Josie’s Birth Story

It has been a while since I have added a post to my blog…sometimes life gets in the way, but at the end of the day, there are some stories that just need to be written down. They are life events that simply change you as a person, and this story I want to write down while it is still fresh in my mind!

Twelve days ago I gave birth to my second baby. After my first pregnancy and the birth of our son, I turned into what one might call a bit of a “birth junkie.” There is truly nothing like the oxytocin high of pure joy, relief, and love that exists after a baby enters this world from your body without any medication blocking the release of any of those emotions. A lot of people think I’m crazy for not wanting drugs to take the edge off of the pain, but I say, “bring it on” because the rewards are so sweet, and I learn so much about myself and God’s faithfulness in the process.

So this was my second natural birth, and after Luke’s birth I decided you couldn’t pay me to get in the car while I was in labor again (I actually may have made this decision while I was in labor with him!). So that was that. We were staying home. First variable: changed. Oh, and since my last birth, the chiropractor and I moved halfway across the country, so after falling in love with our first birth team, we had to find another team. Second variable: also changed. This birth was shaping up to be its own unique adventure already!

The chiropractor is quite blessed to work with some of the area’s best midwives and their clients on a daily basis, so finding the birth professionals in our area wasn’t a challenge…it was picking the one that was right for us that was difficult! Even though I tried to go in to this entire pregnancy and birth with no expectations, it is really hard to do that with a situation you’ve been in before. So even though we were searching for a new midwife, I had Luke’s midwife in my mind during interviews. The one thing that stood out to me time and time again were the texts that she sent me in the days after my due date letting me know she was praying for me. In the days when I was losing hope and having a hard time finding the power of prayer, God sent me someone who could intercede on my behalf. Somehow I knew I would need that again. Realizing that prayer needed to be part of my birth plan, our midwife Peggy became an easy choice.

With our primary provider chosen, there were two other people who I felt I needed at my birth (other than a chiropractor😉 ): a doula and a photographer. After my first birth where I wasn’t sure if I needed a doula (she was the chiropractor’s suggestion), I swore I’d never birth without one! And a birth photographer was hired late in the game last time…again, I was unsure if that is what I wanted, but the gift that she gave me was completely priceless. After attending birth circle for several months prior, I had met Lisa Newhall, another mom who was also a doula who was becoming a fast friend! There was no question that I wanted Lisa at my birth with me! The last piece of the puzzle was finding a birth photographer! This was a BIG change from being in the Dallas/Fort Worth area where birth photographers were all over the place. In quiet Staunton, Virginia, let’s just say they are few and far between (or non-existant…whichever term you prefer!). While I was in Dallas I had stumbled upon the work of Cheyenne Kody Photography and had fallen in love. When I reached out to Cheyenne about the possibility of taking on birth photography (I was nearly a year from being pregnant again at the time!), she was totally game! I was stoked! And then when I moved to town, who happened to live right out my back door, but Sera Petras, a local photographer and out-of-hospital birther who was also good friends with Cheyenne! In the end, I chose Sera to shoot our photos, and Cheyenne was her backup–I was so blessed to have these women agree to go on this journey with me!

Our team was assembled, and it was time to just enjoy being pregnant! With a couple of bouts of nausea during first trimester, I plugged along, much like Luke’s pregnancy. We opted to use only a fetoscope this pregnancy, which meant that we likely wouldn’t be able to hear the baby’s heartbeat until 20 weeks. The day after my first midwife appointment (at 12 weeks) I experienced some bleeding…this was new. We contacted her and decided that since it was minimal, we would wait a few more days. More bleeding…we went back to the midwife to have her use a doppler monitor. My heart was so high up in my throat as she put that thing to my stomach–a heartbeat! I breathed a huge sigh (I didn’t realize I had been holding my breath) and cried tears of relief. She suggested we get my progesterone levels checked, and after receiving the results the next day, we opted to start a progesterone cream and an herbal adrenal cream to help my body produce more progesterone on its own. The bleeding continued over a period of several days; enough time for the chiropractor and I to decide that we needed a little more intervention. In our first pregnancy, we opted not to have any ultrasounds unless medically necessary, and we never had reason to have one. After the bleeding in this pregnancy, we set up an appointment.

We were nervous and also very out of our element–the ultrasound tech was super friendly, but I just wanted to know if my baby was ok. Everything she could see looked great–whew!–now we just had to wait for the doctor to come confirm. The doctor we had that day was filling in from out-of-state and was only semi-familiar with the machine she was using. Our anxiety was building as she fumbled around pushing buttons and saying, “Oh, that’s not what I wanted to do!” Finally she brought someone in and figured it all out and got back to our appointment. We were almost home free when she said, “Well, now I see where the blood is coming from.” My heart sank again. “See this dark patch right here? That’s the blood. It appears that a some point you had a subchorionic hemorrhage where the placenta pulled away from the uterine wall and caused bleeding.” My head was spinning…what did this mean? WAS MY BABY OK? After a series of questions that came out of my mouth that I don’t remember at all, I learned that it was a common occurrence and as the baby grew, my body would either expel the rest of the blood or absorb it. We were going to be ok! It was time to continue on with being pregnant!

My first pregnancy was 42 weeks and 1 day long. My second pregnancy felt like it was about 3 seconds long. Chasing a toddler and helping to run a business take up time, I suppose. And, oh yeah, when I was roughly 7 months pregnant we found out that our rental house had a substantial amount of black mold in it, so we moved in with my parents for a month and frantically looked for a new place to live. In an ironic turn of events, my planned home birth was going great–except for the part where I didn’t have a home to birth in! Through a contact, my dad found “one last place” for us to look at, and after taking a look, it totally ended up being perfect! Time to enjoy being pregnant again!

Because I had gone past my due date with my first pregnancy, I anticipated that would be the case again. I was right. This time, though, my baby was sitting really low in my pelvis for several weeks, and while I was enjoying being pregnant, I was getting very uncomfortable. I had taken an adrenal support supplement called Master Gland every 30 minutes the day I went into labor with Luke, and I was fairly certain that it had helped to encourage my labor, so at my 40 week appointment I talked to my midwife about starting it in the next few days if nothing happened (though much slower). At 40 weeks and 5 days, I started taking Master Gland two times/day (this was the recommended dose on the bottle).

The whole day of Tuesday, October 29, (40 weeks, 6 days) I had this uneasy feeling–I just didn’t feel good; I was tired. Late in the day I asked the chiropractor if he could maybe stay home the following morning and help me with Luke. He rearranged some patients and obliged–I was so thankful! Early the next morning (41 weeks) my grandmother stopped by unannounced–she hadn’t done that in months, and it threw me off a bit, but we continued with our morning. We decided to take Luke to the library, and then I remembered that I needed apple cider vinegar at the grocery store. I actually needed an entire fridge full of groceries, but the apple cider vinegar was immediately necessary and I hadn’t done my meal planning for the week yet, so we decided that we would run to the store really quickly to get the vinegar and I’d go back for a full shopping trip after Luke got up from his nap that afternoon while the chiropractor was seeing his patients at Brookhaven Birth Center.

We got home and the chiropractor got ready to go to Harrisonburg. Around 12:30 pm I had a really dull contraction (I should note that about a week prior I had contractions 3-5 minutes apart for an hour in the middle of the night. I debated calling my midwife or even waking up my husband. I decided that if I felt two more I’d let them know, and I fell asleep before they ever happened😉 ). I didn’t say a thing about the contraction, but he saw it on my face, “What was that?,” he asked. “It may have been a contraction, but it was likely nothing,” and I told him to head on to work and I’d let him know if I needed him to come home. He left and I laid down with Luke to help him fall asleep. I slept, myself–Peggy had told me during my latest prenatal appointments that if I felt tired, I should definitely nap. Sometimes God would give her the feeling like she needed to nap in the middle of the day around the time a baby was due, even if she had a wonderful night of sleep. She felt like God was helping her rest to take care of her mothers in labor. This prompted the chiropractor to request that if she felt the urge to nap at any point in the coming days to call us so that we could go sleep and be rested for our labor too!😉

photo (2)

About 45 minutes into my nap with Luke, I woke up with a contraction around 1:30 pm. A few minutes later I had another. I didn’t think much of it because I had that episode the previous week. After a few more, I decided to text the chiropractor and my midwife. As a side note, my toddler is a terrible sleeper, so when he was sleeping peacefully on my arm for his nap, I was not about to wake him to go walk around and see if I was really in labor–so I just lay there, stuck in one position on my left side, hoping that they didn’t get more intense because my hand was falling asleep and my hips were getting achy.

photophoto (1)

Luke finally woke up, and we decided to have a snack, and then go to the store to get those groceries because if I was in labor, I’d need something for my birth team to eat later! After walking around for a few minutes, I remembered why I had decided to have a home birth in the first place: because I didn’t want to get in the car while I was in labor again! So I texted my husband, and it was decided that he would stop at the store on his way back into town; I just needed to text him a grocery list. So I did that, and then I went outside to play “bat ball” (baseball) with Luke.

As I was outside with him, my contractions started to intensify. I also started to feel a little panicky. This was the one afternoon a week that my husband worked 30 minutes away from the house instead of 5, and statistically speaking, second-time labors are shorter than the first. My first labor was 8 hours and 9 minutes from start to finish–how long would this one be? My doula was stopping by to drop something off to me anyway, but boy was I was really glad to have another adult around! Her kids were in the car though, and she couldn’t stay long, nor did I need her to–I knew this was still very early labor, but in the back of my mind, I was still a little panicked. Would Luke be the one to catch the baby?! (This is a really silly thought as I look back on it, but it was a very real concern of mine at the time!)

I texted back and forth with the chiropractor to see where he was in his appointments. He kept asking if I needed him to leave. I kept telling him that I’d be ok. My first labor began with my water breaking, and then I had 8 hours of pretty active labor, so I really didn’t know what early labor felt like or how long it might last. I just tried to focus on taking care of Luke. I also called my mom to let her know that I’d need her to pick Luke up to spend the night with her tonight. She had been on high alert for my phone calls in the previous weeks–waiting for me to call to say I was in labor. Of course, this was the one day that she didn’t pick up her phone! So I called my dad–I needed someone else to know that I was in labor–another adult who could possibly be at my house sooner rather than later, should the need arise. A girl can always count on her daddy to answer the phone😉 and sure enough while I was talking to him, my mom called me back. It was about 4:30 pm, and my mom said she would be over when she got off at 6:30 pm. The chiropractor was on his last visit of the day–a home visit for a mom and a baby who had been born just a few days before. He would likely be home just a little while before my parents came. Two hours–I could do this–and Mickey Mouse was going to help me through it! As my contractions got more intense, I decided to turn Mickey on TV to distract Luke so I could start prepping the bed with a shower curtain liner and pull out the chili I had made for my birth team from the freezer. I also texted my husband and told him to skip the trip to the store; I needed him home sooner than later.

Thirty minutes later, my doorbell rang. I was so confused–who was ringing my doorbell? Didn’t they know I was in labor?! I went to the door: it was my grandmother! She hadn’t come by unannounced in months, and now she had done it TWICE in one day! I didn’t want anyone to know I was in labor. I didn’t want to be a watched pot. I was going to answer the door like everything was a-ok! “I brought by this Halloween sign for Luke,” she told me. Uh-oh…I could feel a contraction coming on. Keep a straight face! She looked at me: “Are you having ‘pains?'” All I could do was nod. “Do you want me to take Luke?!” she asked. I told her I was fine and Andrew should be home in about 20 minutes. She asked if she could do anything. I told her no. I could see the panic on her face. She blessed herself and started praying as she hurried down my driveway. Well that went well…I thought to myself. Back to focusing on contractions.

A few minutes later the chiropractor came home. He got our dog and took him to a friend’s house and asked me if I wanted him to take Luke along for the drive. Luke was content with Mickey, so he stayed at the house and I packed his overnight bag. I wanted to make sure he had absolutely everything he could need because I didn’t want him to have anxiety about being away. It was going to be enough to come home to a baby in our house!

When the chiropractor came home, I talked to Peggy on the phone. I told her my contractions had slowed down some, but she asked if maybe she and her birth assistant could start heading my way because she had seen a few second-time moms who had pretty slow labors and then things sped up really quickly. She was 40 minutes away, so I asked if she could wait to come around 7:00 pm after my parents had taken Luke to their house. I felt like having THE MIDWIFE there when my parents came would make it seem like something was happening soon, and I was fairly sure it was not. No need to put everyone on high alert. No need to be a watched pot.

While we waited for my parents to show up, I sat down at my computer with Luke and watched old Donald Duck and Chip and Dale cartoons while sitting on a birth ball. My contractions had really spaced out, and I was hoping that the ball might help a bit. We ate tortilla chips. I remember thinking, “This is the last time I will just have one baby. I like watching these silly cartoons with my first baby. I like that this is labor: watching cartoons with my two-year old and eating chips.” And I had a few silent tears that came along with these thoughts. I thought for sure I’d have a hard time letting him walk out the door with my parents. They showed up just a few minutes later, and Luke was pumped to go to Jojo and Poppi’s house for the night! He barely wanted to hug me before running out the door, so there were no more tears–I was at peace with my silent good-bye to him a few moments prior.

After he left I felt like maybe I could really get down to business. Or like I really shouldn’t have the midwives on the way. I wasn’t sure. This just didn’t feel like labor! Moments later Peggy and her assistant Melaine were at the door. They said they tried to wait until my parents left to get out of the car, but sure enough, the friendly guy that my dad is just had to walk up to their car and introduce himself before they left! I was totally ok with that though–I just didn’t want the people in my little world on high alert! So Peggy and Melaine came in and I told them I thought it would be a while, that my contractions had slowed down. They were less predictable now: 3-7 minutes apart and about 30 seconds long. I had a few contractions while I was standing talking to them, and Melaine timed them. Peggy asked if she could check my blood pressure and if I wanted an internal check. I had elected to not have any internal checks during my pregnancy, and part of my plan for labor was to limit internal checks and to never be told how dilated I was–I didn’t want to play a “numbers game” in my head. This had been my plan with my first labor, as well, and it went off without a hitch. This time, however, I expected to be 2-3 cm dilated, so I asked the chiropractor if he cared if we heard the report out loud because I wanted to confirm that I was only 2-3 cm so that I would know that this labor would likely go on for quite a few more hours. He totally agreed with me.

Peggy checked my blood pressure and then did my internal check. Her eyes got wide: “Wow!” she said. What did that mean?? “I’d say that you are a 6…no, make that a 7 with a bulging bag of waters!” What?! She had to be wrong. This just wasn’t labor. It wasn’t. It wasn’t hard enough. It wasn’t what I experienced last time. “Well, we’ll start getting a few things ready, but it looks like you should go ahead and call your doula and your photographer! I’ll call the student midwife! We should have a baby in a few hours!” What?! No, seriously. This wasn’t labor. Or this was labor, but I was not that close to having a baby. I just wasn’t. But she said to call, so I did!

I had given both my doula and photographer a heads up earlier in the day. My doula knew my birth history, and as it turned out, she had already headed toward my house the last time I had talked to her, so she was just a few minutes away. The chiropractor started filling up the birth tub. They asked if I wanted something to eat. It was just past dinner time, and I figured that eating was a good idea because I’d need the energy. I had started eating a bowl of quinoa noodles with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and oregano on them earlier, so we brought that back out for a few bites. It is a really simple meal that is comfort food to me–and it tasted so good! My photographer got there and I just kind of filled everyone in on where we were–still convinced I was not that close to having a baby. The chiropractor said, “maybe this is what your labor will be this time.” Surely it couldn’t be. Surely.

Soon the pool was full of water, so I went to go change into a sports bra. Peggy told me I could get in the tub and just enjoy being in labor. I got in, and the water was so warm–it felt so great! I sat and just chatted with everyone for a long time. I joked about who knows what. I sat in the birth pool and ate my noodles. No. This was not labor. People do not sit in birth pools and have birth parties and eat birth noodles.

Sera Petras Photography

Sera Petras Photography

I had fairly constant contractions. I finally said to my doula something along the lines of, “I don’t know what I should be doing. I guess I feel kind of tired.” She encouraged me to rest, so I closed my eyes. At some point someone turned off most of the lights. I guess I dozed off. Looking back at my birth record, my next contraction didn’t happen for about 15 minutes. Surely I wasn’t having a baby anytime soon.

With each contraction, the chiropractor applied counter-pressure to my sacrum–something that he remembered that helped me from my first labor (I’m glad he remembered, because I certainly had forgotten!) He said it was really cool to feel the baby moving down into my pelvis. He knew I was making progress! After each contraction, my doula offered me water, which I gladly drank, and then I would get still and quiet again. After drinking lots of water, I decided I needed to use the bathroom. I got out of the pool and felt very chilly and my body started shaking rather uncontrollably. My doula suggested that next time I stand up that maybe I do it a bit slower, as my hormones were releasing in different levels in my body right now. I had a much stronger contraction when I got out of the water and another when I was sitting on the toilet. I was cold and ready to get back in the pool.

Sera Petras Photography

Sera Petras Photography

So we went through the same motions again: contractions, sips of water, and quiet times in between. The chiropractor was with me for each and every contraction and was boiling more water on the stove when he wasn’t with me. Eventually the water I had been drinking caught up with me again, so back out of the birth pool I went. Another strong contraction as soon as I stood up and again on the toilet. Those were harder–I wanted to be back in the water where the pain was easier! So back in I went.

This continued for another cycle until I was ready to use the bathroom again. The chiropractor walked with me, and even though I didn’t say a thing to him, I felt my body push while I was sitting on the toilet, and he knew. “Did you just push?!” he asked. I nodded. He called for Peggy and told her that I felt the urge to push. She came back and everyone followed–I felt so excited and relieved because this was getting really hard and exhausting! Peggy asked if I wanted to get back in the tub to push, and I asked if she needed to check me first. She said it was up to me, and I asked her to just to make sure I was complete. I laid down on the bed and she checked me. “I think you need a bit longer, Nicole,” she said. I asked if she could tell if the baby was asynclitic, as my son had been and that had kept me from dilating fully. She said it was hard to tell because my bag of waters was bulging so much. She said something like, “I could break it if you want me to, in order to get a better idea…” and that was the only moment in birth where I completely second-guessed myself: we didn’t want any interventions…but if she broke my water, would this be over faster? I wrestled with this thought in my head for what seemed like 10 minutes. Later I learned that my husband was wrestling the same battle in his head: he was hoping I said no, but toyed with the idea of what might happen if I said yes. My doula said it took me like 2 seconds to tell her, “No, I don’t want you to break my water.”😉 I also want to note here that I am thankful that Peggy stuck with my original plan not to disclose any numbers to me because I had actually decreased my dilation from the time she had arrived about 3.5 hours earlier, and that was not something that I needed to hear at the time.

Prior to this moment, everyone had just sort of let me labor as I chose. At this point, I think Peggy sensed that I was feeling disheartened, so she suggested a series of positions for the following contractions that would be used to likely straighten baby’s head out if it was a bit asynclitic. Ok! I felt good! Someone had a plan! So I stayed out of the water and labored on our bed. Yikes–these contractions were hard. Everyone sort of left the room and let the chiropractor and I do these on our own. Our doula came in on occasion to check on us and help me change positions. I lost count on how many more I needed to do, but luckily my husband and doula were counting. They said I was done and Peggy came back in. She gave me a few options: I could labor on the bed some more, do a few contractions standing and “slow dancing” with my husband, or get back in the pool. My body wanted to say, “get back in the pool,” because that was easier, but my head told me that I needed to stretch my legs and get a few more good contractions in, so I stood with my husband and let him support my weight.

Sera Petras Photography

Sera Petras Photography

My legs got tired from standing, and someone said, “Would you like to get back in the water?” so I said yes. I later learned that the chiropractor was screaming in his head no no no! You are making progress out of the water!

So back into the water I went. I remember asking what that smell was (I felt a little nauseous). I was told it was the chili heating on the stove. Note to self: beans cooking on the stove is an awful smell while in labor! A few more contractions and I was beginning realize how long I had been in labor. It was more than “a couple of hours” from when everyone had gotten there, and I was not holding my baby. I was so frustrated. WHY was I still in labor? I think I voiced my frustration momentarily, and Peggy asked me if it would be ok if she prayed for me. There it was: I knew I needed a midwife who could intercede on my behalf when I felt like there was no hope, and here she was. I wish I remembered what she prayed. But every word was exactly the word I needed to hear in that moment.

Sera Petras Photography

Sera Petras Photography

At the end of the prayer I had another contraction, and the chiropractor applied counter pressure. “I felt that one in my back,” I said. “I shouldn’t be feeling them in my back–I need you to adjust me.” So the chiropractor adjusted me while I leaned on the side of the birth pool, and sure enough with the next contraction, it was back in my stomach again.

Sera Petras Photography

Sera Petras Photography

“I just feel so discouraged,” I said. “Why isn’t my baby here? My baby should be here by now!” The chiropractor leaned over and told me that while he knew that I expected to have a shorter labor than my first, that wasn’t how this one was going. I needed to let go of my expectations and just let my body work. He also reminded me that the previous night I had prayed for patience, and I needed to be receptive to what I had asked for. And then I finally found my voice: “This isn’t working. I need to get out of the water. I need to go pee.” I think I had known for the past hour or so that the water felt great (like REALLY GREAT), but it wasn’t what I needed to get this baby out. Life outside of the water was hard (like REALLY HARD), but if I wanted to see my baby soon, I needed to get out, empty my bladder, and go through those contractions.

So out I came. Just like the previous 3 times, I had a really strong contraction as soon as I stood up. I walked down the hallway with my husband in front of me and Peggy behind me. Everyone else was giving me space. I think everyone was a little tired and also agreed that my baby should be here already😉 In the middle of the hallway, I stopped and had another strong contraction. At the end of the hallway, I had another one. A few steps into my bedroom, and I had another one, and I felt what I was pretty sure was the baby’s head! “I need to throw up,” I said. I held back the urge because I didn’t want to cover my husband in vomit. Someone ran and got a bowl: I made it–and then, almost in the same instant, my water broke all over the floor! It wasn’t the baby’s head I had felt; it was that bulging bag of water Peggy kept talking about! She called for the doppler and towels. Her birth assistant Melaine rushed in (I later learned that she had just run in from the car in search of a book for suggestions on positions during labor). The chiropractor was super impressed with how quickly Melaine cleaned up the mess. “The baby is coming!” I said. There was nothing I could do to stop it. I wasn’t in the water; I wasn’t on the bed; I was standing in the middle of my bedroom floor. I knew my risk of tearing was greater because gravity was working against me, but there was very little I could do at this point: the baby was coming whether I was ready or not. “Just let go,” I remember my doula saying, and I took it quite literally; relaxing my full body weight so that the chiropractor was left holding me up and cheering me on. With the next contraction, I felt baby crowning. I was ready to push the head out all at once, but Peggy quickly told me to slow down and pant. In hindsight this was for two reasons: to decrease my chance of tearing, and to give Peggy time to get down to catch the baby! Another quick contraction came and the head was born. Another contraction and the shoulders were out and Peggy said, “Just one more push and the hips will be out!” I wasn’t waiting for a contraction. With one more push baby was here! Peggy asked for someone to check the time, and I heard the chiropractor say “12:18 am.” He didn’t want the baby to have a “holiday” birthday, but 18 minutes past midnight our baby was born on Halloween!

Sera Petras Photography

Sera Petras Photography

My emotions were completely uncontrollable: the release of oxytocin gave me pure euphoria coupled with relief and disbelief. The only thing I could think to say to my sweet husband standing in front of me was, “I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry you didn’t get to catch the baby!” He laughed, covered partially in amniotic fluid and partially in vomit: “That’s ok.”

Sera Petras Photography

Sera Petras Photography

The baby was passed between my legs and they helped me to the bed. I sat there holding this baby wrapped in a towel and couldn’t believe I was a mommy again. I sat there for several minutes before I realized that no one had said anything about the baby’s gender! “What is it??” I said. I unwrapped the towel and the umbilical cord was between the baby’s legs. My husband helped me move it: “A GIRL! IT’S A GIRL! I CAN’T BELIEVE IT!” I said. (My last pregnancy I was convinced I was having a girl, and out came Luke. This time I was convinced it was a boy…I should have known😉 ). I scooted back on the bed and worked to get her to latch. Luke was unable to latch due to a jaw misalignment (from being asynclitic) and a lip and tongue tie, so I was so worried that breastfeeding would be a struggle again. She latched right away!

A few minutes later our birth photographer asked what her name was. I didn’t realize I hadn’t already said it! “Josephine Marie…but we’re calling her Josie”–it was like music to my ears! I had a little girl! We had a little girl!!! My husband was so incredibly strong throughout this labor. He knew just what I needed without me saying a thing. I am so grateful for him.

So I went into labor thinking I had no expectations, but throughout the process I unwound them all and then worked through them. I learned yet again that I am not the one in control of my life, and that babies do, indeed, come in their own time. As a frame of reference for the previous few paragraphs above, the last time I got out of the birth tub, it was 12:15 am. Josie was born at 12:18 am. It was a fast and furious 3 minutes, and I am sure that her personality will quickly grow to reflect her entrance into this world!

We finished the physical exams (Josie weighed in a 8lbs 7oz, nearly a full pound less than her brother, and despite my less-than-advantageous birthing position, I didn’t tear!), I ate more noodles (they tasted even better post-birth!), everyone left, we called our parents, and then Josie and I got some really solid sleep. My dear, sweet husband finished cleaning up the house and then just couldn’t sleep–he has decided that home birth is decidedly more demanding of dad! The following morning, my mom brought Luke to meet her, and it was so beautiful to see him climb into our bed and love on his baby sister. What a proud big brother he was! And now our home feels more complete. I can’t imagine our lives without Josie. Luke made me a mother, and Josie has made me a better mother: I am learning to give up more control and slow down the pace of my life. I’m trying my best to enjoy these children entrusted to me, and to enjoy the blessing that my husband is (I am still so in awe of him–he didn’t cancel a single appointment with any of his patients! He went back to work that same afternoon!)

Sera Petras Photography

L to R: Melaine Copeland (our birth assistant & student midwife), Maria Flippen (our student midwife), the chiropractor/world’s most fantastic midhusband, thechiropracticwife (holding baby Josie), Peggy Byler (CPM–our midwife!); not pictured: Lisa Newhall (our doula)

Once again, I am so thankful for my birth team! I feel so blessed to have birthed Josie so peacefully at home surrounded by support and comfort. I am so thankful to have found a wonderful provider who knew when I was at the bottom and who took it upon herself to be my spiritual support when I needed it most. Peggy, Lisa, Melaine, Maria, and Sera, we love you all! Miss Josie, you are one lucky lady who is loved by so many, and I am so thankful to be your “mama.”

Raw Poppyseed Vinaigrette

Apple SlicesSo this isn’t “thechiropracticfamily’s favorite” tonight because the chiropractor didn’t want dressing on his salad…so maybe it will be thechiropracticfamily’s favorite tomorrow🙂

While on our raw diet, we’ve been doing various salads for dinner, but salad gets, well, boring unless you change it up a little! I put this dressing over spinach, apples, and pecans, and it was certainly a nice change of pace! Whisk together the following and enjoy!

1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbs apple cider vinegar (we use Bragg’s)
Juice from 1/2 a lemon
1/4 tsp poppyseeds
1/4 tsp raw honey
Salt & Pepper to taste

(Serves 1-2)

thechiropracticfamily’s Favorite Guacamole Recipe

So the chiropractor and I have decided that January is a month of raw foods for us! It is a great time to detox our bodies and start the new year off right! We did this same diet about 2 years ago (the chiropractor for an awesome 3 months…I, on the other hand, was not quite as successful and added some lean pastured meats and steamed veggies back in after a week or so). In our previous raw conquest, we picked up this great raw recipe book. Last go-round we had access to a dehydrator. This go-round, it is whole foods in the natural form…so I am going to have to be creative!

AvocadosThis is our favorite guacamole recipe (that I take to parties even when we aren’t eating a strictly raw diet!) adapted from that book:

2 ripe avocados, diced
3 teaspoons minced onion
juice from 1/2 a lime
1-2 cloves minced garlic
Sea Salt to taste
Dash cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl (I like to use two forks to help mash the avocados) and serve. Stores in refrigerator for a day or so.


thechiropracticfamily’s Favorite Chicken Salad Recipe

After the Valley Family Wellness & Chiropractic open house this weekend, I got a lot of requests for my chicken salad recipe! While chicken salad isn’t the most notoriously healthy food, there are definitely a few things you can do to improve its nutrition content like buying pastured chicken from a local farm, using fresh, organic celery and parsley, and using a high-quality, non-soy mayonnaise (or better yet, make your own!).



4 cups diced, cooked chicken
1 stalk organic celery, diced
1/4-1/2 cup thinly diced organic yellow onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped organic parsley
1 cup mayonnaise (for a “make your own” recipe, see above; if purchasing, I like Hain Pure Foods Safflower Mayonnaise because it contains very few ingredients and NONE of them are soy!)
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed organic lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (we like Annie’s in our house!)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Combine all above ingredients together in a bowl. Cover and let sit in refrigerator over night for full flavor.

We use organic/pastured local meat and produce whenever possible. While they may be more expensive, I feel confident that they do not come from genetically modified seeds, and are sprayed with fewer, less harmful chemicals. We try to place our family’s health above all else, even if that means giving up some of the other things in life (like cable TV!). If you aren’t quite ready to jump into fully-organic fruits and veggies, a good place to start would be the “Dirty Dozen.”


Recipe adapted from

Luke’s Birth Story (& Video)

For Luke’s first birthday, I decided to blog his birth story. (I apologize, in advance, to my family members who are going to think that I am crazy for sharing all of this!) I felt there was no greater way to celebrate this day than to share Luke’s story with others, so that mothers may understand the beauty and gift that birth is–that we may all work to re-claim it. I have a friend whose mother used to tell her children their birth story each year on their birthday. As soon as Luke is old enough, this is a tradition that we will establish, along with watching his birth video, so that he, too, may appreciate the miracle that is his life.

Luke’s birth story began when the chiropractor went to chiropractic school. We were still engaged at the time, but I can remember him telling me, “When we have kids, we shouldn’t have them in a hospital,” and I thought he had lost his mind! Where else would a baby be born?! When the chiropractor’s brother and his wife got pregnant and used a midwife and a birth center, I was impressed with the process, so I told my husband I would at least look into it when the time came, but that I wanted to interview a midwife in a hospital too. Fast-forward a year later, and we found ourselves pregnant. I stuck to my resolution to check out birth centers, but I was sure this hospital midwife I had found would be “it.” When she tried to talk me into a c-section during our consultation, I knew I was in the wrong place.

After searching for other midwives in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and a visit to Lifetime Family Wellness Center, we found All About Babies and Christy Martin, CPM. I can distinctly remember our interview with her: I had never met this woman, yet I cried because I felt like God led us to the right place.

Our whole pregnancy was fantastic. I had been very healthy—with chiropractic adjustments daily (yes, I was spoiled!) and a very healthy diet, we were estimating that the baby would probably be about six and a half pounds. I also swore up and down that I never believed our “due date” was right and it was “just a date.” As soon as that date came, though, I was anxious to meet our baby. The next 15 days that followed were the hardest days of pregnancy, by far. Our baby was clearly not ready to make its debut, and I was very tired of being pregnant. Those days consisted of a lot of crying and prayer. The night before Luke was born, I had some friends pray over me, and when they were finished one of them said, “Nicole, the word ‘surrender’ kept coming to mind while we were praying.” That made me so frustrated—that was exactly what I spent the past 14 days doing! I told her, “I HAVE surrendered. I surrendered to the fact that God isn’t going to make this baby too big for me to birth, and I have surrendered to my pregnancy. What else could I possibly need to surrender to??” The girls around me easily reached the consensus that maybe I needed to surrender to the possibility that while I had done everything possible to have a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby, maybe that my perfect birth center birth wasn’t the way that our baby was supposed to come into this world. The ultimate goal was to have a healthy baby, and if God chose for that baby to arrive in a hospital, then it was out of my hands because God’s plans for us are so much greater than our plans for ourselves. I hadn’t thought of that before!!! (it was my “light bulb” moment)

I went home and told the chiropractor about this “missing piece.” I told him that this baby wasn’t going to come until we both surrendered. He told me that he agreed, but that he didn’t necessarily want to surrender to the idea of a hospital birth. I asked if I could pray for him, since my friends had prayed for me. So we lay in our bed, and I prayed that God would soften Andrew’s heart to His plan. When I finished praying, Andrew said he felt better about the idea, and he would be open to however this baby was supposed to arrive. I rolled over in the bed, and my water broke (it was 10:40 pm)! GOD IS SO GREAT!

My contractions started about 30 minutes later; a minute long, 5 minutes apart. Thirty minutes after that, they were still a minute long and only 2.5 minutes apart. (This should have been a forewarning of Luke’s intense attitude about life!) We called our doula, and she came to our house to help us labor. My version of the story says that we were at our house for about 45 minutes after our doula came. I later learned we were there for about 4 hours—I was definitely in my own time zone! I kept telling my husband and doula that I didn’t think I could get in the car and drive 35 minutes to the birth center. Our doula Tonya reassured me that I could do it. As it turns out, the car ride was one of my favorite parts of labor because my contractions slowed and I was able to rest a little (although next time, we are definitely doing a home birth—no questions asked!).

When we got to the birth center, our birth team was waiting for us. Christy did an internal check (this was only the second internal check I had during our pregnancy), but I didn’t want to know how far along I was (because if she said I was only 2cm, I was going to be so disappointed!). I found days later that I was 6cm when we arrived, but the baby’s head was slightly cocked to one side (asynclitic). I wanted to scream at this baby, “C’mon, baby! You are a chiro-baby! Get yourself in the right position!!” Luckily Christy instructed my husband on how to do what he calls “the hardest wall-sits I’ve ever done” to help me re-position the baby’s head (this was the only part of labor that I recall being extremely painful, and it only lasted for 10 contractions). After that I labored in the tub for what I thought was 30 minutes (again, I later learned it was about 2 hours). I remember my doula telling me that our birth photographer arrived (as a side note, I really struggled with whether or not I wanted a photographer at our birth…initially the idea felt strange. Later I realized that no one could have captured such an amazing moment in such a beautiful light! I am SO thankful that we have these images now!) I thought, “I must be doing well and getting close because they wouldn’t call her if I wasn’t!!!” (This was the only signal that I had for how dilated I was because I had asked to limit internal checks and that no one report my progress to me after these checks.) Soon after I got out of the tub, Christy checked me again and told me it was time to push. I remember feeling so in-tune with my body; I knew exactly what to do! At one point, my baby’s heart rate started to drop, but I listened to my birth team, and I didn’t panic because they didn’t either. After a change in positions and some oxygen, we were good to go again, and my husband got into position to catch. (Yes, the chiropractor caught our baby!) I remember an intense stretching feeling followed by relief, and then at 7:49 am, just over 8 hours after our labor adventure began, someone said, “It’s a boy!” I should point out that I never had a sonogram (for lots of reasons), but the chiropractor and I felt throughout the whole pregnancy that we were having a girl!  I remember saying, “We were wrong!!!” and then never feeling so in love and relaxed in my entire life!

Afterwards, we took an herbal bath with new baby Luke, and I told my husband, “I am so glad we did it this way! What a beautiful gift you gave me by bringing me to a birth center! What an amazing day this was!” Later when they were weighing Luke, I was so anxious to see if I had gotten the six and a half pound baby like we thought…9 pounds, 6 ounces—we were all STUNNED! (There are images in the video that capture this weigh check in a way that I could never describe in words!) That moment solidified why we came to All About Babies in the first place: we had a beautiful, healthy pregnancy; we had amazing emotional support from our birth family (a friend told me that she thinks of Luke’s midwives as his fairy godmothers); and I was able to birth a big healthy baby without the use of any drugs or surgical intervention, and I didn’t tear one bit! Christy, Kelly, Joni, Tonya, and Evie—thank you!!! Happy first birthday to my dear, sweet Luke! We love your enthusiasm for life, and we are thankful each day that God entrusted us with your care! Thank you for letting me be your “mama”😉

Our awesome birth team (L to R): Joni Yankus (CPM–our assistant midwife, in blue), Christy Martin (CPM–our midwife, in purple), the chiropractor and the world’s most awesome husband😉, thechiropracticwife (holding baby Luke), Tonya Buffington (our doula, in black), Kelli Banks (then-student-midwife, now CPM!, in navy blue)

If you missed it above, here is Luke’s birth video as captured by the beautifully talented Evie Marie.

Reflections on My Interactions with Ina May Gaskin

So we are moving from the major metropolis of Dallas/Fort Worth to the beautiful farmland of the Shenandoah Valley in about 6 weeks. I can’t wait to get back to Virginia–I really can’t; but there are times when I have access to some AMAZING things in DFW, and I wonder if i will have any similar opportunities when we move. Meeting Ina May Gaskin was one of those amazing things.

Some of you may be wondering–who is this Ina May Gaskin woman she’s talking about? She’s a Certified Professional Midwife (CPM) that has transformed the way that many people think about midwifery in the United States. Her biography says that she has helped around 1200 babies come into the world in the last 40 years. Sounds like a lot of babies, right? Don’t worry, I did the math for you: that’s 30 births a year, or 2.5 births a month. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a well-respected OB that has assisted in only 2-3 births a month over the last four decades. Yes, she travels a lot; yes, she’s written several books; yes, she’s done a bazillion speeches–she’s busy! But after listening to her talk this last weekend, 2-3 births a month is about all she would ever take on.

During my pregnancy I read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, and admittedly, there were parts that I loved and parts that were just a little too “hippie” for me. But hey, each woman’s birth story is her own, so I just kinda went with it! There were a ton of helpful insights in the book, and I highly recommend it to any woman who is preparing to give birth. So there’s my Ina May shpeal–what is about to follow is a collection of thoughts. They may or may not all work together. I’m just jotting things as I remember them so I can look back and reminisce about what went on this weekend!

Friday Night–Dinner at the Reata

Just a few days before the event, I was invited by a “birthy” friend😉 to go to dinner with Ina May at the Reata in downtown Fort Worth. The room sat about 40 people. We thought we would be late, but we actually got there a few minutes early, and I had a moment to introduce myself (like Ina My wanted to know who I was–ha!). I actually had a couple of opportunities, but I chickened out on the first two because I hadn’t come up with what to say yet (**lame**). When I saw a dear midwife friend introducing herself, I realized I could sort of piggy-back off of her conversation, so as soon as she stepped away, I got the courage to “step up to the plate.”


Meeting Ina May Gaskin

I think I said something along the lines of, “Hi, I’m Nicole! I had a baby in September at a birth center, and I work there now! And my husband is a chiropractor, and he specializes prenatal and postnatal care for mom and baby!” At which point she interrupted me: “Oh that is fantastic! We appreciate the work that our chiropractors do!” And then I jumped back in (did I just cut Ina May Gaskin off??), “And I really just appreciate everything you’ve done to spread the word about care for expectant mothers, and especially midwifery care! And it is just really a pleasure to meet you! And thank you for being here! And I hope you enjoy your stay in Texas!” And then I very awkwardly walked away, realizing I couldn’t figure out how to end that conversation. Getting back to my table I realized that I had been a little bit of a blubbering idiot and the only part of the conversation that she commented on was directed toward The Chiropractor (really?? I should have given you more stats about my birth! I promise you would have been impressed! Ok, maybe not impressed…satisfied. Maybe that is what you would have been…).


Dinner with my midwife Christy and my “birthy” friend Jeanine!

The dinner was delicious. I was able to sit with my midwife (which is always fun!), my lovely “birthy” friend, and I made a couple of new friends along the way! After dinner, I knew I had been away from my “I don’t like bottles or solid foods” baby for long enough and he was probably starving, but I really wanted a photo with Ina May, so I awkwardly walked over to her table, and she graciously agreed!


After dinner with Ina May

And here’s the part where I was so worried about “I don’t like bottles or solid foods” baby that I rushed out without paying for my drinks (sorry, Jeanine!). No worries, I paid her back😉

Saturday, Book Signing

So one of the perks to paying to go to the dinner with Ina May was that we got to “cut the line” for the book signing the next day. This was awesome because we didn’t have to rush to get into the line, but I felt like the world’s biggest jerk walking by all of the ladies who were so patiently waiting to get their books signed (if any of you are reading this, I apologize! My wristband said I could do it!). The Chiropractor and “I don’t like bottles or solid foods” baby came along with me to this event because really my journey through birth was OUR journey through birth, and I felt like it just wouldn’t be right to not have them there.

We walked up to her table, and I turned into a blabbering idiot again: “Hi, I don’t know if you remember me, but I was at the dinner last night! My husband, oh this is my husband (pulling him closer), is the chiropractor that works with expectant moms…” She interjected, “Oh of course! Yes, I remember you! So glad you could bring the whole family!” At which point she signed my copy of Ina May’s Guide to Child Birth and we gathered around her for a picture. I remember someone saying, “Hold the book up so you remember which one she signed,” and since we were in front of the camera, I just did what people told me to do. As soon as the shutter went off, my own mind reappeared and I thought, “So I can remember which one she signed? How am I going to forget when I put this thing in a frame!”😉 And then I remembered my thoughts from the night before–tell her something awesome about your birth!! “And this is my baby…well, my BIG baby…he was 9lbs 6oz when he was born and I had an 8 hour labor and no tearing!” “That’s great!” she said. Had she heard me? “No tearing! Some people think that it can’t be done, but it can!” (Did I really just say that to Ina May Gaskin?! Of course SHE knew it could be done! She trusts the birth process more than anyone on the planet! I didn’t have to tell HER that it could be done…and this is the part where I awkwardly walked away again!)


Ina May Gaskin signs thechiropracticfamily’s copy of Ina May’s Guide to Child Birth!

Saturday, Ina May Talks on Maternal Mortality

I was really excited to listen to this talk. Truthfully, she could have talked about how to flip hamburgers, and I would have been excited (which she would never do…she’s vegan!). Another one of my perks for going to dinner was that I got to sit in the front row–yes, the FRONT ROW–I was ecstatic!


That’s me! Second face in–on the front row!

What I loved most about this talk is that it wasn’t all that structured. She told the story of her first birth, of how she was getting ready to push and everything was going beautifully, and because of that hospital’s procedures, she was given medicine. The next thing she remembers, she woke up, not pregnant anymore. When they brought her baby to her room, she felt a total disconnect–wasn’t sure if the baby was hers because she felt no connection. She realized this wasn’t right. And thus began her journey.


Tellings us her birth story.

She had a few hippie thoughts, but for me, I was surprised at how hysterical she was!

A few highlights:

  • When talking about sphincters, she talked about the importance of a woman’s body being relaxed and open. Women should be allowed to do what they feel is natural. She said, “It is hard for men to understand. They have a sphincter too, you know. It would be like going to the bathroom with them and yelling at them and telling them HOW they should poop–I bet it would be a lot harder for them and it would take a lot longer, too!”
  • Ina May was asked how to protect the perineum. And whether perineal massage works. Her answer: “Massage does nothing. I mean, unless it does something for you–I don’t want to get in the way of anyone’s fun! But a healthy diet, and movement–women need to move, to walk. And lots of water. And squatting. People in Asian cultures squat all the time: to clean the floors, to cook, to garden, to use the bathroom. Women should practice squatting. Here, I’ll show you:”

Yes, this happened!

She also had some very amazing statistics:

  • When she became a midwife 40 years ago, forceps were used in 75% of all births (do what?!)
  • The c-section rate was less than 5% (the national rate is over 30% today; I know of a few DFW hospitals that have rates at almost 70%!)

She told stories of birth from around the world where doctors literally stand above the mother and PUSH the baby out of mom’s belly (ouch!) and in other places (like the Scottish Isles) where midwives travel all over to make sure a mother is given the best care possible (and OBs are not legally allowed to refuse to help midwives when asked).

She talked about the complications that mothers experience from unnecessary c-sections and inductions. She brought along her quilt that has one square for each mother who has died unnecessarily from MEDICAL childbirth complications (we are not living in Little House on the Prairie here, folks; it was amazing to hear how these women died simply because doctors are taught to rely on technology, rather than skilled training, and how they are taught to fear things like breech vaginal birth). By the way, she does not fault the doctors for this–they are learning what they are taught. She faults the system in which they are taught.

What amazed me most about the entire talk was her openness and lack of rebellion. I pictured her to be this renegade hippie who was going to say that hospital births were unnecessary, but she didn’t–not at all, in fact. She feels that maternal CARE is what is most important. Be it at home, in a birth center, or in a hospital. Every woman DESERVES that personalized attention (one-on-one, from someone who has become a friend and a support…not a professional running between 10 rooms to check on everyone), DESERVES to know that they are SO capable of birthing their baby (your body is not broken, your baby is not too big, breech birth is safe with someone who is trained to know what to do and who is not fearful of it), and DESERVES to be supported in her decisions. It is up to women to take responsibility for their birth, and to find the person to provide care that brings the sacredness back to birth and to the family.

She also gave some great resources for us to Google (which I have done for you):

  • She spoke on instinct, and how we are all mammals, but because of all of the interventions that have taken place over the last 40+ years, we are losing our instincts. We were instructed to check out the dramatic struggle for life on YouTube (**video contains live birth**)
  • As women, we’ve been taught to be afraid of some strange, natural things during birth–like pooping. She suggested reading the very funny article “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Pooping During Childbirth” by Tracy Moore
  • There is also much talk nowadays about women’s hips being too narrow or baby’s head being too large to “facilitate” birth, when in actuality, we were all designed this way. She suggested Googling “Human Bipedalism and Birth” for an explanation. Many of the scholarly articles are unavailable via the web, but here is a nice condensed article written for college students that I found.
  • She often referenced mammal birth, and said several times that birth is misunderstood because people don’t know what is normal. She asked us to check out “Chimp Birth Attica Zoo” to see a chimp mom finding her comfortable labor positions. (**video contains live birth**)
  • When Ina May spoke on maternal and infant mortality, she referenced the CDC Wonder Site.

Thoughts on Labor Pain from a Mom Who Birthed Naturally

My beautiful, big baby boy!
Photo courtesy Evie Marie (

For those of you who don’t know me, I had a beautiful, big baby boy last September. Not in a hospital, but in a birth center with a fantastic midwife, her student, an assistant, my husband, my doula, and my birth photographer there to cheer me on. You may very well think that I sound a little crazy, but birthing outside of a hospital with midwife was hands-down a choice I would make over and over again! Birthing outside of a hospital means doing it naturally–vaginally and without an epidural–which is something I have been asked about a lot in personal conversation and via email. I’ve written a similar email to several women who have birthed in both hospitals and birth centers that have asked for my opinion around a natural birth, so I thought I would blog the email, as it may come in handy for other mamas who are curious about what birth might look like without an epidural and what other options you may want to consider. And I’m not your doctor or your midwife, so obviously this is not me giving you medical advice! Rather, these are some of my thoughts from my pregnancy and labor that may give you ideas to help ask additional questions! So here it goes:

I’m really excited that you are taking some time to explore your options, rather than just doing what is “normal” across the US! We decided that a hospital birth was not a good fit for our family, so I knew early-on that I would not have the option of any pain medication, and I was originally very nervous about it. I ended up doing a TON of research when we were looking at an out of hospital birth, so I apologize ahead of time if this is more than you were hoping for! Bottom line (in case you get bored half way through this and decide to stop reading!) is that contractions were not NEARLY what I thought they would be (they felt like strong period cramps), and you can ABSOLUTELY do it without an epidural (and if anyone tells you otherwise, then they have no idea what they are talking about!). Ok, so here’s the long-winded version:

First, I wanted to tell you how flattered I am that you are even asking for my opinion! I absolutely love love LOVED my birth experience (every minute of it), so I am so grateful to get to share it with others. Also, please know that my experience was just that: MINE–that means that I made the decisions that I felt were best for me and my family, and your birth will belong to YOU and YOUR family, so no matter what you decide after reading this long essay that is about to follow ;-) I will be excited for your decision because I know it will be what you and your husband feel is right for you guys! And in the end, the most important thing is that your baby arrives on this earth healthy!

Second, I am very pro-natural birth and I feel that all women should be encouraged in their decision to go that route, so WARNING: you’re not going to read a lot of positives below about epidurals from me! In order to give you my opinion, I’m going to have to start from the beginning:

I have always had very painful menstrual cramps, and growing up, people used to tell me that meant that I would have a much harder labor (which I now know to be false), so my feelings on epidurals have always been “Sign me up! I don’t like pain, and if you have a way to get a baby out of me without pain, then please proceed!” As per the usual, enter The Chiropractor–My husband has a very holistic approach to health because of his chiropractic background, and he didn’t want me to have any drugs. Before we got pregnant, I told him I would consider it, but ultimately it was my body and my decision (which I now see was very selfish of me because Luke is his baby too; not to mention that my decisions were going to affect Luke, who wasn’t big enough to make decisions on his own!). So, when we got pregnant, I started looking for the right doctor or midwife to deliver my baby in a hospital. We went to several interview appointments, and every hospital we visited had a very cold feeling to them, and I was having a hard time finding anyone that I wanted to help deliver my baby because I felt like “just another patient.” That was when we started looking outside of a hospital. I knew that if I chose to birth outside of a hospital that drugs wouldn’t be an option, so I had to decide what was more important to me: personalized care for 40+ weeks, or pain relief on a single day. To me, the long-term care was more important, so we went with a birth center and a midwife that I LOVED.

Birthing at a birth center seemed right to me, but I had two major fears: pain during labor and birth & the fear of something being wrong with the baby. The birth center we chose was just a few minutes from a hospital with a well-respected maternity doctor & NICU, so that cleared up fear #2 for me (and, as I learned throughout my pregnancy, child birth is not an “emergency” situation; it is very natural–after all, women in Africa have been giving birth to healthy babies in fields for years! I know that is the extreme, but it still made me feel better!). All I had left to do was tackle fear #1, which proved to be a long road for me. So the first thing I thought I should do was to understand what I was “missing out on” with an epidural, and what I found shocked me. Every doctor and midwife in a hospital setting that I had talked to had reassured me that epidurals were extremely safe and would not affect my baby. That didn’t really make sense to me because I knew that I was spending so much time watching what I was eating and drinking for 40 weeks because the baby was getting all of its nutrients from me…how could the drugs not affect the baby in some way? Of what I read, here are a few things that stood out to me the most:

1. Epidurals can cause longer labors with slower progress: this makes sense because you can’t feel what you’re doing. If you can’t feel when to push and rely on machines to tell you when to do so, you sometimes aren’t able to give extremely effective pushes (which can lead to further complications like fetal distress). I don’t know about you, but I wanted labor to be over as quickly as possible (before I was in it!), and I trust my body more than a machine anyway :-) It is really amazing how you just “know” how hard and long to push (I would also advise to ask if you can push as you feel it necessary, rather than pushing for counts of 10 like you often see on TV or in the movies)
2. When you have an epidural, you can no longer walk around: for me, movement during labor was a key way to reducing my pain (more about that later)
3. Epidurals can cause initial latching problems when breastfeeding: The drugs absolutely get to your baby, and it can make babies kind of lethargic. Check out the video showing the “breast crawl“–babies actually have the ability to crawl toward their food source shortly after birth (it is pretty crazy and really cool!). When babies are put on momma’s tummy after birth and allowed to crawl, it also help to expel the placenta faster, as well. There is another video out there called Delivery Self Attachment by Lennart Righard, M.D. It shows epidural and non-epidural babies, and the non-epidural babies perform the crawl beautifully, while the epidural babies kind of just lay there like beached whales…it made me sad😦

Ok, so I decided that maybe I wasn’t missing out on much with an epidural–EXCEPT THE PAIN RELIEF! I was still not looking forward to being in pain, so now what was I going to do? My midwife explained to me the benefits of laboring in water, which was a great relief for me! Also, being allowed to labor in whatever position I wanted to (standing, kneeling, walking, on all fours, etc) made a HUGE difference for me. I don’t know if I would be having the same conversation with you if I “had” to lay on my back. You may want to check with your doctor/midwife to see what restrictions the hospital has as far as movement goes so you know ahead of time. I put “had” in quotation marks because I want you to understand that this is very much YOUR birth…the hospital may try to put restrictions on you, so you may want to write a birth plan ahead of time about what you do/don’t want, and if you (or your husband) need to raise a little hell to get what you want while you are in labor–DO IT! You won’t regret it! I would also encourage you to hire a doula, who is there to offer you support during labor and make sure your wishes are carried out. She in no way replaces your husband’s important role, but she acts as a support and allows him to not have to worry about “in the moment” decision-making. Andrew was so thankful for our doula after our labor because she took some of the pressure off of him, and he was really just able to focus on me and the baby! She can also come to your house before you go to the hospital to help you decide when it is time to go so you don’t get sent home for not being far enough along, and she can show you different positions to labor in as well as pain-relief techniques. Another thing that I really encourage you to do ahead of time is decide whether or not you want the epidural…it is a lot harder to say “no” when someone offers you pain relief when you are IN pain. I didn’t have the option of that extreme of a pain reliever, but I believe it would have been more difficult to refuse it had I been asked while I was in labor. (I read one time about a mom who put a sign on her hospital door that said “Labor in progress: please do not offer pain medication, but love and encouragement are welcome!”–I love that!)

Complete relaxation is a great way to relieve pain, as well. Here is an exercise that I learned while I was pregnant: spend 5 or so minutes laying on your bed, floor, wherever is comfortable and COMPLETELY relaxing. Have him slowly squeeze your thigh just above your knee starting lightly and ending as hard as he can over the course of about 30-40 seconds and just breathe through it (simulating feeling pain for the duration of a contraction). Then, sit up and have him do it a second time. What you should find is that the second time, it will hurt more because you are more aware of your surroundings and not completely relaxed. If you have trouble areas that you hold tension in, have your husband remind you to relax those points during labor, as well.

Ok, so we talked about all of this pain relief for contractions, but I didn’t really tell you about my contractions (maybe this part should have been first!). This is where I was thankful for my painful menstrual cramps! My contractions felt like strong menstrual cramps, so I feel like all of those years of having periods MORE than prepared me for labor! The benefit of contractions is that they aren’t constant: they only last for short bursts and then they go away. I found a lot of comfort in focusing only on the contraction that I was having in that moment and not worrying about how many more I would have to endure. And when each one was over, I tried to remind myself (and Andrew helped remind me) that I would never have to have that contraction again and I was one closer to meeting my baby. You know your body best, but my vote is that you can TOTALLY handle the pain! Our bodies were made to do it! There are some great articles out there about the purpose of pain during labor that really helped me.

I told you about epidurals and contractions, but another one of my fears was the pain of crowning. Luckily, my doula reminded me that crowning and stretching can last only 5-10 minutes if you are pushing effectively (which you can do without an epidural blocking your sensations of when to push!), so the good news is that this is the shortest part of labor (yay!). I will tell you that this is where I felt the most discomfort, but again, it was not unbearable. I have heard it described as a “ring of fire,” and I think that is a pretty accurate description. One thing that my midwives did to relieve pain was to apply warm compresses to my perineum as I pushed to help the skin stretch slowly. It never hurts to ask your doctor/midwife if he/she knows about these compresses, as well.

The key to making this as comfortable as possible is having the skin stretch slowly, as fast stretching can cause tearing. Your skin is able to stretch better when you have taken good care of yourself throughout pregnancy. A healthy diet (like 85% fruits and veggies, lean protein, and very little carbs), TONS of water, and exercise can go a LONG way here! Also, I am a big fan of not only prenatals, along with fish oil, but also high-dose vitamin C. I was taking around 8000 mg/day by the end of my pregnancy, but I built up to that over 40 weeks. Taking too much at once can cause diarrhea, but you could start by taking 1000-2000mg/day which will help the integrity of your skin (it also has been shown to shorten labor duration, as well). The skin will also stretch slowly if you can feel yourself pushing…you can control how hard you push and when you need to pause! Slow stretching can minimize tearing, as well.

You may also be wondering about an episiotomy. An episiotomy was explained to me this way: think of trying to tear a piece of fabric into two pieces–it is hard, but you can do it. Now cut a slit at the top of the fabric and then try tearing–it will happen much easier. An episiotomy is the same way: if you are cut, you can tear much easier, as well (which doesn’t sound fun to me!). Also, it is easier for the skin to heal from tearing as jagged skin intertwines back together easier than straight edges made from scissors, so you may want to talk to your doctor about what his/her feelings on episiotomies are (how often he/she performs them; when he/she feels they are necessary; and make sure that he/she knows that it is only ok to cut one if YOU give permission!)

Finally, above everything else, my pregnancy, labor, and delivery were a spiritual journey for me (especially in the 15 days after my “due date”). I was able to offer my pregnancy up to God in thanksgiving for everything he had given to me. I learned so much about humility, trust, and surrender. God is incapable of creating anything that is imperfect (although we, as humans, are VERY capable of creating imperfections!). He created us in His image and likeness, and He created our bodies to be able to bear children. He allowed us to conceive, helped us to carry a child for 40+ weeks, so I cannot imagine how he would create a child that was too large to emerge from our bodies. He has created your baby to be just the right size to come out of your body, and He has given you the strength and grace to birth your baby. God is so amazing and so great! I am a testament of His complete love for us: He gave me extra time to grow my child, helped me through a beautiful 8 hour labor, and met me on the other side to deliver an 9lb 6oz baby boy with absolutely no tearing (and no episiotomy). He has now given me the opportunity to share my story with you, for which I am so thankful. You absolutely can do anything that you set your mind to with God’s grace to guide you.

And know that you are already and AWESOME mommy to your baby because you are working to understand all of your options before making an informed decision. Way to go, momma!

Also wanted to include links to a couple of short, well-researched articles for additional information (also check out the purpose of pain during labor link in the body of the blog):

Epidurals: Facts, Implications, and Alternatives by Kate Englehardt, DC, DACCP

The Epidural Epidemic by Jeanne Ohm, DC, FICPA