Birth Photography

Featured on the Huffington Post: National Midwifery Week 2017

National Midwifery Week was earlier this month, and though I do tend to think we should shout our love for our midwives from the rooftops EVERY week, it's still lovely to have a week during which to formally give thanks.  

The Huffington Post celebrated this "holiday" of sorts by compiling 30 photographs of midwives at work.  I'm thrilled to have an image included.  Definitely click on over to see all 30 photographs - they're amazing.  

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Pssst.  Love this image, but left wanting more?  Click here for the full birth story, authored by none other than the beautiful mama pictured here. 

Thank You, Fairbanks: A Letter from Student Midwives Hannah & Kluane

I've had the great privilege to work next to Hannah and Kluane many times over the past two years as they completed their midwifery apprenticeships at the Alaska Family Health and Birth Center.  The real bummer about apprenticeships, it turns out, is that they come to an end.  Hannah emailed me this week and asked if I might share this letter she and Kluane penned - INSTEAD OF STUDYING FOR THEIR EXAMS - to help share their deep gratitude to the community of Fairbanks for welcoming them into their families and training them as midwives.  

Please join me in sending them love and the best of luck as they embark on their next chapters!  As you'll read below, they will be holding a fundraiser at AFHBC in July to raise money for their upcoming charitible mission - I hope to see you there.  <3

And now, onto their words.  The following letter is authored by Hannah Brown and Kluane Tozier.  


To the women and families of the Fairbanks area:

June marks two years since we became student midwives, and also the conclusion of our apprenticeships with Alaska Family Health and Birth Center. Time flies, and all that. While we really should be studying and preparing for the test that will determine if we get to be real, grown-up midwives, we have been talking and can't help but reflect on our time here. Along with this reflection comes a need for us to express our thanks. 

None of this would be possible without you: the women and families of Alaska Family Health and Birth Center. Your willingness, patience, and good humor throughout every phase of our education has been amazing and so very humbling. We were never told that we were too young, or that we couldn't support a woman through labor when we have never personally experienced it. Through these years, we have laughed with you. We have cried with and for you in joy, as well as in sorrow and loss. We have been honored to witness the strength that can only be found in the birth room. We have watched you struggle and wiped your tears as you worked through pain and exhaustion to breastfeed your baby. 

The last few weeks have been emotional ones. We've slowly been collecting my "lasts" at the birth center: the last Monday of clinic with Julie and Kate, the last lunch with the midwives, the last initial prenatal with Manga, the last postpartum visit with Erin. While it's true that we could never have arrived at this point in our training without the women, babies, and families that we have served for the past two years, we are equally indebted to the midwives of Alaska Family Health and Birth Center. 

"Our" midwives. Oh, how I could go on and on about how much we love, admire, and aspire to be like each of them. These women are fearless in their love and support. These women are our heroes. They hold life and death in their strong but gentle hands. We have seen them be unflinching in their care through the dark moments, the painful moments, the moments when it is clear that they are grieving, too. We have heard whispered words of encouragement as a woman is at the end of her strength, as well as words of firm direction when danger is detected. These women have taught us so much, as women and as wives and mothers, as well as midwives. We will forever carry their teachings our my minds and hearts, and someday hope to be half the women and midwives that they are. 

Truly, the last two years have been the most incredible, joyous, and sometimes painful years of our lives. We have grown so much; and while sometimes the growing pains were more than we thought we could take, we have emerged proud of the individuals and midwives we have become.

Thank you so much.

We could never express our gratitude enough. We really never knew that we could grow to love and cherish so many wonderful families in such a short amount of time. 

The next chapter of our lives (and our journeys as midwives) includes a mission trip to the Philippines. We will be having a fundraiser gala at Alaska Family Health & Birth Center on July 2nd from 3pm to 6pm. This fundraiser will in part help us raise funds for our trip to the Philippines through the incredible organization Mercy In Action. Even if you can't give monetarily, we would love to see anyone who we served, for any encouragement or a kind word.

Love,

Hannah and Kluane

The Birth of Edyn Grace - Fairbanks Birth Photographer {Featuring Taylor Bercot of Leigh Rose Photography}

A few months ago I had the incredible experience of documenting another birth photographer's birth.  Taylor Bercot of Leigh Rose Photography is the mama in question, and she was kind enough to allow me to share her birth story here.  It was a powerhouse of a water birth that left behind an oxytocin high for everyone there. 

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The Birth of Edyn Grace, by Taylor Bercot.

As many of you know, my husband and I just welcomed our second child into the world!  Edyn Grace made us wait for her arrival, but finally— at 41 weeks and 6 days — she was in our arms.  I wanted to make sure I wrote her birth story as soon as possible so that the birth was still fresh in my mind.  I had my dream birth with Edyn, and I want to remember every detail. 

Throughout my pregnancy, I received my prenatal care at Alaska Family Health and Birth Center because I wanted a peaceful waterbirth.  I was also seen there during my first pregnancy, but I risked out of their care at 39 weeks due to high blood pressure.  I loved the midwives and the facility, and I prayed that this time, I would get the birth that I dreamed of.  

So here it is: the story of the birth of Edyn Grace Bercot.  

November 29th, 3PM.

41 weeks + 5 days pregnant.  The birth center’s policy is that at 42 weeks gestation, you risk out of birth center care and have to transfer to the hospital.  In other words, I had roughly two days left to go into labor, or I would again have to transfer care and have a hospital birth.  Knowing this, the midwives and I used my routine prenatal appointment as an opportunity to sweep my membranes to see if we could get labor going.  I had irregular contractions for a few hours, but nothing crazy. I was pretty scared that it wasn't going to work and that I would have to go with the last-resort plan of taking castor oil in the morning (...it’s really gross).   Little did I know, Edyn was on her way.

November 29, 11PM

My contractions started becoming regular and timed about 7-8 minutes apart.  I wasn't really sure what to do but I couldn't sleep, so I went downstairs to let Elliott sleep and tried to just rest and listen to my body.  Every time I would get up to do something, the contractions would come faster, so I tried to lay down on the couch. When I had a few contractions that I actually had to breathe through, I knew that this was the real thing.  At that point it was hard to sit still!  I was ready.  I started getting our toddler’s bag ready to go to our friends’ house and tried to clean up a little bit, but it was getting a lot harder to function.

November 30, 12 AM

The contractions were getting a lot stronger and closer together, so I woke Elliott up and he took Leighlyn to our friends’ house.  While he was gone, I decided to get in the shower.  At that point, the contractions were coming around every 2-4 minutes. I was really confused — things seemed to be happening super fast and I had been sure that my labor was probably going to last a while.  When Elliott got home he timed my contractions and was shocked. He immediately called the birth center and told them we were coming!

November 30, 1:30 AM

Elliott got everything we needed into the car and we were off to the birth center to have our baby girl! 

The car ride was absolutely miserable.  I thought it would never end.  The contractions were coming so fast I felt like I wasn't getting breaks in between them.  They were super intense, and every time I thought I figured out how to cope, the next one would come even stronger and more intense. I remember keeping my tones low instead of high, something I always had in the back of my mind. I knew the nice low moans were going to help my body open up.  Elliott was amazing at reminding me to breathe and stay low. I would guess that during the car ride the contractions were closer to 1 minute apart. 

November 30, 2:05 AM

We arrived at the birth center and hurried in. The midwife started filling up the tub right away and I worked through some contractions while Elliott brought our stuff inside.  Another midwife checked Edyn's heartbeat and took my vitals.  My amazing doula Kassandra arrived and started helping me through each contraction.  Elliott was right there, too; by my side, encouraging me through each one. I knew that I was going to be kind of loud during my labor, which is kind of weird because I am NOT a loud person. But I knew that it would help me cope to be vocal through my contractions, and it did.   

November 30, 2:26 AM

The birth tub was ready and I got in.  Around this time, I started feeling urges to push.  It definitely felt good to push during some of the contractions.  This got me excited, but at the same time I was still super confused because this labor was going SO FAST! I didn't want to get my hopes up, because in my mind I was thinking maybe it wasn't actually going that fast and I was just being a wimp!

November 30, 2:35 AM

One of the midwives checked me and I was around 7-8 cm open.  

This is definitely where I hit my wall. 

I wanted to go to the hospital, I wanted to give up and just cry. I thought for sure I was going to get stuck here and that it was going to be hours before I had my baby in my arms.  The contractions were so strong and I'm not sure how far apart they were, but they had to be less than 30 seconds.  I was feeling like I needed to push during every contraction now.  After a few more contractions, I felt Edyn’s head with my fingers and I was shocked!  I remember asking my doula if that was her head.  I don't remember getting an answer, but Elliott said that everyone said yes, that's her head!  I'm pretty sure I was roaring through some of my contractions now, and I distinctly remember my pushing sound being different than my coping-through-a-contraction sound.

November 30, 2:46 AM

This whole time, I was on my hands and knees in the tub because that was the most comfortable position.  The midwives suddenly said they could see her head!  They needed to listen to her heart, so Elliott and my doula helped me turn and I felt her head starting to come out.  It seemed like forever that her head sat there.  I remember the midwife saying her forehead was out and I needed to push really good to get that head out.

November 30, 2:56 AM

Edyn was born!  They handed her right to me (and just like I wanted, this is where she stayed for the next two hours). 

I could not believe that she came that quickly.  I was so amazed that I actually did it. I had a baby with absolutely no drugs, in a tub, not in a hospital.  Within her first few minutes, Elliott, who was sitting outside of the tub right next to me, prayed out loud.  He thanked God for a safe and quick delivery while I cried. God answered our prayers.  He gave me the strength to have this baby and He allowed us to have the birth that we wanted.  

Minutes later, the placenta was delivered and everyone helped me out of the tub.  We got into the bed and I held Edyn on my chest while the midwives checked to see if I had torn.  I was expecting so because of how fast she came (and I had needed stitches after Leighlyn’s birth).  Thankfully, I only had a tiny little tear and it didn't need stitches! Again, I was amazed.  My body did exactly what it was supposed to, and I really believe that being in the water was one reason why I didn't tear badly.

For the rest of the night we were able to just relax.  Edyn stayed on my chest (still connected to the placenta) and we let her figure out breastfeeding without a million people trying to force her onto my breast (I did not have a good experience with breastfeeding in the hospital after Leighlyn was born, so this was a huge deal).  It was SO calm and relaxing. Edyn didn't sleep at all and just kept making the sweetest little sounds that weren't cries, but almost sounded like she was talking to us, telling us about her experience. We were all laughing at how cute she sounded! My doula and photographer were both there, and we talked about everything that had just transpired.  Around 2 hours after the birth, Elliott cut the cord and got to hold her for some skin to skin.  The midwives weighed and measured Edyn: 8 pounds, 6 ounces, and 19 inches.  

One of the best things about giving birth at the birth center is that we were able to go home after 6 hours.  We ended up leaving around 10AM that morning and headed back to the comfort of our own home. 

I am so thankful for my amazing husband who supported me and really wanted the same kind of experience as me.  I'm also thankful for my amazing doula, Kassandra.  She was there for both of our babies' births and I really could not have done it without her.  She was the calm that Elliott and I both needed through both birth experiences. 

I am so ecstatic about the way Edyn’s whole birth went. It was really exactly what I wanted and I am still on cloud nine.  I have never felt so strong and so empowered.  

 

The Birth of Jameson - Fairbanks Birth Photographer {Featuring Kristin Cash}

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.  

-Sarah

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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.

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This birth story will appear in the forthcoming volume "Supported in Birth: Stories of Empowering Wisdom," edited by Maranda Bower of Serenity Grows.  

World Doula Week 2017

More than once, I've been meeting with a potential birth photography client over a cup of coffee only to have them admit they feel like they can afford only one of the two: a doula or a birth photographer.  

Every single time, I've told them to hire the doula.  

Why on earth would I discourage someone from hiring me, you ask?  Because that's just how strongly I feel about the role of a doula in our childbirth culture today.  

Doulas may get a bit of a bad rap in the mainstream; I think they're framed as a sort of a luxury, or as if they're providing a service that really, you could be covering yourself (extra support during labor?  just pull up your bootstraps.  …Insert rolling-eyes emoji here).  Ali Wong, a stand-up comedian whom I might otherwise find to be a very funny lady, went on NPR and referred to doulas and lactation consultants as "white hippie witches," which I will freely admit I find offensive enough that I will never watch her Netflix special.  

I'm on the other side of the fence: I all but consider doulas to be indispensable, for first-time moms in particular.  In this day and age, it’s pretty rare to have attended a birth before having your own first child.  The value of having someone who is intimately familiar with birth by your side is, for me, unspeakable.  A doula is in your corner.  A doula is a gentle voice by your ear always able to reassure you that what’s happening is normal, or not.  A doula is pro-active support: trained to help manage labor, a doula suggests and supports positions and movements that are indicated by the unique position of your baby and how you’re experiencing labor.  A doula is an advocate and a confidant.  A doula is a cheerleader and a voice of reason.  A doula is there to take care of your whole family and to maintain your birth space so that you can be wholly focused within.  

I’ve been present to see so many beautiful moments between doulas and families, and I’ve heard new moms utter, “I couldn’t have done it without her” more times than I can count.  I’ve also seen many moments where I fervently wish there had been a doula there.  Like the time a Fresh 48 client needed to have their session at one week instead of 2 days, because after a 40 labor, dad - who had been so engrossed in mom’s needs that he also had not been drinking or eating over those 40 hours - passed out minutes after his daughter was born, hit his head on a table, and had to be admitted to the hospital for two days.  Or, in my own life.  I completely admit I didn’t have a good understanding of what a doula was when I was expecting my first child, or why hiring one would be a good idea.  My husband and I kind of shrugged and figured we’d be there supporting each other, and that would be all we would need, really.  What I failed to take into account was that neither of us actually knew what to expect from labor.  Neither of us knew how to pro-actively manage labor or how to remain calm and maintain resolve through what turned out to be days of back labor with a posterior baby.  A loving partner stroking your back while looking vaguely terrified about the amount of pain you’re in only goes so far, it turns out.  I often wonder how our birth story might have been different if we had hired a consummate birth professional to be with us.  There’s no going back in time, but I’ll tell you one thing: I hired not one but two doulas for my second child's birth, and then hired a doula again for my third child’s birth.  

I could write on and on about this - I have many soapboxes, and the care and support of women during the childbearing year (and in particular during and immediately following birth) is a large one on my podium.  So you might hear more from me on this topic at a later date, but in the meantime, I'm thrilled to share these recent images of doulas at work. 

Hug your doula, everyone.  They deserve it.  

 

Doulas pictured: Kyla Wilkinson of Boreal Beginnings; Kassandra Ryan of Confident Beginnings Birth; Jessica Christenson of Parvati Birth & Wellness; and Dawn Tozier of Joy Unspeakable Birth Services.  For a complete list of Fairbanks area doulas, please check out my page on Birth & Postpartum Resources in Fairbanks.

The Birth of Lyra Beatrix - Fairbanks Birth Photographer

I'm so happy to be able to share another birth story written in the mama's own words here.  But even more, I'm so happy I had the chance to meet Miriam and Travis (and of course Lyra!).  I'm feeling a little sappy about it at the moment, because this sweet little family just relocated outside of the state, and I can confidently say it's Fairbanks' loss.  In addition to being a badass mama, Miriam is in the process of becoming a doula to serve other women through their childbearing year.  And she's just really, really great.  (Case in point: not everyone can successfully pull off playfully comparing parenting to Stockholm Syndrome.)  

Before I turn the reins over to Miriam, I wanted to share just one fond recollection I have from this birth: Miriam had the best labor playlist I've ever heard, hands down.  

Here are Miriam's words, written shortly after Lyra's birth in 2015 and originally published on her blog, Of Moose and Miriam.  

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It has been six weeks since the birth of my little stomach dweller, and it has been a whirlwind. My mom arrived a week before my due date, just in time to help me with my last few nesting chores. And also we binge watched a lot of "Call the Midwife" and "X-files." I'm pretty sure Lyra recognizes the X-files theme song now, to be honest. I was thrilled to have someone to hang out with me during the day, and Travis was thrilled to have someone else I could voice my complaints to. At this point, I was convinced Lyra would be late.  In addition, I was hormonal about how I would soon have to share my baby and miss my baby kicks from the inside. Not rational, but neither is pregnancy. Also, I could not sleep; I could not waddle very fast anymore; I had to pee approximately 45,673 times per day; even looking at food gave me heartburn; and my random contractions that I'd been having for months were getting more painful but staying completely unproductive.

I could not sleep the night before my due date. Travis was scheduled to work a day shift and his family was due to arrive at midnight. Once I gave up on sleep around four in the morning, I got up and began pacing around the house while Travis got ready for work. I started having quite a lot of contractions but they barely hurt and I'd been playing this game of random contractions for a while.

Side note: we found out during a trip to the hospital at 34 weeks that I have a super irritable uterus. Luckily we didn't have an early baby, we just tricked my uterus with some nifty meds. Basically the meds kicked on my flight or fight reflex and said, "Hey uterus, calm the hell down, don't drop that baby yet, we need to escape from some lions first." But, back to my due date...

I sent Travis to work and I decided to time contractions just to be sure. I assured him it was a false alarm but said I'd update him if necessary. After an hour or so of my usual slightly painful contractions every 3 or 4 minutes, I woke up my mother and insisted she vacuum my floors just in case I was in labor. I should have realized I was definitely in labor as I was forcing my mother to vacuum my house at six in the morning, but I was in denial. I had a gut feeling that when I went into labor, I'd have a fast labor, but I kept convincing myself that as a first-time mom, that couldn't be the case. But I called Travis anyway and told him he should get his crew lined up and then head home so we could just pop into the birth center when they opened to find out if I was in labor or not. My contractions started to get more painful than they'd ever been before so I timed them again and they were only 2 minutes apart. At this point I started to panic a bit and tried to finish packing my bag in between contractions and ordering my mother around. I also called Travis crying and told him to hurry up.

I did hypnobirthing but had a hard time staying relaxed since I didn't have a break between contractions so I didn't really utilize it fully. I do credit hypnobirthing for making the car ride bearable. When we got to the birth center I found out I was 4 cm and definitely in labor. My midwives told me it probably would be a while and we probably would want to wait a while to call our birth photographer. After an hour or two, contractions were getting very intense and I was worried about my ability to handle them later on if I wasn't very dilated yet and they were already this bad. However, the policy on cervical checks was only once every 4 hours so I had no idea if I was making progress. In hindsight I was already in transition and progressing very quickly. My midwives recognized this, though, and got me set up in the tub. Previously, they told us to hold off on the tub until I was further into labor. They said something like, "You know, you might want to go ahead and tell your birth photographer to get here."

My water broke while I was in the tub. It was definitely a weird sensation. I felt a big pop and then kept feeling like I was peeing uncontrollably with every contraction for an hour or so. It is only in hindsight that I had the realization that it was my waters and not pee. The midwives told me things would get "more intense" now that my water had broken. Indeed. I think it was for the "more intense" comment that I called my midwife a dirty liar. I changed my mind about having more children while in labor. I decided adoption was a pretty swell idea. Also I very much regretted not having the option of drugs and pain relief. In the end I'm glad I did everything fully naturally, but at the time I was pretty upset with past Miriam for making rash decisions. My labor went fast enough I might not have had the option for drugs anyway.

At some point, the midwives verified I was 10 cm and I started pushing. And pushing....and pushing. I pushed in the tub; on 2 different types of birthing stools; on the toilet; laying on my side; laying on my back; on all fours; on all fours with a leg pulled up in a lunge; squatting....they ran out of ideas for new positions. I pushed for so long we ended up calling for an ambulance to transfer to the hospital. In the end that wasn't needed and the paramedics sat around having tea while I gave birth at the birth center. This was why I was able to get 'decent' pictures immediately after Lyra was born; I'd been wrangled back into clothing for transferring. Most of labor I spent unclothed...except while delivering my child, ironically.

Lyra did fantastic throughout the entire labor. Her heartbeat was strong the whole time. That and the fact I kept making very slow progress while pushing were the only reasons we got to stay at the birth center. But I could tell I was a difficult customer when I had 3 midwives and an assistant attending.

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Lyra Beatrix finally made her entrance after about 11 hours of labor (5 of that was pushing!). Lyra was an incredibly alert baby as soon as she was born at 5:15 pm. Her eyes were immediately open and this really cool shade of dark gray. I had no idea babies could have that color of eyes. She was 7 lb 4 oz, smaller than I thought she'd be, but I'm so glad she wasn't bigger. She was 20.5 inches, a long baby! And she has long legs and feet, I have trouble finding her socks that fit. Her poor little head was majorly coney and pretty bruised, but no lasting harm done. Everyone says I was a very nice and quiet laboring mother, I have no idea where that alternate personality came from! I only swore a couple times, anyone who knows me knows how crazy that is!

Overall, the experience was exactly what I hoped for. It would have been great to spend a little less time pushing and to have more spaced out contractions, but we were really fortunate to have a quick and complication free labor and delivery on my due date.

Labor really set me up for parenting. I thought pushing lying down on my back would be counter productive and I would hate it. And I ended up delivering that way. Partially because I was so exhausted that it was the best position to be in. Another side note here: Travis calls this pushing position "the Mitt Romney," as he misunderstood the actual name the the midwives kept calling it. And since then, I've changed pretty much every plan I've had for Lyra. She got some jaundice after several days and wasn't eating well; there went my plan of no bottles for a while. We gave her a pacifier around 2 weeks old when we hadn't planned on using one. I struggled cleaning the cloth diapers I was set on using so we are using disposables instead. I planned on her sleeping in her bassinet but she often sleeps in our bed; something I said I'd never do. I just really like snuggles and so does she. So yeah...welcome to parenthood, apparently. But she's been a good easy baby overall.  

The last few weeks haven't been easy, but they haven't been the hardest weeks ever. The fatigue and sleep deprivation was overrated in my experience so far. I'm tired, but not a debilitating amount. Honestly, working nights was much worse.

Breastfeeding was a huge challenge. Lyra had jaundice at first and once my milk came in, we had immediate oversupply problems. Even though everyone says you're lucky to have a problem like that, you're not. It is still a problem. It has taken 6 weeks to be comfortable and be able to nurse normally without having to pump and/or catch insane amounts of leakage. We're still working on perfecting it. And I have 400 oz of breastmilk in my freezer. Plus 100 oz that I donated. That's a total of about 34 lbs of milk, around 4 gallons.

The messiness of parenthood was not overstated. I've had to catch my wildly out of control breastmilk in a wine glass. At one point I sent my mom into a fit of hysterical, turn-her-whole-face-purple laughter when I hung a couple of those bibs with pockets from my boobs to catch milk, saying I was going to patent that invention. I've been covered in projectile exorcist style spit up several times and had boogers sneezed on me. Once I caught projectile poop during a diaper change. Not to mention all the drool and spit. Lyra has this habit the past few days of licking my neck even when she isn't hungry. I think she thinks she's a puppy. Babies are weirdos.

Postpartum hormones are no joke. Happy tears, stressed tears, odd random tears, lots of tears! There were a few days straight I couldn't look at Lyra without crying because, "I love her so much" emotions overwhelmed me.  "Raw" is the best word to describe the first postpartum days.

***Present Miriam checking in here. I can't believe I have a 14 month old. Life feels like it is back to normal but simultaneously completely different than it used to be. It still blows my mind a little that a whole other person exists now. I have a wildly fearless, fiercely independent, adorable, and scary smart toddler now! I can't really adequately sum up a year in a few words but I can say it's been quite the adventure.

___________________________________________________

Sarah here.  Here's Lyra exactly one year later, photographed on her first birthday.

I also have to share a few things Miriam emailed to me later. It's possibly some of my favorite post-birth writing ever. 

"So I got the word from you and the midwives that Lyra's birth was 'triumphant.' Birth was triumphant for me because I definitely had been doubting myself in the back of my mind after pushing for so long. The turning point I had when I realized she was actually arriving is still vivid. And side note here, during that moment you were the first person I really believed was being serious and not exaggerating when you said I was almost done. I figure my mom and Travis clearly didn't know what they were talking about (haha poor family who I never listen to) and the midwives just wanted to keep me motivated for more pushing. But when you said told me that Lyra was really almost there, that gave me my last bit of motivation because I felt you had no stake in when or how Lyra arrived. So just so you know, you were a very important part of my birth experience aside from the pictures. Just saying, next time you should probably include a selfie because sometimes I look in my birth book and I'm like, "Geez, where was Sarah?" ;)

Aside from that, what struck me was how supported I felt while simultaneously knowing I had to birth Lyra alone. Travis was my rock who had my back (mostly literally); my mom was there as moral support (it was one of those rare times, possibly the first time, that she couldn't step in and mom away my pain); and the midwives were there in my face for some focusing talks. So I never felt like I had anything but the best support, but I did have that moment where I realized there was no turning back; I was on my own to birth Lyra and no one else could actually do it for me. And it is awe-inspiring to realize I built and birthed an entire separate little human being from scratch. I appreciate everything about my body now that I really know how much hard work was put into it. And frankly I feel like such a warrior badass momma goddess every time I look at that huge noggin of hers. You can quote me on that."

"Getting Your Body Back" - Featured on For Every Mom

My beautiful friend Robin (of the blog Grace Enough for Us) recently wrote a post about the unfortunate, unfair, and downright illogical cultural encouragement for new mothers to "get their bodies back," and in addressing this, she talked about one of the photographs I included in her birth story.  

And this week, her post - and my image - were published on the blog For Every Mom.  I highly recommend you check it out!  

Alaska Family Health & Birth Center 2016 Fundraiser

I put together a slideshow to run in the background during this year's Alaska Family Health & Birth Center's Fundraiser, pairing images I've taken of AFH&BC families over the years with the words of some of the families pictured.  I wanted to share it here just in case you suddenly found yourself hard up for a major hit of oxytocin.  Seriously, making it gave me the WORST baby fever.  AND I HAVE A BABY.  The struggle is real, people.  

Enjoy.  <3

Featured: The Huffington Post

I'm thrilled to share that two of my images were featured in The Huffington Post's September 1, 2016 piece on strength in birth.  They appear alongside 41 other images that are astounding.  I highly encourage you to check it out here!  

A quick addendum: I have enjoyed getting published several times recently, but - lest anyone believe SLP is rich and famous - I feel compelled to clarify that, as thrilling as all my publications have been, as yet they've all been unpaid.  I could actually write for quite a bit on that topic, but I'll spare you for the most part.  "Exposure" is great.  It's really really good.  But it's also true that it goes only so far - to quote The Oatmeal, you can't eat exposure - for that, you need to get paid.  (Do click that link.  It's worth it.)