I met Sarah Lawrence several years ago now and, though I wasn’t able to attend her first birth at home due to complications, and had moved away by the time she birthed her second, our souls struck a cord, and we’ve loved one another ever since.
Sarah’s a beautiful woman all through, a dedicated wife and mother, a gifted writer and musician, and passionate per the welfare of all those around her. It’s been a true privilege to know and experience her.
The stories of her births are raw, inspiring, and worth hearing. Join me now as she shares them with us.
The Birth of ZJ
I was twenty-two, pregnant, and had no idea what I was doing as far as being a mother was concerned. My nose was always in books and periodical articles. My prenatal care was through a clinic, and I would see a rotation of four different doctors (three of which I liked enough, and one I did not mix with very well). I went to each doctor’s appointment faithfully. As a heavy-set woman, they made a lot of assumptions about my health – one being that elevated blood pressure is normal for bigger women. (To be honest, at that point I hadn’t had an understanding of my health enough to know that I was being discriminated against, and I wasn’t able to advocate for myself with so much missing medical information.) They would take my vitals and send my urine to their lab and return writing in my file, but would say very little to me. Into my third trimester, after frustrations with the medical system began compounding and I was tired of feeling like a sick person for harboring life in my womb, we called a friend of the friend who told us about home births, and invited the midwife into our little apartment on the third floor in a neighborhood that left some to be desired.
Enter Kim, a petite woman with a soft voice and eyes big enough to take in every detail of the world. I felt her love the moment I laid eyes upon her and invited her into my unsettled little home. We talked a lot about expectations. She took my vitals and asked me questions in a way that sought more than just hurried responses. She stayed for several hours that night as we conjured a mixture of personal chats and the important details entailing what I needed to do to ensure the birth I wanted. She explained that although it was late in the game, she would gladly help me try for my dream birth. Before leaving she she asked if I could get my records from the doctor’s office. I had them by our next appointment. Upon seeing my records she informed me that I had proteins in my urine and creeping blood pressure, signs of something called “pre-eclampsia”, a legitimate medical emergency when left untreated. She was shocked when I told her that I had no clue this was happening to me and seemed sad when I explained how little they told me about my own body throughout my care to that point.
She went through my cupboards, gave suggestions for important supplements, and reminded me to drink tons of water. I had several appointments with this lovely lady, while also keeping appointments with the doctors I was already seeing in case of medical emergency (by that point, had I stopped going, my insurance could’ve denied payment, and we were very poor).
I was 39 weeks pregnant, and went to the doctor’s office for a prenatal visit. The nurse took my urine sample to test for proteins and other nasties, weighed me and took my blood pressure. It was the usual appointment, but this time my blood pressure was very high. Out went the nurse and in came the doctor with whom I struggled. I did not get so much as a hello. Without looking up from the file in her hands, she told my husband and I to go to labor and delivery. Panic stirred within me, and I did not want this doctor to deliver my baby. The doctor began raising her voice at me. My husband grew increasingly angry. He said to her, ”The nurse that took her blood pressure always gets it higher than the other nurses. Could you give her a minute and let her calm down – and then check it yourself?” She conceded, but my heart was racing and I was scared. After ten minutes, she returned. While pumping up the cuff she says, “You know the side-effects of your blood pressure being this high? You and your baby will die.” Of course, my blood pressure peaked even further. We told her we needed a minute to decide what we wanted to do. Ryan called Kim, and she told us that it wouldn’t be safe to deliver at home, and to go to the hospital. We told the doctor we’d go.
We arrived at the Labor and Delivery Triage. They sent me to a room that was partitioned by curtains. I was hooked up to strange monitors. They came in and out, checking, always checking. I was there for several hours with no change. I mentioned that I was hungry and that I’d only had half a sandwich so far that day. The nurse told me the doctor didn’t want me to eat. Another nurse told her to go get me some food. My blood pressure spiked every time the doctor’s name was mentioned. The nurse noticed. The other nurse returned with a sandwich. I ate it, and my blood pressure dropped. I began to stabilize. The nurses noticed that too, and began to fight to get a second opinion. Another doctor came and said that I could go home, provided I submit to a BPP (Biophysical Profile, an ultrasound that measures movement of baby, heartbeat, lung use, and delivery of fluids from the placenta to the baby) to ensure that the baby wasn’t under stress. He explained that if my little girl scored a 6 out of 8, he’d release me. They hooked me up to more strange machines. She passed, 8 out of 8 and they start preparing for my release. As we were getting ready to leave, the original doctor began to call nonstop. I heard the nurses say, “No, I won’t do that – No, I won’t tell her that – No, she doesn’t want to speak with you,” over and over again. Finally, my husband said, “I’ll talk with her.” She gave him an earful, and he kindly interrupted, “No. Look, you’re off our file. You’re fired! We are not going to deal with you.” He hung up and told the nurse. She smiled at him and gave me a hug. She said, “You’re doing nothing wrong. You’re okay.” Later, I find out that doctor had told the nurse to tell me, once again, that I was killing myself and my child.
The next morning, my husband’s mom came. She was a CNA and had a blood pressure cuff. I was in severe hypertension. We called Kim and she suggested we go to a small hospital about an hour away. We did. I was registered and put in a lovely little private room with a birthing tub. I told them of my wishes, of our struggle, and was adamant and strong. They were happy to hear of someone so keen on upholding our wishes who truly worked for us and with us. They brought me a birthing ball, told me they’d randomly check my blood pressure and the baby’s vitals, and, otherwise, leave us alone.
The labor was long and stalled many times. When things were calm it almost felt like a birthing party. Family and friends came and went. Ryan and our friend (our doula), Lue, were there almost the entire time. I was a trooper – dedicated to giving my baby and I what I believed was best. I labored for one hundred and eight hours, something rarely allowed in a hospital. It was a very hard labor. I was often confined to the bed. They encouraged me to lay on my back for the big push. Pushing was over two hours and horrendously painful. I fought against the pain. I remember screaming that I didn’t want to be a mother. Things came out of my mouth that I would normally be horrified by. Finally, my daughter was born vaginally on a Tuesday morning, a day after her due date, and after many compromises (ruptured membranes, medication, Pitocin, etc.). As soon as they laid her on my chest, I smiled. I said, “Oh, hi baby!” and all was right in the world. Though I’ve had to mourn those compromises over the years, I am eternally grateful to have been able to deliver her with my body when she decided to come into this world. With her, I was able to realize that motherhood is a series of fighting and knowing when to fold.
The Birth of X
My pregnancy with my son was much different than it was with my daughter. I was a bit further from poverty and at twenty-nine (six and a half years later than my first), I was a lot less scared to be a mom again. We arranged care with a midwife near the end of our first trimester and got to work to make my body an environment suitable for a healthy pregnancy. I started changing my diet. I gave up processed white foods and took up an endless diet of spinach, grapefruit, and cheese. I started drinking water like it was air. I took care of myself. I walked most days. I took up yoga and was constantly on my birthing ball. I received chiropractic care and also went to an acupuncturist. I listened to everything my midwife said. Throughout the pregnancy, I actually lost weight. I felt good. There were some traumas that happened in my life during my pregnancy. The biggest was the loss of my father. I think some of the stress may have had a bit of an impact on my baby, and he took a little longer to get here than planned.
I was forty-two weeks pregnant and what some would’ve called overdue. Had I chosen to have a birth in a hospital or birthing facility, there is a very likely chance that by this time, I would’ve been pushed into a C-section and caring for my surgical wounds and a two week old baby boy. It is guaranteed that by forty-one weeks pregnant, a litany of consequences would’ve been nervously spilled at me by my doctors, compromises would’ve been made, and I would’ve been observed like a caged animal with wires and beeping machines tugging at my body at least once a week until he came. I was healthy and so was he, and my midwife wasn’t worried. We trudged on until he chose to come into this world; until his tiny body was ready for this journey.
It was late into a clear Thursday night in April of 2015 when things started picking up. Earlier in the evening my contractions had begun coming steadily, so we slept until my body screamed that there would be no more sleep until new life arrived. My husband called our friend Lue as I writhed on my exercise ball. Shortly after, she opened the door wearing huge smiles and comforting grace. She was amazed at my progress, and called Hannah and Anna, our blessing of a midwife and her equally wonderful apprentice, and they wiped their tired eyes, making their way to my home in the suburbs of a slightly bigger than small town in Michigan.
My contractions were coming fast. Hannah, Anna, Lue, and and my husband fluttered about the house, which was not as ready as I’d have liked, getting everything from my big birthing box and getting the birthing pool ready.
When I got into the pool, it was warm and felt so good on my back that was wrenched with pain. When I had my first daughter, I had a Pitocin drip and my membranes were ruptured. In between those contractions, I was still in pain. This time, in the birthing tub, I actually garnished peaceful rest in between contractions. I could feel the good hormones surge over me and I was able to rest when I wasn’t in pain.
After a long while, and some serious pain in my hips, we decided that gravity would be my best friend. I was stalled a bit, so my midwife had me on a birthing stool. The pain was outstanding. I could hardly do it. I felt weak. I remember begging the ladies to tell me I could have a C-section just so I knew it could be an option, but I trudged on. I was in too much pain for the stool, so we made our way up to my bedroom where I was hunched on the bed on all fours, pushing. After about a half hour, some hip adjusting and endless love and support, I pushed again – harder. I could feel my son leaving my body. This time my husband caught him. There was a little bit of meconium but my baby was well! He was immediately placed on my belly as the midwife and her apprentice went over vitals and studied the placenta for any abnormality. Soon, my first born, ZJ, arrived with her grandmother. It was about 30 minutes after my son was born, and he was still attached to the cord, now withering and rubbery. She was so excited to be there. We had promised that she would be the first to hold him after mommy and daddy, but she had no idea we were going to let her cut the cord! She was ecstatic and took special care with the medical scissors as she and Hannah snipped. We showed off our belly buttons and had a belly button party. It was pure magic. I nursed Xavier and got a shower and the women chirped about my house making sure I had everything I needed to rest and bond. We realized that he came on Siblings Day and Palindrome Day and I thought that was pretty neat considering he made his sister a sibling that day with the help of two lovely ladies with palindrome names.
I had absolutely no postpartum depression to speak of. It was an easy transition from pregnancy to motherhood. I was so grateful that I chose to birth at home. It made all the difference in the world.
by Sarah Lawrence
All photographs were provided by the Lawrence family.
Thank you so much for the gift of your time!
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Kim Woodard Osterholzer, Colorado Springs Homebirth Midwife and Author
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