Sarah's Birth: An Adoption Story

Several years back, I had the opportunity to attend a national adoption conference, and while there I sat in on a seminar entitled "Loving and Serving Birthmothers."  It has always been a desire of mine, as a doula, to serve a woman who has chosen adoption for her baby, and that session gave me some great ideas and advice.  Just recently I had the opportunity to put that wisdom into action.

A sweet high school girl from my church unexpectedly became pregnant last year, and I reached out to offer comfort and grace to her in the midst of what I knew was a stressful time for her and her family. We met for coffee a few weeks later, where I naturally offered to come alongside her and walk through her pregnancy and birth with her. She said YES!

Sarah and I met for coffee several times over the course of the next months to talk about life, Harry Potter, her upcoming birth, pros and cons of parenting her baby vs. placing her for adoption, and eventually who she wanted to choose as her baby's parents. We also talked through the ins and outs of having a baby (like I do with all my clients), all things postpartum (lovely!), and the option of pumping milk for the baby.

So when her water broke early on a Tuesday morning, she was prepared. I met Sarah, her mom, and the adoptive mother, Abby, at the hospital mid-morning, when not too much was happening with her labor. I smuggled her some french fries and we had a mini party in the delivery room (Abby, brought LOTS of snacks!).   

As Sarah's labor intensified, I began to actively coach her into a state of relaxation. Her response was amazing. She tuned in to my voice, and without question or doubt, listened to my suggestions to relax and surrender to the power of her body. There was no trace of tension or fear in her demeanor - she never once started losing control. She exhibited a quiet and fierce confidence as the waves of power took over her body, and labored beautifully. It was amazing to watch and a true privilege to enter into those moments with her.

(Photo by  Jodi Dirks )

(Photo by Jodi Dirks)

When it came time to push, after only a few powerful contractions and with Abby holding a leg, a very blessed baby girl was born into two families.

Debi (Sarah's mom) and Abby rejoice in the first moments of baby Hannah's life. (Photo by Kim)

Debi (Sarah's mom) and Abby rejoice in the first moments of baby Hannah's life. (Photo by Kim)

After Abby got some skin-to-skin time with her sweet girl, Sarah was able to hold the baby she had worked so hard for.

(Photo by  Jodi Dirks )

(Photo by Jodi Dirks)

I am so glad I had the opportunity to love and serve Sarah through this season of life.  Her bravery, determination, calmness, and selflessness throughout her pregnancy and birth was amazing to witness and a joy to take part in.

And it continues! Sarah was a superhero and decided to pump milk for the baby for the first several weeks. She and Abby have a very cool relationship and a very open adoption. Hannah will grow up with two mamas - the one who birthed her and the one who parents her. What a gift!

The best [postpartum] advice I've ever received.

"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt."  -John Muir

When you are pregnant, especially for the first time, it seems you are a growing, moving target for unsolicited advice.  How to eat, how to sleep, what doctor to choose, what kind of birth to have, and the list goes on.  People also like to give out free postpartum advice, like "sleep when the baby sleeps," or "the disposable mesh undies will be a lifesaver," or "put some cabbage on those overly zealous milk machines."  This advice is all really good, practical stuff, and it is so, so important to have a sisterhood of women surrounding you with love and encouragement throughout all the tender moments of childbearing!

But today I'm just going to share one little tidbit of advice, given to me by a dear friend and neighbor, when I was in the throes of postpartum hell after baby number two.

GET OUTSIDE.

She came over to drop off some goodies, and being a mom to two little guys herself, her advice held some weight.

"Just ten minutes a day!" she said.  "If it's cold, bundle up. The fresh air will do you good."

My second-born was high-maintenance, to say the least. I recall pacing with him (crying) in my arms from the dining room, through the kitchen, to the living room, and back again, unable to look away from the piles of mess and dishes and clutter in each room I walked through. I was exhausted, in pain, and a hormonal wreck, and my messy house was just about to push me over the edge.

So I took her advice to heart, and despite the plummeting temperatures, I got outside. Not every day (though that was my goal), and she was right!!  It did me so much good.  Through the rhythmic moving of my feet and the in-and-out breathing of fresh air, my soul was reset. I was able to think and to pray and to just be. And though the house I walked back into was not the place of peace and cleanliness I felt that I needed it to be, it was okay. I was okay.

And now, four years later, as my kiddos are getting older and the temperatures are once again starting to drop, I remember that advice - just as good today as it was then. When life indoors is making monsters of my kids and me, we put on our coats and we go out. We walk, ride bikes, we climb and run and hike. Thanks to my good neighbor, Lori, I've learned that we are all happier creatures when we've been outside.

Finnian's Birth: A Photo Essay

In 2015, I was invited to attend 14 births, all of which were filled with beautiful and awe-inspiring moments.  For most births, I am asked to capture some of those beautiful, intimate moments with my camera.  I love photographing births in any setting, but home births are especially fun for me.  The natural setting and lighting provides the perfect backdrop for capturing such a sweet, special day for the family, and little nuances and things a couple have done to make their house a home make the photographs even more special.

I was able to serve Jenn and Stephen at the birth of their first son, Seeley, back in 2013, and loved capturing the moments that made up her beautiful labor.  A couple of years later, I was asked again to help with the birth of their second son, Finnian.

Jenn is a labor goddess.  She is relaxed, calm, and in control.  It's amazing to watch.

Thanks, Jenn and Stephen, for inviting me into your space to help you bring Finnian in to the world.  It was a joy and a blessing to be there with you!

The Gift of Caring

I recently came across this quote by Henri Nouwen defining what it means to care.  

(I actually found the quote on a blog I follow, of a really amazing and beautiful mama of four who is struggling with deadly breast cancer.  I am so humbled and encouraged every time I read her words--I definitely encourage you to go read her story.)

 These thoughts, so potent and true, immediately reminded me of doula work, and the beauty of both caring for women and of receiving doula care.

Nouwen starts by going back to the root of the word care:

"What is care? The word finds its origin in the word Kara, which means to lament, to mourn, to participate in suffering, to share in pain. To care is to cry out with those who are ill, confused, lonely, isolated, and forgotten, and to recognize their pains in our own heart. To care is to enter into the world of those who are broken and powerless and to establish there a fellowship of the weak. To care is to be present to those who suffer, and to stay present, even when nothing can be done to change their situation."

To "participate in suffering" and to "share in pain" is probably one of the biggest gifts you can give a laboring woman.  Whenever I am attending a mom in labor, all her body language, her expressions, her movements, bring me right back to my labors, and I so vividly recall the intense and wild stretching and pressure and building and receding of labor waves.  I remember and in that moment I know where she is.  I match my movements to hers, my noises to hers, and encourage her partner to do the same.  And in those moments, she is not alone.  We are carrying her burden with her, supporting her with our presence, and entering into her world where weakness and surrender equal strength and victory.  We are wholly present with her, and that simple yet deeply profound act makes all the difference in how she will remember this story.

"To Care is the most human of all human gestures. It is a gesture that comes forth from a courageous confession of our common need for one another and the grace of a compassion that binds us together with brothers and sisters like ourselves, who share with us the wonderful and painful journey of life."

The confession of need is courageous, and humbling at the same time.  I know so well the look of a woman at the beginning of a contraction she knows will be strong, her eyes frantically searching for someone to support her.  Usually, she finds her husband or partner, and I use my words like a map, guiding them through the unknown terrain of labor.  If he happens to be away for a moment I step into an urgent embrace, and we sway and moan and make our way through the contraction together. 

"In the very act of caring for another, you and I possess a great treasure. One of the great riches of caregiving is that it embraces something more than simply a focus on cure. Caregiving carries within it an opportunity for inner healing, liberation, and transformation for the one being cared for and for the one who cares. And because we who offer care and we who receive care are both strong and vulnerable, though in different ways, our coming together in a caregiving relationship is an occasion to open ourselves to receive and unexpected gift."

One of the greatest and most unique things about caring for women as a doula is that I am not a medical caregiver at all.  There are doctors and nurses and midwives assigned with the task of ensuring physical health for mom and baby, which allows me the beautiful opportunity to just be; to focus on the emotional and the spiritual well-being of these vulnerable and courageous almost-mothers.  

It is my greatest belief about birth that it will shape you.  In the deepest, most profound ways, you will carry around your birth experience with you either as a dark and heavy burden, or as a memory of light and love and captivating beauty.  Or maybe a little of both.  I also believe that it is not the physical outcome of your birth, but the way you were cared for through it, that will determine how the memories of your birth will shape you.  So yes, with my clients we definitely prepare for and hope for and encourage and work toward natural birth.  But as a doula, my main goal is to ensure that my women are cared for and loved through whatever births they are given.

And in the giving of that care, I am on the receiving end, blessed with the gift of taking part in their stories.

*Photos taken by myself and midwife Karen.  See more of this birth here.

A Summer in the Life of a Doula

Wow!  It's been a long time since I've posted here... probably because I've been at BIRTHS all summer!!  I had a wonderful three months of doula-ing, and last week was my final follow-visit for my last birth of the summer.  Here's a recap of what I've been up to (with names changed) ...

May's birth
In April (I know that's not technically summer, but it was such an awesome birth that I wanted to throw it in :), I had the privilege of attending an incredible and insanely FAST vbac (vaginal birth after cesarean)!!  May had gone into her first birth as most moms do, not really educating herself about labor and birth, and she ended up having "the works" in the hospital.  Pitocin, epidural, c-section.  I loved May so much because she took the traumatic experience of her first birth and used it to change and grow and become a stronger woman.  And let me tell you--she is strong.  Her entire labor was LESS THAN THREE HOURS and completely intense the ENTIRE time.  It was actually kind of funny, because we had spent so much time prenatally preparing for a totally "zen" type of labor, with calming visualization and relaxation techniques, and we used absolutely none of it.  But it was awesome.  She called me at about 1pm, saying that her water broke, I met them at the hospital at about 3pm, and baby was born at 3:22.  It. Was. Insane.  And completely beautiful. 

Christine's birth
Christine's water broke at 10pm about a week before her due date--the first week of May.  She and her husband, Jeremy, worked through early labor at home for most of the night, and met me at the hospital at 8am.  She was definitely in early active labor, having to concentrate through each contraction.  I loved supporting this couple because they worked so well together, Jeremy supporting Christine with the relaxation exercises they had been practicing at home during her pregnancy.  As labor got more intense, it took everything she had to make it through each contraction.  It was an incredible effort for her to even speak, she kept alternating between too hot and too cold, and was nauseous the entire time.  She experienced several moments of self-doubt ("I can't do this for hours and hours!), but pushed through it all with incredible endurance.  Early in pushing, the doctor took a look at her perineum and told us, "Look how tight this is, we are going to need to cut this."  Nevertheless, I coached Christine to keep all those muscles down there relaxed, and to keep her jaws and hands open (per Ina May's "Sphincter Law").  And wouldn't you know it, she opened up just fine, and birthed her baby without even a tear!!  The whole birth was just so rewarding.

Julie's birth
In early July, I had the amazing privilege of attending the second birth of my very first clients!  Julie's first birth was incredibly long (water broke, no contractions, pitocin, hard labor for 8 hours, only 1cm dilated, epidural, rest, FULL DILATION, and two hours of pushing!), and quite the initation to being a doula!  But while spending all that time with her we bonded quite a bit, and became good friends after that.  She was SO hoping to go into labor naturally this time around, but due to some complications in her pregnancy, her doctor wanted to induce her early.  This was my first planned induction, and it was quite different.  The pitocin didn't really do anything the first day, so they turned it off at night and gave it a go again in the morning, this time breaking her water.  That got things moving along, and soon contractions became really painful.  It was such a cool experience coaching her through these contractions, knowing what worked well for her with her first labor.  She eventually opted for the epidural again, knowing firsthand how difficult labor was for her with a broken water bag and pitocin.  Pushing went much smoother this time, and she pushed her second baby boy out in to the hands of his daddy!!  (The doctor had him put on gloves to catch the baby!  So crazy!)  In spite of all the unwanted interventions, it was so good to support Julie and Kevin through their second birth.  What an honor!

Nola's birth
This was probably my favorite birth yet.  It was also my longest (second only to Julie's first!), and most challenging.  Actually, there is so much that I want to say about it that I'll save it for another entry.  Stay posted!  It's a good one!

Jamie's birth
Finally, in August, I had my last birth of the summer.  Jamie had been hoping and preparing for a natural birth, staying at home for as long as possible, and laboring in their secluded outdoor hot tub.  Unfortunately, she had tested positive for Group B Strep, which meant that if her water broke, they would want her to get to this hospital right away.  Which is what happened.  When they got to the hospital, the nurse started pitocin, and I arrived shortly thereafter.  Labor wasn't too painful at first, but quickly intensified and she needed lots of support.  We tried different positions and relaxation techniques, and definitely utilized the shower a few times.  She was laboring beautifully, and was doing a great job with her relaxation, and getting into a rhythm as labor got more difficult.  She made it to 6cm, labored for a couple of more hours, and was still at 6cm.  She had had enough, and chose to get an epidural.  This allowed her to get some rest (it was about 11pm and she had been in pitocin-induced labor ALL day), and was completely dilated at around 3 in the morning.  She pushed like a CHAMP for 2 hours in all different positions, but the baby was not budging.  The doctor recommended a c-setion, which she agreed to, and after quite a rough procedure her baby boy was born (they discovered that he was OP, or "sunny-side up," which is why he wasn't moving through the birth canal.  Babies can definitely be born in this position, but this little guy didn't want to budge).  The doctor had arranged for me to go into the operating room to sit with Jamie while they stiched her up (since dad would go with baby to the nursery).  This was a very cool experience, as I got to be with her as she saw her baby and kissed him for the first time, and as dad got to hold him.  It was such a surreal and sweet moment.  And it was such a joy that I was able to be with her for the next few hours, rubbing her shoulders and neck, and just making sure that she knew she was cared for even though things obviously didn't turn out as planned. 

All in all, I'd say it was a pretty awesome summer in the birth department.  I don't have any clients lined up for the immediate future, and I have to say that it feels AMAZING to not be on call.  And while I'm taking a litttle break from births, I'm working together with some very talented friends on a super-amazing, top secret project, that will hopefully be ready for the public sometime late this fall...  I can't wait to show you!

The Big Nurse-In and Other Thoughts

Last week, a friend of mine was harassed and kicked out of a local resale shop for breastfeeding her baby.

In response, the Crunchy Moms of DeKalb (a local mothering group I helped pioneer last summer), organized a "nurse-in." (Just typing those two words together makes me smile :). Unfortunately, Greg and I had already made plans and were on our way out-of-town Thursday morning, the day of the nurse-in, but I was cheering all those mamas on in spirit, and through facebook.

Driving along Rte 64, I called my mom to check in about a few things, and to share the excitement of the impending nurse-in with her. I was laughing with excitement and just the pure hilarity of it all, but quickly sobered up as she expressed concern and even mild disgust about the whole thing (she had read the article about it in the paper that morning)...

My mom. MY mom was on the other end of the line tell me how inappropriate it is for a mom to nurse uncovered in a public place. My mom, who was with me when I nursed Lucy for the first time in the hospital. My mom, who watched me nurse (covered) in her home, at coffee-shops, and at restaurants. My mom, who cheered me on as I put together our nursing pumpkin display at Pumpkinfest last fall. MY mom, who nursed ME when I was a baby!

Now, don't get my wrong--my mom is an awesome lady. Actually, the fact that she is awesome and has a problem with open nursing got me thinking. That the mother of a crunchy-granola-lovin', tree-hugging, garden-growing, nature-loving, one-grain-short-of-a-hippie daughter would still have a problem with this sort of thing.

And it got me thinking about my pre-mommy days, when I, too, was a little appalled when I saw or heard of a mother nursing her baby without a cover. Even after I had Lucy, though I had no problem nursing her in public, I always did it with my trusty hooter-hider covering me and my tiny baby. At church, I even retreated to the sectioned-off area in the nursery designated for nursing moms only. (Why I felt comfortable nursing Lucy at Borders but not at church is beyond me, and probably worthy of its own blog post...).

I have really grown a lot in my understanding and appreciation of the breastfeeding relationship since becoming a mother, and especially since becoming a party of the Crunchy Moms. Just being around other moms nursing comfortably and openly around each other in a public place has been so liberating! I'm sure with our next child I'll be even more open and comfortable with nursing in public.

But then I think again about my mom, and so many others who have just not been exposed enough to breastfeeding as a beautiful, normal, and essential activity, and have been exposed too much to breasts as strictly sexual objects.

With Lucy, I used my cover for modesty, yes, but mainly for the benefit of others--to avoid awkwardness and making them feel uncomfortable. Really, the last thing I want is to cause a big scene or to be looked upon as some sort of lactation extremist who has no regard for others around her. But the first thing I want is for our community and our culture to look kindly upon breastfeeding mothers, even when the breastfeeding happens in public.

And what better way to influence our culture for the better than to be a living example of the beauty of the breastfeeding relationship, just like my friend was doing last week??

I have no idea. Thoughts?