Why I Wish I Had a Birth Photographer

They say your wedding goes by in the blink of an eye.  And it's true.  You spend all of this time preparing, writing vows, trying on dresses, interviewing and hiring DJs and bakers, DIYing your decorations, and tackling the pages-long list of things to do.  And then the wedding day comes and goes. And then it's gone.  Forever.  And you're married.  And THANK GOD you hired a professional photographer or videographer to capture the day that already seems so fuzzy in your memory just a few months later.

If you've ever given birth before, you know that childbirth is exactly the same.  And once again, whether the labor felt long or short, the details get hazy before you can even celebrate your child's first week of life.  As mothers, we're wired to tell and retell our birth story.  We want to know what happened from every angle and from every vantage point and we want everyone's perspective.  It's part of processing our experience.  

The birth of our baby is the most important day of our lives.  We want it to be ingrained in our memories forever as joyous and worthy of the most magnificent celebration. We want to remember how hard we worked and how relieved and elated we were when we finally held our babies in our arms.  Every year on the day of your child's birthday, you recall the story of how they came to be here on Earth and how important they are.  And each year, the story becomes less and less detailed.  

When I gave birth to my first daughter, Clara, I wanted a photographer, but there weren't any options on the Eastern Shore at the time that I knew of.  I had a long, slow, and relatively low-key birth experience, but yet it felt like the world stopped!  It was intense, insane, and beautiful.  When I came home with her, I couldn't even unpack my birth bag.  I didn't want the biggest moment of my life to be over.  It felt so new and yet so far away all at the same time.  My eyes were closed for most of the labor, but when she was born, she looked directly into my eyes and we stared at each other in silence for what seemed like forever.  I was in denial that such an earth-shattering moment could be lost in time and I would be only left with my quickly fading memory.  I eagerly talked to all of the people at my birth and wanted them to tell me all the little details I missed, like how in the car on the way to the birth center it was raining so hard that my husband couldn't see more than one car in front of him ON THE BAY BRIDGE.  I wished over and over that I could have had a photographer to document that whole evening so that I could use those photos to jog my memories in the future.

It sounds kind of funny to say now, but during my days of "baby blues", I was feeling really nostalgic about my birth and I just desperately wished I could experience it from the outside.  I felt so "out of body" throughout the whole experience that I had a hard time recalling details.  I just wanted to see my face when she was finally born and to hear what people said around me and to watch her look into my eyes from the outside.  And then, one night, I ACTUALLY SAW IT.  I had a very clear and vivid dream.  It was literally the video of my birth, taken from my left side, as if a camera really had recorded it.  I watched the video from the last few pushes.  I saw myself pull her up out of the water beneath me. I heard the noises I made.  I saw my face crunch up as I cried tears of joy and relief.  I heard her first weak cry.  I watched us lock eyes for what seemed like hours.  

And then I woke up.  And that was it.  And I felt like a huge weight had lifted from my shoulders.  And I finally unpacked the birth bag and did my laundry that day.  It felt so refreshing and like my birth experience was finally complete and I could move on to my new life and role as mother.

the only photo i have of me in labor.  my doula was thoughtful enough to snap this on her cell phone (in the dark).

the only photo i have of me in labor.  my doula was thoughtful enough to snap this on her cell phone (in the dark).

When my friend April* hired a birth photographer, she explained that since it was her 3rd birth and she had been through labor and childbirth before, she knew that she needed something in print to give her inspiration during her postpartum time.  Her postpartum experiences had all been difficult, as the change of lifestyle and hormone transition took a toll on her physically and emotionally.  She knew that this time, she may be having her last baby, and she wanted this phase of her life to be remembered forever in beautiful media.  The day she received her birth photos, she sat and looked through them for hours while holding her warm, swaddled newborn.  And each day, when life began to feel overwhelming, she came back to her birth photos and video to remind herself of the treasure that was her baby's birth and what that special day meant for their family. 

That's why I knew it was important for our community to have a photographer dedicated to capturing these memories.  

Alexis Southward, THRIVE's birth photographer, will come to you in active labor, preserve the experience of your birth on camera without disrupting your labor or the space around you, and will return your professionally edited photos in an online gallery within 14 days, while it still feels fresh!  Professional printing, birth storybooks, and a slideshow with video clips and photos set to music are also available.  

To request a free consultation with Alexis, contact us today and we'll be in touch.  Our first 5 contracts will be offered a special "portfolio" discount while we build our photography gallery--save $200!

*Name changed for privacy

What Do Amniotic Fluid and Tacos Have in Common?

She's 9 months pregnant and strolling the aisles of the grocery store picking up last minute things to make freezer meals before her baby comes.  Her water breaks and there's a big gush of fluid rushing down her legs onto the floor.  Contractions start immediately and she's panting and groaning through them.  Everyone rushes to get her in a car and the vehicle flies through traffic lights and stop signs to get her to the hospital just in time for her to scream her baby out.  EMERGENCY!!!

I hope you already know that it rarely ever happens that way.  And if you didn't know, I'm here to tell you: It probably will not happen like that to you.  In fact, only about 10% of women have their water break before labor starts.  The majority of waters rupture well into the labor process, and quite often, very near the end.  

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Now I bet you're wondering why the title has the word "tacos" in it, huh?  Well, if you've given birth before, you've probably experienced a situation where your care provider asks you if your water has broken yet.  If the answer was yes, they may have asked you a few questions about it.  Check those questions out now so you know what to look for next time and can be prepared to answer them!  If your water breaks, remember "TACO":

T (Time): 

What time did your water break?  Care providers will want to know how long your membranes have been ruptured.  In most cases, there are protocols for how long you can have ruptured membranes before birth.  The concern is an increased risk of infection, as your protective bag of waters is no longer surrounding your little baby inside.  If your water broke and you're not already in active labor, remember to limit the risk of infection by not inserting anything into the vagina, including tampons, fingers, having intercourse, etc.  Take showers instead of baths.  Remember, each time something (even a gloved finger from a care provider) is inserted, the risk of infection goes up.

A (Amount): 

Was it a huge gush of fluid that came out like a waterfall?  Or did you happen to feel a few small leaks here and there?  Could the leaks have been urine?  Have you had sex recently?  Could the leaks have been semen? Could the leaks or fluid be vaginal discharge?  Many women experience a lot of discharge in late pregnancy.  Those may sound like silly questions, but they all happen and that's okay!

C (Color): 

What color was the fluid?  Normal amniotic fluid is colorless and sometimes a bit cloudy.  Occasionally it is lightly tinged with small amounts of blood or mucus. Sometimes it has white flakes in it, which is just vernix that came off of baby's skin.  The reason why they ask this question is because sometimes the fluid can be slightly or heavily tinted with meconium. Sometimes, baby passes his/her first stool while still in utero.  This is common and very rarely an indication of a problem, but the care providers like to know because each hospital has a different protocol for how to respond to this situation.  In our local hospital, they invite a respiratory therapist into the labor and delivery room just before birth.  The respiratory therapist stands in the back and out of the way.  If the baby has trouble breathing on his/her own, the therapist is there to help, so the baby doesn't aspirate any of the meconium in the water.  Usually the baby is born, cries and breathes just fine, and the therapist quietly slips back out.  If you're concerned about this or would like to know the protocol in your own hospital, make sure to ask your care provider during your pregnancy.

O (Odor): 

What does it smell like? Yep, you gotta smell it to answer this question.  Either your underwear or a sanitary pad that you're wearing.  Most people describe amniotic fluid as smelling odorless, sweet, clean, or like semen.  I suppose each person thinks of it differently.  Here's why we smell it.  We want to make sure it doesn't smell like urine, which has a distinctive smell.  And we want to make sure it doesn't smell foul.  Foul smelling amniotic fluid can be a symptom of a uterine infection that you'll want to get checked out.  In most cases, though, you're just trying to determine if it's amniotic fluid or urine.

So, there you have it.  Tacos and amniotic fluid DO have something in common!  If you think your water has broken or are unsure, go through these little questions yourself so you already know your answers for when you call your care provider. 

Now, did I ruin Mexican food for you for the rest of your pregnancy?  I hope not.  If I did, just rearrange the letters and remember the word "COAT" instead!

The Birth of Eden

Local mom Amanda retells the story of the birth of her second child, Eden.  We're sharing this story on October 15, Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day.  Eden's story is powerful, real, raw, and beautifully touching.  I hope you can find some time in your day to remember baby Eden and send some good thoughts and prayers to Amanda and her family.


I’ll never forget the moment I found out I was pregnant with our second child.  I had gone in for my annual gyno appointment, expecting to discuss birth control options with my provider because our daughter was 7 months old and I was finally feeling human again. To my surprise, my bloodwork came back positive.  How could I be pregnant? Ok, I knew how I could be pregnant, but I was exclusively breastfeeding. Don’t the old wives say you can’t get pregnant while nursing? Aren’t the old wives educated medical professionals that bar out all acts of God with the collective wisdom of the ages?  After informing my husband (and subsequently reviving him), I sat down to sort through my feelings.  Fear and an overwhelming worry of how we would provide for two kids on one income and how I would mother two children under two all wrapped up in the promise of an even greater sleep deficit crept in first.  I did what any overwhelmed mother would do in this situation-- feed the child snacks and pray I make it to bedtime. After some ice cream and the metaphorical “bedtime”, hope arrived.  Excitement at the promise of a new life and all the potential love and laughter that would ensue filled my heart.  I would just embrace the chaos, and take it one day at a time, cherishing the small things.

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            A few months, a handful of doctor appointments, and one sonogram later, we were ready to announce.  It was December, and now that we had sonogram photos, we decided to do a Christmas themed announcement.  Our daughter held a stocking that said “Big sister” and a photo of our newest bundle to be.  The congratulations poured in over the next few hours.  Here we were, about to be a family of four. I still wasn’t sure totally how to feel. 

Three days later, on 12/13/14 I began to see spotting.  Immediate dread filled my heart.  I knew that blood, no matter how minute, was never exactly a good thing.  We called the doctor, but of course it was the weekend so I had to wait for a call back.  That was the longest 20 minutes I’ve ever experienced.  Again, my thoughts wandered to “How?” This baby was perfect 72 hours ago during the sonogram.  Perfect development, strong heart beat.  How could it have ended so suddenly? The on call physician told me that there was really nothing that could be done at this point, that my body was “taking nature’s path.” They said only to come to the hospital if I was experiencing hemorrhaging, and that it was probably best to just ride it out at home because my fetus was 6 weeks short of being viable.  They gave me no advice on what to expect next, so I tried to google without being sucked down the web-based medicine rabbit hole. 

After laying down in bed, I tried to come to some sort of peace with what was happening.  Spoiler alert: I’m still trying to come to terms with it, 3 years later.  As the bleeding increased, I migrated to the only place I felt I could be, the bathroom.  It was night, and I couldn’t bring myself to turn on the light to see what was happening.  I knew when it was over, and I sat there pondering if I could bring myself to reach down into the toilet bowl and hold my child.  I couldn’t.  I felt like a terrible mother.  Not only could by body not provide and protect this baby, but I couldn’t muster up the courage to hold him or her before having to just dispose of him or her because they were not “viable”.  I didn’t deserve this angel, and that’s why the opportunity was taken away.   My mind was a dark place thinking that somehow this was my fault. 

I went to the doctor the following day, where a sonogram showed my empty womb.  While the doctor tried to be sympathetic, I saw what she entered in my chart.  “Complete abortion” hit me like a brick wall.  I always felt like abortion was something you chose.  I did not choose this. I would not in a million years choose this.  There had to be a better term.  When it’s referred to it as a miscarriage, I feel like that defines the death of the child but not the birth.  The process IS birth.  I only really noticed that’s what it was because I had already had a vaginal delivery.  The waves of contractions, the overwhelming instant relief as soon as the baby is born are exactly the same.  I can’t speak on the variations of the degrees of pain, as it may be less for someone who experienced loss earlier in their pregnancy.  I was 18 weeks at the time but this was birth just the same.

Six months later, there were two pink lines.  Nine months after that, on Valentine’s Day, our rainbow baby boy was born [read that birth story here].  Full of love and laughter, escorted earthside by his angel sibling.  It was a healing moment for me physically because I spent my entire pregnancy expecting to lose him too.  The anxiety was a constant burden, and that was an unexpected side effect from this whole experience.

I lost a child, but I found a village. People sent their condolences, and hidden in quite a few more of those condolences than I ever expected were privately messaged stories of their own losses.  Because of the stigma, especially for older generations, I never knew how many mothers were in this horribly cruel club.  Losing your child is a pain I wouldn’t even wish upon my worst enemy.  Part of the healing for me was sharing in this web of collective grief.  I was not alone.  So many others understood my pain.  They felt the crushing guilt that I was feeling.  “Maybe if I had been better, healthier, more vigilant, etc.” was the general consensus, even though we all know we couldn’t have prevented it. You can’t keep the darkness from creeping in, but it’s comforting knowing that others came before you to help show you the light.

The village wasn’t all that came from this. I learned how my husband grieves.  During the loss, he was distant.  He kept saying things to assure me that I was fine and was trying to be optimistic.  We never spoke much about it.  A few months after, a teacher from my high school, who is now a genetic counselor, had posted a link to a research survey about how couples deal with pregnancy loss.  There was a questionnaire to be filled out separately by both the mother and the father.   This survey is finally what allowed him to open up and express his grief.  He tried to be the strong one for me, and I mistook his distance and nonchalance for apathy.  Our marriage grew from this new understanding, and I was able to tell him that I had silently named our baby.  Seeking out something gender neutral as my loss occurred two weeks before the anatomy scan, I had decided upon calling him or her Eden.  My paradise, lost.   

I learned a lot about myself as well.  I learned to be patient with my children because some are not so lucky.  I must be more empathetic to strangers, as they are the only ones who know what they are carrying around today.  I cannot be jealous of those that haven’t felt this pain because for some unknown reason I was chosen to shoulder this load and I will do it to prevent their pain.  Most importantly, I learned how to be kinder to myself.  There’s good days and bad days, days where I fail to notice the absence of our other child and days where the soul shattering emptiness feels like it will swallow me whole.  On days like the latter, I must take time to grieve.  One hearty, ugly cry at a time, I hope to be slowly reassembled.  The memories I make with the children I get to keep here on earth with me will fill the cracks and become the glue that holds me together.  Until we meet again, my angel baby, Eden.    


If you're living on the Eastern Shore and would like to share your birth story with our community, please email us at maria@thrivebirth.org.

The First Day

I would have 100 babies just so I could have the first 24 hours back again 100 times.  But then I'd have 100 kids and I'd have to give birth 100 times. #nothanks

The entire pregnancy you're anxiously waiting to meet this little baby.  Toward the end of pregnancy (or maybe throughout the entire pregnancy) you're growing uncomfortable and the physical symptoms are starting to take over.  You're excited, but you may be experiencing pain, sleeplessness, heartburn, morning sickness, pelvic pain and pressure, etc.  Then you have to move through an entire labor and birth experience, which may be short or long, difficult or not, possibly involve a major surgery, and is guaranteed to be a very intense mental, physical, and emotional experience.  

And then it happens.  The baby is here. YOUR baby is here.

And somehow, all that stuff melts away.  Time stands still.  The world stops turning just for you.  I've often thought that there could quite literally be a tornado directly out my window at the moment of birth and I wouldn't have cared less.  The largest rush of oxytocin IN YOUR WHOLE LIFE is directly after your baby's birth.  Oxytocin is a love hormone that is designed to facilitate bonding, love, and also stimulate uterine contractions to expel your placenta and stimulate the uterus's postpartum work.  This rush of oxytocin is why we can feel on top of the world after birth.  And that, combined with all of the other hormonal work, gives us the feeling of immediate relief, love, joy, ecstasy, shock, and everything else that instantly comes with giving birth. 

Not too long afterward, we begin to notice the aches and pains, but this time we have a baby in our arms.  You're hungry and thirsty, and you don't care how food and water gets to you but simply that it does.  There's no sweating the small stuff the day of birth.   

Because remember?  The world stopped.  There's nothing to worry about.  

It's such a strange and weird feeling.  To have a soft, squishy belly.  To feel for your baby and realize she's not there anymore, but instead laying beside you.  Everything is new again.  You go to the bathroom and quickly realize that everything is new there, too.  You are about to take a nap, and then remember you have another little human to consider.  You look in the mirror and aren't quite sure what you see. Your friends and family may be around, but you are almost on another planet.  Not in a bad "checked out" kind of way.  But more like you're only thinking of you, baby, and that birth.  Everyone else is just kind of "there".  

Your organs feel like they're dangling in free space in your belly.  They used to be all squished up in there and now they're making their way back to their original spot and it's a strange feeling.  This alternate reality?  It feels suspiciously good.  Is it possible to feel so out-of-this-world without drugs or alcohol?  The birth high is real.

You don't really jump back into any type of reality that's worth thinking about until the next day.  There's so much to celebrate! I could do the first 24 hours 100 times over.  They're so special, sacred, rare, and dare I say it?  So, so strange.  And I like to savor it.  And I hope you do, too. 

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^^^ Within the first hour of birth with my first daughter, Clara, who will be turning 4 this week.  I'm feeling super nostalgic about her birth, which prompted this blog post today.  XO-Maria

The Home Birth of Cora Eleanor Mai

We're so excited to share the home birth story of another one of Thrive's clients.  It's a very special thing to witness the birth of a new life and we most certainly don't ever take it for granted.  The incredible photography from this birth was captured by Sincerely, The Kitchens.  FYI: There are some graphic photos ahead (blood, placenta).


This birth story is a result of reflection on three previous birth experiences, deliberate planning, and thoughtful intention. As we have grown our family, our progression from a hospital birth to free standing birth center births to a home birth has always been carefully considered. So carefully, that I first contacted our midwife for this birth two full years prior to getting pregnant. I was determined to be educated and fully aware of my options, as to create a path of empowerment and beautiful space within which to bring our fourth baby into the world.

By the time I attended the first consultation with our home birth midwife, I already knew her story. I read her website, followed her Facebook page, and spoke to friends about her birthing philosophy. During our meeting, she mentioned a few times “If I hired her…”, but I already knew. Blessed with great intuition - I knew. She would be present at this baby’s birth and I had no reservations. Not one. What a cool gift – to know, to be confident. The first of many gifts this birth gave us.

This baby would be born at home.

But, it wasn’t always that easy. Hence, our fourth baby as our first home birth. My husband and I eased into this ‘alternative’ birthing over the course of 7 years, with past experiences encouraging us to trust our intuition. Many books were read, long discussions had, and hard decisions made. Many, many hours were spent driving to receive care that satisfied both of our needs – for empowerment, for safety, for respectful birthing. This birth would be no different in that regard, as the midwife chosen lived 2+ hours from our home. But this time was different because we were both fully prepared to give birth on our own terms. We were on the same page and I love the way we worked it out as a team. Another cool gift.

“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine…” Ephesians 3:20

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I came home from work on Friday evening, 39 weeks and 3 days pregnant, with a tickle in my nose that made me suspicious, and a bit nervous, that I was on the verge of getting a cold. I went to bed after giving three boys dinner, bath, and a tucking in bed. I awoke around 12:30am and was uncomfortable, but was able to fall back asleep. I awoke again at 2:00am and decided I would go and sit in the recliner to be more upright. At the time, I contributed my discomfort to the impending cold virus. But around 3:00am, in my sleepy fog of awareness, I realized that I was having regular contractions. Uncomfortable, but mild and only requiring a pause in thoughts and an easy focus on the breath to get through them. I was able to get intermittent sleep throughout the rest of the night in the recliner, and then started my Saturday with a particularly bad sinus pressure headache and continued mild contractions. The boys made themselves breakfast and my husband hurried off to work with a reminder from me to keep his phone close. I fixed a cup of tea and headed to the bath to try and relax as much as possible. The head cold was making me anxious about giving birth any time in the next few days due to lack of energy and focus. I quietly listened to music and sipped on my tea in a comforting sea salt and olive oil bath, all the while, mild contractions continued and my house stood at the mercy of three minimally supervised boys.

In two previous physiologic births, I had never had labor begin this way, but I was quickly realizing that this was going to be a part of baby’s birth story. I was able to continue my day at home with the boys on Saturday and they were patient far beyond expectations for little ones, seven and under. I remember feeling very grateful that day for things like Legos, iPads, and cereal, while worn out from contractions and feeling under the weather.

Saturday night into Sunday, I again awoke in the middle of the night, around 2am, with contractions that were beginning to get a bit more intense. I decided to head out to the recliner again, but didn’t get any relief, or sleep. At 4am, I got into the bath and relaxed deeply, almost falling asleep at times. For two hours, I stayed in the bath, flipping from one side to the other and redrawing warm water to stay comfortable. I went back to bed around 6am and was able to sleep soundly for an hour and felt quite rested after that hour. I remember dramatically telling my husband: “I didn’t think I’d ever sleep again.” Chilling words for a soon to be mother of a newborn.

Sunday morning, I lost my mucus plug. Another ‘first’ in labor for this fourth time mama. With contractions increasing in intensity and loss of the mucus plug, I knew that things were progressing, despite my desire to have more time to work through the head cold.

Contractions continued Sunday with increased intensity, 10-15 minutes apart and lasting for 30-40 seconds each. I started timing the contractions on an app on my phone and my oldest son was quick to find the phone and open the app if he saw that I was uncomfortable. The boys were very astute and kind during this time of uncertainty. As the day progressed without significant change, I started to wonder how long this would go on and when would I know to call the midwife? The timing of that call was fairly important, as she had a two hour commute to get to our house.

Sunday night into Monday had a similar pattern as the previous two nights and I found myself in the bath, again, around 3am. However, I wasn’t able to get the same relief. I was feeling quite drained of energy and contractions were only getting stronger. Just as I considered a call to the midwife, the contractions dipped in intensity but remained consistent around 11 minutes apart and just under a minute each. Funny enough, it was only then that I realized I couldn’t go into work Monday morning and called out. It was January 30th and the beginning of my maternity leave. More mucus plug/bloody show later that morning helped me to put in perspective that this baby was coming – at some point – but taking his/her time. I was exhausted, but I loved the unique onset of labor, relative to my other births.

Monday, my boys made me breakfast in bed – the most generous portion of yogurt and granola I’ve ever seen – and then they headed to my mom’s for the day. We previously had many extensive talks about what was going to happen when the baby would come and how I would need to work really hard to have the baby. In their most gentle way, they were realizing that this was happening and, again, I felt so overwhelmed with their sensitivity, yet goofy curiosity.

I spent Monday on the couch watching “This Is Us,” listening to 90’s music, and online shopping….during continued regular, mild-moderate contractions. My house was still, my birth space ready. I was having to use more focused energy to get through contractions, but they weren’t unbearable. After three full days of contracting, in addition to the head cold I was battling (in the most desperate of ways with spoonfuls of minced garlic and honey, among other things), I was anxious for a bit of relief and still wondering how and when this would turn into active labor.

“Breath as an anchor.”

Monday into Tuesday was another restless night with trials of the recliner and bath, but to no avail. In sidelying on the couch, unable to keep quiet during contractions, I realized that active labor was imminent. I labored alone in the night for as long as possible before deciding to call our midwife, Karen, a little after 5am. Contractions were intense, 8-9 minutes apart and lasting anywhere from 45 seconds to 2 minutes. We talked and decided together that it would be a good time for her to come since she had to travel 2 hours. I also then called my doula, Maria, and was grateful that she lived close so that she could be there quickly to help me labor. Maria helped “shake the apples,” a rebozo technique using a woven wrap that was relieving of pressure and felt wonderful in quadruped draped over the birthing ball. In between strengthening contractions, we colored mandalas and intricate designs with my boys. We drank yummy smoothies made by my husband, Johnny. We laughed and pretended that we were just friends getting together, blissfully enjoying one another’s presence.

Each contraction began with the unplanned, silently stated mantra of “I am bigger than this” and ended with a hiccup. Confidence, wave, and a jolt out of labored-focus and back into the present day. We laughed and couldn’t believe others in the world were just going about their normal business -- didn’t they know?! A baby was coming!!

Around 8am, the midwives arrived to our house – Karen, Heather and Samm. They were coincidently wearing purple, my favorite color. I felt calm and steady contractions were not altered by their presence – a true measure of my comfort level with the women I had chosen to attend this birth. They set up their birth supplies and talked to us about how things were progressing, and then they left to give us some time to focus on labor and be in our space together. At this time, I was favoring quadruped over the birthing ball with counter pressure on my pelvis to get through contractions. I stayed this way as long as my knees could tolerate. But it was during trips to and from the bathroom that I realized that being upright intensified the contractions and chose to labor braced by the boys’ school table.

When everyone was back in the room that afternoon, I remember asking (pleading?) -- “Is this baby coming today?” -- hopeful someone would be able to tell me the answer. But it was during these fully upright contractions that I felt the baby descending and I realized on my own that, yes!, this baby is coming today. Empowerment. I am doing this.

“In, out, deep, slow, calm, ease, smile, release, present moment, wonderful moment.”

Soon thereafter, I decided that laboring in the water would be helpful to give me a much needed break. After my boys finished filling the pool, I eased into the water and it felt amazing. I was so grateful for the total body relief and let everyone know that I was in a different, much more tranquil place. With this relaxation, labor slowed. This was what I needed at the time. It was easily the most comfortable I had been in the past four days, and with Johnny spoon feeding me chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream I was quick to pretend that I could turn labor off and come back another day. From my spot in the birth pool, and in between contractions, I watched through the French doors as my three boys played outside – running carelessly and enjoying life. This moment still stands out in my mind. The fact that they were so unfazed during a monumental transition for our family made me happy. And they came and went; inside, outside and by my side – easily.

Unfortunately, I started feeling very hot and fatigued while in the pool. Cold rags and opening all the windows on a January day didn’t help significantly. So I got out of the pool – drained of energy – similar to the feeling after a long day at the beach. A bit defeated but persistent, I labored again outside of the tub and felt contractions intensify again. For as long as I could, I labored out of the water before requesting to get back in for relief. The most peaceful moments of baby’s labor were in the pool and I’m grateful to have had the pool as an escape. During this second bout in the pool, I felt active with each contraction and “pushy.” I could feel baby’s bag of water with my hand, still intact. At one point, I thought (or wishfully hoped in the name of progression) my water broke. It didn’t. Unlike my last two births with spontaneous rupture well before onset of contractions, this baby’s bag of waters was relentless! I do remember briefly feeling a bit frustrated when each contraction and push didn’t progress to feeling baby’s head emerge.

And once again, I got too hot. Just prior to getting out of the pool the second time, and knowing that “pushy” was a good sign, Johnny asked if I wanted our three boys to be present during the birth and I said “yes.” The boys were very aware of all the details of birth through preparation with books and videos. I wanted them to witness their baby coming into the world. For all of us, I felt that the transition into a family of six would be gentle if they understood and saw the process. …He rounded them up quickly.

“Let go, my soul, and trust in Him. The waves and wind still know His name.”

Realizing that this was going to be a land birth, I took the midwife’s guidance to try the birthing stool. With my husband’s support in front of me, I sat on the stool and instantly realized that I had to relinquish any reservation in giving birth. I buried my face into Johnny’s chest and gave in to the release. Baby’s water broke fully and forcefully (ahem, all over my husband’s precious dry feet). With my legs going numb from the pressure of the birthing stool, I transferred to the bed and knelt down. Five minutes after baby’s water broke, I felt baby’s head come out. I opened my eyes; something I asked Maria to remind me to do - she did. And I remember thinking baby’s head was big, but in retrospect, I realized that I had never watched or held my baby’s head in birth. I am glad to have had that experience now.

Baby’s head was out one full contraction before the rest of baby’s body slipped into my husband’s loving hands at 6:46pm. With my mind so clearly in a distant place, and at the same time, so relieved to have the baby out, finding out the sex of the baby was not a forethought. But I was quickly sobered back into the moment as soon as I heard my husband gently say “It’s a….” and I turned to him on my right as he handed me our baby GIRL. The shock and intensity of that moment was profound and overwhelming; unforgettable.

“She believed she could, and so she did.”

Holding her, I immediately had a very clear instinctual feeling of how healthy she was – yet another gift. I knew she was big. And she was calm. Everything about her presence made me understand that her birth was exactly what she needed to enter into this world peacefully. The long days of contractions, my lack of energy, the seemingly slow progression of active labor; all were worth those moments after birth when our bond was sealed in a moment.

We lay down and baby girl latched onto the breast soon after birth without a problem. She knew just what to do. It was an hour or so later that her placenta was delivered. We chose to keep baby girl and placenta intact as a unit for as long as needed in order to allow for the greatest blood transfusion to baby and also to continue to educate the boys on the process of gentle birth.

“We are surrounded with love.”

The boys were eager to celebrate baby’s birth with a party; something they had been planning for and actively took part in creating during her labor, along with their Gram (my mom). They brought a sweet white cake with pink sugar that they had baked for their sister. We wore party hats. They decorated our birth room with pom-poms and streamers in honor of her birth. We ate wonderful food prepared by my mom. The boys were proud of their contribution to her birthday and it was a special moment -- to be singing Happy Birthday to our girl of a couple hours old in the comfort of our home and surround by so many people that already loved her. The pomegranate champagne toast was amazing, too.

After our quaint celebration, and in our quiet camp again, baby girl’s cord was cut by daddy and I got cleaned up. Special pictures of the family and birth team were taken. Maria snuggled baby girl and then left us tucked in. Heather welcomed us to our Babymoon with hugs and left for her long drive home. Karen and Samm stayed to do the newborn and mama exam. No tears, despite baby girl being the biggest of the four children! Guesses on weight came in at over 9lbs. Baby girl weighed in at 8lbs. 15oz.! With a couple of meconium diapers prior to weighing, there’s a good chance she was 9lbs. She outweighed all of her brothers significantly! It was after 10pm when Karen and Samm headed upstairs to stay overnight so that they could assess us again the next day. Baby girl slept soundly that night and it was the first time in four nights that I had any restful sleep. What a peaceful start! Karen and Samm came down to see us mid-morning before leaving the day after her birth.

Baby girl was born on her original due date, January 31st. She and I have been of one mind since she was in the womb, as I kept encouraging her to wait as long as possible to be born so that I could continue with commitments I had made prior to becoming pregnant with her. I talked to her a lot about being born on February 1st, which she was shy of by only five hours. She was very patient with me and allowed me to enjoy this pregnancy immensely. Her significantly longer gestation than 2 previous births was a blessing. January 31st was the perfect day for her to be born. A very meaningful day for our family, as it was eight years prior, on the same date, that we found out we were pregnant with our first child. Connected and full circle.

Baby girl and her placenta, still connected by their umbilical cord.

Baby girl and her placenta, still connected by their umbilical cord.

It was almost a full week later when baby girl was given a name. The Monday following her birth, she became Cora Eleanor Mai in honor of her grandmother and great grandmother. Her name follows the naming tradition of the first female, as I am also named for my great grandmother.

In preparing for this birth, one practice that stood out to me was to consider the question that I needed answered in order to give birth; taken from book Birthing From Within by Pam England. Only I could ask this question, only I could answer this question. On the same day I read and contemplated that passage, I went for a run and instantly knew my question: “Would I be fulfilled in this birth?” Fulfillment didn’t come with any preconceived criteria. It didn’t mean a certain type of birth, or a specific gender of baby. Despite societal pressure to have a girl after three boys, we were unattached to one gender or the other. Fulfillment, however, would just be a known feeling, in the moment, that allowed full processing of the occasion and a peaceful postpartum transition to a family of six. Would I be fulfilled in this birth?

I was, sitting on the birthing stool. I am, as I reflect on her wonderful birth. And I always will be when I think of how her story began – even years before conception.

And, most preciously, her given name of Cora coincidentally means ‘filled heart.’


If you're living on the Eastern Shore and would like to share your birth story with our community, please email us at maria@thrivebirth.org.

A Valentine's Day Birth Story

This Delmarva Community Birth Story comes to us from a friend and fabulous mother.  Amanda is a mom to two toddlers in Salisbury and this is the story of her second child's birth.


This is a story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down….  Wait. Wrong story.  This is the story of the birth of my Rainbow baby, born on Valentine’s Day 2016.  

February 13, 2016, 11:00 PM.   I’m 41 +2.  I’m large, but surprisingly not in charge.  I was being forced to lay between my husband and my co-sleeping and still nursing 2 year old daughter because she “didn’t like Daddy right now.”  She wanted to stay up all night.  We wanted to sleep.  We put on her favorite movie at the time.  She had been bitten by the Frozen bug.  Nothing mattered but Frozen.  There were no movies, and no music that could trump the hypnotizing magic of “Let It Go.”  My unborn child was consequently also into Frozen.  I know what you’re thinking.  He was subjected to that soundtrack since he could hear.  He would do backflips and wiggle from side to side during every song.  It was a surefire way to get him active if I was concerned about his kick count.  I had started having weak contractions.  My husband, Jason, said that they seemed pretty regular to him, and suggested timing them.  I wasn’t in labor.  I timed them anyway, and they were about 6 minutes apart at this point.  I wasn’t sure how regular they were though, because I kept drifting off to sleep between them.  There was no way I was in labor.  I was SLEEPING. I called my parents, because they live in Baltimore, and it was the weekend.  I knew they would be able to come down and spend the weekend with our daughter in case the baby decided to be born in the next few days.  They decided to pack up and come right away, because my dad said I sounded like I was in a vice grip of a giant.  I thought I was speaking normally because hey, I wasn’t in labor.  

With our first, I had an extensive birth plan.  I had to be induced, and literally EVERYTHING on that plan went out the window.  I would settle for a healthy baby this time.  All I knew was I wanted to labor for as long as possible at home this time.  If I had to make it to the hospital before my parents could arrive, we had planned to call my friend from college, who lived locally.  She agreed to be on call for labor.  I thought for sure, we’d never need to call her.  I was wrong.  “Did you call Rita?” Jason asked.  “No, but I texted her.  I told her to be ready to come over just in case this turns out to be real.” He thought I was nuts, insisting that I was in labor.  I kept insisting I wasn’t.  This was NOTHING like the contractions from baby #1.  Honestly, they were even gentler than the contractions I experienced during my miscarriage. I started fumbling around the kitchen, looking for a bowl to take in the car.  I vomit easily, and I figured if I was going to be in labor in the car, I would probably puke.  Jason went outside to call Rita and warm up the car. I figured I should probably try to pee again, because by pregnancy #3, my bladder and I had trust issues.  When my husband returned, I was not where he left me.  I hear him frantically call out for me.  I’m in the bathroom, puking. As I flush the toilet, I know this is real.  This is happening.

I want to take time to snuggle our first born.  I want to have a snack.  I want to put on my coat. Being 41 weeks pregnant, I know that if I lay down, I won’t get back up. If I start eating, I’ll need a 5 course meal.  If I put on my coat, I’ll struggle to find my other sleeve and won’t be able to button it.  I settled for kissing our daughter and whispering that when Mommy came back, her brother would be here and she could hold him.  I didn’t grab a snack because I knew I had packed some in my hospital bag, a lesson learned the hard way from 50 hours of labor and NO FOOD. I did mess with my coat, even though my husband insisted I wouldn’t need it.  It was February 13th, and there was a forecast for snow.  I’m not Siberian; I would need my coat. (I have no idea how people deliver babies in cars. What’s the sitting situation?)  I spent the ride to the hospital holding myself up, like an olympic gymnast during a ring event.

When we arrived at PRMC, it was after midnight. The only entrance after hours is the ER. The entrance desk nurse asked why we were there, and I pretty much just looked at my stomach, looked at her, looked at my stomach, and was immediately annoyed.  The nurse explained they were currently out of wheelchairs, and Jason said we could walk.  I couldn’t really sit down anyway, and I knew that it would help baby move down if I walked, but I was looking forward to crushing my husband’s hand when the going got tough.  We got up into L&D, and the contractions were starting to make it difficult to talk.  Jason went to move the car to the parking garage, and our admitting nurse got me hooked up to a monitor.  I really didn’t want her to check me, and she was confident that they could admit me without needing a cervical check because the contractions were progressing nicely.  

It was about 1:00 AM when they got me into a room.  I told them I was going to want an epidural.  With my first, I spent almost 2 days of my induction med free, before I gave in knowing I needed to rest to get our baby out.  The epidural let me get some rest, but wore off before it was time to push her out, so I had the joy of feeling everything during delivery.  This time, I was terrified of getting stuck in the cycle of my mind preventing my body from progressing.  The midwife came in, and to my dismay, I was too far for the epidural.  I looked at the midwife, and said, “F***. We’re doing this then.” It was almost 1:30.  I immediately slipped into that primal space in your brain. The one that’s in between worlds, where you are aware of everything around you, but you can’t speak. It’s your spirit and your body, sharing one space as one entity.  That’s where the empowerment of birth lives.  I don’t care about the adrenaline from after delivery.  I live for the moments I spend in that space. I transition quickly because I can connect to myself so deeply in that space.  I warned the nurses of that when I arrived.  I have to give the nurses props here, because they were incredibly silent.  Part of me wondered if I should be worried, Before I knew it, it was time to push.  Jason had one leg, the nurses had the other.  I remember him commenting on how strong I was.  I was able to joke around at this point, because that’s my coping mechanism.  I don’t remember what I said, but it was along the lines of “Obviously I’m strong, I have to keep pushing out your large headed children with no meds!”  I pushed, sensed my progress, and paused to ask the midwife if scar tissue tore more easily, or less easily than regular tissue.  I’m always on the hunt for knowledge. I couldn’t see out the window, but my husband said it had started to snow.

And at 1:41 AM, February 14, 2016, he was here.  All 8lbs, 2 oz, 22 inches of squish.

We made it.  We survived.  I spent my entire pregnancy waiting for the inevitable loss that I felt was coming.  Nothing made me question every second of every day like the miscarriage we experienced before our son.  It’s true what they say about Rainbow babies though.  He is love incarnate.  He is joy.  He is the promised light after the darkness.  He is hope.  


If you're living on the Eastern Shore and would like to share your positive and empowering birth story with our community, please email me at maria@thrivebirth.org.

The Birth That Changed My Life: Part II

This week in our Delmarva Community Birth Stories series, we're doing something a little different.  This story is shared by Thrive owner and doula, Maria Mengel.

If you haven't read Part I yet, hop on over and check it out now.

I received the worst message that you could ever receive as a friend/doula:

"Amniotic fluid is basically zero.  They can't find any kidneys or bladder.  Without kidneys, the baby will die after birth.  We're going to AAMC for induction.  You should come now."

Then it was followed by:

"worst nightmare"

I was completely in shock and "respond" mode.  I was in the shower, so I jumped out, toweled off, texted my husband to come upstairs now, and started getting ready.  I was in the car within minutes.  I was nervous, scared, worried about my friends and their baby, and in a real hurry to get there.  On my way, I called and talked to my mom and my doula/mentor to keep my mind from racing too much.  They both promised to pray and reassured me that I would be able to support my friends no matter what.  I told them that it wasn't fair that my first bereavement birth after receiving my certification was for my best friends.  I was still feeling pretty raw from the sudden death of my little brother just months before, and I truly didn't know if I could do it.

I didn't waste any time, but I didn't speed either.  While I was alone in the car, I tried to think about everything that I learned about babies who passed after birth.  I would need to be strong enough to explain to my friends what to expect and yet compassionate enough to support them through a potentially long induction and birth.  Two hours later, I pulled into the hospital parking garage.  I practically ran to the elevators, through the Labor and Delivery doors and down to the room where the nurse told they would be.  I quietly opened the door to my friends sitting on a couch together talking with their midwife.

I was breathing heavily from running and when I walked in it was completely silent.  

Without speaking, I walked across the room and sat down with my friends when Wes said "Well, the induction is not until Monday".  Apparently Labor and Delivery was really busy that day (Friday), so they decided to wait until Monday for the induction.  Their baby had been surviving with extremely low amniotic fluid levels and seemed to be doing fine for some time (they estimated up to 6 weeks or so), so they figured a few more days probably wouldn't make a difference.  Everyone seemed so relieved.

It was kind of awkward because we were all in shock, sad, relieved, and scared at the same time.  The midwife came back with a specialist on the phone from Children's National Health System in DC.  He expressed his apologies about their situation but offered them a pretty innovative opportunity.  He told them that he could see them early Monday morning for a fetal MRI to get a closer look at baby's renal system and lungs.  He told them that he would hopefully be able to get a more concrete diagnosis before the induction that morning so that they would know how to prepare for their baby's treatment after birth.   They decided to accept the offer and scheduled an MRI in Washington D.C. at 7:30am and an induction in Annapolis at 9am. 

We spent the next hour or so on the phone making appointments and then made the two hour trip back home to the Eastern shore.  Meghan's parents were on their way from upstate New York and they needed to stop at the grocery store to stock their fridge for guests.  Wes took my husband to the store with him while Meghan and I stayed at my house with the girls.  Meghan and I talked about how it all seemed so strange and so awkward that we just found out that her baby might die and we were doing normal things like grocery shopping and watching my kids play.   When they went home that night, I promised to stay in touch.

Guys, thank God for texting.  

We spent the time between her diagnosis and her birth texting constantly.  It was so much easier for Meghan to express her thoughts and feelings through texts than saying it all out loud.  Our relationship as friends grew leaps and bounds through those messages, many of which I saved so that I wouldn't forget.  The good and bad feelings, the fears, the worries, the logistics,etc.  It was like having a diary to process our thoughts together.  And it was so much easier to text our thoughts than say them out loud.

On Sunday, we scheduled our prenatal meeting together.  It was supposed to be a meeting where we discussed their dreams and desires for their beautiful water birth.  But instead, I got my first taste of what it was like to be a bereavement doula.  I met with Meghan and Wes and we discussed their options.  If the MRI the next day confirmed their worst fears, and baby truly did not have a bladder or kidneys, and severely underdeveloped lungs, they would have a few choices.  The staff at their hospital informed them that they could continue with the induction the next day, with the understanding that the baby might not make it through the stress of labor and die before birth.  Or they could wait for spontaneous labor, knowing that the baby may pass before labor begins, and then definitely deliver a stillborn baby.  Or, they could schedule a cesarean to guarantee that Meghan and Wes would have a chance to meet and hold their baby still alive, and then know that baby would probably pass in her arms shortly after.  

We talked about what to expect with all of the options, including the details that I didn't ever want to have to share with my friends.

They were aware that funeral arrangements would have to be made, but weren't ready to talk about it yet, so Meghan's mother and I talked through their options and I contacted a funeral home, asked questions about their options in terms of transportation of the baby's physical form and services.  I gathered all of that information and placed it in a folder in my birth bag.  They decided to wait until after the MRI in the morning to make a final decision about their birth plans.

The next morning, I knew that it would likely take a long time before the MRI was finished and they were able to talk with all of the necessary specialists in DC, so I did the only thing I could think of to pass time.  I feverishly cleaned my house.  I literally was scrubbing the freaking baseboards because if I sat still too long, I started getting sick thinking about what might happen later that day.  I had a knot in the pit of my stomach and every once in a while, I had to sit down and mentally tell myself that what they were about to go through was much harder than my role in the process, and that I could support them 100%.  I knew that there would be a lot of processing and healing time afterward for everyone and I planned to give myself the energy and space for that after the birth.  

When Meghan finally called, she told me that the news wasn't good.  They were unable to find any bladder or kidneys still.  They told her that her baby's lungs were severely underdeveloped (as a result of the low amniotic fluid) and that her worst nightmares were confirmed.  Life outside of the womb for their baby was highly unlikely.  They weren't going through with the induction. They were coming home and waiting for their baby to decide when it was time to be born.  They were aware that there was a risk of stillbirth, but they wanted to respect their baby's timing. 

Baby Rice's diagnosis:
Bilateral Renal Agenesis
Pulmonary Hypoplasia
Anhydramnios
• Potential slight spinal malformation

I was absolutely heartbroken for my friends.  And I was so relieved to know that today wasn't the day.  

We didn't know it at the time, but we still had another two whole weeks before their baby was born.  They decided after the MRI to find out the sex of their baby so that at least for a short while alive, their baby could have a name.  Here is the MRI photo of Charlotte Catherine Rice.

**Click here to continue to Part III**

***Of course, I have received full permission from Meghan and Wes to share my version of this story and use their real names***

The Birth That Changed My Life: Part I

This week in our Delmarva Community Birth Stories series, we're doing something a little different.  This story is shared by Thrive owner and doula, Maria Mengel.

 

I don't normally share birth stories as the doula.  The stories belong to the families!  But this story is one that I couldn't keep in.  Because while it is always all about my clients, and while it is my intention during a birth to make them feel like the most important people in the world, this story had a big impact on me and my life, too.  

This is the story of the birth that changed my life.

I met Meghan and Wes nine years ago in college.  We were all studying music at West Virginia University when we met each other and our spouses.  We were in the same classes, went to the same parties, and played in the same ensembles.  We were in each other's weddings and vowed to stay in touch.  The year after my husband and I received music jobs on the Eastern Shore, Meghan got one, too!  We were so excited to be close again and for Wes to bring his clarinet business to the Eastern Shore.  

Naturally, we all became best friends again.  We shared dinners on the weekends and even lived together one weekend when their home was evacuated for a hurricane.  They were the first people we told when we had our girls.  And they have been there to watch my girls grow up and see all of their "firsts".  

Last December, Meghan and I were taking my girls to the Salisbury Christmas Parade when Meghan shared the fabulous news that they were expecting!  I knew that they had been trying for a while, and I was equally happy for them and excited to meet their new baby that would get to grow up with my girls!  

Almost right away, they hired me to be their doula.  They were planning a natural birth at the same birth center that I birthed my first daughter. I was excited to be going back and so thrilled to witness the birth of this baby, who I already loved.  Meghan and Wes were some of the first participants of the class I worked so hard to design, Thrive Childbirth Education.  They were so excited and adamant about their natural birth plan, and I had planned to support them in whatever they needed and wanted.  

While they were pregnant, I had decided to study through Stillbirthday to become a certified Birth and Bereavement Doula.  I was unlike many of my class members, as I had never experienced a pregnancy or infant loss before.  To be completely honest, I had no clue what motivated me to take this training.  But I was completely committed to it and finished the program in March.  I wasn't yet sure if I would ever put myself out there as a bereavement doula, but knew that I had learned some valuable information, should I ever need it.

As their due date drew nearer, Meghan began telling me that she was measuring small (the measurement in centimeters that they take from your pubic bone to your fundus at OB/midwife appointments).  However, both Meghan and Wes are small people, and nothing seemed too concerning.  But when her belly wasn't growing at all after 3 or 4 appointments, her midwives recommended a biophysical profile to take a closer look at baby... just to be sure.  Meghan and Wes originally wanted to decline the ultrasound, as they had declined other ultrasounds in their pregnancy.  They weren't sure whether the potential risks of a long ultrasound at 38 weeks would be worth it to find out that everything was perfectly normal in the first place.  

They decided to go ahead with one biophysical profile, just to be sure baby was still growing normally.  I went with Meghan while Wes was working on Thursday, July 21st.  It was really cute to see their baby up on the big screen.  The ultrasound tech seemed like she knew what she was doing and was busy chatting a bit, while taking measurements and snapping pictures.  After it was all over, the tech said she'd be right back.  She was supposed to report back to Meghan's midwives with information.  When she came back she said that they were busy, and as soon as they were able to connect, her midwives would give Meghan a call.  She seemed perfectly happy and didn't look concerned to me at that point (although I now know that she was).

When I got home, I had to teach some private music lessons almost immediately.  I was in my first lesson when Meghan called back.  I didn't answer since I was teaching and instead texted "Hey I'm teaching. Everything okay?".  I waited a minute and got a reply, "No.".  

When I stepped out and called, Meghan was crying.  She told me that the midwives called and told her that there was basically zero amniotic fluid with her baby.  This could be life threatening to her baby, so they wanted her to drive immediately to our local hospital for a non-stress test and possibly a cesarean that very night.  I was, of course, completely shocked.   Since Meghan lived about 30 minutes away and she was still in town, I told her to come to my house and that Wes could meet us here.  

We hugged and talked for a little bit.  She was scared, of course, but wanted to be sure that her baby was as safe as possible, so we were just calm and hanging out with my two toddlers while we waited for Wes.  He brought the whole birth bag just in case they would be having a baby tonight!

At the hospital, the midwife and nurses did a non-stress test, which showed that baby seemed perfectly fine and healthy.  The care providers at PRMC told them that low amniotic fluid alone wasn't a clear indicator for induction.  They advised them to go home and rest.  Of course, after the providers at our hospital told the midwives at the birth center, and after the birth center consulted their maternal fetal medicine (high-risk) specialists about her case, they recommended that Meghan and Wes made the 2 hour drive that very moment for an induction that night.  And they politely declined, but agreed to come in the morning for a second biophysical profile with the specialists, just to be sure.

We had dinner together that evening at my home.  We talked about the crazy day we had and how they really didn't think anything was wrong.  We were all surprised at how insistent the "holistic" midwives were that the baby come out tonight, when our doctors at our local practice told her that her baby seemed perfectly healthy on the non-stress test.

The next morning, they made the trip to Annapolis for a second opinion on the biophysical profile.  I had my bags packed to join them just in case they ended up with a baby that day, but I didn't really think it would happen.  I spent the morning pulling weeds and working outside while thinking about them and how it was going.  As I jumped in the shower after working in the August sun, I finally got a text message from Meghan:

"Amniotic fluid is basically zero.  They can't find any kidneys or bladder.  Without kidneys, the baby will die after birth.  We're going to AAMC for induction.  You should come now."

**Click here to continue to Part II**

***Of course, I have received full permission from Meghan and Wes to share my version of this story and use their real names***


If you're living on the Eastern Shore and would like to share your positive and empowering birth story with our community, please email me at maria@thrivebirth.org.

Elliott's Birth: "My Little Breech Baby" (Lots of Pictures!)

This week's Delmarva Community Birth Story comes to us from a Thrive client who experienced a big change of plans in her last weeks of pregnancy.  Catie is a nurse at Atlantic General Hospital and lives in Berlin with her husband, daughter, and two dogs.

If you would have asked me how I would have pictured Elliott's birth it would have involved me birthing however I felt most comfortable.  Maybe I would have labored in a birthing tub, or in my own home.  I would have had my husband, doula, and midwife there to support me.  Elliott might have come quickly or it could've taken hours--maybe even days until she would decide to be born.  This is why my husband and I decided to make the change from a standard OBGYN practice to Special Beginnings, a birthing center in Annapolis.  I knew that if we chose to birth there my birth plan would be encouraged and followed.  On our first visit at 35 weeks pregnant my belly was palpated for the first time, where we learned that our little Elliott was head up.  Of course we were given options to try things to make her turn but in the end we decided it was best to leave her where she was and schedule a cesarean section.  The funny thing is I realized my daughter taught me to give up control even before she was born.  She was going to come out however she was supposed to--and that would be her story.

We traveled to Annapolis the night before my scheduled surgery and enjoyed dinner with our parents.  The waiter even brought dessert out with a yellow candle in it, Elloitt's first piece of birthday cake.  We decided to not find out if Elliott was a boy or girl and I remember the night before she was born not wanting to let go of that element of surprise still.  Of course I wanted to meet our baby but I enjoyed our time of it just being me and her growing in my belly.

Of course I was awake all night in our hotel room anxiously waiting for my alarm to go off.  I remember having a hard time showering that morning with my swollen belly.  Everything felt like a workout at that point.  It was finally time to head to the hospital where we met our family and our doula, Maria.  I remember Maria telling me that I seemed very calm.  I didn't feel sacred or worried about the surgery.  I felt at peace knowing I was going to meet my baby.  I remember feeling very chatty when they were starting my IV and getting me ready.  At 1pm exactly we gave hugs to my mom and Maria and Logan and I walked into the operating room.

IMG_5246.jpg

The anesthesiologist and Logan helped me onto the table where they gave me a spinal and started to hook me up to monitors.  I could tell Logan was starting to get a little nervous at this point.  My midwife from Special Beginnings  came in and gave Logan a chair to sit right next to me as she held my hand.  The surgery began and we were listening to the Alabama Shakes on Pandora.  Before I knew it they told Logan to get his camera ready--Elliott was about to be born!  Elliott came out butt first, my little breech baby, and the surgeon held her up for Logan to announce to the room if she was a girl or boy.  "It's a girl!  Wait, it's a girl, right?!" Logan said, and the entire operation room started to laugh.  I remember asking if she had hair and when they showed me her she had the kinkiest curly dark hair.  She was the most beautiful thing I had ever laid my eyes on.  Elliott was checked out for a minute in the room next  to us where Logan was able to trim her umbilical cord and then she was immediately placed on my chest while they finished up surgery.  Elliott screamed until she latched on to eat, where she stayed for three hours.

We didn't tell our family that Elliott was a girl until I was out of recovery.  It was so nice to have that time with just the three of us.  Our entire family screamed with excitement when they found out Elliott was a little girl.  She was so loved even before they met her, and she always will be.

Look back, my birth went exactly opposite as planned, but it was such a sweet reminder of how life goes.  Our cesarean was beautiful because it brought our baby into our arms.  This is exactly how Elliott wanted her story to be told, and it will be my favorite to read to her every year.


If you're living on the Eastern Shore and would like to share your positive and empowering birth story with our community, please email me at maria@thrivebirth.org.

Birth and Death

Birth and Death are opposites, right?  A new life enters.  Another exits.  I've birthed two babies in the last three years.   I lost my little brother in April 2016.  I was shocked by how similar my "recovery" experiences were in each situation.   Maybe because I'm so involved with birth every day as a doula and birth worker, but I couldn't stop noticing similarities to the way I experienced the two life events.  

In March of 2016, I finished my bereavement doula training.  I learned a lot about loss, grief, what the experience of losing a loved one might feel or look like, and how to support others who are in that space (specifically pregnancy loss).  I was surprised, though, that I didn't grieve the loss of my brother in the ways that I thought I would.  Each loss is different, of course.  But one thing has been clear: bringing in new life and saying goodbye to another are monumental moments that shape your mind, your soul, and your relationships.

Birth and Death...

  1. ...ARE ALL CONSUMING.  I couldn't think about anything else.  I replayed every detail over and over in my head.  For the first few weeks after the births of my daughters, I thought day and night about their births, my labor, how they were handling life, when they needed to eat, how much they were sleeping and peeing and pooping, and if I was doing everything right.  My brain literally could not focus on one other thing.  For the first few weeks after the death of my brother, all I could think about was his life, his death circumstances, the "what-if" questions, how my life would be different, how his children and my family were coping, and my memories with him.  Other than attempting to care for my children, absolutely nothing else got priority.
  2. ...REQUIRE CONVERSATIONAL PROCESSING.  At least for me.  As a doula, I recognize the importance of creating a safe space for the new mother to share her birth story and how she felt during that process.  I understood after my own births how it was ingrained in my soul to share my story and talk about it to reflect and process the events.  After the death of my brother, it seemed that the only thing worth talking about was him.  In the same way that I needed to process the monumental event of birth and new life, I needed to process the monumental event of the death.
  3. ...ARE A HORMONAL ROLLER COASTER.  With both, I cry one minute, experience happiness the next, and then guilt about what I could have done differently.  Granted, the overlying feelings of sadness with death and happiness with the birth of your child are inevitable and normal.  But both situations elicited a wide range of emotions that seemed to come and go without explanation.
  4. ...CHANGE YOUR LIFE FOREVER.  The path of your future is carved the moment your baby is born or the moment your loved one leaves. You know immediately that your life is changed.  Things will be different.  You'll never be the same person and your life will never feel or look the same.
  5. ...REQUIRE A RECOVERY PERIOD AND TRANSITION.  Thank God for maternity leave, right?  Our bodies and our hearts need time to readjust.  We need to experience life with a new human and transition from life without this new baby to life with this new baby.  And that takes time, patience, and sometimes the road is rocky.  We require and deserve some time to figure it out.  The death of a loved one requires a recovery and transition, as well.  Life is not the same and won't ever be the same again.  Your family dynamic, your relationships, your energy and motivation all need to transition from life with this family member to life without.  

Of course, my experience with the loss of my brother may or may not be similar to yours.  If you've lost a pregnancy/child, parent, sibling, close friend, or spouse, your emotional, mental, and physical responses to loss may have felt completely different.  Bereavement is a multi-layered subject, but I think it's safe to say that everyone who is grieving deserves to feel heard, validated, supported, and know their options for moving forward.  

Have you experienced the death of a loved one?  How was your experience similar or different?