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

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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.

Eloise's {Almost} Home Birth Story (Part 3/3: Delivery)

If you haven't read Part 1 and Part 2 of this story yet, hop on over and check them out.


After a month of pre-labor, seventy-two hours of steady contractions with back labor and nearly twenty-four hours of true active labor, I was finally complete and ready to push.  I'd been doing squats every day for months, preparing for birth.  I knew that the squat can often be the best position to push in because it opens the pelvis by up to thirty percent, so I had always planned to push in a squat, when and however my body directed me.  My midwives spread a plastic sheet on my couch and placed large absorbent pads on the living room floor where I had parked myself.  This was the second point in my labor where it became very mentally and emotionally influenced.  Suddenly my living room did not feel safe to me.  It was too open.  There were too many windows.  I felt painfully vulnerable and exposed and every time I had a contraction I would pee myself a little bit, and I did not want to pee on my sofa.  I needed a cave.  I needed to be in my bathroom where I could let my body relax and do its thing and not be embarrassed. I wanted to get in the bathtub!  My plan was never to have a water birth.  I had the option of renting a large tub to deliver in but had decided not to.  But suddenly, I needed to be in my tub.

My midwives obliged.  They warned me that I would not be able to actually deliver Eloise in the tub since it would be too shallow, but decided there was no harm in letting me get in the water and start the process of pushing there.  When my baby was ready to be born we would move - to where, exactly, we weren't sure!  I climbed into the water and instantly felt relief.  Completely private and "safe" once more, I tried to get a grasp on spontaneous pushing.  With each contraction I squatted and bore down.  It was more uncomfortable than I expected and didn't feel quite right.  It felt good to push, but I didn't feel like I was really accomplishing anything.  In between contractions I rested in the warm water, thankful to have some relief from the excruciating back pain.  Time passed - an hour, maybe two, of resting and trying to push.  The contractions were slowing.  I needed to get out of the water. 

Chloe poked her head into the bathroom and then came in and sat on the side of the tub.  The gist of the conversation was this: It had been a long time.  My attempt at spontaneous pushing wasn't working.  None of us could go on too much longer like this.  It was time to get this baby out.  It wasn't any of our ideal, but we would try directed pushing in bed for a time, at least, and see how it went.  I had three hours to try and push Eloise out and then we were looking at a hospital transfer. 

Like heck was I going to the hospital! Let's push a baby out! 

I'm not stalling on purpose.  I'm willing to do whatever it takes. I want to do this, you know.

She knew. 

We set up in my bedroom.  Out of the hot water, the contractions were back in full force and I began to panic.  What do I do? What do I do!

"Just breathe through the contractions like you were before."

This was different though, because now my body finally needed to push.  Jake climbed into the bed and leaned against the wall, and I sat between his legs, leaning against his body for support, knees pulled up to my chest.  It was nearing noon on Friday at this point, day four of labor, and I was exhausted and hungry.  Somebody brought me some juice and yogurt and I managed to take a few swallows of each before we began.  

"When the next contraction starts, I'm going to find your baby's head, and then I want you to try and push my fingers out."

Ouch-ouch-ouch-ouch-ouch.  Okay.  Let's do this.  

"Woah! You did it! Mandy, check out how far you just moved your baby down!"

I could do it! It hurt but it was way better than NOT pushing.  I'd finally found my groove.  The pushing position I never thought I'd use was actually working for me. Susan and Chloe both complimented me on being a "very effective pusher" and predicted that I would be holding Eloise sooner rather than later!  We continued, breathe in, push, breathe out and in, push.  Susan held up a hand mirror and I saw my baby's hair!  Breathe in, push, breathe out and in, push, with each contraction, and I drifted further inside myself and lost track of time.  It was the hardest I had ever worked in my life.  A an hour or more passed.  The atmosphere in the room began to change.  Something wasn't working.  Later, Jake would tease our midwives about their need to improve their "poker faces" as they shot concerned looks back and forth with raised eyebrows, whispering in what could have been secret code for as much as we understood.  Self doubt began to creep in.  What was I doing wrong?  They said I was a good pusher.  Why couldn't I get her out? 

Just tell me what I need to do differently.  Just tell me what I'm doing wrong.  

"It's not you, honey.  You're doing it exactly right." 

After seventy-five hours of labor, Eloise was trying to come out ear-first.  Susan looked at me with what I knew was pain in her eyes and said, "Mandy, with the way things are looking, I'm not sure your situation is conducive to a vaginal delivery." 

I was a quiet laborer and a quiet pusher.  It's just my personality. During contractions I breathed in and out and during those hours of pushing I turned inward.  But when I heard these words, my spirit split open and I wailed.  I had worked so hard.  I had labored for so long and pushed for so long.  I did not want a c-section. I thought (and looking back I'm not sure this is actually true) that they would have to put me under general anesthesia for a cesarean and I wanted to BE there when my daughter was born.  I wanted to hold her when she was still slippery and wet and hear her first cry and breastfeed and soak in her very first moments.  I wanted to give birth at home as planned, vaginally as planned.  I had worked SO hard.  

"We're going to keep trying!" Susan said.  "I'm going to try right now to get her to turn."

My midwife reaching inside me and turning my baby hurt worse than any contraction.  I don't know if I screamed or yelped or moaned, but I know some sounds escaped me and they scared me.  But relief and pure gratitude flooded over me when she said, "There! She turned!" 

We kept pushing.  With every contraction Chloe would listen to Eloise's heart rate and as always, she was fit as a fiddle!  But it wasn't working.  This is the point where my memories really start to become scattered and muddled together.  We tried every trick in the book to turn my baby.  I squatted and pushed.  I pushed on one side with a leg in the air and then on the other side.  I got on all fours with my chest down and my bottom in the air and pushed.  Jake and Chloe took turns using a long piece of fabric called a rebozo to jiggle my belly while I pushed.  Eloise danced in my belly like she'd danced for nine months.  The midwives would check me and feel an ear...then a mouth...then hair!...then an ear again.  She should not have been able to move like this, so far engaged, but apparently I have a very "roomy" pelvis.  I was so tired.  I absolutely hated pushing in any position other than semi-sitting, leaning on Jake with my hands behind my knees.  For some reason, maybe the back labor, any other position was ten times more agonizing and my pushes were not nearly as strong.

My back hurts.  My back.  My back hurts so bad.

It was more of a plea for help than a complaint.  Maybe even just a plea for understanding.  

I was becoming weak and Eloise would not stay where she need to be to finish descending and be born.  My cervix was beginning to swell.  I don't remember who told me or what they said, but it was time to transfer to the hospital.  I knew they were right.  I knew it was time.  I wasn't quite to the point of giving up yet, but I was very close.  This was the first and only time in my entire labor and delivery that I felt like, "I can't do this."  I was ready.  I would go to the hospital and they would offer me a c-section, and I would say yes.  They would put me under and I would finally have relief and rest.  When I woke up I would get to hold my baby that I had worked so hard for. 

First, I wanted to take a shower.  

This seemed to surprise everyone but to me it was absolutely necessary.  I stood under the hot water for maybe five minutes, pushing through one contraction after another, crying, overflowing with grief because I knew that my efforts were doing no good.  During those longest and shortest of minutes, I came to an acceptance.  Some babies must be born by cesarean.  I had done everything I could.  My team had done everything they could.  God would be with me and his plan would be perfect and beautiful.  I had wild sorrow but an unexplainable peace.  

"This is not an emergency transfer.  Your baby is just fine.  This doesn't necessarily mean you still can't deliver vaginally." I knew she was wrong.  

We drove the longest mile of my life and I pushed in the car - again, knowing it was doing nothing, but my body had to respond to the urge.  Susan came with me.  They were expecting us when we arrived, but we still stood for what seemed like an eternity, answering questions about my health insurance and medical history and how long I'd been in labor.

I'm not in labor! I'm pushing a baby out! Please help me! Someone help me! 

I was wheeled into a triage room and a midwife from the hospital named Karen came in to examine me.  A nurse went over all my charts and birth plan with Susan while Karen made an assessment.  An OB was in the room but he stood back and let her do her thing.  I later found out that Karen had stayed past her shift in order to help me when she heard of my situation.  I will forever be grateful to her.  

"She's good to go! Let's push, mama!" 

They were going to let me push! 

We walked a very short distance down the hallway to our delivery room.  That walk is the last of my visual memories.  Once we reached the door, I turned completely inward, shut my eyes, and did not open them again until Eloise was born.  

The nurses strapped the EFM to my belly and gave me an IV with antibiotics since it had been so long since my waters broke.  My veins are notoriously difficult to find and I was stuck in several places in both arms before finding one that would work.  Nothing else hurt anymore compared to the radiating pain in my back and the pressure of Eloise trying to be born.  Everything after that is a blur.  Jake and Susan could probably tell you much better than I what was going on in the room and even in my body from then on.  The monitor beeped, telling me my baby's heart was beating.  I pushed and Karen reached inside me to turn Eloise's head.  I squatted on the floor with a wonderful nurse named Emily who would be my friend during recovery.  She held my hands and called, "Push from your bottom!" while I groaned.  I got back in bed.  Like at home, I pushed on one side with a leg in the air.  I pushed on the other side.  Jake was on my right holding my hand and giving me sips of water after every contraction.  Susan was on my left holding my other hand and whispering, "You can do this."  Karen stood ready to catch Eloise.  The OB was nearby, counting in a firm voice, "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, NINE, TEN!  Breathe! Push again! One, two, three..." 

There were so many voices.  I don't know how many nurses were in the room but it was a lot.  Susan told me later that the whole team was ready and waiting for when the c-section inevitably became necessary.  Maybe they were also a little curious about this crazy home birth girl who had been in labor for four days?  I don't know.  But every contraction brought on a chorus of voices, cheering me on and sustaining me.  

"You've got this."

"One, two, three..."

"Push from your bottom!"

"...four, five, six..."

"Worst constipation of your life!"
"...seven, eight..."
"That's fantastic! Great job!" 

"NINE, TEN! Breathe! Push just like you did before and you'll be able to hold your baby!"

"Take a sip of water, babe."

Every contraction was the last one.  Every contraction if I just pushed one more time, my baby would be born.  But she wasn't.  She was stuck.  I didn't know why she was stuck but I became angry and pushed with every fibre of my being. I grunted and groaned and cried a little bit.  

Beep.  Beep.  Beep.  

"Deep breaths, Amanda!  Slow, deep breaths! In, out.  Get her some oxygen."

I didn't know it at the time but my baby's heart rate was dipping with each contraction and rising again as soon as I breathed in.  I think it is a good thing I didn't know - I would have panicked and probably couldn't have taken the slow, deep breaths I needed in order to bring her heart rate bouncing back up.  I was so weak.  In between contractions I couldn't lift my arms or even move my head.  My body had gone completely limp.  I needed some juice but couldn't ask for it, I was too inside myself to speak.  But as soon as each contraction hit, I came to life and pushed with a strength that could only come from God.  Looking back, if I hadn't taken those few bites of vanilla yogurt and those sips of cranberry juice before pushing at home, I probably would not have had the energy reserved to push my baby out all those hours later.  

Eloise was crowing.  I could feel her - I could feel her moving down and out of me.  Somebody took my hand and let me feel her thick hair.  Jake said, "Wow." But she could not be born.  Susan told me later that I had a very thick hymenal ring and that was why she was so stuck.  I don't know how exactly Karen and I got her past this but I know it hurt.  Eloise was so close!  We just needed a little bit more help.  

Karen: "I'm going to have to make a little cut."
Susan: "Tell her what you are going to do first!"

Karen: "Amanda, honey, I need to make a tiny little cut to help your baby come out." 

Agony.  I think I screamed - I'm not sure.  I had read before that cutting an episiotomy while the baby is crowning provides enough pressure that the mother hardly feels it.  I felt it.  That tiny cut was worse than the contractions, worse than the back labor, not quite as bad as the midwives turning my baby.  I pushed and tore a little further.  I only needed three small stitches but it felt like my entire body was being ripped open.  

It was exactly what was needed.  I pushed again through the splitting pain and my daughter was born!  It was like she finally slipped out - sunny-side-up, with her extra-long cord wrapped twice and a half around her slim little torso.  "Good job, Amanda! Reach down and pick up your baby!"

My baby!

But I couldn't.  I couldn't lift my arms.  After more than seven hours, the pushing was finally over and I was once again completely weak and limp.  I tried to open my eyes but couldn't see! I had burst so many blood vessels and my vision was double and triple and completely blurred, my eyes seemed to be swollen half shut from the effort.  I blinked and blinked but I was still blind.  I managed to hold my arms out and someone put my baby on my chest.  She was not breathing quite yet but she was squirming around and I knew she was just fine.  The nurses untangled her and rubbed her down and soon she let out a little squeak.  Oh, that sound!  The sweetest little voice I ever heard.  Jake bent down and kissed me on the lips.  Oh, that kiss!  It was the sweetest kiss of my life.  Our first kiss all over again but a thousand times more.  I wish I had a photo of that moment but I know I will never forget it. 

Susan ran to the waiting area to tell my parents and Tessa the news.  Karen stitched up my torn perineum and I soaked in the sensation of Eloise on my chest.  She was so perfect.  I wanted to look at my baby and count her fingers and toes but I still couldn't see or move.  My first memories of my daughter are not what she looked like, but simply how she felt in my arms.  I struggled to open my hospital gown and put her to my breast and a nurse saw and hurried over to help.  They took off my gown and cut the thick band holding the monitor off my belly.  Skin to skin at last.  She wasn't interested in nursing right away so I leaned back and just relaxed with my baby on me.  After a little while my parents came back just in time to see Jake hold our child for the first time.  Through blurry eyes I watched my husband become Daddy, my mother become Grammy and my father Papa.  That was such a special moment that will never happen again. 

When we finally arrived back home a few days later I was hit with a wave of grief, for the first time, over the loss of my home birth.  It was surreal - seeing the house I had circled again and again, the same tree in my front yard I had leaned on for support when contractions hit, the ball I bounced on, the stairs I climbed again and again, the couch I transitioned on and the bed I pushed in but did not give birth in.  For a moment I tried to stifle the sadness but then did what I had learned to do throughout labor - I leaned into the pain.  I cried a few tears and then moved on.  My hospital transfer was as blessed and beautiful as I could possibly have hoped for, and I could not be more grateful for all the angels who made it so.  Everything about my labor and delivery happened in God's timing and according to his plan.  I am a different person now - not only am I a mother but I know I am a warrior and can endure all things through Him who gives me strength. 


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.

Eloise's {Almost} Home Birth Story (Part 2/3: Labor)

If you haven't read Part I of Eloise's {Almost} Home Birth Story, click here.


On a Tuesday evening, about three weeks from my due date, the prodromal labor began.  It was mostly menstrual-like cramps and lower back pain, with some sporadic contractions scattered here and there, sometimes forming a pattern but then dying off after four or five.  I'd been having Braxton-Hicks contractions for several months at this point, and often times it was difficult for me to determine what exactly I was feeling when the cramps, back pain and BH would overlap, mingled in with the contractions here and there.  I'd never been in labor before, but still I knew this was not the real thing.  Every morning Jake would ask me, "Is today the day?" and I would confidently respond, "Nope!"

My due date came and went.  Chloe had told me that the average pregnancy for a first-time mom lasted forty-one weeks and three days, so I was not too concerned.  We were getting jittery and impatient and of course anxious to meet our girl, but confident that we were doing the right thing by waiting for Eloise to come when she was ready.  In the evening on Monday, April 3rd, at forty-one weeks and two days pregnant, I finally lost my mucus plug.  I'd been having horrible indigestion pains all day long and had a subtle feeling that things were starting to change and would be picking up soon.  The painful abdominal cramps were almost nonstop at this point and I did not get much sleep Monday night. 

Tuesday morning, April 4th, Chloe and Susan came to my house for my weekly prenatal checkup.  I told them about losing my mucus plug and we had a little celebration.  While we were talking, I had a minor contraction - just enough to make me wince and pause a moment.  About ten minutes later, I had another.  Chloe sang, "Mandy's in early labor!" I denied it, not wanting to get my hopes up, but ten minutes later I had another contraction, then another, and started preparing myself for the idea that this might really be happening soon! Despite having slept so poorly the night before, I was hit with a huge wave of energy and began cooking lots of food for my birth team and cleaning every corner of my home.  The easy contractions continued all day, ranging anywhere from five to ten minutes apart but only increasing in intensity very slightly.  I texted my mom, my new doula Elisha, and my friend Tessa who had agreed to photograph the birth and let them know that tomorrow might be the day!

After another night of poor sleep, I got up early on Wednesday with contractions still slow and steady, about eight minutes apart but a bit more painful than the day before.  I had less energy and instead of cooking and cleaning, I focused on resting as much as I could in between contractions and eating good food to nourish me for the journey ahead.  It became impossible to really sleep as the contractions were becoming more intense but I took it easy, bouncing on my birthing ball, taking gentle walks around the block and praying for things to pick up.  By Wednesday evening, the contractions were strong enough that I had to stop and really concentrate when they hit (all I could think of was Amy Poehler in the movie Baby Mama - "It feels like I'm shitting a knife!"), and even though they were still six or seven minutes apart, we determined that labor really was underway and decided to call Tessa and my mom to go ahead and come spend the night, anticipating that I would give birth by the next morning.  It was a fun evening - we had dinner together, watched comedy and laughed a lot, and I bounced on the birth ball and knelt and hugged it when contractions hit.  I was grateful for all the relaxation techniques I'd been practicing and breathed deeply through each wave. Around midnight I became frustrated that things were progressing so slowly and started walking the block again and again, laughing and joking, pausing to lean on a lamp post, a tree, or sometimes Jake when contractions hit.  Walking seemed to do the trick and each wave was stronger than the one before. We called Elisha, Chloe and Susan to come on over! 

I took my ball, went upstairs to my room for a while and disappeared into "labor land."  As a generally private person, I wasn't really sure what kind of support I would want during my labor but it was hugely comforting know that Elisha was downstairs, available when needed.  I bounced on my ball, squatted, and crawled around the second floor on my hands and knees.  I was grateful for the privacy of the darkness to do whatever my body instructed me to do, but after an hour or two or three of solitude my mind began to take me to a dark place as well.  I started thinking: do I even want to have a baby? I like my life.  I like the way things are.  I'm not ready to be a mother.  Shame filled me up and spilled over.  Of course I wanted my baby - but I could not drive out the voices.  I needed an escape. 

I came downstairs in the early hours of the morning and joined the little party in my living room - my mother, husband, doula, photographer and two midwives.  Instantly my spirits lifted.  All these people had gathered to help me bring my precious baby into the world.  I had a snack and watched funny videos with my team, bouncing on my ball and turning to hands and knees for each wave.  Who knew that contractions would hurt my back so much?  Breathe in, breathe out.  Elisha said, "You're doing beautifully!" I finally felt safe from my shame.  Maybe too safe.  This was the first moment where my labor clearly became quite mental - after two full days, my contractions began to slow down and lessen in intensity.  They never stopped altogether, but they stalled, with eight or nine minute stretches again in between each one.  It was time to get things back into gear.  I began to climb stairs, fighting through conflicting emotions - wanting labor to pick back up, but overwhelmed by the voice whispering that I was not ready to be a mother. 

"Try taking the stairs two at a time."

Do you want to take a turn?!

I snapped.  Then I stomped up the stairs, went into my bathroom and cried.  I hated knowing everyone could hear me but I couldn't stop.  After a few minutes Jake came up and held me while I sobbed against his chest.  He held me while I cried through a contraction or two and then felt the beautiful relief that tears bring.  I was okay.  Chloe and Elisha came in to talk. 

"How are you feeling?"

I'm feeling like I just got out of my deep, dark, hole...and now I have to go back. 

"The only way out of the pain is through the pain.  And you don't have to do this alone."

I knelt down and hugged my ball through a contraction and Elisha came over and applied counter-pressure to my back like I'd seen in birthing class.  Whoa! I did not expect it to help so much.  The radiating, almost vibrating pain from my tailbone to my toes instantly lessened.  She taught Jake how to press on my back and hips in just the right way.  I think he was grateful to have some way of helping - although his presence was help enough.  I was emotionally as well as physically spent by this point, and with contractions still seven or eight minutes apart, I climbed into bed for some rest.  Jake snuggled under the covers with me and wrapped his arms around me, and for the next two hours until sunrise, we clung to each other.  Every eight minutes I would, half-asleep,  roll onto my hands and knees for a wave, and Jake would rub my back.  I told him, I understand why women choose to get epidurals. 

Thursday morning came and the house was quiet and peaceful.  I bounced on my ball, walked in circles around my house and climbed stairs.  The shooting, stabbing, radiating pain in my back was so great that it brought me to my knees and lingered in a dull ache between contractions.  My mother brought me some of the breakfast casserole I had made on Tuesday for the birth team and I ate.  Susan gave me a few doses of cotton root bark tincture to encourage labor.  I threw up the last dose so we stopped.  It began to storm outside.  We had had no progress since the night before.  The team decided to leave the house for a little while to give me some privacy and help me get back into "labor land."  Jake took a nap.  I took a bath and contractions increased to every six minutes, but were still weaker than they were Wednesday night before my "break."  Again and again I prayed and asked God, What do you want me to learn from this?  What are you trying to teach me? Around noon Chloe texted and suggested I try and see my chiropractor.  We didn't know why exactly my labor had stalled but I figured it was worth a shot and made the call.  She could see me in forty-five minutes! Jake, Tessa and I climbed into my mom's mini-van and we made the forty minute drive to the chiropractor through a cleansing downpour. 

I arrived at Dr. Iman's office in labor and went straight back to be seen.  She asked me, "Are you having any pain in your back?"  Um, yes!  I'd say I am mostly feeling the contractions in my back.  It hurts in the front but my back is way worse...isn't that normal?

"No, that's not normal.  We can try something called dry needling? It can be helpful for back labor."

Back labor!  I'd read about it.  But back labor was supposed to be something that happened when the baby was in a posterior position.  My baby was anterior.  She was ROA.  She'd always been ROA. Still, the pain I was having in my back did sound like what I'd read about now that I thought about it. It was supposedly way more painful than typical contractions...had I really been suffering through two full days of back labor? 

I had my adjustment done and agreed to try the dry needling.  Tessa sat with me while I waited and we talked.  I told her what Chloe had said - "the only way out of the pain is through the pain" - and realized these words of wisdom had the potential to shape so more than just my labor, but my entire life and ministry.  Maybe this was what God would have me learn from the experience after all.  During the brief time in between my chiropractic adjustment and the dry needling, I had several very strong contractions.  Tessa timed them and told me they were only three and a half minutes apart!  It was working!  We left the office and drove back to Seaford.  The rain had stopped and the sun was shining gloriously through the clouds.  What a day to finally have a baby!  It was nearly dinnertime at this point and all three of us were famished, so we drove through Chick-fil-a on our way out of Salisbury.  I was in a good mood and excited that my labor was finally back in full force again, but with contractions only three or four minutes apart, the forty minute drive home was very difficult. With each wave I would unbuckle, turn around in my seat and rock back and forth, attempting to breathe deeply and relax but finding it to be more and more of a challenge.  Jake or Tessa would rub my back and somehow we joked and laughed our way home. 

At home, I disappeared once again into "labor land," focusing intently and working to keep labor progressing.  My team returned, ready for action.  I climbed stairs, bounced on my ball and paced.  At one point I walked into the kitchen and then straight out the back door without warning and began to make laps around the house.  Inside, my team watched me from the windows to make sure I was still okay.  Each lap I paused and leaned against on the same tree in my front yard through a contraction, and in the back I leaned against Tessa's car.  I could tell my contractions were becoming closer together when I didn't make it to the tree, and headed back inside.  The sun set and hours passed.  The pain in my back was no longer easing up at all in between waves and I could hardly tell when one was ending and the next starting.  I'd read about the phases of dilation and that during transition, contractions were back-to-back, and figured that had to be what was happening.  The Bradley book said that at this point, a lot of women start saying, "I can't do this!" and that's how you know they are almost ready to push.  Maybe it was ego, but I didn't want to say, "I can't do this."  I knew I could do it.  I bit my tongue to keep the words from coming out of their own accord.  I told myself, Don't say it.  I CAN do this. I CAN do this.  My team was becoming busy, moving around, setting things up for the birth, but I was hardly aware of them. 

Don't say it.

I CAN do this. 

Around midnight, I got a very short rest between contractions and Chloe came over to the couch where I was kneeling for a talk.  "You're getting very close to transition.  Pretty soon the contractions will be one right on top of the other without a break.  It usually lasts around an hour.  Then you probably will get to rest for a few minutes, maybe longer, then push!"

Getting close? That wasn't it?!

She had hardly finished speaking when the next wave hit.  It peaked and started to fall down, then intensified again.  It went on and on like this, peaking and falling then rising and peaking again.  If a single contraction is like standing near the shore and letting a wave rise and crash over you, transition is like being out at sea in the middle of a storm, waves crashing one after the other, overlapping, tossing you around.  My water broke.  I started to cry.  My mom had been hanging back, giving me space, throughout my entire labor but at this point she planted herself next to me and held my hands for the next hour, giving me sips of juice and holding a wet cloth to my forehead.  Jake came behind me and rubbed my back.  Finally it ended and I got to rest.  I flopped over on the couch and fell asleep for maybe twenty minutes.  A contraction woke me up.  Compared to what I had just endured, it was more of a nuisance than anything.  Somehow I still had my sense of humor with me and even caught myself joking with and teasing my birth team.  We all had a good, unexpected laugh. 

"Are you feeling the urge to push at all?"

Nope.  Not whatsoever.  I mean, I feel loads of pressure.  But I don't think I could push. 

We waited.  We figured I was just getting an extra long "rest" period before the urge to push kicked in.  It didn't.  I had a small snack.  Around two in the morning, Susan did a cervical exam and discovered I was only eight centimeters dilated.  Eight! But I thought the whole point of the transition period was to get me from eight to ten centimeters!  Why didn't it work?  Why doesn't my body know how to have a baby?

I started walking again.  The rest of the house slept and I paced in circles in the dark around my kitchen table. With each contraction I leaned on the table or simply dropped to all fours, breathing in and out.  Two hours later, Susan checked me again.  Nine centimeters.  I cried a few angry, disappointed tears and then kept walking.  I took the stairs two at a time.  I bounced on my ball.  I went into my bathroom and sat on the toilet for ages, the "dilation station" as I'd heard it called, in hopes that relaxing my pelvic muscles would help me to get that final extra centimeter of cervix out of the way.  The sun came up.  Finally, around nine on Friday morning, I started feeling the need to push!  Susan checked me and, at last, I was complete! I could finally start pushing!

{READ PART 3 TOMORROW!}


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

Eloise's {Almost} Home Birth Story (Part 1/3)

We're back with another Delmarva Community Birth Story.  This time, it's from a special THRIVE client who planned and *almost* had a home birth.  When she originally shared this on her own blog, I HAD to ask her to share it here, too.  It's just so beautifully written and such a fantastic story of all things that encompass birth and motherhood: Joy, love, frustration, trust, patience, strength, and humility.  Enjoy!  xo--Maria


We'd been married for just barely a year.  We weren't *trying* to get pregnant, but...I would not have minded.  It was a Friday morning, July 15th 2016.  The next day Jake and I would be leaving to spend just under a month in the mountains of Virginia for his Young Life summer assignment.  My cycle was due to start the coming Tuesday, and I decided to take a test before we left town. 

Our world was changed forever. 

I always knew that I wanted to have a natural birth. My mother delivered me and all four of my siblings without pain medication and I always admired her determination.  I devoured books and articles and all kinds of literature on the subject of natural birth and grew in my conviction that medication-free delivery was what was best for me and my baby.  I have fibromyalgia and I was nervous about the amount of pain and fatigue my body would be able to endure, so I began looking for ways to prepare myself and my body to give birth naturally - breathing, relaxation, visualization.  I also began searching for a doula to support me during delivery.  The hospital I planned to give birth in has a 95% epidural rate and an alarming 30% c-section rate.  My CNM advised me that if I wanted a natural birth, a doula was a MUST.  I made some inquiries and was connected with a wonderful doula service, and met with Chloe for a consultation.  I told her all about my determination to have a natural birth but my fears surrounding giving birth in the hospital and my physical challenges with fibromyalgia.  She was so affirming and validating towards my desires that I began to cry with relief in the middle of our meeting. 

"Have you ever considered having a home birth?"

No.  Not me.  Or at least, it sounds wonderful, but this is my first baby. My husband would never agree to it.  We need the security of the hospital for our first go-round.  I'm already over 30 weeks along, it's too late to consider something like that. 

"Maybe just think about it."

Obviously, we hired Chloe.  She never said another word about home birth but the idea was lodged in my brain and heart.  Again, I hit the books.  I learned that the US has the worst infant mortality and maternal death rates among every developed country, even though we spend the most money on maternity care.  I learned that our C-Section rate is double what the World Health Organization recommends, and that many of these are completely preventable if routine interventions could be avoided.  I learned that the developed countries who most utilize home birth midwives have the best results.  I learned that home birth recently became legal in my state, and that home births have been shown to be associated with fewer maternal interventions and deaths.  I asked Chloe to help me find more information about how to have a home birth in Delaware, and was surprised and excited to learn that she was actually a student midwife in addition to being a doula, and was working alongside a Certified Professional Midwife named Susan who lived not even an hour from my home! I knew in my heart that this was what I wanted, but was still convinced that it was too late in the game to make such a big decision, that we could never afford the fee, that there was no way. 

Jake and I met with Susan and Chloe and discussed what it would look like for us to have a home birth with them.  We both had a lot of questions: How would prenatal visits look since I'm so far along? What would cause you to make the decision to transfer to the hospital? What signs would you be watching for and at what point in the process would you make that call? What kind of emergency medication and equipment do you carry? What would happen in case of any unforeseen circumstances? I realize now after going through all of these things how difficult my questions must have been to answer, because every case is so different.  But they were patient and reassuring and even Jake, who previously had NO peace surrounding the idea, became convinced that this was the best call for our family! We were going to do it - we were going to have a home birth!

{{{PART 2 COMING TOMORROW!}}}


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 Center Birth of Baby Lois, One Year Later

This story in the Delmarva Community Birth Stories series is coming from a past client of Thrive doula, Elisha, and owner of Soul Yoga Studio, Eva Whipple.  Eva sent me the story of her daughter Lois' birth on her first birthday!  Enjoy this beautiful storytelling of the birthing center birth of Baby Lois.


Perception is a really incredible concept to consider. The facts of Lois's birth have never changed. She was just about 8lbs, 19 inches, and was born at 6:52AM on May 7, 2016 at Special Beginnings Birth Center. The midwife's documentation chronicles my dilation, my intake (and output- if you really want to know), Lois's heartbeat throughout, and other objective data. Those facts are there, and they will never change. But with time, our perception of an experience evolves. That is why I wanted to revisit the story of Lois's birth after some time had passed. I wrote and re-wrote the incredible story of Lois's birth in the days and weeks after she was born. But now time has granted me a new vantage point.

From this perspective, I recall things in a less linear way... I feel less attached to the small details (like what time we arrived to the birth center, what time I began pushing, etc). And I feel like I now have a story, not just an account... So here goes.

Lois was born on her due date, right around the time that we typically wake-up now, actually. When she finally made her appearance, I had been looking forward to meeting my baby for 2 days of labor, 40 weeks of pregnancy, and 2 years of planning to begin a family.  

In the weeks leading up to my due date, I had reached 2 or 3cm dilation and had been experiencing some light, infrequent  contractions. On Thursday, May 5th, I went for a swim after work. I was swimming a lot during my pregnancy, especially the third trimester. During my swim, I began to notice that my light and infrequent contractions were becoming slightly more regular. When Bryan got home, he suggested that I ride my bike with his Mom while he ran. During the bike ride, my contractions were still present, and becoming a bit more noticeable, but not painful. In the hours after the bike ride my contractions occurred while resting, showering, or walking- so I had a good feeling this was the start of labor, but they were still about 7-10 minutes apart. I called my parents and my doula (and now very dear friend), Elisha. We decided to go ahead over the bridge. I was worried the whole time that it would be too early and that we would be sent home. When we arrived, at 12:30AM, I was right. It was early labor, but still quite early. I was something like 4cm dilated and 100% effaced, but contractions had not intensified or sped up. I will say here that it was hard to know how intense I should expect things to become. I have a pretty high tolerance for pain, and pain itself is such a subjective experience. Looking back at 12:30AM on Friday May 6th... Sitting in the bed and talking to my midwife about how I could "definitely feel the contractions now...." That was about a 1 on the intensity scale, with a 10 being the moment her giant head emerged from within me. 

So it wasn't quite time to hang our hats there, but it was good that I had come for that early labor check... I got to claim the room that I wanted at the birth center and my favorite midwife, Ashley, was able to get a heads up that I was in labor. Plus, we didn't have to make the drive later in the day when things were a bit more intense.

We checked in at a nearby motel. Elisha stayed in a room with my parents, Bryan and I had our own room. Contractions were definitely still manageable, but I wasn't able to really sleep very much. Throughout that night I slept off and on, spent quiet time with Bryan, got in and out of the shower... And the intensity and frequency did increase. 

When everyone got up and moving in the morning we went to a nearby diner. I did have a nice breakfast- I can't remember how much I ate, but I remember the pineapple was good, I took my vitamins and my Mom kept reminding me to drink plenty of water. I also remember going into the bathroom to pee and talking with a stranger who asked when I was due. This made me chuckle- because she didn't realize I was in labor. I think I said something like "hopefully any time now..."

After breakfast we went to the Annapolis mall to walk around. I had hoped to go to a lovely park, but it was raining. It had been raining for weeks, practically. The mall had local art from high school kids on display, and we enjoyed walking around looking at all of it. My mom bought Lois a nice little green outfit (we still didn't know the gender at that point- we opted for no ultrasounds or other prenatal testing). Eventually at the mall, I became unable to  walk during my contractions. I could walk as soon as they passed, but during I would stop and hold onto Bryan- leaning onto him for support as Elisha or my Dad rubbed my neck. It was time to call the birth center. I still doubted that this was "the" time... I worried they would send us home. But Elisha insisted this was real labor... She was right. When we arrived that afternoon, around 1PM or so, I was 6cm dilated and 100% effaced. My contractions were every 3 minutes apart, I think. But still, looking back, I would have to give this time about a 3/10 on the intensity scale. Bryan and I walked all around the birth center, up and down the stairs, I showered, I got in the tub while they filled the bath, then I got in the bath... I laughed, I drank water, I ate, I joked... I bounced on the exercise ball.

Actually, there was a special party at the birth center so people were painting bellys and eating food. I even walked out to the party! One lady offered to paint my belly, and initially I said yes, but then my kind and funny nurse, Laurel, informed the woman that I was in active labor and getting in and out of a tub. I guess I hadn't thought of that...

The next hours are a bit of a blur... I know that the intensity gradually increased... I know that I remained at 6cm dilation for hours... Lois was "sunny side-up..." Meaning that her face was up. Additionally, her little chin was lifted, making it a very slow journey down the birth canal. Because her head didn't reach my cervix, I was not reaching 10cm dilation quickly. I labored in the pool a lot, also straddling the toilet. Once I reached 8cm, I felt the urge to push. I tried not to. They told me not to. I knew it might wear me out. I knew that intellectually, but actually fighting that strong urge to push was very difficult. During that time, trying not to push, but still pushing- trying to coerce her out, I stopped talking. I stopped thinking, really. I can say that I wasn't thinking real words, anyway. 

With each contraction, I threw up. My midwife and my family (Bryan, my parents, and Bryan's mom) were worried that I would have to be transferred to the hospital, but I wasn't worried. Lois's heart beat was strong. And the one thought that I did formulate was a sort of mantra that I repeated to myself and my baby, "there is only one way out..." I knew that eventually, I would have my baby and she would be perfect. That carried me through.

I never questioned my body's ability to deliver my baby. I never doubted that I would be able to have Lois at the birth center. I never thought that I needed pain medication, or any other intervention. I don't even remember if Pitocin or any pain relief was offered. I know that I had asked everyone not to offer me intervention, that was specified in my birth plan. But even if they had, I know I wouldn't have wanted it. I didn't realize that anyone was doubting whether or not we should stay at the birth center. At one point, Ashley (my midwife) did say that she saw a small amount of meconium. But, still, I wasn't worried... tired, yes, but not worried. Due to the very slow descent that Lois was making, Ashley suggested that we try a few different positions to get her moving down the canal. She wanted me to labor on one side for a few contractions, then on hands and knees for a few contractions, and then on the other side. For quite some time, I had been laboring on my hands and knees, or over the toilet, or in a squatting position. The ability to bear down on something gave me some relief. So, when I had to labor on my sides- that was the most pain I felt. I had nothing to push or pull on... Nothing to feel other than the contractions. And ultimately that was the place that I had to return to in order to give birth. 

Each time I got back in the pool, or even on hands and knees, the contractions became much more manageable but also much slower. What I learned was that I had to move directly towards that very intense experience, directly towards the most uncomfortable sensations because that is where the most progress was made. Frequently, I tell my yoga students that they have to move towards discomfort in order to challenge their preconceived notions and in order to experience transformation. The same was true during labor. 

After the intense contractions on my side, which were intended to turn Lois and get her moving, she flipped right back into her sunny side up position. We tried that same process again a little later. And at one point Ashley did attempt to manually turn her (yes, reaching in and turning her), but she only turned a quarter turn. Instead she continued slowly making her way into the world with her bright eyes wide and face-up. 

Eventually, I did reach close to 10 cm and my midwife coached me through pushing. I had imagined that I would deliver in the pool and that I would know intuitively exactly when I should  be pushing. But, when left to my intuition alone I think that I was protecting myself (subconsciously) from the discomfort that I needed to feel.  Ashley had me get out of the pool and back onto my side where (after four hours of crowning) Lois's head finally began to emerge. When she was born, I had one leg over Ashley's shoulder and was sort of half on my side. 

During the four hours of really actively pushing, I would see Lois's head and then it would retreat. I would push and then push again, and then breathe... And the little bit of her head that I could see would slip right back inside me. My midwife would tell me that this is good, because it was allowing me to stretch around her head. But that didn't make it any easier or less frustrating. I hadn't spoken in hours and then finally I told Ashely, "Next time you see her head can you just grab it? Just don't let it go back again…" I'm not sure if I had the ability to physically laugh at this point, but I did amuse myself...

Of course, she didn't actually grab her head, and ultimately it was very helpful that I was allowed to stretch around her 99th-percentile-giant head. Amazingly, I didn't tear at all. I think what surprised me the most about the whole experience, other than just the sheer intensity of the whole thing, was my body's ability to open up and expand right at the very end. It was so shocking that I hollered out... Less in pain and more in just total shock. I was watching this whole process in a mirror, thinking that her head was this little peanut because that's what I had seen coming through. I had been pushing twice consecutively with each breath, but then I knew that it was time and that if I just pushed a couple more times I could get her out. So I did. I pushed, and pushed, and then pushed, and then one more big push and there was her head. And that was the shocking part, the little peanut that I had seen crowning for four hours was only the very top of her head which had formed into a cone as it pressed against my cervix. But in reality after those four big pushes my body opened up and gave birth to this giant head. I had no idea my body could do that. Once her head was born,  it may have been one or two more (comparatively easy) pushes before her body slid free. 

I have heard that when a baby is born it's like angels rush into the room. I don't know if that is how I would describe it, but I can understand that idea... It was profound. After such a long, strenuous night- to see her perfect face, was the greatest moment of my entire life. Through tears, Bryan looked at me and said "it's a girl..."

Bryan, Elisha, my mom and Dad, and Bryan's Mom- all had tears in their eyes. There were sighs, laughter, smiles and a palpable feeling of relief and joy.

I had  been pushing hard, really hard for four hours. I was pushing for hours (when I wasn't supposed to be) before that. I had been at the birth center laboring for 18 hours. And prior to that I labored in the mall, the diner, the motel. I have done a 70.3 mile triathlon, and multiple other endurance events- and I can assure you that nothing compared to the exhaustion I felt after labor. My arms were shaking from having pressed down so hard on Bryan, and on the bed, and the ground... And from pulling on Bryan, and rails... I wanted to pull my baby up to me, but I literally couldn't move my arms. Ashley placed her on my bare chest and I said "hi, Lois, I love you."

She latched soon after and nursing her was magical. It's still magical. I'll nurse her as long as she wants... For years, I hope. She was so sweet, so small, and so new. But throughout the whole labor, and during pregnancy and even still today- she is so strong. She never seemed weak; she is hardy. She is strong but still she has such a loving and light-hearted presence.

I learned a lot from the experience. It was certainly more intense than I could have ever imagined. I don't know that the intensity can be relayed through stories of other people's experiences, I think it has to be felt.

I didn't end up delivering in the pool as I had imagined, but that was okay. Things were so slow, and slowed down more each time I was in the pool. I had to get really, really uncomfortable to make progress. 

I was able to deliver completely unmedicated, without any medical intervention, at the Birth Center- despite a slow labor, a face up baby (and a little tiny bit of poop... Her's I mean, not mine)...

A few things that helped me were resting (as much as possible) in early labor, laughing throughout all of it (when I could), and continuing to eat and drink. Also, being in good physical condition throughout my pregnancy and beforehand definitely helped. I would also say that I have had my mental endurance tested through athletic endeavors and with health challenges (like having cancer) in the past.

But here is the biggest thing I learned... If you want to have a natural birth, or accomplish anything for that matter, you have to commit. When I was pregnant, or even during the years when I was just dreaming of being pregnant and reading a lot of birth books... People would tell me that it's good to plan a natural birth, but not to be upset if that didn't happen... To try to keep an open mind in case I did need pitocin or an epidural.

I understand why people say this. It comes from a good place. It comes from a desire to make sure that, if things don't go as planned, the expectant mama's feelings are not hurt. They don't want people to feel disappointed or down on themselves. I get it, I really do. And I don't think anyone should feel bad about their birthing experience. I doubt that any birth ever goes 100% according to plan, and I too want for all mamas to feel content and at peace with however things transpired. But if you want a natural birth, I would not recommend going into labor with "an open mind..." Go into labor with your mind set. If you really feel strongly that you don't want pain medication, don't even consider it an option. As soon as that option is on the table, your resolve is compromised. If you don't feel really strongly about it one way or another, than by all means- keep an open mind! Or if you feel strongly that you do want medication- that's fine too! But if you really don't want intervention, then don't be afraid to commit to that as a goal.

I have read a lot (and heard several TED talks) about the way that our society views women vs men when it comes to success, failure, and achievement. We (as a society) try to protect women, by encouraging them to play it safe... To avoid risking failure, or risking anything at all... We tell our girls to "be careful" and our boys to "be brave..." Well, women- if you want a natural birth, be brave! Of course any time that you commit to a goal, there is a chance that you won't achieve it... But I trust our ability to handle that. I have talked to many mamas who planned an unmedicated birth and ended up delivering in a hospital with pitocin and epidural... Or a c-section. And they are strong enough to handle that, too! They still have a beautiful, healthy baby. 

I know that is the reason that most people will tell you not to be too attached to the plan- because in the end you have your baby and it doesn't matter how they got there... But the experience does matter. It is transformative. So, plan for it to be what YOU want it to be. And then when your experience doesn't turn out exactly as you planned, let that be okay. Surrender to the process is essential, but so is strength, resolve and commitment. If you want to, borrow my mantra... Tell that little baby "there is only one way out..."

I am so grateful for the experience. I think it has made me more easy going. I have realized that things will happen on their own- without my interference or intervention... And often my job is just to be fully present...

Remember when I said it had been raining for weeks? Well, when Lois came out, so did the sun... And my life has been brighter ever since.


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.

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 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***

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.

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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.

Caleb's Natural Hospital Birth

The second birth story in our Delmarva Community Birth Stories series comes from Thrive doula Terri.  Enjoy the beautiful account of her second son's birth.

I began having mild, yet uncomfortable contractions about 2am on July 4th. They would come and go and they rarely lasted longer than 30 seconds. I figured it was from walking around the carnival the previous evening with friends and family, so I tried not to think too much of it. Then, they stopped altogether by 7:30pm, just in time for fireworks and a good night’s sleep! But then, they started again on July 5th, again around 2am. I did my best to make a “nest” of pillows and blankets on the sofa and was able to cat nap until my husband woke up around 7am to get ready for work. I was very thankful that before he left, he called one of his younger sisters who didn’t have to go into work that day to come help me out with our then 2 year old son. She got there around 9am, and I was able to drift in and out of sleep on the sofa while she played with him. The contractions continued to come and go without ever really following a pattern or increasing in intensity - that is until later that afternoon.

Around 1pm, I was no longer able to get comfortable on the sofa. The contractions started to become more consistent and they were slightly more uncomfortable. I called my husband and doula to touch base with them, but told them both I was okay and didn’t need them at this point. By 1:30, I called them both back and told them that I was ready to go to hospital. I’m not sure if I was thinking logically at this point or if it was just an “intuition”, because I hadn’t been tracking my contractions long enough to know if they were following the typical “4-1-1” pattern, I just knew I needed to get to where I was going to birth.

I called the rest of my birth team as well as my other sister-in-law who was my “on call for when I go into labor” babysitter and everyone began to make their way to the house. By the time my husband and sister-in-law arrived, around 2:30, the contractions were becoming pretty strong and I was beginning to need support. This is where certain details begin to get “fuzzy” for me, but I remember my sister-in-law having to calm my husband down (he wasn’t scared or nervous, just felt very unprepared as I had very little packed and ready to go at this time) and remind him to focus on helping me and let her pack the car. My doula arrived shortly after, took one look at me, and said “yes, we need to get going!”. I told her I would leave as soon as my friend got there because she was bringing me lunch (I hadn’t eaten much that day as I hadn’t been hungry, but I had a sudden craving for whatever the “Strawberry Chicken Salad” was they sell during the summer at Wendy’s), and I was not leaving until I had that in my hands.

As soon as she pulled up, I took the salad, still in the bag, and we all loaded up in our separate cars and headed toward the hospital. I ate my salad in between contractions the whole way there. We had a long drive as I live in Hebron, but birthed in Easton, but my husband refused to do anything over 5mph! I still have no idea why as he is not typically one to be concerned about his speed, so why would you when your wife is in labor?! Then, somehow, somewhere in downtown Easton, he got lost! We drove around downtown for probably about 20 mins before we finally found our way back to where we needed to be to get to the hospital.

So we finally arrive at the the hospital around 3:45pm and make our way up to Labor & Delivery. Our entire birth team(my doula, my mother-in-law, and my two friends- yes, I had a large birth team) was waiting in the waiting area, wondering if something had happened or if I’d had the baby on the side of the road somewhere. We didn’t spend long in triage and quickly made our way to my room. We got settled in, and I got a chance to soak in the tub for a bit before that, too became uncomfortable and I decided to try something else. I went back and forth between a birthing stool and a birthing ball, relying completely on my husband for both emotional and physical support throughout each contraction. I knew my birth team was there and they were praying for me, and I remember my doula offering support here and there in the form of counter pressure or encouraging words, but my husband truly was my rock during my labor. He remained calm and strong - exactly what I needed.

At some point, I decided I wanted to labor in the bed with the “squat bar”, so my husband and doula helped me move to the bed as the nurses positioned the squat bar on the bed. After a couple of contractions in this position, I looked at my husband and told him “I’m done. I can’t do this. I want an epidural. This is too hard.”...or something along those lines. While my husband had been my main support, the nurse who had been assigned to me leaned in and spoke very gently in my ear “You can do this! You are so close! You’ve been rocking this and you’re going to continue rocking this! You can do this! Keep it up!”. She backed away and I nodded through the pain and looked and my husband and my doula and said, okay, I can do it.

It wasn’t much longer before I began to get the urge to push and nurses called for the doctor. I was so happy to see it was my favorite doctor that was on call and I loved that he stood back while I was still laboring, giving me my own space to do as I felt lead. After a short while, he suggested a different position, to which my husband and doula helped me get into as I reluctantly agreed. But that was all baby needed and within a couple pushes, he was born! 8lbs 2oz, 22in long - born at 8:34pm on July 5. He was perfect in every way!


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.

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Arcadia's Unplanned Unassisted Birth (Part II)

Elisha shares Part II of Arcadia's birth today, on his fifth birthday.  Read Part I here.

Sleeping and waking through every contraction; somehow I felt rested when I got up at 4:30am to go pee. I had my bloody show; I went upstairs to tell Taylor he should probably get up. The contractions were closer; about five minutes apart, not too close. Still, they had definitely picked up in strength and there was no sleeping now!

I wasn't sure if I should get in the bath, I didn't want to de-sensitize myself; I decided I needed lots of warm water! Taylor ran a bath and prepared the pull out couch for me, with the extra sheets and shower curtain. He called our midwife who didn't answer until the second try, with her on her way we felt ready for the hours to come... or so we thought.

In and out of the bath I kept needing to pee and poop; my contractions were mostly still around five minutes apart and some four minutes apart, then all of a sudden some were one minute apart. I realized on one of the trips out of the water while sitting on the toilet that it wasn't that I needed to poop, but that I needed to push! This wasn't supposed to be happening now! Oh shit, my midwife isn't even here; I began to panic! Taylor called our midwife (I'm in the living room on the bed at this point) he tells her I'm crowning. I (still panicking) ask if I should try to hold back...then a contraction comes and fills my body with overwhelming feelings to push and get this baby out! I then realize that there would be no way to hold back and that this is happening, midwife or NOT!

I decide that I need to get back in the water and to breath and calm down, anxiety isn't going to help... relax and breathe, accepting that this is it, it is time and our baby is almost here and ready! Taylor has our midwife on the phone. With the next contraction and my again found calmness I begin to push, and push! After three good pushes out gushes our baby boy. Born in our claw foot tub in the peace of an empty house and our midwife on the phone checking the time!

I lay there in complete amazement, holding our perfect little boy!

6:15am Arcadia Cereus Immanuel Applegarth came into the world! 7lb 8oz 20 1⁄2” long.


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

Arcadia's Unplanned Unassisted Birth (Part I)

The very first birth story in our Delmarva Community Birth Stories series comes from one of our own doulas, Elisha.  Today marks the fifth anniversary of her first labor beginning.  We think it's so special to be able to celebrate her labor and birth with our community on this day, the day before his fifth birthday.

Five years ago, very early in the morning I stirred from sleep and automatically placed Taylor's hand on my belly for the warmth to sooth my abdomen; stirring more from this action I realized it had been months since I had last done this (something I would do when experiencing menstrual cramps) I then realized I was in labor.

The excitement and Oh my Goodness this is REAL set in; there was still so much to do! I thought I had at least four more days if not more.... I got up and began washing baby blankets that for some reason had been left till now, and now I had to wash them by hand because we didn't have a washer or dryer at this time. Hanging them out to dry with rain in the forecast, but sun for now was a relief.

The morning set in and the contractions were still far enough apart to continue our day as planned. We got ready for our last trip to Dover, Delaware to see our midwife. We informed our midwife that I was in labor, she felt the contractions and informed me that this could last a week or so... I knew that would not be the case, tomorrow felt like the day we would meet our little baby.

We then headed home with a few stops planned first, I still needed nursing bras; so much to do before baby Arcadia arrives! Now we must race home before the rain. 

Getting home just as the sprinkles began to fall, grabbing blankets (which had dried perfectly). Then I ran around outside picking basil, the rain dripping down my face was refreshing and exhilarating! I needed to make one last batch of pre-baby pesto to freeze!

Food processor buzzing; Taylor painting in the living room with yellow non toxic clay paint (yes we saved this for the last minute too), but hey my belly cast had been done last week!

Everything was coming together now; pesto in the freezer and now I'm painting too. Now at a point in labor where I have to stop and focus a little more, I don't want to smudge the paint!

Everything is ready, now time to relax, all snuggled in our newly painted living room on our couch with a yummy bowl of fresh pesto pasta all with a great Netflix find playing! The perfect end of a perfect day. The contractions have been steadily increasing all day, it feels so exciting and unreal! Taylor falls asleep on the couch, I decide to head to bed and try to sleep.

I sleep with slight dream-like stirring during contractions (which seem close together), but I continue sleeping knowing I need all the sleep I can manage to snag. At some point Taylor comes to bed, the contractions continue. This has been the most perfect day, filled with the most perfect distractions.

*Birth story to be continued tomorrow, October 12, on Arcadia's fifth birthday*

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