I’m not even sure how to begin telling the story of what was without a doubt the best day of my life! Hopefully these photos by my good friend and the amazing Dusti Stoneman of The Art of Birth will help me convey all of the magic and beauty of these moments. I am 100% writing a separate blog about why I feel that having a birth photographer is one of the best investments you can make.
I spent the days leading up to Isaac’s birth relaxing and working on my mental game for what was to come. I will tell you something- giving birth is mostly a mental feat. I spent most of my adult life completely fearing giving birth. They make it out to be the most painful thing a woman will ever do- you’ve heard all of the stories. I knew that the day I found out I was pregnant I would be immediately overjoyed, then filled with dread that there was no going back… I had to get this baby out of me eventually and there was no getting around that fact.
My FIFTEEN years of having stage IV endometriosis taught me the value of choosing the best care provider. I swear to you- in that time I probably saw 12 OBGYN’s. All but ONE advised treatment that not only did not free me from my disease but actually encouraged medications and surgeries that masked the true problem, caused more scar tissue and allowed the disease to progress in time. BUT ANYWAYS- another blog for another day. I went into this with a panic because of my distrust of OBGYN’s. Dusti advised that I meet with several OBGYN’s and interview them. I did that! I got the impression that no one really interviews their care providers when pregnant to make sure they are a good fit. WHY THE HECK NOT!? It is one of the most important physical events a woman will encounter. I needed to have trust in the care provider that I would choose to help bring my baby into this world. I interviewed two OBGYN’s and the Midwife Group here in Savannah. Both OBGYN’s, within a minute of sitting face to face with me cheerfully exclaimed “You have endo! You know, having a baby is the best fix for endometriosis!” Face. Palm. This is 100% not true, not backed by research and also a slap in the face to women with endo because the disease often times makes them unable to conceive. I immediately began to question what other inaccurate beliefs they held. I decided to continue seeing one of the providers as well as make an appointment with the Midwife Group while I did some research.
In short, (definitely blogging about what led to my ultimate decision ASAP) I decided to go with the Midwife Group. I did TONS of research about natural vs medicated hospital births. I watched the documentaries and I read the books. I asked my Midwives a billion “what if” scenarios and eventually they gained my trust. I knew that should something come up in which I would need medical intervention that they would make the right choice at the right time for me and my baby. The Midwife Group offers a series of classes for their patients- everything from breastfeeding to postpartum care. I was grouped with others who were expecting within the same month as me which was a fantastic benefit. The major takeaway I learned about having a successful natural birth is that tensing up when you are having contractions is what makes labor painful and difficult. Also, when you exercise deep breathing techniques you actually take your body out of fight or flight mode and it has been proven to diminish or eliminate pain. My only goal was to breathe and relax through contractions until FER kicked in. Your body will literally start pushing the baby out when the time is right- it is so cool. I had done all of the things to prepare- I went to a chiropractor and did Spinning Babies to help my baby be properly positioned for birth (also a huge key to a more positive birth experience). He was ROT (right occipital transverse- on my right side facing the opposite direction) most of my pregnancy, which was concerning to me. I knew that statistically babies that are in that position are likely to twist in labor to be posterior- which basically means super painful back labor. I saw a Pelvic Floor Therapist that I LOVED! Alexia at Memorial Outpatient Rehab. Love that girl so much. She would climb on the table to help me with Spinning Babies Exercises, help prepare me emotionally, showed me breathing exercises and even went with Hunter and I to our birth class. 1000% recommend her services. Having endometriosis for so long really screwed with my pelvic floor- come to find out when I thought I would be pushing my baby out I would have been pulling him back inside me. She got me straightened out! I went to prenatal yoga with Ann Carroll.
I literally did everything in my power to have a positive birth experience. I listened to people’s experiences and personally noticed a trend that medicated hospital births ended in more complications than just letting your body do what it was made to do…. I mean- did anyone teach you how to sneeze? Coach you into learning how to pee? Birth is a natural ability. I think that women often undervalue their innate strengths and capabilities. I heard so many people speak of opting for a natural birth with their second baby after a traumatic first birth experience, so I opted to skip the traumatic first go of it lol.
All of that to say- when his due date approached I had a lot of peace about what was to come. On December 5th we went to the beach to look for shark teeth- I figured being on my hands and knees in the sand would help reposition him. I had put off watching Father of the Bride II with Hunter until I felt the time was right. It sounds silly, but that movie has always been such a loving encouragement about pregnancy and giving birth. And who doesn’t love Franc and Nina Banks!? So, on Dec 5th Hunter cooked dinner for me and I felt the time was out to bust out that film and it was perfect. When the movie ended I noticed that I was feeling my Braxton Hicks ramping up. I told Hunter that I felt as if this was the beginning of true labor. He freaked out and at 8pm said “ITS TIME TO GO TO BED!” and insisted that we call it a night and get some rest. It was so funny.
The contractions woke me through the night. I wouldn’t say they were painful, but I did need to stand up and breathe through them. I was feeling it radiating down my legs- which meant that it was turning out to be dreaded back labor. At 8am I called the Birth Center and asked if I could come in to get their help repositioning the baby. (Not something that I believe would happen in a standard OBGYN/hospital experience). I knew that repositioning him before my water broke would be a huge win for my birth experience. I told Hunter not to rush but that we needed to go get some help with repositioning and that we would probably come back home to labor. I got in the car and my neighbor and encourager Maggie noticed what was going down. She came to the window of my car and put her hands on the window and tearfully said “YOU HAVE GOT THIS! WE LOVE YOU!” and ran inside to wake up Malin, her daughter who was equally excited to meet my baby. It was so loving having them cheering me on from the driveway as we left for the birth center. I’ll never forget it!
They put me on the monitor to make sure our heart rates were okay and Rita said “Wow! You’re 8cm dilated!” My braxton hicks and then true contractions were never less than several minutes long. They also didn’t fluctuate much- just stayed pretty strong until it ended. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the whole relaxing and breathing through them seemed to be working great for me. I couldn’t lay on my back through contractions, though and felt relieved that I wouldn’t be stuck in a hospital bed on my back through the experience. Rita helped me through three contractions in a side lying release (spinning babies positional exercise shown below) and my baby immediately turned to be in the proper position for birth.
The back labor stopped as soon as he was repositioned and then they filled up the tub for me. It felt AMAZING floating in the warm water. This was at about 9:30am. In the week leading up to birth I realized that “yacht rock” music- music I listened to in the back seat of my Mama’s car when I was young relaxed me a lot more than hypnobirthing tracks. Lionel Ritchie, Christopher Cross, the Eagles, Bee Gees- that type of music instantly puts me in a happy place, so I had it playing while I floated in the tub. My friend Valerie advised that I get a stroller fan and use it for birth… best. choice. ever. At the birth center I was allowed to eat, drink, move around as I wished. I packed tons of fruit and coconut water but only ended up drinking the coconut water.
Basically the entire time I was in labor I had my eyes closed and I just allowed myself to relax and not get ahead of myself thinking about what was to come. I stayed present in each moment. Actually, I was so relaxed that Hunter kept putting his hand under my face when it got close to the water like he thought I was going to accidentally drown myself hahahah! Something that they don’t tell you is that you feel TOTALLY NORMAL and free of pain between contractions. When I would have a contraction come on I would just count to four while I breathed in and then count to seven while I breathed out. I floated back and forth in the water until it passed. I would do a mental check that I wasn’t holding tension in my body- not in my hands, forehead… just completely relaxed. I wasn’t told to do a single thing. Rita and Kelsey- midwife and nurse- sat on the floor beside my tub and regularly stuck the monitor to my belly to make sure the baby was handling contractions okay. He was! Rita and Hunter were talking about the songs and guessing which year they were released while I just stayed in the zone. For that reason I chose to not have any family or friends aside from Hunter at the birth center. I knew that to fully relax and maintain focus I needed it to be simple and peaceful.
A few times Rita asked if I felt okay- that it was impossible to get a read on me because I never showed any emotion besides just being in my state of zen. I remember her saying that I would be one of the people that’s just chilling and pops out a baby without any warning 😂Before I had my endometriosis surgery I had a little anxiety and my friend Caitlin told me to repeat the phrase “I am safe, I am calm, I am okay” to myself. I think that I went to that phrase mentally if I felt any anxiety creeping in.
At around 11:15 Rita said “Hunter- I think it’s time for you to put your swim trunks on and hop in.” I said “no! not yet!” I was really enjoying being totally stretched out and having the bath tub to myself. I also didn’t suspect that the baby would be coming soon. I had mentally prepared for it to get cray cray intense and that had not happened yet. I had also told Hunter that at some point when I hit transition that I would tell him that I couldn’t do it anymore it’s too painful that I would want an epidural and he was to remind me that that meant I was almost to the finish line if I hold on a little longer… but no sign of that, either. Rita is much wiser than, me though. Two contractions later and my body was sort of pushing in a reflexive way- totally unprompted by me. I maintained my calm and just allowed my body to do the work. Before I knew it Hunter was behind me propping me up and Rita said she could see the baby’s head and that he had a good bit of hair. I had planned on taking my time through pushing his head out since I learned that giving yourself that time and taking it gradually helps to not tear. I did that through two to three contractions, until she told me that if I helped by pushing a little through it his head would be locked into place and then another push or two would have him out. I kid you not- I actually said “this feels good!” Haha! And felt totally normal between contractions. Even when I did have contractions I would not say that it was painful. Just kind of intense pressure. They asked if I wanted to feel his head and I said no. I think that if I had I would have been shocked out of my calm mindset. I decided to go forward with pushing to bring my baby out. At this time I remember “Easy Like Sunday Morning” by Lionel Ritchie was playing. I looked down at the water and expected it to be gross, but it was totally clear. My water didn’t break until I pushed his head out. I never made a peep until I “roared” him out, which is something I read may happen. Again- not because of pain but because of the intensity of the moment and what was happening. I knew I was a few seconds from meeting my son.
At 11:33am I pushed him out and they handed him to me. “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” by Leo Sayer was playing. I actually did a little excited dance before pushing him out! Haha! Hunter later told me that he expected the baby to be about the size of his hand, but Isaac was 8 pounds, 12 ounces. I’m not even going to try to describe what it’s like to hold your baby for the first time. There are no words that can describe that sense of wonder. I felt so proud of myself. Nine months of wondering if I had what it took to have him this way and I totally did. I know that sadly birth does not happen this way for many people, and that sometimes things happen that are beyond your control. But after enduring over a decade of daily excrutiating contractions and then to be put up against everyones fear mongering regarding the birthing process I just had to believe that with preparation, research and trusting in my care providers that I could write a different story. And I did exactly that.
As I climbed out of the tub to go to the bed I realized that I never felt like I needed pain medication (and at no point after his birth did I feel like I needed to take even a Tylenol, either!), and that I never experienced a typical transition period. SUPER. WIN. Totally exceeding expectations lol. In fact, I excitedly thought WHOA! I COULD DO THAT AGAIN!
I absolutely love the post-birth plan of action at the birth center. For two hours I got to hold him and learn his beautiful little features. After two hours they do his measurements and what-not. TBH he did not have a name for like five days after he was born hahahaha. So on the announcement board at the Birth Center it read his in-utero name “THOR- 11:33am, 8lbs 12oz, 20.5in.” Hunter was all about it. I called my mom to tell her to come over to meet her first grandson, and she cried and said “I’M ALREADY AT THE DOOR!”
We could go home as soon as his labwork came back with healthy numbers… which was a little delayed that day but we didn’t mind at all because we loved lounging at the Birth Center and just staring at our son! We were home by 6pm and I was on the couch with pizza and an IPA (at long last lol) watching Home Alone. Our other neighbors- Emilia and Jared- who are some of our very best friends that also had a baby recently met us out front and we all cried so many happy tears.
After nearly a week of his birth we finally settled on his name- Isaac Hunter Harper. Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah, after struggles with infertility. Isaac means “he will laugh and have joy.” Isaac is also a nod to Sir Isaac Newton, Christian and Scientist that accomplished so much. He also studied light and color and helped us understand properties of it today. I love this quote from him: “I don’t know what I may seem to the world, but, as to myself, I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
I will always treasure these moments and photos so dearly. It is totally such an intimate thing to have a photographer present for, but dang- I will always be able to look at these photos and remember every detail about the day that I met my son. Thank you for taking the time to read about this exciting time in our lives! I am going to share several more blogs regarding natural birth and some amazing things that I learned. I am also open to any question about my experience!