Junia and Elliott’s Birth Story

Finding out I was having twins was probably the only real and true shock I’ve ever had in my life.  My husband was 4 hours away at his PhD program in Minneapolis so we were FaceTiming him in while my dear friend came with me to the 20 week scan.  We were just planning to find out the sex.  I hate getting tests done, especially ones that involve poking me, so Betsy was there for moral support.  She, the mother of five, happens to love ultrasounds.

When we saw the two little heads bobbing on the screen immediately after the wand was placed on my belly, it was obvious what we were looking at.

The sonagrapher asked timidly as she confusedly looked at her paperwork and then back at the screen “have you had any appointments yet?”

Oh shit.


We had been trying an awkward commute situation from Sioux Falls to Minneapolis so Bryan could work on his PhD and I could keep our great babysitter, and all of my jobs there in Sioux Falls (a Birth Collective turning into a birth center, a small health food store, my yoga students, my coaching clients…) It became obvious those things were going to need to be left behind for a bigger better picture of my future I couldn’t yet envision. And the separation had already been way too hard on all three of us (Bryan, me and our almost 2 year old Fiona).

Skipping over the details of how God managed to get us out of the lease we were in and set us up with campus family housing, we packed up and moved in -4 degree weather to Minneapolis, 33 weeks pregnant with my di/di twins.

My Symphysis Pubis Pain was so bad I could barely separate my legs. Everything was excruciating.  Thankfully a wonderful chiropractor helped to relieve most of it and I was able to walk (albeit every time with braxton hicks) much better. By the time we hit 35 weeks I was starting to feel ready.

The full moon brought cluster after cluster of contractions and sleeplessness.  Restlessness. It was a Monday before I went into labor, I was 37+3 with my di/di twins.  It felt like a storm.  Clusters of uncomfortable braxton hicks contractions with a few more serious ones thrown in.  Followed by nothing.  Kept me up all night. I tried a shower, little clary sage, raspberry nettles infusion. Nothing.

Tuesday I was exhausted in all ways.  Everything made me agitated. I felt disappointed and impatient.  In ways I never felt waiting for my daughter’s arrival.  Thankfully, I have a very patient and wise husband and a great woman named Elsa we had hired to come help me with laundry and dishes and Fiona (not quite 2) who had become a great friend.

natural twin birth

37 weeks with the twins!

Wednesday morning came, I woke up still pregnant.  I had been so focused on making it to 36 weeks with these lovies that I didn’t consider what to do if I went far past that. But I lost my mucus plug and had some contractions and got really excited in spite of myself. They slowed way down to nothing though, and I could tell it wasn’t going to pick up.  I told Bryan to go to class  but as soon as he went to leave I burst into tears.  So of course he stayed.  And I spent the whole day sleeping and eating, sleeping and eating.  Mostly apple juice and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, like a 6 year old. It was wonderful.

In the afternoon I suddenly wanted to watch Ina May’s Birth Story movie.  So we got it on iTunes and Bryan half watched from the kitchen table as he worked.  Surprisingly it was him who cried at the breech birth scene. Fiona helped me make lentil soup.

I felt happy all day.  Happy and sleepy and satiated. Bryan was convinced this was the “gathering” period and that we would be waking up late at night to go to the hospital.  I thought he might be right but I didn’t want to get my hopes up again.  Turns out he was right.

2:30 am I wake up with contractions that I think are more serious. I stay in bed. I thinkt about the idea that they could slow down..and I thinkt about the probability that they wouldn’t this time.

3:00 am I wake up Bryan to tell him he was right. I’m hesitant to move too quickly and call all the troops (doula, birth photographer, my mom, Elsa to care for Fiona…) if it isn’t going to stick.  Bryan says it’s time to go while I can still put pants on.  I listen.

4:00 am ish we leave for the hospital.  We’re in Minnesota, it’s cold and I keep all my layers on as we drive the 45 minutes to the hospital we have specifically chosen for these specific babies.  I lean on the birth ball.  My doula Kara Jo calls to check on me and pray over me. I repeat this mantra I remember from one of the The Farm midwives:

“I am feeling very open, like a flower in the morn.  Let my petals open, let my child be born.”

5:00 am ish we arrive.  Kara Jo pulls  in the parking lot at the same time.  This tiny hospital in the dark, quiet and happy.  It looks more like a tiny clinic than a hospital.  A library maybe, that accidentally left one light on.

They wheel me to the labor room that has already been set up by the charge nurse, former CNM, Stephanie.  There’s lavender diffusing and electric candles everywhere.  And they immediately get me a birth ball at my request.  Straight to the floor I lean on the ball and the contractions slow down.  For a second I entertain the thought that maybe this would slow down and stop again.  Kara Jo gently reminds me that this usually happens when mamas transition to a different place to give birth and as my body settled down and I felt safe again it would pick up.

She was very right.  I get into the large jet tub in the bathroom.  Kara Jo brings lavender and my verse that was encouraging me this pregnancy:

“There is no fear in love but perfect love casts out all fear” 1 John 4:18

natural twin birthMy birth images and prayer flags from mother blessing with Fiona are hung around the room.  A little clary sage to keep things consistent. I feel them increase and increase.  They build.  Just as I’ve watched happen to women time and time again, the intensity grows. I can hear my raga music mixed with soft hymns and a few sentimental songs like Bob Dylan’s Spanish Boots playing on my my speakers.  The rhythm is unbelievably comforting.

Kara Jo suggests I might even say the word “open” as I moan lowly through contractions.  So I do “Oooooooopen.  Ooooooooopen. Ooooooooopen.” Followed by softly “I can do this. I can do this.  I can do this.”

I don’t notice my doctor had arrived who has taken off his shoes before entering so as not to disturb me. Stephanie asks if we could put an IV port in and I agree as we’ve talked about ahead of time.  I barely notice the belly band with fetal monitors I was sure would bother me.  Stephanie ducks her head in to tell me the babies are “loving this” and doing great.

I knew they were.  As the surges move towards having no break in the waves, I start to doubt. Tears come down my face. I tell Kara Jo and Bryan who have been holding my hands that isn’t the benefit of doing this in a hospital this time that I can have drugs?  Let’s have the drugs now! I insist.  Even as I say it, and I do mean it, I know they’re smiling knowingly next to me that this means Elliott will soon arrive.

With Fiona I pushed for awhile to get her down and out, so when I started to feel the energy shift from drawing upward and collecting uterine tissue at the top of my fundus to pushing downward I thinkt I had awhile.  I know that water births aren’t officially on the menu at this hospital yet and that getting next to the tub was going to be the plan, but the “throwing down” sensation of pushing sneaks up quickly on me and as I stood up to the requests of people around me. I suddenly yell “he’s coming!” and I hear my doctor say “sit back down” so that I’m not half in and half out of the water.natural twin birth

6:51 am And out comes Elliott.  My doctor hands him to me through my legs and up to my chest he went.  “Ohmigod ohmigod I did it!” I repeat, elated.  The feeling of relief when a person emerges from you is indescribable and unbeatable. We wait just about 5 minutes and cut the cord, headed over to the bed. Elliott settled on me to search for the boob and Dr. H asks permission to see if Junia was still head down. Indeed she is. My first and only cervical check the entire pregnancy.

In my head I had decided there wouldn’t be much time between their births.  Contractions continue, though slower and less intense.  I try the birth stool, the ball.  Stephanie the nurse asks if we could do a little clary sage to keep things moving, I say yes. I begin to feel very very tired; my uterus, my brain, my legs, my emotions. Bryan holds Elliott and sings to him gently. I ask to get the tub refilled, Dr. H assures me he had already asked the nurses to do just that.

I get back into the tub and “labor down” awhile.  Just me, Kara Jo, Bryan and Elliott.  I am able to calm down in the dark, private space, as so many laboring women need: privacy and protection.  Dr. H and the nurses sit quietly outside the door listening as I search for my rhythm again.  I can feel the surges get a bit stronger, but they are still spaced apart.  Dr. H pops in his head to ask if I’ve thought about maybe rupturing her water so I don’t get too tired and neither does she.  I have realized at this point that soon after Elliott’s water had broken he had arrived.  He tells Kara Jo, Bryan and I to discuss it.

natural twin birthI’m hesitant, being a really hands off person for labor, even though my doctor assured me he would check first to make sure her head was still presenting and wouldn’t risk a cord prolapse.  I can tell Bryan feels it’s  the right decision.  I also feel very tempted by the possibility of being done.  But you can’t un-break a bag of water and I know the intensity of surges increases dramatically when the water goes.  I am honestly afraid of pushing out another person, knowing that pushing is the least enjoyable part for me.  I have to use all of my focus not to resist it. We agree to do it. Something tells me just deciding to do it would cause it to rupture.

They help me out of the tub, I walked to the birth stool.  Standing in front of it her water breaks. Relief. And then sudden dread at the immense wave of contraction I know is on its way.

9:31 am And here it is.  I muster my determination not to resist and I push into it.  I look down, I expect to see her.  Not yet.  Dr. H says ” do you see that imagnatural twin birthe of yours on the wall?  You can do that!  Reach down and catch your baby!” Another push.  Please tell me that was it.  Her head.  One more, and the rest of her came tumbling out, sunny-side up, with a gush of blood. I truly cannot believe I have done it this time.  And. It. Is. Over.

I hold Junia Moon to my chest, I quickly push out the placentas (that have fused somehow) which brings another large gush of blood and I suddenly feel all the circulation drain from my head to my feet and I lean to my left to find someone there to support me.  Dr. Hartung says he would like a bag of pitocin, I ask “whyy?”  He points out the blood on the floor and the paleness of my skin, and I agree.  Stephanie the nurse tells someone they need to get me to the bed, and I nod in agreement.

The feeling of almost passing out is a bit unnerving and I was glad to rest in the bed.  With both of my babies.  Their APGAR sores were 9 and 10 and both were a happy neon pink.  6 lbs 5oz and 6 lbs 3oz.

And the feeling that I can conquer anything takes over.  The feeling I wish for every mama as she holds her baby or babies for the first time.  Elation.  Success. Pride.  Competence.natural twin birth

Jennifer Liv Photographer & Birth Made Beautiful Doula Services Pregnancy Photos: Fresh Love Birth Photography

The Most Important Pregnancy Questions

free prenatal meditation

When I lost my first pregnancy, a small, star shaped space in my center was created.  It will always be there.  I cherish it in fact.  I called myself “mother” from then on, because I had birthed an angel baby and brought forth that teeny tiny body in piles of tissue with just as much fear, faith and hope as any mother has.  Bryan and I spent a season of life mourning, growing, learning.  We were newlyweds, we weren’t sure which foot to stand on, which part of our spouse that we had seen so far was the one that we would spend the most time with.  But time passed, our wounds healed and my womb healed, even with that tiny star tattoo for Baby Maurer; and we chose to try to conceive again.  (How magical is it that we get some agency in the process of creating human life??)

I was pregnant with Fiona Lynn and as overjoyed as I was overwhelmed that we were moving from our friends and family and my doula and yoga practice in Virginia to no one, in nowhere, Minnesota.   We moved, rooted, acclimated and the pregnancy continued, Fiona grew right next to that little star scar.  But towards the end of my pregnancy I began to feel something nagging at me.  I talked, and talked with my poor midwife whose visits were closer to 3 hours more often than not.   I shopped. I prayed.  And one morning, way too early (as it often is when the spirit chooses to stir something)  I woke up with the sense that I had not fully let go of this miscarriage.  Knowing what I know about birth and labor, and I did not want this to stall or interfere with in any way Fiona’s birth.

So I made some tea, and sat down to draw.  No sooner had I sketched two drawings – one of my birth and one of my miscarriage, that I just weeped.  Weeped and weeped. And then I felt better.  Relief.  Sigh.  That lift of your heart that feels as though you could suddenly do something you never considered possible, a face to face encounter with the truth that all will be well.  I felt connected to my heritage as a woman : both the actual women in my bloodline and all the women that had birthed before me.  I felt ready for motherhood on a level I didn’t know I needed to reach.

So when Morgan Moon (co author of the Blissful Mama eCourse) and I were chatting recently about the Blissful Mama retreat, the question of speakers came up.  We were considering finding and inviting speakers to teach mamas-to-be from their wise women wisdom.  But this story of mine floated right up to the front of my vision for these retreats and Morgan agreed – the retreats are about looking inward into the spirit and heart of each mama, not to the external teaching of experts.  There’s another time and place for that.

It seems women are on information overload these days, babycenter, google, mothering.com.  While it’s true that I often provide the navigation tools through all that information for mamas,  so many times mothers aren’t really searching for more information, they’re searching for their intuition. We all need support recognizing the voice of God in our lives, and learning to trust our embodied wisdom. This is the area of motherhood that isn’t being addressed by care providers. (And maybe that’s ok.)  But it does need to be addressed.  I don’t know what would have happened had I not spent that reflective time before birth with my drawings.  Perhaps things would have gone the same, we’ll never know.  There are times though, with a mother in labor (or if I’m lucky, beforehand) something reveals itself that blocks a smooth passage to motherhood.  One of my clients was obsessively shopping and feeling restless before her delivery, until she completed a drawing task (reluctantly!) and found that she was feeling incredibly afraid of giving birth without her grandmother (who had passed away and been her mother figure).  We were able to talk about it, and find ways to heal that space so she felt totally ready to birth and move forward. Other times merely asking mamas how they feel about their bodies and having them list some adjectives has caused revelation!  These are our most important pregnancy questions. This is why we say “mothers are born” when babies are born, because becoming a mother is a change in psyche, a shift of perception of ourselves and the world around us.

So I offer myself as a guide, to help each mother I work with discover any of these roadblocks towards what she sees in her vision of birth, to unravel and create new belief systems around pregnancy and motherhood so she is free to find her fullest potential.  Psychological, spiritual and physical health are not as separate as we like to think, though we see different specialists to address these things separately most of the time.  It’s time we begin the important work of re-marrying these things in our understanding of health so we can create true wellness – for ourselves and for our children.

Ready for this kind of journey yourself? Schedule your Blissful Mama Breakthrough Session now.

Myths of Birth

A prenatal yoga student and I were talking the other day about births I’d seen as a doula.   She asked me, “but don’t lots of women say they want to birth without an epidural?”  Her implication was that women say they want one thing, but they don’t actually get it.  And she’s right! Despite what women are  expressing, at least 75% of us aren’t leaving our birth experiences without an epidural, and with the sense of accomplishment we think we’ll feel. Why?

My student implied that it was almost silly to even express a desire around birth, no matter what the reasons (better health for baby for example).  What she didn’t realize was why she believed that.  Every culture has myths, stories we subscribe to in order to place ourselves within it.  The myth of the American dream – rising to wealth and power from poverty.  They myth of “forefathers” of America. The myth of the Norman Rockwell family.  Archetypes are characters born out of myths – the cowboy, the seductress, the “good girl”, the “soccer mom”.  Our current mythology around womanhood and birth is lacking.  We have changed the environment of birth so drastically in the past 100 years or so, and our heroic stories haven’t caught up.

We love story.

It’s why my close friend is at a conference to learn about writing your story, why I’m reading a book called Speak: How Your Story Can Change the World. It’s why the Bible is full of stories and Jesus taught in parables.  It’s why one of the most read blogs I’ve written is my personal birth story.  We need story and we need art to help us give our lives context, just as we need ritual around rites of passage.

Women aren’t initiated into womanhood with their first new moon bleeding by being told stories of how they are now able to participate in the superpowers of womanhood with all the other women that have gone before them.  I was told no tales of glory to aspire to.  And when I was pregnant on my way to the biggest challenge and victory of my life, there was no built-in positive imagery to inspire me, no stories of joining the ranks of motherhood alongside other women. I had to actively seek them out.

myths of birthWe wanna be in the club.

After giving birth to her son my friend turned to her mother with a look of surprise and almost shame “I feel like I’ve joined the club!” she said, “you have!” her mother happily agreed. Why are we surprised when we feel like we’ve joined a club, and why do we feel bad about that accomplishment?

In some cultures women returning from birth are revered as warriors returning from battle.  Honored, celebrated.  Don’t you crave that?  Isn’t there a little part of you that really wants someone to say “You did it!  You’ve been entered into the club! Join us!”

Baby showers and bridal showers serve a great purpose, but they don’t quite prepare you for the psychological, spiritual and emotional change that comes after.  They’re a bit watered down aren’t they?  We really could do a better job of inspiring and empowering women.

So why don’t we have any?

Why are we lacking these rites of passage, these myths to push us forward? Lots of reasons.

Here are a few:

We’ve been told to “not be a hero” because it’s dangerous and totally out of our control. (I’ve actuall heard nurses say this to mothers!)

We’ve been told motherhood is “the most important job” by a culture that simultaneously doesn’t support mothers financially or socially.

We’ve been told the club isn’t really a club of motherhood at all because women do things so differently and we should judge each other based on those differences.

We’ve been told that birth is not ours, it’s theirs: the doctors who “deliver” not women who “deliver” or “birth”.


And so my student felt that it was silly to even say you want something, if it’s true that it’s not really yours, not under your control, and motherhood isn’t really a club or an accomplishment.

So what can we do?  As wise women? 

myths of birthReligious ceremonies used to handle this problem for us – they would initiate people into the next stage of life. We need to share our positive birth stories and stop judging each other for the differences.  We need to be brave enough to consider that maybe we were hurt during our birth stories.  We need to create motherhood spaces.

For me, I asked for a mother blessing, with scripture, positive words and inspiring stories.  I had my body celebrated with henna.   I practiced yoga to connect with my embodied wisdom and the wisdom of all the mothers before me.  I hung up visuals around my labor tub with women powerfully birthing – beautiful art images and phrases to inspire me and keep my consciousness at a higher level than the pain.  To keep my eyes on the vision.  At one point my midwife pointed out that I looked exactly like one of the images on my wall. (After all, the body goes where the mind goes.)  My doula and midwife spoke verses and prayed over me.

I think it will make all the difference.

No, that’s not quite true.  I know it will.  I think we will see the birth culture in the US change, and the birth outcomes improve (unfortunately, they’re not that great) when we embrace new stories about birth.  New images, visuals, role models.  We need stories.  We need better images than hysterical women on TV.

This is why I choose birth art from an artist to represent the work I do with mamas. This is what I offer through my Blissful Mama Program  To gather women together to initiate, impart wisdom, create birth art.  The chance to be inspired and celebrated, so you can experience motherhood and birth as a sacred mission.  This is why we need to hear your story, and so do our daughters.

Are you craving that guidance and tribe? That unbiased support and resource?  Schedule your Blissful Mama Breakthrough Session and get started. 

My Birth Story : Fiona Lynn Maurer

birth story Fiona

When talking with mamas – doula clients, friends, coaching clients – I often ask to hear their feelings about their birth at several different points postpartum.  The birth story a mama will tell in the first 24 hours is very different from her story at one week, one month, one year.  This is not just because the physical memory of the pain fades, but also because our feelings about the events themselves change.  What seemed ok at the time in the throws of labor hormones may really upset you a few months later, or vice versa.  It’s so important to honor all of those feelings, to be ok with your feelings about your birth changing over time.  I know it’s important for me already. 

So our birth story begins when we found out I was pregnant last summer.  We were both sure we wanted a homebirth, and also knew we were moving halfway across the country to Minnesota (from Virginia), so we started looking and found Erika Urban, based in Mankato.  We met with her when we arrived, and had one prenatal appointment when we got to hear Fiona’s heartbeat- such a relief after the miscarriage of my last pregnancy. (Read that story here.)
Soon after however, we found out that with my husband’s new job, came awesome insurance that covered prenatal care 100% – including a midwifery practice that had recently started water births in Sioux Falls, about an hour away.  After much deliberation, we decided to switch from home care to this hospital based “birth center”.  The midwives were great and the birth rooms and tubs seemed cozy, dim, and a space I could possibly birth.  However, the longer we received care there the less I felt like it was the place for us.  Though I had asked what they “required” for mamas who wanted water births and was told “nothing”, the closer we got to the end of pregnancy the less that seemed to be true.  I would have been happy to sign waivers and just refuse testing I didn’t want, but I started to get the sneaking suspicion that they just wouldn’t put me in a water birth room, which they did have the power to do, if I was “non compliant.”  I also became concerned about their NICU policies for “non compliant” moms.  

I felt that being a zero risk pregnancy I should really be allowed any birthing options I wanted, however, I was told since the water birth program was newer, they still had to comply with a lot of protocol to please the OBs and the hospital lawyers that they didn’t really feel was necessary.  I hadn’t wanted an ultrasound, the gestational diabetes screening, or the GBS testing.  And somehow, I had already conceded two of those things and the “failure” of the one hour GD test now risked me out of a water birth unless I agreed to take and pass the three hour test.  None of which I was comfortable with – I didn’t want to ever put that sort of weird orange drink in my body again (which it clearly hadn’t reacted well to) especially since it might come back positive again and I would still be in the same position I was.  I mostly felt that I wasn’t being heard, that what was best and safest for me and Fiona was not as important as fulfilling hospital policy.  
I finally reached a breaking point one day in tears, sitting at lunch with my husband and doula.  I decided to sleep on it, perhaps calm my pregnant nerves and see if I felt better in the morning.  I woke up again in tears and my husband said “That’s it!  We’re finding a homebirth midwife.”  I spent the next two days on the phone with my doula and with midwives all over the state trying to find someone who could take me at 33 weeks.  The midwife we had originally met with was booked up already, but we were blessed to get in contact with Rachel Knudson  (Gentle Hands Midwifery).  And she had availability.  Immediately on the phone I knew that she understood where I was coming from, why I was upset and was happy to talk with me at length about my feelings, my care, and where I was physically.  She came the following week for our first prenatal (all in our very own home – which is fantastic considering this was the coldest winter in Minnesota in 35 years!) 
For several weeks before labor I would have days/nights with a few hours of pre-labor surges.  Sometimes getting so intense we started to try to time them.  But I always knew it wasn’t the main event – they didn’t feel rhythmic or low like the miscarriage contractions had been.  So I waited.  Took lots of baths and naps. 

About 4 days past what we thought was my 40 week mark, I woke up at 4 am with what I knew was labor.  I made some breakfast, got in the tub, and texted our midwife and our doula Joey.  Around 5 I woke up Bryan to cancel his event for the day, ate another english muffin, and got back in the tub.  We called our doula and told her to come over, but told the midwife we probably had some time.  I got in the tub and this time surges didn’t slow down at all, and my gut told me to call Rachel back and tell her to come.  Really glad I did!  
When Joey arrived around 8:30 I’m told, I was laboring in our tub still and contractions had been steadily about 4-5 minutes apart.  Within minutes of her arriving I could see Bryan visibly relax, stop pacing around the house and my surges picked up to two minutes apart.  When the midwife called to check in and say she was about 30 minutes away (her trip is about an hour and forty five minutes), I asked if we could set up the big tub and get in it – she said yes and Bryan started setting it up.  He and Joey tagged teamed being with me and setting up the tub in my office/guest room at the other end of the house. I was getting in just as Rachel arrived. 

The tub was set up in what we call “The preggo sanctuary”  – the guest room/my office at the opposite end of the apartment to the master bedroom and bath.  I had little notecards with scripture and quotes as well as my “birth-spiration” images on taped to the wall. 

Being in the tub was such a relief.  Moving freely with each surge, a little less pressure but still the benefit of gravity.  My doula and Bryan behind me, in front of me, surrounding me.  My midwife and the assistant midwife (who turned out to be the midwife we met with first!) sat quietly, nodding, encouraging every so often, taking Bryan or Joey’s place when they needed to run to the bathroom or get a drink for themselves. I felt totally supported – by the water, and the voices, prayers and hands of the people around me. 

I don’t know how long I labored in the tub before I hit transition, maybe an hour or two.  I just floated around, breathing, moaning,  I remember telling Bryan I was so glad we weren’t in a hospital with nurses to interrupt me, and that if someone tried to put a fetal monitor on me I would “kick them in the balls”.  Which was funny, but also probably true.  

 Transition came on with shakes, burps and tears.  Up until that point labor really felt just like my miscarriage had.  It seemed to go on forever, though I could feel her moving down.  It was during my three hour or so transition that Joey and Bryan really got their workouts.  I physically and emotionally hung on them pretty hard.  I remember looking at my birth art on the wall, and occasionally my consciousness would shift back from labor land and tune into the sound of my birth playlist (I’ll share that below) or of the encouraging words from Bryan, Joey or Rachel.  

They read my scriptures and quotes, and prayed over me.  I remember hearing Bryan tearfully whisper in my ear how beautiful and strong I was, how much he loved me.  All these words echoed in my heart, I held onto them as each surge came and I started to feel exhausted.  

I was hoping that as the pushing phase began I would feel a sense of relief, much like many of my clients had expressed.  But for me, this wasn’t the case.  Pushing felt foreign.  Thirteen years of practicing and teaching yoga had trained me well to breath through uncomfortable sensations, but I was much less familiar with pushing into an uncomfortable sensation.  My cousin (who also had a home water birth) described it as “your body pushing, but you putting your subconscious push behind it.”  I agree, it felt more like I would join the wave of pushing, of “throwing down” that my body was doing and when I did it became totally out of my control, totally beyond me.  

I pushed in the tub for about an hour (I’m told!) and I was beaching exhausted.  As she  moved downward she pressed on nerves giving me leg cramps I couldn’t find a comfortable place to bear. I remember feeling that I just couldn’t get her to move down any farther. I remember saying several times “It’s all in my ass!  It feels like she’s trying to exit through the wrong hole!”

 I was holding my perineum with one hand and holding onto Bryan/Joey with my left arm. Rachel pointed out that I looked just like one of my favorite birth images on the wall in front of me:

She also suggested I check and see if I could feel Fiona’s head.  When I could, about a finger digit length in everyone cheered (except me! lol).  Erika and Rachel suggested that since I was becoming tired, maybe it was a good time to try to labor on the toilet for awhile, get some more gravity.  “I don’t want to!” I remember saying.  Erika encouraged me that Fiona was coming either way, but before we both got exhausted it might be best to use some other tools.  I knew they were right, and I knew as soon as I moved it was going to be more painful.  “I really and actually hate this” I said to Bryan surprised.  The first half of labor was totally bearable with moaning and breathing, the second half made me consider a new career.  I really was thinking “I’m gonna have to get a new job!”

I waddled to the bathroom with the aid of everyone, holding my right hand on my perineum.  I sat on the toilet, but it didn’t feel low enough.  I just kept half standing and sitting back down.   I wanted to squat down lower but was afraid my legs couldn’t hold me up with all of the shaking.  Rachel suggested I get on one knee, with one leg in a squat.  So I did, and rose up and down a few times with surges, bringing her down farther and farther. 
When Bryan started to tear up at the sight of her head, I thought it would be inspiring to move my hands and look down.  Unfortunately that tiny sliver that was emerging and was so encouraging to Bryan was so discouraging to me – I had seen enough baby heads emerge from yonis to know there was a lot  more baby head to go! 

“She’s almost here!  Just think, you’ll see her soon!” Everyone encouraged me.  To which I responded “I really don’t give a shit as long as this is over!”  

I remember thinking at one point “I could just die here instead.  That’s an option.”  There was this moment for me where I really was face to face with the most intense pain of my life, with the limits of my body for sure;  but more significantly the limits of my beliefs about my body, the limits of my spirit, the limits of my whole human self.  It was after the birth, though I hated the second half of the process that I said to Bryan “There’s no way you can do that, can hold your baby’s head as it emerges, can reach the limits of yourself and go on, and not  feel like you can do anything.  Everything else is down hill from here!”

A few minutes later as her head was really emerging, and oh did I feel that ring of fire, let me tell you, I shouted “it’s too dry or something!  It feels dry!”  Probably all those hours in the tub!  Someone grabbed olive oil and Rachel poured some on my perineum – “No the top!” I said and as she poured that soothing oil there, Fiona’s big, 14.25cm head, skinny shoulders and body came pouring out in one push.  Rachel had been getting Bryan in position to catch her but didn’t have time with her speedy entrance, so as I moved my hand and she caught her she shouted “Sorry Bryan!”

I remember sitting down, feeling stunned, saying I was too shaky to hold her.  But they must have given her to me to walk back to the bed (and there’s a photo for proof lol).  I sat with the placenta in this bowl next to me and this stunned look on my face for quite awhile.

I stared at her, feeling like she was so unfamiliar  looking.  She felt familiar, but she looked nothing like I had imagined her. In fact, it took several days for her to look familiar.  I would say both of us were in a shock for a good 12-24 hours.  Trying to believe what had just happened.  I wasn’t even convinced it was worth it for the first day.  Honestly!  She was born on a Friday and by Sunday I was overjoyed she was here.  My birth high lasted for the first almost two weeks straight – it was magical.  I was truly blessed to have my mom fly all the way from Philly and our doula come back for some postpartum hours; as well as a very attentive midwife.  

Bryan described it as “watching someone completely empty themselves, until there’s nothing left but the baby to leave”.  “A rite of passage he said, because the journey of pregnancy deserves a grand finale and the journey of motherhood deserves and needs an initiation ceremony that requires everything from you and leaves you feeling both unbelievably strong and unbelievably dependent on those around you.” I feel like one of the amazing paradoxes of life is how spiritual growth occurs- that you can hate a  part of the process and truly love the whole journey all at the same time; that you can feel resistance to pain and bravely forge ahead all in one moment.  I might even suggest that some of the most valuable things in life arrive by some of the largest choices of sacrifice and pain, surrender to something greater.  At least, that was my experience! I wouldn’t have had it any other way- it was impossible and perfect- the right choice for us. 

So that’s the story of Fiona’s arrival earth side!  Thanks for listening 🙂 

More of birth-spiration images and quotes:


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

“But those who wait on the Lord (who expect, look for and hope in him) shall charge and renew their strength and power, they shall lift their wrings and mount up (close to God) as easels; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not grow faint or become tired” – Isaiah 40

“God is within her, she will not fall, God will help her at break of day.” Psalm 46:5

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop and look fear in the face.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

“He will rejoice over you with joy, He will rest in silent satisfaction, He will exult over you with singing.” – Zephaniah 3

My Birth Playlist:


Nils Frahm “Screws”
Splendid Beauty: Classical Indian Flute & Violin, Music for Deep Relaxation
Chinmaya Dunster “Ragas Relax”


Hillsong “Soon”
Hillsong “Arise”
Hillsong “Oceans”
Selah “Great is Thy Faithfulness”
Chelsea Moon & The Franz Brothers “Trust & Obey”
Phil Wickham “It is Well With My Soul”
Daniel Martin Moore “It is Well With My Soul”
Over the Rhine “Favorite Time of Light”
Patty Griffin “Not Alone”
 Gillian Welch “I Made a Lovers Prayer”
Bob Dylan “Boots of Spanish Leather”
Ben Harper “Waiting on an Angel”
Matthew Perryman “Meghan’s Song”
Liz Caroll “A Day and an Age”
Dr. N. Rajam “Raga Deshi”

Want to know more about creating your nourished pregnancy, empowered birth and joyful postpartum? Schedule Your Blissful Mama Breakthrough Session now, just click here!



Yasmina’s Birth Story

Dear Yasmina,
I was your mama’s doula for your birthday, which means I had the honor of supporting and being with your mom and dad for the day you arrived. I met Mom months before you were born, talking with her and getting to know her.  Dad I met just a week or so before you arrived, but I could instantly see their connection and his excitement to meet you.
The week before you came, we started to suspect that you might be coming a little early.  Mom was effaced and dilated and she was having “cramps” I suspected were contractions (her body was getting ready to start bringing you here!).  When Dad arrived from Yemen, Mom’s emotions and body changed; we all think that you knew Dad was home and it was time to make your appearance.  Mom and Dad got to spend some time together, relaxing at the beach and enjoying each other, the perfect way to wait for a baby to come. 
On Friday, April 12, 2013, I was headed to the train station to pick up some visitors from out of town when I heard my alarm on my phone- it was your mama!  I knew that you were going to be here soon, and I had tried to prepare Mom the day before that her labor with you would probably be quick, maybe even starting with her waters breaking.  Sure enough that 8:30pm phone call was to tell me her water had broken and she was having contractions!
I ran to my house to change and grab my doula bag and started my 30 minute drive to the Riverside Hospital in Newport News.  When I arrived, Mom and Dad were just settling in, and we discovered Mom was in transition already- 8 cm!  Though I wasn’t surprised, I think Mom felt a little overwhelmed.  An hour later, the IV and intake forms were barely taken care of, when Mom began to use all her effort to push you down and out into the world. 
She looked beautiful, calm, focused. Dad was so wonderfully calm as well, bringing Mama water, whispering in her ear, telling her he loved her.  Mom was meant to go into labor with you that day, to have the team of care providers she did- a great nurse and a midwife that I am really fond of.  They were both patient and encouraging.  
After about an hour of pushing, Mom had turned on all fours, on both of her sides, and she said to us “Guys, I think the baby’s stuck.”  The midwife and I exchanged knowing glances.  When a Mama says something about her baby, she is right.  Moms know intuitively when they are allowed to labor and birth in a supported environment where they can be connected to their body and their baby.  But we wanted her to connect with you and find a way to “unstick” you, so we encouraged her “Baby is just fine.  You are just fine, just keep doing what you’re doing.  We’re almost there.”
The midwife, Karen, had to do some maneuvering to get your shoulder unhooked from Mom’s pubic bone, while the great nurse, Carly, Dad, and I continued to encourage Mom to keep up her strength and bring you here.  At 12:21 am, Saturday, April 13, 2013 you arrived!  Chubby cheeked and pink and beautiful.  I saw a tear in Dad’s eye, and Mom was overwhelmed by your arrival.  We were all so proud of her, so proud of you, so proud of Dad, and excited to meet you- all 9lbs and 10 oz!
Mom was a little swollen, but didn’t tear at all- even with your tricky shoulder dystocia. Mom did such an amazing job, all the while looking incredibly beautiful- a true birthing goddess.   It was truly an amazing and beautiful birth and you are blessed to have such wonderful parents to care for you.  
Thank you for letting me share in your birthday.
All my love,
Doula Sandra

Real Moms: Ashley’s Birth Story

This is the story of the journey to the birth of my second child, Dalton Harris Teller. Ever since I was a young girl, I dreamed of the day I’d become a mother. Even then I knew I wanted to have a drug free natural birth. With my first child, I chose a hospital with midwives. I was very interested in homebirth but wanted to be in a hospital with my first. After my first birth experience, there were many things I didn’t like about the hospital setting. Though I achieved a natural, drug free birth, it was a very long and exhausting 24 hour labor with 3 hours of pushing and many unneccessary distractions and interventions.
I labored at home for the first 8 hours, mostly sitting on my birth ball. I noticed a huge difference in my progress the second we left for the hospital and things slowed down. I was 6 cm when I was checked. I had a shift change 6 hours after that which was another hiccup. I had been sitting on the ball almost the whole time because standing made the contractions more painful and I was afraid of how bad it would get. The new midwife made me stand which I hated. Then, almost 12 hours after arriving at the hospital I was stuck at 8 cm so we decided to break my water and I had an instant urge to push. The midwife had me pushing in weird positions that were uncomfortable instead of allowing me to do what I felt I needed. I ended up pushing when I wasn’t even having contractions. They all but stopped after an hour. We tried nipple stimulation unsuccessfully for almost an hour. Then we decided to start pitocin to get things moving again. I remember my midwife at one point threatening that we were being watched and I needed to get him out if I wanted to avoid a csection. I pushed, on my back (which I didn’t want) for another hour before my son was born. He came out and didn’t cry though he was pink. He was a little gurgly, but instead of suctioning him while he was with me, they took him to the other side of the room to work on him. He was perfectly fine, but they still went about their business of weighing, cleaning up, getting footprints, and wrapping him up before I had my chance to have skin to skin. It felt like an eternity before I finally got to see his face and I felt like I had been robbed of that important first moment with him. When we finally got to attempt breastfeeding, we had a lot of issues. Of course, he was healthy, everything was fine, and I was proud of myself for doing it without drugs, but I felt like this birth was taken out of my control.
When I became pregnant the second time, I started off in a different hospital with a different midwife since we had moved from Chicago to Indiana. I felt confident that I could avoid some of the issues I had with my first hospital birth. However, I still had strong feelings about a homebirth even then. During my 2nd trimester, my husband was graduating from his undergraduate and looking for his first job. Though we were trying to stay in the area close to our family, he ended up finding employment in Virginia. I researched hospitals and found The Midwifery Center at DePaul. I contacted them and was informed that they were full until after my due date. I also contacted a homebirth midwife who said that she required $3,000 up front. This was not an option for us. However, I knew that I had to be cared for by a midwife if I hoped to have the kind of birth I wanted. I asked my midwife in Indiana for help and advice and she contacted some people and found a brand new, free standing birth center that was 1.5 hours from our new home.
Though it was a hike, the Family Maternity Center of the Northern Neck was a beautiful facility that combined the best of the hospital world and homebirth world. I was thrilled. During my 31 week appointment we were told that the birth center would be shutting down due to funding. I was so frustrated since it had been so difficult to get to this point. There was a midwife there who was working as a birth assistant and asked if I had ever considered a homebirth. I told her it was something I was always interested in but money was an issue. She told me she had a homebirth service and that if it was something that I wanted, she wouldn’t let money be our deciding factor. The midwife that I had seen several times at the FMCNN informed me that she was going to a hospital up in Richmond and that I could follow her. It was almost as far as the birth center, but I knew with a hospital that I would have to stay there for several days afterward and I didn’t feel comfortable leaving my son that far for that long. I had gotten excited about being able to be home right after the birth so we could start life with our new family right away. Not to mention my fear of all of the interventions and distractions I had experienced the first time. I couldn’t bring myself to go back into the hospital.
So I began on my homebirth journey with 8 weeks left before my due date. It was a challenging, isolating time. I didn’t know anyone where we had moved. I received negativity from many people in my life and it made me seperate myself from a lot of people. I had some anxiety and felt uneasy about my decision at times because of everyone’s negative opinions. At the same time, I was so excited about the opportunity and trusted my midwife and knew that everything would work out well. I decided to only focus on being positive. I found stories and videos of homebirths online and visualized the most perfect of births as I prepared our bedroom and home for the big day. I even said my goal was to have an 8 hour labor. I knew this time that I had to face the pain head on and work hard if I wanted to things to go smoothly. By the time my due date was approaching, I was confident and excited for labor to begin.
On Saturday Sept 24th I started having inconsistent contractions. I knew they were the real thing though because they were painful and I had inconsistent contractions for several days before I went into labor with my first child as well. We decided to get out of the house and went bowling and out for pizza. That evening I lost my mucus plug. Luckily the contractions would subside at night so I could sleep. The next morning I started having bloody show so I knew I was dialating. We went to church for the first time since we had moved. I prayed for an uncomplicated, quick labor and a healthy baby as I sat rubbing my belly during contractions. We came home and watched football and ate a spicey soup my mom had made. I said maybe that would put my over the edge and into real labor.
The next morning was Monday and my husband gave me a kiss before he left for work around 5:30 am. I started having very painful contractions in bed and couldn’t lay down anymore. Our son was sleeping in our bed and I didn’t want to disturb him. So, I got up and got in the shower. I knew today was the day. Standing made the contractions so intense since I could feel gravity pulling the baby down. I had several in the shower that took my breath away. They were very different from my first labor. I felt a little panicked and I had a feeling things would progress much faster this time. I got out, got dressed, and called my husband to tell him he should turn around and come home from work. I went downstairs and made myself some oatmeal with honey and walnuts.
Around 8:00 am I called my midwife to let her know today was the day. She told me to call her when I needed her. I knew I wanted to stay moving and standing because I wanted things to move quicker this time. With my first labor, I sat on my birth ball most of my labor, afraid of the pain. When I sat on the birth ball this time, my contractions spaced out and were less intense which I knew would make things take longer. My son was so sweet, coming up and telling me it was ok and giving me kisses when I moaned during a contraction. I had prepared him for what he would see and hear by letting him watch birth videos with me, including his own which had many images of me moaning during contractions. I stood up off the ball and started walking around periodically to keep things moving. Everytime I stood up I would instantly have a very intense contraction. They were still far apart but long and strong.
I called my midwife again around 10:00 am to let her know that contractions were very different the time so I didn’t know how to compare them to my first labor, but I felt like things were moving quickly. She said she had 2 babies she needed to go see and then planned to come to me but to call if she should come sooner. She then told me she’d call her assistant and send her first. So I decided to head up to the bedroom, get the bed made, light some candles, put on music, and sit on my ball and wait for them. I knew if I was on the ball that things wouldn’t move too quickly before they arrived, so it would buy some time.
The assistant got there around 12:00 pm and started observing my contractions. Since they were spaced out far and I was sitting on the ball, I’m sure I didn’t seem like things were happening anytime soon. I told the assistant, If she wanted me to have contractions I could stand up and I’d have one right away. I asked her if I should stay on the ball or stand up and getting things moving and she said it depended on what I wanted to happen. I said I wanted to have a baby, so I got up off my ball and started standing only. I was ready to fully surrender to the contractions. I wrapped my arms around my husband’s neck and he put counterpressure on either side of my belly as we rocked back and forth. At one point I noticed that if I would have a contraction without him there with me, the pain felt so much worse. If he was there working through them with me it made them more tolerable. The assistant later told me that after I started standing my contractions got a minute closer with every one. Before I knew it they were rolling one after the other and I was moaning out. My son came up to check on us periodically and would go back dowstairs with his grandma.
My midwife finally arrived around 1:00 pm and instantly started getting out her equipment and setting up. I sensed some urgency as she moved about the room getting things ready and it made my excited. She believes in unhindered birth and I felt a huge difference to this approach. I felt competely in control of my labor. They started to blow up the pool since we hoped for a waterbirth. At one point my husband and I moved into the hallway. I felt myself get emotional and said to him, “We’re gonna have a baby soon.” Suddenly I had a very different, very intense contraction. I felt the baby drop down into the birth canal and with a burst my water broke. The next contraction I was in transition and took me clothes off. Contractions rolled one on top of the other, my knees gave out as I hung onto my husband’s neck, as my body uncontrollably started pushing the baby down. I kept saying, “I want to get in the tub”. I looked over and it was only 1/4 of the way full. I’m not sure why, but I felt like the water was going to save me from something. My midwife told me the tub had about 10 minutes left to fill but she wasn’t sure I had that much time.
I decided I didn’t want to wait and that I’d like to squat. I had really hoped to squat during my first delivery so I was excited that I had the chance now. I asked if we should call for my son and my mom and we decided we should wait until I pushed for awhile and the baby was ready to come out. My husband sat on the edge of the bed and I squatted down, holding myself up on his legs. As soon as she finally got a view, my midwife turned to her assistant and said, “Ok, you should call them up.” I knew the baby was right there. I had another contraction and my body was pushing the baby out for me. 1 push and the head was halfway out. My midwife asked me not to push and to just let baby’s head ease out. My body thought otherwise and pushed baby’s head all the way out with the next contraction. I ended up tearing but since I wasn’t forcefully pushing, I was just letting my body do what it needed. I could hear my son crying because he was scared of the noises I was making but my mom showed him that the baby was coming and he instantly got excited. My midwife asked if I wanted to catch my baby and I reached down and felt a little chubby head. She said the baby was trying to cry before he was even out. One more surge and my body pushed my baby out into my hands. I saw his little penis right away because he peed as soon as he came out and I couldn’t believe it was a boy since I was convinced he was a girl. I pulled him to my chest, completely amazed that he was already here, almost exactly 8 hours after labor began, 1/3 shorter time than my first labor. He was perfect. He wailed big strong cries, turned instantly pink, and then just stared at me peacefully. My first born came up to take a peek at his new brother and give him kisses.
We got into the bed shortly after and he started rooting and latched to my breast right away and nursed for a good hour. We just snuggled in bed looking at each other as the family talked about names, since we didn’t have a boy name picked out. Since we missed our waterbirth, we decided to take a Leboyer bath together. It was so calming for him to get back into a warm wet environment again and very soothing for me. We continued to talk about names while we were in the tub and Dalton seemed so fitting, I couldn’t picture any other. It wasn’t even on our list possibilities. Even big brother said that was his favorite name. After getting out of the tub and dressed, my midwife did his newborn exam right on our bed with all of us looking on. We all guessed his weight as she put him into the stork scale and raised him up. Mommy was right on, 8 lbs even and 20 in long. They cleaned up the room and then we all took pictures together, elated at how perfectly the day went. After they left, we opened a bottle of champagne and toasted Dalton as we all ate thai food together in bed. Then we fell asleep in our big comfy family bed. It was wonderful to start our life at home together right away.

I couldn’t be happier that my journey this time lead me to a homebirth. The whole experience has made me stronger and more confident than I could have ever imagined. I feel like it was presented to me, like it was something I was truely meant to do. It was life changing and empowering. I have had so many positive reactions from people who have said seeing pictures of the day has made them less afraid of birth and more excited. I know homebirth is controversial and it’s not for everyone, but it was perfect for us. I clearly saw the difference in my 2 experiences. My midwife’s hands off approach put me in total control of my body and she was just there to support me as I birthed. To be surrounded by women who trusted birth and knew the best thing to do was just let things take their course and only step in if necessary enabled me to labor as I needed; unjudged, unrestricted, and in full control. My labor this time went so smoothly and quickly, my baby was perfectly healthy in everyway, and we had invaluable bonding time as a family right from the get go in the comfort of our own bedroom. It was so calm; no nurses coming in and out, no shots or circumcision to bring my newly born son pain or discomfort, and our whole family surrounding us. Our homebirth was everything a birth should be; personal, peaceful, and full of love.

What Happened in Ohio, Stays in Ohio.

Warning: The following story is true.  The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

The strangest doula experience I have ever had (during my somewhat limited time as a doula) was last summer (2011).

I wish I could say that some magical birth experience happened; that somehow the mother demanded and received better care from stubborn care providers in the hospital or that what looked like a scary and horrible situation ended up being a heroic miraculous birth that was written about in midwifery and medical journals.  I would even like to share that my weirdest doula experience was a sad one, so we could learn from it how to better care for women. What actually happened was that I was left alone in a stranger’s house in the middle of Ohio.

True story.

Are you wondering why as a Virginia doula I was in Ohio for a birth and I was sitting alone? I was wondering the same thing.  A few weeks earlier, in June of 2012, I received a phone call from the local Nanny Agency.  It seems that a fairly well off couple was hiring a round-the-clock nanny for their twin newborns that were due to be born in July.  Their local nanny agency suggested she also hire a doula, perhaps someone to live with her.  Since the agency didn’t have any doulas in their registry, they asked agencies they were associated with, and my local nanny agency said “We’ve got a doula!”

So I spoke with her about what the family was looking for, came up with a price that seemed fair to fly to Ohio and live with this family for four weeks, and then spoke with mom to make arrangements final.

I learned a little bit about the family through their nanny agency and through the mother.  She was a young, first time mom, I believe just 22 or 23 years old, married to a baseball player.  She and her husband lived in Ohio only during baseball season, and spent the rest of the year in the home many states away.  She was having twins, which they had actually suspected and hoped would be the case, and was very excited.  They were nervous that Dad would miss the birth with his game schedule, and hiring a live-in doula seemed like the perfect solution.

She was nearing the end of pregnancy, and was gaining a lot of fluid weight.  I mean like 30 lbs in the last two weeks before I arrived.  She was planning her delivery at a well known local hospital where high risk moms often delivered their children. I had no idea what to expect, but mom sounded incredibly sweet on the phone, I desperately wanted to attend a twin birth and I have this irritating urge for travel and adventure that would lead me to sign a contract and get on a plane to go live with strangers.  Ah, Sandra, the things you do.

I got on the plane and arrived in Ohio to be picked up by her best, childhood friend who was visiting from out of town.  The mother, let’s call her Rebecca, was admitted to the hospital the day before for blood pressure concerns.  She took me right to the hospital, without my luggage, since of course, USAir had lost my bag (as usual.)  When I arrived she was just as I had pictured her: a beautiful, young blonde girl so swollen with pregnancy it startled you a bit to see her.  It was like seeing someone in costume, you can sort of see what they look like on a normal day, but not really.

I think she was surprised that I was so young.  I could see the questions running through her head like a banner at the bottom of the TV screen on CNN “She’s so young?  Where are her birkenstocks and long grey braids? Does she really know what she’s doing? ”  I could sense a small seed of discomfort being planted in that room..we were all aware of it and yet all trying to push through the sticky grey awkwardness and find a place we might all be comfortable.  She was polite and engaging, we shared stories, trying to find some common ground to relate on.  Normally I pass this part during my first interview with a client, so trying to accomplish this while already in the hospital was a lot more challenging.  And this was only my third client!

I was relieved when the doctor arrived within a couple of hours to discharge her with just a request to continue to monitor blood pressure from home and come back in a few days. Not only was I exhausted, but I wasn’t sure if she’d want me to stay and I knew that if we were all going to start spending this much time in the hospital before labor had even started, we would be spent and discouraged by the time the show really started.

We headed home where I had to borrow some sweat pants to lounge in while I waited for my suitcase to arrive.  At this point I felt like the awkward older sister that no one invited to the slumber party but had to be there anyway.  The girls settled in to watch the baseball game while I retired to my room early to watch netflix on my laptop and call my husband.

Did I mention I know nothing about baseball? I mean nothing.  It was going to be a long month.

We went to her appointment on Friday morning for an ultrasound, some time on the fetal monitor and checking mom’s urine and blood pressure.  Baby A had been in a breech position at the last appointment so everyone was hoping that he had turned.  I had given mom some literature about turning babies and talked with her about ideas.  Though she seemed positive and receptive, I think her exhaustion and the extra water weight discouraged her from practicing any of them.  Luckily, the ultrasound revealed Baby A was head down.  We rejoiced!  Though the OB attempted to hide his disappointment, his face visibly dropped.  My guess is that he was hoping to be able to schedule a cesarean that day because of the baby’s position and go home for the weekend knowing he wasn’t going to get called back in for her birth.  He paused for a moment, and then suggested she be admitted anyway, due to her high blood pressure, (although her blood pressure had remained the same since he had discharged her a few days ago).  ” I would like you to be admitted anyway” he said.

Of course he would.

And this young mama-to-be, in all of her discomfort and vulnerability, felt some relief at the idea that maybe if they admitted her she was closer to having these babies and said “ok, whatever you think.”

My heart sank.  Intuition told me that what this girl was in for was a several day long hospital stay, with constant interruptions, lots of different kinds of advice from lots of different nurses, monitoring, nowhere to go and nothing to do.  Anyone put in that kind of position would become exhausted, begin to feel less like a person capable of rational decisions and more like a ‘patient’, dependent  on the people around her to tell her when she could shower, eat, dress, and pee. What I feared was that after a few days of this, her husband would arrive home for a ten day stay, and in an effort to have the baby while he was here (who could blame her?) and get out of the hospital she would agree to an induction, which would lead to a cesarean at the hands of this OB who appeared to be hopeful he would get to perform one.

I was glad I was here.  Her nurses for the most part made fun of women who chose to birth without an epidural, and talked about what a miracle it was that she was trying to birth twins without surgery.  Far from being helpful, this “advice” just added to her confusion, exhaustion and anxiety.

“Hopefully,” I thought,”I can provide some positive support for her.  How lucky to have nowhere else to go and no one else to see for my whole stay here!”

That first day in the hospital was fine, her friend was still with her, and the three of us watched an irritating amount of The Kardashians (which I admit I hadn’t actually watched until that day).  The girls enlightened me on celebrity gossip and shopped for baby clothes on Etsy. Rebecca was in good spirits.  I think she felt that being in the hospital was somehow a sign that she was close to delivery, and not a sign, as I felt, that this birth was going to go as she had hoped.

Her friend left the next day, and things began to go somewhat downhill.  I felt so much sympathy for her, stuck in the hospital bed, having her urine tested constantly, blood pressure constantly monitored, no friend, no husband, swollen and tired.  I desperately wanted to offer her solace, to teach her, to empower her, to listen to her.  But she didn’t seem to want to speak to me.

She did speak to nurses.  She told everyone else that came in the room how thin she used to be.  She was clearly suffering at the loss of her pre-pregnancy body and was anxious to return to it as soon as possible.  She shared stories of other baseball wives who worked out the day they went into labor and were at the field watching games within a few days of giving birth.  I tried to prepare her for that probably not happening.  I also tried to help her understand that with surgery this would truly not be an option for her, but it seemed surgery was seeming less scary and more appealing with each day she remained in the hospital.  I think she held a false belief that surgery would get her out of there sooner.

At one point she was reading an article online about birth and epidurals that seemed to lack a few important pieces of information.  When I suggested that she remember those, she snapped back “I’m going to do whatever they tell me to, they know what’s best for me.”  I was shocked that she thought I was attacking all of her care providers and their intentions, but mostly I was saddened.  Saddened that she no longer felt she knew what was best for her own body and children, and saddened that she felt I didn’t have their best interests at heart either.  I went silent, for a few hours.  On my next coffee trip downstairs I called a few doulas I knew and my best friend in tears “Am I crazy?  Am I ruining this?  How on earth can I help her?”

They shared their wisdom and love, their experiences and their insights.  It was invaluable.

I returned to the room, offering her as much of myself as I could muster. In my opinion, it’s always best to choose a well-timed moment to thoughtfully and positively address any discomfort or disruption in relationships. What if her animosity towards me made labor difficult?  I wouldn’t want that.  I hoped that this was just her frustration talking, that during labor she might seek my help and that afterwards be grateful I was there to help her care for these little ones.  Especially, as I feared, if she had surgery.

“Rebecca, I want you to know that I would never suggest that your care providers don’t have your best interest at heart.  I think that you know what’s best above all of us, even me.  I was only trying to make sure that you had all the information.  I don’t want you to be surprised by anything after the birth, but to feel that you made all your decisions knowing your options.  I am here to support you how you want to birth. Ok?  I’m sorry if I made you feel otherwise. “

She looked surprised and accepted my apology, told me she knew. I was hopeful we had turned the corner.  But the rest of the day was spent in silence and my doula packet of information sat unopened on her bedside table.

I went home for the night and returned to find things the same, if not worse the next day.  I would offer to do things for her (get the birth ball, grab her a snack) and she would decline; only to ask a nurse to do it for her a few minutes later. She would google things about birth and discuss it on the phone with friends instead of asking me though I was sitting right next to her.  I became distraught, cried in the hallway bathroom a few times, called my best friend, but soldiered on. Her husband arrived that evening and I was relieved to meet him. incredibly kind and gentle, his presence lifted his wife’s spirits so much that I thought she might give birth the moment he walked in!  It was so wonderful to see the two of them, their love and the babies they had created.

To give them alone time I left again, taking their car from the valet (who kept giving me the pregnant mother discount. I wasn’t sure if I should be flattered or offended!) I spent the night at their home, assuming I’d be returning in the morning.  But dad told me that he was here and I could stay home and just relax.  I was both disappointed and relieved.

The next day I woke up and was told the same thing.  This went on for several days.  During them I would occasionally see Dad, and encourage him.  I talked with him about what a doula does, what I can offer.  I talked about how she was feeling and my concerns for her.  He always seemed encouraged by our brief talks.  Told me I was “so wise” and he was so glad I was there. I felt like maybe I had a purpose there after all.

I received a text from dad that she had been induced and was in labor.  I told him my doula bag was there and what tools were in it.  I gave him ideas of things to say to her, instructed him on how to apply counter-pressure, and what transition would look like.  I assured him he was doing a great job and I was there if they needed me.

He was grateful but I never received a call.  As I feared she ended up with surgery for “failure to progress”  (This is a catch-all term used to describe a labor when cervical dilation has stalled and they don’t really know why.  My guess is the cause was a combination of fear, exhaustion, and a confused belief that surgery would somehow be easier and “preserve her plumbing” as she put it to me earlier. )  I text with dad several times and even sent Rebecca an encouraging text at Dad’s request.

I still held out hope that after the birth she might want me there, and would find me useful during the postpartum period.  This was not the case.  I had spent 10 days alone in their house, with nothing to do but wait, eat all of their food and hope to be of some use.  Dad didn’t seem to notice that she was not happy about my presence there and requested that I go “take a shift” and sit with her and the babies for awhile.  I of course did, but found her totally unresponsive.  After about two hours her in-laws came to visit and when I showed her mother-in-law how to swaddle the baby she immediately asked me to leave.

I never saw her or heard from her again.

I sat Dad down that night for a talk.  I explained that he needed to discuss with her what role she wanted me to have when she returned home from the hospital,  and that she may not want me to have a role at all.  I told him I was concerned about her possibly having some issues with postpartum depression.  She expressed to him that she didn’t want anyone else to care for the babies except for her. This set off some alarm bells for me. I knew that with Dad returning on the road for more games, and living apart from family, it would be impossible to care for twin newborns alone after surgery.  I recommended he ask her best friend or mother come as soon as possible. He agreed and confided that he was worried about the same thing, his friends’ wife had behaved similarly and had a really hard time.

My heart ached for this new family as I got on a plane the next day to go home.  Dad was genuinely surprised that she wanted me to leave, but I was, sadly, not. I asked Dad to bring her posptartum gift I had bought for her – The Baby Book, some cream for her cesarean scar, postpartum tea and a sit bath).  I sent her a farewell message, telling her that I understood every Mama has her own journey and that she could still call on me if she needed something.

I never received a response.  I never heard from either of them again.  Every so often I think of them, I pray for them,  I hope that the four of them are happy and well and thriving.

What delicate, personal work we do as doulas.  What intimacies, victories and tragedies we share.  I am so grateful to this family for teaching me a great deal about when not to speak.   There is a fine art to caring for people- distinguishing between your own needs and theirs, balancing your opinions with their beliefs.  I am thankful for this unusual experience that forever informed my doula practice.

Wherever you are, family, I send you love.

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