To tell our birth stories…
To tell our birth stories is the attempt to capture in words among the most profound, most powerful of our life experiences…
Experiences simultaneously painful… gorgeous… raw… terrifying… triumphant… naked… transformative….
To tell our birth story is to tell of the time we got caught out in the wildest, darkest, most brutal of storms…
A storm that threatened to last for eternity till – all at once – it flashed into fresh, dripping, dazzling sunrise.
We’re driven to tell our stories, but afraid to tell them, too.
We fear to tell too much.
We fear to tell too little.
We realize we can tell only one facet at a time.
We fear the inevitable reliving of them through the telling, even while we desire to relive them.
We realize we could tell them and tell them and tell them without ever managing to really tell them.
The dichotomy of our attempts to tell our stories is a perfect mirror of our plunge into all that is motherhood.
We desire it. We fear it. Still, we must try.
A passage of scripture from Isaiah comes to my mind when I think of the women I’ve served as they writhe and wrestle to press their little ones into the light…
And I think especially of my indomitable daughter-in-law, Megan Laurel Woodard, when I read that passage.
Join us now as Megan braves an attempt to spin the tale of her foray into motherhood.
When I first learned of my pregnancy, little did I know how meaningful the journey ahead would actually be. The arrival of our first son, Brenton Moses Woodard, is a story I will always hold dear to my heart, and I am eternally grateful to each and every person who played a part in making it a reality.
I had the unique privilege of being assisted throughout my pregnancy and birth by a wonderful midwife who happens to also be my wonderful sister-in-law, Hannah Simmons. And, as I reached the final stages of pregnancy, my amazing mother-in-law, Kim Osterholzer, another truly phenomenal midwife, came to Michigan to help as well.
After finding out we were expecting our first child, it was not long at all before my husband, Paul, and I decided that a homebirth was the right choice for us. Even so, I spent each day of my pregnancy reading books, watching documentaries, or asking advice from fellow mothers—all striving to convince myself that when the time came, I’d actually be capable of giving birth. So, when exactly one month before my due date I learned that my baby was breech, fear immediately gripped my heart, and I felt as if I’d been set back to square one. I realized that this time, I would have to (re)gain all my confidence in only a month’s time, where previously I had eight months to process my fears and expectations and to prepare for whatever lay ahead. Of course, I was reassured to learn that a safe, natural breech birth is entirely possible and, furthermore, that most breech babies flip head-down before labor actually begins. Even so, I was most encouraged when Hannah recommended a tangible course of action which, in the majority of cases, successfully encourages breech babies to shift into more favorable positions. That said, I began visiting the chiropractor three times weekly in addition to faithfully practicing at-home exercises as instructed (such as the tiltboard).
Yet, at the prenatal appointment two days before my due date, we learned that not only was the baby still breech, but he had settled lower and had at least one foot poised to birth first. Discussing options was so heavy and emotional as, for the first time in the whole pregnancy, Paul and I were presented with the very real possibility that a C-section may be necessary—knowing that this would actually be my only option if the situation ended up requiring a hospital birth. What we resolved during that tearful session was simply that Hannah and Kim would still help us have a homebirth if that was our decision, though they were both (quite understandably!) uneasy with the idea, considering the undeniably daunting statistics reminding us how unfavorable our odds were.
As Paul and I drove home that night, I cried more and we talked. It was such a weighty thing to come face to face with all that was at stake. Were we foolish to continue planning a homebirth in spite of knowing the gravity of the complications I was experiencing? Given the circumstances, would a C-section or a natural birth have the highest likelihood of bringing our little one into the world as unscathed as possible? What would we do if all our worst fears materialized and our baby went into distress at a critical moment? Knowing what I ideally wanted to experience, I had spent every day of the past nine months working to convince myself I was capable of giving birth in the first place—naturally, at home, and without medication. I had to now try to convince myself I could give birth to a baby who had been perplexing us all by refusing to budge from one of the riskiest positions possible. My moment of clarity came when we acknowledged that, even as we were enduring some of the most fearful moments of our life, we still found the most peace in trusting that God had inspired us to have a homebirth in the first place and that, until another option gave us more peace, a natural homebirth should continue to be our course of action.
Each detail of the next day was amazingly providential. A wonderful chiropractor helped adjust my alignment yet again in hopes that the baby would still turn. And that evening, Hannah, Kim, and I had the opportunity to talk at length about the approaching birth and were encouraged to realize that—separate from one another—we had all reached a distinct point of trusting that, though we couldn’t know exactly what the birth would end up looking like, everything would be okay, one way or another.
The next morning, I waited out an unprecedentedly long contraction before getting out of bed at 7:55 a.m. It was then I started processing the fact that I hadn’t slept particularly well, not just due to the discomfort caused by the baby’s position, but also because contractions kept disturbing my sleep through the night. Wanting to test whether or not this was false labor, I chose to take a hot bath and sip an alcoholic drink to see if the contractions would slow down. After spending about a half hour in the tub with contractions occurring every four minutes with no sign of slowing down, I scurried back to the bedroom to tell my husband, “I think I’m in labor.” Amazing man that he is, Paul hopped right out of bed, full of genuine joy and a contagious “Let’s do this!” attitude, and he excitedly began making preparations to meet our little one today. He called Hannah and Kim, then set to work tidying and organizing the house in all the ways he knew would make me most comfortable.
I walked around our tiny apartment a little, but stayed mostly in the bedroom where I could rest on the bed during each contraction. Due to the intensely critical nature of the situation, Kim and Hannah advised me to alternate between a number of strategic positions throughout the course of my labor, which ended up lasting about fourteen hours. As labor continued to intensify, we all moved to the living room where I could transition between lying sideways on the couch and kneeling on hands and knees. At the request of Kim, Carol Busse, one of several chiropractors who provided great care throughout my pregnancy, actually came to my home to help adjust my alignment one more time, just before I reached the transition stage.
Then, for the final and most intense hours of labor, the four of us returned to the bedroom. And it was while I was on the birth stool that we first got to see our baby’s adorable little foot for the very first time! Even though the end stages of labor were, of course, the most challenging in every way, seeing our baby for the very first time was the exact motivation I needed to persevere through to the end. Due to the baby’s breech position, it was absolutely essential for me to save as much energy as possible and to resist the urge to push until the baby was low enough that pushing would usher him into the world all at once. Suffice it to say, consciously fighting the natural urge to push was one of the most overwhelming, exhausting, and comprehensively taxing things I’ve ever endured, but I was constantly aware of the danger that we’d be facing if I ran out of energy too soon. It felt like an eternity before more than his foot was visible, though it actually took about two hours. As the critical moments of pushing neared, we moved from the birth stool to the bed and stayed there for the remainder of the birth. Then, it became apparent that his other foot would be next to present itself (rather than his bottom as we had desperately hoped would come next), and the overwhelming gravity of the situation just kept mounting.
Then, as Brenton’s little torso became visible, we realized that his hands were stretched far over his head, which necessitated Kim and Hannah pulling his arms down and out of the way, one at a time. To accomplish that, as well as to turn him from posterior to anterior (his back was lined up with my back as his legs came down), Kim had me shift from my hands and knees to my back at the edge of the bed. Once his body was turned and his arms were released, we had to address the fact that our worst fear was materializing after all: his head wasn’t flexed well enough to come as quickly as we wanted it to, so his cord was being compressed by his now-trapped head. I shifted back to hands and knees, and Hannah and Kim took measures to flex his head, rushing against the clock in an attempt to restore his oxygen. Though his head wasn’t fully born, Kim had drawn Brent’s face into the open with a fingertip in his mouth, and I’ll never forget the surge of relief I felt as my husband encouraged me that the baby was, in fact, attempting to breathe.
And then, at 9:53 p.m., he was born! Even after everything that had just happened, it was actually the next four minutes that were the most intense of my entire life. Our precious little baby—who we could now see was a boy!—lay there on the bed, purple and stunned. But within a fraction of a second, his Grandma Kim set to work resuscitating him while his Aunt Hannah faithfully monitored his heart tones. Meanwhile, Paul and I joined together in letting him know we were there with him and that we loved him, touching him, praying over him, and telling him everything would be okay. And God remained faithful in protecting us all as our precious Brenton started to breathe for himself! Soon after, his little cries were the most beautiful sound in all the world.
Words cannot express my gratitude to my husband, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law for playing such key roles in my birth story and for making it not only possible, but as absolutely beautiful and fulfilling as possible. Though the conditions themselves ended up being far from ideal, I can say with full confidence that, looking back, I truly wouldn’t change a thing about how we addressed each challenge along the way. And I will never forget how strong and supportive my husband was—letting me squeeze his hand through every contraction, knowing the perfect things to say to encourage me throughout each stage of that long day, massaging my aching body and soothing me with cool washcloths, bringing me snacks I didn’t even realize I so desperately needed, praying over me and his new baby through each dangerous moment, and just supporting me in every way possible. And having both a sister-in-law and mother-in-law who are not only experts in the field of midwifery, but who are the most generous, insightful, and supportive caregivers I have ever met is an incomparable blessing. What a gift it was to have them both present for one of the most precious moments of my life! And how grateful I am that my son was able to be born at home, surrounded by a few of the people who love him most.
Back to Grandma
It was, and I’m sure will always be, one of the most incredible experiences of my life to tend to the birth of this baby with “a few of the people” I “love most.”
Megan, born by cesarean herself, surprised me at every turn. First she chose to birth at home. Second, she invited her mother-in-law to attend. Third, she elected to birth at home in spite of the hair-raising circumstances she faced. Fourth, she agreed to share her story. I was going to write, “Fourth, she rocked her birth!” but I was not at all surprised at that.
Paul, the father of the baby and my own homeborn son (who insisted on resting within me breech until a week after his due date)(he turned head-down, but stayed on inside an entire other week), did so much to reignite my faith with his own. He was certain Megan could birth his son safely at home – even breech – even footling breech. He tended to Meg throughout her labor with an intoxicating blend of tenderness and excitement and devotion. When we came to the last few heart-pounding minutes, his encouragements and fervent prayers were all that I could hear. And, when his wee son slithered onto the bed – purple, still, silent – his touch and voice, mingling with Megan’s, did as much to call Brenton Moses to life as the breath I puffed into his lungs.
Hannah. Will I ever get over the fact that my very first child, the tiny baby girl who whooshed into her father’s hands on a snowy December night a mere blink ago, has become a midwife herself? Though filled with her own baby, Hannah worked in concert with me to see Brent safely to earth as though we were one being. Her instincts, her knowledge, her skill came together with mine in a single fluid motion, and the joy and relief that washed over us in the wake of Brent’s cries wound our hearts ever closer, if that is even possible.
And Brent himself. I love how his Daddy announced his birth:
“100 oz of Woodard arrived 9:53pm 08/22/2017. This adorable bundle of facial expressions decided to pencil-dive out of his mother – double footling breech with both hands over his head. 10 pts for style, 10 pts for cute, -5 pts for method. The birth was a success at home and everyone involved is happy and healthy. Named after his Grandpa, Brent Woodard. Welcome to the world, Brenton Moses Woodard (BMW), your mother is as brave as a mongoose, as strong as a bear, and the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”
I love these pictures of Brent, too. While he looks to me just like his Mama, the expressions on his face are pure Paul. It’s as though we said, “Brent! You came feet first!” and he said, “Well, and what about it?”
I’m so blessed that Megan and Paul, generally among the private sort, are willing to share their story with you. Because they’re so private, however, the story is all they care to share, so don’t waste your time looking for photographs! But, for those interested in observing a breech birth, I’ve included a link to a photo essay that was recently posted on social media. It’s similar to Megan and Paul and Brent’s birth in that the baby came breech – different in that it’s a fairly straight forward, complete breech, versus a footling.
Kim Woodard Osterholzer, Colorado Springs Homebirth Midwife. And Grandma ♥