Given that Cedar’s birth happened at home, it seemed fitting to include the story on our family adventure blog. As it was, in its own way, our family’s biggest adventure. My hope is that with this post, we can raise awareness about birth choices and inspire informed and empowered decisions about childbirth. A woman’s experience deserves respect. She matters and birth matters. Here is our story.
This second birth was a deeply personal experience for me. I struggled in the days leading up to my older daughter’s birth. Not knowing when labor would start or how long it would last…it was anxiety provoking. As my second birth approached, I was afraid of the pain. I was afraid of pushing for hours. I remember how out-of-control the contractions felt and I didn’t want to experience that again. I was afraid of feeling helpless.
Lack of control is difficult for me. However, when anything scares me, I try to transform the negative space into an opportunity for growth.
I focused on what I love about pregnancy and childbirth. I love that my body is designed to handle it. I love that pain is something my mind can control. My body may feel like a runaway train but I am in charge of how I react. I love that for thousands of years there was never an option of drugs and unmedicated birth was something women did in the company of other women who supported them. I love that birth is inherently natural, safe, and beautiful. I remembered that the majority of births happen without complications and the majority of women’s bodies work exactly as they should. I love the tribe of professionals I hired who believe in my strength because I am a woman. A tribe of women with whom I have built relationships and whose job it is to show up, any time of day, and support me as I bring our baby into the world. Women who put my physical and emotional health, my birthing experience, and the health of my child above all else. I love that my husband believed in me.
The rest of it, the fear and worry… through the literature of Ina May Gaskin, Birthing From Within, and inspiring Instagram feeds, I let it go.
The last few weeks of pregnancy were slow and wonderful. And thankfully, due to twice a week visits with a prenatal chiropractor, they weren’t too uncomfortable! Family and friends were bursting at the seams with offers to help and keep me company.
On June 28th, six days before my due date, I had my 39 week visit and I was 3cm dilated. After lunch with my Mom and a relaxing evening at home, I had what is unfortunately referred to as the “bloody show.” I called the midwife. Michelle responded and assured me it was normal, encouraged me to go to sleep, and bet I would still be pregnant in the morning.
Peter was rock climbing so Lindsay came over and kept me company. We talked and took a walk around the block. Nothing was happening so she went home and I went to bed. Around 1:00am I woke up to a contraction. I had a mild contractions for the rest of the night but I had been experiencing contractions for months so contractions were not unusual.
In the morning, I was still experiencing mild contractions. Seven hours of contractions was unusual, so I sent our doula Kelly a text. Having her on standby made me feel better. I did the same for Alanna the birth photographer. Peter packed Sage’s lunch and my Mom drove her to Nature School. Given my comfortable and happy state, Peter left for his morning meetings. After dropping off Sage at school, my Mom came back and parked in my neighborhood. Always thinking about others, she wanted to be close in case I needed anything.
I tried to take a nap but had too much on my mind. Getting out of the house (and out of my head) sounded nice. I hopped in my Mom’s car and we went to Project Juice. I told the barista I wanted to have my baby today and I needed a smoothie to make it happen. He prescribed blended comfort food- the almond butter and chia jam smoothie. I was surprised when he initiated a conversation about baby names, birth choices, and my giant belly. He was excited for me and stoked I was having my baby at home.
My Mom and I drove around Balboa park, parked in the shade and looked up famous people born on June 29th. We didn’t have a name for our baby so we were hoping for some inspiration!
Peter came home around 11:30am. I kissed my Mom goodbye and went inside. Peter and I did some last minute cleaning, put the plastic on top of the bed sheets, put the fitted birth sheet over the plastic and finished inflating the birthing tub. My contractions were getting more powerful and I was getting anxious. My head was not in the game. Peter called the midwife as I soaked in our bathtub. She said she was ready to leave and to call back when I was in active labor. I draped a hot beach towel over my lower back and started to cry.
The fear and worry was back. My thoughts were racing. I was terrified of the pain intensifying, I was afraid our choice of a home birth was going to put us at risk. Maybe I did want the drugs… I was doubting myself and the birth choices I believe in. The contractions slowed and eventually stopped.
In hindsight, I see that there was a powerful connection between my brain and my body. I know it was the fear that made everything stop. I didn’t feel comfortable. When I was in labor with my daughter I got to 10cm in three hours and it was a stressful race to the birth center. When we arrived, Sage was in mild distress so I had to stay in the only position that normalized her heart tones. I pushed, on my back, for four hours.
If this birth was going to be as tough as the last, I didn’t want to do it without my team. And while he would have done an incredible job, I didn’t want Peter delivering this baby.
Kelly and Alanna were on their way and I wanted to restart the contractions so I went in Sage’s room and using her hanging ladder I started doing lunges and squats.
Around 1:00pm Kelly arrived and Alanna arrived 20 mins later. Nothing was happening. I felt terrible because perhaps it was a false alarm and I had wasted their time.
They assured me they were in this for the long haul so we sat down and relaxed. For 20 minutes we shared stories about parenting. They made me laugh with anecdotes about their children and I was able to calm down. Both women had their babies at home and having experienced women by my side empowered me. Thankfully my relaxed state and a few good laughs restarted the contractions.
These contractions demanded support and I felt explosively grateful my doula was with me. Peter was making ice cream and cocktails and
Alanna began taking pictures. Kelly coached me through each birth wave. She encouraged me to breathe the baby down and bring the baby down. Reframing the contractions with these intentions helped immensely.
With each birth wave, I supported myself against the kitchen table or counter. Kelly and Peter took turns applying pressure. I had a few minutes between each contraction where I laughed and was able to hold a conversation. Around 2:00pm Sage came home. She bounded through the front door and gave me a hug. Given her free range personality it’s no surprise she left her pants in the car!
My Mom came in and I was happy to have everyone there. I don’t remember much about the next hour but I do remember Sage bringing me flowers from the courtyard. I remember she put on her prettiest pink dress, I remember getting tired of the kitchen and needing to go in the bedroom.
Peter was filling up the tub and I was laboring against our bedroom wall. The wall I chose happened to be the wall I covered in birth affirmations. When I saw the pictures I realized my head was pressing against an affirmation that said, “women are strong.”
As labor strengthened, Kelly encouraged me to change the pitch of my moaning from high tense noises of resistance to stronger noises of acceptance. Noises that sounded deeper and noises that would help my baby descend. The following half hour was the most intense. My pelvis and upper legs felt the surges with such ferocity I could barely stand. At one point Peter had his arms under my arms and he was the only reason I could remain upright.I reached my breaking point but the female body is incredible. The strength of the uterus and the fact that it knew exactly what to do is beyond my comprehension.
Yes it hurt, yes it was the most intense experience of my life, but somehow it’s also wonderful.
Before I had Sage, I asked my Mom about labor, she told me, “when it hurts the most you are almost finished.”
She was right. At this point I could feel with every pulse, the transition from contractions to pushing. My water broke and my body began to bear down.
I was holding on to Peter and the wall. I felt the urge to squat.
My prenatal yoga instructor taught me that squatting is the ideal birthing position because it creates the most space in the pelvis. It was working! I could feel my baby making its way down the birth canal.
Kelly was encouraging me to get in the birthing tub. I wanted to get in the tub but the urges to push were so powerful and close together I didn’t think I could do it on my own. Kelly and Peter lifted and supported me into the tub and on to my knees.
The tub was bliss. The warm water and the inflated walls and floor enveloped me. The tub was such a relief! I draped my shoulders over the side of the tub and joined my body as it powerfully pushed the baby down.
Our baby descended so quickly my body didn’t have time to stretch and accommodate. The contractions were replaced with a burning sensation. I begged Kelly to make it stop. The burning was unbearable. She told me I was in charge of how quickly this baby came out. I could slow down the pushing and give my body more time to open.
I appreciated her suggestion but I was finished. I reached down and felt the baby’s head. I had one more powerful contraction and with the world’s greatest relief, the head pushed through. Kelly calmly said, “there’s the head, there’s the head.” I leaned over the edge of the tub, bit down on a towel and pushed out the rest of the body. Kelly caught him, passed him through my legs, gently lifted him out of the water and said, “here’s your baby, here’s your baby.” I pulled the baby to my chest.
Exhilaration consumed me. I held our baby, I breathed him in, and we cried. He pinked up and cried too. There is nothing like this feeling. Not only had I overcome my fear of experiencing a second drug-free birth but my dream of a home birth came true. I had the privilege of experiencing, once again, the miracle of being a woman. Having done this twice, I believe that natural childbirth is a building block of motherhood. It was designed as a right of passage. No doctor or drug was manipulating the birth of my child and I know that played a role in our success. The choices I made for my pregnancies and the birth of my children set the stage for how I define myself as a mother. I am strong, I think for myself, I ask questions, I make informed decisions, I protect my body and my baby. I trust the process, I listen to my instincts, and I can handle anything. My baby, my body, and my mind collaborated. We did this.
Through this experience, my relationship with my husband deepened. Once again, I shared with him my most primal and raw self. Because of our home birth, our relationship as a family strengthened. Sage was able to witness the birth of her first sibling. Sage saw the birth of her brother as a natural event. She was never scared or uncomfortable and I am so grateful she was a part of bringing him into the world.
The births of my babies were intense and magical days. I struggled but I was empowered. I looked fear in the face and I became my strongest self. I am proud I had the courage to trust my baby’s birth plan and my body’s ability. I had the courage to pick a team that aligned with what mattered to me. I stepped into my power and was rewarded by my choices. It is an accomplishment I will have for the rest of my life. Healthy babies are not the only things that matter. Birth matters too.
The baby came very fast. From the time I experienced my first serious contraction to the time he was born was about an hour and a half. Because he came so quickly, I was in a bit of shock. I was cold from being in the water and needed to catch my breath. After 30 minutes with our baby, Peter and Sage took him while I warmed up and was cared for by the midwife.
We waited to cut his umbilical cord for the added health benefits but longer than normal because Michelle, the midwife, promised Sage she could do the honors. Michelle was taking care of me so baby and Sage had to wait a little bit.
After the midwife took care of me, I got dressed and was able to spend more time with our sweet baby. It was wonderful to be at home in my own bed surrounded by family.
The midwife helped Sage cut his cord.
The midwife and team weighed him, did his newborn check up, and even let Sage put on his very first diaper and check his heart beat.
Welcome to the family baby Cedar!
We were cared for by Birth Matters Holistic Midwifery and Kelly Pappas with Beautiful One Birth Services. Our photographer was Alanna Farmer. We live in San Diego, CA.
awww, I was this close to tearing up reading this! I found you through your birth photography (something I’d absolutely love to go into!) and this is so amazing. I love reading birth stories. I can’t wait to have kids of my own one day. There’s something so rewarding about doing exactly what your body is designed to do – something hard and intense – and reaping the reward of your labor! Reading your story just makes me excited all over again for the birth experience. I’m one of nine (third in the lineup) ages ranging from 22 to 4 (or will be on the 20th) and we’ve all been born at home. my mom went in briefly to the hospital with the fourth but was so stressed and tense that her labor completely stopped. They made her sign some papers with really strong language (she will be wholly responsible for the death of her child as soon as she exits the hospital, etc, etc) and she’s heard all the horror stories (why do people think it’s okay to tell horror stories to people who are going against societal norms?! ahh, so frustrating!), but it’s really the best option! I’ve been there for a number of the births and they’re always incredibly peaceful and amazing. Thanks for sharing your story! I agree that the world needs to be empowered through the spread of stories like these. Home birth, drug free, and midwives should all become excepted practices and at very least acknowledged as a good option! You’re story is amazing and, for lack of a better word, inspiring! <3 <3
So beautiful ❤️
Liz. You Rock. Nellie forwarded this to me. I am Anna and Nellies mother Debbie. They were born at home as was Cecelia. Your story brought back beautiful memories. Thank you. My mother who had her first 2 babies at home in the 30’s always said, “Well yes, it is the best way”
We are so lucky and strong. Your family and team were excellent and their lives were transformed that day.
Welcome little Cedar!
Amazing job Liz – I admire your ability to be so in tune with your body. What a beautiful birth story ❤️
So lovely! Thank you so very much for sharing. My heart is so full. Your journey and the pictures… A beautiful story:) xoxo all our love. Can’t wait to meet him and hug you!
BEAUTIFUL-Love you guys! xoxo Lindsay
This is beautiful. Love the pictures! It made it come alive. You all look like you are on a magazine layout.
Beautiful Liz. It brought happy tears.💕
OOOOOOH!!!! CRYING!!!!! ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL! Thank you for opening your heart, your vulnerability, your raw and natural experience of Cedar’s birth! YOU ARE STRONG! You are an inspiration to Mamas everywhere! Love you forever, Elizabeth! (And Peter, Sage, and Cedar too!) CONGRATULATIONS
Your story was so well expressed and the accompanying photos allowed me to be there with you, Sage and Peter. You have generously shared your experiences, strength, tears and joy. Sage and Cedar will follow in the powerful footsteps of their incredible mother and father. Love you all, Sharon