Thank you to Shawna for sharing her birth story and slideshow with us–and to her photographer Chanda Willams who took the images found below. You can see more of Chanda’s work on her website at Beauty of Birth.
On September 21st, 2009 I became a mother for the first time after a ‘glowing’ 39 weeks of pregnancy. My son came into the world in a birth pool, in a hospital, after 3 short pushes and 16 hours of labor. It wasn’t easy, but I would not have described it as painful. Intense pressure, that for a short time felt almost unbearable – but not painful. I was knocked off my axis in the wake of his birth. I had no idea how powerful an experience it would be to grow and deliver a human being from my body.
Fast forward to July 17th, 2011. That morning I woke up with another hot ‘temp’ to plot on my FertilityFriend chart. Despite suspicions I may have been pregnant, I competed in my last sprint triathlon of the summer and had my strongest race of the season finishing 3rd in my age group. The next day I took a pregnancy test and discovered I had not been alone on race day. I would have a daughter 9 months later.
The second pregnancy was a total 180 from my first. I was determined to stay as fit as possible and continue my run/bike/swim routine for as long as the pregnancy allowed. At 20 weeks, albeit slow as molasses, I was averaging 15 running miles a week and even pulled off a 11 mile long run as I fantasized about participating in a half marathon at Thanksgiving. At 21 weeks, as I headed out for a short 3 mile run, my body said “Umm, No.” After several days of attempted runs that ended with painful contractions, it was clear my little rider-friend was no longer in to it. From then on it was all downhill.
The second half of my pregnancy was miserable. She was posterior, I felt like I was carrying a litter of pups with all her movement, I had to have bi-weekly chiropractic visits because my lower back chronically ached, Braxton Hicks constantly, and as I entered my third trimester I began feeling as though each additional week of pregnancy was a punishment and not a blessing. I was The Anti-Glow.
At 37 weeks she was breech. So Breech Madness 2012 ensued. I was swimming a mile twice a week, sitting on my birth ball, doing inversions, and Moxibustion, and Webster, and frozen peas, and you name it. And she got it sorted out eventually. Like everyone said she would. Thank goodness.
As my 39th week approached I began the eager anticipation of the onset of labor. Second babies often came even earlier than firsts – RIGHT? Perhaps only to people who don’t complain about their pregnancies, because at 41 weeks I was eating eggplant parmesan and doing ridiculous labor inducing type things like having sex (which at that point was about as exciting an idea as a having a root canal). At 41 weeks and 4 days I finally went in to labor.
After an uncomplicated textbook labor and delivery with my son, I had decided on a homebirth for my second.
On the evening of April 10th, 2012 I began having contractions around 8pm. They were pretty spaced out until about 9:30pm when I started timing them. They varied between 4-6mins apart but were pretty manageable. I began emailing my midwife to let her know. Around 11pm I emailed that the contractions were getting a little stronger. It was then that I was pretty confident I was going to be having a baby. Around 11:30pm my midwife arrived.
Shortly after she came, around midnight the contractions began to come more like every 2mins. By 1am I asked her to check me, and I was 4cm dilated. At that point I texted my photographer and doula and the other midwives were all called in.
My husband filled the tub because the contractions had bumped up a notch after I was checked. They suddenly felt much more intense and I wanted to get in the water and get comfortable so I could begin using my hypnobirthing tracks. It was clear that I needed to begin focusing.
However, Ms. Amelie was in the fast lane. A short 2 hours of sitting in tub and I was being rocked by the contractions. I gave up on the hypno tracks – I couldn’t get comfortable – and was having to vocalize through the contractions to manage the pain. Around 3am I asked to be checked and I was 9-10cm dilated and told I could push if I wanted to. Boy was I ever ready.
Pushing was awful. With my son, I never had the urge to push and bearing down on top of contractions just hurt terribly. But it was over quickly. A half hour tops. With Amelie I also never had a real strong ‘urge’ and I just kept wasting the contractions by blowing all my air out instead of down. I just remember so much pain. Not the kind of pain that had me panicked or feeling as though I needed to go to the hospital, or even needed pain-relief – I knew I just had to bear thru it. Everything hurt. My whole body from the waist down just ached. The contractions were so intense.
After a good half hour or more of pushing in the tub I felt a strong desire to get out. I was hot, exhausted, antsy, and longing for a position that would offer some relief or help me work with my contractions more efficiently. But I could barely stand up. It was too painful. It took my husband holding me up, three midwives and my doula to coach me out of that tub because it felt like an impossible feat for me. And I was beginning to feel defeated. I was so tired. I was so ready to be done. I wanted her OUT.
Somehow I finally made it to the bed. Rolled on to my back after hands and knees just about slayed me – and went to the old legs behind head position. So odd how natural that feels to me…it’s how I pushed with my son also. I knew she was slightly posterior for the better part of my pregnancy and it crossed my mind on several occasions that her positioning might have been why things felt so much more painful to me. I had hoped the hands and knees position would have offered some relief because everything I’d read suggested so. It did not. At all.
So then I pushed and pushed and pushed. And I hated every minute of it. Every contraction of it. It wasn’t until my husband began really coaching in my ear that I finally started making some progress. It was tough love coaching. Like “Look, if you want this baby out you are going to have to start pushing harder/longer.” There was no breathing this baby down. And I wasn’t willing to labor all the contractions it might have taken for my body to get there on its own. I was so over it.
On April 11, 2012 at 4:13am, my daughter, Amelie Josephine, was born in my bed 7lbs 5oz – sunny side up! Such sweet relief! And I am pretty sure I said I was never ever doing that again. But naturally, only 3 weeks later – I would totally do it again.
Sidenote: Hypnobirthing is near impossible to channel when your labor goes from 0-60 in 3 hours.
Sidenote 2: I love my dear friend and midwife who delivered my daughter and was also present for my son’s birth. I love my doula, present for both my labors. I love the two other midwives who by their attendance ensured that we would have a safe and well supported homebirth experience. I cannot stress enough the importance of positive, experienced, and loving labor support. It is priceless. I am eternally grateful for their love and dedication to women and their babies.
Sidenote 3: Last but certainly not least, I am so profoundly moved by the images my friend and photographer, Chanda Williams, captured during my daughters birth. Not only because it offered a perspective of my labor experience that I’d have otherwise never known transpired in those hours, but because of the powerful message it stands to deliver. It is my hope that by sharing these pictures with others I can do my part to help normalize healthy, safe, natural birthing. That we will some day be accustomed to and comfortable with the truth that not only is a woman very capable of birthing her baby without intervention – it is what she was created to do. And finally, that the female body can be as openly accepted, celebrated, and respected for the awesome job it performs delivering babies, as it is more often exploited in its ability to make them.
Melanie Mayo-Laakso is the Content Manager for Mothering.com. Mothering is the birthplace of natural family living and attachment parenting. We celebrate the experience of parenthood as worthy of one's best efforts and are at once fierce advocates for children and gentle supporters of parents.