I'm thrilled to publish this installment in the series of birth stories written by mothers (and photographed by me). This is the story of the birth of Jameson Jack, by his mama, Kristin Cash.
In truth, I've been sitting on this one for way too long. When I first asked Kristin if she'd be interested in writing out her birth story for me, I had every intention of sharing it on the blog as soon as she sent it over - but it turned out that she had an insanely quick turnaround time and emailed it to me later that day (!).
I opened it and immediately got goosebumps. Instantly, I was taken back to the day of Jameson's birth. Perhaps because of its great power to transport, I put its publication aside until I had the time to really pour over it and pick which images to share alongside Kristin's beautiful words.
And now, here it is.
I am so thankful to Kristin for sharing her story here, not least because she wonderfully illustrates the true diversity of experience that makes for beautiful birth.
The Birth of Jameson Jack, by Kristin Cash
There’s nothing more sacred to a mother than the story of the birth of her child. No story is the same. Each is unique. There is hardly any other moment in a woman’s life when she is equal part vulnerable and brave. When we are at our weakest moment, there we are the strongest. If there were ever an experience we would be utterly defensive without shame, it would be of the events leading to our child’s first breath of oxygen.
And so, it is with complete respect to every woman’s unique labor that I share the details of my third child’s birth.
I have two daughters who were 9 and 7 years old when Jameson was born. Prior to my pregnancy with Jameson, I had spent 6 years envying the mothers around me, baffled by my complete ammenhorea (an absence of a menstrual cycle, and thus of ovulation), which is a medical dilemma about which few doctors had any advice to give. During what should have been my menses, there was not a teaspoon of blood for an entire 6 years — until the month before he was conceived.
The day I found out I was pregnant was both the happiest and the scariest of my life. I spent every nauseous moment eternally grateful for the life that was growing within me. As he grew, so did my maternal instincts to nourish and to protect, at all costs. At times, I felt I would give my own life for his if the moment ever came to that. At 16 weeks, a large, yet unknown, hematoma burst, and I bled unceasingly for three days until I was on the verge of a blood transfusion. Initially, doctors could not explain the cause. I thought I was losing my miracle, but an ultrasound revealed a happy, active baby completely unaware of the chaos just inches away from his temporary home. I felt like my breath had been taken away, and my gratitude was compounded by the weight of the moment. Every single day, I thanked God for tiny movements and hiccups.
Throughout my pregnancy, I had a clear vision: this baby would have a natural birth, the one I couldn’t have with my two older girls, who were both born by emergency cesarean (one under general anesthesia). I was beyond determined to keep him in there until he decided he was ready. I spent hours agonizing over his birth plan like it was the only piece of paper that mattered. I fought for my VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) with every fiber of my being.
But fate had a different plan to save both our lives.
The day before he was born, he flipped his chubby little body like a mountain in my stomach into a breech position and wedged his head under my ribs. The hours that followed were the most exhausting and helpless I have ever known as the cesarean section surgery (which had always been my obstetrician’s backup plan) was scheduled. I have a bicornuate (heart-shaped) uterus, and attempting to deliver a breech baby with my uterus' unique shape while also bearing two previous cesarean scars would be life-threatening for us both.
However illogically, I didn’t want to meet my little boy anymore. I only wanted to carry him within me forever and run away with him. The Pre-Op appointment was full of joyless edicts. “No phone. No makeup. No keys. No camera.” And the terrifying protocol that after the surgery, the baby would not be allowed to room-in with me at night unless another adult was also present. I felt like they were taking my baby by force with the cruelest of intentions. I didn’t sleep the night before. I felt entirely alone.
The morning of Jameson’s birth, I woke up and rebelled in a tiny measure as I did my hair and makeup against the hospital’s instruction. I held my belly nearly every possible moment knowing that Jameson would soon meet his sisters and leave my body.
That morning, I finally settled into the reality that I would never experience my natural VBAC. Nevertheless, we held firmly to our birth plan, which outlined the gentlest cesarean possible under the circumstances. We petitioned in advance to have our birth photographer in the OR with us. I wanted every moment captured.
Pain is a reminder we are alive. Contractions during labor are the chords of love that bring our gift into the world. It’s a grace to experience the pains of labor, in ANY form. In my case, it was the cold-pressed hands of the anesthesiologist during my spinal block, and then the pressure as they cut to deliver him.
Everything about the surgery was going calmly until the moment everything went silent. The obstetrician had delivered almost all of the baby’s breech body, bum-first through the typical low-transverse incision, when a uterine contraction clamped down. The contraction trapped the baby’s small, breathless face for almost 30 seconds that felt like an eternity. After trying several maneuvers, the obstetrician made the difficult but necessary decision to make an additional, longitudinal incision in the uterine muscle - the so-called “T-incision”. He was finally able to deliver the baby by pulling so forcefully that I felt amniotic fluid hit my face.
My husband stood to watch the pediatric team reach for the baby, and Sarah held my hand as I waited to hear Jameson's first cries. Waiting felt like the weight of the world was lying on my chest, until he finally muffled out a cry. I’ve never felt so much relief.
It wasn’t a natural labor, but it saved his life. As the obstetrician began the surgical repair, we overheard him tell the assisting physician that given the baby’s position in the bicornuate shape of my uterus, an attempt at a vaginal birth could have been “catastrophic.”
The kangaroo care wasn’t quite as immediate as I had requested, but his naked body was on my chest within moments and the vernix was left exactly where I wanted it, like the perfect baby lotion. His nude little body didn’t leave mine for most of his first 3 days of life.
I am so grateful to Sarah for capturing the first reaction that meant the world to me: his sisters meeting him for the first time.
Birth. It’s love. No matter how it happens.
This birth story will appear in the forthcoming volume "Supported in Birth: Stories of Empowering Wisdom," edited by Maranda Bower of Serenity Grows.