Trauma and Healing, 2 Birth Stories- What Happens After The Birth Matters

A beautiful journey for a family.  I love that these babies were healthy- and that the story shows how post-partum care and experience impact the family unit.  

My two freestanding birth center births
(My birth stories, as I originally wrote them, are at : Elijah and Rowan)

About a year before I became pregnant, I started researching this whole pregnancy and birth "thing". I'm an avid researcher when it comes to things that interest me and considering such a life changing event certainly had my attention! Mothering magazine was my doorway into natural birthing/parenting. A fellow co-worker at the time told me about the birth center in Okemos, MI. It was 5 minutes away from work!

My husband and I went to an info meeting and fell in love with the place. One of my clear, defining moments of choosing an out-of-hospital birth was when my family doctor told me she'd attend the birth IF she was on call. Not only do I have trust issues with medical personnel, but I've never seen a male doctor. The thought of a male stranger coming in to poke around my private parts was too much for me!

Also, what I wanted the birth to be like and what I was learning hospital birth usually was like, I could see I'd have quite the fight on my hands. I decided fighting while in labor wasn't very attractive sounding. When I got my positive pregnancy test in March '08, I made my first prenatal appt. at the birth center two weeks later. (Note: To my knowledge, Greenhouse Birth Center is the ONLY freestanding birth center in Michigan currently).

My pregnancy went without a hitch. I had some emotional, family issues to deal with (worrying about offending my mom about not wanting her in the birthing room, etc). I loved going to my prenatals and having an hour to talk and get to know the midwives there. At that time, the midwife apprentice was a woman I graduated high school with! We'd known each other since Pre-K and were even in band together. What a way to reconnect! :)

The midwives don't pressure about any routine testing; they simply give the families the info and let us decide what we want to do. We opted for the 20 week ultrasound, normal bloodwork was done, and GBS test (which I was negative). We had to move when I was about 35 weeks. Not recommended! The upside was that we were now a 20 minute drive instead of a 40 minute drive from GBC.

I have some mommy friends who have never made a due date. With an EDD of Nov. 18, I tried to be mentally ready that the baby could come in early November. I had enjoyed my pregnancy A LOT and, other than peeing every hour and having trouble getting comfortable in bed in the last couple of months, I felt great! My EDD came and went. I joked about having a "Turkey Baby" around Thanksgiving. That holiday came...and went.

I refused to make plans with family for Thanksgiving dinner, in case the baby was here or I was in labor. Since neither were the case, my husband (Chad) went to his family's Thanksgiving. He was physically cornered by an aunt and uncle demanding that I should be induced-it was for the good of the baby. THANK GOODNESS I wasn't there for that! He stood his ground, informing them we were waiting for baby to come on his own.

FINALLY, on November 30 I lost my mucus plug (the couple days before, I was having VERY loose bm's, but didn't realize what exactly that meant until later). Nothing else happened that day, just some cramping, but I kept the midwives informed that it should be soon! December 1 (a Monday) came and I felt the same when Chad left for work just before 6am. Chad called me every couple of hours, on his breaks, to see what my progress was.

At 8am I noticed a pattern forming with the cramps and called GBC to let them know. I slept for 1.5 hours but was up and moving with contractions by the time Chad called at 10am. Sometime between 10am and 11:30am, I started making some noises and moaning with the contractions. I will say here that my contractions, throughout the whole labor, never hurt me. They took my attention and focus, but even in the later stages, it was never PAIN and never surpassed the intensity of my menstrual cramps (which had been BAD).

I told Chad to come home at the 11:30am call and then went back to bed. For some reason, neither of us remember the next 1.5 hours (well, I was sleeping again) but just before 1:30pm, I asked Chad to start timing contractions. When laying down, I could tell they were stronger and more intense. He never told me they were 3-4 minutes apart! About 30 minutes later, I had a contraction that was over 2 minutes long. I decided I didn't want to do this at home and alone anymore! We notified GBC, packed up our food to take, and drove there. What a drive! :P We had to drive over a road horribly in need of repair and that was NOT fun! I don't tend to talk much once I hit active labor and that was one of the requests I made of my husband: "Could you drive in the OTHER lane!?" (said more desperately, not angry) We arrived at 3pm.

Greenhouse Birth Center's birthing area has a kitchenette set up with two bedrooms leading off, the peach room and the green room. I about flew to the green room when we got there. The apprentice took my bp and listened to the baby. She then left us to get settled. I knew I wanted in the tub eventually, but walked around and did other labor positions first. About 1.5 hours later, I asked for the tub to be filled. I immediately felt relief from the intensity of things and could really relax! With the water I kept drinking, I had to get out 2-3 times for bathroom runs.

I didn't like to though! I just wanted to stay, reclining, in the water. During one such bathroom break my water broke on the toilet at the peak of a contraction. My body started pushing soon after that. I realized later that most waterbirths I'd seen videos of (that I borrowed) had the women reclining so that's what I was doing. My transition period consisted of contractions that caught me off guard. I'm guessing they were 30 seconds apart, if that. The midwives and apprentice were in the room by then and were knitting.

My eyes were closed most of the time and I was surprised to "suddenly" see them in there. A couple of times, my eyes sought out the midwife who was in my line of sight. I was a little concerned about the contractions being so close and if that was normal. I only had to catch her eye and she smiled reassuringly at me. That helped to calm me and realize that I was o.k. I didn't realize until after the birth that this had been transition for me.

After about an hour of my body pushing (I'd recline between contractions, but need Chad's help to sit up during them), one of the midwives came to me and suggested that a position change could help him come a bit sooner. In my mind I was resistant to that but when the next one came, my body threw itself over the side of the tub and into a kneeling squat. I remember, at the time, it seemed like the pain was just unbearable, but now I think it was mostly the pressure that I didn't know how to cope with in the moment.

I remember feeling very much "in the moment"; I felt like I had always been pushing and would always be pushing-I couldn't help but push. I was pushing during and in between contractions. My midwives helped me to focus on taking my break whenever I could get it and saving my strength. There's a wall-hanging in the green room that a "GBC alumni" had sewn that reads "I am not afraid; I was born to do this-Joan of Arc".

I was able to look directly at that over Chad's shoulder and, whenever a sliver of self-doubt came into my mind and I felt like I simply couldn't do it anymore (about every other contraction at that point), that wall hanging brought my determination to the forefront of my mind. I think Chad was saying encouraging things to me too, but I honestly don't remember what he said. 20 minutes after the position change, Elijah was born at 9:08pm, after 13 hours of labor. I brought him up out of the water and just stared at him!

All the pain and pressure and work was done; my baby!! I couldn't even take it in! I felt like I was in a dream and waiting to wake up. My mind couldn't hardly process that I was seeing him for the first time. His cord was still pulsing when the placenta was born, so we have pictures of us holding Elijah while the placenta floats in a bowl in the tub. :) When the cord was cut we got into bed, he nursed for a few minutes and I got sewn up (2nd degree tear) while my family made me homemade potato soup for my after birth meal. He was 8lbs 4oz and 20.5". He was born during a Michigan snow storm and, by the time most families leave the birth center (4-6 hours on average), the roads were very bad and icy. We got to stay the night with the apprentice in the next room if we needed anything.

The following 2 weeks weren't quite so perfect. After much discussing with our midwives, we think that the way I brought him out of the water (not face down) caused some water to get into his lungs. The following morning, a midwife came to check on us before we went home and she found Elijah breathing about 100bpm-so fast he couldn't even latch on to nurse. After hours of observing and talking, we opted to take him to the hospital to get checked out. He ended up in our region's NICU. It was a nightmare 12 days for us.

He was 5 days old before I could nurse him again-thank God we had very little nursing trouble after we got home, mostly had to work on his latch due to the bottles of expressed milk and the pacifiers they gave him. :P We were scolded, bullied, and made to feel like bad parents if we didn't do as the doctors wanted to do. We were yelled at by a doctor when we hesitated about a spinal tap they wanted to perform. We chose to not circ. Elijah and I was very paranoid that, without us there 24/7, they would do it anyway without our consent. We had to tell EVERY nurse and doctor that we DIDN'T want him cut.

I didn't realize the emotional trauma this had on me until about 6 months later. A friend posted pictures of her newborn daughter on Facebook. I was o.k. looking at the pictures of them in the hospital. It was the pictures of them at home with the baby that made me break down. I was so distraught (looking at pics at midnight with a sleeping husband and baby), that I reached out to one of the midwives who then told me about the on-line "village" group of GBC women. I was able to post about my emotions and confusion, guilt and embarrassment.

I received about 15-20 responses in 2 days from the other women, most sharing their own painful pregnancy/birth journeys, a few expressing empathy and prayers. They helped me to accept my emotions and let me know I was normal for feeling this way-I was just starting to process what we went through and working through those emotions was a big step for healing. For a long time, pictures of newborns (2 weeks old or less) at home/with relatives were my emotional trigger. I think Elijah was approaching 18 months or so before that stopped being the case.

When Elijah was 1 year old, we both wanted to have another baby at GBC to help heal our hearts from the NICU tramua. We wanted another chance to have an empowering birth and then get to bring the baby home. I didn't start ovulating until Elijah was 16.5 months. I was charting this time and, even though it drove me crazy some of the time, I'm ultimately glad that I did it. It helped me get to know my body better and feel more in tune with it. Middle of July came and nursing suddenly hurt, similar to when Elijah was teething.

A week later, I started feeling nauseous on and off. Going by my chart, and keeping track of my symptoms, I was more convinced each day that I was pregnant. My first test with Elijah was negative, so I chose to wait until Day 20 to take a test. It was a positive. I knew it would be, but it was still a bit of a shock to see it in blue and white. My first thought was "Yes, the charting was right!". My second thought was "What have I done to Elijah!?"

My second pregnancy, like the first, went just fine. It was more tiring caring for a toddler while in the 1st trimester-I couldn't nap all day! I showed MUCH earlier this time and wondered if twins were in there. I was so happy to go back to the birth center with a "reason" for being there regularly. I ended up teaching a childbirth informational class at my church that winter and had "Business of Being Born" and "My Baby, My Body, My Birth" from GBC's library to show to the women.

Elijah got hooked on birth movies! :) He would request to watch them and would be SO EXCITED when the births were happening. Chad and I had agreed that, at just shy of 2.5 years old when the baby came, Elijah would not be at this birth. His reaction to the birth movies made me wonder if we should let him be there. Fortunately, our foresight proved correct this time! Also, my Vit. K levels were borderline low, so I had more blood drawn this time than last time. Other than that, we stuck with our 20 week u/s and the GBS test, which I was negative for again.

Throughout this pregnancy, I fought with the fear of a repeat of the last time: what would we do if the baby needed to go to the hospital again!? How could we make sure to make the right decision and not be obstinate about it if the baby needed to be there? I cried about this fear quite a few times, once in the middle of a women's bible study at church. Whenever I expressed this fear, my mom would go on about "he's so healthy", "every thing's o.k. now", "it was so long ago". Didn't help me much! Talking with the midwives and other moms did help a bit.

Also, very early in the pregnancy I invited my sister (single and childless) to the birth to be part of my labor support. As my pregnancy progressed, it became obvious that this had been a mistake. I had a lot of emotional anxiety surrounding this issue and finally, at 37 weeks, I told her I needed her more for Elijah-watching and would she just stay with him instead of worrying about coming with me to GBC (her "preparations" had been talking with women who had hospital births and assuming I'd be in a bad mood so that she was prepared to not take anything I said personally). I had chiropractic care throughout this pregnancy and that helped a lot! It's most likely why I had such a fast labor also.

My husband and I did a belly cast at 38w6d and I had a blessing ceremony the next day that was so great and encouraging. 2 days (Tuesday) after my blessing, it REALLY hurt to get up/sit down/move. I felt like a grapefruit was in my pelvis that I had to move around and it was VERY uncomfortable. On Wednesday, my body started cleaning itself out, just like last time. On Thursday I had a prenatal and the midwife confirmed that baby was "right down in there."

Friday I had a chiropractic adjustment. I complained about wanting this baby out of me! I was expecting to go to at least 40.5 weeks-I'd felt most of the time that this baby would come a bit sooner than Elijah had. When she was done adjusting me, she said my hips had been rotated in opposite directions, not up and forward like they had been. She told me that the next 24 hours tended to be "eventful" for women who presented like I did.

We had dinner with a friend and gave him the update and the possible scenario of me starting labor at his place the next day (during a movie get together with friends). We got our last minute stuff at the store and I strung my labor necklace with beads received from my blessing. At ~3:30am Saturday morning (April 9), I had a strong braxton hicks contraction while on the toilet and some of my mucus plug came out! "Here we go!", I thought. Another bathroom run and more mucus a little later.

At 7am, another bathroom run, more mucus, and a very low, crampy and kind of painful contraction-MUCH lower than the braxton hicks had been! It took a couple minutes to wake Chad up enough (without waking Elijah) for him to register the words "early labor". We got up when Elijah woke up a short while later. I told him, "I think the baby's coming today. Are you excited?" He seemed to think about it for a minute, then looked at me with a huge grin and exclaimed "Yeah!!"

I started making calls (labor support friend-Bethany, GBC, my sister (failed) and my mom) while Chad got breakfast around. I called my mom about 8:20am. I could talk fine during contractions but had to REALLY sway my hips and walk during them. I tried to time them and they seemed about 5 minutes apart-I thought I was doing it wrong! I went up for a shower about 8:45am. I never thought to try it with Elijah's labor and the hot water really did feel good on my sacrum and lower belly.

At 9:15am, I was mostly dressed and Chad was telling his mom I was in labor and NO, we didn't want anyone at the birth center while I labored. He and Elijah got in the shower around 9:30am and, shortly after that, I had to make noises during a couple contractions. I was actually feeling some discomfort during these and the ones I moaned through were painful enough that I couldn't help it. I tried the hands and knees position once and had to get up immediately-it made me feel sick to my stomach! I told Chad to hurry, that I was making noises to cope with contractions now. I was listening to my Celtic music on Chad's ipod. It took us almost an hour to finally leave. I called my mom to let her know we were dropping off Elijah. They didn't expect to have to watch him so soon!

My contractions picked up a bit: I had 2 contractions outside before we left for my parents 1 mile away, none on the ride thank goodness, and 3 or so while dropping Elijah off at about 10:20am and left about 10 minutes later. We called GBC to let them know we were coming and the midwife called us back. She said she wasn't even dressed yet (it was only a couple hours since we last called her!); we had to give her time to get to the birth center.

We decided to stop by our church for one last bead for my necklace. It's only 10 minutes from the birth center anyway. Thankfully, I had only 2 contractions in the car and just about fell asleep between them. During them, it hurt so much! I couldn't move in the car and had to put all my energy into the noises I was making. In the 15-20 minutes we were at church I had at least 6 contractions, maybe a couple more. We left church with Bethany following us to GBC. I remember looking at the clock-it was 11:15am when we left. I had 2-4 contractions on the ride there.

We arrived at 11:25am. The contractions were very painful and about on top of each other now. I had one in car while Chad was parking, one in the doorway of GBC with Clarice supporting me, one in the kitchen over the table, 2 in the green room (Clarice got to listen to baby's heartbeat once). While Chad was looking for my tank top for me to wear in the tub (which was filling) I felt like I had to go to the bathroom. As I sat on the toilet, I started ripping my clothes off.

Just as I took off my labor necklace another contraction hit. Chad came in to support me and the contraction ended with a grunt. I saw a spurt of water and thought, "Shouldn't there be more?" Clarice flew in there and was ready in case the baby started to be born right then. I was thinking, "I'm not ready for this!!" over and over. I voiced that once. Chad made me look at him and said firmly, "You CAN do this!" He said the power of those few words amazed him. The look on my face went from scared to birth warrior mode in about a second.

My body pushed powerfully and I felt him come down/crown/head born/start to cry. My body stood up when I felt him move through me, but I was hanging on to Chad's belt and pulling down on it (so, yes, I was bent over but it didn't feel awkward at the time). I screamed him out, a scream that scared Chad a lot! Bethany had brought the cake pan of birth supplies to Clarice and was in the doorway watching us. Chad said she was an emotional support to him right then because he thought something was wrong with me for me to make such a noise as that!

Clarice reminded me to breathe and I took very rapid, deep breaths to keep from pushing. The next contraction came and I felt the shoulders, torso, thighs, legs all come out. I screamed that unearthly scream again, each body part making the octave go up. I was looking down and saw ALL this fluid splash everywhere right after the baby came out. I'd thought that perhaps this baby was a girl and was surprised when Chad exclaimed, "It's a boy!!!!!??" Clarice somehow handed him to me and I sat on the toilet in a daze.

He was born at 11:35am, 10 minutes after we got there! There was one loose loop of cord around his neck. The second midwife was still on her way! They usually take labor/birth pictures at Greenhouse, but there was no one and no time for that. Chad took pictures throughout my labor and right after he was born. He even got a short video when Rowan Christopher was about 1 minute old. His entire labor was 4.5 hours long! When I tell moms this, I can tell the ones who probably had pain meds with the ones who didn't by their reaction. Most say, "Hey, that must've been nice!" and I say "Oh no, I preferred the 13 hour labor!" :)

I was pampered by the other midwives, when they arrived, and the postpartum doula who kept tabs on us. Rowan nursed for 2 hours straight! The placenta was born while I was in bed and we waited for him to be done nursing so Chad could cut the cord. Finally, at the 1.5 hour mark, Clarice told Chad to go for it since Rowan wasn't stopping anytime soon. :) He was awake for a little while after that, but fell asleep sometime mid-afternoon and didn't wake until 4:30am the next morning! I got sewn up again and had my herbal bath. He weighed 7lbs 2oz and was 19.5". When we were ready (took us about 6 hours to name him!) my parents and sister brought Elijah to meet his new brother. Being frank with my sister, I told her it was a good thing she wasn't there for the birth-I thought it might've scared her from ever having kids because it was so fast and intense. Her eyes got wide and I think she was glad too! :) Maybe next time, solely as an observer....

Knowing our concern with his breathing, Clarice kept a close watch on his respiration's and everything was great! We packed them up and headed home about 6:30pm-ish. We stopped by our friend's place (we'd called them earlier) to surprise them with a first look at Rowan and first account of the birth. All 3 were amazed at the birth story and at the fact we were going home already!

I can't put into words what healing went on in my heart during those 2 weeks after Rowan's birth. I spent most of my time in bed (or on the couch to greet friends bringing food) having him skin to skin a lot of the time. Almost each day of the first week, I remembered where we'd been at with Elijah and how different it was this time!

Only once did I cry over it; tears of happiness of the bonding I was having with Rowan along with tears of sadness for what I'd missed out on with Elijah. I can now think about Elijah's first weeks in the world with some regret and sadness, but not with the heartbrokeness I'd had before. Both births were empowering to me as a mother and woman, but the aftermath of the births were important too. I'm so grateful to God that he gave us another baby to be a brother to Elijah and to help heal us from our previous experience. We're considering homebirth, if we can get a house; homebirth and sharing walls with neighbors doesn't set well with either of us. We're not done having kids and I look forward to welcoming our future children into the same loving environment.