Winslow’s Birth Story

Why we chose M.A.M.A.S.

I wanted to have a good birth, both for myself and for my baby. I knew this would be one of the most important parts of my life. From reading research about labor and delivery, I learned that the Caesarean section rate had climbed over the past decades—and that in the DMV area, hospital c-section rates often ranged 1 in 3 and even 1 in 2 birthing women. I realized that escalating interventions often led to unplanned c-sections. I wanted to avoid any unnecessary interventions. I decided I wanted to birth with certified nurse midwives because natural childbirth is their bread and butter. I also had learned that laboring women, like all animals, want to be in their safe “nest.” I envisioned a quiet, cozy, safe, familiar place, with a few people I trusted immensely to be in such a transformative and vulnerable state: this sounded like our home—not a hospital with bright lights and lots of unfamiliar staff people. I stumbled on M.A.M.A.S., thanks to an Internet search. I called, and first talked with Katie, who ended up being our primary midwife during birth!

Though our planned home birth didn’t go as planned (what birth does go as planned?)—we had a non-emergent transfer to Washington Hospital Center, where our son was delivered with the assistance of their midwives—I’m thankful for working with M.A.M.A.S. for three reasons: (1) I labored at home until nearly the end, and I felt completely safe and comfortable with an amazing birth team; (2) had I planned a hospital birth, I would have likely labored at home as long as possible, but without the expertise of medical professionals to monitor and support me and my baby; (3) I had a natural childbirth with minimal and necessary interventions—something I am sure would not have happened in the hospital given how my labor progressed— since my waters broke so early, I’m quite sure I have been induced to start contractions, likely with a subsequent cascade of interventions, and then a c-section. As a result, I’ve also come to appreciate that Pitocin (which is sometimes demonized as a bad drug) does have its place in birth—it augmented my uterine contractions, which were not strong enough after laboring for days. Perhaps most importantly, I felt that everything happened with my consent—huge for birth when you’re in another world, deep inside yourself, and when women are sometimes pressured to accept interventions to speed things along. Finally, have you ever had care from medical practitioners who share their home cell numbers and who are highly accessible by text or call? No? Neither had I. I never had to guess or do Internet searches to figure out if something was safe or “normal.” I had excellent prenatal care with excellent practitioners who empowered me.

Cara’s Perspective

Winslow was due to arrive on May 15. But (science!—I’m a biologist) due dates are just estimates. Births can range from 37 to 42 weeks. To prepare myself as an impatient person, (and statistically as a first-time mom), I assumed our baby would arrive late. The due date came and went—I was right (much to my impatience!).

On Monday, May 22, I went to the chiropractor. Afterwards, I walked around Target: it was a rainy day and I wanted to do a few last errands before our baby arrived. In typical third trimester style, I had to use the bathroom while I was shopping. I noticed that my mucus plug had fallen out. Yay! I figured something would happen soon. That evening, I took a long walk after getting really irritated with my partner. I went to bed and early in the morning on Tuesday, May 23, I woke up because my waters had broken. I called Katie, the midwife on call. She advised me to try to get some more sleep, which I did. Contractions hadn’t started yet.

Tuesday and Wednesday, we hunkered down to enjoy our last days as 2. We put together a 500-piece puzzle between sporadic mild contractions and enjoyed some distractions during early labor. Katie and I stayed in close contact, and she came over to check on my progress. I managed to get a little sleep on Wednesday night.

Finally, things picked up late Thursday and I went into active labor. Katie came over to help me through labor; at some point, Susan, a back-up midwife, arrived to help. Contractions gradually got stronger and more frequent. From running 3 marathons and other athletic experience, I felt prepared for the physicality of birth. However, with a marathon, there’s a clear endpoint: 26.2 miles of effort. With labor, there’s no known endpoint: some labors are short, some are long. By Thursday, I wasn’t really aware of the time or timing my contractions—I was just going with it, aware of when it was light and dark and of the sensations.

Contractions were intense but manageable. As each consecutive set of contractions increased in intensity or frequency, it felt like being knocked over by an ocean wave. Like at the beach, you get back up and learn to ride the wave, allowing it to move through your body. I went into a deep meditative space, in a very visceral part of my psyche, listening and responding to my body. I was able to do this thanks to my amazing support team. They coached me as needed, and offered water and small snacks. I felt completely supported and safe. Thanks to this, I never felt like I was in pain, wanted drugs, or felt discouraged.

Friday morning arrived. I hadn’t slept really at all on Thursday night—maybe for a few minutes at most. Susan left, and Máiri arrived. Despite our best efforts, labor was not progressing–contractions were not quite strong enough. We tried different positions. Since I was running on very little sleep and little food at that point, I drank some (a lot!) coca cola for energy. At one point, I remember Andrea offering me water and coke—I wanted the coke—it tasted so delicious. (In regular life, I never drink coke. But during labor, yum!) Finally, we decided that it might be a good idea to go to the hospital because a little Pitocin could do the trick (CNMs can’t administer Pitocin at home births). I had been in labor for a long time; the baby was so close, we could see his red hair (we didn’t know the baby’s sex—but by this time, we were excited to see his ginger hair), but I just couldn’t get strong enough contractions to push him out. Our CNMs called to arrange a hospital transfer. Máiri used her awesome network of connections, figuring out that GW was full, and so Washington Hospital, conveniently a bit closer to us, was a better option. She called and arranged for us to transfer. We caravanned there in three cars: Máiri leading the way in her car; Andrea driving me in our car, as I kneeled in the back seat and held the seat back in front of me; with Katie following in her car. The 3-ish mile drive was the longest shortest time of my life. This might have been due in part to the fact that Andrea was driving about 12 miles/hour in an effort to prevent me from feeling bounced around through contractions. Máiri actually pulled over, came over to the car, and told Andrea that she had to drive the speed limit so that we’d actually get there! While in the car, I tried to listen the contractions but not allow my body to respond, to save energy and make myself more comfortable. Since contractions weren’t doing enough, I didn’t want to use up my mental energy for pushing while in the car. This took incredible focus and control. Arriving at the hospital, we encountered three speed bumps. I thought I’d lose my focus. Andrea parked the car while our CNMs guided me to the room where I’d deliver Winslow. I walked through the hospital with my arm on Máiri’s shoulder and I was able to stay in “labor land,” in the deep meditative place inside me. I was very thankful to our childbirth educator, Chava Allgood, for preparing us to be ready to create that mental space needed to feel safe in “labor land,” and for sharing techniques about how to maintain that space during a transfer. At the hospital, the labor & delivery midwifery team was all set up ready to go. Katie stayed with us, while Máiri went on to another birth. After some Pitocin, contractions were stronger. The midwife placed her gloved finger in my vagina to help guide me where to push. This was actually the only time I felt pain. “Ouch,” I said. Andrea said my tone when I said “ouch” was as though I had a paper cut. And that was about the level of pain I felt at that point. It really just felt like my vagina was scratchy at that point—but not super painful. And then Winslow arrived—literally pulled out by the Washington Hospital midwives as I pushed.

Giving birth was an unparalleled, intense, incredible experience. It was an intensely satisfying experience—and not just because of our incredible baby. Labor was tough work but it was virtually pain-free. I feel so privileged to have spent time in that magical space between worlds. Winslow is incredible and beautiful and I’m so proud of the two of us for doing that work together, mother and baby, to bring him into this side of the world. I am so thankful for my amazing team who supported me and made it possible for me to have not just a good birth but an excellent birth: my partner, Andrea, and our midwives.

Andrea’s Perspective

Like most transformative experiences, no one can tell you what it’s really like to go through childbirth. It’s different for every mother and every partner. I was definitely not prepared for the length of time that labor would take. I saw a side of Cara I haven’t seen—an ability to maintain mental focus for several days, a commitment to the endurance that it took, and this inexplicable female power that she summoned. It seemed almost super-human to me.

Throughout the process I looked at Cara in awe. She has even more strength than I knew. People tell you about the love you’ll have for your baby, but they don’t tell you how much your love grows for your spouse. She is truly remarkable in ways that were unknown to me before this experience.

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