Trauma is magnified in pregnancy… especially past pregnancy, loss and/or birth trauma. Trauma leads us to be safety-seeking asking ourselves “what can I do so this doesn’t happen again?”.
We are all a collection of our experiences and our trials make us stronger or we dissolve in despair. Moving forward is usually impossible without first going back.
This is my first time writing both of my birth stories. To understand why the second one was healing, we have to go back to the first.
This story begins back in 2017 with the pregnancy and birth of my first born, my son, Rafe James. My pregnancy started out seemingly ‘normal’. I had pretty awful morning sickness and threw up every day, but besides that, no issues. Unfortunately, I began having issues with my gallbladder about halfway through the pregnancy which magnified into horrible gallbladder attacks that would last 15-20 hours each and were significantly worse than my labor. I had planned a home birth with my son, a desire I always had - to birth in my safe space surrounded by my safe people. What transpired though was my home birth midwife noticing signs creeping in that I was developing pre-eclampsia, which landed me in labor and delivery triage 4 weeks before my due date getting induced suddenly. I’m thankful I had hired Natural Baby Doulas early in my pregnancy and Christina also taught our childbirth education class which equipped us with the knowledge to make important decisions when it came to our induction and birth.
My induction went smoothly as far as first-time-mom inductions go. I was on a magnesium IV the entire labor plus 24 hours after delivery because of elevated blood pressure. The magnesium was the absolute worst part of the birth - it makes you feel sunburnt, like you’re living in a dreamlike state, and drowsy. It also makes you a fall risk, so just like if I had an epidural, I was unable to get out of bed to labor in different positions or walk around. I requested that we begin with a foley bulb and then add pitocin; I had a desire to avoid cervical ripening agents if possible. I also desired to avoid pain meds and an epidural; my birth was already heading in a direction I didn’t like and I wanted to salvage as much of it as I could. I’m thankful - my body responded well and 16 hours after the beginning of the induction, a beautiful, shrieking baby was placed in my arms. My journey into motherhood was culminated in that moment when I met him for the first time. My husband, Paul, helped catch our firstborn which was so special for us - you can read about that here.
Not very long after meeting him, Rafe was taken away from me to the NICU because his temperature wasn’t staying quite as stable as they wanted to see. Remember, I couldn’t get out of bed for 24 hours after delivery because of the magnesium IV, so while wheeling me to my mother/baby room (sans baby), they stopped me by the NICU to lay eyes on my firstborn. Except, in just the few minutes I was there, he stopped breathing for a split second and it terrified me. I went pale and they quickly wheeled me to my new room with a bed. Rafe and I were only separated by the NICU for 24 hours, but it felt like an eternity. Because of the magnesium, I also wasn’t allowed to eat while still on it. So not only was my womb empty, but my arms were empty AND my stomach was empty. My husband and my mom swapped places with each other for that first 24 hours after birth - one would stay with me while the other was in the NICU. I began pumping breastmilk immediately and they would take it with them each time they swapped placed in the NICU. I couldn’t do anything to help my baby except provide his nourishment and I wasn’t letting anything or anyone stop me from doing that.
The next morning after birth and a little sleep, I was wheeled to the NICU to see Rafe again. I was really weak and only able to stay for a few minutes, but it gave me hope that he would soon be with us. Finally, a little over 24 hours after birth, I was able to order my first meal… after 60 hours with no food, my meal (two grilled cheese sandwiches, tomato soup, peach slices, and orange juice - in case anyone was curious) tasted like heaven on earth. I was able to get out of bed for my first assisted trip to the bathroom. Then the moment I had been waiting for - my baby was discharged from the NICU and brought to me. Still pretty doped up on the magnesium, there are certain moments I have vivid memories of, but some I don’t. I regret that.
We stayed a total of 5 days in the hospital. Rafe ended up with pretty bad jaundice, so they held us in a boarding room which we have always been thankful for, because it allowed my husband Paul and I to be able to stay with him, even after I was discharged. He had to lay under the bilirubin lights for hours and hours, naked apart from a diaper, with a cover over his eyes. It was complete torture to see him but unable to hold him for so many hours. When he wasn’t under the lights, we were nursing. And not sleeping hardly a wink. We’d almost be asleep and another nurse would come in to check on him, take bloodwork, and ask so many questions. It was the longest 5 days of our lives, mentally and physically, leaving us feeling stuck in a place we didn’t want to be.
Finally, we were released to go home as long as we promised to follow up with our pediatrician to keep an eye on Rafe’s jaundice. Thankfully once we got home and he was able to get some natural sunlight, the jaundice cleared pretty quickly and life went on. That is, until my gallbladder attacks came back full force postpartum. Still lasting just as long as before, still worse than labor, I couldn’t sleep during them and could hardly hold my baby during them because of the pain. As my fourth attack postpartum was beginning, I called my husband and said “I can’t do this anymore. We need to go somewhere to fix this.” I had been hopeful all along that the gallbladder issues would resolve after birth, or that I would at least be able to heal it through cleanses, but that wasn’t the case - my quality of life was terrible and I just needed to be get better in order to take care of my baby. So we dropped our three week old off at my mom’s house (I cried and cried), leaving her with all of the milk I had been able to pump in the recent days, and we went back to UNC, where I have just given birth a few weeks prior, except to the ER this time. I’m still not completely sure what they gave me through an IV in the ER, but let’s just say it took the pain away immediately and for the first time during one of those attacks, I got relief, sweet relief. After some scans overnight, it was deemed that I should have my gallbladder removed that day, so I did. 17 hours after arriving at the ER, I left the hospital without a gallbladder, finally ready to move on from the past few months of pain.
I’d like to tell you that everything got better, but it didn’t. Although I was physically healing - from birth and surgery - mentally I was not doing okay. I had never been a patient in a hospital before, so here I was trying to process everything that had happened to me all at once. I began having terrible nightmares of awful things happening to my baby. I wasn’t getting much sleep, my baby was screaming, and I didn’t know what to do. In those first 4 months postpartum, I often felt like I was drowning, and I didn’t know how to talk to anyone about it except for my husband. Looking back, I feel so badly that I put so much on him - I told him about all my nightmares, all my fears, and I can’t tell you how many times he held me as I cried, reliving the past few months of my life in my head over and over again. I couldn’t move on. I LOVED being a mom, I LOVED my baby, but I didn’t have joy. If you look back at pictures from that time, you wouldn’t know it. I kept a poker face - I was supposed to be happy, right?! “At least you and your baby are healthy”; people really do say that thinking that it helps you feel better. Maybe we were healthy physically, but what about mentally? Is drowning really a healthy place to be? I felt like I was stuck dreaming while everyone around me was living their lives.
I finally starting seeing a tunnel of light a few months postpartum; it didn’t happen all at once, but gradually I was able to feel “sort of” normal again. I credit a lot of that with pouring myself into becoming a birth doula. After I began attending births, seeing such a wide range of birth experiences, and facing my trauma head on every single time I walked into a hospital… I began healing. A little at at time, as each birth passed and I walked that journey with other mamas, I was feeling joy again.
However, I was bound and determined that I was NOT going through that again. No way. I didn’t want to get pregnant again and “take a chance” on something going poorly again… or, even worse than before. My heart and mind were not open in the slightest. I had always wanted to have my children close in age, but I couldn’t even fathom going through another pregnancy, birth, or postpartum experience. I’m a planner, I’m very type-A, and I like to know exactly how something is going to go before it even happens. I’m also empathetic; I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I wasn’t sure I could handle a poor outcome. So for a long time, we didn’t even talk about having another baby.
A couple of years passed, watching our sweet baby turn into a sweet toddler, attending many births as a doula and midwife assistant, and slowly but surely I could feel myself opening up the possibility of another baby. God saw it fit that we have another, and we found out we were pregnant again this past February. We went forward with planning to birth at home, even though it didn’t happen last time. But during this second pregnancy, I tried to always be open-minded about the possibility of another hospital birth if I became pre-eclamptic again. I had an amazing home birth midwife who walked this journey with me. She agreed to help us watch closely for any signs of pre-eclampsia, so we watched my blood work, blood pressure, and symptoms like a hawk. There were no issues during the entire pregnancy (apart from the bad morning sickness and every day throwing up like I had in my first pregnancy), and let me tell you - not having gallbladder attacks during pregnancy was a dream come true. Near the end of my pregnancy, we noticed a slight rise in my blood pressure, but we monitored it and I took LOTS of magnesium baths, slathered myself in magnesium lotion multiple times per day, ate heart-healthy foods and drinks, took supplements, and worked to keep my stress levels down. 2020 hasn’t been the easiest year to do that, but I was determined. My midwife and my doulas (who are also my doula partners) answered so many calls and texts during my pregnancy with me worrying over random things. My past experience had me SO SURE that something bad was going to happen and that I was a ticking time bomb.
I talked to my midwife about beginning some “gentle induction” techniques beginning 2-3 weeks before my due date; nothing forceful, just encouraging my body. Given my history and the way pre-eclampsia works, I knew the longer my pregnancy continued, the more likely it was that it might return. She agreed, so I began getting induction massages, acupunture sessions, taking evening primrose oil, and eating dates, among other things. After the induction massage and each session of acupuncture, I would have 1-2 hours of contractions, but nothing time-able. Then would would fizzle away. On Monday, November 2, my doula partner Christina asked me if I’d like to go for a walk. So off we trudged through my neighborhood to a local park with my son, a stroller, and her dog. I thought she was going to take me for a leisurely stroll; I didn’t realize she was trying to help me go into labor. Let’s just say it was a brisk walk! That evening, I had a visit with my midwife. We had talked about possibly stripping my membranes, but decided then that since my blood pressure was still decent and she was comfortable with the way everything else looked, we would hold off for at least a few days and then re-evaluate. Later that night while sitting on the couch eating a bowl of ice-cream (my weakness) and watching a show with my husband, my water broke! My midwife and doulas had all told me that I might have a fast labor considering how smoothly my induction went with my first, so I called my midwife immediately to let her know. She told me exactly what I would tell any doula client - GO TO SLEEP! So I did, though I didn’t sleep very well.
I woke up the next morning, no contractions still, so I went about my day like normal. My midwife stopped by to check to confirm that my water had broken, but oddly enough, her test came back negative. But I KNOW it was my water that broke the night before. My husband agrees, haha. While she was checking that, she found that I was already 4cm dilated and 70% effaced, and my daughter, Lorelai, was very low! Yay! She told me to take a bath and a nap that afternoon to relax since I didn’t get much sleep the night before. Once I laid down for the nap around 3pm, contractions started almost immediately. My husband had taken our son to the park while I was resting, but I quickly texted him asking him to come home because I started vocalizing during contractions and knew I didn’t want to be alone.
Here’s the thing. I’m a birth doula. And I think sometimes doulas must make pretty bad clients because I was in denial that I was in labor. After my husband and son got home, we decided I should change positions a few times just to make sure contractions weren’t going to fizzle out again. We called my mom to come over because our son wanted to go back outside to play with my husband, but I didn’t want to be inside alone. Even though I was vocalizing during them and they were very hard, I was afraid to call my entire birth team over, only for them to have to go back home if this wasn’t the real deal. My doula partner Christina called me around 5:20pm after I had sent all of my doulas a text to let them know I was having contractions. She heard me have one contraction on the phone and said “I’m coming right now!” I thought that was silly that she was rushing to get here - in my mind, I still wasn’t in labor. Ha! After she arrived at 5:30pm, she found me leaning over my kitchen counter and started applying counter pressure immediately, which felt amazing! She updated my other doula partners, and they updated my midwife (no, I had not called her to update her because I THOUGHT I WASN’T IN LABOR… oops!). Everyone rushed to get there. I was having contractions every 3-5 minutes, but I was still in denial. With my first birth, I didn’t really get a ‘break’ in between contractions where I could think clearly and regain my composure. Because I was on the magnesium IV and pitocin, I had very difficult contractions with seemingly no break in between them. The breaks that I did get, I was so dazed feeling that I couldn’t really vocalize how I felt. So here I was in completely natural labor and I just couldn’t believe how I could still think, focus, and talk so clearly in between contractions! My birth photographer arrived at 6:20pm, my midwife’s assistant arrived at 6:30pm, and my midwife arrived at 6:50pm. At some point I looked at my midwife and said “I hope this isn’t a false call!” She lovingly laughed at me and asked if I would like for her to check me so that I would know I was making progress from when she checked me earlier that day. I said yes, because I truly didn’t believe anything had changed! So around 7:20pm, she checked me and I was 7cm and 100% effaced, with contractions coming every 3-4 minutes. My husband Paul and I stepped into the warm birth pool in our bedroom right after I got checked at 7:26pm. When I sat down in the water, that’s when it finally hit me: “I’m about to have a baby!” It’s funny to think back now and realize how truly in denial I was. I’m still thankful it wasn’t a false call, haha! Sometime around 7:50/8:00pm, I started feeling like I couldn’t NOT push. So I began actively pushing with each contraction. The pushing stage was my least favorite with my first birth, but I had assumed since I would be in the water this time that it wouldn’t be as bad for me. Nope, I just really do not like pushing. But there I was, surrounded by my amazing birth team - my midwife, her assistant Sarah C. (who is also one of my doula partners), Christina, Jessica, and my friend and birth photographer, Sarah S. My sweet husband sat behind me in the birth pool, helping to hold me up as I rode the waves of contractions, whispering sweet nothings in my ear and praying over me the entire time. My mom was also there and came in and out of the room with our son, who wanted to be near mommy but was also overwhelmed at times, so the two of them would go into the living room to play and come into the bedroom to check on us every once in a while. My sweet boy held up a fan for me while I was in the pool and put his hand on mine. I’ll never forget thinking about how special it was for him, the one who first made me a mother, to be supporting me during the birth of his sister. He probably won’t remember it, but I sure will.
The contractions got tougher with pushing. Like I said, I really do not like to push. It feels so out of control to me, and I like to be in control. But I looked up with each contraction into the eyes of the women around me; the women who supported me before and during the entire pregnancy, the women who know my history and what this meant to me. I looked up at them when I thought I couldn’t go any further… and they reminded me that I could. See, doulas still need doulas. Because in that moment, it’s easy to forget that you witness this miracle often and that it will end and baby will be born. With each contraction and each push, they reminded me of my strength, they carried me when I could no longer carry myself. I felt these ladies praying for me. The song “It Is Well With My Soul” came on and we were all singing in between contractions. I can’t describe the beauty and serenity that I experienced in that room. Our bedroom. The place where at 8:33pm, my beautiful, precious daughter, Lorelai Ray, was born in the water, then lovingly brought to my arms.
Imagine being born into a world with such an easy transition to welcome you into this new life. Warm water, dim light, voices of those who deeply love you fill the room, the hands that cradle your head come from the only heartbeat you’ve ever known, cord still attached pulsing vital oxygen while you figure out how to breathe. Being allowed on your timing to find the breast while still connected to the only source that has brought you nourishment; the placenta. No one rushes you to figure out how to quickly survive because your soul knows all is well.
Not long after she was born, my midwife wanted me to move to the bed to deliver the placenta because the birth pool water was getting cooler. As I stood up, my placenta detached and I delivered it right there, standing up in the water. Then my team helped me move to the bed with our baby, where I got cozy and stayed for the next few hours, snuggling and loving on the new life that gazed up at me with wide, bright eyes. My husband and son sat on the bed with me and collectively we began the process of learning how to be a family of four. My doula partners made us a snack tray with cheese, meats, veggies, and fruit, which we all nibbled on. It was absolutely serene - the voices of those we love filling up our home, not having to travel to and from a medical facility, going straight to my own bed after delivering our daughter in our bedroom.
The morning after Lorelai was born, I was sitting in our living room snuggling her on the couch beside the Christmas tree, drinking a cup of coffee and watching my husband and son play in the floor. I said “we could do that again”… and maybe we will. But if The Lord intends us to have two babies, I will always be forever grateful for this healing and redemptive birth.
Our daughter is now 5 weeks old and it has taken me some time to process how different this birthing and postpartum experience have been compared to my first. I have felt such an ease of transition from being a mom of one to a mom of two, and when I look into my daughter’s eyes, it’s like looking at someone I’ve always known. Lorelai is an answer to many prayers, many hopes, and many dreams that began long before she was conceived. The Lord knew both of my babies birth stories before they ever happened, and He ordained for them to each be unique. I am eternally grateful.
Lorelai Ray Jordan
Born November 3rd, 2020 at 8:33pm
6 lbs. 2 oz.
38 weeks + 4 days
To Watch a birth video, check out the link here.