A Healing Birth Story | Tacoma Birth Photographer
This is the first birth story I have ever written. All my other birth blogs or posts had just been a few encouraging words for the new parents and posting some photographs of their birth.
Not anymore. No more "few sentences" and that's it.
One of the joys of being a birth photographer (among a newborn photographer too) is that I get to document this amazing moment in these parents lives- and while I am capturing this birth story with photographs... I also want a detailed birth story in writing. So here we go...
“There is a secret in our culture, and it’s not that birth is painful. It’s that women are strong.” ~ Laura Stavoe Harm
I've known Melissa for a few years now, meeting shortly after I moved up here to the PNW in 2013. We met through an amazing photographer group, one we are both still active in. Yes- Melissa is an extremely talented photographer. And when she approached me about capturing this moment in her and her family's life- I jumped on it. I was honored. I was humbled. Most of all... I was a little nervous. This was the first birth I've photographed since 2013, since moving my family up here to Puyallup. But I KNEW God had placed us in each others lives for a reason, one of them being this moment I would get to capture for them.
I'm going to give you some back story on Melissa and her two previous births- so you can understand WHY this was a birth of healing, a birth of redemption as a woman, and a birth blessed with many wonderful people.
Melissa's first pregnancy took place while Melissa lived in California and Jamen her husband, was stationed overseas in Germany. Jamen was in the military.
Her pregnancy with Chandler, her first born, was OK. They chose to be induced at 37 weeks gestation due to deployment schedules, which is still typical for military births. During her induction, they jumped the gun on Pitocin and gave her too much- which caused her to contract too hard and too fast- which led to heart decels in her sweet baby. This led to an emergency C-Section. Her recovery was OK. She was disappointed, because she wanted a vaginal birth. But all in all, she was OK and her son was OK.
Melissa's second pregnancy started in Germany, then they were PCS'd (change of duty station) to JBLM up here in the gorgeous PNW. Her pregnancy was text book in Germany. Once she moved to the Hospital on base though... things (according to the doctors) changed. And they changed quickly.
Melissa had an ultrasound and according to the doctor's, her son was measuring in too small and had IUGR (Intrauterine growth restriction). And she was too big. Again... according to "medical standards for the military". The German records were received but never translated. Melissa also suffers from PCOS (poly cystic ovarian syndrome) so they didn't have an actual clue on when she got pregnant with her sweet little Logan.
Melissa was around 37 weeks according to the doctors, and they chose to induce again due to the doctors insisting Logan had IUGR. Mind you... Melissa wasn't in active labor at all, if barely any early labor. SO they gave her pitocin again (I KNOW if you are a birth professional right now, you are cringing... because she had a previous c-section and pitocin is a no-no due to greater risk of uterine rupture). And she dilated to a whopping 2 cm. (Hence my sarcasm, folks). So instead of letting her labor some more, the doctors decided to manually dilate her (are you dying for her yet?). And they gave her an epidural. Then she stalled at 4cm.
Instead of letting her labor a little, the doctors and nurses rushed in and surrounded her in her hospital bed, while she was in extreme pain. Did they encourage her and give her hope for this birth? Nope. They yelled at her. They threatened her. They told her if she didn't have a c-section right then, her baby would die. And if her baby died, it would be all her fault and could she live with that? So after consulting with her husband and mom, she consented to a c-section, after much pressure of course.
During her c-section, her epidural failed. She felt everything. And the pain was excruciating. So they knocked her out.
Melissa woke up 3 hours later in the recovery room. The staff wouldn't let her see her husband or baby immediately. They made her wait an hour.
She missed it all. She missed the first skin on skin. The nursing right after he was born. The look in her husbands eyes when he saw his child for the first time. The first cry.
And it tore her up.
During her postpartum check up, she noticed a bulge on her incision. While she was waiting on the table to be checked, the incision literally burst open. So on top of having this traumatic birth, she had a horrible recovery. During her son's checkup, the doctor informed her that her son did NOT have IUGR... he was born at 35 weeks gestation.
Melissa suffers Post Traumatic Child-Birth Stress Disorder, also known as PTSD.
PTSD is no joke. She suffers from nightmares about her experience. She can't trust doctors or hospital staff. She can't go near the hospital she was traumatized at. She is in therapy for her PTSD.
Now that you know the back story, I am going to tell you about Jacob's birth.
A Healing Birth
On Tuesday, Dec 15th, I received a text from Melissa saying she was contracting- and they were INTENSE. I got so excited! I checked my schedules, made sure my camera bag was ready to go (I'm not gonna lie... it was ready to go on Dec 5th which was right around her original EDD), had an extra change of clothes in my car in case I was at my part time job and had some snacks packed (labor can be long). Melissa had been all cleared by her doctors and midwife for a VBA2C AND a water birth at that! So I was prepared.
But apparently little Jacob didn't want to come quite yet. Poor Melissa had irregular contractions from the 15th until 20th. They never developed a pattern. They had ranging intervals, moderate to strong contractions, and 60-90 seconds long. She would go from every 20 minutes down to every 4 minutes... then back up to 20 minutes. Talk about frustrating... and tedious... and painful.
The Text Message
So on the 20th, around 4am, Melissa woke with much pressure down there. So much pressure, she couldn't walk. She endured an entire night of irregular contractions, obviously causing lack of sleep. And we all know when we are tired... things are always a little harder to accomplish. She was able to get a little shut eye until about 11:30 am- in which they headed to the hospital around noon.
While she was on her way to the hospital, I was singing on stage at my church (I am on the worship team at Puyallup Foursquare and love serving my church!)... so when I put my wireless mic and my pack away because services were over and we were about to head on home (it was also my last day off for a few weeks from my p/t job due to the holidays), I received the text from Melissa. Talk about a divine intervention! I had literally been freaking out that I would miss her birth because I was at work or not able to make it for some reason. But God had other plans... He wanted me to be there for Melissa and Jamen. And I am SO GLAD I got that text from her, I literally cried. Like tears streaming down my face crying.
The Rush To Get To Tacoma
I rushed home to drop of my mom and kids and grab my camera bag (yup... it was literally the ONE TIME I didn't have my camera on me since Dec 15th). I didn't have time to change, so I came in my sassy red lips and my I'm-not-really-a-hipster-but-I-secretly-want-to-be-one outfit. While I was driving on I-5, right around the Tacoma Mall, I received another text from Melissa saying she was 8 cm and they broke her water. WHAT???????? It was only 1:30 pm! Holy cow! KEEP THAT BABY IN till I get there!!! Then traffic came to a halt.
Like a screeching stop.
Thanks to an accident on the side of the road and all the looky-loos... but I was able to weave in and out a little and haul tail down to St. Joseph's pretty quickly.
I parked and arrived in her room at exactly 1:50pm.
The Intense Feeling in the Air
When I walked in the room quietly after speaking with the nurses, I saw Melissa. She was on the hospital bed, in agony. The mood in the room was intense and felt a little cloudy. But when she saw me, a huge smile graced her beautiful face. And a long hug was taken. She hadn't had that little bub yet and I made it! I was half expecting to see more dimmed lights, her essential oils diffusing, peaceful music and her walking around a little... but that was not the case. Things got real... and they got real quickly.
The doctor, who was a lovely man came in and looked over Melissa's vitals, contractions and heart rates of baby Jacob. She still had yet to have regular and consistent contractions, even after breaking her water. He was speaking to her about consenting to a c-section "just in case" and that a water birth was off the table due to monitoring baby Jacob while in-utero.
I literally watched Melissa's heart drop. Her perfectly planned water birth was just taken away from her. And I could see her sorrow in her eyes, the look of feeling helpless.
Jamen was wonderful- so patient and encouraging, but those doctor's words seemed alarming to a sense when the words "decels" and "heart rate" are in the same sentence. Then when the words "Uterine Rupture" is kicked in there... I could see both of them lose hope. Right then and there.
Then the door opened. And Sarah, Melissa's lovely midwife came in. Like a breath of fresh air. Like a white angel, arriving on a horse.
Sarah's presence was the encouragement that Melissa and Jamen craved... the voice they NEEDED when they weren't able to speak up for themselves.
Sarah reminds me a lot of my best friend Kirsten, who is a Labor and Delivery Nurse in the Navy... and I almost cried when I saw Sarah's demeanor. It's like the two are doppelgangers. Sarah has a special something about her.
Once Sarah arrived, Melissa seemed more calm. Jamen seemed more calm as well. It was a peaceful few moments... till Melissa started having some hard contractions. Her contractions were still pretty irregular. But she was able to smile after those contractions were done. Melissa's two sweet older boys, Logan and Chandler, were in the room with her until she began to push. As you can see, thrills coming from both boys (I'm giggling as I write this).
Quick note on the pic below... YES. We were totally watching the Seahawks game on Jamen's phone. Yes we won. It was a beautiful day- a baby born AND a Seahawks win! ;) Go Hawks!
Melissa's contractions were getting more intense. The doctor had already broken her water, had a monitor on the baby in-utero to see his heart rate and offered a very small amount of pitocin. But with every contraction she was having, baby Jacob's heart rate was having decels. The doctor and nurses were concerned. Was Sarah? I have no idea- she was so calm and collected the whole time.
Melissa's pain was so bad, the doctor suggested the epidural after the last dilation check, to help calm her and assist with the dilation a bit. She was still at 8cm according to her doctor, and she had been laboring intensely for over an hour and a half now. I could tell she was feeling defeated.
Different positions were helping, but Jacob didn't like some of those positions as his heart rate deceled during contractions during a few of those positions, specifically on her side. I left the room with the boys and Melissa's mom, Kathy, while they gave her the epidural.
We were sitting out in the waiting room for about 30 minutes and Kathy and I could SWEAR we heard Melissa's screams. It was one of those moments as a birth photographer, where my heart sank a little... I was terrified they forgot about me and had her start pushing! And in essence... the nurses kind of did forget about me. Till I kept coming around reminding them I hadn't left. And when they brought me in back in the room 40 minutes later (boys and grandma stayed out in the waiting room), Melissa was already pushing. I was thankful I made it back in the room in time to capture the grand entrance of baby Jacob!
Melissa's pain was intense. Her epidural didn't take. She was tired and worn out from the past 5 days of early labor. The doctor grabbed the vacuum and after only a few pushes from Melissa and some major pulling from the doctor, baby Jacob arrived! In all his perfect, tiny glory!
His cries were perfect. Just perfect. Jacob was born at 4:16 pm PST. He was a little guy- just 5.94lbs.
Jacob had some low blood sugar shortly after he was born and was a little cold. But it was nothing that the heater and some formula couldn't fix (they gave him very very minimal amounts of formula at the parents consent to get his blood sugar up). The low blood sugar was most likely due from when he was born- the umbilical cord actually BROKE when the doctor pulled him out. It broke! And there was a bit of Melissa's placenta that had died. Which was most likely the cause of her sporadic contractions and never going into a full pattern. Baby Jacob was born at the right time. She listened to her body and went in to the hospital at the right time. And Jacob is healthy... so is his mama.
Melissa was such a trooper. A beautiful, amazing, powerful woman who conquered her VBA2C- even after she was told during her labor she might just not be able to do it.
She did it.
And while it may not have been the planned water birth with her essential oils, calming music, and dark lights atmosphere- she still walked out of the hospital the next day with the newest member of her family
...without another c-section scar.
A healing birth, healing the hearts of a mom and dad who truly needed it. Healing of a mother who thought she failed as a woman because her previous birth was traumatic.
Happy Birth Day Jacob Dean!
And Congratulations Melissa and Jamen! I am so proud of you Melissa. Your birth may not have gone 100% to plan... but seeing you conquer your fears and have Jacob VBA2C... you are an absolute inspiration. An inspiration to mothers everywhere who have been in similar situations, to mothers everywhere who have wanted a VBAC but weren't sure if they could do it.
Thank you for inviting me into the birthing room with you, letting me document this important moment in your lives. xoxo, Julie | The Newborn Artist- Puyallup & Tacoma Birth Photographer