Birth Video – Genevieve Lark

One year ago today, my body started the process of bringing Genevieve earth-side.
I had spent the previous 3 years learning everything I could about birth. And here I was, about to experience it for the first time myself. Of course I wanted it to be perfect. We hired an amazing midwife, I assembled an awesome support team, took a prenatal yoga class, we attended a great childbirth class, I went to breastfeeding and baby-wearing workshops, and I had a wonderful videographer ready to film the homebirth. I was ready! 😉

Oh, the things I have learned in one year.
Now that I am a professional doula, I can look back on my birth and reflect on so many different aspects of that intense experience from a different set of eyes. I was certainly empowered in my labor and all the decisions leading up to it. But what I didn’t know was what it meant to surrender to birth. I heard people say that there will be a time that you have to ‘let go’ and surrender to the contractions, to trust your body and your baby. I nodded my head and acted like I knew what that meant. I had no idea.

I had no idea how powerful I truly am.
I had no idea that my mind had the ability to perceive contractions as pain or as pressure.
I had no idea that my ‘perfect birth plans’ were actually prohibiting me from birthing.
I had no idea that me trying to stay in control was actually my unconscious fears surfacing.
I had no idea that the abuse I experienced as a child would affect my birth (hence, 3 days of labor).
I had no idea that I didn’t really believe my body could do it, if I was truly honest.

But there came a moment in labor where I chose to believe these things.
My options were transporting to the hospital for an epidural or a potential c-section, or to believe that I could relax my body enough, in order to allow my cervix to progress. Once I believed that I could do it – on day 4 of labor, at 8:08 am on Thursday morning – I gave in to all the sensations, turned my brain off, and simply let my body and baby work. Clothing came off, I started making primal noises, and I didn’t care about my peaceful, candle-lit water birth. I had officially entered into birth world – and it was incredible! No one can describe the strength and power a birthing woman experiences when she goes to that birthing place.

Genevieve was born 7 hours later at 3:57 pm.

My birth was transformative.
I truly believe that my body works.
I am stronger and braver than I thought possible.
I am more connected with my husband then I have ever been.
I was empowered as a woman entering into motherhood.
You can read the whole birth story here.

Words cannot describe how grateful I am to Lauren Ellis (and Kappel Cloninger for the interview footage). I am so glad you were there to capture those 4 long days. I will always treasure these images.

I hope you enjoy the video.

WarningThis is a birth video. I edited a lot of the content to be more appropriate for a full range of audiences, however, it is still very intense. Watch at your own discretion.

Nora Marjorie

A healing birth – from a doula’s perspective

I had just assisted a couple at a birth of their daughter when I switched gears to walk through labor with my twin sister, Lauren and her husband, Evan.

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At 37 weeks and 6 days (May 14th), Lauren had contractions off and on all day. We officially entered into “is this it?” mode. During the final weeks and days, a doula is there to keep the mom (and partner) sane. It is so easy to question everything. I responded to texts and phone calls and helped ease the concerns and questions. I am learning how to wait with the mom as well. Because during these days my life feels like it is on hold, too. But I am getting better at continuing my life while still being on the ready.

On May 16th, Lauren recognized that she was focusing too much on the sensations and so she released the day and painted, something that she hasn’t had the energy to do in a long time.

May 17th came and luckily she had a wedding to distract her.

It was Sunday night, May 18th that things really became consistent. And as Lauren defines it, labor really began. So many times woman ask, “How will I know I am in labor?” and the best answer I can give is, “You will know.” Of course, that is not helpful at all for first time moms. But surely enough, they will know when things feel different than the practice contractions and Braxton Hicks they’ve been having before. That’s part of my job, to help moms know what they are feeling. Contractions started coming every 5-7 minutes and lasting 1 minute that evening. We went for a walk and then tried to get some rest. Thankfully, I live across the street so I can go home to rest and feed my baby. Nighttime brought a fizzle in contractions but they were still occurring every 10 minutes keeping Lauren from a goodnights rest.

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May 19th, Lauren and Evan woke up and went for a walk. She tried using the breast pump to stimulate contractions as well. By 9 am contractions were 6-7 minutes apart and lasting 1.5 minutes long. She was exhausted. So we tried the tub knowing it would give her some reprieve. It actually stopped contractions for 20 minutes giving her a good nap. A walk, a nap, rebozo, back rubs, pelvic rocks, birthing ball, card games, a walk, food… it was a day of alternating between rest and activity, stopping every 6 minutes to help Lauren through a contraction. It was such a mind game dealing with consistent contractions that would start picking up and get really intense, and then fizzle out in strength. By 8 pm everyone went ‘to bed’.

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May 20th came with hope in the air. Contractions were steady all night but Lauren needed a change of scenery and Evan needed a good nap after being up the last 2 nights with Lauren. So Lauren came to my house and my mom and I massaged Lauren and walked her through contractions while Evan slept for 3 hours. Things were picking up once again and we left at 12:30 pm for Lauren’s scheduled midwife appointment. The news was not the most encouraging, baby was station -3, cervix was very posterior and only 25% effaced and 1 cm dilated. They were having a long, prodromal labor. Lauren and Evan took the news like champs and decided to go to get milkshakes and walk in the park. I went home and had a major breakdown.

As a doula, it is very important to process your own birth experience thoroughly before helping another mom. I thought I had adequately dealt with everything that happened in my labor but after walking Lauren through 3 days of early labor (identical to mine) and then hearing that she really hadn’t progressed much (also similar to mine), it truly brought me back to the deep, hopeless feelings I experienced in my own birth. It was very painful. I held it together until I ran to the car and bawled my eyes out. I was so exhausted from 3 days of being with Lauren, I couldn’t even imagine how she felt. And then to find out that she was really still near the starting point just overwhelmed me more than I could handle. After talking to my mom, my husband, and my childbirth educator (and doula ‘consultant’), I realized that there was still trauma from my birth that was surfacing by watching my twin sister go through it. I was triggered by some post-traumatic stress that I experienced during my long labor. My mom graciously walked me through those emotions and helped me work through them. I took a break from seeing Lauren and Evan knowing that it could still be days before anything happened. So I napped.

I checked back in with them around 7 pm and contractions were still 5-7 minutes apart and Lauren had just showered. She said it was during the shower that she felt like she let go of all expectations and told her baby and her body that they were free to do what they needed to do. It was her ‘moment of truth’. Moms face this moment in early labor. It is the point that most people who aren’t planning a natural birth get an epidural. The next 3 hours they ate food, played Monopoly Deal, and hung out with Evan’s brother. I came back over at 10:30 pm when she got in the bath to see if her contractions would ease off at all so they could rest. They didn’t. Lauren got out and looked me in the eye and said, “It’s time to go to the hospital, NOW.” I never question a mom when she says this. They know. Her contractions were coming now at 2-3 minutes apart. So we raced to the hospital. I knew something was strange because her contractions were so strong and close together and yet Lauren was still very alert and aware of her surroundings. So I really didn’t know what to expect when we got to the hospital.

Unfortunately, it was after hours so we had to enter in the Emergency Room. That was awful. But 20 minutes later we made our way to triage. At 11:30 pm, Lauren’s midwife checked her progress. Baby was station -1 and the cervix was 90% effaced and 3 cm dilated. Progress! I knew that with contractions this strong it wouldn’t be long before she would be admitted. But I could tell that the midwife had some concern on her face. She said that she felt something soft, it didn’t feel like the baby’s head so she called for an ultrasound. Five minutes, two midwives, and two doctors later, they confirmed that baby Nora was breech.

All their plans for a natural, vaginal birth changed in a second. It was crushing. They hadn’t planned for a C-section at all. They had spent months preparing for a natural birth. In minutes, people came flooding into the tiny triage room to prep Lauren for surgery. Thankfully, we were able to ask a lot of questions and it was very important to me that Evan and Lauren knew what to expect. The staff were very kind and delicate knowing that this was so far from what Lauren wanted. The anesthesiologist went through the whole procedure with Lauren to make sure she understood what was about to happen. I just rubbed Evan’s back, hugged him, and kept him calm because I know he was very disappointed in the change of plans. Lauren was incredible. Of course this was not what she wanted. But she also knew that it was time to meet her baby. She had that sense at home knowing it was time to go to the hospital. She was so brave as she continued to work through painful contractions knowing that it would all be over soon. I just held her hand and told her that she was going to meet her baby in 30 minutes! They took Lauren back at 1 am to get prepped. The nurse came back with the protective clothing for both me and Evan. Vanderbilt has a policy that only one person can be in the operating room at a time but they were so kind to let me switch places with Evan once the baby was born and taken to the nursery. I called our families and they rushed over. I then walked Evan through what he should expect and helped him understand what would happen once the baby was born. They then took Evan back to the OR and I showed our families where to wait.

Nora Marjorie was born on Wednesday, May 21st at 1:37 am.

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Lauren’s midwife came out to get me and I JUST missed Evan walking out with Nora. But I knew it was ok, because I really wanted to see Nora for the first time with my sister. I was so nervous walking into the OR because I was not sure what it would be like to see Lauren cut open like that. I walked in and went straight to Lauren’s face. I sat down next to her, stroked her hair, and held her shaking hands. Over and over again I kept telling her how proud of her I was and that she is now a mommy! I was so touched by how Lauren was acting. She was so excited and happy. She kept saying, “Merrill, Nora is so beautiful, I love her so much! I can’t wait to see her again. I can’t believe she is mine. I love her so much!” I am so grateful for her midwife for staying in the OR with her and allowing them to have a minute of skin-to-skin right after delivery and giving Lauren and Evan a chance to bond with Nora before whisking her off. The doctor came to Lauren’s side and said they did an incision on her that will set her up for a VBAC during her next pregnancy (Vaginal birth after a cesarean). I sat with Lauren for 40 minutes as they sutured her back up. We were in so much awe that she just birthed a baby. Her daughter is here. It is a moment I will remember forever. Seriously, she was so strong and brave. I have so much admiration for her! Once they were done, we both went to the recovery room with a quick stop in the hallway to see the parents.
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And then the moment came where Evan came in with Nora. Goodness, it was so precious. We got the baby skin-to-skin with Lauren and Nora immediately went to breastfeeding. I stepped out of the room for 15 minutes and the three of them spent their first moments together as a new family. Parents and siblings said a quick hello and goodbye. We then got Evan and Lauren comfortable in their postpartum room by 4:00 am and I finally left at 5:00 am.

This birth taught me so much.

It is so important to be informed and educated on the type of birth you want, but ultimately you have to work with the situations you find yourself in. C-sections are rarely someone’s first option for birth, but in the case where it needs to be done, it is important to still empower the mother in the experience. It was very important to me that Lauren knew that there was nothing she did or could have done differently. That she did nothing wrong. It is also essential that the mom knows that she DID birth a baby. After 3 days of consistent contractions, she did go through so much labor and she did birth Nora. She worked hard! But when births don’t go according to plan, moms need to be given the room to process their disappointment. Most people say, “Well at least mom and baby are healthy”, which is absolutely true! But we must also recognize that moms can still feel a loss when their birth was different than expected. This doesn’t only apply to c-sections. It can happen to moms who, on paper, had the ideal birth experience. Child birth is a powerful experience and every woman responds differently. As a doula, I must be available to process those emotions. I feel so much more equipped to walk a mom and her partner through this process if in the event that a c-section becomes necessary, they still have an intimate, empowered birth.

I also learned how important it is to process my own birth. Thankfully, this all surfaced with my sister as my client. I am grateful that I was triggered so that I could work through some parts of my birth that still needed healing. Don’t get me wrong. I had a beautiful birth and the natural, home birth I had wanted. But my labor uncovered childhood trauma, it lasted 4 long days, and it had extreme lows when I thought I was almost about to meet Genevieve and I was only in early labor. It was the hardest event of my life and it came with trauma on my body. But Lauren’s birth was so beautiful for unintentionally bringing healing to me. As a doula I had to see that it’s not about my strength for the mother that will get them through, it’s up to them. It wasn’t my birth and it wasn’t my mountain to climb. It is their inner strength that will carry them through. I am just their to walk alongside them. Lauren climbed her own mountain that she had to overcome and she did it with so much courage!

Having this experience reiterated that birth is magical and birth is beautiful. Bringing life into this world is a big deal and walking alongside a mother in labor is a privilege.
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Nora Kate

This birth story was written from the mother’s perspective:

It all started on Thursday morning. I was 39 weeks and 3 days. I woke up feeling slightly crampy. It was the same type of cramps I would get with my period. I didn’t think much of it and carried on like any other day. I got ready and Steven dropped me off at work. I told him to keep his phone near just in case this was the real deal. I doubted it though. I had experienced lots of Braxton Hicks through almost the entire third trimester, which was frustrating because many times I would mistake them for real labor contractions. Honestly, I had no idea at this point that this was the beginning of early labor.

I started getting contractions at work that felt different than BH. These were painful and hurt mostly in my back. They started coming regularly around 1 pm, but were 10-20 minutes apart. This continued on for the rest of my workday. I could’ve gone home early, but felt that the contractions were bearable enough to finish my shift. I didn’t say a word to my boss or any co-workers because I still wasn’t convinced that I was in labor and didn’t want to give them all a false alarm. Steven picked me up at 4:30 and we headed home. We had dinner around 6 and went for a walk. During the walk I felt lots of pressure, but the contractions spaced out a little bit. At 9 I decided to try to get some sleep. I used the bathroom first and saw a small amount of blood on the toilet paper. This was the moment when I realized that I was truly in labor. That bloody show was the evidence I needed. I knew I would need energy later so I laid down and tried to rest, but the contractions started becoming more painful. Plus, I had so many thoughts racing through my mind, “Am I going to be able to do this naturally?” “How long is my labor going to last?” “Oh my goodness, I might get to meet my baby girl in a few hours!” I was filled with such a mixture of emotions from excitement one minute to nervousness the next. The contractions were still 15-20 minutes apart. I was sleepy, but when I would just be dozing off each contraction would wake me back up. By 11 pm I gave up on trying to sleep and went to the couch. I watched a comedy show (Impractical Jokers) to distract myself. I had been texting Merrill all day letting her know how things were progressing. She told me she would come over as soon as I said I was ready for her. I felt that I was still in the early stage of labor and was comfortable working through it on my own. I also wanted Merrill and Steven to get sleep so they would have energy to help me when things got more intense.

Friday May 9, 2014 (39 weeks and 4 days)

I woke Steven up at midnight and asked him to go on another walk with me. I was hoping this would help to pick things up a bit. When we got back home I told Steven to go back to bed and I would wake him when I was ready. He would have stayed up with me, but I wanted him well rested. I sat back down on the couch and opened the contraction timer on my phone. They were ranging between 6-13 minutes apart. They were quite painful at this point and each time one would come I either walked around in the house or got down on all fours to ease the pain in my back. I was still able to work through them on my own because there was enough time in between to relax. Each contraction lasted less than a minute so I would watch the timer on my phone and with each passing second I knew I was that much closer to it being over. Given the timing in between each one, I figured I was still in early labor. What we had learned in our birthing class and from our midwife was that typically active labor begins when contractions are consistently 5 minutes apart lasting at least 1 minute for 1-2 hours.

By 5 am the contractions were 6 minutes apart. I was very uncomfortable by now and woke Steven up to go on one last walk with me. The walk was tough to get through. I had to stop with each contraction and Steven did counter pressure on my back. It felt good to walk around in hopes of moving the baby down. After the walk Steven took off to Dunkin’ Donuts to grab us some egg sandwiches and hash browns. We figured we had a long day ahead of us and needed to eat a decent breakfast before heading to the hospital. I called the midwife at 6 am because by now the contractions were pretty consistently 5 minutes apart and had definitely gotten more intense. I was anxious to find out how far along I was. The midwife advised me to go to the clinic to get checked. I was thinking I’d probably only be dilated to 2 cm or so and they would send me back home until I was further along.

We got to the clinic at 7 am and there wasn’t a single midwife there yet. Oh, I must add that the drive there was the worst car ride of my life. Every bump in the road, even the small ones, made the contractions tremendously more painful. I was fighting back the tears so bad. Steven felt horrible, but there wasn’t anything he could do. One midwife finally arrived at 7:30. I was in so much pain at this point that I was ready to get an epidural. I needed Merrill’s support now! The midwife checked me and made a funny face. I nervously asked, “What is it?” She says, “You’re at 7 cm!” I exclaimed, “Are you serious?!” I was completely shocked! She quickly says, “Girl, you get to the hospital now!” Apparently the timing rule for contractions was different for me. Here I was in active labor most of the night and had no clue because the contractions weren’t 5 minutes apart. After the midwife left the room I told Steven, “No wonder these contractions have been hurting so extremely bad.”

My mindset completely changed after realizing how far I had made it. I felt encouraged that I could totally finish this without an epidural. I called Merrill right away and told her to meet me at the hospital. Steven called the hospital and told them we were on our way and asked for a room with a labor tub. They said, “It will be waiting for you.” I was so thrilled to hear this because I knew the tub would be a huge relief for me. We learned in our birthing class that hydrotherapy can relieve up to 70% of the pain! That’s huge! Steven also called our parents to let them know.

At 8 am I was admitted into labor & delivery. My nurses, Rasha and Hannah, were incredible from the get go. The midwife on call was Melissa Davis, who I had never met before, but she was wonderful as well. I had to be on the monitor for 20 minutes. They put a heplock IV in and filled out some paperwork. Merrill arrived at 8:30 and immediately started doing counter pressure on my back while I was in the bed. I was so ready to get in the tub. Around 9 am everything looked good on the monitor and I got in the tub. Oh man it felt so wonderful and quickly eased my tension. Merrill & Steven took turns doing counter pressure with each contraction and the other would stand by my head rubbing my shoulders and arms. The nurses left the room to give us peace. Steven played some relaxing classical music and Merrill rubbed lavender oil on my neck. They prepared the perfect setting for me. All this allowed me to just let go and let my body do what it needed to do naturally.

My mom and sister arrived at 9:45 and came in to say hi. They only stayed in the room for a minute to give us space. Steven and Merrill never left my side. Steven became the pro at counter pressure and Merrill would softly whisper “breathe” in my ear through each contraction while rubbing my neck and shoulders. She also kept handing me my water bottle to make sure I stayed hydrated. Every contraction was so excruciating and I had to deep breathe through each one. With each breath I reminded myself that it was almost over and I was that much closer. I was solely focused on the moment. At 10 Rasha used the waterproof Doppler to check the baby’s heart rate and everything looked good. At 10:15 I was feeling tons of intense pressure. Merrill reassured me that this meant the baby’s head was very low and I was so close. I had to get out of the tub to use the bathroom and had some bloody show. I got back in the tub and continued to deep breathe through each contraction. They were intensifying and coming every couple minutes, but honestly I wasn’t even thinking about how frequent they were. I just concentrated on getting through each one and reminding myself that each one was bringing us closer to meeting our baby.

My water broke at 10:30 during a contraction while in the tub. I wasn’t even positive what had happened, but then the pressure got overwhelmingly intense and I felt a huge urge to push. I got out of the tub at 10:45 to be checked and I was 9 cm, station +2, 100% effaced. So super close! I stayed in the bed from this point on and this was the absolute hardest part. I got on all fours in the bed because that was the best position to ease the back pain. I was struggling to keep my composure and almost threw up with each contraction. Rasha, Melissa, and Merrill kept reminding me that I was so strong and doing such a great job. Steven continued doing counter pressure. I know it was wearing him out, but he was such a champ and never stopped. In between, he wrapped his arms around me and gently rubbed my legs. His touch was so comforting. The urge to push was so hard to manage at this point, but at the same time I was terrified with the thought of pushing the baby out. I voiced my concern and Merrill and Melissa reassured me that the pushing phase was a relief and gives you a sense of control since you’re actively participating in moving the baby out.

At 11:25 Melissa checked me and I was fully dilated at 10 cm! I remember saying, “Thank God”. I began pushing at 11:30 and they put a mirror in front of me, which helped tremendously because I could see how effective each push was as the baby moved down. I could literally feel her moving through the birth canal. It was incredible! Everyone was so hands off and just let me push as I felt each contraction. It was so awesome to let my body lead and not have anyone telling me what to do. I was pushing as hard as I could with every ounce of energy I had left hoping to get the baby out as quickly as possible. I just wanted to be done and was so exhausted. Melissa kept reminding me to look in the mirror, saying, “Erin, look her head is right there!” At noon I felt like I still had several more pushes to go to get her out, but with my next push I felt the severe burning “ring of fire” sensation that I was warned would happen when the head crowns. Within a matter of seconds after that feeling, out came my baby girl.

Nora Kate was born at 12:01 pm. Only 30 minutes of pushing and she was here! Melissa immediately put her on my chest and I was in complete awe. There is not a word that can describe what this moment feels like. As I was holding Nora skin to skin I remember saying, “Hi baby” “Hi sweetie” “Steven look, this is our baby.” It was the most surreal moment of my life. Even after being pregnant for 9 months and going through labor and birth it was still unbelievable that the baby in my arms was mine. Yet, at the same time I already loved her so much.

Steven cut the cord and I pushed out the placenta within 10 minutes of Nora’s birth.  I had a significant amount of bleeding and tore in three places so Rasha gave me Pitocin in the IV and then again as a shot in my thigh to get the bleeding under control. Melissa was stitching up the tears. All this time I was hardly aware of what was going on and didn’t really care about anything other than holding my sweet baby. By 1:00, Melissa was still concerned about the bleeding and asked me to try to use the bathroom as my bladder felt really full. Steven was able to hold Nora skin to skin while I got up to the bathroom. I wasn’t able to go since things were swollen down there and they had to put an in-and-out catheter in. After they emptied my bladder, the bleeding slowed down. They handed Nora back to me and helped her to begin nursing. It took a few minutes, but once she latched on she nursed for 20 minutes!

By 2:20 I was transferred and settled into the postpartum room. My mom, sister, dad, and stepmom had been anxiously waiting the whole time and finally got to meet Nora. It was so wonderful having those first couple hours to ourselves to bond with our baby before the family came in. We had told them several weeks previously that we didn’t want them in the room during the birth or for the “golden hour” as Steven and I felt that this was our own special time with our girl. We were so glad to have made that decision.

When people ask me how I went through labor and delivery without any pain medication, I simply say, “You know what, our bodies were designed to do this and honestly God gives you this amazing inner strength to get through it.” Giving birth naturally is the most empowering thing I will ever experience and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. There is nothing better than experiencing the miracle of life.

Lastly, I would like to add that I wouldn’t have had nearly all these details of my labor and birth if it weren’t for Merrill. There’s no way I would’ve remembered it all. She so very kindly kept up with all the details and typed it all up for me to be able to write my birth story. She also captured some of our most cherished pictures from the birth and meeting our baby girl for the first time. I will be forever grateful for these photos as we will never get those moments back and now have the memories captured of one of the most special times of our lives.

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Genevieve Lark

photo (9)What a daunting task – trying to put into words the hardest, most intense, miraculous, life-giving, four days of my life. I will do my best to adequately express all the emotions and details involved in the birth. When I was pregnant, I found reading other birth stories to be so uplifting and encouraging, especially difficult births. It gave me confidence that despite the circumstances of the labor, I will get through it. It also helped me realize that no two births are the same and I must hold my expectations loosely. Most birth stories are not simple, textbook, 12-hour labors, but labor will come to an end and you will hold your beautiful baby.

Monday, November 4th:
It all began on Monday morning, November 4th. I had been feeling a little crampy in my back but nothing noteworthy. That morning I used the bathroom and, lo and behold, I lost my mucous plug. I had my 38 week appointment with my midwife at 11 am and conveniently my mom was already planning on going with me so she could meet my midwife before the birth. Jennifer, my midwife, noticed my uterus contracting and made a mental note of the progress. I felt the cramps but at this point I couldn’t really feel the start or end of a contraction. I had to touch my belly to feel the uterus tightening in order to know I was even having a contraction. She also told me that Genevieve was fully engaged in my pelvis. During the appointment contractions went from 15 minutes to 10 minutes apart. I was officially in early labor. My mom and I chuckled because we’d both known that I would go into labor early. I called my office and told them I was officially going on maternity leave.

I was so glad my mom was with me! We ran to the grocery store to stock up on food and get all the last minute details in place. I let my birth team know that things were starting. I felt like I was floating, my mind was so scattered but I also felt so calm and full of peace. I spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning, eating and resting, knowing that this could last a while. By 4:00 pm contractions were 8-10 minutes apart but easy to work through. My mom left and Michael came home from work. We spent our last few hours alone together. That evening we walked around our neighborhood hoping to get things going. By 7:30 contractions were more like 7 minutes apart. I wanted to distract myself, so Michael, my mom, my mother-in-law, and I played a round of dominos. By the end of the game I was over it and wanted to focus on the contractions. At 9:30 I iced some birthday cupcakes for when we would celebrate Genevieve’s birthday. And then I was ready for bed. Everyone left and I tried to ‘sleep’. I was really restless and just wanted the heated pad on my back. Contractions were 6 minutes apart. Karlie, my doula and dear friend, showed up at midnight and we all tried to get some sleep. I woke up at 5 am and barely felt contractions. It was so strange because all night I was feeling so much. When contractions pick up and slow back down, it’s called prodromal labor.

Tuesday, November 5th:
Tuesday morning we woke up, ate some breakfast and took a walk in Shelby Park. It was so nice to spend a few hours outside getting some fresh air. Contractions picked back up and were again at 6-8 minutes apart.

My midwife came over around noon to check on me and see how things were going. She asked if I wanted to be checked to know my cervical dilation.

Here’s where things get vulnerable: When I was young I experienced sexual abuse. Because of this I have had issues with annual check-ups, intimacy with my husband, and even wearing tampons. It is something that I have worked through in counseling, some physical therapy, and just time. But it is still difficult for me to physically get my pelvic floor muscles to relax. It’s a condition called vaginismus. It definitely crossed my mind that this would play a role in labor but I never really gave it much thought because I didn’t want to believe that my dreams of a natural, vaginal birth could be hindered by trauma I experienced years ago.

Suffice it to say, Jennifer tried to check my dilation but wasn’t really able to because it hurt me too much and the last thing she wanted to do was cause more trauma. Everyone who was at my house left so I could be alone with Michael. I was feeling really down after the failed cervical check and I started crying. After 2 hours of feeling weepy, my mom, sister and a couple of close friends came over to cheer me up. Contractions were still regular but I could work through them by simply breathing. They gave me massages and lifted my spirits. My midwife came back over and felt it would be best if everyone left so I could try and get some more rest. I cried again and we went to bed at 6 pm. In the middle of the night the contractions got really intense. Michael got up and made me some eggs, lit some candles and helped me through the contractions. I knew that this was still early labor and I was just so tired, I wanted to go back to bed. So I worked through contractions the rest of the night, falling into deep sleep in the minutes between them.


Wednesday, November 3rd:
Wednesday morning my mom and Karlie came by the house. They lifted my spirits once again and painted my toenails. I then had a chiropractor appointment at noon to see if my chiropractor could help with the intense hip pain and to help baby get into a better position. For the next 2 hours Karlie, Michael and I walked around the neighborhood, stopping when contractions hit. Our midwife came back and checked my cervix, this time with a little more help and coaching from Karlie and Michael. I was only 4 cm dilated. Jennifer decided to take some blood to make sure it wasn’t an infection causing the contractions because I wasn’t really progressing at all. Jennifer left to run my blood to the lab. Right after she left I had an intense contraction and noticed clear fluid running down my leg; it was around 5 pm that my water broke. Contractions felt like they were picking up so we called our midwife and Michael started setting things up. I was so excited that something was happening! Jennifer showed up at 8 pm with all her supplies (By the way, midwives come with LOTS of supplies. She had 3 trunks full of equipment). By 9 pm the tub was set up and I got in. Mary, the midwife assistant, also showed up at this time. I was in the tub for about 30 minutes but couldn’t really feel the contractions anymore. I could tell that the warm water was slowing labor down, but it really did feel so good! I got out of the tub and at 10 pm Jennifer checked me again. I was still tensing up really bad but it seemed like my cervix had made progress. At that point we believed we were in active labor.

From 10-12 Michael and I worked through contractions like champs. We were pulling out all of our tricks from our childbirth classes. I remember thinking, ‘why am I so alert?’ ‘This isn’t that bad, I mean the contractions are really intense but not impossible to work through’. By 2 am my midwife checked me again and could not feel any cervix, we thought this must mean I was fully dilated. It was so strange because I had no urge to push. For the next hour, Michael and I were in the nursery while the birth team got rest and we were seeing if I could ‘push’. But nothing. Karlie had to leave at 5 am to go back to work in Chattanooga and I started feeling frustrated. We were so close to meeting our little one, we were absolutely exhausted and I knew things were strange.


Thursday, November 4th:
By morning my midwife knew that something was not right. We decided to get me on the bed and try some assisted pushing. She wanted to feel my cervix while I pushed during a contraction to get an idea of what was going on. With the help of Mary and Michael, I was able to fully relax so Jennifer could do another cervical check. They massaged my legs, used hot compresses and even lavender oil. It was at this point that Jennifer realized what was really going on. In the gentlest voice and with tears in her eyes, she told me that she was finally able to feel the cervix for the first time. Jennifer had been concerned that the reason I was not progressing was because my pelvis was too small. But after that last check she knew I had room to get my baby out. However, I was only 4 cm dilated with a very posterior cervix. Because of my previous trauma my pelvic floor muscles were so tight that she was not able to do an adequate exam the night before; the muscle felt like a bone. She had to put transferring to the hospital on the table because instead of being 10 cm dilated without the urge to push, I was barely in active labor and my water had been broken for over 12 hours. It is my midwife’s and Vanderbilt’s policy not to wait more than 24 hours after the membrane has ruptured due to the risk of infection, especially without any progress. Because I was exhausted, they thought maybe an epidural is what I needed to facilitate the relaxation of the pelvic floor.

This is when we hit rock bottom. We were pretty much told that after 3 days of consistent contractions, and what we thought was the end in sight, we were starting all over. We were still in early labor. I was exhausted, Michael was exhausted and we did not know what to do. I was in shock. I didn’t know how to process it all. I remember not feeling any emotion, like I was numb. I asked her if we could have a minute and once she left, Michael and I sobbed in our bed for almost an hour. So many thoughts were racing through my head – What do I need to pack for the hospital? Will I be sleeping at the hospital tonight? Should I just get a C-section? How will we pay for it all? So I am not having a home birth? And more than all of that I was thinking that I can’t do this anymore. I have no energy. I have no drive. I am done. Can someone just knock me out for the next 3 days? And as I am feeling those emotions, contraction after contraction continued to hit me. These were really hard to work through emotionally because I had thought they were transition contractions and now I know these were only early labor contractions. I was struggling.

I left Michael in the bedroom and went out to see my midwife and her assistant. Jennifer recommended that Michael try and get some sleep because if we were to transfer to the hospital he would need as much energy as possible to support me. It’s all a blur what happened next. I needed my mom. Conveniently she was across the street at my sister’s house waiting to come over. Once she arrived I broke down in her arms and continued to work through contractions. Next thing I remember, I am laying on the couch in my mom’s lap and Jennifer and Mary are sitting next to me. Jennifer told me that we do have a time constraint because my water had broken but she affirmed me that I could do it. Because I was able to relax during the last cervical check, she told me, my body knows how to relax but I have to keep doing that in order to progress. I didn’t want to be a victim to my abuse, something from which I thought I had already healed. Everyone in that room really believed that I could overcome this. Michael came out from the bedroom because he didn’t want to sleep and told Jennifer in tears that he could not be away from me and that he really wanted this home birth for my sake. He switched places with my mom and we got down to business.

Two things needed to happen in order for us to continue with a home birth. First, I needed to fully relax my pelvic floor. I was not going to progress if this didn’t happen. This would be quite a feat because I had spent years struggling to do this. Leg massages, warm compresses, and lavender oil are what it took to help me achieve this. I think the fact that I was utterly exhausted also aided in the relaxation. Second, I needed to have more intense contractions. So we used pressure points, different positions, nipple stimulation and black and blue cohosh. Jennifer wanted to do another check. With Michael’s encouragement and Mary relaxing the muscles in my thighs, Jennifer was able to check my cervix without any trouble. There was a lot of blood and I was 5-6 cm with the cervix moving more anterior, which meant things were progressing! If I had not shown progress at this point, we would be going to the hospital.

This is when everything got real. Something happened in this moment. I really believe it was all the prayers that were said for us that morning because the hope and strength I felt right then was powerful. I actually believed I could have a home birth. With my new wave of energy I managed to get all my clothes off, I took another dose of black and blue cohosh and I was doing nipple stimulation all in hopes of getting things going. My midwife laughed and said, ‘This is what a laboring woman looks like’. It was such a contrast from the night before when I thought I was in active labor. All my inhibitions were gone and my only thoughts were getting this baby out. I could care less about a water birth, who was there, if it would end but being filmed, how I looked, etc. My ‘plans’ and expectations went out the window. It was raw and intense.

I was officially in labor land. Other moms who have had natural labor know what I am talking about. I was focused and in another world. I wasn’t really talking between contractions I just wanted to labor uninterrupted. I worked through a few contractions on the couch, then I moved to the bedroom with the yoga ball on the bed and worked through contractions standing up leaning on the ball. I even tried on my hands and knees in the shower to see if the warm water would help. Through every single contraction I needed Michael by my side and Mary massaging my legs. It was the only way I was able to fully relax all my muscles. My body was developing a routine and system for working through each contraction.

I moved to the bed and once there, I didn’t want to move. I was leaning up against Michael and using his hands for stability. Unfortunately, a water birth was off the table. I needed Mary and Michael to actively assist me through each contraction and they couldn’t have done that if I was in the tub. I didn’t expect to be so vocal. I was seriously loud. They were deep, primal groans that came from who knows where. I learned later that I was so loud my neighbors across the street thought there was someone in their house 😉 The low groans helped me so much! It’s like I got lost in the noise and the vibrations in my head. It’s what I focused on during each contraction.

As they intensified, I knew I had to throw up. I remember vomiting quite a few times and feeling so much relief. It was hard though because I would finish a contraction then during the break I would be throwing up and then move right back into a contraction. That was tough. Jennifer checked me again and I was 7 cm. More progress! Anytime Mary would leave the room, I would yell out, “Mary, I need you! Another contraction!” She never got a break! Such a rock star.

I started to get the urge to push so I gave it a try during the next few contractions. It felt so amazing to finally be doing something proactive. Jennifer wanted to check me again before I got serious with the pushing to make sure I was fully dilated. I was only 8 cm. She instructed me to not push, to fight the urge because pushing right now could mean damaging the cervix. My goodness this was the hardest part of the entire labor process. I got flat on my back and when a contraction came on I would breathe through it as long as possible until the urge got too strong and then I would vibrate my lips to fight the need to push. It was excruciating. I still remember how I felt looking up at my ceiling thinking I was dying. No joke, I thought I was dying. I looked at both Jennifer and Michael many times saying things like “I can’t do this, I can’t handle any more contractions, I want to die”. But there comes a moment that you realize – there is no way out. I can’t push pause. I think I even said something like can we try for babies next year, I am not ready. It was seriously overwhelming. My dear husband was totally prepared for this. He knew that when I was giving up, that was a good sign. So he really got in my face encouraging me every second. I was in transition. About 30 minutes of fighting this urge, my midwife checked me right when a contraction hit. I didn’t know what she was doing at that moment but I remember thinking she was ripping something. I yelled her name and dropped the F-bomb. She was moving the tiny bit of cervical lip over the baby’s head. I asked her if I could push now and she said yes.

When it’s time to push, it’s like a whole new surge of energy hits. Out of instinct I stood up at the foot of my bed and during the next contraction I pushed with all my might using my midwife for support.  It was so relieving! In our childbirth class we were instructed to take 2 breathes and then push for a count of 6. That went out the window. By the time I had pushed for 6 seconds, I was just getting started. I probably pushed for 20 seconds at a time. I was using the power of the contractions with the pushing and it really did feel so much better. My groans got louder and deeper, if that is even possible, and I yelled out, “If anyone is in the living room they can come in!” My mom, sister and our videographer stood at the door as I pushed again squatting on the bed with Mary and Michael supporting each arm. There was a lot of bleeding and my midwife wanted me to lay back on the bed with Michael supporting my body so she could get a better look of what was going on.

I remember feeling my baby move down the birth canal. It was incredible. During the next contraction my midwife said “I see her blonde hair.” Whoa. I couldn’t open my eyes though. I was so focused that I kept my eyes closed the whole time. By the next contraction I could tell she was starting to crown. I felt what is known as the ‘ring of fire.’ It is an intense stretching, burning feeling but honestly, it didn’t even phase me at that point. I was so ready for it all to be over. It could not have been more than 3 contractions that her head was out. Michael started to cry and I could hear the gasps from the onlookers. I opened my eyes for a minute and remember seeing them all at the door. I was so glad my mother-in-law made it at the last moment, too. After 33 minutes of pushing, at 3:57 pm, I birthed Genevieve Lark into this world.

She was immediately put on my chest and I just said over and over again “hey baby, hey baby, hey baby”. Michael was crying and I was just in shock. I was out of breath. I’ve heard people say this and I found it to be true, my baby was both a stranger and someone I have known all along. The familiarity was from the bond we had while she was in my womb. I was so happy that it was over but I didn’t feel total relief because I knew the placenta was next and then potential stitching. Things were still burning down there. After a few minutes of bonding and waiting for the cord to stop pulsing, Michael cut the cord and Genevieve was separated from my body. My placenta was not detaching on its own so I started to breastfeed to try and keep the contractions going. She is a natural latcher and did great! However, it was 40 minutes after birth and my placenta was not moving. I gave Genevieve to Michael and carried her out into the living room to meet the family. He also held her skin to skin to keep her temperature regulated and to encourage the attachment between the two of them. Jennifer had me stand up off the bed and gave me a shot of Pitocin in my thigh. She was worried about me hemorrhaging. Once she gave me the shot, one contraction later I birthed the placenta. I only needed a few minor stitches for one 1st degree tear and with a shot of Novocain, my midwife was able to suture me up right there. Jennifer then weighed and measured Genevieve. She was 6 lbs 13 ounces and 20.5 inches long.

Everyone left the room so Michael, Genevieve, and I could have some time just the 3 of us. Everyone else started to clean-up in the rest of the house. I will always treasure that time. After 15 minutes I was ready to get cleaned up. So with Michael’s help I took a shower and washed my body off. By the time I was done my room had been completely cleaned. The bed was remade with clean, fresh sheets. Michael’s family brought champagne and we sang Happy Birthday and ate the cupcakes I made 3 days earlier. Then it was time to rest just the three of us. And let me tell you, the morning after, waking up in our bed with the sun shining in the window and our baby cuddled up with us, that was pure joy!

My reflections 3 weeks later:
-Birth is hard. I don’t care what type of labor and birth experience you have. It is hard. Enduring birth makes you a champion. I am amazed by all women who give birth.

-I would choose a home birth every time. Had I labored in the hospital I would have faced two traumas – the physical challenges from abuse and my fear of hospitals after my surgeries as a child. Not to mention, there is no way I would have had a natural birth in a hospital with such slow progression. I would have had interventions. My home was where I needed to be in order to fully relax and feel safe. Our house feels so sacred and special now.

-Thankfully my daughter was never in danger. If that were the case, I would be the first in the car to go to the hospital. Her heart rate was perfect and she endured that long labor beautifully. All the hiccups along the way were handled perfectly by my midwife. Jennifer and Mary really believed in me and stuck with me for 4 days to help facilitate the birth I really desired.

-I was able to tap into some deep inner strength in order to relax my body. Women have the incredible ability to this. I am definitely stronger than I ever thought possible and I now feel capable of anything! I really feel like the last evidence of the abuse that I experienced was released during this labor. I accomplished something I didn’t think I would ever overcome. I believe that my next birth can happen in water.

-Having a natural birth was so meaningful for me. I experienced labor the way that so many generations before me had also experienced it. I feel connected with sacred femininity and so amazed that I actually did it! Feeling my daughter move down the birth canal and learning to read every sign of my body was so empowering. I did it! I endured the hardest moments of my life and survived. My body knew what to do and I had to surrender to the process. I still can’t believe I did it. I must also add that you really do forget the intensity after the first few days. Right after birth I told Michael that Genevieve is never having siblings and here I am talking about my next home birth.

-Education makes all the difference! No, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee an easy labor but it helped us immensely. Michael knew what to do in every stage of labor and he was not freaked out when things got super intense. He knew what to expect, and so did I. Not to mention, the only reason we were able to endure 4 days of labor is because we knew how to handle early labor. I knew that rest, food, and drink were essential. Michael and I knew that there were times to simply rest and times to get labor going. Pacing myself and using the tools I learned in our childbirth class made all the difference.

-My goodness, my husband. I have to end on that note. He went through labor with me. He did not leave my side and was always there with me through each contraction. Yes, I was feeling the pain of labor but he was right there with no sleep, supporting and encouraging me. After Genevieve was born, Michael kept saying how amazed he was with me. He had never seen me so strong and powerful. There was a primal beauty to the whole experience. And those days after birth I was so overwhelmed with my love for him. He really did go through it all with me. The depth and intimacy of our love for each other increased exponentially because of this experience.