My pregnancy with Juniper was amazing! I hadn’t been pregnant in 5 years, and had been on the other side of things, working as a doula. I had hyperemesis with my first two, but not this time. I was pretty sick the first trimester, but it cleared up and I got to truly enjoy the months that followed. I had never felt so loved and supported. My tribe was oh so good to me. My good friends and business partners Heather Keeney and Heather Atkinson gave me the most beautiful Mother blessing I could have ever imagined! It was just incredible. They surrounded me with all of my favorite women and food. What is better than that? We made a belly cast, and everyone gave me a bead with a beautiful story behind choosing it. And my sweet friend, photographer Tammy Bradshaw, took amazing photos so the day is forever preserved. My care with our midwives, Karen Webster and Paige St. Cyr, was so perfect. Prenatal appointments were like family visits that all of us looked forward to. My girls loved going to Karen’s house. Over the months of visits, Karen and Paige filled us with information, love, and all the confidence we needed to truly know we could do this the way we always wanted to. At times, knowing so much about pregnancy and birth would hinder me, but Karen and Paige always knew how to reassure me. It was such a joy to be on this side of things, receiving such perfect, loving care.
On March 7th, 2016, we welcomed our 3rd baby girl into the world, Juniper Ruby.
For a few nights leading up to that day, I was having on and off again contractions which made sleep difficult. But on the night of the 6th, I slept well and had a lovely dream of attending a birth. At the birth, everyone kept saying, “You’re next! It’s your turn now!”
My dear friend Sarah, another doula who also had homebirth experience, was kind enough to send a lovely letter to my husband Harley full of great advice and lots of love. Harley was really busy for a few days, and hadn’t yet read it. Sarah sent me a text the morning of the 7th asking what we both thought of the letter. I immediately begged him to stop for a moment before he left for work to read it. I had already read it, and I think subconsciously I wasn’t going to let this labor start without him reading it because it literally felt that valuable to me. A little later, he came to me to say he was leaving for work and had read it. I went to the bathroom and boom, there it was. Some pinkish color when I wiped. Reading the letter worked! Haha I sent a text to my birth team, letting them know what I saw, then took a moment to feel really excited. I was exactly 41 weeks today, and maybe it was happening. Almost immediately, that cramping I’d been experiencing came back. My midwife Karen responded with a text saying she had a dream the night before that I was in labor!
Like so many other times in my pregnancy, I thought to myself, “What would I tell a client right now?” And I knew I’d say, relax if you can or go about your day as you normally would. I didn’t feel like lying back down so early in the day, so I decided to prepare just in case today was the day. I made food for my girls, Ella and Violet. I straightened up around the house.
As afternoon came, I felt pretty confident that it could be the day so I thought I should probably try to relax. I took a shower, blow-dried my hair, and then sat on my bed. I took a photo of myself, just in case this was my last day with this beautiful baby belly. I did not know when I came upstairs to shower, I wouldn’t return to my downstairs for another week! It’s funny to think of that now. I suddenly felt things very quickly intensify. I tried to get dressed and called Harley to say he should probably come home from work. My dear friend Neah was on her way over to our house, which was perfect timing because I needed to let go of feeling responsible for my girls and I didn’t want Harley doing that either.
Harley got home and started setting up the birth pool. I remember asking for a sandwich as he made food for the girls. It was hard to eat, but I took bites in between contractions because I knew I needed something. It’s hard to determine times for much of the rest of this day because, around the time of taking that lovely shower, I was starting to feel myself slipping away into my birthing mindset, “between worlds” as we sometimes say in the birth world. But about an hour or so after Harley got home, we thought we should tell our birth team to come. Our photographer, Tammy Bradshaw, arrived and immediately began documenting our special day. Our midwives, Karen and Paige arrived, and shortly after, our friend Samantha, a student midwife. I went from leaning on my bed to sitting on my ball. I was starting to vocalize a bit during contractions and squeeze hands. I found it helped to stare into Harley’s eyes as I breathed through a contraction. I remember this time period as picking up quickly, then mellowing out just as quickly once everyone was around. It’s hard to remember all of the details, but I do remember at some point, my Violet fed me a popsicle. She was so sweet to me. She put my necklace on me made from the beads that everyone gave me at my mother blessing. Although I was feeling celebratory and really enjoying sharing the moment and the realization with everyone that, yes, this was the day we would meet our Juniper Ruby, I knew being surrounded by so many people was probably having an impact on my labor progression. I thought how I needed to go back in, and not be so much a part of this world. And just as I thought it, my midwife Karen said it. She suggested everyone go downstairs and allow Harley and I some alone time. Paige suggested I lay on my side in my bed. Samantha placed a heating pad on my back. Then Harley was next to me rubbing my head. I remember never being so comfortable and content during a labor before. Everyone said their goodbyes, and Tammy took a few photos of us before leaving. Those photos became some of my favorites.
I had no idea how much times passed, but I knew Karen and Paige had popped in periodically to check on us and baby. I decided I needed to pee then get in pool. On my way to the bathroom I remember glancing at my chart, trying to quickly figure out how much time had passed while in my bed. I think I figured out it was 2 hours. I got in the pool, and it felt fabulous. But there is very little else I remember about that time. I have some lovely pictures of being in the pool, and of being supported by everyone at different times. Everyone was popping in and out, including my sweet girls. I remember being so happy that my daughters were getting the opportunity to witness this and that I was getting the security of knowing my girls were here and happy.
Again, I have no idea how much time passed while I was in the pool, but I know Paige came in and asked how I’d feel about going to sit on the toilet. I remember kind of giggling to myself thinking how many times I’d suggested that to clients knowing it wouldn’t sound so appealing, but that it could be really helpful. Knowing that, I agreed immediately although I really didn’t feel like leaving the pool. Harley and I moved to the bathroom. I remember I didn’t want him to leave my side no matter what. I was really vocalizing at this point, and things were feeling really intense for me. Karen asked me if I needed any food and I said I wanted almond butter. I remember eating a couple of spoonfuls of it. Yum. Time kept passing, and it became apparent we’d need to order food for everyone. There was no way at that point I could come up with an order for everyone and I wouldn’t let Harley leave the room to ask anyone what they wanted. The best I could think of between contractions was for Harley to take my phone and go through an old order on grubhub and just to double or triple the order. My poor birth team got some crappy Chinese takeout. In my phone I can see that Harley sent everyone a group text at 8:15pm that food was on the way!
I spent hours in that bathroom, not sure how many. I don’t remember it, but I’m told I was adamant about nobody but Harley being in the room with me, and I ordered the doors be locked. I remember Karen and Paige having to knock when it was time to check heart rates. I asked a couple of times that everyone downstairs be quiet because I kept hearing conversations and it was pulling me back to this world. I decided I wanted to get back in the pool. I spent some time again with just Harley, vocalizing through contractions and trying hard to keep my body as relaxed as possible. Harley said he felt light headed, and I said you need to drink water. He said, “No I need to eat.” My thought process about him eating makes me laugh now. I remember thinking, “You can’t leave me, but you can’t bring the smell of Chinese food in here. You’ll have to figure out how to eat without leaving or bringing it in here.” Ha!
I started to think, why is this labor still going on if it felt like it was progressing so quickly like 8 hours ago? I got out of my laboring brain and got into my doula brain for a minute to assess the situation. And just then, I had a moment of total clarity. I realized I’d been coping well with the contractions, but that was just it. Coping. I needed to do better than that. I couldn’t just endure them; I had to work with them. I decided not to vocalize anymore, and to try to talk through it while strongly visualizing baby coming down. The next contraction came, and I started repeating, “Down and out. Down and out, baby.” From the first time I did this, I felt her coming down. It was amazing. In between contractions I was very quiet. So quiet, that Harley thought things had slowed down! I had finally reached that place where I was making it happen, but I went so deep and quiet that Harley thought nothing was happening. I remember him saying something like, “It seems like things slowed down, should we get out of the pool and do something else.” I was so focused that I couldn’t even tell him that it was the opposite of that; it was happening now! Around this time, I remember Karen saying the water wasn’t warm enough anymore and warm water was being added back in. Harley was communicating with someone about them bringing him up a plate of food. When it was brought up to the bathroom, which was just a foot away from where I was in the pool, he asked me if he could go eat it. I told him to get Neah so that she could be present in the room while he wasn’t. She later told me my exact request was, “Tell Neah to come up but I don’t want to see her.” I remember just feeling like I needed someone in the room so I wasn’t completely alone, but it also felt like I didn’t want to know they were there. I was still telling baby “down and out” and working to stay completely relaxed during contractions so that they could do their job. I spent most of this time on all fours. While Harley was in the bathroom, I remember Karen wasn’t leaving after this check in which made me feel confident we were finally going to have this baby. I got so focused, I wasn’t thinking of anything at all except Juniper. This transition from just coping to literally controlling my body and the process with my thoughts was the most empowering and magical moment of my life. Karen said, “Do you want Tammy?” And I’m SO thankful she did! “Yes, but nobody else.” I was so scared that if everyone came in, everything would stop. Karen was careful to ask Tammy to come up in a way that nobody else would come. I also remember Karen asking if she could put a light on and I didn’t want it. She even tried to plug in my white Christmas lights I had up and I said no to those too!
It was about 10PM at this point, and very dark in my room. Luckily Tammy and I had discussed beforehand that using a flash was okay. Without it, there would have been no pictures of this part of my birth. Karen held my water bottle up for me to drink. With one of my contractions I recognized the urge to push was coming. It all happened so fast. I said with one, “I feel pushy.” With the next, my body started to push at the end of it. I was immediately transported back to my mother blessing. More helpful words from my dear Sarah came to mind, something like, “When the time comes, don’t shy away. Push through! Just do it.” Paige was behind me, asking for me to move up a little because I was backed into the side of the pool. Within about 3 more contractions, her head was out. At that point I remember Paige, Karen, and Harley all telling me to slow down. I remember just repeatedly asking if I could push her whole body out with the next contraction and saying I was sorry but I couldn’t listen, I couldn’t slow down. With the next contraction I literally roared her out. Tammy, the incredible photographer that she is, was able to get all of this, in the dark. Now, Paige and Karen were behind me and I was in another world. I did it.
I remember hearing Karen and Paige telling me to reach back and catch my baby, then telling me to grab my baby after she was out, but my body wasn’t responding. Then I remember Karen handing her to me, and I am so thankful I have a photo of this moment, the first time I looked at Juniper. This was that moment I’d witnessed so many women experiencing. That bliss of being done the hard work, and holding your gorgeous baby. I asked for my girls, I asked for my mom. I knew everyone wanted to be in the room so now that I was done, I welcomed everyone. Tammy also caught the first second my girls laid eyes on their new sister. How priceless! The excitement in Violet’s eyes and the love in Ella’s are so beautiful. Karen and Paige did not rush me to do anything in these moments, which I truly appreciated. I sat there holding my baby, still attached until I felt I returned to this world and was ready to walk over to my bed. But before I did, my two girls cut the cord. They couldn’t quite get it completely cut, so daddy finished the job.
The couple of hours that followed the birth were a dream. Although this was my third birth, this was our first home birth. I remember I kept mentioning all of things that were so different from my other births as they happened. I wasn’t rushed. Nobody swept my baby away from me to perform routine protocols. Everything was done while Juniper was on me or next to me, or on her father. Nobody rushed me to deliver my placenta. Karen asked me what meal I would like and I asked for eggs and toast. Karen and Samantha fed them to me. Neah gave me the most amazing leg massage for a long time! I felt incredible.
There were many things I experienced in my previous births that caused me anxiety and cast a negative shadow over my memories. So much about this experience felt very healing to us. My girls immediately had their first chance of holding their sister, as did my mom. I loved the energy I felt in the room, surrounded by so many women that I love. And Harley of course, too! Having Samantha there, and receiving her love and energy was special because just about 11 months before, I attended her birth, along with Karen and Tammy as well. That was one of the most magical days of my life too, so now Samantha was present for two of them. Paige did the newborn exam and I began getting extremely sleepy. I couldn’t wait to go to sleep. One by one, my amazing friends left, and my girls went to sleep with my mom. Now it was just Harley, me, and brand new little Juniper Ruby. We drifted off into what felt like the best sleep of my life.
In the days that followed we were showered with meals and visits and love! I don’t know how I’ll ever repay everyone for all of their love. Karen and Paige finished up their visits with us but never stopped checking in periodically. We all miss seeing them regularly so much, and will never be able to truly express our gratitude for having them in our lives.
Beautiful photos by Tammy Bradshaw, tammybradshawphotography.com