Two of My Birth Stories
by Tara Garner
© 2014 Midwifery Today, Inc. All rights reserved.
[Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 111, Autumn 2014.]
May 21, 2010 • 5:18 am
I was eight days past my ultrasound due date and two days past my LMP due date.
My family had a lovely dinner planned at our house that evening with my parents and close childhood friends. It was overcast and drizzling outside, so my dad fired up the barbie right there to grill steaks on our covered front porch, like true country folk.
While we were enjoying the spread and each other’s company, a breathtaking rainbow appeared for us all to admire. Its arc shone directly over our house and was visible from end to end. Aside from the usual thrills a rainbow elicits, this one had us especially stirring after we recalled several conversations that had taken place earlier that week with my son Justice about his desire to see a rainbow “in real life.” Justice was blessed that evening with a real-life rainbow and it, along with his awe-inspired reaction, was magnificent.
[Photo by Gregg Garner mynovabirth.com]
The rainbow made me feel remembered by God. He remembered my pain and grief from miscarriages. He remembered my hope for a bigger family, and he was letting me know that my healing was about to begin.
As my contractions grew closer and stronger, I had less and less to contribute to the table conversation. I sneaked off upstairs and began preparing our bedroom for our long awaited homebirth.
Gregg joined me upstairs and started doing his main job: birth pool set-up. Soon word made it downstairs that I was in true labor, and everyone began helping to set things up. Emotions were high and anticipatory. I called my midwife and asked her to come see how I was progressing. By the time she arrived, it was 9:10 pm. I was 5.5 cm dilated, 80% effaced and baby was at -1 station.
I enjoyed many good moments of just breathing, relaxing and letting my body work to move my baby down. I was so grateful to be doing this work in the privacy of my own bedroom, surrounded by those who love me most. No uncomfortable drive to a hospital. No paperwork to sign. No admitting questions to answer. No nurses to subvert. No unnecessary routine interventions to decline. No risk of intruders. No fear.
While the birth tub was being filled, I wanted to get alone and relax to my labor music playlist, so I took a bath to focus on connecting with my body and my baby. I sang through each contraction. After about 45 minutes, I got out and labored on my birth ball and on hands and knees, as these two positions felt best.
My midwives assured me that baby was in an ideal position for birth, which I was thrilled to hear after having only experienced posterior babies in labor. Despite baby’s optimal position, my hips and back were aching. I wanted hard counter-pressure, then light counter-pressure, then no counter-pressure. It was as though my baby filled every single millimeter of space within my pelvis and was spreading my bones as it made its way down the path. The pressure then began to radiate down my hips and thighs. I had never before experienced such intense, all-consuming pressure with my other births.
After laboring outside the water for an hour or so, I finally got into the awaiting birth tub…aaaahh—instant relief ensued. My midwives rhythmically poured hot water over my back and hips and it melted away my tension.
Transition hit fast and lasted long. My dear midwife held me together in so many ways. It took every bit of will power within me to relax my pelvic floor muscles against the pressure of my descending baby. I drew great strength from my midwife’s loving embrace of my vulnerability and weakness. I really didn’t think I could keep going. I was in complete shock with how much pain I had to cope with. I would labor in the water then have a few contractions on the toilet and then go back to the water.
[Photo by Jennifer Nyago mynovabirth.com]
I asked the midwives to break my water hoping this might help move things along. They supported me in this and soon afterwards, I was measuring 9 cm. Hearing I was this far dilated was sweet music to my cervix, and it gave me the second wind I needed; I saw the finish line. I had expected my third birth to be my quickest, easiest and most gentle birth, so when it wasn’t going accordingly, it threw me off my intuitive rocker.
The intensity went to a whole new level as an anterior lip on my cervix began to prolong progress even more. Nothing, not counter pressure, not the double hip squeeze nor the water was relief enough for me. I so badly wanted to push through the pressure I was feeling. My midwife kept checking to see if my cervical lip was gone so that I could officially begin pushing, and soon it was.
For the next and last hour of my labor, I tried pushing my baby out using all the strength I could muster. This baby required no simple bearing down effort. I was pushing through each contraction with all my might and to no avail. After a few progress-less pushes, I knew something was not right. I blurted out, “He’s not coming.” The word that kept flashing across the screen of my mind was, “This is impossible.” My body and even my words (unknowingly in the moment) were letting everyone involved know this second stage of birth was not normal.
It was quite difficult to find resistance in the water to push against. Standing behind me from outside the birth pool, Gregg helped hold my legs back as I tried pushing in a suspended squat in the water. I tried pushing on all fours, but eventually went back to a squat. Nothing felt right, and I really believed, despite all my childbirth education and faith in the birth process, that nothing was going to bring this baby down. It just wasn’t happening.
Suddenly, I had a successful contraction and felt the baby move down. Baby’s head partially became visible, but only up to his ears. With each pushing contraction my baby’s head would inch forward then backward, ultimately inching nowhere at all.
With everything in me I pushed, well knowing how crucial this moment was for my baby. I never thought I had it in me to be so loud. I felt like some kind of birth dragon monster breathing out fire with each outward primordial roar.
The midwife tried feeling for baby’s anterior shoulder and could only feel a very stretched-out neck. Baby’s shoulder was wedged behind my pubic bone. While simultaneously feeling for and hoping to find the shoulder, an audible countdown by the midwives began on the amount of time baby’s head was at my perineum. Thirty seconds. I was now being seriously urged by both midwives to get this baby out. Forty-five seconds. With everything in me I pushed, well knowing how crucial this moment was for my baby. I never thought I had it in me to be so loud. I felt like some kind of birth dragon monster breathing out fire with each outward primordial roar.
One of the midwives then instructed my husband and doula to pull my legs all the way up to my ears (McRoberts maneuver) hoping this position would dislodge the shoulder. One minute. “Flip her!” Like some kind of acrobatic circus star, I was being flipped in mid-air onto my hands and knees in the pool (Gaskin maneuver).
At 5:18 am, with both hands acting as human forceps, my midwife reached inside me to dislodge the shoulder and pulled my baby out of me with tremendous force. I will never forget feeling my baby being wrenched from my body. It was the most unnatural feeling in the world, and it hurt.
The midwife dislodged the shoulder and exclaimed, “I got it!” and immediately gave our baby to Gregg. Nearly breathless with great emotion, he announced, “It’s a boy!” There I lay, hung over the side of the birth pool sobbing tears of relief, joy, shock and pain. The celebratory voice of my daughter saying, “It’s Xavier!” jolted me from my trance and when I turned around to see Xavier Qodesh, I became whole. He was the most beautiful sight of hope and life and health I had ever laid eyes on. I couldn’t believe he was here, and he was ours.
Justice proudly cut his brother’s cord, and as I sat in the warm pool adoring our new son, my hips and back continued aching as if he were still inside me. They ached for days after the birth. Xavier weighed 9 lb 12 oz and measured 21.5 in long. I could not believe those numbers! I gave birth to a near 10-pound baby! I will never cease to be amazed at the power of birth and the strength of women in birth.
Xavier means “new house” and Qodesh means “holy.” His birth forever changed me and is set apart in so many ways—life after two losses, a homebirth, our uncircumcised son and largest baby born to date. The day he was born marked the three-year anniversary of my first miscarriage. Just like those two enveloping rainbows, this was no random fluke. When we realized this very personal coincidence, Gregg and I just held each other and wept over our son, thanking God together.
Malayah Alexia Karise
January 13, 2013 • 4:19 pm
Before I got pregnant, my entire family was in consensus about wanting a little sister, so you can just imagine the wild amounts of celebrating that occurred when we found out we were having a girl. We would get lost in conversation imagining the gifted and vibrant little being waiting womb-side to meet the five obnoxious voices she was hearing constantly.
[Photo by Gregg Garner mynovabirth.com]
My midwife Kathy was exactly who I needed for my daughter’s pregnancy and birth. Besides vaginal varicose veins and a hemorrhoid from Hell toward the end, it was an uneventful pregnancy. Kathy came to my home for every prenatal and, most importantly, lent me a compassionate ear. Kathy made me feel loved, believed in and supported. It was the combination of her midwifery skill, wisdom and faith that drew me to her.
On the evening of January 11, I noticed contractions coming quite sporadically. In the midst of noticing my surges, I unexpectedly came across adult lice in Xavier’s hair, Justice’s hair and…my hair! My friend Ashley made an emergency run to the store to get us delousing treatment, and I called Gregg in frantic tears, begging him to come home early to pick these disgusting buggers out of my hair! We were up until 2:15 am picking and combing and picking some more. My contractions continued every 15 minutes.
Once in bed, I was awoken by several contractions—they were strong, but still spaced apart. I also had tons of bloody show throughout the night. With my other babies, when labor had started it was active right away. I was unfamiliar with this easing-into-labor kind of experience.
The next morning, my friend Jaimee came to give me a relaxing massage. I had about three contractions while on the massage table. The massage felt like heaven after a night of delousing, contracting, little sleep and much anticipation.
My husband and I decided to take the kids to the mall for lunch. The contractions continued every 10–15 minutes. My mother’s intuition was telling me this was our last outing as a family of five. I relished the moments, soaking in my husband’s ability to care for all of us so purely—he has managed to become a more selfless, attuned and affectionate father with each child we’ve been given. I took snapshot moments with my mind, savoring the older kids and their all-too-quickly maturing faces and voices and their dynamically developing personalities. Life was about to forever change, again, and become better than we had yet known or could ever imagine. I was treading those familiar and transformative waters of that sacred rite of passage: my birth as a mother of four.
Time seemed to almost stand still those last few hours and I felt so much gratitude and joy for the past two-and-a-half years we had had getting to know our youngest child, Xavier Qodesh. His life has brought an overwhelming amount of happiness to our family on a daily basis. There’s honestly no way to be sad or mad or even distracted for too long when he is around.
With the next push, some other force of nature took over. My brain powered off and a commanding fetal-ejection reflex turned on. With both hands, I instinctually clutched the headboard of my bed.
After a traumatic shoulder dystocia birth experience with Xavier, I struggled to accept or fully process my fear and trauma concerning having more children. Everyone who knew me knew that I had always desired a large family, yet his birth experience was enough to change all that for me. Fear can do that to people—really change them, paralyze them and keep them from tasting the life that exists past fear’s haunting gates.
Eleven months after Xavier’s birth, I attended a midwifery conference where I met veteran midwife Mary Cooper. During a session on shoulder dystocia, she asked me to stand up and share my experience with an entire room of birth workers. That day marked the beginning of my journey facing fear in the face and recognizing the trauma that was buried deep in my nervous system.
Mary looked me in the eyes and thanked me for sharing my story. Then, with so much love, she said, “Tara, I believe you will give birth again. You have to keep sharing your story. Every time you share your story, it defuses the fear.”
Mary’s love and faith impacted me that day on a deep level. Her words and the safe forum she provided for me to tell my story before a room of listening ears liberated me, freeing me to start the healing process. In fact, I have now spoken the same exact life-giving words to many other mothers I have served in birth—mothers who, like me, needed to share their story in order to defuse fear and move forward.
At 6 pm I took a shower and then tried to lie down for a power nap. I rested but was jolted by contractions that came every 10–25 minutes. Gregg had my postpartum doula, Megan, spend the night assuming he would likely need her help managing the kids in the morning.
By 3:30 am, the pressure was increasing and I could no longer rest or lie down at all with the contractions. I was working hard to breathe through them and started low moaning for relief. It was time to call the birth team. My midwife and doula arrived within the hour.
Around 7 am, lightning struck, followed by the loudest thunder crash I have ever heard. It shook and echoed through the walls of our house as if to mirror the peaking power of my contractions. I surrendered my way up and over every contraction. The longer and stronger the surge, the louder and longer my moans became and the deeper the surrender. My oldest daughter Genesis came in to give me an extra dose of oxytocin with a kiss and a hug.
At noon some powerful surges took me to my birth tub of refuge. I needed less counter-pressure on my back and hips, but more emotional support to take each contraction one at a time. The pressure with each contraction started increasing greatly.
By 1 pm, I started sounding a little “pushy” with contractions, and I remember telling Kathy in a calm, matter-of-fact tone, “Okay, I’m ready to push now.” I think she knew I needed to make that resolve with my mind and heart before allowing my body to do it. Although I wasn’t thinking of my previous birth experience in the middle of this labor, I do believe my body’s muscle memory was slow to surrender to this stage of my labor. This was all part of my healing process.
I was still pushing at 3:45 pm and was really struggling to find a good position in order to get enough power behind my pushes. I tried pushing while squatting, on hands and knees, standing and leaning over the bed. I was tired. After the birth, Kathy told me that at this point in my labor, I wasn’t really pushing to move the baby down, but she sensed in me and my pushes an apprehension and knew she had to let me overcome it on my own, and that’s just what she did. She was so “hands off” but all “heart in”—this empowering and loving support is what I needed to push my daughter into this world. Kathy also thought the baby’s head was coming slightly tilted (asynclitic), which was contributing to a slower, more painful progress.
By 4:08 pm, the baby was close to crowning and I wanted to get on the bed and push lying on my side. My doula helped hold my top leg while Kathy and my friend Celesta (who was assisting Kathy ever so discreetly and respectfully) were quietly encouraging me verbally.
I asked Kathy to give me counter pressure with my pushes so I did not waste a single contraction. I needed progress; I needed this baby out. She helped me and at the peak of a strong contraction, a fluid-filled water balloon emerged out of me! Everyone enjoyed that unexpected and funny moment. My husband was giddily taking photos and encouraging me for the last push.
With the next push, some other force of nature took over. My brain powered off and a commanding fetal-ejection reflex turned on. With both hands, I instinctually clutched the headboard of my bed. My hips and butt lifted up off the bed while my body launched my daughter out of me, faster than I could make any sense of it or get the kids in the room to witness it. It was as if her head hit a trampoline in my pelvic floor propelling her right out! There was no easing her out; she blasted out of me and there was no stopping her.
I knew without a doubt that because she had emerged so fast that I had severely torn, but that was not the case. For the first time in all my births, I had not a single vaginal tear! This was miraculous. No, this was physiological! The fetus ejection reflex preserved my perineum. Not enough birthing women get to experience this reflex, usually because their brain is being over-activated and/or their labors are interfered with.
My baby girl was so chubby and my cheesiest baby yet, covered from head to toe in God’s natural bacteria-fighting baby lotion—vernix! I was getting in some precious snuggles when my older children rushed into the room. The kids were celebrating, fist pumping and relishing in the sight of their little sister. My husband was still snapping photos and doing this happy laugh/cry thing he does every time I give birth. It’s like a floodgate release of all the emotions he goes through when watching me labor life into the world. I really love the way he loves me and all our babies.
The amount of support I felt surrounded with that day so that I could give birth in safety and peace, loved and unhindered was truly a gift—an empowering experience that my heart wishes for every mother in this world to have when doing the greatest work of their life. I felt like a warrior. I had come full circle on this journey through fear, trauma and doubt, and there I stood looking behind me, past those haunting gates that tried to keep me from experiencing this unspeakable joy again—the joy of bringing a life into the world. I am so glad I didn’t allow fear to stop me from meeting this little human that will only make our lives richer. I am so thankful I defused the fear by telling (and re-telling) my story. I am a warrior. I am an overcomer. I am a mother.
Tara Garner, her husband and their four children live in Nashville, Tennessee. Tara is a doula, childbirth educator and birth photographer. She founded an education training program at Global Outreach Developments International that equips birth workers to serve families in the developing world. She is also director of NOVA Birth Services, which provides education, doula support massage and artistic services to expecting families in Tennessee.
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