natural birth

The Top Five Fears about Having a Natural Birth

Natural Water Birth

While birth is a natural and normal experience that a woman’s body is created to do, it is common and expected to have fears leading up to your delivery. You may be feeling anxious about your ability to handle the pain, or wondering what will happen if something goes wrong. You may be worried about how you will recover from pushing a 7-10 pound baby out of your body and what you will feel like afterward. Rest assured these fears are not only normal but even healthy when they motivate you to better prepare for the experience. Here are the five most common fears about having a natural birth and how to alleviate them as best as possible. 

  1. What if I tear? Unfortunately, the chances of tearing when having a vaginal birth are high, about 90 percent. The good news is that about 99 percent of those tears are minor and superficial, requiring only a couple of stitches if any at all. While tearing may be inevitable for most women, there are some ways you can help prepare your body for the big task of pushing baby out and reduce the chances of more severe vaginal trauma. These techniques include doing your pelvic floor exercises regularly, practicing perineal massage, laboring in water, choosing a birthing position that aids in baby’s exit, placing a warm compress on the perineum when crowning begins and following your body’s lead and natural instincts when it comes to pushing. Even if you do experience some tearing or the need for a few stitches, your vagina and perineum will heal in about a week to ten days.
  2. What if I can’t handle the pain? While we won’t say that you’ll experience a pain-free childbirth, we can say that there are certainly ways to prepare yourself for the experience and natural ways to manage pain during labor and delivery. These ways include: 
    • Surrounding yourself with loving and supportive people who can help you stick to your wishes of a natural birth and provide any assistance you may need during labor and delivery. 
    • Hiring a doula to assist in your birth. Women who have delivered with the support of a doula report having less overall pain and fewer interventions.
    • Using any number of natural labor pain management techniques including massage, hypnosis, acupressure, laboring in water, guided relaxation, breathing exercises, and even the use of nitrous oxide to give you some temporary relief.
    • Prepare ahead of time. Whether this involves writing a birth plan, taking birthing classes, or having your partner learn special massage techniques, take the time to prepare for your birth as you would any other major event in your life.
    • Lastly, remember that your body was miraculously designed for the job of delivering your baby so you are already more prepared than you realize.
  3. What if I don’t make it to the hospital or birth center in time? While just about every movie that contains a birth scene depicts a woman frantically racing into the hospital in the 11th hour being rushed into the delivery room right in the nick of time, in real life labor takes time. In fact, the average amount of time active labor takes is about 8 hours and perhaps even longer if it’s your first. More likely than not, you will have plenty of time to get where you need to be for your delivery and probably even enough time to check over your bag, take a shower and drop the dogs or other kids off with a neighbor or grandparents. Not to mention, you will likely also have plenty of warning signs that baby is preparing to make his debut from intense cramping and contractions to back pain and possibly even your water breaking.
  4. What if I poop during the delivery? You may not have voiced this concern to your care provider yet but we know you’re thinking it. All women seem to worry about this one! Having a bowel movement when pushing a baby out is a completely normal and unremarkable thing given the basic physiology of the body. While the thought may horrify you (or your partner) rest assured that your midwives or doctors will not even be the slightest bit phased if you deliver more than you had planned on. If you are feeling particularly anxious about this possibility, try sitting on the toilet in the early phases of labor to empty yourself out before the pushing phase. It’s not uncommon for your midwife to recommend this strategy and it may help circumvent the issue. But, if it does happen, we guarantee you won’t care at all in all the excitement and adrenaline of the moment.
  5. What if something goes wrong? This is a big one for most expectant moms and understandably so. There are so many things that could happen during childbirth and most of them are not things we can plan ahead for. First off, trust that you have surrounded yourself with capable and compassionate professionals who have the best interest of you and your baby at heart. Should complications arise, your birthing team will know what to do and what the next steps should be. Discuss possible obstacles that may arise and how you would like to handle them ahead of time. Learn about what changes to the plan may be made in the event that you or your baby is experiencing any sort of distress. If one of your biggest fears is having a C-section, consider factors such as having a care provider that is supportive of natural birth, using a doula to assist in your birth and delivering outside of a hospital setting--- all which may reduce your chances of it occurring. Try to be flexible going into your delivery. While birth plans are an awesome way to detail your preferences and wishes for your birth experience, it’s important to prepare yourself ahead of time that things may not go exactly as planned.
Natural Birth w/ Midwife

It is completely normal to have fears leading up to childbirth. The best way to address those fears is to educate yourself through speaking with your care providers, taking classes, reading books and talking to friends who have experienced different types of births. It’s also important to familiarize yourself on the reasons why you have decided that you want a natural birth. The ‘why’ behind your desire to deliver your baby naturally will help you find the strength that you’ll need during labor to keep going. Just remember that despite your fears, you are strong, you are able bodied and you were created to do this. For questions about how you can have the natural birth you’ve always wanted contact Health Foundations for a free consultation with a midwife and for a tour of our Birth Center.

What Does a Doula do During Labor

If you are planning on a natural birth, you may be considering having a doula assist you in the birthing process. Whether you will be giving birth in a hospital, birth center or at home, a doula can be a tremendous asset to you and your family during this special time. Doulas are trained professionals who specialize in providing the mother with physical, emotional and educational support before, during and after childbirth. While your midwife or doctor must focus on the medical support you and your baby need during the labor and birthing process, your doula is there to provide continuous reassurance, encouragement, guidance and comfort. Here are just a few ways having a doula during labor can help you create the birth experience you want.

Natural Birth with Doula
  • Doulas are another person on your team that can help ensure that your birth plan is respected. 
  • Particularly in a hospital setting, having a doula as another advocate for you to help make sure that your doctors understand your desire for a natural birth and minimal interventions.
  • Doulas can help you find positions during labor that will ease the pain and ensure optimal fetal positioning for baby. Proper positioning can also help your labor progress smoothly.
  • Doulas can talk you through emotional blockages during the labor process that may affect your decision to continue with a natural birth. Your doula is there to remind you every step of the way that you are strong and capable of your goal of a natural birth.
  • Doulas can help make your birthing environment calming and conducive to a peaceful and memorable birthing experience. This may include utilizing aroma therapy, music you have selected, candles or anything else you feel will make you more comfortable.
  • Doulas can help with your physical comfort during labor by providing massage and other healing touch.
  • Having a doula by your side throughout the entire labor can allow your partner and other family members to relax and enjoy the experience.
  • Doulas can help photograph your birth experience and document your special day.
  • Doulas can provide an objective viewpoint should issues arise and aid you and your partner in making informed decisions that are consistent with your values and wishes for your birth experience.
  • Your doula will provide continuous reassurance and encouragement for you from start to finish, beginning before labor begins and continuing often well into your postpartum period.
  • Doulas help aid in the communication between you and your partner and your care providers.
  • Your doula can help your partner be involved in your labor at his or her own comfort level.

At Health Foundations, we have a very special opportunity for our families to work with one of our specially trained Doula Interns for free. These doulas are women who have completed their training with our Birth Center and are seeking to assist births as part of their certification process. You can visit the doula page to view the profiles of our doulas and can elect to interview potential candidates before deciding who will attend your birth. To learn more about having a natural birth with our midwives and doulas, contact Health Foundations for a free consultation with a midwife and a tour of Birth Center.

Creating Your Natural Birth Plan

There are many factors to consider as you prepare for the birth of your baby and one important step is taking the time to create a written copy of your natural birth plan. A birth plan is a document that describes your expectations and wishes for the way that you would like your birthing experience to unfold. Although changes may arise and it is important to remain flexible, having a birth plan helps ensure that all of your health care providers know and respect your wishes to the best of their ability. This is particularly important if a natural, unmedicated birth is what you are seeking. The task of writing your natural birth plan may seem overwhelming at first; but let’s take a look at some of the key components you will want to include. 

Birthing Environment:

Your birthing environment and who and what you desire to have in it is an important consideration for your natural birth plan. Some questions to consider about the environment are:

  • What family members do you wish to have present during your labor, the birth and after the baby is born?
  • Do you plan to have a doula?
  • Do you wish to have your birth photographed or videotaped?
  • Are there any comfort objects you would like to have handy such as treasured photographs or a favorite pillow or blanket?
  • Do you want to have music playing? Or silence?
  • Do you wish to have the lights dimmed?
  • Would you like to have access to headphones for music or guided meditation?


Being prepared with ways to make your labor as comfortable and tolerable as possible is an important way to help you achieve your goal of a natural birth. There are many natural techniques that can help alleviate the pain associated with labor that do not include medication or epidurals.  Some questions to be sure your natural birth plan addresses are:

  • What props would you like to have available for labor? (For example: a birthing ball, a squatting bar or a birthing stool)
  • Do you want to be able to labor in water? (For example: in a birthing tub or shower)
  • How do you feel about fetal monitoring? Is it important to you that monitoring only be intermittent to allow you to move around more freely? 
  • What pain management techniques would you like to have available and be supported in using during your labor? (For example: breathing exercises, massage, hypnotherapy, visual imaging, acupressure and guided relaxation)  Nitrous oxide is a great alternative to pain medicine for  those who wish to utilize it during labor. 
  • If your goal is a natural birth and you are delivering in a hospital setting, be sure to address your desire to avoid unnecessary interventions. You may also wish to request that you not be offered any pain medicine unless you specifically ask for it.  

Pushing and the Birth:

Water Birth

In this section of your birthing plan, you should include information about how you would like to be supported during the second stage of labor and the birth of your baby.  Factors to address include:

  • Do you want to be told when to push or allow your body to do it instinctively?
  • Are there ways that you wish to help prepare your body further for delivery such as perineal massage, hot compresses or oils?
  • Do you want to have access to a mirror to see the baby as he is born?
  • Do you want to be able to "catch" the baby when she is born?
  • Think about the things that are important to you is an emergency necessitates a transfer to a hospital or a C-section.
  • If in a hospital setting, how do you feel about the use of instruments such as the vacuum or forceps? How do you feel about the possibility of an episiotomy?
  • Do you wish to allow the placenta to be born spontaneously versus with assistance?

After delivery:

After Birth

Some of your most important wishes for your first moments with baby will likely be included in this section of your natural birthing plan. Questions to consider include:

  • Would you like to have immediate skin-to-skin contact with your baby? Skin-to-skin contact during the first moments of life has been found to be one of the most important things you can do for your newborn. Learn more about the importance of the skin-to-skin practice
  • Would you like to delay the process of cord clamping to allow time for extra blood flow from the placenta?
  • Would you like to delay routine procedures such as eye drops, a bath, and the vitamin K injection to allow you to have time to bond with your baby?
  • Are there any routine procedures that you do not wish to have done to your baby?
  • Do you wish to save the placenta for encapsulation or other purposes?
  • In the event of an emergency C-section, who would you like to have stay with your baby until you are able to hold him? Do you wish for your partner to have immediate skin-to-skin contact?

As you can see, there are many factors to consider when writing your natural birth plan. Be sure to keep your plan direct and concise, so that anyone who is on your birth team can clearly understand your wishes. Print several copies of this document and have them available for doctors, midwives, nurses and family members on the day of your delivery. In addition to having a written birth plan, it is also important to choose health care providers that support and uphold the value of the natural birth process. Statistics show that approximately 85 % of mothers are capable of having a successful, unmedicated birth. The other 15 percent represent those who have high risk pregnancies and other complications.  

At the Health Foundations, we strive to encourage, nurture and support you in your desire to bring your baby into the world in the most natural way possible. We are confident that the sense of accomplishment you will feel when holding your wonderfully alert baby in your arms will be well worth your amazing efforts. Contact Health Foundations to learn more about planning your natural birth and to schedule a free consultation with a midwife or a tour of our Birth Center.

What is a Midwife?

Midwife Kat

Wondering if midwifery care is the best option for you?

If you are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant, you may be beginning to explore your options for the type of birth you would like to have. You probably have friends who have given birth in hospitals and may also know people who have used midwives or even had home births. But what exactly is a midwife and how does one compare to a doctor? Good question!

Simply put, midwives care for the well-being of mothers and infants during the prenatal, birthing and postnatal periods. Although in most countries midwives are the primary care providers for pregnant women, in the US they only comprise approximately 10 percent of births. They are responsible for helping mothers sustain healthy pregnancies and have meaningful and safe birth experiences in addition to providing recovery support and infant care. Similar to doctors, midwives are trained to give physical exams, detect complications, order laboratory work and screening tests, and counsel and educate the mother to be. They also are qualified to deliver babies not only in hospitals but also in birthing centers.

Where midwifery is often said to stand apart from standard OB/GYN care is in the level of personalized attention and the ‘woman-centered’ approach. Midwives strive to promote the practice of normal birth that is medication and intervention free. Whereas movies and television tend to sensationalize birth as a painful and dramatic experience in a medical setting, midwives help to facilitate the natural birthing process in a calm and comfortable environment for mom. Because their all-inclusive approach aims to support women physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, midwives play an integral role in not only the life of the mother but also the entire family. 

Unlike doctors, midwives come from a variety of training backgrounds. There are three types of midwives in the US: Certified Professional Midwives, Certified Nurse-Midwives and Direct Entry Midwives

Certified Nurse-Midwives and Certified Professional Midwives are educated in similar extensive training programs requiring graduate level education. CNMs however, have the nursing component in their education and typically only practice in clinical and hospital settings. Certified Professional Midwives specialize in birth outside of hospital settings including home births and independent birthing centers. Both Certified Professional Midwives and Certified Nurse Midwives have met the requirements for certification by their respective Boards, the North American Registry of Midwives and the American College of Nurse Midwives. Direct Entry Midwives however are midwives who have been trained in the discipline through apprenticeship, self-study or a school or program that is specific to the practice of midwifery. All midwives follow a model of care that emphasizes the normalcy of the process of pregnancy and birth and that places the utmost priority on caring for all aspects of the mother’s well-being.

Now that you know what a midwife is and what they do, here are some reasons that this approach to obstetrical care might be for you: 

1. You want a warm and inviting birthing environment 

Health Foundations Birthing Suite

Health Foundations Birthing Suite

With the exception of CNMs, most midwives practice in out-of-hospital settings like birthing centers and private homes. Because of this, your birthing atmosphere is more likely to be homelike, quiet and calm with no beeping.

2. You want more personalized care

Midwives tend to be more intimately involved in your pregnancy and birthing process than doctors. Your midwife will typically spend more time with you to develop your personalized birthing plan and to ensure that you are healthy not only physically, but mentally and emotionally.

3. You want to avoid unnecessary interventions

Often in hospitals if your labor is not progressing quickly enough, they will administer drugs to speed up the process. The drugs can then cause the mother to have more painful contractions that consequently end up leading to the decision to have an epidural. The epidural tends to slow the progress of labor again which can ultimately lead to the decision to perform a C-section. Under the care of a midwife, you will not be rushed through your labor. All efforts will be made to respect your wishes of a natural birth and help you control your pain using alternative methods such as massage, acupressure, showers and baths, homeopathy and changing positions.

4. You want to be able to move around during your labor 

Midwives encourage mothers to try a variety of different positions throughout their labor to ensure that they are comfortable and progressing steadily. In hospitals, you will often be hooked up to IVs and monitors that necessitate staying in your bed. Your midwife will instead monitor your baby intermittently so that you can move about freely while laboring.  

5. You want to know who will be delivering your baby ahead of time

Often with traditional OB/GYN and hospital care, you will not know the doctor who will be on duty the day of your delivery.  Because midwifery care is aimed to be a more personalized experience, your midwife or members of your midwifery team with whom you have already developed a trusting relationship will most certainly be present on the day of your birth. 

Overall, midwives are a great option for women seeking a traditional, natural, and personal birthing experience and who wish to develop a trusting and rewarding relationship with their caregiver. Many midwives also perform regular wellness and primary healthcare that extends beyond the time of your pregnancy and birth. If you are high risk or are experiencing any complications in your pregnancy, consider combining the care of an obstetrician and a midwife. At Health Foundations, you can also elect to experience our Birthing Center’s quality of personalized care in a hospital setting under the care of our own Dr. Dennis Hartung. To learn more about the choice to have a midwife assist you in your pregnancy and birth journey, contact Health Foundations to schedule a consultation or schedule a tour of our Birthing Center.

The team at Health Foundations is seeking to redefine the maternity and women’s health care experience in America. P.S. We're hiring!

see some amazing birth stories:

The birth of baby Abel

Abel’s birth began with a weird itching that I developed around 39 weeks.  Since it was the middle of winter, at first I thought it might just be dry skin.  But then I started to realize that the itching was focused on my palms and the bottoms of my feet.  I would scratch and scratch and scratch and it would feel so good, but there was a dull itch pretty much all of the time. 

At my next midwife appointment I told Monica about the itching.  She told me that my body might be having trouble processing bile and that I should try to avoid fatty foods.  So I did just that.  But then I noticed that the itching was getting worse, especially at night.  A few times during the night it was so bad that it was waking me up.  I remember waking up itching my calves like crazy and thinking that my hairy legs were driving me nuts.  Only in the morning did I put two and two together.

So I decided that I should call in to the midwife and let them know that my itching had gotten worse.  Now, this is something that I wouldn’t normally do.  I normally ignore any health problem as long as possible.  Even as I was calling I was telling myself how silly I was being. “This is no big deal,” I was saying.  “It really hasn’t gotten worse”.  But I listened to my gut and called in anyway (now I feel that was a prompting from God) and was very surprised by the concerned reaction by the nurse on call.  She told me that she would talk to one of the midwives and have them give me a call back.

Later that day I heard back from Amy, the owner of our birth center.  I was surprised that she was the one calling me back.  She hadn’t done any of my prenatals for this pregnancy, so the fact that she was calling made me feel like we were in a potentially serious situation. She explained that she wanted Zach and I to come in that afternoon (this was Wednesday, January 7th and I was due on the 15th) to have my blood drawn in order to figure out what was going on.  I felt validated that I had called in, but also concerned.

When we came in for the blood draw Amy met with us.  She explained that my itchiness was most likely due to a complication called cholestasis where bile isn’t processed correctly in the gallbladder and liver.  The excess bile builds up under the skin and causes the itchiness.  Cholestasis can be dangerous, especially early on in pregnancy because it causes a lot of stress on the mother and the only way to cure it is to deliver the baby. 

After Amy finished explaining, she told us that they would do the blood draw and call me back the next day with the results.  She felt that because I was not acting like the itching was that intense, my levels would probably be low and we could continue my pregnancy as normal.  If they were elevated though we would have to begin a natural induction, which I had gone through with Merritt because he was overdue and was something I did not at all desire to repeat.

The next day, Thursday January 8th, I went to work as normal.  I called in about noon when I hadn’t heard back from the midwives.  The receptionist took a message and told me they would call me back as soon as they had results.  On my drive home I talked with Amy about the results that had come back.  She began to tell me that she was very surprised when my blood work came back because my levels in fact were extremely elevated.  She said that she wanted Zach and I to come to the birth center the next morning with our things because we might me staying awhile.  “Staying?!?” I asked in total shock.  “What do you mean staying?”

I was so surprised and having a really hard time processing what was going on as I was driving.  I pulled into our driveway and Zach was right in front of me going inside with Merritt.  He was mouthing to me to pull into the correct side of the driveway and I was mouthing to him that Amy was on the phone.  Amy explained that because my levels were so elevated she didn’t want me to be pregnant much longer.  We would begin a natural induction the next day in order to make the baby come a little early and take the stress off my body.

I came inside and explained the basics of what was going on to Zach.  We called Amy back and asked a million questions.  Then we proceeded to run around the house, calling family, packing, and all-in-all freaking out.  Since I was thirty-nine weeks we had most everything put together, but suddenly knowing that we would be possibly having the baby the next day made everything much more urgent.  Zach also was not AT ALL prepared to leave work so he had a lot to prep for his sub. We got everything ready in a few hours and then tried to relax for the rest of the night.

The next day we took Mer to day care (our friend Anjela’s) and went into Health Foundations.  When we got there Amy explained that we would first try the Foley catheter to dilate me and hopefully kick start my labor.  I had the catheter inserted with Merritt since he was overdue, so I wasn’t worried.  I just didn’t want to have to drink castor oil.  I was prepared to do almost anything if it meant that I could avoid that.  I remembered from Merritt that having the catheter inserted was slightly painful.  With Abel though, it was really no big deal.  I think I just wasn’t allowing myself to feel sorry for myself and again I was willing to do anything to not have to drink castor oil.

After having the catheter inserted, we had to let it do its thing.  Amy assigned us to walk, and then eat and rest.  She told us to come back to the clinic and check in with her at 3:00pm. We went to Target and did laps around the store since it was too icy to walk outside.  Then we both allowed ourselves to buy whatever we wanted at Target for lunch in order to make the day feel more like a mini-staycation inside of anxious waiting for baby time.  We bought fried chicken, cob salad, asiago cheese rolls and chocolate chip cookies.  We came home and ate in bed and then took a nap together.

We went in at 3:00pm and met with Amy but nothing had really happened.  She told us to come back in the next morning and to call her if the catheter fell out.  By the time that we left the clinic our family had all arrived from Iowa for the birth.  We decided to walk some more and for a change of scenery we went to the Roseville mall.  We met Dick and Kim there and they played with Merritt in the indoor play area while we walked laps. 

Afterwards we went back to our house and ate dinner with my Mom and Dad and my sister Sarah (my sister Natalie was coming up the next morning).  Just as people were starting to leave after dinner, the catheter fell out.  I was excited that I was more dilated, but the same thing had happened with Merritt and hadn’t kick started my labor.  We called Amy and told her what had happened.  She told us to call back if I went into labor during the night or come back in at 9:00am the next morning.  That night Mer went to the hotel with our families, while we tried to relax and stay calm.

The next morning came and I still had no contractions.  We went in to meet with Amy and soon both my sisters were there.  Amy decided that since I was a second time mom, she felt comfortable breaking my water.  I was excited that this was the next step, because I was sure she was going to tell me that we would have to start castor oil.  Amy felt confident that breaking my water would get my labor started.

So I laid down on the bed and Amy attempted to break my water, but had a lot of trouble doing so.  Apparently when you are already in labor breaking your water is easy because with each contraction your water bag bulges out making it very simple to pop.  When you aren’t in labor however, it can actually be really difficult because the bag is is flat against the baby’s head and is akin to hooking a thin film of saran wrap with a crochet hook. 

After a few attempts though, Amy thought that she had popped it but wasn’t sure.  She asked us to go into the shower and do squats for the next thirty minutes or so to put pressure on my water bag and hopefully help it pop.  So, huge and pregnant, I squatted for as long as I could as deeply as I could.  I was so motivated to break my water because, again, I was just trying to avoid castor oil.

After finishing the squats, Amy concluded that my water still hadn’t broken and asked if I wanted to try it again.  I was all for it.  She tried a few more times and then had Rachel (another midwife) try because she has longer fingers.  They both were trying really hard and it was a little painful, but I was totally willing to go for it.  They kept asking if I was okay and I kept giving them a thumbs up because I was still fighting my cough and while I was lying on my back it took everything that I had not going into a coughing fit.  Zach also told them a few times “She’s okay.  She’s tough and she really just doesn’t want to have to do castor oil.”

Still, even with both of them trying, they couldn’t break my water.  Amy commented that I had dilayed to at least five centimeters while trying, but I was still really disheartened and sort of painicky.  I just wanted it to work so badly so I wouldn’t have to do castor oil.  I suggested that maybe we could try moving upstairs and using stirrups to make it easier for them.  Although they didn’t think that the stirrups would have any effect, they thought that maybe being on the hard surface of the exam table would be easier than the bed.  They decided that as long as I was game, they would try one last time.

We went upstairs and Rachel tried to break my water.  She commented that she was very competitive and it was really bothering her that they weren’t getting it. She tried and tried and tried and then Amy tried again and then all of the sudden “Woosh!”.  I could hear and feel the amniotic fluid rush out of me and onto the floor.  I was so relieved.  I saw Amy and Zach look down at the floor with a kind of surprised look on their faces.  I asked them, “Is it a lot?”  Zach replied, “It’s all over the floor and Amy’s pants.” We laughed, and of course Amy and Rachel acted like it was a complete non-issue and covered up the fluid so I wouldn’t see it.

We went back downstairs and I announced to Sarah and Natalie (who had come to the birth center) that they had broken my water.  Then we waited for awhile for contractions to come.  I was feeling restless and asked Amy if walking might help move things along.  We went back to Target for more laps, this time with Sarah, Natalie and both of our moms in tow.   Unlike the day before, the whole scene at Target was crazy.  It was the middle of the day on a Saturday and there were tons of people, samples being passed out, and the Target mascot, Bullseye was walking around.  All the while we were doing laps and I was leaking amniotic fluid.  It was surreal and hysterical.  Since we all couldn’t possibly stay together, Zach and I would walk laps and then pick up Sarah, Natalie or Kim for awhile and then keep walking (my Mom was too busy shopping to do laps).  We even ran into someone that we knew from church and Sarah forced me to take my picture with Bullseye!

After Target we headed home again to rest and eat.  Amy had told us to come back into Health Foundations at 4:00pm if nothing had happened yet.  We were really hoping that I would have some contractions before then but alas, nothing.  My water was broken and I was five centimeter dilated but yet still no contractions.  We went in to meet with Amy and she explained the inevitable next step, castor oil. 

On the way back to the house I let myself feel sorry for myself for the first time and broke down crying.  I just wanted to have the baby without having to start off with chugging that nasty oil and having diarrhea, but I guess that was just not going to happen.  When we got back to the house I tried to collect myself because Zach’s parents and my dad were there watching Merritt.  I walked past them really quickly and went upstairs to eat.  Before taking the castor oil you are supposed to eat a big meal so that you aren’t completely depleted of energy and nutrients during labor.  We ate some really yummy pizza, but I didn’t enjoy it as much because I knew that I’d be having castor oil for dessert. 

Afterwards I went into the bathroom and chugged the castor oil, which is like drinking Vaseline.  It coats your mouth and lips and instantly makes you feel sick to your stomach (it’s making me feel sick to mine thinking about it right now) even though the diarrhea that it causes takes longer to start.  During this time Zach had told our family to all leave and head back to their hotel (you don’t really want to have diarrhea in front of a crowd).  I could hear my sisters leaving and I got really sad.  I so wanted to be with them but instead I was in bed with the beginnings of diarrhea.  I was also pregnant and emotional and wishing we could have more time together.

Soon I was pretty miserable but still not having contractions.  You take the castor oil and the homeopathic tinctures in two rounds.  Meaning you take the first round and then every fifteen minutes you either take a tincture or a homeopathic and that goes on for about two hours.  Afterwards you are directed to call the midwives.  When we called Amy to tell her we had finished the first round she told us we could go ahead and start the second (which is the whole process repeated again) as soon as we were ready.  She also said that we could wait a little bit if we want to though and have a snack. 

Well, I was definitely not ready.  With Merritt I had just chugged my second round of castor oil and then about fifteen minutes later I was in labor.  I did not want that to be the case again.  Zach gently pushed me to take the second round right away and I flatly refused.  He obliged, but set a time to start in fifteen minutes.  I know he was just trying to support me to do something that I didn’t want to but had to do, but still I was thinking, “No I’m not. Yeah, it’s easy for you to say fifteen minutes.  You don’t have to take the stuff.”  I just was hoping against hope that I would have a contraction and I wouldn’t have to do the second round.  And it’s not just about the taste (which is horrible), it’s about the fact that you feel so sick at the time so the thought of actively drinking something that you know will just make you more sick is just appalling.  So when fifteen minutes came and Zach said, “Okay, let’s go.”  I said, “No, just five more minutes,” in a super pathetic voice and he relented.  And then…

Ah, the first contraction!  It’s was so awesome!  I was so freaking proud of myself!  “I knew it! I knew!” I kept saying in my head.  “I knew that if I just waited long enough I would have a contraction and I wouldn’t have to take the castor oil again!”  Then there was another contraction and I told Zach I was sure these were contractions and that he should start timing them.  It was 8:30pm.  He called Amy to tell her that my labor had started.  She said to call her back when the contractions became more intense. I had one or two more contractions in the bed and then I had to stand up and lean against the wall in our bedroom as they were getting more painful. 

After the next contraction, I moved to the toilet and Zach called Amy again.  She made a plan to meet us at the birth center at 9:30pm.  Zach told me “Let’s do five more contractions here and then start to get ready to go.”  I agreed but didn’t think that I could wait.  The contractions were almost instantly really intense.  I had one more contraction and said, “No, we need to go now”.  Zach tried to stay with me and I ordered him to get things ready so we could leave more quickly.  I made it down to our entryway before I had another contraction against the wall. Zach was scurrying around putting Sitka (our Huskey) in his kennel and putting the chairs up on the couches so that Juneau (our Golden Retriever/Huskey mix) wouldn’t get up on them while we were gone.  Even in labor I made sure to tell him to do that!

Zach helped me put on my boots and I made it until the car before I had another contraction.  Zach went to comfort me but I told him to start the car.  I just wanted to get to the birth center.  Reflecting on it now, I think my body was telling me I needed to get to the birth center quickly.  I remember the contraction that I had against the car so clearly.  I was so dark, quiet and cold outside.  I had started moaning to help me relax through the pain and I remember wondering if any of our neighbors could hear me. I was surreal and beautiful and odd.

We got in the car and I urged Zach to drive faster, although he was trying to drive carefully so the ride wouldn’t be too bumpy.  I had a couple more contractions in the car which were very painful.  I hate being in the car while in labor because you can’t lean against anything to mitigate the pain.  I really feel for any women who have to drive long distances while in labor.

We arrived at the birth center, I walked in and immediately read the clock, 9:15pm. 

I labored on the toilet for a few contractions.  I was already naked, on the toilet backwards, moaning loudly.  Amy and Sophie immediately started to fill the tub.  My contractions were very intense.  I started thinking, “Either I’m really close to having the baby or I’m not and I need to get on top of these,” because they were overwhelming and very painful. 

During this time all the women in our family arrived for the birth.  My sister Natalie, who had been my de facto doula during Mer’s birth, immediately came back and checked on me.  I later learned that she then went back to our moms and Sarah andreported that I was very close which she knew from listening to how I was breathing.

The pain was really bad then and I was trying to figure out some way that I could get on top of it.  I asked if I could get in the shower because I remembered that feeling so good during Merritt’s birth.  Amy said of course but suggested that I could get into the tub instead.  I knew that they usually wait to let you get into the tub until you’re farther along in your labor. So when she said I could get in that’s when I really started to let myself believe what I had known from about my fifth contraction, this labor was moving REALLY FAST and I was already towards the end. 

In the tub I felt like I was in a movie.  I was so aware and I was talking a lot.  With Merritt I had so much more time to get in the zone and I felt like I was in a dream, but this time I could see and process everything and everyone.  I felt a little silly like I needed to perform and have the baby quickly because my family was all watching and wouldn’t that just be so convenient for them.  As soon as I had these thoughts though I tried to push them out of my mind and focus on what I was doing.

Pretty soon I told Amy that I felt like I was going to poop, or maybe I needed to push.  I knew that I needed to push, but I just always doubt myself in order to not get my hopes up.  Amy told me that it was fine if I pooped and assured me that it wouldn’t hurt the baby to poop in the water (which I was nervous about) but also said that she would check me to see if I was ready to push.  She did and confirmed that I was.

So I started pushing.  I had a lot of emotions flowing through me with all the hormones.  At one moment in between contractions I broke into an intense looking cry.  I could immediately see that my family was worried so I started saying, “I’m happy.  I’m happy” and Zach repeated what I was saying loudly.  Then I tried to explain that I was thinking about how much I loved Merritt and that I was about to have another baby and that I would feel that same way about him or her.  I thought I was making perfect sense but when Natalie repeated back what she thought I was saying, it wasn’t what I had intended.  I got really frustrated because to me I was speaking completely normally.  Zach understood what I was trying to say and translated for me.  Later he told me that I wasn’t making much sense at all.

Pushing went extremely quickly and in about five pushes Abel was out.  It was 9:56pm and I had been in labor for only about an hour and a half!  Zach caught him and I held him in my arms.  I announced to everyone that he was a boy and his name was Abel.  Then I specially addressed my mother-in-law, Kim, when I announced his middle name, Matthew, because that is Zach’s brother’s name.

Abel was bluish when he was born and needed to be given oxygen through a hand pump.  It made the first few moments of his life a little more worrisome.  Amy was giving him the oxygen and I told her, “Amy, is he okay?  I really can’t enjoy him until you tell me he’s okay.”  She told me that he would be fine and in a few minutes his coloring was normal.

I stepped out of the tub and went to the bed to deliver the placenta which came out pretty easily.  I was shaking really badly which I didn’t enjoy, because it made me look and feel weak.  My family thought that I was cold, which I did feel cold but the real reason that I was shaking was because of adrenaline. My body had produced adrenaline to help me through the birth, but because of my extremely short labor I ended up not using it.  The shaking continued for a long time.

I had a small tear that didn’t need to be sewn up which I was happy about.  Amy thought that the tear was probably caused by Abel’s hand that was curled up by his head when he came out.  I nursed Abel right away and he was a very good nurser right from the beginning.  Nursing him was a good distraction because then I began to bleed. 

At first I couldn’t really feel that I was bleeding, but then every time that Amy pushed on my uterus to make it clamp down I could feel a gush of blood coming out of me.  Then I started to get interventions.  Amy gave me a shot of pitocin in my leg and then asked me to slowly chew a chalky pill.  I was aware of the procedure for interventions at the birth center, so I said aloud, “This is because I’m bleeding too much.”  She then gave me an IV with fluids and even more pitocin.  The mood in the room began to change a little bit.  Amy and Sophie stayed calm but Amy’s voice tone changed.  Instead of asking Sophie to do things she began to tell her.  Not rudely, just in a matter of fact way.

I began feel really sleepy and closing my eyes a lot.  I could see that my family was worried and I was trying to act normal so to not scare them, but I was just having such a hard time keeping my eyes open.  I learned later that at one point I actually started to fall asleep on Zach and Amy and Sophie had to tell me to stay awake.  After a few minutes, my bleeding started to calm down.  Abel was happy and healthy and started to get passed around to my family. 

The next couple hours pasted quickly.  Amy left and I gave her a big hug.  I was so grateful that she had been with us throughout the entire process.  Katrina, another midwife, took over.  Abel was weighed and measured.  Katrina sat with us and debriefed about the labor and delivery and discussed all of our questions while I ate some Jimmy John’s.  I was grateful that she took the time to talk through what had just happened because I know many women don’t have anyone explain the intricacies of their labor to them.

As we went home it was so oddly similar to having Merritt.  So cold and the middle of the night.  We came back to the house with my Mom and tried to get ready for bed as quickly as possible because we were so exhausted.  I remember as I laid down I could hear Zach, who had fallen asleep almost instantly, snoring loudly.  I could also hear Abel, who is a very loud, snorty sleeper making noise.  With my boys snoozing around me I felt exhausted, sleepy and at peace.


My postpartum time with Abel began really similarly to Merritt.  My mother-in-law Kim stayed with us and we enjoyed time as a family.  I bonded with Abel really well and spent lots of time with him one on one during the first week. 

Abel overall was a normal little baby, but because Merritt had been so incredibly calm we worried about him when he had small issues (that didn’t feel small at the time).  He had some really difficult nights during his first couple of weeks, where he would be extremely unhappy and inconsolable.  They absolutely panicked us.  Even during just those few nights we felt extremely helpless and like he would never be happy.

Also the day after Abel was born, Merritt came down with the flu and was the sickest that he had probably been in his whole little life.  He actually threw up in Zach’s hat while on a trip to Target (Zach still wears the hat).  It was really difficult because we had to keep Merritt away from Abel and because Abel was more or less attached to me, away from me as well.  Pretty much it became that Zach and Kim cared for Merritt downstairs while I cared for Abel upstairs.  I missed Merritt and felt really scared that he would get Abel sick.

At the same time I was still recovering from the cough I had come down with around Christmas as well as the birth.  I was trying to take care of myself, but also having a hard time parenting since I wasn’t yet able to wear Abel (which he really loved) or pick up Merritt.  I also was having some extreme headaches and baby brain or cloudiness.  I would have hours at a time where I felt disconnected and had an extremely difficult time focusing.

All of these things kind of came to a head on week three when Zach went back to work (although we didn’t realize it until afterwards).  I got through the first two days after he went back okay but I was dying by the time that he got home and overall just not feeling well (very exhausted and sometimes faint).  Then on the third day, I woke up and began to feel very faint in the shower.  By the time that Merritt had woken up I was concerned that I might pass out. At the same time Abel had been pretty fussy over the previous couple of days and was needing almost constant soothing, but I worried about wearing him because I was still recovering.  I was completely overwhelmed and felt like I couldn’t make a single clearheaded decision. I started bawling and then I decided that I just wasn’t up to it yet.  I called Zach and told him I needed him home for a few more days.

Zach was extremely worried about me (and with good reason). He left school that day and took off the rest of the week to stay home with me.  I felt like I was sick and Abel was sick, but Zach could see that the biggest problem wasn’t either my physical health or Abel’s, it was my mental well-being. I went into the midwives and then ran blood work on me. I almost fainted in their office during the blood draw; that is how sick I felt.  I thought for sure that my iron levels were insanely low from the bleeding I had after birth and that’s why I was feeling so horrible.

The next day we went in and got the results from my blood work.  Everything was completely normal.  I was happy to be healthy, but really shocked as well.  I knew how horrible that I had felt.  I knew that I hadn’t been just making it up.  In the end though it was most likely intense exhaustion combined with the beginnings of depression. 

Thankfully over the next day I began to feel much better.  The combination of having Zach around the house to help me, and realizing that Abel and I weren’t sick, helped me to be able to feel on top of things again.  We also worked on getting me more high quality sleep.  Abel was an extremely loud sleeper so I realized that I was never getting into REM sleep because I was constantly waking up to him or thinking that he was about to wake up.  We moved Abel into his nursery, but kept the doors open in between us.  Then we turned on a fan next to me just loud enough that I would still hear his crying but not every noise that he made.

By four weeks Zach was ready to go back to work for the second time.  The Sunday before he went back, I did a “practice day” where I pretended like I was home alone with the boys.  That day went really well and really boosted my confidence about staying home.  It put me back into the mindset that staying home with the boys would be a fun adventure instead of something that I just had to “get though”.

From then on I really fell into a rhythm.  I realized, or should I say remembered, that I am a person who can’t stay at home all day, that I need to feel busy and productive.  I tried to go on a fun outing almost every day and got together with other stay-at-home moms, so that Merritt would have other kids to play with and I would have adult interaction and conversation.  I figured out ways to keep both the boys happy and myself happy and balance all of our needs.  I started to love every day and enjoy the time I had with the boys.

I wanted to write about my postpartum experience for myself to remember it, the feelings and thoughts and emotions that I was going through.  It was the most intense two weeks of my life thus far as far as emotions are concerned.  I want to make sure that I remember how I felt at the time but also how I came out of it. Also, I hope that reading this might help another Mom if she is in her dark time to feel validated in her feelings and also to see that there is a beautiful light at the end of the tunnel.

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. dr.hartungimage-1

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

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

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

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

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


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? 


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.

Birth Story: "Intense. But incredible."

birth story_4 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.

birth story_1

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.

birth story_2

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.

birth story_3

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.

Birth Story: Women should be running the world!


Birth Story of Elena Jane

As told by mama Emily

Elena Jane was born Sept. 7 at 12:45 a.m. She weighed 8 lbs, 1 oz and was 21.5" long. Here's how it went down:

T-minus 5 days until the 42- week mark. Monday, Sept. 8 was 42 weeks, this was Wednesday, Sept. 3. We met with Midwife Monica, she had me wear a belly band to make sure everything was lined up. A belly band sounds nice -- oh it supports your back from your massive belly. But, actually it was kind of painful and I had to wear it over night. I kept coming up with excuses to take a shower so I could have a reprieve for 10 minutes.

T-minus 3 days until the 42-week mark -- Friday, Sept. 5. We met with midwife Monica in the morning and she checked things out. She said things had progressed slightly since last time and my cervix was soft. I was dreading the herbal induction but by this point had succumbed to the fact that this is probably in my future. Monica suggested we do the Foley catheter--I would need to return that afternoon so Midwife Amy could insert the Foley. I was sent home with the herbal induction if, by Sunday morning, nothing happened I would need to start the herbal induction -- which is ingesting something every 15 minutes followed by a lot of time in the bathroom (as I've heard).

My husband, Geoff, and I left with my bag of "goodies". We decided to go to Mickey's diner in St. Paul to load up on a greasy meal (figured it was similar to an herbal induction, right!?) and then went to Como zoo to walk around. Luckily, I took a 2-hour nap before going back to the birth center to get the Foley.

I know we learned about the Foley in childbirth ed class or at the Health Foundations complications class, but until I actually had to have it, I don't think I filed it in my brain as something to recall. The Foley catheter is a thing that is inserted into your cervix and then two small balloons are filled up with saline solution on each side of the cervix. This is meant to aid dilation. It falls out on its own around 4 cm, otherwise you have to have it taken out. I was scheduled to have it removed on Saturday at 4 p.m.

As soon as midwife Amy filled the balloons, I got instant cramps all over. By the time I came home, the pain was so bad, I called the midwife line to see if there was anything I should do -- I couldn't imagine having this constant pain until 4 p.m. the next day. I will remember Monica's words forever, "Well, Emily, it sounds like it's doing what we want it to do, which is put you into wrap your head around that!" I laughed and thought, OMG -- no kidding, I can start doing my relaxation and breathing (for some reason that didn't occur to me until she told me that). Monica said to focus on if contractions were coming and going and to call if they got close together or especially if the catheter fell out.

Once I had that to focus on, the contractions were more manageable. I could barely eat anything for supper (rice and cream of mushroom soup) and then I went to bed. The contractions lasted all night but by the morning, they had lightened quite a bit so I could eat a solid breakfast (thank goodness or I don't know if I would have had the energy). After breakfast we went for a walk which picked things back up quickly -- we didn't make it for a long walk and we had to stop every 5 - 7 minutes to work through a contraction.

I got back and called the midwife Amy to check in and let her know where we were at. She said she'd see me at 4pm but to rest and eat some oatmeal. Geoff went and got me some oatmeal of which I could eat half -- and then in less then an hour the contractions were so bad, the oatmeal came back up. Geoff called again to let Amy know the contractions were consistently 5 minutes apart ( I was also concerned b/c I needed to get to the birth center for antibiotics b/c I tested positive for group B strep -- and they said I should go in about 5 min apart). Amy said to really try to get some sleep and she'd see me still at 4pm.

I went to bed to try to get some good shut eye but within 15 minutes I had to pee and out came the catheter -- those balloons were WAY bigger than I had thought...Not quite a raquet ball but I'd say maybe two ping pong balls on each side. As it was coming out I thought, what good practice for birth -- HA (not the case). This was at 1:45pm on Saturday.

We ended up meeting Amy at the birth center at 3:30pm. She wasn't quite there when we arrived so I had some lovely heaving and ho-ing out on the deck until she arrived. As soon as she opened the door, I went into the birth room (the one on the left), knelt on the ground with my head on the sofa and dealt with a few more contractions while I got my antibiotics. I heard my husband ask Amy, "Do you think we'll need to go home or is she far enough along to stay?" Amy said based on the noises I was making, I was staying (I was relieved).

My doula, Kim, arrived shortly after. I started working through contractions in the shower on a birth ball, which was nice and then Amy had me get up and walk up and down the steps and around the studio upstairs. I don't know what we would have done without our doula there, it was nice for Geoff to be able to take a break or stay with me when I wanted. I was so out of it, I didn't notice any lapse in having someone there to help me. And I later found out that he had eaten dinner at some point...who knew!?!

Around 6 or 7pm, Dr. Amber (chiropractor) came to adjust me. Her three cute kids walked in and I was again heaving and ho-ing in the waiting room. They were so cute but I couldn't say a word to Amber!  After the adjustment, Dr. Amber had me go to the bed and hang one leg over the bed ( I think we watched a video of this in class) and labor there for a bit. After several of these on each side, Amy checked to see where I was at.

With Amy's check, my water broke because it was right there and she said I was fully dilated and ready to push! I couldn't believe it! It didn't even seem possible, I kind of just assumed at that point that the baby would be in me forever and I would have contractions the rest of my life. She said once I stood up, I'd probably feel a lot less pressure and an urge to push.

I did feel less pressure but never really had the urge to push -- just pushed when I had a contraction as they told me. This was 9:30pm. I started pushing on the birth stool -- not really a fan. I felt kind of like the gorilla I saw at the zoo that morning -- just sort of sitting there with my big belly while everyone watched me from every angle. Then we did squats in the shower -- these were my least favorite as they were the most painful, I think I thought the baby would accidentally fall out on the hard shower floor (I'm an idiot) and I didn't like that I couldn't rest in between pushes -- just stand. Then we labored on the bed in the normal legs raised position -- and a little with the birth ball on the far my favorite because I liked that I could rest in between. However, Geoff and our Doula sure had to be strong to basically be my make-shift stirrups!

We rotated between all of these positions maybe three times. Every time Amy suggested the shower squat thing I gave her a bit of a stink-eye (she later told me!) but complied because I knew the pain meant it was working. Throughout I thought I would not have enough energy to get through it. A few spoons of honey I think pushed me through.

Finally, we got to the point where I could feel things happen and Amy told Geoff to get ready to catch the baby. She had one of the nurses (Monica - a nurse in training and her first birth) take his place to hold my leg. That was exciting for me because I knew it was close. I asked if I could push even if there wasn't a contraction, I was ready for the finish line. I pushed and felt her head come out. Amy told everyone to wait (while she moved the umbilical cord from around the neck). I remember just being super still and then she said, "ok" and I was still. That felt like 10 minutes of waiting for -- I didnt realize she was saying ok for me to finish pushing. I just watched her and it felt like silence. Then she looked at me and said, "ok, push" and that was super easy! Elena's slippery squirmy body went from Geoff's hands to my stomach --- It was awesome!

I remember saying something along the lines of, "Holy @#$&, I cannot believe women have done this for so long. We deserve a huge amount of money and women should be running the world!"

The rest is a blur -- I had to get that darn placenta out. I had to cough a bunch which was hard because I was sore everywhere and my throat hurt from groaning for 12 hours. Ok, it wasn't anywhere as close as hard as birth but I was just tired and wanted to cuddle my baby. Geoff was nervous because there was bleeding and clotting that the nurse was concerned about but they all calmly did what they said would happen in the complications course (super helpful). I was on cloud 9 and didn't really have any concerns.

We packed up and headed home at 5:30 a.m. It felt a little weird to be driving home with an infant after having no sleep at all and going through that but it was nice to be home. All things said and done: Labor for 33-ish hours, active labor for 12-ish hours, pushing for 3 hours, 0 drugs (well accept for the antibiotics and ibuprofen afterwards), 0 herbal inductions :), 1 cutie pie and 1 happy family!!

I can't say enough about how amazed I am with the nurses and midwives at Health Foundations. What an amazing profession they have been called to do. I could never do it but I am so grateful for them!

Emily, Geoff, Elena & Ella bean (the dog isn't too jealous!)

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Endorphins in Childbirth: Body's Natural Painkillers

Mother and babyIt is simply amazing what our bodies are capable of doing.  And at no time is this more obvious than with pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding.  It is incredible how well built the female body is for giving birth.  We have everything we need built into our very chemistry to be able to go through labor and give birth! In the 1970s scientists discovered what laboring women have witnessed and understood for ages: that the body produces what it needs to temper the physical stress and pain of natural childbirth.  Science put a name to the body’s natural pain killers—endorphins—and discovered exactly how they work in the body before, during, and after birth.  What they found is remarkable. ***

What are endorphins?

Endorphins, specifically beta-endorphins, are hormones secreted within the brain and nervous system in situations of stress or pain.  They are the internal (endogenous) equivalent to our pharmaceutical painkillers, such as morphine (though without the many undesirable effects of the external, or exogenous, drugs).

 Ten cool facts about endorphins in childbirth

1  Endorphin levels increase toward the end of pregnancy.  During labor, endorphin levels rise during each contraction, most noticeably in the second stage of labor. Endorphin levels are highest just after birth.  It takes two weeks after birth for endorphin levels in the body to return to normal.

2  Endorphin levels are highest during vaginal deliveries in unmedicated mothers.  They are lower in women who have a cesarean section after laboring on their own for some time and even lower in women who have a cesarean without experiencing labor.

3  The use of exogenous pain medications (endorphin-like drugs) dramatically decreases the body’s natural production of endorphins.  Unlike narcotics, which are given in “surges” to some laboring women, endorphins are released in a more steady fashion, providing consistent pain relief without the crash that comes with big bursts of chemical pain relief.

4  Endorphins can actually help regulate the pace of labor—high levels produced in the body and slow labor by lowering oxytocin levels, which can serve to regulate the intensity of labor and our ability to manage it.

5  Endorphin levels protect and serve babies during childbirth as well.  Endorphins are elevated in newborns that experience distress during the birth process.

6  Endorphin production in the body is tied to our emotional states.  Stress hormones (i.e. catecholamines) counter endorphins in the body.  The more relaxed and calm a woman is through childbirth, the more endorphins she produces and the less stress hormones her body makes.  A relaxed laboring woman actually feels less pain than a woman who is scared or distressed.  Unresolved stress or anxiety should be processed prior to labor to prevent these from becoming obstacles to her labor experience.

7  Endorphins behave differently from woman to woman, which is perhaps one factor in why women have different perceptions of the pain of childbirth.

8  Endorphins stimulate the production of prolactin, the relaxing “mothering” hormone that aids in breastfeeding and mama-baby bonding after birth.

9  Endorphins are the cause of the “high” many women experience during labor and in the early days postpartum.  They assist in allowing a woman to be alert and attentive to her newborn despite sleep deficits.

10  Endorphins are present in breast milk, which may explain the natural high that babies can get after breastfeeding.

***Note: Natural hormones oxytocin and prolactin also play a major role in birth, though this article focuses primarily on endorphins.

The benefits of a doula

doulaIn our last post, we covered the basics about doulas—what a doula is, what she does, how she fits into the birth team, her training and how to find a doula.  Today, we talk about the many proven benefits of having a doula. In 2011, an extensive study—the largest systematic review of continuous labor support—demonstrated the effects of having a doula for over 15,000 women who participated in 21 randomized controlled trials.  The study authors concluded from this extensive research that:

Having continuous labor support has clinically significant benefits for women and their babies and no known harm.  All women should have support through labor. 

Other experts have said that if the benefits of a doula could be bottled up in a jar and given to laboring women, it would be a crime not to use such a potent medicine.

Doulas mean better outcomes for mom

The best and most recent studies show that women with continuous labor support have:

  • shorter labors (by about 40 minutes on average)
  • a greater chance at spontaneous vaginal birth
  • fewer interventions, such as cesarean section or vacuum extraction with forceps
  • lower rates of epidural or analgesia to manage pain
  • lower rates of induction (via Pitocin)
  • more positive feelings toward their birth experiences, leading to a cascade of positive effects including
  • lower rates of postpartum depression

Specific studies have found that doulas help increase a laboring woman’s self esteem and actually can decrease her perception of physical pain during childbirth.

If we are just talking continuous labor support, wouldn’t a partner or a friend have the same effect?  Not necessarily.

The effects of continuous labor support are strongest when the person is not a member of the hospital staff or a person in the woman’s social network, and was present solely to provide one-on-one labor support (i.e. a professional doula).  With a doula, specifically, women were:

  • 34% less likely to view their birth experience negatively
  • 31% less likely to use synthetic oxytocin to speed up labor
  • 28% less likely to have a c-section
  • 12% more likely to have spontaneous vaginal birth
  • 9% less likely to use pain medication

Newborn in mother's handsDoulas mean better outcomes for babies

Research also shows improved outcomes for babies when doulas are present for a laboring woman.  These babies have:

  • better APGAR scores at birth
  • shorter hospital stays
  • fewer admissions to special care nurseries
  • have greater early breastfeeding success
  • have more affectionate mothers in the postpartum

In sum, the most important thing is for women to have continuous labor support from someone– a nurse, midwife, partner, or doula. However, with several birth outcomes, doulas have a stronger effect than other types of support persons.

For tips on how to find a doula, please see our post here. 

Why Write your Birth Story?

WritingBirthStoryCoverArtGrowing, birthing and caring for a new baby is one of the most joyful times in our adult lives, and also one of the most demanding.  During the postpartum period, so many peripheral tasks may be vying for our attention (and, for many of us, all we really care to do is stare at our beautiful new baby…and sleep whenever possible.) Making time to write your birth story may seem like one extra thing on the to-do list, but there are many reasons to make this task a priority.

Writing your birth story is a transformative, cathartic experience, with the power to help you process, make meaning from, heal from, preserve, celebrate and honor your unique experience of birth.

The following are eight great reasons to write your birth story.

1:  To remember

Writing your birth story preserves your memory of this important event for a lifetime (or longer!)  In the early days, you may run through your birth story again and again in your mind, remembering all the little details of this amazing experience.  But as time goes on, these details inevitably fade.

While it is ideal to begin writing in the early postpartum, it’s never too late.  If it has been months or longer since the birth of your baby, it is still very much worth your time to write your birth story (you surely remember more of it now than you will ten years from now!).

Memory-joggers, such as labor playlists and pictures, can help you recall fading details.  Talking to your partner or others present at your birth can also help to fill in the details of your birth, so you can write and preserve these memories.

TIP: If you can’t sit down to write out the narrative of your story, at least jot down some notes in those early hours and days after your baby’s arrival.  In the last weeks of pregnancy, consider getting a small bedside journal or type notes into a phone app or email to yourself.  (This can be helpful not only for jotting down birth story details but also for remembering the questions you want to ask your care providers—midwives, doulas, pediatrician, etc).

2:  To process and reflect

The experience of giving birth is one of the most profound, transformational, and emotionally rich experiences we will have in our lives.  In fact, how we gave birth can have a profound effect on how we see ourselves, how we feel about ourselves, and how we interact with others—including our baby.  For many women, it is imperative to their well being to talk about and process their birth stories.

Given the intensity of the birth experience, our memories can be jumbled or even chaotic-seeming until we have a chance to process them and assemble them in narrative form.  Writing can stabilize our experiences.

Writing your birth story enables a unique mode of processing that can’t necessarily be achieved through talking alone.  Writing accesses different parts of our brain—it is a reflective and reflexive practice that can help you process your story on a deeper level, helping you to explore and understand your experience in a particular way.  People often discover how they feel about something or find feelings transmuted as they begin to explore them through writing.  New perspective can be reached as you process and reflect on your birth experience by writing it down.

3:  To Heal

Along those same lines, writing your birth experience can be a healing experience.  One woman, reflecting on writing her birth story, commented: “At first I felt disappointed and angry that I didn’t not get to have the natural birth that I wanted.  But as I wrote about our transfer, how I ultimately delivered my baby, and how I felt when I held her, the anger changed and I felt like I was speaking not just for myself but for other women that don’t get to have their ‘perfect birth.’ I also realized that though the birth didn’t go as planned, I was surrounded by support of my husband and midwife. I ultimately felt strong and like I did my best in a situation I couldn’t entirely control.”

Both writing and storytelling are time-honored methods of healing from challenging life experiences.  While writing can’t always take away the trauma of difficult childbirth (or any experience), it can help us to express how we are truly feeling—it can give voice to the grief, disappointment, shock, and sorrow—and may help us come to terms with what happened and begin to make peace with it.

When we share our story on paper or maybe with others, we can find support, feel less alone, and become more empowered.  Saying: “this happened to me and this is how I am feeling about it” is a powerful exercise on the healing path.  Remember, while you can’t always change the past, you always have the power to change your connection to the past in this moment.

If you are struggling with aspects of your birth experience, you deserve to have the support you need to continue processing and healing.  In addition to writing, speaking with a counselor, having body/energy work, making birth art, healing through movement, and other measures can go along way to helping you find peace after difficult childbirth.

4:  To share

When we write about our birth experiences, we can share them with others—which has a number of potential benefits.  Sharing our story can help us bond with other people and find support.

When we share with our partners and other support people, it helps them gain insight into our perception of the birth, which can increase empathy and understanding and invite conversations about aspects of the shared experience.  When we share with other women, especially other mothers, we can find support, understanding, and camaraderie.

Sharing can have an unknown or unanticipated ripple effect.  You never know how your story will help someone else.  But it probably will.

5:  For your child

And let’s not forget our little ones (as if we could).  Writing down your birth story will enable you to share this story with your child and family for decades to come.

Consider for a moment what you know about how you were born.  Do you know the details?  Did your mother document your birth in some way?  Do you wish you knew more?

People whose mothers have a written their birth story often report gratitude for having such a treasured account of how they came into the world.  It can make your child feel special and important to know that you took the time to document their birth.  Whether or not it was an ideal situation, this birth was how they came into the world and it will always be special for them to know about it.  The experiences you had and the lessons they teach can have a profound impact on your child, both when they are young and when they grow up (and perhaps have children of their own).

“I printed out our birth story and placed it in my daughter’s baby book so she can look back and read about the day she was born. I can only hope that it will inspire her to have a birth without fear when she is ready to birth to her own baby someday,” reported one mama. 

6:  To preserve the beauty and spirit of the birth process

Many women (and men!) are profoundly affected by the stories of birth.  Birth is a sacred and primal process that connects us to our roots and to something greater than ourselves.  Author and healer Tami Lynn Kent calls birth the process of coming to the spirit door.

Like the beautiful children we birth, each birth story is completely unique and all have elements of the extraordinary in them.

Some women are driven to write their birth stories in an attempt to capture that beauty and power in words.  It can take some courage to do this.  While it may be “safer” to stick to the medical facts, writing about one’s full experience of birth—the physical, emotional, and spiritual—can be a powerful act.  Being honest about the deeper layers of your birth experience can be a true gift to yourself, your family, and anyone fortunate enough to hear your story.

7:  To help and inspire others

For most of human history, storytelling was the most potent way to transmit knowledge among kin.  In the past, we had a much greater connection to the world of birth and babies than we do today.  By the time we reached adulthood, we would have likely heard many birth stories, if not witnessed many births ourselves.

One woman writes: It’s sad that we don’t live in a culture where women gather post birth, removed from responsibility and routine, to sit around the fire under the stars with our female clan (including the elders and the young) and share our birth stories. Too many of our stories get lost in our hearts.”

While we are less connected to birth and birth wisdom today, telling our stories can be a way to reconnect to ourselves, each other and the wisdom of birth.

Telling your birth story can help other women in your life.  We can learn so much from each other and our mothers; and our children can learn from us when we take time to talk about our birth experiences.

When things don’t go as planned and we are brave enough to share our story, we can help other women who have or will experience similar situations.  Likewise, when we have a positive experience of birth, sharing our story can be a way of showing other women what it looks like to birth naturally, or without fear.  Hearing positive birth experiences is a powerful antidote to the mainstream perceptions of birth as a risk-laden, painful medical event.  In this way, the personal can become political, as we spread the truth that birth can be a positive, fearless, beautiful experience.

8:  To change our collective perceptions of birth

It was not so long ago that women were put under anesthesia (“twilight sleep”) during labor, completely disconnected from the experience of their births.  It is not uncommon in many parts of the world for women to have few options or control over their birthing experiences.  Even those with more choice may feel like it’s not acceptable or desirable to speak about their birth experiences.  It can almost feel taboo to speak candidly about birth, much less celebrate and honor this experience.

Writing and sharing your birth story can be a political act.  It can be a way of saying “Birth is important.  The WOMEN who birth are important.  MY birth is important. “ Regardless of how you feel about your birth, putting words to your experience is a powerful way to show that your experience matters.  Because it does.

Some women may feel reluctant to write their stories.  Maybe they don’t know where to start, are afraid they aren’t going to tell it right (impossible!), or get stuck in the practical limitations of sitting down to write with a little baby to care for.   But nothing worth doing is ever easy (cases in point: pregnancy and childbirth).  While not easy, these labors of love are worth it.

If you’ve written your birth story and want to share it with others, please consider submitting your birth story to be posted on our blog (with pictures too if you wish!)
If you need a little help carving out time, want to receive some guidance and feedback, or just want to write and share your story among other mamas, please consider joining us for our upcoming Write Your Birth Story Workshop in September 2013.
For information about either birth story submission or the upcoming workshop, contact

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.


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!


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.