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

Delmarva Community Birth Stories: The Birth of Jude Thomas

We've started something here!  Our community is contacting us left and right and asking if they can share their stories.  Ummmm.... YES!  This was such a special birth for me.   Although now that I'm thinking about it, they're all so special.  Enjoy reading the story of the birth of baby Jude, written by his reflective and talented mother, Alaina.

Xo, Maria


“If He can hold the world He can hold this moment.”

Words from a favorite song at the time spoke to me months leading up to the conception of my fourth child and stuck with me through my pregnancy and birth.  My husband and I decided to add on to our family during a time when many likely questioned “what are they thinking having a baby right now?” We chose not to put our lives on hold and move forward, because God’s plan is never our own. I was in tune with my body’s natural rhythm, experienced in sympto-thermal charting, and was prepared to make it happen. I wasn’t prepared for the struggle of conceiving this baby. Being the fourth child, I assumed I would conceive quickly like my others. My “struggle” seems relative because it can in no way compare to what others have gone through, including those close to me. Nonetheless, it was a difficult time of confusion, sadness, and anger. I had this idea in my head of what was to come and a timeline prepared in my head, as is my usual style. As with most things, my timeline fell to the wayside and baby #4 was finally conceived in March 2016.

The birth of my fourth child was a culmination of my previous births and everything I had learned. It was an experience that allowed to me to come full circle and to feel I had actually conquered what I knew I did NOT want the birth to be. To accurately describe this birth, I need to go back to the beginning. The birth of my first child was rather traumatic for me, so my goal with the subsequent births was basically anything to avoid a repeat. My daughter suffered a significant trauma to her neck due to shoulder dystocia and I was not in much better shape. With my second daughter I chose a route that I thought I was “supposed” to go. I chose to be induced a second time and got an epidural immediately. My mindset was if I don’t feel anything maybe it won’t happen again.  It wasn’t until my third child that I realized what I experienced the first time was not “normal.” I had finally figured out that the way I thought birth was “supposed” to be was not at all accurate. I had learned that the trauma to me and my first daughter could have been avoided. I became more in tune to natural births, familiarized myself more with the trauma and came to learn so many things I had no idea about. With the birth of my third daughter I set out to have a completely different birth. I would not be induced and it would be a natural birth free from intervention. This baby would not have a shoulder dystocia and get stuck! Well, she did get stuck and I did receive pitocin after hitting that magical time clock after my water had broke before active labor began. Despite it not going exactly how I had planned, it was a major step towards a better birth experience with a different provider and different location. With my fourth I read and re-read countless books and familiarized myself even more with shoulder dystocia, determined to beat the odds that were stacked against me. I watched videos constantly of peaceful births, determined to have some quiet, introspective birthing experience. I actually wrote down a birth plan instead of just having ideas in my head. I practiced different exercises and positioning to avoid a possible repeat shoulder dystocia. I visited the chiropractor often, despite all of my midwife providers not acknowledging any correlation to adjustments, baby’s positioning, and shoulder dystocia. I had my plan in place. It would be perfect and peaceful and since it was my fourth it would be quick (HA!)

I knew at the beginning of this pregnancy that I wanted to hire a doula. I would be faced with many challenges and likely opposition given the extremely high risk of a third shoulder dystocia. Also, my babies were getting progressively bigger and having a cesarean was something I wanted desperately to avoid. I needed another person in my corner, someone to validate my decisions and not make me feel weak or feel strong-armed into something I was against. With all of my births I have always had my husband, mother, and mother in law present. To some this is a lot of people, but each had a very specific role that didn’t quite match up with what I would need from a doula. I needed my mother’s presence because she’s my mother. I think my first birth really terrified her so she generally took a back seat and waited patiently, offering support towards the end just enough to let me know she was there. This was what I needed from her. My husband offered physical support when I needed it, a hand to squeeze, and words of encouragement. I needed his presence more than anyone because he’s always been my rock and makes me feel stronger. But, he’s not so comfortable with birthing and always felt too out of his element to really learn more. I was comfortable with his feelings and did not pressure him into doing things he wasn’t comfortable doing. My mother in law, which is surprising to some, was the person that truly took an active role. In fact, she was a little offended that I would hire someone to take over what she thought of as her role. Okay, she was a lot offended. She has attended 12 of the 14 births of her grandchildren. She was with me for my previous three births. She was the one to coach me in my breathing and pushing. She was a calm presence, but also fierce. She has a strong personality, one that I knew would be confident in standing to protect me.  At the same time, she generally sides with the typical medical stance and recommendations which I felt may not quite suit my stance with this particular birth. My births thus far had been far from ordinary and uneventful, which was something she was not accustomed to. So I hired my doula Maria, someone to share my birthing thoughts and plan and wouldn’t necessarily side with the medical professionals unless myself or the baby were in true danger. It was difficult balancing the roles of the doula and my mother in law “doula,” but I feel like it worked for me at least.  

I had my team ready and I was ready. I chose to see the midwives in Easton for a second time and give birth at their hospital again. Despite the many changes I heard had taken place locally, the memories and sour taste in my mouth from the previous births were still there. I knew what to expect in Easton and felt my chances of having a midwife of a similar mindset was greater. I met with a few different midwives before I finally had an appointment to meet with one that I just knew would be of the same mind and be supportive of this birth, despite the risks. She had a wonderful reputation and I was hopeful. When I met her one of the first things she discussed was a scheduled cesarean and advised me to consider that route given my high risk of repeat dystocia. I was devastated. How could this be? None of the others had advised this and I thought for sure this woman would be the one to absolutely be in my corner. After leaving the office I immediately called Maria. I weighed my options of changing providers to Salisbury mid way through the pregnancy or continuing with what I felt was questionable support of the Easton midwives. I felt dismayed and defeated but chose to stick it out, feeling that in the end I at least had the support of my team. We would watch the baby’s size closely and revisit this later on if the baby seemed extremely large. In the weeks towards the end of the pregnancy I became much more aware of baby’s position. I could feel even the slightest angle of the head being not quite centered. I saw the chiropractor nearly every week and on a Friday, 2 days before the 41 week mark I noticed another shift in the baby’s head more to the side. Coincidentally the same side my others were stuck on. After an adjustment she used the rebozo on me to “shake the apples,” a technique among many I had read about and practically memorized on a website about spinning babies.  I felt baby move and shift.  At this time most would be growing impatient, but all of my children were born after the 41 week mark so I was prepared for that day to come and go.  It was in the early hours the morning after, around 3 AM on Saturday December 17th, that my water broke. As I did with my last child I tried to convince myself I just didn’t make it to the toilet fast enough. At 3 AM that seems totally logical, right? So I used the bathroom, got back in bed and shortly after got the urge to pee again, partially feeling like I was actually peeing but mostly just gushing amniotic fluid. And that went on for the rest of the morning until my children woke us up. I told my husband, “I’m pretty sure my water broke last night.” He casually asked if we needed to go to the hospital to which I respond no, because I wasn’t having any contractions. I called Maria later that morning and told her the same, that I thought my water had broke but I may have just been peeing but as I said it out loud to someone who’s way more familiar with births than me I realized just how ridiculous I was being. Of course my water had broke, I just didn’t want to acknowledge that this birth was beginning the exact same way as my last. This birth was supposed to be different! My water was supposed to break and labor would actually begin and I would barely make it to the hospital before I had my baby, or maybe even have my baby on the hour and a half drive. HA! I walked around the house, bounced and rolled on my birthing ball, and listened to my husband blare on repeat “Hey Jude.” After three girls, we were hoping for a boy. I guess playing the song on repeat was one last ditch effort. I rested at times but mostly went about the normal day taking care of the kids having intermittent contractions of little intensity. We had an ice storm the evening before and the Vienna bridge was closed, so even if I wanted to go to the hospital I couldn’t have. We decided later in the afternoon after the bridge had reopened to head to the hospital. Even though there was really no established pattern to my contractions we didn’t want to risk the roads freezing again that night.

When we arrived at the hospital my contractions were still not regular and the ones I was having were not strong at all. Déjà vu. We walked, laid, bounced, massaged, prayed, and waited. It was later that evening that the midwife informed me that the person on the next shift was an OB, not a midwife. It was at this time I felt like I spiraled into fear. I felt like with an OB present for this birth I was for sure going to have a cesarean. Also, my water had broke and that time clock I was on with the last birth was slowly ticking away again. Though I didn’t acknowledge this time frame myself, I knew it would become an issue with the providers. So I called Maria to come to my corner and mentally prepared as much as I could for a fight with this OB. My mind was quickly put at ease when my new nurse came in and it was the one I had and loved with the last birth, Stephanie. She was such a calming presence and in that moment when my baby was stuck she calmed my fears and managed to quickly get me into a position to perform the McRoberts maneuver all while keeping me from freaking out and continuing to coach me through breathing and pushing. She was amazing and with her I again felt confident that this could finally be the intervention free birth I was hoping for. Another person on my team! Maria arrived to probably the calmest and most uneventful birth. She suggested side lying with the peanut ball which is when the contractions began getting stronger and developing more of a pattern. I knew that given the history of shoulder dystocia the best position I should birth in was on all fours. I prepared myself by first getting on my knees and then laying against the back of the bed. I remember laying my head down between contractions and falling into the strangest sleep/awake cycle for brief moments. I could actually hear myself snoring and I was aware of voices around me, but I didn’t really care what they were saying. I would quickly be awakened by another contraction and eventually felt the urge to start pushing. Pushing in that position against the back of the bed just came naturally to me. It was where I wanted to be and could easily sway from side to side. I labored and pushed like that for what felt like an eternity, with Maria applying the most wonderful counter pressure.

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Eventually my knees became weak and I needed to try something different. The nurse brought in the squat bar. The thought of using this never entered my mind as part of my birth plan. I lay on my back between contractions and begged for a break. Like if someone could just press pause for an hour so I could rest I would be good to go. When each contraction began everyone would help hoist me up over the bar. The uneven bars were my favorite event as a young gymnast, but something tells me I probably looked a little less graceful with this bar! With the bar under my armpits, I held myself up and pushed through each contraction.

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I reached a point of sheer exhaustion and couldn’t hold myself up. I resorted to lying on my back, even through contractions, which is exactly where I didn’t want to be starting out. Lying on your back is the worst position for a potential shoulder dystocia. I felt like I was failing giving in to this position, but looking back it was where my body needed me to be. It was at this time that the OB checked me and noticed I had a “cervical lip,” a swollen portion of my cervix. The baby’s head was pushing against this lip causing it to swell, further preventing baby from coming out. She suggested Benadryl to help reduce the swelling and in order for that to work I had to stop pushing.  It was at this time she and the nurse also brought up pain medication to allow me get the rest I needed and to assist in refraining from pushing. I refused, then quickly said yes to IV meds, then quickly said yes to an epidural, and in my mind I was thinking “just cut me open” but thankfully I didn’t voice that one out loud. I was utterly defeated. Everything I did not want I was allowing to happen. In that moment where you have no idea where you are at in birth, how much longer it will be, and what exactly is happening your mind can wander in so many different directions. And oh how my mind strayed.

“If He can hold the world He can hold this moment.”

The Benadryl was administered and a bolus began in preparation for an epidural. This was by far the hardest part of the birth, lying there and having to breathe through a contraction without pushing. Is this even possible? Apparently it is but it wasn’t an easy pause button like I had hoped for. This was Maria’s shining moment. Though she was fully present, helpful, and supportive throughout the entire time, this was when I needed her most. She helped me to do quick breathing through each contraction. I’m pretty sure I may have broken a few of her fingers and melted her face with my horrendous breath, but she continued to breathe right along with me, right in my face to keep me focused and it worked. It was amazing, and wonderful, and horrible at the same time.

“If He can hold the world He can hold this moment.”

About 20 minutes after the Benadryl (I’m relying on other’s timeline here because my concept of time had escaped me long, long ago) I couldn’t breathe through the contractions any longer. I would start the quick breathing and would find myself pushing in the midst. There was no holding it back any longer. I was nowhere close to being ready for the epidural I had agreed to, but this was happening, the baby was coming and I was relieved that I wouldn’t be getting that epidural after all. The nurse or OB, I can’t remember because my eyes were closed, told me to stop pushing and I replied, or likely screamed I can’t, I HAVE to push. The nurse checked me and immediately gave me the ok, as if she could have stopped me anyway. The swelling was gone.  I wasn’t prepared to feel so nauseous at this time though. After each contraction and pushing I would get a wave come over me and feel it rise in my throat but nothing ever came. Then I felt the “ring of fire” which was amazing. I’m sure no one describes it as such, but it was amazing to finally feel something that I knew and understood. It was something familiar and a kind of measure of progress and timing. I knew what it meant, where I was in the labor process, and I knew that my baby was finally coming. I don’t have a concept of how long I pushed partially because I was so exhausted, but also because I didn’t really care to know. I didn’t want to hold myself to anyone else’s standards nor have unrealistic expectations based on others experiences. I just wanted to push my baby out without getting stuck. And on December 18th, 2016 at 7:49 am I did! And not only did this baby not get stuck, but it was a BOY! A gigantic 8 pound 8 ounce baby boy; the largest of my babies and not even close to the predicted weight at the ultrasound just a few days prior. The wave of excitement and disbelief was so overwhelming that when they laid him on me I did not notice his coloring. He was on my chest briefly when they brought up the clamp and scissors to cut his umbilical cord and I immediately said “no no no.” My birth plan had included delayed cord clamping, something I had not done with my others but really wanted to with this one. The OB simply said “no, I have to.” I had no idea what was happening, but knew something was not right. I didn’t recall his heart rate changing at any point in time, but I quickly realized there were no sounds coming from my baby. Maria held my hand and comforted me telling me “he needs help,” a vague yet comforting response. I lay there, attempting to watch but being fully blocked, waiting, and praying. I carefully watched my husband as he stood next to our son, trying to read his face for some kind of clue as to what was happening.

“If He can hold the world He can hold this moment.”

And then our baby cried and I saw the emotional relief wash over my husband and I could breathe again.

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This birth was anything but peaceful and introspective. It was not quiet, it was not quick, and it was far from what I had envisioned. Yet it was everything for me. There were hiccups and struggles, exhaustion and fear, but so much joy and hope in the process. I felt like I had conquered the odds that weighed so heavily against me. I had proved not only to myself, but to everyone around me (and hopefully some nay-saying medical professionals) that my gut intuition and the knowledge I gained from my shoulder dystocia research was all valid. The empowerment I wanted and needed didn’t have to come from a beautiful, peaceful birth that I had envisioned. This was enough.

After 15 years together, 10 years of marriage and 3 beautiful little girls, God finally gave us Jude. We had chosen the name Jude years ago as a nod to the Beatles and our love of all things 60’s. As our lives took a drastic turn from the path we had chosen, the name Jude came to take on a very different meaning in our lives. There is not a day in our lives that God has not already seen and though I never could have imagined the events that took place, God knew.  Saint Jude calls us to be faithful and persevere under difficult circumstances, giving hope to the hopeless and despairing. God has heard our prayers and blessed us with Jude during a time in our lives when we were in absolute despair. He blessed us with Jude when I was feeling completely hopeless during labor, wanting to hit the pause button and take a break, then crying for it to just be over. He blessed us with Jude as we prayed for him to begin breathing. Jude is our sign of hope that things will be okay, a reminder to remain faithful.  This may not be the road we have chosen, just as it was not the birth I had fully envisioned, but I know that God is with us on this journey as He was on December 18th.

“If He can hold the world He can hold this moment. Not a field or flower escapes his notice oh even the sparrow knows He holds tomorrow.”- Jason Gray, “Sparrows”

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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 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

----

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.

The Birth That Changed My Life: Part III

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  or Part II yet, hop on over and check them out now.


We were in a really weird space.  Baby Charlotte's heart could stop beating at any moment.  And yet, there was nothing to do but wait.  Wes owns his own business which is right next to their home.  He would come home during lunch and talk to and read to Charlotte.

Wes would wake up in the middle of the night and feel Meghan's belly just to be sure that Charlotte would still kick back.  

My family spent a good bit of time with them during this time.  We looked at Charlotte's MRI photos, we talked about her and to her, and we tried to keep busy.  I remember Wes being pretty down.  But Meghan was surprisingly not.  It's hard to try to understand how she was feeling, but I think I can compare it to how sometimes people in devastating situations just do what needs to be done because there is simply nothing else to do.  She knew that there would be a time after the birth to grieve, mourn, process, and then finally begin healing.  It seemed to me that she was blocking those emotions while still holding out hope for baby Charlotte and her desire to spend whatever time she had with her in a positive way.

In conjunction with their midwives, the bereavement coordinator at the hospital she would be delivering in, the specialists at Children's National Medical Center, and me, Meghan and Wes drafted a number of birth plans to be prepared for all of the potential outcomes.  One for if Charlotte had passed before before birth (stillbirth plan), one for if Charlotte was born and it was clear that she would not be able to breathe on her own (comfort care only), and one for if Charlotte was born with vigorous breathing and crying (potential for medical care).  

Their specialists told them that there was only about a 5% chance that Charlotte would be born with the potential to breathe on her own since her lungs were so underdeveloped.  And after that, only a 5% chance that she would continue to be able to do so and medical care would actually be a possibility.  The statistics were pretty clear: It was a fatal diagnosis.  Because of this information, Meghan and Wes made the very difficult decision to only intervene with medical care if Charlotte was born breathing, crying, and made it very obvious to the medical staff that her lungs would function completely on their own.  The specialists told them that it would be very easy to be able to tell the difference.  If so, Meghan and Wes were comfortable providing Charlotte with the care that she needed for her renal system.  

There were so many text conversations with Meghan about how they came to this decision and why they were so adamant about not interfering.  They knew that if Charlotte was born alive that it was highly likely that they would only have a few moments or hours with her.  They didn't want those moments to be spent with Charlotte whisked away, hooked up to a ventilator, and away from the ones who love her.

They didn't want her to live her only earthly moments out of their loving arms. They didn't want her to die on a table surrounded by strangers.

My brain still has a difficult time wrapping around this issue.  I can absolutely see and understand the desire to want to do anything  possible to save your child.  And I know that there are parents out there who would make that choice.  As their doula, I planned to support them no matter what their decision was.  But truly, I felt so much respect for their decision to completely respect Charlotte's story and path and their desire to keep her as comfortable and at ease as possible.  

During this time, our conversations moved to her fears.  She had a few clear and distinct fears that she wanted to be able to work through before her birth.  In my childbirth education class, we talk a lot about using affirmations to help process fears and move away from negative thoughts.  I offered to create some pretty affirmations for Meghan to read to herself every day.  I'll share a few of them here.  

Before I do, I want to share that I understand that these affirmations are not within everyone's belief systems.  That's totally okay.  I made sure that the wording was something that Meghan was comfortable with and  that she completely approved.  I know that everyone will approach such a difficult subject by bringing their own life experiences, spiritual and religious beliefs, and heart with them.  As her doula, it wasn't within my scope or desire to express my beliefs.  I simply wanted to support her in processing her fears so that she would be as mentally prepared as possible for her labor and birth.

Some of the fears:  That Charlotte won't be born alive, that she will be in pain, that she will not breathe on her own.

Meghan later told me, "I wanted to believe them.  I read them over and over and over every day.  I hung them in our bathroom covering part of the mirror so I was forced to read them no matter how much pain they caused me."   

During the two weeks between diagnosis and birth, Meghan, Wes, and Meghan's mom and dad spent a lot of time at home as a family and cherished those final moments with Charlotte.  But we also did some "normal" things.  One day, Meghan and her mom accompanied me and my daughters to a small, low-populated beach.  Understandably, it was difficult to be in public because I'm sure Meghan would have received lots of "congratulations" comments and questions about when she is due, what her baby's due date is, what her baby's sex is, etc. Those would have been difficult questions and I know that she wasn't in a place to share all of the information yet.  In fact, they chose not to share any of this information with the public or on their social media until after Charlotte was born.  So we chose a more private, quiet outing.  Because Meghan knew my family so intimately, she told me that night after we went to the beach that it hit her while watching my girls play in the sand that her daughter would probably never know them, play with them, or grow up with them.  That was a really hard day.  We also had conversations about how to tell my daughter, Clara, who was only 2 and a half at the time, and who was over the moon about the baby in Meghan's belly.  

I did my very best to be her friend and her doula.  I scheduled her a massage.  I arranged an appointment with a 3-D ultrasound tech to get a recording of Charlotte's heartbeat in a bear so that they could hear her heartbeat forever. We talked so much about her birth plan and her desires for her care and Charlotte's care.  When Meghan told me she might like to have some maternity photos after all (they had previously decided not to do it), I called right away and found someone to come to their home that afternoon.  Melissa Goodyear of Bluebug Photography did a fantastic job with their photos.  She is also a volunteer photographer with the organization called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, so she had plenty of experience working with families dealing with loss and was incredibly compassionate.  As you can imagine, the session was extremely emotional.  

How they did that photo session, I'll never know.  How they smiled at all in those two weeks, I'll never know.  How we were still able to joke and be ourselves in spite of it all, I'll never know.  What I do know is that they wanted to cherish that time.  They wanted Charlotte to know that she was loved.  Meghan tried so hard to be happy and thankful for whatever time she had left.  She knew that her baby would feel all of her stress and anxiety, so she smiled and talked to Charlotte constantly.  In the last photo, they decided to take some photos in the nursery.  The photo of Wes wiping her tear gets me every time.

On the morning of Charlotte's due date, I woke up to my phone buzzing early in the morning.  Meghan was in labor.

**Click here to continue to Part IV**

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***

These Are A Few of Our Favorite... Books

The doulas at Thrive Birth Services of Delmarva want to share our favorite pregnancy/birth/parenting books with you.  We know that sometimes the vast amount of available books can seem overwhelming when you're expecting.  We've narrowed it down to our very favorites so that you can check them out for yourself (click on each title to view the Amazon descriptions).

Terri:

The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth, by Henci Goer and Rhonda Wheeler

A fabulous resource for gathering information about all of the risks and benefits of common labor and birth procedures and interventions.  The perfect book to buy when making your birth plan.

The Birth Partner, by Penny Simkin

The BEST resource for dads, partners, mother-in-laws, doulas, and anyone else who plans to attend the birth.  You will find information about how to best support your partner and what to expect in the process.

The Birth Book, by William and Martha Sears

By the famous pediatric specialists, The Birth Book is a comprehensive guide to childbirth.

 

Maria:

Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering, by Sarah Buckley

By far the most extensive and all-encompassing resource out there.  Written by an MD, the book combines clinical research and information with the beautiful stories of her own children's births.  Maria says that if you were going to purchase only one childbirth book, get this one!

Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, by Ina May Gaskin

Widely regarded at the mother of authentic midwifery, her guide to childbirth includes some inspiring birth stories that leave you excited and hopeful.

The Food of Love: The Easier Way to Breastfeed Your Baby, by Kate Evans

Funny and completely original, you won't find any other breastfeeding book like it!

 

Elisha:

Spiritual Midwifery, by Ina May Gaskin

Another staple by Ina May, it's a must read for any expectant parents!

After the Baby's Birth... A Woman's Way to Wellness, by Robin Lim

All too often overlooked in our culture, the postpartum time is a chance for new mothers to heal, bond, and set themselves up for health in the long-term.  Robin Lim's book takes a look at cultural traditions around the world and how to best support a new mother so that she and her family can thrive.

Hypnobirthing--The Mongan Method, by Marie Mongan

Using hypnosis techniques to help you relax and stay comfortable during labor are becoming more and more popular among birthing women.  The Mongan Method is a great way to introduce hypnosis to expectant parents.

 

We want to know! What are/were your favorite books?!

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?