As told by Lauren:
Barefoot, wet grass, the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, dancing under a big beautiful moon. This is my favorite memory I have of my early labor, as my body was preparing to birth Emily into the world, so this is where this story begins, right in the middle of an amazing journey. As I looked up at the moon I had a sense that she wouldn’t actually be with us until the full moon and I didn’t have the heart to tell my husband or Shawna, our doula, of this knowing, considering it was Wednesday night and the full moon wasn’t until Friday. Maybe a part of me didn’t want to believe it either.
How had we gotten here – about to birth a baby in our home? Only 1% of births in the United States are home births, and that wasn’t our plan or even a consideration for me when the pregnancy began. When I think about what sets things in motion, the events and conversations that occur that are somehow part of a story that I didn’t even realize was being written, a few things come to mind. August 2011, a Spiritweaves workshop entitled Emerge, in Dallas, Texas, and a conversation with Heather, a friend who introduced me to conscious dance and who was pregnant with her second baby during this workshop. We talked about life and dance and pregnancy and she said, to give her a call if I was ever pregnant. Since Aaron and I weren’t really trying or planning on being pregnant, it was an offer I filed away but didn’t think too much about. It was the first seed though.
Heather shared her birth story via email in January 2012, only a few days after we discovered we were pregnant. She has an amazing and beautiful story of dancing and ecstacy and water birthing in her backyard. I cried tears of joy reading her story and thought, I need to call her and let her know we are pregnant. Aaron and I talked then about a home birth and I said I was more comfortable in a hospital, especially because I would probably be considered high risk due to a previous myomectomy. So that was our decision and I found a nearby hospital and obstetric practice that looked to be a good fit for us.
I shared the good news slowly at first, as most women do. When I told my friend Amanda she suggested getting a doula, well not really suggested, she recommended as strongly as one can and then she sent me links to the organizations that certify doulas. This was in February, I was still in my first trimester and began writing down names and numbers of people to call but didn’t yet make any calls. This was another seed.
Prenatal care with the OB group was pretty textbook. They have five docs and any one of the five might deliver the baby and we rotated through all five throughout prenatal care. I loved the doctor at our first appointment. At our second appointment, the doctor, who we didn’t love so much, said that I would have to have a c-section. Well this was news to us because we really wanted to try for a vaginal delivery. She said it was automatic because of the previous surgery. I remember my surgeon saying that I should be able to birth children vaginally but wasn’t certain, especially since I wasn’t even thinking about children when I had the surgery, so I decided a call to his office was in order.
At our third appointment, the doctor said we needed to have a c-section. At our fourth appointment, the doctor wanted to discuss our birth options, given the previous surgery. Discuss? Options? This seemed a bit better than the other doctors and we appreciated our wishes being heard and acknowledged. He discussed the risks of a vaginal delivery after a previous uterine surgery, which were a bit scary to be honest (uterine rupture). He also talked to us about an epidural, saying at this appointment that I shouldn’t have one if I birthed vaginally because it would mask the pain from a uterine rupture, but if the uterus did rupture then I would have to be rushed to an OR and knocked fully out for the birth and that there would be no time for an epidural so that I could be awake for the delivery. Sheesh – hello fear…
I shared with the fourth OB that I had talked to the surgeon’s office and he said that he didn’t cut too far into the uterus so I should be able to birth vaginally, but he deferred to the OB for a final recommendation. The fourth OB offered to call and talk to the surgeon doctor to doctor and get more details about the surgery. I called the surgeon again letting his office know that my OB would be calling to discuss this and I remember saying that I would be “forced” into have a c-section unless the surgeon talked my OB and provided more details about why he thought it was okay. At this point I still hadn’t realized that how I birthed my baby was MY decision.
Well the OB and the surgeon chatted and everyone got on board with us have a vaginal birth – yay! Or so I thought everyone was on board. OB #4 said over the phone that I would need to have an epidural (reversing what he said at the appointment) because if the uterus ruptured they could more quickly operate, saving precious time. I asked about the difference in what he said earlier, an epidural masking the pain and he said that if the uterus ruptured they would know based on the baby’s heart rate dropping.
Incidentally, we did some research and the risk of uterine rupture after a myomectomy during birth was really really low in the three studies that had been done. And those that did have a uterine rupture, none were associated with actual labor or at the site of the myomectomy incisions – they were do to other circumstances. So the surgeon’s blessing and the VBAM research, along with all of the VBAC research out there, made us feel comfortable that the benefit of a vaginal birth far outweighed the risks.
At the same time, I had some fibroids that the OBs were watching and they referred us to the high-risk doctors to monitor with additional ultrasounds. We had the 20 week anatomy scan and everything was looking good (it’s a girl!), the fibroids were super small.
I took a trip to California for a week-long 5 Rhythms dance workshop called Medicine Dance at Esalen Institute. This was true bliss, the dance, the ocean, the Esalen massage, and the baths. This was also where I was able to truly disconnect from work and the world and connect to this amazing soul growing inside me. I learned to listen to my body in ways I hadn’t ever done so before. I was aware, grounded and present. I loved being pregnant! And I loved our little girl! While at Esalen, a fellow dancer was a doula (she said I should find one) and she recommended Hypnobirthing – third seed.
We began researching what they do in hospitals to babies immediately following delivery (Vitamin K shot, eye treatment, Hep B vaccine) and discussed what we might want to decline and realized we definitely needed to develop a birth plan. We toured the hospital and felt comfortable with it.
At this point my appointments started going from once a month to every two weeks – holy cow! Already?! I had just hit my pregnancy stride – I was feeling good and loving being pregnant. Beyond the fight for the vaginal delivery and touring the hospital, I hadn’t really begun thinking about the birth in more detail. Then I remembered what Heather said, to call her, which I did and then the real fun began!
Our 2 hour phone call was instrumental in leading me down a more conscious birth experience. She recommended Hypnobirthing and a doula (where had I heard that before ☺) and some videos and books. She was so encouraging. Our discussion made me realize it was time to begin planning the birth. So I did a few things, I signed us up for a Hypnobirthing class, I began calling the list of doulas I had found to set up interviews, and contacted the hospital’s birthing coordinator to discuss our birth plan (which I hadn’t put together yet).
On Heather’s recommendation, we watched Pregnant in America (disclaimer: biased towards home birth), which isn’t the greatest documentary (the husband is super annoying), but it does a good job of sharing the evidenced-based risks of epidurals and other medical interventions that occur in hospital settings. The people who are interviewed in the video are experts in the field and shared a lot of really important information that made Aaron and me begin thinking about what we wanted and therein began our numerous birth conversations.
Then we found our doula! We wanted someone who would have our back in the hospital setting because we realized we might be in for a fight to have the birth we wanted. We knew immediately when we interviewed Shawna that she was our doula, but I insisted we interview others, just to get an idea of what is out there. It was good we did, because the others we interviewed were not a good fit for us. My recommendation to other pregnant women is to interview doulas until you find one that is right for you. They offer the same type of services but personality is everything – who do you want with you at the most sacred and intense moment of your life?
Shawna loaned us some books and videos. We watched the Business of Being Born. A must-see for any pregnant mama. Despite its bias towards home birth, it really lays out what occurs in hospitals around birth and provides good information so that pregnant mamas can make informed choices.
Our Hypnobirthing classes started and were really helpful. I began practicing breathing and moving more and more in preparation for birth. I still felt good about the hospital birth because of my “high-risk” status due to the previous uterine surgery. I wanted the safety net of having the OR so close because of the fear of uterine rupture. Although whenever I was at home looking out our windows, something stirred in me. I wanted to birth at home but was too afraid. The fear was too great. I thought that maybe the baby would just decide to be born at home – taking the pressure off me to make the decision and putting it on my unborn baby – how terrible is that?
The fighting continued with the OBs. The fifth OB said, oh you will have to have a c-section because of your previous uterine surgery and second OB said it again and we had to keep telling them that the fourth OB (and head of the practice) talked to the surgeon and gave the go ahead of us to birth vaginally. It was a constant telling and retelling and saying things like: please look in my chart, don’t you guys discuss things like this, and shouldn’t everyone be on board. Well the second OB didn’t see it in the chart and didn’t believe us when we said we could actually birth vaginally. She said she would talk to the fourth OB and call us back. I got a message later that said I could “attempt” a vaginal birth. My belief that we could have the birth we wanted at the hospital began to falter.
Then the Hypnobirthing class that changed everything occurred. The fear release class. I released my fears. I spoke them out loud and then let them go. My fear of uterine rupture, my fear of maternal death, my fear of complications, my fear of fighting for our wishes at the hospital. I let them all go. As part of the fear release work, we were asked to envision our family after the baby is born and when I did the background was fuzzy. We weren’t pictured at the hospital. We weren’t pictured at the house. It seemed to be up in the air – the place of birth not yet determined. And after releasing and letting go of the fear, I was now at a place to really consider a home birth. We were 36 weeks along.
I decided to interview home birth midwives.We interviewed two different midwives and found a practice nearby that was a perfect fit, Riverside Midwifery! We were going to have a home birth and I felt so relieved and excited and fear-free about it. Our first appointment with Riverside at 36 weeks was great. It lasted an hour, really. There was tea and conversation. We were so used to our 15 minute in and out appointments, this felt like the longest appointment in the world, but the best. Oh my goodness – we are going to have a home birth!!!
We began co-care (seeing the midwifery practice and the OB practice) – my decision – as I still wanted to believe that maternity care in the United States wasn’t all bad.
We had another ultrasound with the high-risk docs and the fibroids weren’t growing – yay! But then they said we should come back in for another ultrasound at 38 weeks to check the weight of the baby because she was on the high end of normal. Well our research already told us that ultrasounds at this stage were not accurate at predicting weight and a big baby wouldn’t actually make a difference related to our birth. For example we wouldn’t choose to be induced because of a big baby and we wouldn’t opt for a c-section because of a big baby. I said all of this to the doctor who was offended that I would even question the necessity of another ultrasound. He actually said that if the baby was big and I had a vaginal birth then I could tear everything up and be incontinent for the rest of my life. He really said that to a woman prone to fear in her seventh month of pregnancy. I thought Aaron was going to punch him in the face. We didn’t get another ultrasound.
I finally developed our birth plan. I had been trying for several weeks to meet with the birthing coordinator at the hospital and even though we had made the decision to birth at home, I wanted to keep our appointment with her and discuss the birth plan. This was more for my own research at this point – I was really curious, but I also wanted to know if this was a hospital I would want to be transferred to if complications arose, emergent or non-emergent. The birthing coordinator was fabulous, she was also the head of L&D at the hospital and working to make the hospital achieve the baby friendly distinction. She looked over our birth plan and offered great feedback, pointing out the things we would need to address with our provider and the saying that the hospital could accommodate our other wishes –even though they were super crunchy.
One interesting thing that happened one evening was that I became very aware that I did not want to have any cervical checks done. I didn’t know why because I hadn’t done any research yet, but I just knew. My body was telling me not to have them done. So I told Aaron we weren’t supposed to get cervical checks and he said okay. Then I did the research and realized that they aren’t necessary in most cases. In addition, cervical checks can actually introduce bacteria and cause the membranes to rupture prematurely. So many doctors do this just to let a woman know she is dilated or effaced and it isn’t necessary. Pregnant women can begin dilation weeks prior to delivery – so it isn’t a good predictor of the onset of labor.
So this next appointment was with my favorite Ob at the practice, Ob#1, and this was the appointment we were going to share our birth plan. Loved Ob#1, until we shared the birth plan. She looked at it and then only mentioned one thing on the section about what our preferences were in case of c-section. Then she folded her arms (body language experts understand the importance of this) and said oh sure everything else was fine. It was crazy crunchy. There was stuff on there that she should have talked to us about. There was stuff on there that don’t get to happen in a hospital birth very often if at all (daddy catching the baby) But she only talked to us about the c-section part. She crossed her arms. It was then I realized that this practice was going to let me “attempt” a vaginal delivery, but in reality had no intention of letting that actually happen. I would be moved to an OR for some reason and deliver my baby via c-section. That was their birth plan for me. We left and I was heartbroken. I really wanted to, needed to, believe that maternity care was different, was better than what the videos reported. But no, in my experience, it sets women up to fail. It takes away our power.
So no more co-care. At this point, I was 37 weeks. We had a home visit with our midwives and another with our doula, which were great. We started getting all of the supplies for the home birth that we would need and had those ready to go. I started crawling around on all fours, spending time on the floor, to help the baby get in the right position for birth, and spent lots of time squatting.
I should also mention that as I was getting closer and closer to the birth, I began drawing more and more inward. I spent a lot of time processing through the myriad of emotions that were bubbling up and I mean A LOT. A great video we watched, Birth as We Know It, shared that if we don’t process through and release the experience of our own birth, then we are destined to repeat it. I was born c-section. If I could change that for my daughter I would. While pregnant I became more and more aware that the fear I’ve carried with me my whole life was rooted in my birth experience. I can almost feel the cozy warmth of the womb and how scary it must be for a baby to be born via c-section. I also believe that if a c-section is necessary, either emergency or otherwise, there are things we can do to prepare our baby for that journey, just as we work and communicate with the baby for a vaginal birth journey. Just a heads up is probably a good place to start.
I talked to my friend Heather again, and she could sense (over the phone) that I was still holding on to something. Okay, more emotional work to do. More letting go of previous trauma. More forgiving of self. More listening to my body feeling the emotions buried deep inside. Really tuning into what needed to be released and releasing. It is amazing how open a pregnant woman gets as she moves closer and closer to birth. What an incredible opportunity to feel so much and let go of so much.
During the pregnancy, I just assumed I would be one of those women who works right up until she goes into labor. That was the plan. Then I decided to work until I was 38 weeks then telework from home until the baby came. Then I decided to just work until 38 weeks and not telework at all. Then I decided 37 weeks was good. Then, well, I was just sort of done working at 36 ½ weeks. People would ask if I was tired of being pregnant. No, I’m just tired of working – I love being pregnant!
So August 23 I was home on maternity leave. I did telework a few more half-days just to clean out the email and wrap a few things up. Being home during that time was one of the best decisions I made. It allowed me to let go of all of the stress of work and be on my body’s schedule. I would nap off and on during the day, sleep a little and bake in the middle of the night. And none of that mattered because I didn’t have anything to do – I was just preparing for the birth and relaxing into a new rhythm. It was glorious. One of my favorite things we did was walk down to the Shenandoah River and sit on a rock submerged in the river and let the water rush by me and then get a snow cone on the walk back to the house. Those last few weeks of pregnancy and preparing for the birth were so nice. I’m so glad I didn’t work right up to the delivery. A lot of work and connecting inward, drawing inward occurred. Many of you may remember that I got offline too. I let go of work, and then my online community, and then quit talking on the phone until all that remained was my family in Harpers Ferry – Aaron, Emily (soon to be earthside), me and my mother in law and my birth support team: Shawna, Nannette, Liz, Amy and Shanna and Heather.
Emily’s estimated due date was 9/15. Due dates are just silly. There is a huge window for when a baby may arrive and be full-term, so we weren’t super concerned. I was feeling good and loving being pregnant and knew that if she wasn’t here yet then there was still work I needed to be doing to prepare for her arrival. So I continued to do the work because I knew it was critical to how she would arrive.
Our doula would check in and ask how we were doing. She asked if we wanted to consider acupuncture to help get things moving and that didn’t feel right to me, even though I’m a fan of acupuncture. Emily would arrive when she was ready. The only thing that did feel right was to make love to my husband. I had read how semen does something to help loosen and open up the cervix prior to delivery. This is really beautiful, right? I mean the substance from the baby’s father that creates life also helps the mom’s body prepare itself to bring that life into the world. Really amazing! So week 41, day 2 and within 24 hrs things started moving a little more. My cervix was opening, a little blood was beginning to show and I could tell labor would begin soon.
My sister’s bday is 9/25 (an excellent day to be born) and I was beginning to have more and more practice contractions or Braxton hicks as they are commonly referred to – I was easily able to breathe through them, it was good to practice everything we learned in our Hypnobirthing class. I was doing squats and squats and bouncing on the ball and crawling on all 4s. Well the 25th came and went and then on the 26th (Wednesday afternoon) I had a contraction that made me pray to Mother Mary. I’m not Catholic and I’ve never prayed to Mary before (not really opposed to it or anything) but that day I prayed to Oh Holy Mary Mother of God. So then this realization that the practice contractions were just that, practice. The real deal was bit more intense – just ask Mary – she hadn’t ever heard from me until that moment.
So labor had commenced – early labor I suppose. I had contractions all day. I was breathing and moving and laying down and getting ready. That evening around 7pm we started using the contraction tracker on the iPhone to time the contractions – they seemed to be getting more intense and closer together so we called our doula. Shawna came over around 11pm and settled in. I was having pretty intense back pain with the contractions and it felt good to have either someone push on the small of my back with each one. So Aaron and Shawna took turns pushing on my back with each contraction. Around 2am Shawna suggested we go down to the river and that is where I began this story. We walked down to the confluence of the rivers, not another person around, just me, Aaron, Shawna, and this sweet little babe inside me getting ready to join us. It was a long slow walk to the rivers (but we didn’t have anything else to do). We would stop and someone would push on my back when I had a contraction and then keep walking. We joked, we laughed, we took pictures, and I danced under the moon, by the rivers, barefoot. Incredible!
After some time there we made our way back up the hill to the house, another long walk with many breaks. The contractions didn’t seem to be getting closer together or more intense, they were fairly consistent. We got home and they even seemed to slow a bit, not in intensity but in frequency. At 7am, we called our midwife and asked if she could stop by on her way into the office, she did. We opted to not have a cervical check, so she felt around on the outside and could tell the baby was slightly posterior, not anterior and so all of the labor up to that point was to get the baby in the correct position. She recommended a glass of wine, a hot shower, and to nap in between contractions for the rest of the day. She said she would stop by on her way home that afternoon. At this point, the contractions had gone from 6 minutes a part to between 15-20 minutes apart. So Shawna went home to get some rest. I did as instructed and moved upstairs to nap in between contractions (after my wine spritzer and shower ☺). It was a long day but I was able to get some rest while labor continued. She stopped back by around 5pm and sure enough the baby was in the right position (still no cervical check-didn’t need one). She said we would have a pretty active night and to call her when it was time. Things started to pick up again soon after. I was still having back labor (which sucks!) and so Aaron was so incredible offering his hands, his belly, his body in a variety of ways to offer relief during each single contraction. We called Shawna around 9pm and she came back over. The frequency and intensity continued to increase throughout the evening. Shawna and Aaron would take turns napping while the other offered me support. I had shed all clothes at this point and felt like I needed to shit and I needed to vomit, which Shawna said was a good sign. It was an intense night. Lots of positions, a few showers, walking up the stairs, being completely overwhelmed with some contractions and breathing through others, crying, screaming, moaning, laughing. Dawn arrived and with it a call to Nannette, our midwife. Shawna said it was getting closer to when Emily would be joining us, she could smell it! And then everything really slowed down. I have to admit, it was kind of nice, but then I thought oh wait, why are things slowing down. I was at transition, the last calm before the beautiful chaos of full-on active labor (although all of the prodromal labor seemed really active to me and I’m sure to Aaron and Shawna too). I admit, I was nervous, but Shawna assured me the hardest part was over and this next part wouldn’t take too long. Hmmm.
Okay so Nannette and Shanna arrived around 8am Friday morning or so, the beautiful pause of transition had passed and I was full into active labor with contractions intense and very frequent. I finally felt like a cervical check was okay and I was fully dilated and was told I could push at this point. We had been planning on breathing the baby down, based on our Hypnobirthing classes, so I hadn’t practiced any techniques for pushing at all. Nannette said that it seemed like Emily was getting a tad stuck around the pubic bone and I needed to push. So I started pushing and kept asking, is my uterus okay if I push, you are sure my uterus is okay? they assured me my uterus was okay and it was safe to push. I pushed and pushed, in a variety of positions, upright, on all fours, using counter pressure with a ball and a sheet and a doula. I felt like I wasn’t very good at the pushing part. It was suggested that I rest through some contractions on the toilet for a while. For me, it was hard once I had started pushing to stop, so I kept pushing with each contraction. Aaron whispered in my ear to follow my body and go where it told me to go. I went inside and with the next contraction contorted my body in such a way that I was somewhat tipping sideways off of the toilet and that allowed Emily to get around the pubic bone.
I think we all knew that something finally shifted with that contraction, so I stood up. I could feel something hanging between my legs and it wasn’t a baby. I remember being really confused about what it could be but wasn’t in the frame of mind to ask anyone. Apparently, I had somehow managed to push part of the bag of waters out – it hadn’t actually broken yet. I then moved back to the bed and was side lying with Shawna holding one leg in the air and Aaron on the other side of me. I pushed and pushed some more and everyone kept telling me she was coming, they could see her hair (did I want to see her hair – no, I believe you, I just need to focus on getting her out. Did I want to touch her head – no, I just need to focus on getting her out.). After 5 hours of pushing (if I’m remembering correctly – it was a long time) at close to 2:30pm Emily was born. I remember feeling her head come out and then the rest of her body. She was here! She was placed on my chest immediately. It took a few moments for me to be positioned in such a way so I could actually see her and what she looked like. Oh sweet perfect baby girl. She was here and she was beautiful. And her birth was amazing and so hard.
So at 41+6, Emily Davina Sherwood was born, on the Harvest Moon of 2012 over 40 hours after labor began, with her sweet fist near her face – hence the difficulty in getting her around the pubic bone. So many thanks to our amazing doula Shawna, and our amazing team from Riverside – Nannette and Shanna who attended the birth and Liz and Amy who weren’t at the birth but were part of our care team, Lori our Hypnobirthing instructor, and my MIL Sharon who was providing all kinds of support behind the scenes. And of course, my amazing partner and husband Aaron, who supported every decision I made about the birth and offered incredible emotional and physical support throughout the pregnancy and the birth.
We are so incredibly thankful that Emily chose us to be her parents. She is kind and generous and thoughtful and smart and beautiful. She loves to dance with me and play and sing. She changed my life and she changed me and I am forever grateful she is here and I’m her mama.
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