Read Jessica’s birth story on her blog:
Read Jessica’s birth story on her blog:
January 18th, 1:09PM
There was a moment, just before Ellie reached a gloved hand inside of me, that I wondered if I was cheating. If my body was incapable of truly beginning labor on its own. 6 centimeters dilated, completely effaced, 42 weeks with him in my womb. I ached to feel the natural progression of things – the dance of intensifying rushes around my middle, the surprise of his waters leaving me in the middle of the night, or as I rose in the morning, or in the produce aisle of the supermarket.
“Are you ready?” Ellie asked, one hand on my thigh. I leaned against a stack of pillows and nodded. And just like that, with a swift poke and a tug and a pop, the fluid that held him for forty-one weeks and six days, was gone.
Rushes started slowly, climbing from my thighs, to the top of my belly and back again. Caitlin, my doula, diffused cinnamon and cedar wood, and KC reheated salmon and beans from the night before. The birthing room was warm and honey colored. The rain outside came and went in waves. I felt an overwhelming safety and a drumming readiness as I paced from one wall to the next. The tub rested in the middle of the room, empty and waiting.
I didn’t plan much for this birth. With Aspen still so young and needing, and labor being (generally) so unplannable, I hadn’t thought to make a music playlist or pack snacks for myself or pen affirmation cards. Instead, my bag was full of smoothie pouches for Aspen, and diapers, and footed pajamas. But the disorganization of it all was oddly comforting. I took the opportunity to trust, and to settle into the moment.
I thought that music might be nice, so I opened pandora on my phone. The default station is Disney music for the toy shop, and a song from Mary Poppins began to rattle my bones loudly. I tried to remember what music I was hoping for, but my mind was getting foggy. I turned to watch the rain out the window and switched my phone to silent.
And then, a rush much more intense than the others suddenly overtook me. I leaned against the glass and waited for it to be over, but it never quite left. The next was nipping at its heels, and the next, and the next, stacking atop one another like aftershocks from an earthquake. I found myself on the cool of the concrete floor, rocking and vocalizing through the cascade. I remember calling for KC, who was in the kitchen heating the salmon. I could hear a low conversation between he and Caitlin, and they both sounded worlds away.
I was somewhere else entirely, body and mind.
When they made it back into the room, the steaming to-go box made my stomach turn. I pushed it away and suggested a popsicle, maybe, because my body was telling me that I was both very hungry, and very sick. I took a few bites and then passed it back to KC.
It was time to fill up the tub. Just an hour after Ellie broke my water, I was now loudly vocalizing through rushes that lasted a minute or longer. I eased my body into the bean shaped tub and immediately knew that I wouldn’t leave the water until my baby was born. The feeling of weightlessness was a primal birthing need that I didn’t know I had until I gently moaned through a half-dozen rushes in the water. I closed my eyes. Caitlin held a cool cloth to my brow and Ellie’s nurse, Spring, pressed two hands down either side of my spine. I let my arms hang heavy over KC’s shoulders and inhaled the salty smell of his neck.
“You’re doing it,” he said into my ear, “You’re almost there.”
I was trapped in the in between – so close to the veil, where life splits and hangs in warm water, one side light, the other dark. Life meeting life meeting death. I knew a part of me was about to die, again, as it had when I gave birth to Aspen. I welcomed the death, and let it tear into me. Fire filled my belly, burning from back to front and back again.
From somewhere on the other side, I heard Spring say, “You’ve been in this position for fifty minutes now. Do you feel ready to try something else?” I felt myself nod. I waited for a lull in the pain and then pushed my body back, resting my spine against the curve of the tub. KC held my feet and massaged gently.
And then, just like that, I woke up.
When before I was barely breathing, barely awake, eyes closed, I now felt safe and alert and alive. I opened my eyes. I was smiling, laughing, talking between rushes that had mellowed measurably. The space between the bouts of pain grew longer.
“Something’s wrong,” I told Ellie. “I feel too good. Why are my contractions spacing farther apart?”
“It’s normal,” she reassured me, touching a hand to my shoulder. “Your body is resting, building energy. You’re about to meet your son.”
When rushes came, they were fueled by fire. They peaked in the middle and as they unraveled, my body heaved energy downward. The urge to birth my son was primal and uncontrollable. Each rush summoned screams wild and ancient to tumble from my throat. I have never heard something so loud. I shook the windows. Outside, the rain poured.
And with my wailing, the veil was torn.
I remember looking up at KC and seeing tears in his eyes. “I can see him,” he said quietly. “Here,” he grabbed my hand and guided my palm downwards. Just within me, there he was, the smooth round of his head pushing towards my fingers. We waited for the next rush with wide eyes.
And then, with the silent hum of a hundred thousand mothers before me tearing through my middle, my body revealed through a ring of fire a neat round head, and then shoulders, a belly, two arms reaching, and last, legs. One, smooth, involuntary push.
Just like with Aspen’s birth, there were ghosts in the room. I exhaled and heard the sound swim from myself as if I were holding onto my own body gently.
We did it.
We pulled him from the water and I held him to my heart. Ellie cleared his nose and wiped his face and we all slowly worked to move our still connected bodies from the water, to the bed. My faithful team tended and nursed and warmed and whispered. I drank a cinnamon tincture and hot cohosh tea. We cut the cord, changed a diaper, and welcomed family into the room.
Our sweet Griffin arrived screaming into the world at 3:51 PM on Wednesday, January 18th. He was 9 pounds and an ounce, and 20.5 inches long. Though I was bleeding heavily and weak in the knees, I felt almost immediately that his birth had healed some ancient, shattered part of myself. Maybe something I had broken when I chose to numb myself for Aspen’s birth. Or maybe the part of me that had torn in two when I first became a mother. She came alive again that day, in the water, roaring through the thin of the veil.
From mother of one, to mother of many. My edges have been sealed with warm milk and honey light. The veil is closed again, and I am wholly here, on the other side.
“Peace in the Storm”
On the outside, I was like many women, growing up with dreams of marriage, kids and creating fun family memories together. I grew up with a small knit family, so when my husband and I discussed our dreams, we both agreed we wanted a large family. We got married after dating for 6 months, so we agreed to wait a year, then start creating that large family. After our year went by, what we went through for the next six years was not planned. What the doctors eventually diagnosed us as is ‘unexplained infertility,’ which pretty much means every test says you’re ﬁne and they don’t know why you’re not pregnant. Over the years, this diagnoses became a thief, stealing our joy over and over, no matter how much we fought it off. Our faith in Jesus was tested as we cried out for an answer. Eventually our prayers were answered in the Fall of 2015 and with the the help of IVF, we were excited to announce our pregnancy to family and friends. We knew immediately that we wanted to receive our prenatal care with Ellie and deliver at Sierra Natural Birth Center (SNBC). I still giggle when I reﬂect back on the ﬁrst time we toured the facility and my husband looked at me with surprise, “this is like a really nice bed and breakfast.” I couldn’t have agreed more, as the detail in care and thoroughness Ellie provided us with has been unmatched, acting as a guide through this new season in our lives. My pregnancy was what I would label as ‘easy,’ without complications, having experienced some heartburn at times and some edema (but it was summer, so isn’t every pregnant lady a little swollen?). As our due date approached it became concerning as my body was not showing signs of progressing in labor. Again, as she had so faithfully done through our prenatal care, Ellie supported us in trying every natural means possible of inducing labor (yes, you name it, I did it!!). As 42 weeks approached without any dilation, effacement and contractions, my dreams of a labor and birth at SNBC slowly faded and the realization that I’d be heading to the hospital for induction weighed heavy on my heart. I had waited so long for this little miracle baby, made plans for a natural birth in a beautiful environment and was so excited to share this with my husband….but it wan’t meant to be. On the afternoon of 42 weeks we arrived at the hospital birth center to begin what would be a 39 hour process of induction. My husband and I talked about how we wanted to maintain the natural birth and I would not accept any pain medication. The nurse began by putting me on Cytotec overnight without any response, then a Folly Ball was inserted the next morning, pushing me to 3 cm, followed by Pitocin for the next 13 hours. Let me just pause here as this time on Pitocin was one of the most difﬁcult experiences of my life, as I’ve never experienced pain like that before. After 4 hours the contractions were getting really close as the nurse continued to increase the dosage and I dilated to 5 cm, however I still was not effaced. Five hours later, the pain had increased with the contractions, but our little guy still hadn’t ‘dropped’ and I still was only 5cm dilated. Unfortunately, the pain I experienced was more than I was prepared for and I begged for the pain medication. My husband, doula and nurse all continued to encourage me, knowing I wanted a natural birth, but after an hour they gave in to my pleading. This was not an easy decision for me as part of me was mad at my body for not cooperating with moving into labor, while the other half was fearful that I was hurting my baby. I was haunted by thoughts of woman doing this for thousands of years, yet I was falling short. The tears came faster than expected and I lay ﬂoating in the water of a tub after a contraction passed, wondering if I would ever hold my baby in my arms. Ellie continued to check in from time time to time on my progress and reminding us that she would be there for our son’s arrival. Four more hours passed and still by body did not progress, so our next step was breaking my water, which also provided no results. Throughout the induction, our little peanut’s heart rate had been monitored. I remember vividly looking up at
the nurse as she observed the heart rate on the screen and shared that she was concerned and was going to get the doctor. After reviewing the results, we had a decision to make. Our doctor, who we dearly respect and who supported our desire to keep our birth as natural as possible, began to voice her concerns of the health of our baby. His heart rate had been slowly decreasing and I wasn’t progressing in labor, therefore was strongly suggesting we move forward with a cesarean. My husband and I looked at each other and knew if the health of our baby was at risk, there was no question what our answer would be. The next hour was a whirlwind as I was prepped for surgery and within an hour I was holding my son in my arms. Thankfully we had discussed ahead of time some things we would want if a cesarean did occur, creating what some know as a ‘gentle cesarean.’ Joey sat next to me through the surgery and we were so excited as they brought our son over to me and lay him on my chest. No one could have removed that smile from my face nor steal the joy I felt. I remember looking at my husband with tears in his eyes and knowing everything was as it should be. We were now ‘mommy’ and ‘daddy.’ The next 3 days we spent in the hospital being cared for by an amazing team of nurses and staff, supporting both of us as I worked on my physical recovery. Additionally, we were so grateful as Ellie continued to check in on us at the hospital and in the weeks to follow. Again, this wasn’t the birth plan I had written out, nor the plan we had for creating a family, but what God has done in our life can not be denied. We have an amazing son who brings us so much joy and we have the understanding that some of the best gifts in life come with patience.
This birth story was written by Emily Grisham, one of Sierra Natural Birth Center’s first mama’s to give birth at our family-oriented birth center. Emma was born on February 11, 2015 in the Tenaya Birth Room. Emily was kind enough to share her story with us so we can share it with all of you. For her original blog post, visit her blog at naptimenarrative.blogspot.com.
Emma’s birth was absolutely beautiful. It was everything I had hoped for. Everything I had thought it could be and yet, nothing like I had imagined. It was completely empowering to witness what my body is capable of. I had a pretty awesome pregnancy for the most part. The first three months were the toughest. I had constant nausea and I was completely consumed with exhaustion. Those days felt like they would drag on forever, but that was nothing compared to the last few weeks of pregnancy. I was so ready to hold my daughter in my arms. When my due date came and went, I was more than a little frustrated. I tried to remind myself that she would come when she was ready.
I was planning to give birth at the Sierra Natural Birth Center, and for safety reasons, if I reached two weeks overdue I would have to go to the hospital to give birth. When I only had four days before I was over due, I was desperate. My midwife stripped my membranes for the second time, hoping to jump start my labor. She also suggested that I see an acupuncturist. My husband probably thought I had totally lost it, but I got an appointment that day, because let’s face it, I was huge, tired, and SO ready to get this show on the road! After my acupuncture, we headed home. I was having braxton hicks contractions every 4 minutes the whole way, which the acupuncturist told me may happen. (Little did I know, that just 6 hours later I would be in labor!) I took a long walk that evening and headed to bed early.
At 8 o’clock I had my first real contraction and tried, without success, not to get excited and go back to sleep. At 8:30 I began timing them. 4 minutes apart and lasting 45 seconds to a minute! I got a little nervous because I wasn’t expecting them to come so close together so quickly and we were an hour from the birth center. I waited an hour and then called my midwife and told her what was happening. She told me if I was comfortable, to stay home and sleep. As she was telling me this, a contraction hit me and I had to sway through it. I told her I felt that I needed to come now. She told me to follow my gut and come. I woke up my husband, Josh, and we loaded up our things and left. We were chatting in between contractions and I was feeling really calm. I was feeling confident in my body as my contractions got to the point where I couldn’t talk through them. I had prepared myself for this moment for months, I was so confident. Looking back now, I realize that I never got scared. It was more like, “Ya, I’m having a baby today. Let’s do this!”
We got to the birth center around 11 o’clock and Ellie came out smiling and said, “Happy Birth Day!” Seeing her face, so full of excitement and joy, was why I was so happy to be giving birth there. She was preparing the birthing room and getting it ready for us to sleep. I knew there was no way I could sleep through those contractions. She asked if I wanted her to check my progress, but warned me not to get my hopes up, as I had only been in labor for a few hours. I wanted to know. How could I not!? She was shocked when she felt I was 6 centimeters dilated! I remember looking at Josh with shock and excitement. I kept thinking, “I rock at labor!” But at the back of my mind there was that tiny voice warning me that this meant transition labor was near.
Ellie urged me to try and rest as much as possible. I decided to try and lay down with Josh. Big mistake. I had two contractions back to back. I couldn’t get up fast enough. Literally. I remember just telling Josh to get me up. That was the one and only time I felt fear. There wasn’t a pattern to keep me grounded. By the time Josh got me up on my feet and in his arms I was in a full on panic attack. The contractions eased when I was swaying. How some women can handle being on their backs in a hospital bed, I’ll never know. But that was not for me!
There was one thing that I needed during every contraction and that was my hubby. He was amazing. He gave me strength in ways that I never knew he could. The only time he left my side was to run to the kitchen to get us snacks and water in between my contractions. Ellie was coming in and out checking on me and monitoring our baby’s heartbeat. We called our families and told them that things were progressing quickly and that it was time for them to come. Ellie suggested that I get in the tub and run warm water down my back during contractions. Josh was there, kneeling in front of me, as we talked and joked between contractions. Labor is a funny thing. It’s painful, sure, but not unbearable. You get these breaks in between the pain that you feel totally normal. You laugh at your husbands silly jokes and the things that happen during labor that totally break the barriers in your relationship. It’s a crazy, emotional, beautiful thing.
The birth tub was filled by the time our parents and Josh’s sister, Tiffany, arrived. I felt a little more confident when these women who love me came walking in. Tiffany looked excited, and my mom looked like she was in more pain than I was. They both immediately offered me support. At that point, I was so tired. It felt more like work than before. It took more focus. I remember closing my eyes during each contraction. Tiffany suggested keeping my eyes open and focusing on Josh’s eyes through a contraction. This helped. It gave me something other than the pain to focus on.
I remember talking to my little girl at this point. Encouraging her to come out. I pushed for an hour. When her head finally came out I was so relieved. With my next contraction I pushed and she flew out and into my midwife’s hands and she was immediately on my chest. I was totally shocked that she was in my arms. She immediately let out a wail that let me know she was perfectly alright. I looked at my baby girl and said, “Hi Emma. I’m your Mama!” I was so relieved, and so in love. I held her as we chatted about how much work we just went through together. We waited until her cord stopped pulsing and her Daddy cut it. I pushed out my placenta and my midwives seemed to be slightly concerned that my uterus was “boggy”. They had me pass my baby to my mom while Josh jumped into the shower to warm up so he could hold Emma skin to skin. It was a struggle standing and crawling out of the tub and into bed. I remember not really knowing what was going on until I was getting a shot of pitocin in my thigh. Ellie explained that my uterus was not contracting down like it should, so the pitocin would make it contract. I wasn’t too worried about it. All I wanted was to hold my baby again. My mom brought her over and her and Ellie helped me begin breastfeeding.Our family left shortly after to give Josh and I our time with Emma. I got a second degree tear and got stitched up with Emma in my arms while Josh assisted Ellie. Emma arrived on February 11th at 5:37am, weighing 9lbs 6oz and was 21.5 inches.
After Ellie made sure we were all ok, she left us alone in our room to enjoy our baby. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. I was so amazed with her. I was so in awe of her and what I just went through to bring her earth-side. I had just undergone something that changed me, made me into someone I’d always wanted to become. I was a mother, holding onto my daughter with the fiercest love I’d ever know.