March 2012. However, a few weeks later we lost our baby. We were devastated. After our miscarriage I couldn’t imagine going back to the doctor for more pokes, prods, and tests that would put us back on that roller coaster.

By January 2013, I had begun seriously looking into adoption. That’s when we learned about embryo adoption. I’d really been struggling with the fact that I might never experience pregnancy, childbirth or have the chance to breastfeed our baby. Those things always seemed like a given to me, even when I was a young girl. In addition, my husband and I are believe life begins at conception, meaning all those little frozen Snowflakes are babies just waiting to be born. We believe God created each one of them individually, gave them a soul and a hope for their future. And we are grateful to have the opportunity to take part in giving them life and a loving family.

Although we investigated domestic adoption (adopting from a birthmother in the U.S.) and international adoption (adopting an orphan from overseas), embryo adoption is often more affordable and has a shorter wait time. Our hope is to be matched with a donor family by the end of the year.

If that donor family is interested in maintaining some sort of relationship with their genetic children once those babies are born into our family, we have already agreed that our kids can meet them and their siblings as long as it’s a healthy arrangement for everyone involved.

After so many painful years of waiting to be married and then trying to get, some days it’s hard to imagine we’ll ever have children running around our home. But we have faith that our prayers will be answered in one way or another.

If you’re a praying person, we’d love your prayers for us and our hoped-for-family. You can watch a few videos of us on our Pure Charity fundraising page. Details and progress of our adoption can be found on our blog, On Becoming Parents, or check out our newlywed blog to read our love story. If I can answer any questions about our experience, please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @merritto.

My past: my fitness journey (Part I)

Me doing yoga

My real health and fitness journey started somewhere around 2001 or 2002 when I first moved to Dallas from East Texas. I was single, starting my career, and searching for answers about life and love in general. I had a lot on my mind — a lot of internal demons to face and spiritual questions to answer. I trusted very few people. I was slowly starting to give up some lifestyle practices and relationships that had occupied most of my time and energy for years. What to replace these things with in my life? Like a lot of young, single professionals, I bought a gym membership. It changed my life.

I wasn’t overweight, but stress, poor eating, binge drinking and other lifestyle habits had drained my energy significantly. I now had huge pockets of time to plant myself on the elliptical machine and read through books that were formerly daunting like “Knowing God” by J.I. Packer. Sometimes I could only read a few sentences at a time and then spend the next 45 minutes on the machine processing what I read. I would pray. I would think.

One week I decided to drop in on the gym’s Power Yoga class. I found a huge blessing there in the form of a yoga instructor named Delia. Namaste to you, Delia, wherever you are. She was the perfect balance of challenge and down-to-earth acceptance for me. She was the first person I ever heard advise me to “trust my body” when going into a pose. She taught me how to breathe relaxation down my body, something that served me for years during both my natural childbirth experiences. No one had ever suggested that I do those things, and they were life changing. Here is what those two small things mean to me.

Trust your body. Our bodies are so amazing. If you are really in tune with how your body feels at its optimum and you spend time just sitting still to listen to it each day, you will know far before you start experiencing symptoms that you are fighting off an illness. You can tell if you need more sleep. You can sense your own tension and do something to treat it. The key to trusting your body is to trust it enough to obey what it is telling you. If it tells you that you need more sleep, you do. Make room in your schedule. Cancel something. Get a sitter. Have a bath. This practice serves me greatly with the added tool of essential oils, because the oils can facilitate the healing that my body is requesting. Listening to your body is also very important in parenting to supply you with the energy that you need, even when you are a “slightly older” parent like I am.

Breathe. We breathe automatically, right, so what’s the big deal? I knew from years of singing in choirs and individually that the way we breathe makes a huge difference. The kind of breathing that we do when we are stressed is a shallow, gasping type of breath. It supplies oxygen at the bare minimum. The most effective and supportive type of breath is the deep breath that comes from your stomach and lifts the diaphragm. In yoga, there is also the cleansing ujjayi breath which goes in and out of the nose with force. Just taking the time to breathe deeply can make such a big difference in your serenity. I like to do deep breathing and pray. I have a very excitable nature and I honestly believe that knowing how to breathe this way has allowed me to step back and surrender more of my natural tendency to control.

Those years were the start of my journey to fitness. As I listened to my body more and more, I realized that I felt sick after eating some supposedly healthy foods. Meat was something that consistently made me feel slow and heavy, and left a kind of pit in my stomach, so I became a lacto-ovo-pescatarian (a vegetarian who eats eggs, milk, and fish) in 2003 and have been since.

I expanded my healthy activities to rollerblading on the nearby Katy trail, cycling with my boyfriend-and-then-husband, and lots and lots of walking and more yoga during my pregnancies. As you might have noticed, my fitness journey has had very little, if anything, to do with my weight. It’s true that I’ve maintained a pretty steady weight for the last 10 years, although my muscle tone levels have come and gone. But for me, my journey is truly more about the mind than the body.

That is the past of my fitness journey, Part 1. I’ll share Part 2 — what’s going on now — at a later time, if you are still interested. If you are, please let me know!

This Year at BlogHer 2011

San Diego
I’ve been trying to figure out how to sum up the experience that was BlogHer 2011. Even though I had a baby with me the whole time and couldn’t participate in a lot of the parties at night, this year was even more amazing than last year! I didn’t take very many pictures, and I am sorry about that. I’ll post a few today and more later.

This year I felt like I knew a lot more bloggers, mostly thanks to relationships through Twitter! I got to meet several awesome ladies in real life who I been talking to on Twitter for months. It was so fun!

Me and Galit!!
Galit Breen of These Little Waves and me!

This year I did a lot of nursing in public! Because Little Lady would get fussy in sessions that I was supposed to be live-tweeting, I had to pretty much expose myself to keep her quiet while I tweeted with my free hand. Did I feel self-conscious about NIP? Not at all. I was much more self-conscious about someone finding out that I had a bottle in my room to mix 2 ounces of formula with her rice cereal every night (for the reflux).

This year I was paid to live-tweet and later write blog posts for Blue Volcano Media, so I was able to focus on the content of the sessions and extrapolate the most meaningful parts more easily.

This year I missed Voices of the Year because my daughter needed her rice cereal and was being extremely fussy, which really made me sad. Voices of the Year is what reminds us all of why we blog, so I’m looking forward to finding it on the podcast later and listening.

This year Ricki Lake spoke at the closing keynote about the power of social media in her fundraising for More Business of Being Born. Needless to say, she’s a hero to the birthing community for birth junkies like myself. I GOT TO MEET HER! She is so relational that she offered to meet and talk to anyone who came to the tequila bar to meet up with her, so I did. I am sure I looked like a slobbering idiot, “I have had 2 births in a birth center, I’ve never had an OB/GYN, and you are my hero”. Doh. But she was nice enough to take this picture with me where she looks totally amazing and I look kinda… stunned:
Me and Ricki Lake!!
This year there was a flash mob at the end of lunch on Friday, which I thought was amazing but then someone on Twitter said it was “so passe” and I felt like a n00b. But, here it is anyway:

{video here}

Overall, another amazing, overwhelming, encouraging, and inspiring event. So many blog posts were swirling in my head throughout the whole time! I hope I can remember them all. I will be blogging more about other aspects of BlogHer later, stay tuned!

Little Lady’s Natural Birth Story

Don’t forget, I’ll be having guest posts starting on Thursday, February 24, during the time I’m out taking care of our new little girl!

Be sure to check back or subscribe in a reader to receive the posts from some of my favorite bloggers as guests.

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Little Lady’s Birth Center birth story

I had the day off work on Friday. First, we had our regularly scheduled prenatal exam and then my plan for the day was to go get pedicure and massage. At the appointment, I was 4cm dilated and about 50% effaced, which is normal for my body considering the amount of prelabor I have had for weeks in both my pregnancies. Unfortunately, when I got to my spa appointment, the massage therapist cancelled last-minute (while I was at the spa), so I had only a pedicure and a brief neck massage. I had not slept well the night before – typical pregnancy insomnia had me up at 4:30 AM and could not go back to sleep after that.

While I was getting the neck massage at the end of the appointment around 3PM, I had a contraction that felt very real. I ignored it, but headed home instead of doing errands, so I could take a nap. I kept having fairly persistent contractions from that point on, although not always very strong and not evenly spaced. When I got home, I got into the bath in order to slow the contractions down or make them go away, so that I could sleep. I laid down for a little over an hour after the bath, but kept having contractions that woke me up on a regular basis and nausea.

When Christian got home at 6 I did not feel great due the nausea and the lack of sleep and the contractions and cramping that would not go away. We had leftovers for dinner and put Asher to bed. I was starting to have to breathe through the contractions and they were about 5 minutes apart, lasting 1 minute. Christian was working on our labor playlist on the computer, even though we still didn’t think I was actually in labor.

If it was labor, I did not want to go into it feeling so tired and nauseated, so I poured another bath and Christian got me a glass of wine. I wasn’t able to finish the wine due to the nausea and I finally decided we might need to call the Beverly, the midwife on call, who had also been the midwife who had seen me at my appointment earlier that day. I told her that I was in the bath trying to make the contractions stop and she said I was welcome to try that for another 15 minutes or so and then call her back because what I was describing sounded like labor to her and she knew how dilated and effaced I had been earlier in the day. I got out of the tub after about 15 minutes and started shaking uncontrollably. Being in the tub had only slowed the contractions a little, a few had breaks of 7 minutes instead of 5. I had Christian call Beverly back and she said we should go ahead and come in. I had been texting our nanny and told her to go ahead and come over – the plan was for her to spend the night at our house, Asher was already asleep.

We got our stuff packed up and the nanny arrived. While I was talking to her I had another break in the pattern of the contractions (I wasn’t timing them at that point either), but they came back fully and regularly in the car. We left the house around 10:40 and got to the birth center around 11PM. I was still bummed about having gotten no sleep and not convinced this was “real” labor.

When Beverly checked me, I was still only 4cm, which was disappointing after having annoying contractions all day. I was around 100% effaced, though, and Beverly said the only reason I wasn’t more dilated was probably because my bag of waters was still intact and the baby’s head wasn’t low enough to press on the cervix and cause further dilation yet. She said if we wanted she could break the bag of waters and let the head go down, or we could just do a lot of power walking and  work on positions that angled the baby down onto the cervix. We decided on the walking so we walked around the park for quite a while. At one point there was a gush of fluid (I was, of course, wearing my Depends, which are MY BEST FRIEND), but when tested, it was not amniotic fluid. I think the movement of the baby and the contractions made me pee myself a little which is embarrassing. Especially since it happened more than once!

Squatting into a contraction inside the birth center

After we walked for a while the contractions got harder but I was still only dilated to a 5. We went back outside with instructions to stop every 3 contractions and have me squat leaning backwards onto Christian while the contraction was happening. This is definitely the most flattering position EVER, and I was doing it at 2AM in a public park gazebo wearing a birthing gown.

It occurred to me while we were walking that I needed to mentally accept that I would be having the baby that night. I am a big believer in Ina May‘s theory that what goes on inside your head has a huge impact on the progress of your labor, and it was my belief that my refusal to accept the idea that I was really in labor might be hindering my further dilation.

The next time when we went back inside from the park to be checked, I was 7cm, which was better. I was also feeling very tired, I had been awake almost 24 hours at that point and the contractions were painful and close. We got the go-ahead for me to keep laboring in the tub. I love the tub. I went through transition in the tub during Little Sir’s birth and this birth was the same. I tried very hard not to tense up during transition because I was so focused on trying to make sure my cervix opened more.

Cherie showed up and checked me around 2:45 AM, I think, and I was 8 cm. I think the check caused my water to break because something popped and I started losing my mucus plug. My vocalizations changed from humming to more like long grunting and I started feeling pressure to push.

I had the antibiotics hooked up to my port at that time because it was 3AM and had been 4 hours since the last time (I was Group B Strep positive again), but I needed to get out of the tub so I could get into a pushing position. Moving around while needing to push and hooked up to an IV is just the most fun thing EVER. I left the tub at 3:15 AM.

I only pushed on the bed post through maybe one contraction and the head started crowning. I felt the need to keep pushing even when I didn’t have a contraction. We moved up to the bed to deliver and, oh, I HATE moving mid-push, I remember I hated it last time too. It is really difficult to move through that kind of pain and I thought I couldn’t do it! While things were being adjusted on the bed, I was on my hands and knees between contractions and that was a huge momentary relief.

When the next contraction came, I was in position on the bed and ready to go. I was fully dilated so there would not be any trouble delivering the head without a need for anyone cutting anything. I was really focusing on using my diaphragm to push. I had recently spoken to our Bradley instructor about pushing, since I felt I didn’t do it correctly with Little Sir and it wasn’t terribly effective. This time it was more effective – again, I felt like pushing even without a contraction so I did that too. Overall, the pushing time was probably around 10 minutes total and then our little girl was born at 3:25 AM! When she came out, she had her hand over her nose, so her elbow was folded and it did cause a little tear when it came out, but it wasn’t bad – I didn’t need stitches.

Starting to come out…

She was covered in vernix and HAIR! To us, she looked almost exactly like Little Sir did in his first few minutes of life. Christian “caught” her just like he caught Little Sir, and put her on my chest where she stayed for over an hour. She nursed perfectly for about 45 minutes shortly after the cord was cut.

Then, after the birth, Christian got in the tub with her for a LeBoyer bath while I ate some food and rested.

We are so excited to welcome the newest member of our family!

It’s a girl!

We are excited to announce the early arrival of Baby #2, Finn Janell Bradford – she’s a girl! She was 7 lbs, 12 oz and 20.25 inches at birth, despite being what the early ultrasound suggested was only 38 weeks and 3 days of gestational age.

For the purposes of my blogs, I’ll be referring to her as “Little Lady”.

Although we definitely didn’t expect her this early, it was a really good spontaneous (not induced), completely natural and unmedicated vaginal birth at The Birth and Women’s Center in Dallas (our 2nd birth there).

I can’t wait to write up her birth story once I’ve had some rest and we’ve uploaded the pictures and video!

7 Quick Takes Friday #13

— 1 —

Lots of exciting things happening on the blog right now – don’t forget to enter my giveaway of a $25 gift certificate to Diapers, Etc.! And check out their redesigned site, it looks great! I have been visiting almost every day and plotting what I am going to order next. I am trying to make myself wait until after this baby is born and we know the gender, because I am planning on buying some gender-appropriate patterned cloth diapers!

— 2 —

We are in the home stretch of this pregnancy, and I am feeling it. I’m at that point where I’m uncomfortable and tired at all times. I have prelabor contractions and cramping almost constantly, just like last pregnancy. Frankly, it’s getting difficult to function.

Fortunately, Thursday was my last “real” day of work – I have Friday off due to a vacation day I had to “use or lose” and Monday is President’s Day. Then, on Tuesday of next week I think I might let the midwives do a few things at my prenatal appointment that morning to see if labor starts. If not, no pressure, we will go home and just wait some more. If you want to weigh in on the background of what is going on there, just visit the blog post on my family blog and read the comments. I really am thankful for all the feedback I got from The Feminist Breeder and her birth professionals – I am taking all of it into account, and I learned a lot from them all!

— 3—

I am excited to have won a gift certificate to the Elements Spa at Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine from She Is Dallas, a collaborative local blog to which I contribute. Friday I will be spending a few hours getting a massage and pedicure in preparation for the birth!

If you haven’t checked out the new She Is Dallas, please do – it was formerly named BurbMom.net. My blog post about meal planning was reposted there last Saturday!

— 4 —

It’s been rough keeping my attention at work the last few days, one thing that has helped is listening to the “podiobook” Blood Witness by Dave Hitt. A podiobook is an audiobook that is released as a series of podcasts. It’s about a Jehovah’s Witness who is turned into a vampire. Pretty hilarious concept, and it’s kept my attention and made the hours go by quickly! It is NOT a kid-friendly book – there is some sex and cursing in it, so please be aware of that before downloading it, but it is a captivating story overall.

— 5 —

I am also still working on reading Organic Housekeeping: In Which the Nontoxic Avenger Shows You How to Improve Your Health and That of Your Family, While You Save Time, Money by Ellen Sandbeck. It’s a good book but very long, because the author goes into great detail about the exact methodology of cleaning every room in your house.

I have been reading it on the Kindle and it is taking FOREVER.
I really want to finish it so that I can review it on this blog because there are some things I agree with and some things I DO NOT and I cannot wait to tell you about them. However, I am pretty sure this is going to be a post for after the baby. So feel free to read it now for yourself and get ahead of me!

— 6 —

I don’t watch much TV, but I used to watch 30Rock regularly. I have been disappointed in how it’s gone downhill. It’s just not funny anymore. But you know what IS funnier now? Community. I love Abed and Troy.

— 7 —

See, Levar Buton just showed up on the episode of Community I am currently watching on the DVR.
I rest my case.

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Well that’s all for this week, be sure to visit Conversion Diary for links to more 7 Quick Takes Fridays.

Giving Birth with Confidence Blog Carnival

As most of you know, we had a Bradley birth with Little Sir – meaning we took Bradley Childbirth Classes. Bradley is a partner-assisted method of giving birth with the goal of avoiding unnecessary intervention and pain medication using comfort measures and relaxation. Bradley classes are 8 weeks of 2-3 hour classes and also cover prenatal diet and exercise, as well as infant care.

I have to admit that I don’t know much about Lamaze, but Danielle from Momotics has promoted it several times and it seems very like Bradley. Our Bradley birth actually exhibits all of Lamaze’s 6 Healthy Birth Practices.

The Lamaze organization is currently promoting a Giving Birth with Confidence Blog Carnival, where they are asking for women to submit their stories of natural childbirth. In order to help them in this effort, I am re-posting Little Sir’s birth story below, complete with pictures.

If you’ve read it before, thanks for bearing with me – and don’t forget to check out Lamaze’s awesome video on 50 Years of Childbirth Education.

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Little Sir’s Natural Birth

After reading the book “Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born” by Tina Cassidy several years ago and then later seeing the film The Business of Being Born and other natural birth stories, and reading Ina May Gaskin’s book, among others, we were very focused on having a natural medication-free birth in an environment that was as home-like as possible. I admit I was too afraid of making a mess in my own home to be on board with a full-out home birth. We found The Birth and Women’s Center here in Dallas to be the best of both worlds – a midwife-run practice in an old historical house, the whole thing looks like home. And since there are few enough patients, by midway through your pregnancy, you know everyone there who might be attending your birth by name and they know you, so we knew we’d never be in the situation where strangers would be going in and out of the room all the time, disrupting labor. I would encourage you to visit their web site at www.birthcenter.net for more information and pictures of the house.

Also, for anyone who might be reading this birth story on the internets and not know me: a little background on the late stages of my pregnancy. At 32 weeks, the midwives discovered that my cervix was already starting to soften and dilate. They did not feel comfortable with this happening so early, so I was put on modified bed rest for 5 weeks. During that time, my cervix did continue to dilate and efface. I was let up off bed rest at 37 weeks, but still went past my due date! At the last prenatal checkup the Friday before his birth, my cervix was already 4 cm dilated, 100% effaced, and he had been at zero station for 3 weeks.

I had been experiencing pre-labor contractions for the previous 3-4 weeks, which was basically accomplishing what the Early Stage of labor would normally accomplish – the dilation and effacement of my cervix – only over weeks rather than a period of hours. We anticipated that this might mean that when I did go into labor, I might go directly into Active Labor, having already completed Early Stage labor.

After all the weeks of Early Labor contractions starting and stopping, and all the concern about going into pre-term labor, my due date came and went with nothing!! And believe me, we tried everything to get that labor going – I have a previous post about all the natural methods of labor induction we tried unsuccessfully. We were scheduled to have an extra sonogram later that week to determine if the baby still had enough amniotic fluid and then have my membranes swept and possibly my bag of waters broken on October 22. Even more frustrating: on my due date, all the contractions I’d been having for the last 3-4 weeks pretty much stopped and for 2 days….nothing.

Then at 2:20 AM on Tuesday, October 20, I woke up to a small gush of fluid. When I went to check, it was not mucus as I usually experienced (I had lost my mucus plug 3-4 weeks ago). This was a clear liquid with no odor and was followed by a little more. I put on some protection and went back to bed. It kept up, so I woke Christian and told him that I wondered if my water broke. Since I was Group B Strep positive, we knew that if it was amniotic fluid, then I would need to go to the birth center to be put on antibiotics very soon. So we reluctantly called Carol, the midwife on call, around 3 AM and told her we suspected my water might have broken. I was a little skeptical that it would all happen this easily after so many false starts. She said to meet her up at the birth center at 4 AM. We packed up all the birth stuff and hoped that we weren’t going to be right back home in a few hours with no baby.

I was wearing my Depends and I am very glad I was, because by the time we reached the birth center, which is only about 10-15 minutes from our house, the leakage was significant. The strip test confirmed that it was indeed amniotic fluid, so Carol put me on the antibiotic IV drip for about 30 minutes, leaving the port in so that we could do it again in 4 hours, but I wasn’t hooked up to anything. I still had absolutely no contractions so we decided to go get some breakfast and power walk around the park to get them started. We told Carol we’d be back in an hour. It was around 5 AM by then, and as we walked out onto the porch to get food, I immediately had a much more severe contraction than I’d ever had! We decided to go get food anyway, and while we were out I kept having them around 3 minutes apart. When we got back in to the birth center around 6 AM and unpacked our things, I walked around and around the room on the shag carpet barefoot through and between the contractions. Carol suggested that I just walk through as many contractions as possible to keep them going and Christian walked with me. Most of the time we might slow down and I would lean on him, but we didn’t stop much. I really found the shag carpet on my bare feet comforting for some reason. I was rating the strength of these contractions around a 6 or 7 on a scale of 1 to 10. My pre-labor contractions over the past weeks had never been above a 3 or 4. These new contractions were consistently 3 minutes apart from the time they began on the porch, consistent with Active Labor, as we had suspected – after stripping my membranes I had gone right into Active Labor.

When Carol checked me again around 7 AM, I think I was dilated to 7 or 8 cm, and she suggested that I get into the tub. The tub was really great! I got in there around 7:30 AM, apparently that was when I went through transition, I had such strong contractions that I thought I was going to throw up breakfast, and I told Christian I couldn’t do this anymore! This is also the part where I said some curse words when I had two very strong contractions that made me rise up out of the tub. Carol came in and reminded me about all the things we learned in Bradley classes and helped me realize that when I was hit with the harder ones I was tensing up, making them worse. Christian was AWESOME about reminding me to breath and relax the whole time. At 8:30 I had to get out of the tub to get another antibiotic IV and have another check – I was 9.5 cm dilated. Sitting still for the IV was the worst!! At least I could stand up and move around within the range of the cord, and even got up to go to the bathroom with it in. I can’t imagine how someone could handle contractions of that strength when tied up to an IV and bound to a hospital bed. I am in awe of anyone who can get through those in a hospital environment!!

I sat on or near the bed for a while after the IV was removed and started to get the urge to push. Carol said this was a good idea so at or after 9 AM, they helped me into a pushing position of squatting while holding onto the bed post. I was not very good at pushing, I think I got the angle wrong! But the head did start to crown in that position, and they moved me up to the bed. We used the exact position that we learned in our Bradley class on the bed, with Christian holding one of my legs and the birth assistant holding the other. I didn’t have the strength or focus to hold my own legs adequately. Carol had a mirror for me to look at the baby’s head, but I was so focused on the pushing that I really didn’t see much. They asked if I would like to reach down and touch the head as it crowned and I said “NO! I just want it OUT!”. I have heard a description of “the ring of fire”, but to me the entire time I was pushing before the baby actually came out felt like a ring of fire. I have also heard women say that it feels so good to finally push, but to me it just felt like the worst pain EVER and I was super glad when it was over!

The total pushing time was probably 30-45 minutes and Michael Asher Bradford was born! After the midwives helped with a stuck shoulder for a minute, Christian pulled him out and put him on my chest himself.
I did end up having a little bit of an episiotomy because the lip of my cervix was thicker than anticipated, but I really did not feel it much. It took a minute for us to think to look and see if he was a boy or a girl, since we didn’t know throughout the pregnancy!

Christian was the BEST labor coach ever!! He was always encouraging me and reminding me to breathe calmly and relax. Every time I did that, it helped so much. He also recognized when I was in transition and reminded me that it wouldn’t be much longer until we met the baby. When I was pushing, he was right behind me, pushing right along with me. It was so helpful to see him concentrating just as hard as I was, and he was always there with a cool washcloth.

After the birth, they did not remove Little Sir from my chest for a hour or more – all the checks and tests were done there on my chest and I was able to breastfeed as soon as Little Sir was able to figure it out, with Christian right there the whole time.
Christian also got to weigh him, and he was 7 lbs 14 oz, 20 inches long.After I was sewn up, they drew another bath in the tub for me and I got in, and Christian brought Little Sir in and we washed him together. It was so amazing because the tub room was full of sunlight at around 11 AM in the morning and we were both there with our new baby and I wasn’t in pain or giantly huge anymore!
I really cannot say enough good things about all the ladies at the Birth & Women’s Center, they were all so amazing. Carol is the most patient person ever after all my false starts! They sure had the timing down perfectly, getting everything ready for each different stage and taking such wonderful care of us afterward. We stayed in the big bed after our bath until 4 PM, Debbie warmed the food we brought and brought it to us in bed, and Christian and Little Sir were able to nap for about an hour. I was so excited from the birth experience that I couldn’t fall asleep, but I was glad to lay there resting.

We left the birth center around 4:30 or 5 PM on Tuesday and went home, Debbie helped us out to the car and took this picture of us heading home!
We both really felt like this was an amazing and beautiful experience. I’m not going to tell you it didn’t hurt, and I’m still thinking to myself that adopting future children sounds like a more and more attractive idea, just to avoid going through that pain again!! But, I wouldn’t have wanted to do it any other way, and we feel blessed to have had the ability to meet our son in such a peaceful environment.

Considering natural childbirth?

Considering Natural Childbirth? My natural birth experiences and when I wouldn't recommend it for others  | Living Consciously Blog

Since I am headed into my second natural birth (i.e., medication-free, vaginal birth),  I wanted to throw out a few of my thoughts regarding how I feel about it, what I would recommend to others considering this option, and some answers to questions I am frequently asked. The items below are based on my own experience and the experiences of others which I have observed. I am sure everyone has their own opinions and some people won’t agree with me. I just wanted to throw this out onto the internets for anyone who might be researching whether or not to try natural childbirth. (Also, you can read Little Sir’s Birth Story here). UPDATE: (2nd birth story – Little Lady’s Birth Story)

My personal opinions and advice:

  • Obviously: First of all, although I believe that physically our bodies were initially created for natural childbirth, lots of things have happened in the last thousands (millions?) of years and there are some women for whom there are medical or physical issues preventing medication-free or vaginal births, and situations involving the safety of the baby and mother where it is just not possible. I think we can pretty much all agree on this. Therefore, I am not going to tell anyone that natural birth is for everyone, or that any woman can do it if she “really wants to”. Such an attitude puts unnecessary pressure and guilt on women and I feel like we should all discourage that kind of thinking and be more understanding.
  • Where I differ from other natural birth advocates: Although many natural birth advocates will disagree with me on this one, I actually feel like there are some women who are legitimately not suited for natural birth on a personal level. For whatever reason, they are filled with fear or dread, they cannot overcome the anxiety of the possible complications, or they just aren’t OK with going unmedicated (or outside a hospital) for a variety of other reasons. I think it would be a terrible mistake for someone to attempt a natural birth because they felt they “should” and then go into it with terror, uncertainty, or even lack of preparation. I am not expert, but I can pretty much guarantee that you are setting yourself up for failure (not to mention mental trauma) if you aren’t 100% convinced in your heart that this is what you truly want. Know yourself, be honest with yourself, and accept whatever you decide as being perfectly OK! Tell everyone else to shut up.
  • Pitocin: I also differ from most natural birth advocates when I say that I think anyone who is given pitocin to induce labor should get a free pass to use pain medication. I would say at least 50% of the reason I chose to give birth at a birth center is because I knew they would NOT give me pitocin. I am deathly afraid of it. Not only does it cause contractions with pain that is unnaturally high, but it can also stall out your labor progress for a time, which increases the amount of time you are in these unnaturally high amounts of pain. Or, perhaps labor is stalled in pitocin inductions because of the insane amount of abnormal pain, I don’t know. Either way, pitocin is an evil pain monster and I really don’t know how anyone could go without an epidural once they’ve been given pitocin.
  • Natural birth takes a lot of preparation. An 8-week Bradley childbirth class is really only the minimum, in my opinion. You need to know every aspect of what is going on with your body at all points of labor, and you need to know not only the most common complications but how they are often approached naturally and medically. This is especially important if you are going to give birth in a hospital, where the default approach may be for the doctors or nurses to make decisions for you. You must know when you are OK with which medical measure are suggested or taken with or without your permission. The knowledge you acquire will remove a lot of fear and doubt, freeing you to focus on the positive aspects of your birth experience.
  • Read encouraging books: Books I recommend, and recommendations from my Twitter followers: Ina May’s Guide To Natural Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin (affiliate link), Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born by Tina Cassidy (affiliate link), Childbirth Without Fear – Grantly Dick-Read (affiliate link), and the documentary (DVD) The Business of Being Born by Ricki Lake (affiliate link). Often if you are taking Bradley childbirth classes, the instructor can recommend additional natural childbirth resources.
  • Birth partner: if you have a partner (husband, life partner, boyfriend/girlfriend, mom, etc.) who will be with you during labor and is not OK with natural childbirth (for whatever reason), you need a doula. Period. Do NOT go into natural childbirth thinking you can “do this on your own”, especially in a hospital setting. You need someone who knows the comfort measures and can suggest position changes, get things for you, hold you, and can just BE THERE and not be reluctant or get freaked out. Also, in a hospital setting you might need an advocate on your behalf toward the medical staff as decisions are made. If your partner isn’t convinced regarding your desires, he/she isn’t going to be convincing to anyone else. If your partner is: afraid of blood, afraid of seeing you in pain, or of the opinion that you need drugs and are crazy for trying this, or even just undecided, hire a doula. You will be glad that you did.

Aside from just listing my opinions, I’d like to answer a few questions I am frequently asked, or things people are horrified about when I told them I was doing natural birth the first time (at a birth center).

Frequently Asked Questions:

How can you give birth and then go home from the birth center 6 hours later??
In my experience, and as far as I can tell from the experience of other natural birthing mamas, recovering from an unmedicated childbirth is often faster than when you have been given drugs. Natural birth allows your natural dopamine hormones to kick in, often giving you a surge of peace and energy right after the birth, despite how exhausted you are physically. Breastfeeding immediately after the baby exits the womb helps with that. An epidural or other painkillers can leave you a little sluggish and foggy, you don’t have that if you haven’t had any drugs. Also, you do not have the amount of physical pain that comes with major surgery as in the case of a c-section, so walking around short distances (to the bathroom, to the car) really isn’t too much of a problem. For the most part, even though I had an episiotomy, everything worked just fine within 4-5 hours after birth. I could get up, walk to the bathroom, walk to the car, and around the house just fine with no pain. That said, the midwives suggested I stay IN MY BED at home for 3 days straight, and I did that. I did not leave my bed except to pee for 3 full days. So in that respect, it was no different than the hospital, except that I was more comfortable because I was in my own bed in my own house, and I think 3 days is possibly longer than you get at a hospital (?).

Why would you want to go straight home and have to take care of the baby 24/7 immediately? Didn’t you want to hand the baby to the nurse and get some sleep?
Part of my answer here is that, again, you need to have a committed birth partner and/or someone who is going to take care of you and the baby for at least a week after the birth. Little Sir was right next to me in a bassinet the whole time from right after birth and the entire first week, and my husband brought us food and everything we needed. We hooked up the computer in our bedroom and watched Netflix and Hulu in bed, the 3 of us. It was actually one of the sweetest times in our marriage. Or, maybe that was my hormones,  I don’t know…There was also a lot of pre-planning done to make sure we did not have any social commitments, deadlines, or expectations that we would go anywhere or do anything in those first few weeks.

The second part of the answer is that, if you and your partner are taking care of your baby yourselves from the minute he/she is born, there really isn’t any period of shock when the medical professionals leave. You just do what you need to do, instinctively, from the very beginning, and it works out and it seems normal. Or, at least, it did to us.

Didn’t you think you might die (regarding the pain)?
Maybe a little. But I was expecting that, and I had accepted the idea of pain. They taught us a neat little acronym in Bradley classes about the pain, which is that pain is: Productive, Anticipated, Intermittent, Normal. I found all those words to be true and I kept reminding myself of them.

In addition, since I was at a birth center, I was not hooked up to anything, I could walk around, sit, stand, kneel, get in the birthing tub to labor, etc. I was not forced to lie down, ever (in fact, the idea of sitting still was painful to me, I felt like I had to keep moving to work through the contractions). No one was around except my husband and myself, with a midwife nearby. There were no doctors and nurses going in and out constantly checking me or sticking me with needles, or anyone asking questions or needing to interact with me in any way. I kind of went into a zone and no one bothered us.

Bradley classes also taught us pain management measures. I had music playing which I had chosen. It was warm and comfortable in the room. Christian was there for me to lean on during contractions. All of these things helped and I was not afraid or worried.

Also, I was not given pitocin, which I really think helped me since I am so afraid of it.

~~~~~

I might actually be more concerned about labor this second time around, because I know how the pain is going to feel. Hopefully our second “reminder” round of Bradley classes will help with that!

Feel free to leave additional questions for me if you have them and I’ll be happy to answer them! Or, feel free to share your own comments/suggestions for me on my second time around!

Natural Childbirth

Just a heads-up, I have finally published the full birth story of Asher’s unmedicated birth center birth on the family blog. Please be aware, the post is PG-13 or greater due to pictures. If you are not comfortable seeing me giving birth (i.e., if you are related to me or squeamish), you might consider skipping this one and just asking me about it in person.