The First Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HELP! I'm in Labor and I'm Stuck to These Darn Monitors!

One of the most common questions we get from our clients and our childbirth education class members is "Will I be confined to the bed when I'm hooked up to the monitors?".  

The short answer?  Not necessarily!  

There are a lot of factors, but for the most part, when you're hooked up to the monitors, you will probably be able to move around at least a little.  We are going to share our Top 5 labor positions to try when hooked up to the monitors!

EFM, Electronic Fetal Monitoring, are those two strips that you see going across women's bellies in the hospital while they're laboring.  Each strip carries a monitor that transmits data to a computer for your nurses, midwife, and OB to read.  One sensor reads your contractions, so that the care providers know how frequently you're getting contractions and how strong they are.  The other reads your baby's heart rate, and the care providers use the heartbeat data before, during, and after a contraction to determine how well your baby is tolerating labor.  

In some circumstances, it is necessary to be monitored 100% of the time while you're laboring.  For instance, if you have certain medications or have received an epidural, your care providers will want to watch your baby's heart rate continuously.  However, in the absence of certain medications or complications of pregnancy or labor, you can request "intermittent monitoring".  Each hospital and/or care provider has different policies or procedures about exactly how long that can be.  But, a common one in our area is "20 minutes on the monitors, then 60 minutes off."  Occasionally your care provider may be okay with even less time, like simply monitoring baby's heart rate before during and after one contraction every 30 minutes with a doppler.  You'll want to talk with your care provider during your pregnancy to find out their thoughts and routines so you know what you can expect.  

Many of us know that movement in labor is not only helpful to achieving a more comfortable and often faster labor process, but it's also necessary for some women!  Our bodies may be telling us to sit up, stand up, rock, sway, walk, kneel, squat, or anything in-between while we're laboring.  Our best advice?  Listen to your body!  But, we recognize that it may be difficult when you're hooked up to a machine.  So, since the bands around your belly will be holding sensors that are connected to a wire which is only a few feet long, we've come up with some pretty fantastic laboring positions to keep you upright while you're attached to them.  

Sitting on the Ball While Leaning Over Bed

Ask your L&D unit if they have birthing balls.  Most of the ones I've been to do have at least one.  Or, you can always bring your own.  If you sit on the birthing ball facing the bed, you can raise the bed so that your head and arms can rest on the bed.  You'll be fully supported, you can rock your hips, bounce a bit, and most importantly, you're in a great position to rest between contractions.  Lay your head down on that bed with a pillow.  You can always have someone sit behind you to rub your back, rock with you, and keep you feeling stable and secure since you'll be on a round ball.  If you stay on the side that the monitors are attached to, you'll have plenty of space!

Kneeling on Bed Leaning over Back

When you raise the back of the bed up to a sitting position, you can actually use that back as a place to lean.  Kneel on the bed facing the back of the bed and lean your upper body up over the top.  You can add pillows under your upper body or knees for extra support.  You're still in the bed and attached to monitors, but you're upright, you have gravity on your side, and you can always adjust the bed if/when you get uncomfortable.  Your back is still exposed so if you're cold, you can wrap up in a blanket or you can get counter pressure or a massage on your back if you're having back pain.

Standing With Arms Around Partner's Shoulders/Neck

Women who alternated between upright and laying down positions in labor have a labor that is 50% SHORTER than women who stay laying down the whole time.  Can you believe this?!  It's proven to work and many times, women who are laboring actually need to be upright.  But sometimes your legs (and whole body) can become weak and tired from working so hard.  So, the hugging position while standing is perfect.  You're upright and letting gravity help you out.  You're connecting with your partner (or doula/friend/mother/etc) and raising your oxytocin levels, which are crucial to a progressing labor.  You can wrap your arms up around their neck and shoulders and let your knees relax a little.  They can hold your body weight between contractions so you can rest.  You can also turn around so that your back is to their front and rest/relax onto their body.

Squatting on Edge of Bed with Squat Bar

Most hospitals have a bar that attaches to the end of the hospital bed called a squat bar.  If you squat at the edge of the bed, you can use the bar under your arms or with your hands to help hold your weight up in a squat.  You're upright, your hips and pelvis are open, and you can be supported a little extra by your partner.  Sometimes the bar can make your underarms a bit sore.  Just wrap a towel and then a sheet over it and you should be fine.  Because it's often instinctual to birth your baby in a squat position, you can talk to your care provider about using that squat bar during the pushing and birth phase, too!

Side Lying with Leg Propped (Peanut Ball or pillows)

The reality is, sometimes you will want to lay down.  Either to rest, or because you simply feel more comfortable when you're lying down. If that's the case, that's okay!  If your legs need a little break, laying down can give you a chance to regain some strength, take the pressure of baby's head off of your cervix for a bit, and give you a chance to relax and maybe nap in between contractions before getting back up.  Laying down doesn't have to look like laying flat on your back, though!  If you're laying in the bed with the head of the bed leaned back a bit (so, not sitting straight up), you can roll over to your side.  You want to lay as far over as you can, so you're basically laying on the side of your big baby belly.  Ask your nurses if they have a peanut ball.  It's a large exercise ball that is in the shape of a peanut.  You place it between your legs and your top leg kind of swings over your body and the ball to rest on top of the ball.  If they don't have a peanut ball, you can use pillows between your legs or slide the little side table on wheels over and swing your leg over top of that, supported by pillows.  You may need the support of a few extra pillows either in front of or behind you to keep you feeling stable.  In this position, you can be still be attached to the monitors, rest a little, and still have your pelvis opened wide to give baby some space to continue doing his job and moving down!

 

Of course, one of the best things you can do for yourself before your birthing time is to hire a doula to join you.  You don't want to have to think about all of these things when you're in labor and try to remember these positions!  A great doula will be able to guide you to the most helpful and comfortable positions without disrupting the flow of your labor.  Contact us if you have questions about these positions or the policies about monitoring of the hospital you're planning to deliver in!

 

THRIVE Spotlight: Catie Pusey

We're over the moon about the newest member of THRIVE's Postpartum & Infant Care Doula team, Catie Pusey.  We want you to get to know the real Catie, so we are sharing some fun facts about her today.  If you want to read the other team members' spotlights, here are Maria's, Elisha's, Chloe's, and Meisha's


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  1. I have two yellow labs, three chickens, and a rescue duck who thinks she is a chicken! 

  2. I am a registered nurse. I have worked in the Operating Room for the past three years, spending most of my time in Orthopedic surgeries. 

  3. I am obsessed with the Outlander series & John Mayer... not that the two have any correlation.

  4. We do not have cable or internet at our house. HAHA and we are all surviving just fine :) 

  5. I'm really into creating family traditions with my family especially around the holidays ( I don't know why). I can't believe my husband actually goes along with the things I ask him to do. He is a good sport. 

  6. I have been known to stay up ALL NIGHT long to finish a book. I can't even let myself read lately because I have no self control...whoops. 

  7. I did one round of the Whole30 and it was the BEST sleep I have ever had. 

  8. I don't think anything smells as good as a newborn baby does. I dare someone to argue with that. 

  9. My dream vacation is traveling to Europe with my husband and daughter. 

  10. I somehow ended up on the Sailing team in college (I had never sailed before) and it was the best experience with the best people. 

Read Catie's bio here.  Learn more about postpartum and infant care doulas.  Contact us to set up a free consultation.

A Day in the Life of a Postpartum Doula

Maybe you've heard of a postpartum doula, or maybe you haven't.  It's still not a common concept on the Eastern Shore, but in other areas (like shared in this article), women are beginning to see the value in hiring help for those first few days, weeks, and months after their baby is born. 

If you're pregnant with your first baby, it's hard to envision what a postpartum doula could do to benefit your family that you couldn't really do yourself.  If you've already had a baby, you get it.  Newborn stuff is tough.  Many women feel like they don't know if they're doing everything right, if baby is getting enough to eat, getting enough sleep, crying a normal amount, pooping and peeing a normal amount, and why is it awake so much at night and not during the day, and why do my nipples hurt SO bad, and why is everyone coming over to bring me baby clothes and hold my baby while I'm exhausted, and why isn't anyone noticing the huge pile of dirty dishes, and gosh I wish they had brought lunch because I haven't eaten much since yesterday, and I certainly hope they don't notice that I haven't brushed my teeth and I smell like spit up.

A postpartum doula?  They are like angels.  They fly in at the perfect time, get you settled with whatever you need, and get to work.  They are the experts of all experts on everything postpartum and baby.  They can help you get a crying baby soothed all while making you a sandwich and showing you the best baby swaddle.  

Below is a real example of A Day in the Life of a Postpartum Doula...


8am:  The shift starts and the doula shows up right on time to the front door.  She gently knocks and lets herself in, as she's been asked to since mama doesn't want to get up with a sleeping baby to get the door.  

8:10am: It's mama's first day home alone with baby after her partner has gone back to work. She's relieved that she doesn't have to do the first day all alone.  The doula asks if she can make her something to eat for breakfast.  Mama wants oatmeal!

8:30am:  The oatmeal is warm and delicious, the kitchen is cleaned, and mama is having breakfast in her pajamas while baby is still asleep.  While she eats, the doula sits with her and they talk about how last night went and how mama and baby were basically up all night on and off while baby struggled to feed and get back to sleep.

9am:  They make a plan for mama to get some rest during the day so that she can have some energy in case the next night doesn't go so well.  The doula runs a bath for mama and baby to take together (at the mother's request).  They nurse in the bathtub and baby seems happy and alert now.  The mom is grateful that her doula is there, because it's actually quite difficult to get in and out of a bathtub holding a newborn while you're both all wet!  The doula wraps baby up in a towel and grabs a clean diaper and and footie pajamas while the mom gets dried and dressed.

9:30am: Mama settles into bed with a white noise machine and doula promises to wake her if baby gets fussy.  Mama gives the doula permission to wrap baby up in her Moby wrap to keep her happy while the doula gets a few things done around the house.  The doula is a pro at the Moby, so in no time, baby is snuggled up safely, they turn some music on, and get to work.

11am (1.5 hours later):  Baby has been asleep for about an hour in the Moby, dinner is prepped for that evening, the doula unpacked all of the baby gifts that were received in the last two weeks and threw the new clothes in the washer to be cleaned before wearing.  Mama wakes, comes out of her room in her clean clothes, well rested, and is happy to see that there aren't a multitude of gift bags and tissue paper laying all over the living room floor anymore.

11:30am: Baby wakes and the doula takes her out of the wrap and brings her to her mama.  The doula sets mama up with an iced tea, some chips and hummus, and a lactation cookie on the couch so she can nurse the baby.

11:45am: Mama and doula sit on the couch together snacking and chatting about how her birth experience was.  Mama comments on how nice it is to have someone to talk to about it who doesn't carry judgments about her decision to get an epidural.  She said she is a little nervous to share it with some of her friends who birthed without pain meds.  They talk about how mama is feeling physically, and she asks the doula if it's normal to still have some bleeding after two weeks.  The doula assures her that all of her physical symptoms seem perfectly normal for this stage of postpartum. The mom laughs that she feels totally comfortable talking about her vaginal bleeding and nipple soreness with someone she's only met once!

12:30pm: Mama asks her doula if she can help her with a swaddle before laying the sleeping baby girl down.  The doula shows her favorite swaddle and gently lays her down in the bassinet in the living room.  The doula turns "Parenthood" on Netflix on Season 1, Episode 1 because this mama has never seen it before! #insanity.  The doula grabs all of the veggies, fajita spices, and chicken that she prepped from this morning and throws it into the Crockpot so it will be ready around 5:30pm tonight for dinner.  She cleans up the kitchen from lunch and dinner prep and switches the laundry to the dryer.

1:15pm: Baby is awake and seriously screaming.  Mama tries to nurse her, but she's too upset to settle down and latch.  Mama walks her up and down the halls for what seems like forever, and just when she's about to lose it, the doula asks if she can try something.  The doula shows mama about the 5 S's from the Happiest Baby on the Block book.  The doula quickly swaddles baby back up, cradles her on her side in her arms, walks to the bedroom where it's darker, cooler, and turns the white noise machine back on.  She "shhhhh"s gently and close to the baby's ear, and swings the baby back and forth while gently patting her bum.  After a few moments, the baby settles down, the new mom's jaw drops (naturally), and they get set up in the bed to nurse again.  The doula turns the TV on in the bedroom to pick up where they left off in Parenthood.

1:45pm: The doula folds the new baby clothes from the dryer, places them in the dresser in the nursery, and gets mama a new glass of water, a chocolate bar, and some leftover pasta salad in a bowl and brings it to her in bed while they're still nursing.

2pm: Dad promised to come home from work early on his first day.  Just as he is walking in the door, the doula is gathering her things to head home. She says she'll see them the next morning at 8am and promises to teach mama all about how to wrap that baby in the Moby wrap!


Seriously.  Postpartum doulas are that awesome.  If you're expecting, now is the best time to have a free consultation with a postpartum doula to see what they can offer you.  If you're already home with a baby of any age and feel like you could really use some extra help, reassurance, and company, give us a call and we'll be there!

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The Magic Hours

Those first few hours after birth are so special and sacred.  You just experienced the most intensity that your body can physically handle.  Then you experience extreme joy, relief, shock, and euphoria, and it's all quite overwhelming.  The day that a baby is born is my favorite day.  It was my favorite for the births of my own babies.  It felt so surreal.  Almost like the world stopped turning, just for us.  Sometimes it's full of smiles and sometimes it's full of wide eyes.  And both are absolutely perfect.  

I have a friend who shared with me the story of her first birth.  Even though it was 7-8 years ago, one of the things that sticks out in her mind is the memory of how her OB disappeared after the baby was born.  No "congratulations" or anything.  Wasn't that just a really big moment?  The birth of her first baby?!  Surely it deserves a little more fanfare than that.  


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THRIVE's most popular service is placenta encapsulation.  I often get the experience of being invited into that sacred space during the magic hours.  It's quite the career!  

That moment, when you're picking up a placenta.  It's special.  And it's beautiful.  And not very many people get invited to join it.  Many people will live their lives and never experience the feeling in a room when a new life has just entered.  And I'll never forget that while I'm working.  And I'll never turn it into just "going through the motions" and treating it as a simple pick-up job.  Not only does it have an impact on the mother, baby, and family how they're treated after birth, but I would be truly missing out on something so special if I didn't take a moment to be present and soak it all in.

The importance and desire to share your birth story is in our DNA.  I often get to hear it when it's still fresh and raw.  I'm not a staff member who sees tons of birth every day and who says "Yeah, that happens all the time."  

I get to be the person who says "Wow! That's amazing!"

I get to be the person who quietly slips in, checks in with the mother to see how she's doing, listens if she wants to share, congratulates her, and leaves with a smile.  

We believe that all of our work is important.  Not just when we're the doula, attending the birth.  

We want to always leave the labor and delivery room making people feel better than when we entered it.

How to Have an Epidural Birth

We've shared doula tips for having cesareans, inductions, and natural births.  But what if you're planning or considering an epidural?  Most women do get epidural anesthesia--in fact, 95% do in our local hospital.  Why not be prepared?  Read on to learn how to have an epidural!


1. As always, know what to expect.

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Talk with your care providers, your doula, and/or other women who have birthed in the same place as you.  Figure out what their normal routines and procedures are.  They vary between hospital to hospital.  But, in a general sense, this is what you can expect.  When you request the epidural for yourself, your nurse will need to get the anesthesiologist.  The anesthesiologist isn't always readily available, so be aware that you may not get the relief of the epidural the moment you ask for it.  Sometimes, if you ask your nurses what the anesthesiologist's schedule looks like, they may be able to give you a general idea of when to get the epidural.  Something like "Well, she's available right now, but if you want to hold off for a little while, she may not be back for another hour or so since she will be in two more procedures." 

First, you'll be hooked up to IV fluids (if you haven't already).  Once you get the anesthesiologist in your room, he/she will instruct you to sit perfectly still.  I know.  You're in labor.  That's nearly impossible.  But they're pretty good at guiding you through the experience and moving quickly in-between contractions.  The best thing you can do is relax, stay perfectly still, and breathe deeply.  It may hurt more if you're tense.

Your mid to lower-back will be sterilized with an antiseptic, and you may be given a small local anesthetic to numb the area.  You may be asked to lie on your side or to bend over and sometimes bring your knees up to curl your body around your belly.  Then, a longer needle will be placed into the epidural space in your spine.  The needle is then removed and leaves a thin catheter in place, which is what the drug will be delivered.  The catheter is taped to your back so that it doesn't move out of place.  Some people describe this as quite painful and others say it wasn't so bad.  The key is to relax.

After just a few moments, the nerve endings will begin to numb and most people who experience 100% pain relief will report it by 10-15 minutes.  A urinary catheter will likely be placed shortly after the epidural.  

2. Decide if you want one early on or later BEFORE you get to the hospital.

The reason why I wouldn't just "wing it" is because you may get too many conflicting opinions when you get there.  One nurse may say to go ahead and get your epidural if you know you want one.  Your partner may say to hold off as long as you can.  And your mother in law might tell you to do whatever the nurse says.  You're in labor, so it's really difficult to think critically--and you shouldn't have to!  If you have a plan before you go, you can work toward those goals.  And if plans need to change, such is life.

When I polled friends, family, and clients about their epidural experiences, I was told by so many people not to wait and to get it right away!  And then an equal amount told me that they would either wait as long as possible or not get it again at all!  So, you have to decide what is right for you and figure out why you're making those decisions.

3. Learn the risks and benefits.

The benefit seems obvious: pain relief.  But it can mean so much more! Believe it or not, this doula won't tell you that the epidural is the devil.  If you've been in labor for 3 days, you may need the sleep more than you need the epidural!  Or if you're becoming fearful and holding lots of tension in your body and having a difficult time relaxing into your contractions, an epidural may help you relax enough to open up and help your body do this hard work.

Understanding that there are risks is important too, and when I hear from people that they regret their epidurals, it's most often because they experienced some side effect or risk that they either weren't aware of or didn't expect that it would happen to them.  This article provides an in-depth look at the evidence of risks for epidurals.

4. Take a quality childbirth education course.

The reality is--even if you want an epidural as soon as you arrive at the hospital, there will be time when you're laboring without one.  The admission process itself often takes an hour or so.  Sometimes labor moves so quickly that you're rushing out the door, and into a hospital bed, and a baby is ready to be born.  Sometimes, the epidural doesn't work.  Or it only works on one side of your body. 

So, it's best to be as prepared as possible for any scenario.  If you're on the Eastern Shore, we offer a class which is designed to give you the tools for moving through labor without an epidural.  Women who are planning epidurals or are open to them still gain so much information and tips about what to expect and how to move through labor with or without an epidural in a judgement-free zone.

5. Hire a doula.

Bring someone who is educated on the process of labor, birth, epidurals, and everything in-between.  For instance, did you know that you actually CAN still move with an epidural?!  It's tricky, but it's possible.  And research shows that labors are 50% shorter when the birthing woman alternates between upright and laying positions.  A doula is trained to help you move around with all of those tubes and wires.  And they're experienced in guiding you into positions that may be helpful for your labor to progress, all while helping to hold you up if you're numb.  Knowing what to expect and having someone there to support you no matter what is invaluable.  In the meantime, check out this article, which describes some of the common things that people don't expect with an epidural.

If you've had an epidural, do you have anything to add to this list?

Special Beginnings Birth & Women's Center: Thank you!

What a powerful experience I just had as an encapsulation specialist!  THRIVE had a placenta encapsulation client who planned a birth at Special Beginnings Birth & Women's Center in Arnold, MD.  I got the call that she had delivered her baby and was headed home in a few hours.  At most freestanding birthing centers, they send new moms and families home after just 4-8 hours!  I met her at her own home less than 10 hours after she gave birth.  I knocked quietly, expecting a tired mama and maybe sleeping baby.  But instead, I was greeted at the door by the baby's father and ushered inside to what seriously looked like a party!  Nearly 15 family members were gathered in a circle in the living room, resting on couches and chairs, celebrating this birth with beer and wine.  They all acknowledged me with a big smile and happy greeting.  And that's when I saw my client.  She was hanging out in a chair, looking radiant, and holding a precious sleeping brand new baby.  She leaped up and walked over to introduce me to their gorgeous daughter!  

She told me about her amazing delivery at Special Beginnings and how their midwives were fantastic.  She shared that she felt 100% prepared for her birth after she attended Thrive's childbirth education class.  She seemed so lively, excited, and happy to have her baby in her arms.  I stayed for a little while, chatting with her family and hearing all about how proud they were of her and grateful they were to her midwives and staff at the birth center.  Before her husband walked me out, he told me how amazing Special Beginnings was and how well they were treated.  They made it easy for the birthing family to keep their placenta and assisted their desired natural birth with compassion and skill.  He told me that they even complimented them for being so well prepared for labor.  He made my day when he told me that he learned all about supporting her from our class!

Every time I pick up a placenta, whether at home or in hospital, it's always amazing, special, and sacred to be in the presence of a new mother and fresh baby.  But this was the first time I walked into a party!  Thank you so much, Special Beginnings, for serving our community.  Thank you for making placenta encapsulation for our community easy and low-stress.  Thank you for giving them the opportunity to celebrate their new baby in their home surrounded by loved ones.  And thank you for offering options for our women and families!

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How to Have a Natural Birth

Here's Part III of a four-part series of tools and tips from us, Thrive Birth Services of Delmarva, on achieving a positive birth experience--no matter what the type of birth!  Don't forget to visit How to Have a Cesarean and How to Have an Induction!  And keep your eyes out for the next in the series, How to Have an Epidural Birth.


There are some important things to know if you're planning a natural birth in this modern world of birthing.  #1) Some (not all) people will think you're nuts.  #2) They might tell you rude things like "Oh just WAIT until labor starts.  You'll change your mind."  #3) They are probably coming from a place of good intention, but the only person who has any say in this birth is YOU.  The birthing woman.  You have the right to block all of that noise.  You have the right to shout it from the rooftops and you have the right to tell no one your plans and desires.  #4) You need to be prepared.  This isn't the old days where we birthed in a tent with our family and friends.  This new world of birth is completely different! "Winging it" it not a realistic option if you want a birth without pain medications because when we don't know what to expect, we don't know what's normal.  And when you don't know what's normal and what's not, it's easy to become fearful very quickly.  You need to be prepared!  And with that, here are our best tips for How to Have a Natural Birth!

1. Gather your team and choose the best birthing location for you.

Is your team a group practice of OBs and midwives?  Is it a midwifery practice?  A private OB?  What are your options for birthing locations?  On the Eastern Shore, we have a few, but they are spread out over the entire peninsula.  PRMC in Salisbury, UMD Shore Regional Health in Easton, Beebe Medical Center in Lewes, DE, Special Beginnings Birth & Women's Center in Arnold, MDNanticoke Health Services in Seaford, DE, The Birth Center in Wilmington, DE, and home birth.  Find the care provider who makes you feel most comfortable.  Which care providers make you feel like you can relax and ask questions?  What are the policies, procedures, and routines of the birthing location you're planning to go to?  

2. Take a childbirth education class that is specific to your goals.

Childbirth is something that many, many women do, yet it's something that isn't seen anywhere except in the media.  When all we know about childbirth is the short clip from "Knocked Up", it's a little challenging to relax into your contractions!  Take the time and register for a class that will give you all of the information you need about what to expect through a natural childbirth, how to manage your labor, how your partner can best support you, and give you the time and space to ask questions and discuss the fears and concerns that are specific to you. If you're planning a birth in a hospital and choose an out-of-hospital birthing class, be sure that your facilitator can give you the information you need regarding your hospital's particular policies, procedures, and admission process.  And if they can't, find that info elsewhere!  If you're on the Eastern Shore and desire a natural birth, our one-day workshop How to Have a Natural Birth is perfect for you!

3. Read, read, read.

Whether you take a one day or 12-week childbirth education course, it's impossible to cover everything you could ever learn about childbirth!  Surround yourself with positive birth stories.  Read articles, blogs, and websites that share the information you need to learn about birth, pregnancy, parenting, interventions, etc.  Our favorite websites are BellyBelly, Birth Without Fear, Indie Birth, Evidence Based Birth, and THRIVE's blog, of course!  And our favorite books to read are in this blog.

4. Hire a doula!

A doula is trained specifically to be present during your pregnancy, labor, birth, and postpartum for physical, emotional, and informational support.  Doulas are amazingly observant, compassionate, caring, and fun!  If you want a natural birth, interview a doula, find a good fit, and then spend time getting to know them.  They will be your best friend in pregnancy and labor!  They know everything about labor and birth and are fantastic at making you feel comfortable, safe, and like you can do it!  They will likely be the only expert on childbirth in the room who isn't a stranger AND the only one who is with you the whole time, instead of in and out.  Your partner will benefit from knowing that everything is normal and how they can best support you, too!  At THRIVE, we have the best doulas on Delmarva who have experience with hospital, home, and birth center natural births!

5. TRUST this process.

Sure, birth isn't perfect. Goodness knows it hardly ever goes "as planned".  Being aware that your plan isn't necessarily how life goes is important.  But it's also important to acknowledge that the majority of labors and births are normal and healthy.  From my experience as a childbirth educator, doula, mother, and friend, the women who go into the experience with the thought that there was no other way except the way without pain medications are usually the ones who get the natural birth that they desire.  Stick your mind to it and trust your body and the birth process.  It was designed beautifully and it's POSSIBLE.  I've never met a mother who regretted it ;-)

Beebe Healthcare: THANK YOU!

Recently, I picked up a placenta for an encapsulation client from Beebe Healthcare in Lewes, DE for the first time.  I was so pleased with my experience I had to share it with our other clients and community members who may be planning a birth at Beebe!

Everything was so easy and straightforward.  I parked in the parking garage, followed the signs to Labor & Delivery (where my client was) and was greeted by a sweet nurse at the nurse's station.  I introduced myself and explained that I was there to see a client for encapsulation.  She went to my client's room to check and make sure it was okay that I come in now (as you know--sometimes things can be overwhelming after birth and I think she was being polite by asking first before busting in the room with me).  After getting the okay, I went in to see a quiet, clean room, where the new daddy was sitting in a comfy chair holding a freshly born and freshly swaddled warm and healthy baby.  My client was showering with the help of another nurse.  I talked to daddy for a few minutes and then was greeted by my client, who looked clean, happy, and beautiful!  She had just given birth 3 hours ago and was on her feet, with a huge smile, embracing me!  She recounted her birth story while her nurse was close by smiling and complimenting how great she did in labor.  

The nurse asked me a few questions about placenta encapsulation and asked if she packaged and stored the placenta properly with Thrive's transportation kit.  She did, of course.  My client complimented the nurse, her midwife, and the staff at Beebe multiple times, as she had a great birthing experience.  

A few weeks ago, this client's care provider at Bayside Health Association raised a few concerns and questions about encapsulation and encouraged her to get in touch with me and ask about my safety and sanitation practices, and my opinion about encapsulation under certain circumstances.  I was so grateful to be able to share my knowledge and expertise with my client and help to clear some things up with her providers, who were looking out for her safety!  How amazing that they brought important information to her attention and then gave her the freedom to do her own research.  When she reported back after speaking with me, they were on board!

I was so impressed with how easy and simple the encapsulation process was, how amazing my client was treated, how relaxed and at ease the staff was, and how open they were to talking with me and sharing.  Beebe Healthcare: I'll be back!

--Maria Mengel, Owner of THRIVE and Placenta Encapsulation Specialist

How to Have an Induction

Last month we shared  a blog post called How to Have a Cesarean.  Today we're back because we want to share more tips and tools for whatever type of birth you're planning.  Keep an eye out for How to Have A Natural Birth and How to Have an Epidural... coming soon!

This blog is for the women who are either planning an induction or who are getting as educated as possible in case an induction is wanted or needed in your future.  There is a lot of conflicting information out there about inductions and their necessity, their importance, and their side effects or risks.  In fact, when we polled clients, friends, and family, we got answers ranging from "Don't do it!" to "It was really convenient to plan around my other children's schedules."  

1. Be clear on WHY you're having an induction.

Knowledge is power.  Make sure you understand whether your induction is recommended, medically necessary, or if you're the one who is requesting one, why you feel like it's the best route for you.  I've heard many times from women who say that their inductions were recommended and they ended up regretting them.  However, I've heard an equal number of stories that went the other direction.  They were medically necessary and thank goodness they happened when they did!  The reality is that when you look back on your birth experience, most women like to connect all the dots of their baby's story.  If you can make the dots very clear beforehand, it will be easier to remember a positive story instead of one of confusion and doubt.

If you're an evidence and research person, take some time and figure out all of the risks and benefits of an induction to see if it's right for you.  Not everyone is comfortable with the risks, and yet some people feel like the benefits outweigh them.  Every situation is different!  Talk to your care provider about the risks and how they are handled in their specific practice.

2. Ask questions about the process and what to expect.

There is more than one way for an induction to happen.  Make sure that you are aware of all of the steps necessary for a successful induction with your own care provider.  Sometimes, the first step (a foley bulb) is inserted to encourage dilation and stimulate labor.  Sometimes it does stimulate labor and sometimes it doesn't.  Don't be surprised if step one doesn't result in active labor!  Figure out what those next steps will be.  Often, the next step will be using labor-inducing medications (like pitocin) or manually breaking the bag of waters.  Figure out what you can expect from every step of the process so that you can prepare.  And be aware that sometimes inductions last a few hours and a baby is in your arms.  But sometimes an induction will last much, much longer.  Be prepared for a long induction and be pleasantly surprised if it is short!  Ask your care provider, ask your doula, and ask your friends who have been through an induction before what that looked like for them so you can hear a range of possibilities.

The #1 piece of advice that women gave when asked was to be prepared for the pitocin contractions.  Contractions while being given labor-inducing medications are notoriously intense.  Prepare yourself mentally for an intense experience (although you were already doing that--because all birth is intense!)  If you're already planning an epidural, ask your nurses when they would recommend getting one--they're not readily available at any second!  Make sure you have some tools for coping with labor before you get the epidural.  If you're planning a pain-med-free labor and birth, make sure you get prepared for how to make sure that happens!

3. Take advantage of the convenience, but don't forget...

Let's be real here.  Knowing that day of your birth has some serious benefits!  You can schedule childcare, have your bags packed, know the route to the hospital with the least traffic at that time of day, plan ahead with food and drinks for your family, make sure the car seat is in the car safely, and go out to dinner the night before for your last date night!  BUT.  Don't forget this important tip:  Be prepared anyway.  Because you could go into labor anytime!  Just because your induction is scheduled next week doesn't mean that you won't go into labor tonight.  Be prepared for a spontaneous labor just in case.

4. Ask for your Bishop's Score.

There's a handy little method to determine the likelihood of having a successful induction! A Bishop's Score gives points to 5 measurements of a vaginal exam and then, after adding them up, you can place your number on a scale of how likely (in general) your induction will end in a vaginal delivery.   Check out this Bishop's Score Calculator if you want to figure it out yourself!

5. Do oxytocin-boosting activities! 

Granted, pitocin is the synthetic form of oxytocin, and if you're receiving that via IV, you'll have a lot in your body!  However, the real stuff, the "love hormone", oxytocin, is what makes the world go round!  It's necessary in the making of the baby, it's necessary in the birth of the baby, and then it's necessary in the bonding between baby, mother, and family!  

Oxytocin is the hormone in labor that stimulates your uterine contractions.  Even though you have pitocin to help, you can do your part to make sure that you're as comfortable as possible and make the process as smooth and quick as possible.  Oxytocin-boosting activities are things that make you feel good!  Hugs or kisses with your partner, laughing and smiling, talking/singing/reading to your baby, focus on visualizing the moment you meet your baby, and keeping someone close by who you trust.

6. Hire a Doula!

There are a lot of factors involved with an induced birth.  Make sure you have someone on your side who can answer your questions, facilitate communication with your care providers, make sure you're as calm and relaxed as possible, facilitate oxytocin-boosting activities, and be with you every step of the way.  We have attended some beautiful inductions--some of which were planned ahead of time and some that were only decided that day; some that were without pain meds and some that were with an epidural.  The process is less intimidating if you have support and someone who can give you the information you need.  If you want to learn more about what it looks like to have a doula at your birth, contact us for an informational packet and a free consultation!

What advice do you have to add for someone planning an induction?

THRIVE Spotlight: Meisha Shockley

We're thrilled, honored, and excited to be adding Meisha Shockley to the THRIVE team as a postpartum and infant care doula!  As with all of our other doulas, we want you to get to know the real Meisha.  That's why we're putting the "spotlight" on Meisha to share 10 fun facts about herself!  Don't forget to check out Elisha's, Maria's, and Chloe's spotlights, too!


1. I love to travel! I want to visit every state at least once.

2. I have a family full of girls. 3 daughters and even our fish is a female.  That means my poor husband is way out numbered.

3. I'm slightly obsessed about mental health. I have a BA in rehabilitation and I cant get enough of it! I love keeping myself up to date on the newest diagnoses and when no one is around I like watching documentaries.

4. Christmas is a way of life; a feeling you carry in your heart throughout the year. I literally count down the days every.single.year.

5. Two things that strangely make me happy are 1) city lights, and 2) watching snow fall at night.

6. I was born and raised in NY. I love visiting but I think I've gotten use to the quietness of country living.

7. Seafood above any other food. No questions asked.

8. Every time I travel somewhere new I find the nearest Target and check it out.

9. Moms are my favorite people ever. I love it when I meet a fresh momma who is in her honeymoon phase with her baby. That raw love and emotion that mommas carry in their postpartum period is pure MAGIC!

10. I'm a picture freak. I take pictures all-of-the-time. I have like a thousand photo albums at home.

Learn more about postpartum and infant care doulas.  Contact us to set up a free consultation.

The Home Birth of Cora Eleanor Mai

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


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

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

This baby would be born at home.

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

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

----

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Breath as an anchor.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We are surrounded with love.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Why Women are Hiring a Postpartum Doula

Anyone who has experienced childbirth and the subsequent postpartum time with a newborn certainly knows it is no easy task.  Our bodies are healing from birthing our babies, we're tired, our hormones are on a roller coaster, and we're spending so much time learning to feed and love our babies that there's little time for anything else.  

Before we became a culture of nuclear families (family groups consisting of a pair of adults and their children--and sometimes only one adult and children), we drew support from our communities and extended families during this crucial time.  Our community of women took care of the cleaning, cooking, and care of our other children.  They assisted us with the important first few weeks of establishing an excellent breastfeeding and sleeping relationship with our babies.  They guided us through the unknown waters of life as a mother and shared with us that what we were experiencing was normal.  They were the gentle and reassuring experts of postpartum and mothering.  As they say, "it takes a village".  Unfortunately, in our culture and society, that village doesn't exist anymore.

Your postpartum doula brings the village to you.

Research reveals that the early postpartum time has an impact on divorce rates, breastfeeding, mental health, and eating habits.  Investing in the health and happiness of your family by hiring a postpartum doula is a step that you can make to ensure that you and your family are thriving in your first few weeks and months of change.  Thrive Birth Services of Delmarva offers postpartum packages to support our community in achieving optimal health and happiness in this most precious time.  

Did you hire a postpartum doula after your birth?  Do you wish you had?  If you have questions, check out our postpartum doula page or contact us for more information.

The First Year... Documented.

The reason why THRIVE exists:  to serve our community.  We believe that when birth is better, women and babies are better.  And when women and babies are better, communities are better.  We want to do our part to make sure that the Delmarva community can not just survive, but THRIVE!  We're here to share what we've been up to in the past year since we launched our business and to share what we're planning next year!

In the last 365 days:

All in all, it was a very busy first year of business!  Get ready, because we've got grand plans for Year Two.  The Second Annual Salisbury Mom & Baby Expo is in the works for next Spring and it's going to be bigger and better!  The Delmarva Diaper Drive is expanding this Fall because we're committed to serving not just the families who have the means to purchase birth services, but everyone that makes Delmarva what it is.  And tomorrow, (because we can't just stop there) we're announcing a new service and a new team member!

Thank you, Delmarva, for helping us make our community better. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to support you through the most life-changing and incredible experience of your lives.  We're truly honored.  

THRIVE's First Year Statistics

Here we are.  One year later.  Tomorrow is the first birthday of Thrive Birth Services of Delmarva and because we're just so darn excited, we'll be celebrating all week.  We're so grateful to our community, our friends, and our families for giving us the opportunity to serve the community we love doing the work that we love.  Because we know that everyone loves a good round of statistics, we are happy to share them with you.  

Did you know that the research actually supports hiring a doula?  Evidence shows that when women have the continuous support of a trained labor doula, their birth outcomes are drastically better.  Yes, really! When supported by a trained labor doula during labor and birth, women experienced a:

  • 31% decrease in the use of Pitocin

  • 28% decrease in the risk of C-section

  • 12% increase in the likelihood of a spontaneous vaginal birth

  • 9% decrease in the use of any medications for pain relief

  • 14% decrease in the risk of newborns being admitted to a special care nursery

  • 34% decrease in the risk of being dissatisfied with the birth experience

Can you guess which one is most important to us?  I'll tell you.  It's the last one!  While those other statistics bode very well for our profession, can be very important to some people, and truly are the reason why many women decide to call us, what about the women who call us saying they want a doula AND an epidural?  What about our client who desired a scheduled cesarean?  What about the woman whose baby had a birth defect and whose newborn required a NICU team to be alive?  Guess what?  We supported them completely, just like all the others!  There are doulas who keep track of their clients' cesarean rates, their epidural rates, and their induction rates. We're thrilled to report that we have been honored to serve 32 families this past year and we'd like to share THRIVE'S statistics: 

  • 100% of Thrive's clients felt completely and unequivocally supported in all of their choices regarding their pregnancies, births, and postpartum experiences.

  • 100% of Thrive's doula clients felt safe and trusting of their doula during their labor and birth.

  • 100% of Thrive's clients knew that they could ask us any question, any time... without judgement or bias.

  • 100% of Thrive's clients worked with a doula who was a true expert in all things pregnancy, birth, and postpartum.

  • 100% of Thrive's childbirth education participants had a positive experience and learned so much!

  • 100% of Thrive's placenta encapsulation clients have reported positive benefits from their capsules!

  • 100% of Thrive's clients hired a professional and received exactly what was outlined in their contracts... and so, so much more!

  • 100% of Thrive's clients have reported that they would recommend THRIVE Birth Services of Delmarva to their friends and family.

Wouldn't it be awesome if every pregnant woman on the Eastern Shore could say that?! ^^^

This is the standard to which we hold ourselves accountable.  It's not just about declining the epidural. (Although, if that's what you want, we will do our best to help you prepare for a pain-med-free labor and be there to support you every step of the way!).  It's about looking back at your birth with a smile.  It's about telling the story of your birth to your baby one day and being able to say "You were so incredibly loved the day you were born.  You were surrounded by people who were there just to make you and mommy and our whole family have the best day of our lives on the most important day of our lives."

How to Have a Cesarean

We're planning to share some awesome insider tips for all expecting women or families who are planning pregnancies in the future!  We're asking friends, past clients, current clients, doulas, midwives, community members, and women on social media about tips for specific types of births.  First up is How to Have a Cesarean!  Keep an eye out for How to Have an Induction, Epidural Birth, and Natural Birth :-)  

This blog is for all of the women who are planning births in the future!  You may be planning a cesarean and excitedly looking forward to it!  You may be planning one and a little hesitant or nervous.  You may be planning a vaginal birth, but this information can be helpful to you too!  Whether it's planned, it's an emergency, it's elective, or it's not even something you wanted...  the truth is, no one is immune to cesarean birth.  The most well educated and prepared parents planning a natural birth may have major surgery in the very backs of their minds.  And while birth is normal and healthy most of the time, there are times when a cesarean is the healthiest and safest way to deliver a baby.  Being prepared beforehand can make the process easier, more comfortable, and less scary. 

catiecesarean.jpg

1. Get Educated!  

When I asked my past and current clients, friends, and family who had positive experiences with their c-sections, I most often heard that their experience was positive because they knew what to expect.  Of course, any time we experience a situation that is completely unknown, fear is more likely.  Do some reading.  Read birth stories of empowering cesarean sections... even if you're not planning one.  That way you know how the process works so that if you find yourself in a place where a c-section IS necessary, you've got knowledge on your side.  This article is great for preparing for a cesarean.

Cesarean birth can come with things that are unpleasant (not unlike vaginal birth--just different things!).  Learn what medication you'll likely be given, learn about the side effects, and learn how to stay as healthy as possible through it all.  Read about the hormonal changes (and how they may differ from a vaginal birth), the incision healing, and what to expect through the surgery itself.  

Don't forget to include your partner in this education!  When you receive your anesthesia for the procedure, whether it's an emergency or not, your partner usually has to wait outside.  It can be very frightening not to know what's going on or why certain things are happening.  If he or she is well prepared, the anxiety level can come down (at least a little bit!).  It might help for both of you to speak with others who have gone through a cesarean birth before or read birth stories online to understand what it may actually feel like.

2. Choose the BEST care provider.

Choose a care provider that you trust.  When your birthing time comes around, you'll be so thankful that you're experiencing this life-changing day with someone who you chose responsibly.  100% of the people who shared their positive experiences with me had positive things to say about their OBs, midwives, anesthesiologists, and nurses.  The anesthesiologist plays an important role in the whole process and as one person shared,

"Aside from your surgeon/baby doctor, the anesthesiologist is your best friend. They can help you with any of your needs during surgery...nausea, etc. Both of my anesthesiologists have been great, and have talked me through the surgery as it was happening in "real time". With the birth of my second daughter, I had a lot of sickness and he was able to calm me down and help me feel better medically during the surgery. You just have to voice your needs!"

If a cesarean is not on your birth plan, still be sure to choose a care provider who you trust.  So that, if a cesarean is recommended, you'll feel reassured to know that it was in fact a necessary medical intervention for you or your baby's safety.

3. Prepare for your birth.

If it's a planned C section, take a deep breath before entering the room. It's a little strange to walk into the OR on your own, seeing it so sterile and serious. It literally looks just like the movies . Focus on your partner, the head nurse, and/or your doula if that type of environment bothers you. If you think it's cool, look around...it's actually neat to check it all out!  If you are nervous, turn to your nurses!  They do most of the prep, instruction giving, etc. Follow their lead, ask them questions, tell them if you are nervous...nurses can be so friendly and calming.

Ask if it's possible to to listen to music in the OR!  Sometimes they give the option to play a Pandora station of your choice or a playlist from your phone.  This could really calm your nerves and give you a chance to focus on the music while you're being prepped.  And your baby can be born to your favorite music!

4. Prepare for your postpartum.

EVERYONE told me this.  Know what to expect with your body and your baby and do what you can to make the best of your postpartum experience.  Whether it's purchasing a belly brace, hiring a postpartum doula to support you after birth (we can help you with that!), accepting those meals and assistance around the house, preparing freezer meals in pregnancy, or getting your placenta encapsulated, make a plan.

Co-sleepers can be your best friend, especially if you'll be nursing.  Baby stays close to you at night for night feedings so that you don't need to bend over too far, or walk across the house to nurse. And please, please, please rest.  Rest as much as you can (other than the occasional bathroom or shower break, which are actually recommended!).  

Gather your supplies: a nice salve for your incision, high-waisted undies, and stretchy pants.  Keep all of your essentials on your end table in the hospital and at home so you don't need to go walking around the house or up and down the stairs too frequently: healthy snacks, lots of water, your meds, pacifiers, nipple cream, incision salve, mints, and your book, kindle, or TV remote!

Shared by a local 3 time cesarean mama: " Most importantly, love your C section birth. You don't have to have a vaginal birth to feel like a real mom...don't let anyone make you feel less due to having the C section. Giving birth is hard and beautiful no matter how it happens!"

**If you've had an amazing cesarean, what else would you add to this list?**

Placenta Encapsulation: Say What?!

Pictured (from the left): Amber glass jar full of completed placenta capsules, placenta print on watercolor paper, suggestions for storage and dosage, postnatal vitamins donated by Community Pharmacy in Salisbury, umbilical cord keepsake in "love" shape, and gift bag to keep it all safe :-)

Pictured (from the left): Amber glass jar full of completed placenta capsules, placenta print on watercolor paper, suggestions for storage and dosage, postnatal vitamins donated by Community Pharmacy in Salisbury, umbilical cord keepsake in "love" shape, and gift bag to keep it all safe :-)

When you hear "placenta encapsulation", you might think “Cool!” or “What the heck is that?” or “That’s disgusting!” or some combination of the three!  We get a variety of these responses all the time!  Here's what you need to know:

Almost all mammals consume their placenta after birth!  The benefits can include: replaced iron after blood loss from birth, enhanced Vitamin B levels for increased energy levels, stabilizing hormones postpartum, increased milk production, hormones responsible for pain relief and healing from labor and birth, and lessened likelihood or severity of postpartum depression. These hormone responses are for physical and physiological protective reasons and are studied and evidence-backed—protaglandins stimulate involution (uterus shrinking back to its normal size), oxytocin influences stress responses and milk production and ejection, and endorphins assist with pain relief.

You may ask: “Okay, sure.  Mammals in the wild.  But why us?”  But our past clients would ask: “Why not?!”  Your placenta was created by your body and was designed specifically for your body.  It’s been inside of your body for 9 straight months and you’re just re-gifting your body the benefit of this incredible organ that’s been supporting your baby.  Now it’s time for your placenta to support not just you and your baby in pregnancy, but in postpartum, too!  We, too, are mammals with the same necessary functions and hormonal process of childbirth and we’ve created a way to still reap the benefits in a much more pleasing way—in a capsule.  Placenta encapsulation is a simple process, can be done in the comfort of your own home or in your specialists’ space, and is affordable!

In a survey of women who engaged in placentophagy (placenta consumption), the majority of women reported that placentophagy was a
very positive experience (75%) or positive experience (20%). Four percent of  participants described it as slightly positive and 1% of participants selected not positive*.

That's right!  99% of women who encapsulated their placentas reported positive benefits!

The process looks like this:  Before birth, we sign a placenta agreement and you get an insulated cooler to pack in your hospital bag (pictured below). After your birth, your nurses take care of packaging and storing your placenta and you call your specialist to inform them of the delivery.  The specialist comes and picks it up.  The placenta is cut into small pieces and placed in a dehydrator to dry until all moisture is absent.  Then, the pieces are ground into a fine powder and placed into capsules.  The capsules, a cord keepsake, and instructions for dosage are packaged together and delivered to your door.  Easy as pie and you can begin taking your capsules within 24-72 hours after birth!

It sounds weird at first, admittedly.  You’re going to ingest WHAT?!  But, when I look at it this way it becomes more appealing.   Use your imagination here.  Pretend you've never heard of placenta encapsulation at all.  Now close your eyes.  Just kidding, don't close your eyes because you need to read this part:

Believe it or not, there’s a pill that is specifically designed for new postpartum mothers.  It’s 100% natural, created by your body only for your body and your baby.  It’s produced by Thrive, trusted and safe professionals with training.  It’s shown in studies that 99% of women who take this pill report positive benefits such as: increased milk production, less likelihood or severity of postpartum depression, increased energy levels, quicker and less painful recovery from childbirth, restored iron and B vitamin levels after childbirth, and overall mood stabilizing effects.  It’s safe, easy, and affordable.

Doesn't sound so bad now, does it?  If you're interested in learning more or getting started, feel free to contact us or give me a call at 410-449-0016.

*
REFERENCE

Jodi Selander , Allison Cantor , Sharon M. Young & Daniel C. Benyshek (2013):
Human Maternal Placentophagy: A Survey of Self-Reported Motivations and Experiences Associated
with Placenta Consumption, Ecology of Food and Nutrition, 52:2, 93-115

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.