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Our Fifth Born: Jack's Home Birth Story

Our Fifth Born: Jack’s Home Birth Story

 Jack Phoenix Maaser

Born: 3-3-2017 (Friday)

Time: 4:54 a.m.

Measurements: 7 lbs 9 oz , 21.5 inches long, 13.5 cm head circumference

In a lot of ways, I view Jack as a miracle or a gift. We really thought we were done with four children and even traded in our 15 passenger van for a bells and whistles minivan thinking that the diaphragm would keep us safe. It did not, however, and the entire pregnancy, birth, and time with our sweet little Jack has seemed so surreal, as if it were all part of a dream that I never want to awaken from. He is our bonus child. (Read our thoughts about finding out we were pregnant for baby #5 here.)

The Pregnancy

Finding out we were pregnant this time around was a shock, miracle, joy, and beautiful surprise. As we began making preparations for prenatal care and birth, we were thrilled that we would actually be having another baby in the same home and with the same midwives for the first time ever. (Ruby was born at the Mountain Midwifery Center in Colorado, Elliot was born at our condo in Colorado attended by DeAna Durbin, Ophelia was born at our rented Reed City home attended by Sarah Badger with Simply Born from Grand Rapids, and Julian was born here.) Laurie Zoyiopoulos with Faithful Guardians Midwifery and Jillian Bennett now with Family Tree Maternity attended Julian’s birth and would also be attending us during this new journey as well.

Just like with Julian’s pregnancy, I was so busy with all of our kids, routine, and life, that I kept forgetting that I was pregnant! Life just carried on with the exception of a few additional supplements and a more careful diet. Also, just like with Julian’s pregnancy, I was measuring quite large at first, so we scheduled an ultrasound to be sure there was only one baby in there. I was feeling a lot of morning sickness and fatigue, but it wasn’t because I was having twins, it was just that I needed more sleep and more food! I always love the idea of twins, but the reality scares me, and I was actually quite relieved that it would be just one.

The ultrasound showed that everything was normal and that my expected due date was Feb. 18th (we predicted Feb. 14th, so pretty close). Based on the way I was feeling and what I was craving, I was CERTAIN it would be a girl, but at our 20 week ultrasound, we found out that we would be having a boy! We had never had two genders in a row and were very excited for Julian to have a little buddy.

The entire pregnancy flew by, and I started to feel like being pregnant was just a part of who I was going to be for all of eternity.

But just like with all of my other pregnancies at about 35 weeks along, I started feeling Braxton Hicks contractions very regularly. It made me fear that I would go into labor early and be forced into a hospital delivery, and all of a sudden it hit me like a ton of bricks that this baby was coming soon! I started getting more serious about doing my prenatal yoga videos, tackled a deep cleaning/organizing project just about every day, started gathering all of my birth and baby things, and most importantly, I started to visualize what my birth would be like.

Organizing the Silverware Drawer

Organizing the Silverware Drawer

As my due date drew closer, I was relieved that my little guy had made it full term, but devastated to see that everyone in our family was getting sick when we had worked so hard to keep everyone healthy throughout my entire pregnancy. Scott got a REALLY bad stomach virus that made him miss a bunch of work and left him bedridden. I kept feeling like labor was right around the corner and thankfully my mom was able to stay with us and help me around the house until he was better.

We viewed each day that labor didn’t come as a gift that allowed everyone to gradually get better, for my mom and I to tackle more and more cleaning projects, and for our sweet little boy to continue to grow stronger inside my womb.

When I was about a week overdue, Scott got really sick again with a different virus that once again left him bedridden and with a high fever. At this point, I was getting a little mad. I mean, we were eating healthy, getting enough sleep, taking high quality supplements…and I couldn’t figure out why he was not only getting sick repeatedly, but worse than I had ever seen him before.

It wasn’t until after the birth when I was rereading our old birth stories and noticed that the exact same thing happened to him right before Julian’s birth, and then it dawned on me the amount of stress he was under and how it really took a toll on his immune system. Seeing the way he is so calm and at ease now makes hindsight 20/20 as I look back and see all of the signs that he was getting stressed out. I mean, not only was he nonstop busy at work, but to have something looming in the future that is so life changing and that comes with such a huge responsibility, but you have no idea WHEN it is going to happen is enough to drive anyone mad!

37 Weeks Pregnant

37 Weeks Pregnant

At any rate, up until about 37 weeks, I would have truly been content to stay pregnant forever, but after that, things started getting really uncomfortable, sleep was difficult, my back was killing me, none of my clothes were fitting, my leg cramps were always just one bad stretch away, I was always cramping from Braxton Hicks and out of breath, and I was just ready for it to be done. As I saw my due date come and go, there was a part of me that was excited to tackle the birth and anxious to finally meet our sweet little guy, but happy at the same time knowing that he needed this extra time to grow and that he would come when he was ready.

Even though people kept asking me when I would be getting induced, I knew that being overdue wasn’t a bad thing, especially since the midwives were continuously monitoring me to make sure everything looked good.

Leading Up to Labor

Scott came home from work about an hour early on Monday (Feb. 27th) feeling awful with a high fever. I put him to bed for the rest of the afternoon and we hoped that with the extra rest he would be feeling better on Tuesday. But on Tuesday he felt just as bad, and at 10 days overdue, I didn’t know how much longer our son could wait to be born! I was getting a little panicky because I really and truly didn’t think I could go through labor without Scott by my side, and I could feel that things were getting closer. All of the Braxton Hicks contractions I had been having left me at about 80% effaced, at least 3 cm dilated, and I could feel that he was very low.

I mean, at some point, it felt like he was just going to fall out!

Scott took Wednesday off as well and was finally starting to feel better. That night, I was feeling a lot of cramping and thought things might progress in the night – but they didn’t. We figured that it was probably best for Scott to take Thursday off to ensure a complete recovery and so that he could watch the kids while I went to my chiropractor visit on Thursday at noon. I was trying everything I could to get our little guy out of his posterior position, but nothing was working, and I started to wonder if his position was preventing labor from getting started. My midwife, Jillian, thought that a chiropractor visit would help us get him into an optimal position. We had planned on keeping the big kids home from school on Thursday, but as luck would have it, school was canceled due to the snow and ice!

Early Labor

At 6:30 a.m. on Thursday (March 2nd), I texted my mom to say that my contractions were coming back, but that it still felt like it would be quite a while yet. She said she was caught up at work and could come and just hang out with the kids even if things didn’t happen for awhile. When she got here and took over, I went and hid in our room to bounce on my ball during contractions and was determined to finish my blog about being overdue (12 days at this point) before our baby was born. Scott helped me edit my final draft, and I got it published just in time!

Working on My Blog (Julian took this picture.)

Working on My Blog (Julian took this picture.)

All morning, my contractions were very erratic and had no pattern. It felt like labor was in a cycle where it was continuously starting and stopping, and it was really messing with my mind. I even wondered if what I was going through was prodromal labor (labor that starts and stops…more intense than just Braxton Hicks contractions), and it made me feel like I was stuck in a loop that would repeat endlessly like in Groundhog’s Day.

It was nice having my mom around, all of the kids home, and Scott there to keep me distracted. At one point, Scott had all of the kids outside and was pulling them in the sled in our new (used) riding lawnmower, and I decided to take over. There is definitely something to be said for the whole “bumpy car ride” getting labor started, and I could feel my contractions spurred on with each jarring bump!

After that, Scott and I stayed bundled up and went for a walk to Vics to get a few groceries while my mom watched the kids. It felt like so many other pregnancies when we would try to “walk them out”. (We even went to Vics when I was in early labor with Julian!) Each contraction that came would make me stop, and Scott was there to support me through each one.

Walking to Vics

Walking to Vics

 

Scott took this picture of me because in the background it says "She's a thing of beauty"...love that man!

Scott took this picture of me because in the background it says “She’s a thing of beauty”…love that man!

When we came home and still nothing was progressing, I started feeling really discouraged. I had been keeping my midwife, Jillian, in the loop and she really lifted me up when I started messaging her with all of my fears (i.e. What if the baby is posterior? What if he is stuck on my pubic bone? Why am I starting and stopping labor? What if I never give birth? etc.). I told her how I was trying everything under the sun to get him to turn if he was posterior, and she said that she saw no reasons for concern, and that I was doing all of the right things. This helped me to release most of my frustration, anxiety, and pending panic.

My mom took Julian and Elliot for an excursion to McDonalds which left the house considerably quieter with just Ruby and Ophelia who were playing independently. Then our friend LeeAnn showed up to deliver our milk, and even though I slipped into our bedroom to bounce on my ball during contractions, I stopped thinking about whether or not I was in labor. It felt like it was just another day as I putzed around in the kitchen while LeeAnn told Scott about her recent cruise. Then my dad stopped by, on his way home from doing business up in the U.P., my mom brought Julian and Elliot back from McDonalds, and as the house became full of tickles, laughter, and love, my contractions seemed to have been put on the back burner and totally subsided.

When my dad was getting ready to leave, I encouraged my mom to go home as well,

“I really don’t think anything is going to happen for awhile,”

I told her with defeat, but she insisted on staying nonetheless. By the time we put the kids to bed, my mom was already tucked in for sleep. The kids were very helpful during our bedtime routine.

After we put the kids to bed, Scott and I stayed up to watch most of La La Land and then headed off to bed around 10:00 p.m. I was starting to feel contractions again, but I just wanted to get Scott into bed so that he would be well rested if indeed the end was near. Even though I didn’t think that I would be able to fall asleep, I did. When the contractions came, they were enough to wake me up and I had to moan softly, but not get me out of bed.

Finally at about 11:30 p.m. I couldn’t take lying in bed anymore. Not only were the contractions getting too strong, but I suddenly realized that I hadn’t pooped yet that day (TMI maybe, but hey this is a birth story…what did you expect?). So first things first, I drank a Fiberwise and then putzed around the kitchen until I needed to poop. After that, the contractions started coming on stronger and more quickly. I even had to get on my hands and knees to rock through them. It was really sweet though because our cat Storybelle would crawl under my belly as I did this, and focusing on the softness of her fur really distracted me and made the pain melt away.

After a particularly painful contraction, I hurried into our bedroom to grab my birthing ball and came out to the living room to watch the parts of La La Land that we had skipped. (Sidenote: I really love how this movie shows how love and family are more important than a career and dreams of individual happiness via external achievements.) I sat behind the couch in our living room, bouncing on my ball, watching the movie, and moaning softly with each contraction.

At about 1:30 a.m., I started to feel like I needed Scott’s support. The contractions were getting a bit more painful, but with all of the delays, I still wasn’t convinced that anything was really going to happen. When I gently woke up Scott and said,

“I need you now. I can’t do this alone anymore,”

he bolted out of bed like it was a fire drill and stumbled into his sweat pants and shirt in about 3 seconds. I gathered up a nightgown, told Scott to grab my birthing kit box, and we crept past a soundly sleeping Elliot and out into the living room.

As Scott sat on the couch watching me expectantly, I almost felt foolish when after minutes and minutes nothing was happening. He asked me if I had called the midwives yet, to which I curtly responded,

“Now with you here, I don’t think anything is going to happen again.”

But seconds later…something did.

Active Labor

All of a sudden, the waves of a very powerful contraction washed over me, and I yelled to Scott, “My hips!” He immediately sprang into action and expertly began rubbing my hips and back like he had done with every other birth. The pressure from his hands was strong and soothing and helped to dull the pain of the contraction, but it was still painful enough that I moaned loudly. When it was over, Scott sternly said,

“You need to call the midwives now! This could be happening fast!”

After another powerful contraction, I called Jillian and told her that things were happening and that they were happening fast.

“We might have the baby before you get here!” I stammered while completely failing to sound calm.

In between contractions, Scott started laying down chux pads while I unpacked the birth kit. As I visualized giving birth unassisted, my mind switched from just getting through each contraction to worrying about all of the possible things that could go wrong. (Would he get stuck in the birth canal? How could I get him to rotate if he was indeed posterior? What if he got tangled in the cord on the way out? etc.) Jillian called me when she was on the road (later she told me she could hear the panic in my voice) and reassured me that they were on the way and to let her know if we needed her to walk us through anything.

Laying Down Chux Pads

Laying Down Chux Pads

Laurie and Jillian were each about 45 minutes away on a good day and now the roads were icy and it was the middle of the night. But just knowing that they were on their way put my mind at ease, and I went back to focusing on my Enya mix and getting through one contraction at a time. In between contractions, the pain melted away, and I continued putzing around. I really wanted to get more videos of me going through contractions and of the birth, but this (below) is all that we managed to record!

Laurie was the first to walk through the door at 2:30 a.m., and Scott and I joked that she was our babysitter there to give us a night on the town. She unpacked her bag and checked on me right away. The baby’s heart rate was good and after watching me have a contraction, I could tell by the way that she hovered that she thought things would be happening soon. Jillian arrived shortly after Laurie and after about twenty minutes, their assistants Sarah and Stephanie arrived. It was about 3:00 a.m. at this point, and frankly, I was completely surprised that he hadn’t been born yet.

Laurie Checking on the Baby

Laurie Checking on the Baby

Transition

Transition is defined as the dilation of the cervix from 8 cm to 10 cm and typically lasts about 30 minutes to 2 hours with really intense contractions typically occurring every 2 minutes and lasting from 60-90 seconds. It’s hard to say when transition really began for me because right up until the end, my contractions were anywhere from 5 to 8 minutes apart and lasting about a minute. But even with my erratic pattern of contractions, I could tell with an internal check that I was pretty much dilated all of the way and just waiting for that pushing sensation.

The midwives kept coming in to check on me to see how the baby’s heart rate was doing, and at one point it dropped to 116 beats per minute (from about 138 I think). Scott knew that with the lowered heart rate, I needed to pick up the pace. He gently encouraged me to walk around in between contractions to get things going, and I did so with shuffled feet and tearful eyes.

With every contraction, Scott was right there by my side to expertly massage my hips and back, but it wasn’t making the pain melt away like it had with all of my other births. As each contraction came and went, I was getting increasingly frustrated that I wasn’t getting the urge to push. I started to feel a sense of panic creep into my psyche as once again that feeling of being stuck in this moment for ever and ever and ever penetrated every ounce of my being.

The contractions were wearing on me, and I started crying when they came, not sure how much longer I would be able to hang on. “Why am I not feeling the urge to push???” I asked in exasperation. The midwives could tell I was having a hard time, and even though the baby’s heart rate was back to normal, they wanted to encourage me to move things along. I felt like I need to do something different, but I didn’t know what. I asked Jillian if I should squat she said, “NO!” (*If the baby was posterior…which we weren’t sure of at this point, but suspected, then squatting would have made him descend posterior and could have led to over an hour of intense pushing.)

Jillian recommended instead that with the next contraction I get on my hands and knees and sway my hips back and forth. So with the next contraction, I did just that.

With my hands out in front of me and my butt up in the air, I gently swayed my hips back and forth, and as I did, I felt his head turn about 90 degrees in my pelvis.

The pain was excruciating beyond all measure of belief, yet I somehow managed to bring my hands up to the edge of the couch and buried my face in the cushions so that I could scream with reckless abandon. Scott was still expertly massaging my hips and back, but at this point, nothing was helping with the pain.

It felt as though time was standing still and this pain and this moment were somehow holding me captive to live in this experience for all of eternity. But then a little voice inside me whispered,

“I promise that this is the last time you’ll ever have to do this.”

And somehow knowing that this would be the last time ever, gave me the grit to see that the end was near.

Birth

The previous contraction was about 90 seconds of the most intense pain I have ever felt in my life, and after that I was immediately racked with another one.

I felt like I was spinning out of control and that my body was being turned inside out, but I kept telling myself over and over that this would be the last time and that it was almost over.

With a pop and a gush, my water broke, and FINALLY I got the urge to push. It was such a relief!!! The feeling of his head coming down the birth canal consumed the cognition of every cell in my body, and I pushed with all of my might like a sprinter reaching desperately to break the final ribbon at the finish line.

I heard everyone frantically clamoring behind me trying to process the sudden uptick in the pace of things. Jillian asked Scott (who was still massaging my hips while I was on my hands and knees) if he wanted to catch the baby. “Yes, of course!” he said.

“Well then get ready,” said Jillian, “here comes the head!”

Scott looked down in shock to see that yes indeed here came his head! With every other birth, after the head is delivered I have waited until the next contraction to push out the rest of the body, but I just wanted things to be over so badly this time that I reached into my primal core and used the reserves of all the strength I have ever saved to push his entire body out in one go…and so out came his head, shoulders, and hips all in one big strong push.

After the Birth

After he was delivered, I awkwardly spun around while Scott listened to directions for how to hand him through my legs and up to my chest. I glanced at Jillian and noticed the look of concern on her face when he didn’t cry right away. Typically, the passage through the birth canal will help to aspirate the lungs, but with our little guy coming out so quickly, he was having difficulty taking his first breath. With the cord tugging at the placenta still buried inside of me, I brought him up as far as I could and patted his back while Jillian tickled his feet and massaged him a bit trying to get him to cough or cry.

After the longest 20 seconds of my life, he coughed a wet raspy cough, gave a little cry, and I could immediately see him pink up. Right away, I let go of the breath I didn’t realize I had been holding.

I nestled him to my bosom, skin to skin, and finally said hello to my son. I cannot even tell you in words the feeling of elation, wonder, and joy upon first meeting a child after getting to know him over nine long months in every way possible except for sight. To see his little body, sweet face, and big eyes looking up at me, recognizing my voice, and feeling a complete flood of oxytocin love hormones as snuggled on my chest rooting for my breast, well it was enough joy to fill a thousand lifetimes with happiness. When I looked at our little boy and felt his warmth, I caught a glimpse of him taking his first steps, learning to ride a bike, falling in love, having children of his own, and being by his side every step of the way. What an endless miracle a new life is!

Scott quickly ran to wake up Ruby who had been anxiously waiting for this day to come. She came and sat down beside me simply in awe of her new little brother. I suddenly got the urge to deliver the placenta, and I could see her eyes widen in shock as she watched it come out. When the cord had stopped pulsing, the midwives clamped it in two places and handed Ruby a pair of special scissors. With one snip, a little blood spurted out and with a some encouragement, she went back in for two more snips to complete the job.

In that moment, I saw Ruby’s maternal instincts awaken and blossom…she was so tender and loving, and it made me remember what it was like to cut my sister’s umbilical cord some 30 years ago. It was a moment of pride for me and a special memory that I have not only cherished but that has helped to shape me into the person I am today.

Ruby Cutting the Cord

Ruby Cutting the Cord

The midwives helped me up to sit on a chux pad lined couch, and we gathered around our son as he latched on to nurse. I asked Scott to wake up my mom, and she was thrilled to meet her grandson! We enjoyed telling her all of the details of the birth, and she couldn’t believe that she had slept through it all! When we noticed the meconium poop all over our nice swaddling cloths, we realized we should have put him in a diaper. So we quickly cleaned him up, put him in a diaper, and continued to bask in the glow of what had just taken place.

Ruby, Scott, Jack, and I

Ruby, Me, Scott, and Jack

Scott, Ruby, and Jack

Scott, Ruby, and Jack

Baby Jack

Baby Jack

While Ruby and my mom went to boil the herbs for my herbal bath, Scott and I talked about names. We originally really liked the name Reed and thought about Reed Scott or Reggie Reed. We also liked the names Kurt, Easton, Bradbury, Landen (Ruby’s idea), and Alex or Alexander (Elliot’s idea). But when we were driving to Chicago for Christmas, we heard one of our favorite bands come on shuffle right while we were passing under an overpass with the street name the same as the band’s name…Phoenix. We both looked at each other with eyes wide saying, “It’s perfect!” But then we remembered some friends of ours had a son named Phoenix, so we were torn. A few weeks later, Scott finished a Steven King book about JFK whose nickname was Jack. He really loved the story and we have both always been in awe of JFK, not to mention Jack White from the White Stripes and all of the nursery rhymes featuring Jack. Plus, Jack has such a versatile and regal resonance to it that can allow for any path that our son may choose in life.

When we met our little boy, we knew that the name Jack Phoenix Maaser suited him perfectly.

Jack passed the newborn screening with flying colors, and after inspecting him (practically no vernix, just a little in the crease of his thigh) and seeing his placenta (many spots of calcification showing its age), we knew that he was definitely overdue!

Newborn Screening

Newborn Screening (Me with a pinkie in his mouth, Stephanie checking him over, my mom watching, and Sarah charting)

After going over some information with the midwives, Jack and I took a nice relaxing herbal bath. He nursed hungrily on both sides and soon we were all tucked in bed right as the sun was rising. Ruby cuddled up inbetween us as we reflected on the birth.

After awhile, she went to go play, Scott and I stayed in bed to sleep, and my mom stayed up to take care of all of the kids as they woke up one by one. (We had the big kids miss school.) I was prepared this time around with my After Ease Tincture and a heating pad to help with the after pains (which started to become tremendously painful after baby #3.)

Family Cuddles with Jack

Family Cuddles with Jack

At about 9:30 a.m., Elliot crept into our room like he always does on the weekends to cuddle us in bed, and he was thrilled beyond belief to discover that there was a baby in there with us! He was so sweet and kind as he snuggled up to his new little brother, and then he ran through the house saying, “There’s a baby! Mom had her baby!” The other kids soon came in after that. Ophelia was so happy to see the baby, but right away wanted to call him Jude (her friend Adeline’s little brother’s name) and said, “Awwww, he really likes you!” Julian was excited too and said, “That’s a baby in mom’s tummy!” When Ruby came to cuddle us, she didn’t leave for hours, and we had a very sweet conversation. Scott and I were able to take another nap and woke up feeling very rested. My mom stayed long enough to help put the kids to bed, and then she went home. Life was feeling very sweet.

My Mom Holding Jack During Bedtime Routine

My Mom Holding Jack During Bedtime Routine

Life with Jack

Since Jack was born on Friday, we were all happy to head into the weekend together. Scott took over the house on Saturday and let me rest and stay in bed. On Sunday, we had our two day visit from Jillian. Jack was looking really good, and Jillian was happy to see that I was resting and mostly staying in bed. (I can’t even tell you how amazing it has been to have had all pre and post natal appointments at our home.) Most babies lose weight at first and then come back to their birth weight by two weeks, but Jack had already gained 3 ounces! I was kind of having difficulty getting him to latch at first (which all started right after we gave him a pinkie to suck on, which soothed him at the time, but probably created a bit of nipple confusion), and so I had been pumping and feeding him colostrum in a dropper which probably really helped him to gain some weight!

Jillian Weighing Jack

Jillian Weighing Jack

Just like after Julian’s birth (and all of the others probably), but to a WAY worse extent, my hips and lower back/top of my butt were in terrible pain following the birth. This made any type of sitting very painful and difficult. (Someday when I’m fully recovered, I’d like Scott to rub me again like he did towards the end of the birth to see just how hard it was.) At any rate, after going through about 3 hours of intense contractions with Scott’s special hip, back, and butt rubs plus going through a posterior labor, it just took a toll on me. When my midwife suggested a chiropractor visit, I was determined to get an appointment. We went to Family Chiropractic Health Center with Dr. Tracy Morningstar, and I was overjoyed that she was able to bring my pain level down significantly and immediately. (My pelvis was really out of whack.) She was also able to do some work on Jack who was having trouble latching on the left side, and he went from being a calm baby to the calmest baby ever who could now nurse on both sides!

Jack at the Chiropractor

Jack at the Chiropractor

Not only has Jack been our sweet little miracle bonus baby, but he has been the easiest baby, and what a wonderful gift that is to have with baby #5! He nurses well, poops and pees like a champ, is alert and awake during the day, sleeps wonderfully all night, sleeps in most days so I can shower, naps wonderfully, takes a pacifier, doesn’t spit up, hardly ever cries, and brings joy to every single member of our family and everyone he meets.

We love you Jack Phoenix Maaser! Welcome to the family.

Jack Phoenix Maaser

Jack Phoenix Maaser

The Importance of Visualizing and Meditating Before Giving Birth

The Importance of Visualizing and Meditating Before Giving Birth

Visualizing and meditating before birth has helped me to have three peaceful home births (Ruby, our first born, was a slightly different story…read her birth story here and my afterward thoughts here), and as I prepare for the birth of baby #5, the reality of being 8 months pregnant has finally hit me, and I know that I need to make a conscious effort to get in tune with my baby and my body before the birth happens.

Using Yoga to Meditate

I absolutely LOVE the way my body feels when I regularly move through yoga. After several weeks of a new routine, the awkward and stiff feelings are replaced with strength and confidence and the world melts away as I focus and concentrate on my movements.

Yoga is as much about freeing your mind as it is about freeing your body from tension and pain. With four young children to take care of and so many things to constantly make, prepare, and do, it’s really hard for me to find time to clear my mind and really concentrate on the present moment.

But when I do find the time to move through a yoga video, the calm music and gentle guidance of the instructor allow me to let go of the world and to be fully present in the movements of my body. I can let go of my to do list, my worries, and my fears…everything else simply melts away as I focus on my breathing, my baby, the position of my limbs, and the intricate placements of each of my ligaments, muscles, and bones.

Sometimes it’s hard to justify setting aside a full hour for myself to do yoga, but when I make it a priority, I feel stronger, calmer, and more at peace. Some other amazing perks are that it makes my leg cramps go away (I also have found GREAT relief using this magnesium spray), helps with my lower back pain, and helps me to sleep better at night.

My Favorite Yoga Vidoes

When I first started doing yoga, I went to the local library and checked out everything they had. I also looked for YouTube videos for “prenatal yoga” and found two videos that have stood the test of time throughout all five pregnancies.

My ultimate favorite is Shiva Rea’s Prenatal Yoga by Gaiam. This workout is put together sooooooo well and incorporates every single little movement that a pregnant woman should go through to release tension and strengthen her body. I also love the modifications for each trimester, the soft background music, the serene setting, and Shiva’s gentle guidance.

Another top favorite video is ZenMama Rainbeau Mars: Prenatal Workout. This video is a bit easier than Shiva Rea’s and because Rainbeau talks during her movements (rather than having the sound dubbed over later), there are little mistakes and such, but I actually really enjoy this video more because of these foibles. I also LOVE her guided relaxation piece at the end.

I encourage you to explore several videos as well and find something that works for you. When you do the same video/videos over and over, it can help you to memorize the routines so that when you need a quick little “pick me up” you will have some go to moves.

Visualizing Life with a New Baby

The reason why I usually start “nesting” so early is that I spend a lot of time visualizing what our lives will be like with a new baby. My husband and I will talk late into the nights about what our new bedtime routine will look like, how he will take care of me and support me during the important recovery stage of postpartum care, what our new morning routine will look like, where the baby will sleep, how we will regulate the temperature of our bedroom, what nursing stations I will require throughout the house, and every other possible little detail that we can think of.

I find times when I can let my mind go (usually before I go to bed or when I’m cuddled up with a little one during the day) and totally visualize what it will be like to cradle a sweet little babe in my arms. I think about being tied to a bed or chair for long periods of time as we establish breastfeeding and I recover, and I try to see what I will see then…which inevitably leads to lots and lots of organizing and cleaning because I just KNOW that the dust on the ceiling fans, the organization of our book baskets, and interior cleanliness of our refrigerator is going to gnaw at my mind!

Visualizing the Birth

Whenever I get into the final weeks of pregnancy, the fullness of what I will be going through hits me, and my first instinct is to panic. I start worrying about how I will get through the pain of transition, how I will manage pushing out an entire body through my lady parts, and how a potentially long labor may drain me of every speck of energy until the point of collapse.

My second instinct is one of excitement as I visualize meeting this tiny being that has been nestled in my womb for so long. Seeing his little face, knowing that he will grow up like all of my other children with a unique and definitive personality all his own, feeling the soft touch of his skin and the elation that my husband and I will feel when we actually get to hold him and gaze into his precious little face…all of these things lift me to a tremendous emotional high.

But then back to the birth…I reflect on my past births, but know that this one will be its own story. I picture myself feeling the first acknowledgement of labor, the recognition that these contractions aren’t Braxtons anymore…they are real, and this baby is coming. I know that the excitement of that moment will trump any notions of sleep, and it makes me treasure those moments of rest that I have now.

I visualize myself keeping it a secret as long as I can letting my husband rest or work…finishing whatever he needs to do so that he will have the energy to support me in my final moments when I know that I will need him the most. I see myself putzing around the house in the beginning stages of labor as I prepare food, tidy up the house, and pull out my birthing kit. (Ummm, I still need to order this…) I also know that I will need to rest during this beginning stage and save my strength for the more difficult parts.

I see my body starting to take things seriously as I’m no longer able to move during contractions, and I wonder, “Where will I want to be when this happens?” For Julian’s birth, I liked being in our living room, far away from the children’s bedrooms with the soft glow of the fireplace and the large windows in the doors that give me a view to the backyard. I think about lighting candles (Oops, I forgot to add some to my last Melaleuca order…), turning on my Pandora Enya mix, and preparing a stack of pillows and my exercise ball (I need to clean this off and pump it up…) for what will probably result in back labor once again (I have a body that cradles posterior babies it seems.).

I think about where I will want to be when I push (probably on my hands and knees like the last three births), where I will rest afterwards, and how we will sneak past Elliot (if he’s sleeping) to get to the large sit and stand jaccuzi tub in our bathroom for an herbal bath afterwards.

I also think about where the midwives will be while they are here and how they may need a place to rest if labor is long and food to eat to help everyone keep up their strength. I wonder when I’ll call my mom to let her know labor has begun and think about whether or not the other children will need to be entertained so Scott can support me or whether it will all happen in the dark hours of the night.

As I think about all of these things, and continuously prepare for this upcoming journey, it puts my mind at ease. I can “see” what is going to happen, and it’s takes away my initial feelings of panic, anxiety, and self doubt. When I think about the birth after visualizing and meditating, I feel tranquil and excited for what is soon to happen.

Helpful Resources

As I embark upon my fifth birth, I have plenty of my own stories to reflect on and think about, but when I was preparing for my first and second birth, these are the resources that helped me to learn more about what would happen to my body before, during, and after labor. This knowledge helped to alleviate my fears about the unknown and put my mind at ease during the process of birth.

*Note: I am a person who likes to know EVERYTHING inside and out, I LOVE research, and I strongly believe that knowledge is power. Some people, however, will say that the best advice is to not listen to too much advice because everyone has so many different opinions. When it comes to childbirth, you might feel more comfortable in a hospital, at a birthing center, at home with a midwife, or completely unassisted, but the bottom line is that some crazy stuff is about to happen to your body, and I truly believe that the more you learn about the process, the less you will succumb to fear of the unknown and therefore pain.

  • Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth – Ina May is a very knowledgeable midwife, and I love the way she explains exactly what happens to a woman’s body during birth with special attention to information that supports a natural birth. I also loved reading all of the birth stories. *I also really like Birthing from Within by Pam England. 
  • The Business of Being Born – I can’t even fully explain how this opened my mind up to the world of birth, but when everything was so foreign and so new during my first and even second pregnancies, this documentary was nothing short of a miracle for my mind, and something that I watched several times. It was really good for my husband to watch as well. There is also an additional four part series called More Business of Being Born that is in some ways even more amazing.
  • Hypnobirthing Resources – I’m trying to find exactly what I used for this, and I think it was the cds from the Hypnobirthing Home Study Course ($170), but this Birth Hypnosis cd by Gabrielle Targett ($1.99) sounds very soothing as well. I remember taking a bath when I was very much pregnant for Ruby (our first) and falling into a deep state of meditation as I prepared for my birth. I never really entered a state of hypnosis, but listening to these cds during labor really helped me to connect with a very peaceful center (that along with my Enya and Sigur Ros mix), especially when I started to feel like I was going to panic from the pain.
  • Orgasmic Birth – Personally, the idea of having an orgasm during birth seems quite strange to me, but I was very fascinated to learn about the close connection between pleasure and pain. This documentary helped me to open up to the idea that birth isn’t just a painful experience to endure, but a beautiful and amazing experience to take part in. *It also makes me chuckle when I prepare my “birthing area” with dim lights, flickering candles,  and soft music because the ideal environment for having a baby is truly best when it’s the same environment used to make a baby. Speaking of which, this video hilariously makes this point quite well…seriously, you have to watch it! 

  • Birth Videos and Stories – In a birthing class Scott and I took before Ruby’s birth, we watched some videos of women in Africa giving birth outside with very little assistance. Even though we knew we would be more comfortable with having the assistance of a midwife present, I enjoyed watching numerous videos of unassisted births (like this one) because they helped to give me the confidence that my body was made to do this. I also liked reading stories about unassisted births (like these) as well.
  • Prenatal Massage – My husband is so sweet and loving to give me some amazing pregnancy massages throughout all of my pregnancies. At first, we enjoyed using the guided prenatal massage in Shiva Rae’s prenatal yoga video, but now he just massages me while we unwind and maybe watch a bit of TV at the end of the day. I’m having trouble tracking down a reliable copy of Shiva Rea’s yoga dvd that includes the massage other than this, but this article and video provide some nice tips as well. The bottom line is that if your partner is willing to massage you, there is really no “wrong” way to do it as long as you have open communication about what feels good and what doesn’t. I have also enjoyed getting a professional prenatal massage that really helped with some sciatic nerve pain.
  • Chiropractic Care – When I was pregnant for Ophelia, I had excruciating sciatic nerve pain. After several trips to a chiropractor who specialized in treating pregnant women, I was able to have the pain completely relieved. I highly recommend asking your doctor or midwife for a chiropractic recommendation, especially if you’re feeling any pain. There is a lot they can do when it comes to helping with the baby’s position as well. If you have a baby in a posterior position (which can lead to some pretty painful back labor), they can help with this as well. The Belly Mapping Workbook is also a good resource for “spinning babies”.
  • Birthing Classes – We were originally planning a hospital birth for Ruby, and so Scott and I took every single birthing, baby care, and breastfeeding class that we could. When I was about 31 weeks along, we made the decision to switch to a birth center and proceeded to take every class they had to offer as well. It was really fun to learn together!
  • Birthing Plan/Support Team – I highly recommend writing down a birth plan and discussing it thoroughly with your birth partner who will be an advocate for you while you concentrate on giving birth. You may also want to consider hiring a doula who can be your advocate, help guide you, and provide support to both you and your birth partner. Knowing that you have this plan and knowing that you will have proper support will help to put your mind at ease throughout your pregnancy.

In Conclusion

Being able to enter a meditative state during pregnancy is so helpful because it makes it that much easier to enter that same state during the process of labor and delivery. Visualizing the birth, anticipating what it will be like to go through each stage of labor, and making sure you are completely prepared will help to eliminate the fear, panic, and anxiety that can come with the unknown. As I sit here in my eighth month of pregnancy, I am grateful to have the time to write this all down and reflect on my own journey that will soon bring me face to face and skin to skin with baby #5.

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My First Birth: An Epilogue About Dealing with the Pain

So hear I am, three days away from my due date with my fourth pregnancy, and it took a little longer than the last few times, but I’m finally starting to read birth stories again, namely my own. Reading through them, I feel like I am right there again reliving the moments, and I am so glad I took the time to write them down in detail.

The one that stood out to me the most was my first born Ruby’s birth. It brought tears to my eyes as I remembered the pregnancy, the researching, the not knowing, the fear, the anticipation, the l-o-n-g labor, the pain, oh god the pain, and the sheer and utter joy of meeting our sweet little angel that had been nestled inside of my body and our minds for so long.

I just wanted to write a little epilogue as a reminder to myself before I enter the throes of childbirth again, and to anyone who has read my birth story before giving birth the first time and thought “Yikes!”, or to anyone else who might be scared about childbirth and researching what it’s like to give birth for the first time…or anytime. While first births do tend to be long, I do not think that I should have had to go through so much pain, and I just wanted to talk a little bit about why I did and if I could go back in time, what I would have done differently.

1. Labor at home as long as possible. When I was laboring at home, the pain was WAY more manageable. I was so comfortable putzing around my house, but as soon as we had to awkwardly get me in the car, drive for 20 minutes, get to a strange new place in the middle of the night, be scrutinized by someone who didn’t think one of my contractions was “good enough” to be admitted, and then have nothing to do but walk the strange hallways and watch the clock, it started to feel like things were out of my control. I know that memories fade over time, but when I remember Ruby’s birth, I don’t remember things being very painful until we got to the birthing center.

2. Have a home birth. There are tons of articles that can scare you into the all of the things that could go wrong in birth and why you should be near medical staff who can provide all of the interventions that cause the United States to be ranked 34th when it comes to infant mortality, and there are also some wonderful articles, like this one, about how giving birth at home is actually safer and requires less medical intervention. But I want to talk about the feeling you get from being home versus being somewhere foreign. We were at a birth center with a team of caring midwives, comfortable homey rooms, soft lighting, plenty of snacks, and no interventions, yet it still wasn’t comfortable enough.

The best thing about being at home is that you already have an entire system in place for relaxation. When I am feeling stressed at home at any normal given time, I know that I can light some candles, take a bath, grab one of my favorite beverages from the fridge, put on my favorite playlist, and let the problems of the world melt away. But in this foreign place, we had to figure out how to hook up our ipod, where to put all of my “comfort items” that I brought from home (and yes, I brought a deck of cards – just in case we got bored!), dim the lights, try to remember from our tour how the kitchen was set up, and orient ourselves with our new surroundings. And while things may have appeared physically comfortable, they weren’t mentally comfortable.

That brings me to the next best thing about being at home. You can putz around your house doing menial tasks that will totally help you to clear your mind in between each contraction. My nesting instinct always hits really hard right before and during labor because I want everything to be just so when my precious little angel enters the world. The beautiful thing about labor is that while contractions do have about a 15 second peak of really intense pain, the pain will completely melt away in between contractions and this enables you to handle them one at a time. Unless, that is, you are like me with this first birth and start to panic and feel like the pain will never leave and you’ll be stuck there laboring forever. Giving birth is just as much mental as it is physical. If you’re considering a home birth, I highly recommend watching The Business of Being Born and reading Ina May Gaskin’s Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth.

3. Have the option of an epidural if you’re not going to give birth at home. I kept thinking that time would go fast, or that my adrenaline would kick in, or that my endorphins would allow me to handle the pain, but none of those things happened. I kept trying to do everything I could think of and because I was in this foreign place, I was trying to rely on my head instead of my body. Whenever I have labored at home, I have been able to let everything else melt away and focus very intently on what my body is telling me. Should I get on the exercise ball, get on all fours, wiggle my hips, request pressure on my back from my husband, walk around, get in a warm bath, eat something or rest?

As much as midwives, doulas, husbands, nurses, and doctors are there to help and support a woman in labor, it’s really just an internal experience for the mother. She has to find her inner strength, she has to learn who she is more deeply than she ever has before, she has to get in touch with the parts of her mind and body that are locked far far away, and in doing so, she opens up to the part of her that is giving birth not just to a child but to herself as a mother. This is an incredibly difficult thing to do when you have a bunch of people shouting directions at you or making you feel like a watched pot. This is why I recommend that if you’re not going to give birth at home, just get the dang epidural. Sure, you’ll have to deal with the fact that you are paralyzed from the waist down and lose your ability to listen to your body, but how can you be expected to do that in the first place in this foreign place with foreign people trying to learn how to do something completely foreign to you? If I could go back in time and give myself an epidural, I most certainly would!

4. Don’t rely on what you’ve read or what you’re being told, rely on your instincts. I just want to reiterate this again because it is so so important. Your body knows what do to. Women are designed for this process and our bodies are made to open up and give life. Women around the world and for centuries before this have been giving birth long before epidurals were even invented. It is a process that unites all women and it is an amazing and incredible experience that will transcend you and leave you completely changed from the person you were before…for better or for worse.

When I started to panic and felt like the pain was more than I could bear, I started thinking about things I had read like, “I should squat because it opens up the birth canal by 20%. Or, I should sit backwards on the toilet because it helps to give women the urge to push.” Instead of relying on my instincts, I was relying on the professional advice I had gleaned rather than on my natural instincts. If you can enter a mental state where you can really and truly listen to your body, find your inner strength, and do what comes naturally, you will be able to have an experience that is exciting, beautiful, and pure rather than something you just want to be over.

5. Don’t let anyone check you internally. I know that most women are uncomfortable with the idea of checking themselves, but I highly recommend that you get familiar with your body either before becoming pregnant or when you first find out so that you have a comparison and check yourself regularly so that you can track your progress. When you check yourself, you are very in tune with what feels okay and what hurts. When I was internally checked during this birth it was VERY painful! I think before the midwife checked me she asked if she could “do something to help things move along more quickly” and even though I have no recollection of understanding what that meant in any sense, my husband said I grunted something that sounded like, “Sure!” I’d say it’s best to keep everyone’s hands out of there except your own. It’s not fair to ask a woman who is going through something like this if they are okay with having their waters broken, cervix stretched, or membrane’s stripped when they don’t fully understand what the ramifications will be.

I have found that the best way to learn how to check myself is in the shower. I am right handed, so I prop up my left foot as high as I can and position my left hand palm up and my first two fingers extended. Then I reach up and back as far as I can. Now, first of all, I can tell you that my cervix has been much easier to find with each pregnancy, probably because it’s not as high as it once was. But it is still possible to find with your first pregnancy. You just have to reach really really far. In the beginning, your cervix will feel like a nose, kind of sticking out and down with a firm but soft texture. In the middle, you’ll find the opening of the cervix. With your first birth, you probably won’t feel much of an opening until much later in the pregnancy, but with subsequent births, it always seems to be dilated to at least 1 cm. As you enter labor, your cervix will efface which means that it will thin out and flatten. It starts out as being 0% effaced and when it’s completely 100% effaced and your cervix is dilated to 10 cm, you will be ready to push the baby out. With Ruby, I was about 1 cm dilated and about 40% effaced for the weeks leading up to her birth. Now with my 4th, I have been about 2 cm dilated and about 60% effaced for weeks.

During labor with Ruby, I checked myself regularly before we went to the birthing center. My husband found a google image that looked like a bullseye chart showing what the cervix would look like at each dilation. Before we left, I predicted that I was dilated between 4 and 5 cm. When the midwife checked me upon our arrival, I had been right on. I remember checking myself with our second birth, Elliot, when I was in the bathtub and even though I was dilated to 5-6 cm, I was in denial that the birth was really happening and convinced that I would still go to sleep that night. With our third birth, Ophelia, I remember checking myself right before I pushed her out. I was brushing my teeth in between contractions and I announced to my husband, “I can’t feel any edges, I must be dilated to 10 cm!” I can’t tell you how empowering it is to be able to check yourself and know exactly what your body is going through rather than having to rely on someone else to do it for you.

6. Don’t let anyone stretch your cervix during labor. I’m sure that there are times when this intervention can actually be helpful, and I’m not saying to NEVER do this. I would just encourage you to research it before you go into labor so that you at least know what you are being asked to give up when this happens. Whenever the midwife stretched my cervix, I believe she gave me what is called an anterior lip (it is also possible that I already had an anterior lip, but whatever she did made things hurt much much worse). This happened to my mom too when she had her cervix stretched by her midwife during the birth of my twin sisters and the results can be very painful. Basically, the baby’s head will push down on the cervix and evenly dilate it so that it forms a nice perfect circle. When your cervix is stretched in the throes of labor, however, it can cause it to open in an oblong shape which can become enflamed and continue to dilate unevenly. This becomes VERY painful and can prevent you from opening up all the way when it’s time to push thus resulting in further interventions.

7. Don’t let anyone bully you into speeding up your labor because they have somewhere else to be. When we transferred to the midwifery at 31 weeks, we barely had time to meet each of the five midwives who could potentially be at our birth. This resulted in us having someone at our birth who we had only met one other time and who we had not had the time to build a relationship with. With our next three births, we have had three different midwives (because of our constant moving), who we got to know each one really really well throughout the entire pregnancy, which resulted in an incredible experience every time. With our first birth, I felt like our midwife was slightly annoyed at being called up in the middle of the night and not looking forward to the long slow progression of a first time mom. When she wanted to stretch out my cervix to “speed things up” I have to wonder, was that really for me, was that really in my best interest? Or, was she just hoping to get home a little sooner?

8. Keep hydrated and nourished. I don’t know what all of the hospital policies are, but I have heard that they only allow ice chips in case you have to have to be rushed into surgery so you don’t vomit. Once again, something that is good for the doctors, but not for the woman in labor. I have read many stories of laboring mothers whose births have stalled because they simply ran out of fuel. Now personally, I didn’t feel like eating anything during labor and during transition I actually vomited up all of the food I had eaten anyways, but my husband and midwife kept my water bottle constantly full of Recharge which really helped me to keep my energy up. During my third birth I ate a nourishing bowl of soup right before labor and it energized me completely throughout the birth.

In conclusion, I just needed to give myself a little pep talk as I try to mentally prepare for this upcoming birth and remember that I can do this, my body is designed to do this, it will start, I will manage the pain one contraction at a time, it won’t last forever, I will rely on my instincts and find my inner self and my inner strength, and then I will be able to bond with a little person who will join our family and change our lives forever.