Welcome Dr. Dennis Hartung!

BlogIcons_MeetStaffWe are so thrilled to introduce you to the newest member of our team: Dr. Dennis Hartung. Dr. Hartung joined our practice in January 2015. Many consider Dr. Hartung a legend in the Twin Cities birth community. He has a reputation not only for being a stellar OB/GYN, but also for being very supportive of natural birth and very empowering of the women and families under his care. He is appreciated by many of his patients for his remarkable calm, caring, approachable, attentive, and down-to-earth bedside manner and incredible skill. Welcome Dr. Hartung.

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What is your role at Health Foundations?

I am an OB/GYN physician. I see patients that need care for their birth at the hospital, but who would like to be seen at Health Foundations. I also offer well woman and gynecologic care, including managing surgery for those who need that as part of their GYN care.

What is your educational background/training?

I received my B.A in Biology at Boston University in Massachusetts. I later earned my Medical Degree at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. I received further OB/GYN training at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Where were you born?

I was born in Billings, Montana in June 1958. I was born in a hospital and don’t know a great deal of detail about my own birth. I heard that my mom did not have a name picked out for me and that she named me after her OB.

Has anyone ever named a child you’ve helped deliver after you?

Not to my knowledge!

Where have you lived beside Minnesota?

I have lived all over the place! Growing up, my dad’s work took us from Billings and Bozeman, Montana to Yuma, Arizona. After my parent’s divorce, we moved west to Salem, Oregon. After that I moved around a lot with the Army to Clarksville, Tennessee; Hampton and Little Creek, Virginia; Brookline and Brighton Massachusetts; North Pole, Alaska (seriously); Ft Campbell, Kentucky; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Benning, Georgia; and San Antonia, Texas.

My favorite place I’ve lived has to be North Pole, Alaska. I worked for the Army as a medical doctor up there and our family just loved it there. It was colder, but my wife and I always say that Minnesota/Wisconsin feels colder much of the time in the winter. North Pole was a great place to raise our kids—we had a tightknit and very supportive community. We loved that wilderness was everywhere, all around you. Living in Alaska, you really have to adjust to the rhythms in a place where it is virtually dark 24 hours a day for a few months a year and then light for 24 hours a day for months. You could be out washing your car and realize it was 1am in the morning! But it was just a really cool place to live.

Where do you live now?

Hartung family in Hudson

Hartung family in Hudson

I live in Hudson, Wisconsin. We’ve lived here for 9 years. My wife’s parents live on the east coast and my parents on the West, but neither of their home states really attracted us—they are not particularly doctor-friendly from malpractice and other standpoints. So knowing we wouldn’t live on either coast freed us to look around. We looked in the northern US—we wanted the 4 seasons and a place that didn’t get too hot and humid. I was eligible to retire from the army at this point…so we interviewed for a job here and fell in love with Hudson. We loved the small town feel with proximity to the Twin Cities. It has been a great place for our kids—good schools and after-school activities.

Can you say a little about your family?

I have been married to Linda for 33 years, and we have three kids: Rebekah (28), John (25) and Aaron (21). My wife and I have two cats named Rue and Sega. I have a younger sister named Jani who lives in Turner, Oregon, just outside of Salem.

Dennis and wife Linda, Dominican Republic

Dennis and wife Linda, Dominican Republic

What led you to the Army?

When I was finishing up with high school, I didn’t have the financial means to go to college. My music teacher recommended I audition for the Army band as a flutist and get military college benefits. I was accepted and played flute for 6 years in the army. I received an army scholarship for my education with the expectation that I would serve the army as a doctor when I was done. I spent about 12 years as a student/resident and then about 11 years post-residency as an active duty army physician in OB/GYN care.

Dr. Hartung at military trauma course in medical school

Dr. Hartung at military trauma course in medical school

What is one of your favorite things to do when you are not at Health Foundations?

I am a flutist and still play regularly at church and other times/places that I can. I love gardening, hiking, and canoeing.

Linda and Dennis, annual fundraising gala at church

Linda and Dennis, annual fundraising gala at church

What is one of your favorite restaurants in Saint Paul?

Pizza Luce

If you could get on a plane tomorrow and travel anywhere in the world for free, where would you go?

Ireland. My wife and I went there for our 25th wedding anniversary and were delighted by it. We want to go back sometime.

What inspired you to get into your field?

Being present for the birth of my daughter—our first baby. Our daughter was born while I was in college. We had a hospital birth with midwives and our care was much like what is offered at Health Foundations. Watching my wife go through labor (and later holding my newborn girl skin to skin) had a profound impact on me and really influenced my later decision to become an OB/GYN. At first, when I started college, I thought I wanted to become a dentist because I was fascinated by dental instruments. However, I spoke with some dentists during my college years and they really discouraged me from pursuing dentistry. Then I thought I wanted to go into surgery but I didn’t enjoy my surgery rotation during residency at all. When I had my OB rotation—by this time we had also had our middle son—I just knew that this was a good fit for me and that I wanted to serve women and families as an OB/GYN. 

Hartung family, Dominican Republic

Hartung family, Dominican Republic

 

What is your philosophy on birth?

A woman’s body can do it. Let’s approach it allowing normal physiology to take place without fussing. Then if there are difficulties, begin a stepwise intervention to facilitate a healthy birth, for mom and babe.

What do you wish all Health Foundations families knew? 

THEY CAN DO IT!

What piece of advice or wisdom can you share with pregnant or new mama readers?

In our culture, unsolicited advice and “birth stories” are often told to moms-to-be. People don’t mean to be rude, they often just don’t know what else to say. Humor them, thank them and then let your body do what it was designed to do. Surround yourself with the support you need to get through it.

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Birth Story: “Intense. But incredible.”

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Baby Hamilton’s birth story, as told by mama

I feel very blessed to have had a wonderful pregnancy, birth, and start to life together as a new family of three–and have to thank Health Foundations for providing the support to make it happen. When I became pregnant, I thought how and where I was going to give birth would be a no-brainer–I assumed I would do what all of my friends did: a hospital birth, with my OB, and definitely an epidural (you’d be crazy not to, right?!).

My first trimester was going so smoothly that I became a bit paranoid that I wasn’t really pregnant. So Fran and I kept our pregnancy a secret from everyone until we made it to the second trimester. During that first trimester it felt like a mini honeymoon with Fran because we found ourselves staying in to avoid the questions around why I wasn’t drinking, etc. One night we searched Netflix for anything “baby” and came across “The Business of Being Born.” This documentary opened our eyes to a whole new concept around birth, and spoke to me in a way that really excited me. Fran and I had spent the prior 2.5 years completely changing our approach to health. Essentially we committed to putting health first, starting with our approach to fitness (we joined a Crossfit gym) and then diet (we did a lot of research around the pitfalls of the “standard American diet” and starting to cut out grains and sugars that were inflaming our system and keeping our bodies from burning fat for energy).

We had such a positive experience with this “alternative” approach to health, that I found myself very receptive to an “alternative” approach to childbirth. I have never had a need to go to a hospital before in my life, so I really started to wonder why I should need to be in a hospital now, with all these potential intervention measures, when I was the healthiest I’d ever been in my life and knew that women have been delivering babies naturally for thousands of years? After watching that documentary and a few others, we started doing a lot of reading and research, we toured birth centers and hospitals, and spoke to midwives and my OB about our options. After a lot of debate and consideration, we followed our gut instinct and decided to transfer to Health Foundations when I was 20 weeks in to my pregnancy. The remaining fears I had around being out of the hospital quickly went away as I had my prenatal appointments with the midwives and started taking the child birth education classes.

Okay– now on to my birth story!

When I was 34 weeks along, I got this strong feeling that my baby was going to come early. I don’t know what it was, but I was convinced. So imagine my disappointed when my “due date” came and went, and no sign of baby! I chalked it up to my first lesson in motherhood–I’m on someone else’s schedule now. He calls the shots! So time to temper my expectations and go with the flow. Easier said than done, especially when my biggest fear was getting to 42 weeks and having to go to a hospital to deliver the baby.

When I went in for my 40 week appointment Monica checked me, and she said I was still very posterior. So I spent the week going on lots of walks, got adjusted a couple times, and tried accupuncture. At my 41 week appointment (Tues), Monica swept my membranes, which made me pretty crampy for the next day or so. Through the baby stress test at 41 weeks the baby checked out as healthy and the machine showed that I was having contractions–that was a surprise because I wasn’t feeling them! Encouraging, my body was working away! I also went in for an ultrasound to check on amniotic fluid–all looked good.

On Friday of that week I had my next appt with Monica, and she thought maybe baby’s head was a bit tilted, preventing him from engaging my cervix. So she showed me how to do inversions at home to try to lift him up and off, and then go for walks to get him moving down. Along with that I did more acupuncture, took more walks. No contractions. Went in on Sunday (41 weeks and 5 days) and had the catheter put in and went for a walk. To our surprise, it fell out after 2 hours! I thought maybe I had done something wrong, because it came out but labor didn’t start. Amy had me come back in that evening to get checked and get the castor oil+herbs — which I was to take the next morning if I wasn’t in labor. She said my cervix was in a good spot, but didn’t share with me how dilated it was (we found out the next day that I was 4 cm at that point! I’m glad she didn’t tell me — would have messed with my head I’m sure).

Cramps started to get intense around 6pm on Sunday, after that appointment. We went for a walk and went grocery shopping. I took a bath at 8pm to ease the cramping, and to get ready to go to bed early to try to get some good rest. I was in bed at 9pm, and contractions started then. From 9pm-1am I was able to rest/sleep between the contractions (8-10 min apart). My back was really feeling it, so I put on a hot pack which really helped. Fran was great at telling me to relax, just as we practiced in class.

At 1am I couldn’t lay anymore — contractions were getting more intense, and about 6-8 minutes apart. I tried different positions but all I could handle was standing and leaning against the wall, and then between contractions I found myself pacing the bedroom (with all the adrenaline, I had a hard time relaxing). I had a few unpleasant trips to the bathroom, where I threw up everything in my system. We called the midwife page at 2am, when contractions were about 5-6 min apart. Amy was excited for me that I was going to be able to have this baby without castor oil (I’m pretty sure having that bottle stare me in the face was what started labor) and she listened to me breathe through a contraction. I could still talk through contractions and wasn’t yet vocalizing, so she told me to keep it up and said that next time I call I won’t be able to talk as much.

At that point we called our doula, Sarah, and she came over. She had me take a hot shower, which felt great on my back. And then encouraged me to try laboring on my hands and knees, and start to really focus on resting between contractions (head down on a pillow) and pay less attention to the contraction. This helped me get some much needed rest. Contractions were getting more intense, and I had to fight the urge to pace and lean against the wall like before. Sarah left the room to let me and Fran work through contractions together, and she listened from outside the door. My contractions weren’t following a consistent pattern so after a while in that position, Sarah suggested I pull one leg forward (like a deep runners lunge) and do juicy hip circles (Sarah is also a yoga instructor at Blooma, so she was using cues that she uses in the classes I would go to–which was nice and familiar). I thought she was nuts, because I thought that would be too much, too hard. Between contractions I told her that I was never going to think of those juicy hip circles the same way again! 🙂

But I gave it a whirl — for 2 contractions on each side. Well that seemed to adjust baby’s position, because I definitely started to feel something new, which I later confirmed was the urge to push! I just went with it, thinking I was still more than 3 minutes apart on contractions (I had mentally prepared for a very long labor)–and I didn’t really wrap my head around the fact that I was already through transition. I guess those juicy hip circles in the runners lunge helped me get through that. But apparently my vocalization changed and based on how I sounded, my doula suggested we make the move to the birth center. This was around 4:30am. Sarah got in touch with Amy, who heard me in the background and said “Oh, yep, I’ll be right there!”. We jumped in the car and the car ride was as promised — hard. Luckily there was no traffic and Fran drove very fast!

We beat the birth team to Health Foundations, so I had a contraction or two on the ramp outside the door- -likely waked some neighbors (Sarah found my flip flops in the parking lot, I labored myself right out of my shoes!). Rachel got there first, and we got in the room and had a couple more contractions. I told her I felt my body pushing, so she checked me, and indeed I was 9 cm dilated- with just a lip remaining! She asked if I wanted a water birth, and I said I was open to it (I wanted to let my labor decide what would feel best when the time came). But I really wanted to labor in the tub for some relief. So she started filling the tub right away–though it felt like an eternity before it was full. While I waited, I labored on the bed on all fours, and put my head down on a pillow to rest in between. Fran got emotional at this point, as he was so relieved that we were at Health Foundations and in good hands–everything got so intense so fast! At one point I looked up between contractions and said “tub time?”… I was thinking, let’s do this! I wanted to get in there and be able to move forward with pushing.

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The tub was full, I got in, and the pushing urge was really there — Rachel said I could, but slowly like I had been outside the tub. All in all, I pushed for about an hour (the total time I was in labor at the birth center!) — and our baby arrived! I was on my hands and knees, so Rachel said that once he was born she would push him through my legs and he would swim up to me so I could catch him and bring him out of the water. It was completely amazing. He came swimming through with his eyes wide open–such an incredible feeling to be able to grab him and pull him on to me.

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The birth team was awesome –I was so impressed with all of them. Fran was a champ, definitely benefited from the child birth classes to help prepare. It was tough for him to see me laboring. I am SO glad we had a doula–Sarah was amazing, and really helped at home (where the majority of labor ended up happening). I was surprised that during labor I never questioned my decision to do a natural labor. I was expecting to have doubts and to have to mentally push those thoughts out, but they never came. Also I had been nervous about my umbilical cord being around baby’s neck (I had been told that this is pretty common, but it still freaked me out)–mine ended up being wrapped around his neck once, but it didn’t harm him at all and Rachel was able to easily unwrap it.

In total I’d say I was in labor for 12 hours (including pre-labor)– 6 of which was active labor+pushing. The birth team applauded my ability to control the pushing, and take it slow. I didn’t need any stitches, and both me and baby checked out as healthy and good to go. I will share that when the nurses had me get up for the first time to use the bathroom (after about 3 hours of laying and bonding with baby), I made it to the bathroom but passed out once I got there — I think at the sight of blood (first time I really saw any… and I have a weak stomach). The nurses took good care of me, got me lots of fluids, and back in bed without any issues.

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It was truly an amazing experience. Intense. But incredible. And everyone who has checked on our baby’s health have remarked on how awake, aware, calm, strong, and healthy he is — which was our goal in having a natural birth, and I think only made even better by going with a water birth. And my recovery was smooth and quick, I was excited I didn’t need to have any stitches (even after delivering a 9 lb, 3.5 oz. baby with a 15 cm head — which apparently is in the 99.8th%!).

Special thanks to….

Health Foundations — for providing personal attention and care throughout my pregnancy, and an unforgettable birth experience that helped our family get started in this new life together in a healthy, beautiful, and very special way.

My Husband, Fran — for being fully committed to being my partner through this journey, for being such a strong supporter, and a beautiful father.

My doula, Sarah Auna — for being a strong, calm, beautiful presence and providing support through this amazing process to both me and Fran.

Crossfit St. Paul — for helping me to put health as a top priority, and to learn that my body is stronger and more capable than my head likes to think it is and that I can push through and achieve great things.

Body Workers, Amber (chiropractor) and Adrienne (massage) — for helping me to feel amazing throughout my pregnancy, even at 41 weeks pregnant my body felt great! You helped me truly believe that my body was made to do this and it was all very achievable–and perhaps my swift labor was possible because my body was all good to go!

Blooma — for being a weekly reminder throughout my pregnancy that my body is completely capable of birthing this baby, and for making the journey towards motherhood a special and sacred time. And for introducing me to my amazing doula, Sarah.

My Parents — for raising me to be an intellectually curious, confident woman who feels empowered to make informed decisions

Birth Story: Meeting Finnlee

Finnlee Joan birth story

The birth of Finnlee Joan told by mama Nicole

Since she was 41weeks, I had been getting a little worried that she would never come out, so I requested to work a evening shift of Thursday so I would be on my feet. We had a check in with Monica who gave me a belly band and told me to have a good night at work. Sure enough I started having contractions. I didn’t know what they were (now I know!)– they stopped when I would rest, so I didn’t really concern myself. After three weeks of everyone at work asking me “when are you going to have that baby? I can’t believe you are still at work!?” I was excited to move the process along.

Friday 10/24

Evening comes along and I started to leak- best way I can describe it- my water was slowing breaking. I probably went to the bathroom like 50 time in 4 hours. I was having to convince my husband that my water broke but he was not so sure. We called Monica and she said just to sleep, eat, and the rest will take care of itself.

Saturday 10/25

Morning came and Nick was so excited the baby could be coming, he stayed up until 4am cleaning the house. When I wanted to take a hike at 9am, he was too tired. I called my sister-in-law and we went hiking up the sledding hill by our house, which did cause the contractions to increase but I was still able to talk through them. At this point, I had pulled out all my Health Foundations binders and was looking for all the stages of labor. Also it seemed like in every birth story in the Ina May book, the women went for a hike to keep labor going. I was fearful that the contractions would not ever come consistently because after the walk, they stopped again.

I had been seeing an acupuncturist to try to get the baby out earlier that week so I went to my 2:30pm appointment to get the show on the road. My husband drove to make sure I was safe and to ask the acupuncturist how this whole thing worked. He put the needles in me and he and my husband carried on talking and laughing meanwhile my contractions became much worse and I was not so easy going at this point. We left and I really wanted some ice cream before this labor thing got really intense so we stopped at Culvers. I ate a sundae and before I could get around the block, I had to get him to pull over so I could vomit. I guess it was Mother Nature’s way of making sure I didn’t eat any more bad food.

Recalling that the labor stages book said vomiting means things are moving, I was getting a little nervous. The book was right, I started having contractions every 5 min. But my husband would not let me go to the birthing center until they were 3-1-1, he must have been listening to Rochelle (our childbirth education instructor) during class. I begged him for two hours to leave the house, but it was not until Monica gave him the go-ahead to drive me in at 8:30 pm that he agreed.

We arrived to hear another mama laboring in the other room where another baby was being born. This was a little intimidating until I heard the baby cry, then I was jealous because she had a baby and I had a lot of work to do still. Monica checked and I was 5cm dilated. I asked her how far I was and she said ” you’re far enough you can stay.”  It had not occurred to me there was a chance I would be sent home. I was ready to meet my baby and did not plan on leaving! Thank goodness we stayed at home long enough.  The next 6 hours were a bit of a blur: shower-tub-vomit-repeat. At one point, Monica checked me and said I could start pushing. My husband wanted to catch her and the first thing he saw was her little face with her hand over it. Nick told Monica that the baby had her hand on her face and we were still in the tub. Monica calmly told me to get out of the tub and do a runners lunge (with a baby head half way out.) One more push and there she was! Nick got to catch her like he wanted.

We met Finnlee at 3:26am on Sunday October 26, 2014.  She was 7lbs 10oz and 20.5 cm long.

All about Birth Doulas

doula artMany of our clients wonder what is the benefit of hiring a doula for a birth center or home birth.  After all, isn’t your midwife a lot like a doula?  Not necessarily.

We love it when our families choose to have a doula and believe it provides many benefits before, during and after birth.  In fact, we believe so wholeheartedly in the benefits of a doula that we have a doula internship program, which links newer doulas with families in our care.

In this post, we’ll explore what a doula is, how she* fits into your birth team, what support she offers, and what he training looks like. In our next post, we will talk about the many benefits of a doula

*While there are some male doulas, most doulas are female and thus the use of “she” here.      

What is a birth doula? 

A birth doula is a trained professional with knowledge of the physiology of birth and the emotional needs of laboring women.  She offers continuous emotional and physical (but not medical) support to mom and her partner throughout labor.

Doula as a unique part of the care team

While a midwife knows and supports a mom and her partner, she is chiefly responsible for the medical and clinical care of mom and baby during labor.  She may offer intermittent support and comfort as well.  A doula will offer continuous emotional support and comfort as soon as early labor, as a woman and her family desires.  Nurses are present to help with the medical and clinical aspects of birth and may not be familiar to the family prior to birth.  A family often knows their doula before labor.  A partner offers emotional support and loves the mom and baby like no one else on the birth team, but does not typically have the knowledge and experience that a doula can offer.

What does a doula do?

doulalaborpushSome of the specific support services a doula provides include:

  • Before birth, she often meets with an expectant family one or more times to get to know them, their wishes, hopes, and fears, and so come to understand how best to serve them in labor.  This also gives the family and doula an opportunity to develop a rapport and build trust.
  • A birth doula works to empower families through education and access to resources before, during and after labor.  She does not speak for a woman or her partner, but helps them make informed decisions and advocate for themselves and their desired birth vision.
  • In labor, a birth doula provides continuous support, meaning they will come to your side during labor when you wish (at home or in the birth center) and stay with you all the way through your labor and delivery and the first few hours postpartum.
  • A doula supports the role of the partner, and does not usurp his role in a woman’s labor; conversely she supports and enriches this bond and this support.
  • A birth doula can help suggest and facilitate physical comfort measures to help a woman cope through labor.
  • She offers emotional support to both the laboring woman and her partner.  She remains calm and objective throughout the birth process.
  • She facilitates communication between members of the birth team (professionals and kin).
  • After the birth, doulas often meet with families, offering breastfeeding and early postpartum support.

What does a doula NOT do?

A doula does not:

  • Provide medical information or clinical advice.  She will not perform clinical or medical tasks such as taking mom’s blood pressure or temperature, monitoring fetal heart rate, performing vaginal exams, etc.
  • Make decisions for a woman or her partner, or interfere with their care
  • Judge a woman or her partner for their wishes and choices in birth
  • Take away from the role of the partner or any other birth team member

What training does a doula have?

doulatrainingBirth doulas have a choice to become certified with a certifying body or not. The most common, though not the only, certifying body is DONA, or Doulas International (formerly Doulas of North America, hence the acronym).  Bear in mind that uncertified doulas may have the same level of experience and qualifications but have chosen, for one reason or another, not to become certified.  For this reason, it is important to ask prospective doulas about their experience.

To become a DONA-certified doula, a person must:

  • Read five selected books on childbirth and breastfeeding and additional materials.
  • Complete childbirth preparation (often a childbirth education series of at least 12 hours)
  • Complete at least 3 hours of breastfeeding training
  • Complete a doula training program of at least 16 hours
  • Attend at least 3 births (evaluated by the laboring woman and her care team)
  • Develop a resource list for clients
  • And more.

How much does a doula cost?

Doula services, which vary based on a doula’s experience, her included services, and other factors, can range anywhere from free to over $1000.  Some doulas have a set fee while others use a sliding scale.

While most insurance coverage does not cover doula services, the benefits of having a doula are so well demonstrated that insurance companies and the state are beginning to consider and adopt coverage for doulas.  It’s always a good idea to ask your insurance carrier if they cover doula care (every request for a service, even if not approved, is documented and is taken into account by the insurance carrier when determining covered services in the future).

Bear in mind that a doula has often completed a rigorous training process, makes herself available on call for a 4 to 5 week period around a woman’s due date, spends anywhere from a few hours to a few days with a laboring family (sometimes paying for childcare and other expenses while away), devotes hours to supporting a family before and after labor, and has professional expenses like any other independent small business professional.

How do I find a doula? 

  • Talk to us!  We have a list of a few doulas we know and recommend. We can also talk to you about our doula interns.
  • Childbirth Collective Parent Topic Night: All About Doulas.  This is a great event held monthly in Saint Paul and Minneapolis where doulas and expectant families gather to meet and talk about doulas. The Collective also has a list of doulas on their website.
  • Blooma.  Many of the yoga teachers and educators at Blooma are also doulas.  This may be a great way to make a connection.
  • Childbirth education classes.  This can be another possible avenue to connect with a doula.
  • Word of Mouth.  Talk to other mamas who have had doulas and find out who they recommend.

Check out our related post on the benefits of having a doula!

Birth Story: “I couldn’t believe he was ours and what I had just done.”

20130305_Merritt_final_056The birth of baby Merritt

By Hannah Pierson

The Tuesday of my first week off work (9 days overdue) Zach and I went into the midwife for a non-stress test which the baby eventually passed , but took his sweet time to do so.  I had a cervical exam and I wasn’t dilated at all.  Then we got an ultrasound to make sure that the baby was still doing well.  Since Merritt passed everything, we went back home and scheduled another appointment for Wednesday.

On Wednesday we went back to the birth center and I had a Foley catheter inserted.  A Foley catheter is a type of intervention to try to induce labor where they insert a catheter and then fill it with small balloons full of water (one balloon on the inside of your cervix and one on the outside).  The objective is to use the catheter to slowly stretch your cervix open over the next 24 hours.  Getting the cervix to begin to dilate is a way to jumpstart labor and can sometimes even begin contractions.  The hope was that this would begin my labor or at the very least dilate me so that labor would be easier once it began.

Getting the catheter inserted was painful and uncomfortable, but Zach was there which made it much easier.  We went home with Jimmy Johns as a treat and Zach returned to work and I was pretty much bed bound.  As the day wore on I got more used to the catheter (the most annoying part is that it’s taped to your thigh) and in the afternoon Zach and I even took a very slow walk around the block.

As we were getting ready for bed, I went to the bathroom and started to feel the catheter falling out of me.  I screamed for Zach, as it was a weird sensation, and then it just sort of plopped in the toilet with my mucus plug attached to it.  It was much larger than Zach and I had thought so that was a bit of a shock.  We were so excited that the catheter had dilated me and we called the midwife who told us to come in the next day.  We then proceeded to call our moms who were very excited for us as well (we had to stave off Zach’s mom from jumping in the car and heading up right then).  We calmed ourselves down and were able to go to bed.

The next day (Thursday, 11 days overdue) we went in to meet with the midwives.  The catheter had indeed done its job and I was now 4 cm dilated.  We formulated a plan.  That Monday I was going to be two weeks overdue and would have to be induced at a hospital.  After the catheter, the midwives still had one more thing to try to make the baby come: an herbal induction.  An herbal induction begins with taking castor oil and then every 15 minutes taking a homeopathic or tincture.  All of these are meant to make your uterus contract and begin labor.  We decided that we would give my body one more day to go into labor naturally and then do the herbal induction on Friday.

We spent the rest of the day on Thursday (Valentine’s Day) doing absolutely everything that we could to make the baby come.  I got acupuncture for the first time, went to the chiropractor and got an adjustment, at the spiciest food that I could handle at Everest on Grand, had chocolate cake at home and then went for an epic walk at night in the snow.  Nothing happened.

DSC_0154The next day (Friday, February 15th), worried and feeling super unenthused about the herbal induction; I got up and did my prenatal exercise video one last time.  Then I ate a big meal and chugged the half cup of castor oil in orange juice.  It wasn’t as horrible as I thought it would be.  The worst part was the oily residue that it left on my lips and tongue.  As the morning passed I hung out in bed and followed the herbal induction regimen (the tincture was very foul tasting).  At first I felt just fine, but then by mid-morning I was on the toilet miserable.  At one point I cried to Zach, “This is horrible and I bet the baby won’t even come and I’ll still have to be induced!”

In the afternoon I repeated the castor oil again and was feeling pretty sorry for myself.  I was lying down in bed when suddenly I felt what can only be described as a gunshot go off from my uterus to my vagina.  I screamed to Zach downstairs and rushed to the bathroom.  When I sat on the toilet I could feel liquid falling out me.  I told Zach that I thought that my water had broken.  He kept saying, “Are you sure?” and I kept saying, “Well, I know what peeing feels like and I know I’m not peeing!” It was 3:00pm.

At the same time I was still experiencing the unpleasant side effects of the castor oil and shooed Zach out of the bathroom.  I then started to feel contractions and I was screaming out the bathroom door to Zach, letting him know when they started and stopped so he could time them on his phone.  He desperately wanted to be in the bathroom but I wouldn’t let him come in.  At one point I saw him peeking through the door and yelled at him to get away.  Even later, I could hear a swooshing sound coming from the hall and I realized that Zach was “sharking” (steam mopping) our floors.  He said that he felt so helpless and needed to do something.

It was all very intense between my water breaking, the contractions, and the after effects of the castor oil and I eventually let Zach in for support.  He called the midwife and they told us to come in to get checked and see how I was progressing.  Zach began to fly around the house packing our things for the birthcenter.  He also made a frantic call to our friend, Alex, who was going to watch Juneau for us while we were gone.  Later she said that she had never heard him sound so out of control.

On the way to the birth center, Zach began calling family to tell them to come up.  Funny story though, just a couple hours earlier, he had actually told them to stay home.  Earlier in the week Natalie, my mom, and his mom had told him that they planned to come up to the cities on Friday and stay until Monday.  They explained that they wouldn’t need to bother us and they would stay in a hotel.  Zach let this little detail slip to me and I completely flipped!  I already felt like the whole world was breathing down my neck to have this baby and now my family would be in the cities the entire weekend!  I felt like a watched pot.  So Zach kindly asked all of them to please wait to come up.  Natalie decided to go ahead with coming to the cities anyway.  My mom and dad decided to go visit my Grandmas in Manchester and then head up afterward.   Only Kim and Dick actually listened to Zach and they decided to go to the movies to get their minds off waiting for the phone to ring.  Just as they were about to leave is when Zach called them and told them to come up right away.  Kim says that she never would have forgiven him if she would have missed the birth.

We arrived at the birth center and I was still having contractions and my water was slowly breaking.  As it was February in Minnesota, it had snowed recently and there were huge mounds of snow in front of thebirth center.  Worst of all people had parked in front of the plowed sidewalk entrances to the building.  Zach was about to yell at someone to move their car when I grabbed his hand and climbed over the pile of snow.  The situation seemed much too urgent for waiting for a car to move.

Once inside the birth center we went upstairs and Jill (the nurse) checked my cervix to see how dilated I was.  She asked if I wanted to know and what would be a “good” number to me.  I told her that on Wednesday, after the catheter had fallen out, I was four centimeters and I would like to still be there our more.  She told me I was looking “great”.  Later I learned that “great” was still four centimeters.  Jill also tested to make sure that the fluid I was leaking was amniotic fluid and it was.

Afterwards Jill told us to go downstairs to one of the birthing suites.  Although a lot had happened, Zach and I had it so ingrained in our minds that labor would take many hours and we would spend many of those hours at home, that we thought that we would probably still be sent back home.  When we got downstairs, I asked, “Are we staying now?” and it was confirmed that we were.  That’s when I allowed myself to finally register that I was in active labor.  For the next few hours, even as the contractions intensified, I was just so grateful that I was in labor and finally having my baby.

At the beginning of labor I was walking around between contractions and then leaning on the counter in the birth suite during contractions, making big hip movements.  Zach began to squeeze my hips during each contraction and although I had him try other types of massage, hip squeezes were the best for me and that’s what he did through each contraction throughout the entire labor.  I often thought, “Ugh, I’m so glad I have a strong husband,” because at one point Natalie tried to do the hip squeezes and she simply couldn’t do them.

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Speaking of Natalie, she came early in my labor and we asked her to begin to photograph the birth.  She was wonderful throughout my labor and, pregnant herself, acted as our doula providing encouragement and fetching things.

After a while I changed positions and labored sitting on a small stool, bracing myself against the bathtub.  Afterwards I moved to the toilet facing backwards. Then Amanda (our midwife) suggested that I might enjoy laboring in the shower.  Amanda helped me in and I sat on a birth stool facing the support bars of the shower.  As I moved to the shower, Zach raced to change into his swimsuit.  There were people in thebirth suite and Amanda was in the bathroom.  Zach started to take off  his pants and Amy (our other midwife) noticed and closed the door.  Zach  said to Amanda, “Amanda, I’m changing now.  I’m like the least modest person on the planet” and Amanda said back, “Don’t worry, I’m not exactly modest either.”

For the next while, I labored in the shower, leaning forward and having Zach press my hips during a contraction, while the water ran on my back.  In between contractions, I would lean back and let the water run over my face, it felt so good, like a reward for a well done contraction.

During each contraction I would try to deeply breathe in and out and stay as relaxed and limp as possible.  Zach would remind me when I would unconsciously tense up parts of my body to stay relaxed and loose.

When I came out of the shower, completely naked, there were two girls about my age in the room who I had never met before.  They were birth assistants, RNs who the midwives bring in for extra medical support.  We had been told that they would be coming to the birth during one of our prenatal appointments, but I completely forgotten about that fact so when I came out I very snottily said, “WHO ARE YOU?”  In the end both of the assistants were wonderful and so helpful.

After the shower, Amanda suggested that maybe I should walk around upstairs in the yoga studio and do some big hip movements to help my labor along.  As we walked upstairs I remember looking out the big uncovered windows at the birth center and thinking, “Well, there we go, I’m in a bathrobe for all of Grand to see!” although I really didn’t care very much by that time.  I had a contraction on the front desk of thebirth center and then walked upstairs, slowly taking the stairs two at a time and doing lunges to help open me up.

In the yoga studio I did hip circles sitting on a yoga ball, then kneeled and leaned over the ball as I did hip circles.  Zach and I also slow danced together while I did big hip movements.  During this time is when my mom and dad came.  My mom came up to the studio and looked like she felt really bad for me, like her heart was ripping apart seeing me in pain.

After awhile, my legs began to get tired and I asked Amanda if it would be okay for me to lie down and labor on the bed for awhile.  As I went back downstairs, I passed my dad, who was fiddling on his phone in the lobby.  I remember I said, “Hi Daddy,” and he said, “Hey, Honey” and I was thinking, “I can’t believe that other people are on their phones right now!”  It was the first reminder that I had that life was going on outside my labor, which seemed crazy.

When I got back into the birth suite, I got into bed and Amanda left Zach and me alone to labor together.  My contractions on the bed were excruciatingly painful.  I think it might have had to do with the fact that I had nothing to brace myself on and was unconsciously tensing up during each contraction.  Zach helped me to get through about five in that position and then I moved back to the toilet and finally back into the shower.

This time though, even the warm water wasn’t enough to relieve the pain.  My contractions were beginning to become unbearable and in between I began to say, “This is so hard,” to Zach many times.  I also began to think in my head that I couldn’t go on any more.  I thought that I could get through a few more contractions like these, but if I would have to continue for hours and hours I simply couldn’t do it.  I longed for a plan of action and even told Amanda, “Amanda, if you could just tell me that I only had to do ten more of these I could get through it”.

Amanda could hear that my contractions were intensifying and beginning to change by the fact that my breathing was harder to control.  She also could hear that I was beginning to push before I even knew that I was.  She and I developed a plan that I would do two more contractions in the shower and then move to the bed to get checked and to ensure that my cervix was fully dilated with no lip.

Now, with this plan, I had a renewed confidence that I could carry on.  We moved to the bed and Amanda checked me.  At this point I was almost dilated although there was a lip on my cervix.  She manually had to push it back (which I really don’t remember as being very painful) because I was so focused on the fact that I had a plan.

After she pushed my cervix back, I got in a pushing position sitting on a birthing stool facing the bed.  Amanda originally suggested that I face away but when I said that I wanted to brace myself on the bed she was fine with it although she had to use a mirror and flashlight to check me in what was a more awkward position for her.  Amy was lying on the bed in front of me (I remember thinking that she looked so comfortable) and she began coaching me through pushing contractions.

Now, no one ever really told me how incredibly different pushing contractions are from the rest of contractions during labor.  I found regular contractions to be painful, like the most intense menstrual cramps you can imagine.  But pushing contractions, I barely even remember what they felt like because I was doing such intense work during each one.

At the beginning of each contraction I would tell Amy that I thought one was coming (they were actually harder for me to identify than regular contractions) and then I would take a big breath and bear down through the contraction as long as I possibly could.  I would breathe in and repeat and then do it again as the contraction faded away.

It felt like the most intense exercise of my life and there was so much pressure on my bottom that it was shaking, but I really enjoyed it.  Instead of just breathing through pain I was an active participant with a task and everyone was so encouraging.  By this time Kim was also in the room and in front of me were four mothers who had birthed a total of 13 children and they were encouraging me and cheering me on through each contraction.  They would all say, “Good job, Hannah!  Great pushing!  You are an awesome pusher!” which felt so good to hear.  In between contractions, I would say, “Thank you, thank you,” which everyone thought was kind of funny.

I also felt extremely loving at this point and kept telling Zach (who was still behind me, squeezing my hips) how much I loved him over and over.  I almost even told Amy that I loved her and then realized that was a little weird and held it in.

After pushing on the stool for awhile, I was making good progress.  I asked Amanda if she could see the head and although I wasn’t that far, I could reach up and feel his head inside me (it was squishy).  Amanda suggested that I could move to the tub and although I was fine on the stool, I took her suggestion.  Everyone helped me move and position myself in a way that I was wedged perpendicularly in the tub, pressing my feet and back against the sides.  As I got in I saw that Zach still had his shirt on and immediately told him to take it off as I thought he looked so weird.

I pushed Merritt out in the tub.  With each contraction I could feel my vagina opening more and more.  It burned a little around the edges but instead of experiencing a lot of pain, I mostly just couldn’t believe how weird the feeling was.  I kept saying, “This is craziness!” because it absolutely was.

During this time everyone was gathered around the tub, watching.  I talked to Amanda and asked her to please help me to slow down when he was crowning because I wanted to make sure that I didn’t push too hard and hurt myself.  She did just that and while Merritt was crowning she had me make “puh puh” noises like The Little Engine that Could to slow down my pushing.  Eventually Merritt’s head came out and then his body came out in a large gurgle afterwards.  It was the most insane feeling I’ve ever experienced!

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He was placed right on my chest.  It was 10:55pm. Zach and I cried and smiled.  I opened his legs and announced that he was a boy to everyone.  Then I double checked just to make sure.  I always deep down felt that he was a boy and I told everyone that.  Zach felt a little deceived because I had even kept that from him, I was worried that if Merritt was a girl, she would have a complex because her mom always thought she was a boy.

After announcing that he was a boy, I remember that everyone was talking a lot and I almost had to yell to tell them his name and explain why we picked it.  Then we hung out with Merritt for awhile longer and eventually Zach cut his cord.

I stepped out and delivered the placenta without even pushing, which was wonderful because at that point I just wanted to be done with the whole birth part and snuggle Merritt.  We hung out in bed for awhile and Merritt latched on right away.  In the next couple of hours the Grandpas visited, I got stitches (not fun) and ate a Jimmy John’s #9.  Then Natalie left to get some much needed sleep and so did my parents.  Kim stayed with us and we made the journey home.  Zach drove so slowly to not hurt me on the bumpy, snowy roads but it didn’t matter because no one was out at that time of night.  I remember looking at the clock at 3:30am as I snuggled in bed.  Merritt was in his cradle next to me and I reached over and touched him.  I couldn’t believe that he was ours and what I had just done.  I was so grateful to God.

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Fatigue in Pregnancy

It’s remarkable to many women just how tired they can feel in pregnancy, especially in the first and last trimesters.  While the amount of sleep your body demands may be shocking, its important to remember all the hard work and energy your body is devoting to creating a healthy baby.

By the end of the first trimester, your body has helped your baby develop all of his or her body parts—an amazing accomplishment!  Your body is also undergoing tremendous transformations (e.g. significant hormonal changes, remarkably increased blood flow and volume) and your psyche is adjusting to this monumental change in your life.  With good reason, the first trimester is when many women feel the most tired.

As pregnancy proceeds, your body is working hard to support and nourish your growing baby, making the later months of pregnancy tiring as well.  Some women feel they have more energy in the second trimester.

While fatigue is your body’s normal and useful message that you need more sleep to accomplish all of this incredible work, it can be hard to cope with this sometimes overwhelming need for rest in pregnancy, especially if you are working or have other children.  Though you may not be able to eliminate your fatigue, there are many ways you can cope and support your body at this time.

AT BEDTIME:

  • Get lots of sleep (at least 8 to 10 hours) with as many of those hours before midnight as possible, as this is when your body recuperates.
  • Take naps if possible.  It’s common for women to take hour-long (or longer!) naps daily during pregnancy.
  • Support your tummy, lower back and legs with pillows (or one pregnancy pillow) during rest, especially in your last trimester.
  • Sleep in a well-ventilated room, as oxygen replenishes your cells while you rest.

IN THE KITCHEN:

  • Eat small meals regularly (every 2-3 hours) to maintain balanced glycogen and insulin, the two hormones that regulate your blood sugar levels.  Carry nuts or fruit with you on the go.  Too much sugar in the diet can contribute to fatigue.  Ensure you are getting enough protein and complex carbohydrates.
  • Stay hydrated: Drink 2-3 liters of water a day to promote healthy digestion.  Constipation can contribute to fatigue.
  • Avoid coffee, while it can temporarily boost your energy, it also causes a crash that can actually increase your fatigue.
  • Alternative energy boosters include: Peppermint tea (as long as it doesn’t aggravate heart burn), Spirulina or kelp supplements, Nettle tea

DURING LEISURE TIME:

  • Yoga and meditation are regarded as energy-enhancing practices.
  • Take a bath with two drops each of lavender, neroli, and mandarin essential oils.  Other great essential oils for fatigue include peppermint, lemon, orange, sandalwood and rosemary (AVOID essential oils, however, in the first trimester)
  • A brisk walk in fresh air, when possible, can increase oxygen intake, improve circulation, appetite and bowel function, and decrease fatigue.
  • Massage can be invigorating and relaxing.

Speak with your midwives about your fatigue.  You may want to be checked for anemia, which is common in pregnancy and can certainly cause fatigue.

Be kind to yourself, prioritize your activities (maybe reducing your responsibilities if possible), and don’t be afraid to ask for help.  You are doing important and difficult (and ultimately rewarding!) work right now.

Please speak with us if you have any additional questions or concerns about fatigue in pregnancy.

Rest well, mamas!

Birth Story: “the single most amazing experience of my life”

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The birth of baby Norah

By Rebecca Barth

Everyone always says that you’ll know a contraction when you have one, but for the first hour or so I wasn’t sure that I was in labor.  I told my partner, Dylan, to start timing the squeezes to see if there was a pattern.  Sure enough, each squeeze lasted about 40 seconds and they were coming about four or five minutes apart.  Labor!

We called the midwife to let her know what was happening.  She encouraged us to labor at home for as long as possible.  “Call me back in a few hours,” she said.  I took a warm bath and tried to nibble on snacks and drink water.  The contractions were getting more persistent and requiring more focus.  I rolled on an exercise ball for a while, listened to Abbey Road on vinyl, but the thing that helped the most was to hold on to the back of one of our dining room chairs while swaying my hips and gently stepping my feet.  I let my whole spine undulate during contractions while trying to relax as much as possible.

By midnight I was sure that labor had progressed enough to go to the birth center.  The midwife asked to talk to me during a contraction, which was not easy but I could do it.  She confidently said that I was not ready to come in yet and that I should try to labor at home a little longer.  However, I was getting concerned that if we waited too much longer the 20 minute car ride to the birth center would be extremely uncomfortable.  She encouraged me to take another warm bath and meet her at the center in two hours.

Although I had been anxious about the car ride, my contractions actually slowed way down on the drive over.  By the time I waddled into the birthing suit in my jammies and slippers, my contractions were much more manageable than they had been at home. Even so, I was confident that I was at least four or five centimeters dilated.  I had heard so many women say that they too were confident about their progress only to find that they had not dilated at all, but I was certain I was not one of them.

The midwife asked how dilated I had been that afternoon.  “About two,” I replied, “How far am I now?”  The midwife maintained a cool composure and said, “You’re making nice progress and you have some work left ahead of you.”  I laughed, “No really, how far am I?”  She just reiterated that I was doing great and that I should keep up the good work.  I was able to translate her evasive language myself: I was pretty much exactly where I was that afternoon.

My lack of dilation aside I was really proud of myself.  I felt like I was handling my contractions beautifully; I was able to turn inward, tune out the rest of the world, and focus on relaxing and staying open and calm.  I swayed, rocked, and gyrated around the dim room.  I quickly shed all of my clothing and hopped into the glorious tub.  I kneeled in the tub for quite a while as my doula supported me through contractions.  (Dylan had ducked out for a quick nap, knowing that we still had a long night ahead of us.)

Although the contractions were getting intense, I remember being able to quietly talk with my doula during the breaks.  I had known ahead of time that I didn’t want a lot of talking or noise during labor, but in this warm, cozy room with just the two of us, our soft whispers were so comforting.

My midwife came and checked on me periodically.  I was laboring fine and Baby was doing well.  Thus far in labor I had almost exclusively been upright, either standing or kneeling.  Lying down, even being on my hands and knees or draped over something, was not comfortable.

The midwife got concerned that with so many hours of being on my feet I was going to get tired.  She asked me if I felt I could lie down to try and get some rest.  Rest?  Was she kidding?  I humored her and gave it a try, but just as the first contraction set in I jumped up and started my swaying dance.  No way was that going to work.

The contractions got stronger and I became more introspective.  The talking in between contractions stopped.  The nurse and my doula encouraged me to try and eat something.  Food sounded revolting, but I remembered from our birthing class that eating and drinking during labor were important.  I forced myself to swallow a bite of applesauce, and somewhat defiantly shoved the spoon back into the bowl as if to say, “There, I ate.  Are you happy?  Now stop bothering me.”  I remember the nurse chuckling and saying that one bite wasn’t going to cut it.  I think I later stomached a fruit popsicle which seemed to satisfy the masses.

Some time later the midwife was back and strongly suggested that I try to get off my feet for a bit.  I understood why she wanted me to rest–I needed to have enough energy to keep laboring at the birth center and to be able to push later–but I really didn’t think I could do it.  However, I remembered hearing about women who eventually needed to be transferred to a hospital for an epidural and a break because they were exhausted.  The one place I didn’t want to end up was the hospital, so off to the bed I waddled.

The second my contractions started in that bed I started to cry.  I squeezed my eyes tight and started to fight each contraction.  For the first time in my labor I started saying “Ow,” and “I can’t do this.”  I silently cursed at the midwife for making me lay down.  I felt lost.  Then, my wonderful nurse took both of my hands and ordered me to open my eyes.  She looked straight at me and said, in a calm but firm voice, “This is your birth.  You get to decide how you do this.”  I remember feeing like the words could mean anything, but her look said everything.  She was helping me find my way back.  She was telling me to work with my body, not fight against it.  I sniffled, nodded my head, and took a deep breath.

The next contraction came, and I let it.  I breathed, and I let it happen.  And then, I kid you not, I fell asleep.  My contractions slowed down and I remember waking up in a dream-like state for each of them.  I would make sounds, move, or even sit up during a contraction, and then I’d drift back off to sleep.  My partner told me later that he and the doula marveled in disbelief at the sleeping woman in labor.

After I had rested for a time I felt ready to continue laboring.  My contractions were strong and increasingly intense.  The midwife checked my progress again, but she still wouldn’t tell me how much I was dilated.  Seriously?!  I was sure that meant that I hadn’t made much progress and that the midwife felt it would be discouraging to hear how little change had occurred.  She tried to focus on the positive changes (my cervix was thinning, Baby was doing fine), but I “still had some hard work ahead.”

I tried to rally.  I gathered my strength and went on laboring.  By now my contractions were becoming relentless.  There was little and sometimes no break in between contractions.  I stood under the hot spray of water in the shower for what seemed like eternity.  I gripped the support bars with all of my might while I swayed back and forth under the water.

Talking was long gone.  I didn’t talk and everyone around me knew not to talk either.  I started making small, sometimes completely unrecognizable hand gestures to communicate.  I mimicked drinking from a cup when I was thirsty, I shook my head almost imperceptibly when someone asked me a question, and I held up one finger when I wanted people to wait while I was having a contraction.  If someone reached out to touch me during a contraction, up went my finger.  It said, “back off, I’m busy.”  If someone tried to take my vitals and I felt a contraction coming on there was the finger again saying, “hold on a second, don’t touch me.”  My partner and doula deserve so much credit for being able to give me what I needed during this phase.  I wasn’t speaking or letting anyone touch me and yet I still felt completely supported and cared for.

As the contractions got even more intense I found myself dismayed by how relentless the process was becoming.  I couldn’t call for a time out and my body didn’t listen when I wanted a break. I felt like I was a servant to the process.  I kept talking to myself, reminding myself to stay open, visualizing how the contractions squeezed from the top while pulling the cervix open at the bottom, but I started to surrender to the knowledge of my body.  I took solace in knowing that I didn’t actually have to do anything; my body was doing it for me.  I could help or I could hinder, but this baby was coming.

We learned many comfort measures in our birth class, but as I felt my body changing during labor I instinctually found my own comforting rituals.  For a while I had the urge to push against something with my head.  Somehow pushing with the top of my spine helped me free up the bottom of my spine and I was able to sink into more relaxation.  Dylan’s chest was the lucky recipient of my pushing head.  At the start of the contraction I would find Dylan, grab him by the arms and pull him toward me.  I would push him up against a wall and then sink my head into his chest and twist it back and forth as my lower body swayed and swung.

I also started to do more sounding in this phase of labor.  I had the urge to make a lot of “mmm” sounds, but I remembered our birthing instructors words: “open mouth, open sphincter.” I tried my hardest to turn every “mmm” into a “mmmaaah.”  I also started talking to the baby.  During particularly hard contractions I would mumble, “it’s okay, it’s okay…” over and over.  My partner and doula knew I was talking to the baby, but at one point the midwife came in and seemed to be concerned.  “It is okay,” she affirmed.  I wanted to tell her “no, I know that I’m fine, I just want the baby to know he or she is fine.”  This felt like my first real motherly act: the baby was going through this stressful and arduous process with me and I felt responsible to help the baby stay calm and to reassure him or her that everything was going to be okay.  And somehow, putting the needs of the baby before my own made the contractions more bearable.

The hours kept passing and the contractions got overwhelming.  At one point I said, “I don’t know if I can do this any more.”  Even as I said the words I knew they weren’t true.  I knew I could keep going, I just needed some reassurance that everything I was doing–all the movements, moans, and grunts–were normal and okay.  Later I learned that when my doula went to get the midwife and told her what I had said, the midwife simply nodded, stood up, and calmly walked into the birthing suite.  This was just a phase that most women went through.  She crept into the bathroom where I was laboring and said just enough calm, reaffirming words to help me continue.  I was fine; this was what labor was supposed to be like.  It was so much harder than I thought anything could be, but it was normal and that knowledge was comforting.

As my contractions got even stronger and the baby got even lower, I decided to try sitting on the toilet.  I had read that many women found that to be a comfortable place to labor and I was going to take any iota of comfort I could find.  Now, I didn’t just sit on the toilet, I laid on the toilet.  I went as horizontal as one could get while still sitting on a toilet.  My head rested on the wall behind me and my feet were out in front of me as far as they could stretch.  During each contraction I grabbed Dylan’s hand and pulled back as hard as I could having him counter my weight.  (He told me later that his thumb had turned purple but good man that he is, he didn’t complain once.)  The toilet became my labor station for some time.  If there was a contraction, I needed to be on that toilet and in my pulling-on-Dylan position.  At one point in the early morning the midwife suggested that she check me once again.  I tried to get up and walk to the bed but as the next contraction started I literally ran back to the bathroom to have the contraction on the toilet.  It was the fastest I had moved in months.

I tried again to make it to the bed so that the midwife could check on my progress.  I made it just outside the bathroom door before another contraction hit.  I remember grabbing Dylan and pressing my weight into his body while thinking “if there were drugs here, I would take them.”  But then I thought, “If I really want drugs, I’m going to have to put clothes on and get into a car.  No way in hell I’m getting into a car.  I’ll be fine.”  That was the only moment that drugs crossed my mind and I am forever grateful that they weren’t available and that no one offered me any.  I understand why people take them, but I was really committed to a natural birth and I am so thankful to have been a facility that encouraged and supported that choice.

During the most intense hour of labor I remembered another bit of wisdom from our birth educator: “When you feel like you can’t do it anymore, it’s probably the transition phase, and you’re probably almost done.” I told myself that as I got back into bed to get checked a third time.  While I had no sense of time, I could see the sun streaming in through the window.  I smelled coffee brewing.  I had labored through an entire night.  I felt a little surge of power.  I had made it at least twelve hours.  Then my midwife looked down and smiled at me, “Now I’ll tell you your progress: you’re at nine centimeters.”  Nine!  I really was almost done.  That little surge of power turned into a wave, a tsunami of confidence.

I went back to the toilet for the final lap of labor.  I started to feel unbelievable pressure getting lower and lower.  With each contraction I felt more and more like I was sitting on a bowling ball.  I just couldn’t believe that I could labor much more without this kid falling out.  I muttered “I think I might be ready to push.”  The midwives had a shift change in the morning, so the new midwife who had taken over filled the birthing tub.  My doula, my partner, the nurse, and I made a small processional to the tub.  I realized this was really happening.  My dream of having a baby was about to come true.

Suddenly the once quiet, almost empty room was all abuzz.  It was still incredibly calm, but it had a sense of aliveness.  My mother came in and sat quietly in the corner.  The nurses prepared instruments and post-birth equipment.  Dylan slipped away quickly to put on his swim trunks in case I wanted his support in the tub with me.   The midwife helped me into the tub and to get comfortable.  Everyone was in their places ready for the show to begin.

I wasn’t sure that I truly had the urge to push but once the midwife gave me the okay I gave a little test push during my next contraction.  With that little test push my body surged into a strong push.  It was a lot like throwing up in reverse: the second you start to push it just takes over your whole body and you can’t help but push.  I gave a few strong pushes and the midwife told me to reach down to see if I could feel anything. When I did I was astonished to have felt a tiny, quarter-sized bit of soft, squishy, wrinkled baby head.  I remember exhaling, looking up, feeling the sun shine on my face, and smiling.

I gave a few more strong pushes before I felt the baby’s head in the birth canal.  I remembered that once the baby had crowned I should stop pushing to avoid tearing.  As I felt the fullness of my baby’s head, I willed myself to stop pushing.  It felt a little like stopping a race car on a dime–nearly impossible–but I slowed the baby’s progress to a screeching halt.  My position in the tub didn’t allow the midwife to have the best view, so I don’t think she saw quite how far the baby’s head had come.  She told me again to reach down and touch the head.  “I don’t need to,” I gasped, “I feel it.”  In a flash her hands were down under me, supporting me as I gave another push.  I felt the head slide out and then in a wave, the rest of the baby slid out into the water.  Dylan scooped up our baby and handed her to me.  I was so surprised that she was out so quickly!  Wasn’t I supposed to push more?  I thought the baby’s head would come out and then I would have to give several more pushes to deliver the rest of the baby.  All I could muster for intelligent conversation was, “We had a baby!”

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Norah was born at 10:30 in the morning, weighing six pounds, ten ounces, and measuring 18 1/2 inches long.

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After Norah got some vigorous rubs and puffs of air, she started to pink up.  We got out of the tub and delivered the placenta.  Once the cord had stopped pulsing, Dylan clipped the cord.  Our family of three made it to the bed to cuddle.  We tried nursing, but Baby wasn’t super interested yet.  I was so in awe of this beautiful baby that I was completely unaware of the nurse and midwife monitoring Norah closely.

IMG_1297Not long after we got snuggled into bed the midwife told us that Norah wasn’t breathing well enough on her own.  If she didn’t get the hang of it soon, she’d have to go to the hospital.  While I was worried and disappointed at the idea, I remember feeling like “we made it through all of the labor and delivery.  If this is what we need to do, it’s what we need to do.”  The happy post-birth hormones were wonderful.

 Norah did end up being transferred to the hospital.  My partner went with her and spent several hours in the NICU holding her and telling her all about the family she had just joined.  I stayed at the birth center to get cleaned up and to rest.  My pulse rate was really high for hours after the birth so I too was transferred to the hospital.  I had great nurses at the hospital who let me sleep in the baby’s room in the NICU.  One nurse even came to me in the middle of the night to take my vitals so that I wouldn’t have to leave Norah.  I spent the night nursing and cuddling my new, perfect little baby.

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Although I was sad about being transferred to the hospital and especially about missing those several hours with Norah after birth, I’m glad that our midwife did what was best for us.  Neither of us needed any medical intervention aside from monitoring, and we were sent home the next day.  I am forever grateful that we were able to birth the baby at the birth center and not in a hospital, but I am also thankful that we were taken to the hospital when we needed it.  It will always be a somewhat bittersweet ending to our birth story, but luckily it is just the start of our lifetime with Baby Norah.

I am so grateful for the amazing and empowering birth experience we had.  Sometimes when I’m sitting and nursing Norah I start to daydream about her birth, about pushing her out, and about seeing her for the first time.  It is the single most amazing experience of my life so far.  The fact that I birthed a baby makes me feel fierce.  It makes me feel like I can be a good parent, because if I am strong enough to birth a baby, I am strong enough to face anything that life sends my way.