Spiritual, Peaceful, Confident: The Birth of Leah Grace

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Many birth stories aim to walk through the physical details of the day a child was born, what happened and when. While I do want to remember every detail of the birth of my first child, focusing on these physical details is not fully indicative of my labor and birth experience. As a birth doula myself, I have seen many births, I am not afraid of birth, I understood the physiology of childbirth long before I ever became pregnant myself. I knew that I wanted an un-medicated water birth, who I wanted as my doula, and the type of provider I wanted the minute the test came back positive. My labor preparation was not found in childbirth books or classes. For me, preparing for labor was a mental and spiritual journey.

My pregnancy was filled with a lot of stressful events, unrelated to actually being pregnant. I lost two family members unexpectedly in my first trimester, my husband had to travel for much of my second trimester and at the start of my third trimester I found out that I was being laid off from my job following my maternity leave. All of these things kept me from feeling very in tune with being pregnant. I was just desperately trying to get things in order, assuming that I would just focus on the baby when it arrived. All of that changed at 37 weeks when I started having almost non-stop prodromal labor. Suddenly, it was impossible to ignore the fact that I was about to become a mother. I had to finish working early because the contractions were made worse by being on my feet all day and by being tired, so at 38 weeks I left my job early and finally switched my focus to gestating. I started taking daily short walks, during which I listened to birth and pregnancy podcasts and meditated to my birth playlist. One day someone on one of the podcasts mentioned that they had challenged themselves to pick three words to describe their ideal birth, words that were unrelated to the actual environment or method of delivery. I liked the sound of that, so I gave it some thought. The words that came to mind were worshipful, peaceful, and confident.

I wanted this birth to be a spiritual experience. I felt like so many popular natural birth affirmations functioned to convince the mother that SHE could give birth through her own physical power and while I know that that resonates with a lot of people I didn’t want to conquer birth, I didn’t want to rely on my physical strength, I didn’t feel like I had anything to prove. Instead, I decided that my focus would be on using this experience for God’s glory and relying on His power to guide me through the process. I wanted the environment to be peaceful at the time of birth, I didn’t want things to feel rushed or chaotic and regardless of what happened or how I gave birth I wanted to feel confident in the decisions that needed to be made so that I didn’t come out of the experience with regrets. I didn’t share these convictions with anyone, I just meditated on them every day in preparation for delivery.

birth-3My estimated due date was Nov. 25th, the day after Thanksgiving. When my prodromal labor started so early I thought for sure that this baby would arrive ahead of schedule and that I would be spending my Thanksgiving getting baby cuddles on the couch. Thanksgiving came and went. My whole family traveled down from 2 and half hours away to spend the holiday with us and I hoped and prayed the baby would arrive before they left so that I wouldn’t have to call them to come back again. However on the 26th everyone packed up and drove home and I was left grumpy and convinced I would be pregnant forever. In fact, my husband found me in my PJs, in bed, with the lights off watching TV, in full hibernation mode by 4 o’clock that afternoon. I was mentally done and ready for this baby to make an entrance. At midnight on the 27th I woke up to some strange “cramps”. I tried to ignore them and go back to sleep, but that quickly became impossible. I got up to go to the bathroom and low and behold… bloody show! The contractions were coming about every 6 minutes and were strong enough that it was uncomfortable to stay still through them. They quickly progressed to being every 4 and a half minutes apart so we alerted my doula and my mother and they both prepared to come to our house. My plan was to wait and go to the hospital when I was in transition because we only lived a few miles away and I wanted to spend most of my time at home. Over the course of the next nine hours I spent time watching TV with my husband while he rubbed my back, I visited with my mom and my doula in the stillness of the early morning, the sun came up and my team took turns eating breakfast and drinking coffee as I labored in the living room by the Christmas tree, leaning forward with each contraction, swaying back and forth as someone rubbed my back. We bundled up and took a walk around the neighborhood, joking that it was probably against HOA guidelines to have a baby in the parking lot. Finally, around 11 AM I began to get shaky and feel some pressure so we decided to go to the hospital. We packed everything up and caravanned to the hospital. I was very nervous about dealing with the drive, check in and triage process and I could feel my focus and faith slipping as soon as we made the call to go to the hospital. The triage process was long and irritating and when the midwife finally came in I could tell instantly that she and I were not going to click. She gave me an uncomfortable cervical check, the first cervical check of my pregnancy, and announced that I was only 3cm. I could stay and be monitored for an hour or I could go home. While I was obviously somewhat frustrated by this news, I was also relieved. Now I could go back home to where I was comfortable and get my focus back to where it needed to be. Looking back, I am actually really thankful for this “practice” trip to the hospital because it gave me a chance to walk through the part of labor I was most fearful of, the transition from home to hospital, so that when it came time to do it again I was prepared.

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My mom, my husband and I headed home and my doula headed back to her house to check on her family. My husband laid down to rest, my mom sat with me as I took a bath and tried to eat and then I took some Tylenol PM, at the advice of the midwife, and tried to rest myself. The contractions were still coming every 4 and half minutes and I still couldn’t stay still through them so I was only able to groggily drift off in between contractions before rolling onto my hands and knees through each one. This went on for about two hours when I decided to get up and try to get things moving. I pulled out all the stops, doing abdominal lifts, positioning exercises, walking the stairs, squatting, and moving my hips like my life depended on it. By 7:30 that night we called my doula back and we once again transitioned from day to night with everyone taking turns eating dinner and rubbing my back. I decided to go get back in the shower, since that was where I could relax the most, but I told my husband I needed him to stay with me. He tried helping me through contractions from outside the shower but that wasn’t really working so he changed into some shorts and got in with me. This was honestly my favorite part of my labor because I was so focused, my husband was doing a fantastic job of supporting me and it was private, just the two of us. The water was so relaxing and in that moment, I was sure I was never leaving that shower and that the baby would just have to be born right there. Unfortunately, we ran out of hot water… I stayed in the bathroom with my husband for a while longer but I think my team could sense a shift in my mood and started talking to me about going back to the hospital. The tiniest bit of fear started creeping in again and at first I said no, but then my wonderful doula reminded me to trust in my team and that fear was not a good reason to stay home. So, at 9:45 PM – almost 22 hours into my labor we headed back to the hospital. I began to cry a little as we pulled away from our house because I knew that when we came back we would have a baby and that still seemed so surreal.

This time, I was not afraid of the drive or the triage process I was just determined to get through it without losing my focus. The contractions in the car were very very hard but I only had two before we arrived. I stayed focus through check in and was brought into triage, I got right up onto the bed in hands and knees and strapped the monitors to myself so that they would stay on and I answered all of their questions without losing my focus. The nurse offered to check me so that we wouldn’t have to wait for the midwife, a different midwife from earlier in the day, and I agreed. Her check was much more gentle than the previous one and I was thankful for that. She asked if I wanted to know how dilated I was and I said not if I was far enough along to be admitted. She said that I was, so they sent my doula up to our room to begin setting up the birth pool. I told them I would be wearing my own clothes, rather than a hospital gown and I walked myself to our labor and delivery room, albeit very slowly. I had to do another 20 minutes of continuous monitoring before I would be allowed off the monitors to get in the pool, so again I climbed up into bed on hands and knees, closed my eyes and focused. The only negative to this time was that I overheard the nurses talking to each other, saying that I was still only dilated to a 5. At that point I knew that I needed to shift my efforts to conserving the energy I would need for transition and pushing so I told my doula to go ahead and fill up the pool even though everyone wanted me to walk around to try and get things progressing. I had been on my feet almost non-stop for almost 24 hours and I could feel my legs starting to get weak. I finished the monitoring and got in the pool and it was a definite relief. The water took the pressure off my legs and made it much easier to move from a resting position to my hands and knees for contractions. I would lay on my side to rest in between while my mom poured water over my belly to help my muscles relax, when a contraction came I would get on my knees and lay my upper body over the side of the pool while my husband applied counter pressure to my back. This routine went on for probably two hours before the midwife came in to check me again. It was now around 1 am the next day, November 28th. She told me that I was still dilated to about 5cm and that my bag of water was bulging, causing the pressure I had been feeling for much of the day.

birth-9Having attended a fair amount of births I was not terribly surprised by this news and I knew in my heart that it was time to help things along. The midwife offered to break my water and I agreed but I asked for ten minutes to talk with my team and to get myself prepared. After 25 hours of labor there was a definite part of me that was nervous about feeling things change and intensify. I had my doula say the risks of an artificial rupture of membranes out loud so that my mom and my husband would understand them and we all agreed that it was the best call. I got out of the tub and made my way to the bed as the midwife came back into the room. She was very gentle during the procedure and I hardly felt a thing. When they said the water was clear I started to cry out of relief. My contractions intensified immediately. I agreed to get in the shower for a while to help keep pressure on my cervix so my husband and I got in the shower and while I never felt scared or out of control I did cry and say a few curse words when it was just the two of us because the intensity of the contractions was a lot to get used to. After a little while I got back into the tub and I went into that full “labor land” hormonal state that people talk about. It was incredibly surreal, I felt as though I was drifting in and out of sleep and I just kept saying “Ok, Ok, Ok” after each contraction because in my mind I just kept reassuring myself that I was ok and that things were going well. Around this time the nurse and the midwife asked to check me again and without even really thinking about it I just said “No” very firmly. They hung around for a while and each time they would ask to check me I would just close my eyes and shake my head. I just knew that I could not handle anything breaking my focus and I knew that this baby was going to come out whether they checked my cervix or not. Finally, they left the room and I decided to try and see what it would feel like to bear down a little bit during the next contraction. I hesitantly tired it and it felt Ok so I tried it again on the next contraction without saying anything to anyone. All of the sudden on the next contraction my body took over and “trying to bear down a little” became involuntary pushing. My sounds and body language must have changed because my doula very calmly came over and asked “was that you pushing on that last contraction or was it your uterus?” I barely got the word uterus out before my body started pushing again. My doula chuckled and said, “it looks like you have a butt full of baby!” Apparently at that point she went out in the hall and told the nurse and the midwife that they should probably come back in, the nurse replied “well she is going to have to let us check her” my doula just laughed and said “I don’t think you’re going to have to, the head is coming out.”

The nurse and the midwife came back in and got everything ready. I don’t think I really realized how close I was to having this baby because I remember someone saying that they were setting up for delivery and thinking, “yeah right, that doesn’t mean anything I could still have hours left.” Then they moved the mirror to the side of the pool so that I could see myself pushing and there on the next contraction I saw the head starting to crown. One of my favorite songs on my birth playlist came on, “Holy Spirit” by Francesca Battistelli, this is one of my favorite worship songs and is all about creating a sacred and worshipful space. At this point my body was pushing so hard and uncontrollably I honestly felt like I couldn’t breath and in just two or three more contractions our little baby arrived! I reached down and pulled our little one up and out of the water. It was 3:30 AM just two hours and twenty minutes after my water had been broken. My doula was standing on a table taking pictures and both she and my mom were singing along with the song in a moment of total praise and worship. The baby’s cord was tangled at first so I could only get her to my belly. It took me a minute to snap out of labor land and realize that it was over and we had a baby! They untangled the cord and I pulled the baby up to my chest. I kissed that wet little head, covered in hair, and said “Oh baby, you did such a good job!” We heard that perfect little cry and I just stared in total awe. It was actually a few minutes before we realized we still didn’t know if we had a girl or a boy. I had my husband look and he announced to the room that we had a baby girl! I announced her name, rubbed her vernix into her skin, and my husband cut her cord. She went with him for some skin to skin time while I got out of the pool to deliver the placenta. The only downside to the whole experience was that her quick decent and my strong pushing caused some tearing that took a while to get repaired so I wasn’t able to feed her and hold her for another hour and half, but she was in the room with her daddy where I could still see her and hear her. After she ate and we moved to our postpartum room, she was weighed and measured. She was 6 lbs 14oz and 19 inches long.

birth-34Honestly, I would not change anything about my experience. I felt calm and confident throughout the entire 27 hours of labor. My team did an amazing job of supporting me. Even the slight hiccups, like the first trip to the hospital and having to have my water broken helped me reach my goals in the long run. The length of my labor kept me fully relying on my faith in God and her moment of birth was honestly one of the greatest moments of pure worship I have ever been a part of. I am still in awe of the experience and I am so thankful that it brought us our beautiful baby girl.

Here Is a video of some photos from our birth (Nothing Graphic):

Pregnancy May Be Natural but It Isn’t Easy

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I have been fully entrenched in the natural health and natural birth communities for a number of years now. Outside of being a doula, I am heavily involved in the real food movement, I write a natural health blog and I have had the pleasure of socializing with natural health, fitness, and food bloggers from all over the world. So, every now and again I have to poke my head up from my natural living rabbit hole and find a little balance with mainstream culture.

After years of working as a doula the various mantras about the natural process of pregnancy and birth are engrained in my mind. “pregnancy is not an illness it is a normal physical state”, “Birth is a natural process that your body was designed to go through” “Pregnancy and birth are not medical problems, but rather natural states of being”… So when I became pregnant for the first time this past March I expected to go on living life as usual because birth was normal and natural and I was healthy and fit, and normal and natural in my mind meant living life as usual. Then I got hit with five weeks of severe morning sickness, fatigue that has never lifted, and a variety of other aches and pains.

What was I doing wrong? I had great nutrition, I was taking great vitamins, supplementing with magnesium and B6, going to the chiropractor every two weeks, working out, drinking pregnancy tea, getting sleep, listening to my birth affirmations… Why was this pregnancy thing, this “natural state of health” not going better? Why was it not easy?

I spent a number of weeks feeling guilty for not being “better” at being pregnant. I had spent years walking with women through the journey of birth and pregnancy and helping them achieve positive pregnancy and birth experiences and it seemed like I couldn’t even do it “right” for myself. Then I swallowed my pride and expressed my feelings to my wonderful doula, Jamilla, and her response was so perfectly simple that I couldn’t believe I has wasted so much time feeling so guilty. (Side note: This is why you cannot “doula” yourself) She said, “ training for a marathon is a natural process too, but you would never expect to go through that process without sore muscles, without needing a nap every now and then or without needing a few extra snacks.”

Talk about a serious light bulb moment/face palm/duh moment! I had completely under valued the work that my body had been doing all this time. I wasn’t failing because my back hurt and I was tired, in fact I was succeeding in successfully growing a human being those were just the minor side effects. Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in thinking that natural birth and pregnancy equals simplicity (i.e. less interventions, a less medicalized model, less restrictions) that we can start to believe that pregnancy in and of itself is somehow simple and nothing could be further from the truth. Pregnancy is a complex miracle from start to finish, it requires many physical resources, lots of energy and it is truly awe-inspiring in its very nature.

Pregnancy is a natural state of health, this is true. However, natural does not always mean simple and it certainly does not always mean easy.

 
View More: http://mandasphotos.pass.us/sam--marcusThis article was written by Samantha McClellan. She is a DONA certified birth doula, a full time nanny, a natural health blogger, the wife of a youth pastor and a soon-to-be first time mom. To learn more about Samantha or to learn about the services she provides please click HERE.

Men Becoming Dads

I have heard it said that a woman becomes a mother when a child in conceived but a man becomes a father the day the child is born. Now, I know lots of dads who are very involved in their wive’s pregnancies but after attending many births there is just something truly magical about watching a man in his first moments of fatherhood- whether he’s becoming a dad for the first time or the fifth. Dads are amazing assets at birth, often so focused on helping the woman they love that they will gladly forgo food, rest or comfort just to massage her back through one more contraction, get the birth pool to the exact right temperature, or offer encouragement through as many pushes as it takes. Yet, when the moment finally comes where they meet their child for the first time you can always just see their hearts melt with love and their faces beam with pride. So, to celebrate all of the wonderful dads that we, as The Labor Ladies, have had a chance to work with over the years here are some of our favorite special dad moments…

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This post was collectively comprised of photos taken by Jessica, Samantha and Jade. To Find out more about their doula and photography services please click HERE

How to Talk to a Pregnant Lady

How to Talk to a Pregnant Lady

As I’m typing this post I am in my 35th week of pregnancy.  I’m also in the business of pregnancy and birth.  To me, pregnancy is a totally normal thing.  It doesn’t warrant stares.  It doesn’t open the door for strangers to stroke my belly.  It’s not weird and it doesn’t make me a freak.  I’m pregnant.  I’m growing a baby.  Inside my belly.  And she’s getting bigger, therefore so am I.  I walk a little different.  I rub my belly when she tries to stick her foot out in between my ribs.  I probably look a bit tired once 4pm hits.  I’m pregnant.  To the rest of the population though I am a spectacle it seems.  Not in a bad way.  I really do believe people mean well.  They have the very best intentions.  I have decided many people just don’t know how to talk to us preggos.  They can’t not stare.  For some reason.  It doesn’t offend me.  But since I spend most of my time around sweet pregnant ladies I’ve taken it upon myself to try to teach the general public the basics of how to speak to those of us with babies in our bellies.  Feel free to print this out and leave it on the copier at work, the lunch table at your weekend family reunion, stick it in your toddler’s party invitations, whatever you feel like you need to do.

I’ll start with my most recent encounters:

Stranger: Stares, looks me up and down, turns to her friends as I’m standing RIGHT THERE, “Wooow!!!  She MUST be having a BOY!!”  (I’m not even sure what this means so I didn’t respond.)

Another stranger: “You’re about to have that baby, aren’t you?!”

Me: “well, no.  I still have like a month and a half.”

Her (full of pity): “uh..oh!  wow!  well, ya know they always come out eventually.”

Guy at Whole Foods to my 4 year old daughter: “So!  Are you getting a brother or a sister??”

Daughter: “a sister!”

Guy: “UGH I’m so sorry about that!!!  Sisters are the WORST!!!”

SERIOUSLY?!?!?!  Who says that to a little girl excited about her baby sister?!

So don’t do that stuff.  Also don’t say…

You’re about to POP! –   What a terrible visual.  Nobody wants anybody to pop anything.

How many babies ya got in there?! – Another no.  Most women have one baby.  Some women are lucky enough to have more than one.  As in, God has entrusted some women with the huge blessing and responsibility of growing, carrying, and then raising more than one baby at a time.  It doesn’t make her a freak.  It makes her highly favored.

Think you’ll make it to your due date?! – Don’t.  All women hope to go into labor a few days early.  All women know they may go more than a few days past their due date.  Why do we have to talk about it?  You already know what she’s thinking and bringing it up lets her know you think she looks huge.  Which is rude.

You look HUGE! –  Do we really need to discuss this?  Don’t call anyone huge.  The only huge thing is the piece of chocolate cake you are forcing me to eat because you have just told me how huge I am.  Actually, you can call a pregnant lady huge if you then hand her cake.  “Hi beautiful pregnant lady.  You look HUGE!  Here is some chocolate cake.”  If you aren’t holding cake don’t say it.

A nicer version of “You look huge” that I’ve heard more than once is “You are great with child!”  I’m not dumb.  You’ve just called me big.  Really big.  But you did it with flowery words hoping I wouldn’t notice.  I noticed.  And you aren’t holding cake so…

Okay, we’ve gotten the basics out of the way.  Now for the good news!  Here is what you CAN say to a pregnant lady!  (And if anyone wants to take the opportunity to say these things to me I will bless you in Jesus’ name.)

How to Talk to a Pregnant LadyYou look AWESOME!!!!

You are SO beautiful!

Would you like some cake?

It’s like you were made for this!  (She was, by the way)

You don’t even look pregnant from behind!  (I feel like this is always a winner!  She’s growing a baby and her butt still looks great.  It’s a win win!)

That’s it.  Nothing more is needed.  We don’t need to talk about due dates or the number of babies or the size of the belly.  Just a simple “You’re the most beautiful, glowing, radiant pregnant woman I’ve ever seen.  Great job growing a human.  Also, here’s some cake.” will do just fine.

Now…who is craving chocolate cake?!  😉

0622d6_0de5370a3d26426d8e6dcb5406307ca5This article was written by Meredith Tanner. She is a DONA certified birth doula, a teacher, a researcher of all things, mom to a wonderful little girl and another little one on the way, and the wife of a youth pastor. To learn more about Meredith and the birth services she provides please click HERE.

The Birth of the Labor Ladies

The Birth of the Labor Ladies- Greensboro NC Birth Doulas

The first time I wrote out “2016” I stopped to think for a moment…this year is my 10-year doula anniversary. Technically not until October, but 2006 is when my doula journey began. Here are some of the thoughts I had within those first few months:

“Ugh, I never want to be a nurse.”

“Yeah, I don’t think I ever want to be a midwife, I don’t want that much responsibility…”

“Owning a business is good for some people, but I don’t think I have enough motivation to do it.”

“I can’t believe this is a JOB. Sitting with moms in labor is so fun!”

“I don’t think anything will change once I have kids, I mean, I’ve been around the birth world since I was a baby…”

Well…*cough*… I might have been completely wrong about…everything. Ten years later and here I am, an RN, working toward midwifery, running a business that is everything I didn’t know I ever wanted (because that’s how God works). EVERYTHING changed with children, especially after the birth of my feisty little girl. I still wouldn’t classify what I do as a job. It’s my calling, and while some of the hours are long and lead to zombie-like days trying to stay awake while children take advantage of my sleepiness, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Supporting moms is my heart.

Ten years ago, I walked into a Panera to meet a potential new client, Devon Kline. I was in business sales and I’d stumbled across her card. Her card said “birth doula”. I’d grown up around the birth community – my mom was a Direct Entry Midwife when I was a baby, then a childbirth educator and La Leche League leader, as well as an avid Ina May Gaskin fan. I’d somehow never heard of a doula, and when I found out she was a professional labor attendant, let’s just say I was more than intrigued. We met for lunch, and she told me all about being a doula. I failed at getting her to sign up with Cincinnati Bell, but we became good friends and within a few days I was signed up for a doula course with Perinatal Educational Associates run by a woman named Connie Livingston. I completed my training and was released into the wild to change the world, decreasing the Cesarean rates and empowering women. I was idealistic and so naïve, but filled with hope and ready to take on the world. You know, be the change you want to see in the world and all that. My car died around the same time, and we replaced it with a VW Bug. My husband said it needed personalized plates and suggested LABR LDY to reflect my new career. And so The Labor Lady was born.

The Birth of The Labor Ladies- Greensboro NC Birth DoulasMy first three births ended in the OR. I was devastated and convinced I sucked at life. I cried so hard after the first one that my husband asked if the baby had survived the labor. But those births made me crave more knowledge. Connie had taken an immediate interest in me and tucked me under her wing (she’d been a doula for 20+ years at this point), including me in all her endeavors, giving me so many opportunities to learn and grow. Her belief in me is how I became the treasurer and then president of Dayton Area Labor Support, how I met and befriended Barbara Harper, and why I am now the Blog Manager for the International Childbirth Education Association. She and Devon were who I’d call on the way home from a tough birth, and would meet me for endless coffees and lunch dates. Connie and I would go to dinner with our husbands – where they would chat about sports and computers as we tried to keep our voices down while discussing placenta encapsulation in the middle of restaurants. Under her guidance, I became a childbirth and lactation educator. Devon and I would meet for study dates – as she completed a midwifery program and I my nursing degree.

A month before graduating from nursing school, my husband and I made the decision to move to move to Greensboro, North Carolina. Away from my comfort zone and the birth community in which I was well known and had been promised a handful of post-graduate nursing jobs. When we got to Greensboro, I applied everywhere and ended up working as an RN in a step-down ICU. ICUs are notoriously high-stress, but great experience and great for teaching nurses how to remain calm in crazy situations. Let’s just say my husband is a great source of comfort, as I got pregnant about six months into that job.

I hadn’t plugged into the Greensboro birth world yet, but hey, I fancied myself a doula extraordinaire. Who needs a doula when you ARE an awesome doula?? (Note – trying to doula yourself is ill-advised.) I ended up switching practicing mid-pregnancy from a midwife who’d yelled at me about my borderline glucose numbers (how dare she). When it was birth time, I talked my doc into inducing me after days of painful prodromal labor, got myself two epidurals, a couple big bags of Pitocin, a postpartum hemorrhage and some postpartum depression. I also had a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad breastfeeding start with my son. I cracked, bled and cried my way through our first six weeks. It was pretty awful, but the Lord is good and redeems all things.

I’d quit my job to stay home with our son, so I was able to get back into the birth world. I began teaching childbirth classes again. Two of my sweet mom friends (Meredith Tanner and Amanda Freeman) requested that I start a breastfeeding support group at our church. A woman at our church caught wind of the fact that I was doing so and informed me that our women’s hospital was hiring nurses with lactation experience. I applied and got the job. I learned so much the year I worked for Women’s Hospital, surrounded by wise women who’d been LCs for years and were like walking encyclopedias of breastfeeding knowledge. However my daily census often listed 21-25 patients, which meant I was in another high-stress job. *Wink, wink.* Enter baby number two. My Elie-Bean, whose pregnancy and birth changed everything.

I did not want the birth experience I’d had with my son. I wanted the birth I’d dreamed of since I was 12 and pinched my mom’s copy of Spiritual Midwifery. I read Supernatural Childbirth and laid on my face before the Lord. I knew where I’d gone wrong with my son’s pregnancy. Arrogance, exhaustion, stress and crappy food will get you exactly what I got – an intervention filled birth and postpartum depression. So I prayed for humility. I paid close attention to what I ate and what I allowed in my heart. I contacted a homebirth midwife and politely excused myself from the fantastic (but hospital-based) obstetrical practice I’d been seeing, and hired a doula experienced in attending homebirths.

All my praying worked (go figure) and I had the most beautiful, complication free homebirth a girl could dream of. I didn’t realize quite how hugely my prayers would be answered, but I was in for a surprise. Three nights before she was born, I was out pacing. Restless. I begged the Lord – make this my testimony. Make me the light on the hill – I don’t know WHY I’ve been given this heart for birth of all things, but whatever, I’ll do it. Send me, Lord! Use me!

Now. While I was pregnant and praying all over the place, one of those sweet mom friends was in the process of becoming a doula. This time I was the more experienced one, full of all the wisdom that had been passed down to me. I came alongside her and encouraged her as she completed her training and first few births. And thus Meredith became a doula. She attended Eliana’s uneventful birth, as my friend and prayer warrior – getting to watch my doula in action. Two months after Eliana’s uneventful birth, Meredith asked me, in her quiet yet convincing way, to start a business with her. She’d been asking me for months, but on this day, she’d apparently spiked my chocolate cake and I agreed. And one Lady became two. We were The Labor Ladies.

I’d found, in my search for a doula for my E-birth, that not ALL doulas pour into each other. In fact, it seemed that a large number were more competitive than supportive. Meredith and I hated (still do) seeing this. We asked two other doulas that we’d worked with (including the one I’d hand-picked to attend E’s birth), to join us and explained our vision. Poorly. Because we barely had one. It sounded something like “um, we want you to join us so we can back each other and be nice.” But they agreed and we became four. Then our friend, Kayla, expressed an interest in becoming a doula and we adopted her. We didn’t really give her a choice, and we became five. That first year, we learned so many valuable lessons. We were forced to define our mission and purpose, as we kept adding in people and services. There are now 13 of us, including those in our mentorship program. There are sweet friendships woven throughout the group in which we love and support each other, we hold ourselves accountable and refuse to let pettiness and the expected, stereotypical girl fighting creep in. We share the knowledge we gain, our wins and our disappointments, so we all learn from each birth experience we witness. We partner up with new doulas, giving them a safe space to practice their skills, so they don’t think they suck at life and end up crying in the corner of an empty labor room. (And if they do, we come scoop them up and feed them cake.) We are a tribe.

The Labor Ladies is only a year and a half old. But The Labor Lady…I’m ten this year and I’ve been so blessed along the way. The most important thing being that this work is done best when we share the knowledge we gain, when we work together. Here’s to the next ten years!

Group Photo

T0622d6_220a10c5d20c4141a34c01c8e6db1e76oday’s post is written by Jamilla Walker. Jamilla is the owner of The Labor Ladies. She is  a Registered Nurse, a very experienced birth doula, an IBCLC, a childbirth educator! Jamilla is also the daughter of a midwife and strong believer in the love of Jesus. To learn more about Jamilla and the services she offers click HERE.

 

Postpartum Depression & The Pastor’s Wife

Postpartum Depression & The Pastor's Wife

Postpartum Depression & The Pastor’s Wife

When I was pregnant with my first, my husband and I took a Christian childbirth class.  I enjoyed the majority of the content.  I came out of the class after 12 weeks feeling completely confident in my ability to birth my daughter naturally.  At some point during the series of classes the instructor mentioned postpartum depression.  I don’t remember what she said.  I wasn’t listening.  I wasn’t going to have postpartum depression.  Plus I already knew about postpartum depression, it was something sad women without husbands get after traumatic births.  It was reserved for women who already had a history of depression, for those who didn’t have family to help them.  (Spoiler alert: I was wrong!!)  I definitely didn’t think it was for healthy Christian women with awesome husbands who happen to be pastors.

My daughter was born beautifully, naturally, just as we planned and prayed.  I left the hospital feeling like I could tackle anything the world could throw at me, after all, did you see how I just pushed out that kid without any drugs?!  Come at me, world!  I got this!  And then I started crying…

Now for some background into the complexity that is me.  I am not a hugely emotional person.  Give me a cute puppy, a Hallmark commercial, a sappy poem, and a sad movie all wrapped up into one and I’m the girl that says “Oh.  Yea that stuff is kinda sweet…”  I’m NOT the girl that cries about emotional things.  I reserve my tears for death and frustration.  That’s pretty much it.  It’s not intentional and I don’t believe its a sign of some pent up emtional baggage.  It’s just the way I am, I’m not a huge crier.  (Disclaimer:  I DO get teary at most births because…birth!)

I was fine for the first few days, but then the tears came.  This is normal, I thought.  I think it’s called “Baby Blues” or something – didn’t our teacher say something about the blues?  But it didn’t stop.  I would be holding my perfectly healthy baby girl with her delicious baby fuzz and just begin to weep.  Or I would put my baby down and go look at myself in the mirror.  No make-up, dirty hair, and my stomach.  Where was my nice flat stomach?!  The baby was out, why was I so squishy?!  Again, I would weep.  Not teary eyes, like actual crying.  My sweet mom would tell me I’m doing a great job and, you guessed it, I would burst into tears.  Sometimes, when my daughter was sleeping in my arms, I would begin to cry because I was so convinced that something was wrong with her.  Did you just hear that squeak she made?!  To her adoring father it was the most precious sound.  To me it was a sure sign that she was struggling to breathe.  Or maybe it was cancer.  Do you think we could find a nurse who will move in with us for a few months?  What if she is sick and I don’t even realize it?!  Anxiety, table for one??

I didn’t recognize myself.  For 27 years I had been stable, happy, easy-going.  Life had not thrown too many curveballs my way.  I had friends, I had family, I had the most amazing, godly husband.  I’ve always described my life as “vanilla.”  Just not much to report.  All of a sudden I was this bucket of tears and nerves.  I felt nothing like who I had always been.  I wasn’t sure I ever would feel normal again.  (I probably cried about that too).  This went on for weeks.  Four, maybe five weeks of feeling anxious and worrying about EV.ER.Y.THING.  Friends wanted to bring us meals.  I canceled them because…people!!  Mommy friends wanted to come over and poke my new baby’s rolls.  I declined because I knew they probably had polio or scabies and would give it to my daughter.  At no point, however, did I think this was postpartum depression.  It never crossed my mind.  I wasn’t depressed.  I wasn’t sad.  I had no feelings of emptiness.  I was just anxious.  I was just scared.  It’s called being a responsible parent and protecting your kid from EVERYTHING EVER POSSIBLE.

Postpartum Depression & The Pastor's WifeFast forward 4 years.  I’m currently pregnant with my second daughter.  We’re in the home stretch and so looking forward to welcoming another rolly, chunky, squish of deliciousness into our tiny family.  Around Christmas I began to think through my “fourth trimester” if you will.  In the years since my first daughter’s birth I’ve become a doula, a childbirth educator, and launched The Labor Ladies business with my dear friend Jamilla.  Needless to say, I know more now than I did 4 years ago, I’ve heard more stories, I’ve seen more things.  As I sat to process all that happened in the weeks after the birth I solemnly realized that I did, in fact, have a touch (…or a few touches) of postpartum depression.  See, I’ve learned that postpartum depression not only knows no prejudices, but exists on a broad spectrum.  Sometimes it’s about sadness, but sometimes it’s not.  Sometimes it’s about feeling empty, but sometimes it’s not.  I heard a story on the Today Show the other day where another celebrity was making a “shocking confession” that she too had postpartum depression.  An “expert” was listing signs and symptoms.  Overwhelming sadness, feelings of loss, feelings of emptiness, worthlessness.  It was all I could do to not scream at the TV…”THAT ISN’T TRUE!!!!!”  Mild postpartum depression can just look like anxiety.  Anxiety that interrupts your life, anxiety that takes you away from your normal routines.  Yes, I cried, but I wasn’t crying because I was sad.  I was crying out of worry.  I had no feelings of emptiness.  In fact my life, my heart had never felt so full of joy!  It was just those darn “what ifs.”  Turns out postpartum depression is NOT just for sad, unstable people.  Turns out a Jesus-loving, fully supported, pastor’s wives with a happy, vanilla life can jump over that line between Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression just as quickly and easily.

The lesson I’ve learned and the one I share with the couples in The Labor Ladies Guide to Childbirth Class is that it is okay!  Hear me say this!  IT IS OKAY to not be okay!   Oh, you love Jesus and are supposed to be happy all the time??  It’s still okay to not be okay.  You’re a pastor’s wife??  It’s still okay to not be okay.  You’ve never been depressed or known anyone to be depressed?  Depression of any form is only something that exists in your college psychology books?  Yup, it’s still okay to not be okay…for a little while.  I wish someone had told me, “Meredith, it’s okay!  Everything is going to be okay!  You don’t have to put on makeup and skinny jeans and be on the front row of church right away.  You don’t have to feel like entertaining visitors yet.  It’s okay!!!”  (So actually my husband and my mom did tell me this, but I didn’t believe them.  Next post: The Most Stubborn Doula).  Here is what is not ok: It’s NOT okay to stay that way.  Every once in a while, even after the most beautiful births, we find ourselves in a dark hole.  It’s a safe hole, but we know in our hearts we need to get out and into the daylight.  Alert your tribe.  Tell your people you need to be forced out.  My tribe all knows I struggled with anxiety the first time around and they know to be on high alert this time just in case.  I don’t know what will happen after this sweet new baby is born.  I do have more knowledge now, and I do have my people who are watching, and I do know that postpartum depression is a possibility for ANYone.  Also, I have an almost 4 year old who will force me to get off of the couch and get on with life.  I can already hear the conversation:

Me: “but sweetheart, mommy is feeling kind of weepy and anxious today…”

Her: “mmm hmm, but the science center…”

Right.  Off we go.

Note: If you think you may be struggling with postpartum depression please talk to someone who can get you the resources you need. Talk to a doula, a midwife, a nurse, a doctor or a counselor so that they can help you in whatever ways you need help. 

0622d6_0de5370a3d26426d8e6dcb5406307ca5This article was written by Meredith Tanner. She is a DONA certified birth doula, a teacher, a researcher of all things, mom to a wonderful little girl and another little one on the way, and the wife of a youth pastor. To learn more about Meredith and the birth services she provides please click HERE.

What We DO as DOulas

What Doulas Actually Do

When I first became a doula, I was certain I’d be spending the majority of my “work” hours (it’s hard to consider your passion as work, but for lack of a better word…) in hospitals, assisting a laboring momma and helping her have the birth she so desired. I pictured me waiting eagerly by my phone for THE call that it was time. I pictured myself praying over the labor and birth the entire way there, and upon arrival, soothing her in the waiting room. I pictured myself helping her through the sometimes rough transition of triage/admittance. Then, getting her from there to the delivery room. I pictured walking the halls with her, and helping her find a good position when she had to stop for a contraction. I pictured myself coaching her, reassuring her, encouraging her, massaging her, getting her into different positions in the room…etc. I figured I would be reminding her husband of what to do, getting him to do all of those things for her as well, and reassuring him if/when things got intense. I pictured myself being a beacon of knowledge, someone to answer all of their questions when nobody else was in the room, or when they were simply confused. I pictured myself as a gopher-when Dad had things under control, running to get more ice, water, snacks…etc, anything mom or dad wanted or needed. I pictured myself setting up a waterbirth tub and tearing it down after a beautiful waterbirth. I pictured myself getting mom through her transition, and reminding her to focus, breathe, relax, and be STRONG! I pictured myself doing counter pressure, using a rebozo, doing a double hip squeeze, and so forth. I pictured helping her figure out how to push if she could not feel the pressure due to medications. I saw myself taking pictures of those first precious moments when their baby arrives. And as sad as this is, I pictured myself reassuring moms should their birth plans not pan out the way we all wanted it to…holding her hand up until they wheeled her off to the OR, and then waiting patiently for the procedure to be over so I could assist with anything she needed. I pictured myself helping mothers and babies with their first latch just minutes after birth. I thought I would be answering the parent’s questions about newborn procedures and their postpartum plans as they stared into the eyes of their new little one, unable to remember or realize what was going on around them. I pictured staying with them as long as they needed me, and then letting them bond as a new family as I left the hospital on a birth high, praising God for His goodness, and heading to Cook Out for much needed post birth fuel.

 

Well, I was right. That’s exactly what I do as a doula when I’m at the hospital during a birth. However, I was wrong when I thought that would be the majority of my “work”.

 

I have discovered (in the best way!) that being a doula involves so much more than coaching and supporting a family through their labor/birth while it’s actually happening. It’s all of the stuff that comes beforehand, and all of the stuff that comes afterward that truly make up the majority of my “work.”

 

What Doulas actually doIt’s the first time they contact you and you have that lovely phone conversation or answer that exciting email. It’s the initial interview with the family, the first time you meet them and the first time they meet you. It’s getting to know one another and making sure you are a good match for each other for the special day. It’s meeting with them multiple times before any labor signs ever occur, coming up with a birth plan, talking about strategies and preparation, answering questions they didn’t know they had, and teaching them things they never knew before (I LOVE teaching during pre-natals, it’s seriously my favorite!). It’s working as a team to come up with the best scenario for their little one to enter the world in. It’s showing them things we’ll be doing during the birth to help them visualize the process. It’s practicing different birthing positions with them ahead of time so they’ll be more comfortable come labor night. It’s going to a waterbirth class with them to answer any additional questions they might have. It’s suggesting and offering up different resources for them to see and use leading up to the birth of their child, as well as for after their baby is born. It’s going to doctor’s appointments with them to keep them company during an NST, or reassure them during an ultrasound. It’s being available 24/7 to answer any questions they might have about ANYTHING, regardless of whether or not it relates to childbirth. It’s talking to them after a long day of people making comments like “you’re still pregnant?” and “you look like you’re about to pop!” and letting them know that they are beautiful and that their child will come out when it’s ready! It’s listening to their phone calls after appointments when their doctors say it will still be awhile, and encouraging them that this baby will come out one day. It’s keeping them up beat and positive in late pregnancy when their care provider utters the dreaded “I” word…induction. It’s reminding them to stay focused on their sweet baby and preparing them for the amazing birth they are about to go through. It’s reminding them to eat well and drink lots of water, taking whatever supplements they should be taking to make sure they and baby stay healthy through the very end when it’s so easy to slack off and give up. It’s having your phone on you at all times, and with the ringer turned up, even in the wee hours of the night, just in case you’re needed. It’s being ready to go the 5 times they think they’re in labor before they actually are, and consoling them when they realize that they are not. It’s visiting them the next day after the baby is born to help them remember their labor and answer any additional questions they have, as well as offering them assistance with nursing and good advice on transitioning home with their little one. It’s keeping in contact with them via phone in the days following their birth and making sure everything is going as smoothly as possible. It’s visiting them in their homes once they have settled back in and start to adjust to their new life. It’s continuing to be available to them as questions pop up that they didn’t realize they would have, and giving them referrals to other professionals when they need help outside of your scope of practice. It’s being there for them, no matter what, whether or not they are currently in labor.

 

No, I don’t have to do every single one of these things for every single client I have, for they are all different, and have different needs. However, juggling multiple clients at once, this is what the life of a doula looks like over the course of a few weeks. And I love every part of it! I’m so glad my job goes beyond the hospital walls! I treasure the relationships I have with my clients and I couldn’t be happier that God led me to this career!


0622d6_f7ca6db4ccc04cf5a1d1c93647df3e8aToday’s Post was lovingly written by Kayla Heeter. Kayla is an internationally certified birth doula through ICEA, a true lover of Jesus, a wife and a mother. To learn more about Kayla and the services she offers read her full bio HERE