Tuesday, June 14, 2022


Varied expressions at 6 weeks
Birth Sweet Brooklyn is the website of Jennette Selig, a certified doula and educator offering services in much of New York City; teaching private and group classes; leading support groups; and providing online and in-person consultation and support before, during, and after welcoming a new baby. This includes postnatal doula services, help with planning for a birth or adoption, and supporting breast and chestfeeding.

Meet Jennette

Sample Prenatal Services

Sample Postnatal Services

Community Support Groups

"Distance" or "Virtual Doula" care

Education (Classes and Workshops)

Lactation Support


You can also check out featured Birth Stories and blog posts on various topics by scrolling down from this post. Or visit Birth Sweet Brooklyn on Facebook for articles of interest.

Have questions or want to discuss how I can support you? Let's talk!

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

What do postpartum parents want? Part 4

I often ask friends who are new parents what is/would have been most helpful after they've welcomed a new baby. Here's what some of them said! As a postnatal doula, these are the kinds of services I can provide, but you can also use this list to plan ahead, to think about how you might use a doula's services, and to answer friends and family when they ask "How can I help?"

See parts onetwo, and three for more responses. 

Q. What kind of support did you need or want from a postnatal doula or other postnatal helper, if you had one? What kind of support would you hope for if you were to hire one in the future?
  • Provide moral support, keep the baby happy between feedings so parents can rest, help prepare healthy meals, provide reassurance and advice -- especially for first time parents.

  • Someone to help with my 1 1/2 and 3 1/2 year-olds after this baby is born would be great!

  • Lactation support.

  • Food was huge for me, more so after each birth! Laundry and kid-entertaining, too.

  • Massage, clean house, change bed sheets, meals and meal planning. Getting a herbal bath ready.

  • Nobody does anything for me after having more than one . . . I guess they figure I can handle it by now or something -- but when my dad died, and everybody was showing up with food, somebody else showed up with a grocery sack full of paper towels, toilet paper, a loaf of bread, gallon of milk -- you know, the stuff that you HAVE to run to the store for, but who wants to go to the store? That's what I always need, because my partner has to go back to work right after, so I'm home w/a new baby and out of toilet paper or whatever. OH! And my mom came over every day at 10 am so I could poop and shower. That was AWESOME.

  • The most important for me was help with breastfeeding in the first few days after I gave birth.

  • I wish someone had been more forceful about making me lie down for naps and send company home. It was hard for me to do that and my husband is pretty quiet and I seemed like I was doing so well (I was doing pretty well) that people didn't really think of it for me... and I had a hard time doing it myself. But I was tired.

  • I was completely exhausted. My own mother was telling me I shouldn't be "just" lying around in bed 3 days postpartum. I think new parents (or old parents haha) need guidance and someone to tell them it's ok to just lie in bed and work on breastfeeding. I think a lot of people who were working before having the baby also can feel guilty about being at home during maternity leave, and think they have to get tons of housework done plus take care of the baby. So having someone to help with that eases that feeling.

  • I wish someone who knew about lactation would have suggested I feed more. I had tremendous pain when we first started so I did the bare minimum, which I believe left my baby fussy and hungry, which in turn made it harder to feed the next time. It got better when I saw a lactation consultant, but a doula with lactation training could have helped, too. I had no idea what was normal and what was not. I wish I would have known about side lying nursing, for example. I also wish someone would have helped me with the baby carrier so there wasn't such a learning curve. And then on top of all that, I wish I'd had someone to clean my kitchen and wash my favorite clothes that I was wearing over and over. That would have been so great.

  • I had a doula come over for about 4 hours a week. She was efficient, and she was always on the move. She was great at prioritizing what needed to be done when, so that everything on my list was accomplished. She asked questions when she didn't know things. She brought her own baby carriers for me to try out, or for her to use with my baby. 

    With my next baby, I mostly had them focus on the baby and dinner-making rather than me making a list of tasks for them. I requested specific recipes and that worked out well. 

  • Honestly, the thing I remember the most is that while we were in the hospital having our baby, my family deep cleaned our whole house -- it was amazing. Not suggesting that a postpartum doula clean the whole house, but a doula could tidy up, or a family could clean or coordinate a service to do so. Even just to run a load of laundry, put sheets on the bed, and clean up the kitchen -- so often people leave the house in a hurry!

  • Laundry and grocery shopping was definitely the most useful thing. We had my mum & dad for that, but they traveled 3000 miles for it so a doula would have been cheaper! In retrospect it would have been nice to have someone with us on the ride home from hospital -- that was scary and stressful.

Postnatal families deserve support! Discussions like this make me excited about offering my services to another family soon. The shape of a particular client's need informs and shapes my work, so I am always learning and growing as a caregiver.  What would help look like to you?

(Quotes above have been edited for clarity and to preserve anonymity) 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Free New Parent Support in North Brooklyn!

UPDATE MAY 2021: Due to coronavirus restrictions, the free Expecting and New Support Group is currently online -- meeting weekly on Zoom, Wednesdays from 12-1pm EST. Please RSVP via the Brooklyn Public Library event calendar and join us!


March 9, 2016

Thanks to the generosity of the wonderful staff of the Leonard Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, I am now able to host a FREE support group for expecting and new parents each Thursday (excepting holidays on which the library is closed) from 12:30pm until 1:30 or 2pm.

This is a great way to meet other parents, make "tummy time" more interesting for a newborn, strategize about sleep or feeding with a lactation counselor and your peers, or just get a break from the "cabin fever" you may be feeling at home with a little one.

Is your baby not yet born? Expectant parents are always invited to join us, whether birth parents, adopting, or otherwise. Older siblings are also welcome, especially if that makes it easier for new or expecting parents to attend.

Please try to arrive between 12:30 pm and 1:30 pm, as -- if no one arrives by 1:30 -- I often leave for the afternoon at that point. Otherwise, we have the room until 2pm.

The Leonard branch location is in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, near the L and G subway stop at Lorimer/Metropolitan and near several bus lines, including the B43.

I hope you'll join us! Please email me with any questions. -- Jennette

We meet downstairs
in the branch's community room

Share our flier and spread the word!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Supporting a Grieving Parent

"How can I support my friend? She was pregnant, but the baby died before it was born. What can I do for her?" This is a question I was first asked several years ago, by a co-worker whose close friend had lost a baby late in pregnancy. My friend was not geographically close to the grieving mother, and she felt at a loss to respond to and aid her friend, especially given the fact that she couldn’t see her in person to offer physical help.

I scrambled a bit, at the time, to come up with some good resources for my co-worker and her friend, but since I’ve now had more training in responses to perinatal grief and loss -- as part of my postpartum doula and childbirth education training -- and since I've been asked this question a few more times since my co-worker came to me, I'd like to share some of what I've learned. The thoughts and suggestions in this post are specifically tailored toward friends and family members who are wishing to support grieving loved ones, and they can be applied not just to late-pregnancy loss and stillbirth, but to miscarriage, selective reduction, and crisis pregnancies or life-limiting diagnoses that end in perinatal death.

Supporting a Grieving Parent or Parents:
  • Remember that as with birth and parenting styles, all parents will grieve in their own way. This may be very different from the way that you expect, so remain nonjudgmental.
  • You will not be able to fix the situation and you might not know the "right" thing to say. Be open and honest. You can tell the parents that you wish you had the right words, but you just don’t know what to say.
  • Tell them that you are there for them. Ask a grieving parent, "Do you want to talk?" or "Is there anything you need?" Even if they reply in the negative, you've expressed your desire to be a support. If they're open to help, ask them for specific tasks they may need done, or if they have any ideas for how you can best support them. Give them ideas, if they seem reluctant to suggest anything specific. You might even help them brainstorm (and write down) a list to share with other people who say, "Let me know if you need anything," as many people do in a time of loss. You can also encourage the family (or friends of the family) to hire a postpartum, loss, or bereavement doula to help out at home.
  • Parents will remember the words they hear during their grief…The well-intended comment that “It was meant to be,” or “You can have another,” can have a devastating and long-lasting impact on the fragile emotions of grieving parents. So can religiously oriented statements made by people who do not have an intimate knowledge of the family’s spirituality. Let the parents lead any conversation of their spiritual understanding of loss.
  • Don’t be afraid to sit in silence. Your presence and a gentle touch can have more meaning than a stream of words issued because you feel awkward and that you must say something. One mother said that, in the hospital, sympathetic nurses who simply held her hand made a big difference.
  • If you are comfortable doing so, invite your grieving loved ones to call you whenever they want someone to talk to. You may feel this is implied by the nature of your relationship, but even if you "normally" talk or text every day, your friend may need to hear you say the words directly. It can be healing for a parent to hear that others are open to hearing about the baby who was lost. Some parents want to talk about the loss or their child. Or they may at some point in the future.
  • Understand that grieving parents are sometimes very comforted by holding their babies, by having photos taken of them, or by keeping mementos. Depending on the age of the child who died, some hospitals will arrange for parents to bathe their babies after birth, to dress them, or to take home photos, locks of hair, footprints, plaster casts of hands, blankets, hospital ID bracelets, or special certificates. Some families will plan burials, scatter or keep ashes, have "naming" or memorial ceremonies (even long after the loss). If you are able to honor these choices, regardless of what you might choose in a similar situation, that can also be a way to support parents in their grief. Your friends may even want or need help finding a photographer (A good place to start is Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep) or planning a special memorial service. If this is something you feel comfortable assisting with or attending, let them know. If the loss did not occur in a hospital, or if the hospital did not support the family in their grief, you might suggest the ideas above, or otherwise help the family create ritual and remembrance.
  • You might also offer to help with notifying other family/friends/coworkers/neighborhood merchants of the loss. Sometimes, if there are two parents in the family, and one is a gestational parent, this job falls to the partner/father/husband/wife, but it's important to remember that a partner parent is also grieving. Parents of any gender returning to work might appreciate someone letting their coworkers know about the loss, as well as whether or not they are comfortable being asked about it. Some parents have expressed disappointment when friends and coworkers treat them with silence, as if "ignoring" the loss would hurt less than acknowledging it. Follow their lead on whether they'd like some help paving the way for these interactions.
  • Along those same lines, remember the partner (if applicable). I've heard of partners who are only asked "How's your wife doing?" by well-meaning friends and coworkers. In two-parent families, both parents experience loss (as do grandparents, siblings, and other close family members). There may be differences between the ways people are taught/"allowed" to grieve, sometimes along gender lines and sometimes not, and each parent may have had a different relationship with the baby, but everyone deserves to be acknowledged in bereavement.
  • Did the parent(s) name the baby? If so, use the name in conversation. Make a note of the anniversary of the baby's birth date, death date, or "due date," and reach out on that day to let your friend know you're remembering the child. Remember them on Mothers/Fathers Day, too, if those days are meaningful to the parents. It's not just living with a baby that makes us parents. It's the love we have. For this reason, even parents who have no living children are just that -- parents.
  • Share a book or resource that might help them process the loss (some ideas are below).  You can say, "I know you may not be able to look at this now. Hang on to it. It may help you later." Again, avoid overtly spiritual/religious resources unless you are intimately aware of the family's spiritual beliefs.
  • Find out about area support groups and counselors/therapists who specialize in perinatal loss. Give this information to the grieving parents.
  • Don't stop calling/emailing/making contact. Grief doesn't often dissipate in a quick and linear fashion. It spirals gently upward from the depths of initial shock and acute grief, sometimes wandering sideways and sometimes dipping lower again. Even if your friend(s) ask for time alone, you can check back in -- in a few days, a few weeks, several months or a year down the road.

(these suggestions were adapted from: Nurturing the Family: The Guide for Postpartum Doulas, by Jacqueline Kelleher; and A Silent Sorrow - Pregnancy Loss, Guidance and Support for You and Your Family, by Ingrid Kohn, MSW, Perry-Lynn Moffit, and Isabelle A. Wilkins, MD.)

Of course, every grieving parent is different. Some are good at identifying what they want and need as support, and some are not. Most will fall somewhere in the middle -- and what they want and need may very well change. You cannot know what will feel most or least supportive to your loved one in need. If your help is rebuffed, don't take it personally. And don't be afraid to reach out again after some time has passed, to try again.

Please feel free to comment and share your experiences with support after loss. Did someone help you in a meaningful way while you were grieving? How did you respond to a friend’s grief?

Loss altar created at community event, to honor loved ones.

Selected Resources For Further Reading

A Silent Sorrow - Pregnancy Loss; Guidance and Support for You and Your Family, by Ingrid Kohn, MSW, Perry-Lynn Moffit, and Isabelle A. Wilkins, MD
This book would be an excellent resource for any grieving parent, but it also has many suggestions for siblings, extended family, and friends. I'd recommend the book to anyone who has gone through loss, has received a life-limiting diagnosis for a baby in utero, or who wishes to understand and support the phases of grief that may occur after a baby dies.

For Family, Friends, and Allies - How to help family and friends who are grieving (Stillbirthday)

Perinatal Hospice Resources for Parents "Resources for continuing your pregnancy
with a life-limiting prenatal diagnosis." Also on this site: perinatal hospice programs, listed by state.

Resources on Loss and Grief - From Postpartum.net.

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep - NILMDTS trains, educates, and mobilizes professional quality photographers to provide (free) beautiful heirloom portraits to families facing the untimely death of an infant.  We believe these images serve as an important step in the family’s healing process by honoring the child’s legacy."

Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support, Inc. - Providing "support toward positive resolution of grief experienced at the time of, or following the death of a baby. This support encompasses emotional, physical, spiritual, and social healing, as well as sustaining the family unit."

Thursday, October 22, 2015

For Family Fun: www.doodl.club

I have a few more birth stories to share, and some posts in the hopper on other topics, but I want to digress for a moment to post a(n unpaid and sincere) plug for a really cool project. We recently subscribed to our friend Matt's new venture --  www.doodl.club, "Cool Little Coloring Books for Cool Little Humans" -- and Issue 1 was enthusiastically received by our entire family. Kid and grownup humans alike enjoyed looking at and coloring in Jim Stoten's inventive illustrations, and we're eagerly buying gift subscriptions for friends and extended family members while we wait to see what inventive outlines Issue 2 (
Artist: Scott Teplin) and future issues will hold.

What It Is

www.doodl.club is a monthly coloring book subscription. Each month a different featured artist creates a 24-page zine-format coloring book that is addressed and delivered to creative kids around the country (or adults -- you decide!).   

These are coloring books for people who: 
• love offbeat art 
• enjoy collecting zines and comics 
• like finding treasure in the mailbox 
• value time away from screens 
• would like to introduce creative kids to new artists

Issue 1 is shipping now and features the fantastic Jim Stoten. Issue 2, by Scott Teplin, will hit the mailboxes next month. 

Subscriptions start at $7 / month. You can get single issues, too: http://www.doodl.club/
*** Special deal for Birth Sweet Brooklyn readers: Use the code BIRTHSWEET to get 10% off *** (Thanks, Matt!)

~ More about why Matt started www.doodl.club : http://mattcassity.com/blog/www-doodl-club/

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Birth Story: Elizabeth

Today's post is another submission to the ongoing A Birth Story Project. With this project, I provide a public space for birth stories that want to be shared. Please contact me if you'd like to submit your own (anonymous or not, as you prefer). The spectrum of birth experiences is wide, and I'm hoping to be able to post an equally broad variety of stories.

Stories and photos are shared with permission. Stories may be reformatted and edited for clarity, but they are not censored. This is meant to be a safe space, so please read with compassion. Comments may be moderated.

Elizabeth's First Birth

This was my first pregnancy.  I was expecting a boy and had planned a home waterbirth in Brooklyn, NY.

On a Wednesday, five days before my estimated due date and the day before I went into labor, I had some watery, bloody discharge and felt just a tad crampy. I'd been having Braxton-Hicks for several weeks, but was experiencing them more as random stomach tightening than as contractions. They certainly weren't something I could time.

Incidentally, I had every expectation of being one of those women who "went over" her EDD by one or two weeks. I'd even hired a midwife who wasn't due to be back from vacation until right after my due date (though her backup would be available while she was gone, of course). That was how sure I was that I would be "late." The only reason my midwife was in town and didn't miss my birth was that she'd had two other clients who'd gone late, and she'd had to cancel/postpone her vacation!

I also "just knew" I'd have one of those 24-hour "first pregnancy" labors I'd been told were typical.

Wednesday night, a friend came over to watch America's Next Top Model (I know, I know) at our place. My husband and I went to bed around midnight. Just before 4 am on Thursday, I woke up and went to the bathroom. I was still having slightly bloody discharge and imagined maybe I saw a tiny bit of mucous (but nothing much) on the toilet paper. I went back to bed but couldn't fall asleep. I had two cramp-like contractions and thought, "Whoa. That's different. This might be something!" They felt like someone stretching a large rubber band across my stomach and around to my back (I may have read that description somewhere while I was pregnant, so it's possibly not original, but that's how I experienced them). I moved to the couch and tried to distract myself, hoping to wait until my husband woke up on his own (rather than waking him). I figured one of us should get some sleep! I tried to watch something on my laptop. I couldn't concentrate on the screen. I timed my contractions out of curiosity. They came roughly every 10-15 minutes and lasted 30-45 seconds. This seemed to be the real thing.

At seven, when he got up, I told my husband I thought I was in early labor. We'd been good students in our childbirth ed. class, which was specifically for planned homebirths, and I had come away with a list of fun "early labor activities" I wanted to accomplish -- going to the grocery store together to buy labor and postpartum food; making a batch of bran muffins, a pan of lasagna, and a breakfast casserole for after the birth; cleaning the bathroom; filling the birth tub, etc. And maybe we'd watch a movie or take a walk, like our teacher had suggested. I love movies, so that (and the baking) appealed to me most of all. First, though, I texted my doula and called my midwife. They both told me to distract myself -- maybe drink a glass of wine (not likely at 7am, as I'm not much of a drinker anyway), and take a shower. The doula told me to stop timing contractions for the time being. I sent an email to my coworkers to tell them I wouldn't make it in to work that day.

In the shower, I had to lean forward under the shower head, with the spray set to "massage," and let the water pummel my back during contractions. They hurt, but I knew it was just the beginning, so I tried to keep a brave face. The shower helped some, but not as much as I wanted it to. At 10:00 am my midwife came by to check on me on her way to another appointment. I told her my contractions were about 10 minutes apart. I was sitting on the toilet then, as I found it the most comfortable place to be between contractions, and she did not do an internal check because we discussed how I thought my water had broken (in a thin stream, not a gush) while I was in the shower. She checked a pad I'd worn after the shower and said, yes, it was amniotic fluid and there was no trace of meconium. She got out the Doppler and listened to the baby's heartbeat before during, and after a contraction.  She said it sounded great, then left to go to her next appointment -- saying she expected to hear from me when contractions were 5 minutes apart, maybe later that evening.

When my midwife left, my husband ran to the grocery store to buy a few supplies (we hadn't had time to do anything on my "early labor" list, and things seemed to be setting us up for a short labor). I resumed timing contractions because I felt they had really picked up in intensity and speed. By 11am, they were averaging 4 to 4 1/2 minutes apart, and lasting for a minute or a little longer each time. And they really HURT! I thought perhaps I was having back labor. I couldn't figure out anything to do to cope with the pain. Leaning over the sink had stopped working. Having someone press on my back (which the midwife had done while she was there, and which my husband had practiced in our class) had stopped working. I got on my hands and knees and moaned and complained. But I couldn't get in the tub because my water had broken.

I stopped being aware of time at this point, and I certainly wasn't checking a clock, so the exact timing of my labor gets pretty hazy here.

I called the doula. I told her I couldn't cope and that things were moving too fast. She told me it would be 45 minutes to an hour before she could get to our apartment and that I should get back in the shower. I did, but the water was only barely helping. I started to feel weird and, I dared to think, "pushy." Uh oh! I tried really hard not to push and was mostly successful. I made my husband call the midwife. She listened to me on speaker phone. I was on my hands and knees in the shower, and suddenly I had a terrible contraction and felt something pop right at my vaginal entrance. I said that out loud, "I feel pushy! I'm trying not to! I felt something pop!" It felt super-intense and wrong. I started to get scared.

My midwife said I should get out of the shower and lie on the floor. She was driving back from an appointment in New Jersey as fast as she could. The doula showed up then (thank God it didn't take her as long as she thought it would!) and she coached me to not push. I tried to moan rather than scream -- to breathe short breaths rather than grunt -- at her suggestion. I couldn't get comfortable on my side or on my back. I ended up on my hands and knees (trying to kneel on towels they were pushing under me, but I kept slipping onto the tile) in our tiny bathroom. We don't even have a bathtub.  It's very small. I was accidentally hitting my head and hands and feet and legs on the walls, the toilet, the floor, the radiator with each contraction. Sometimes that pain actually made me feel a little better! A couple of times, I think I did it "accidentally on purpose," if that makes sense. I think that was the "ritual" part of my labor comfort measures (mentioned in a video we had watched in class).

Then I heard my doula (who was on the phone with my midwife) say to her, "I see a foot." What?! My baby was head down! Every ultrasound and every midwife and doula who checked me had said the baby was head down! Only one time had my midwife been unsure, and that was months ago, and she still thought he was probably head down! Looking back on it, I had noticed that I wasn't getting kicked in the ribs constantly during late pregnancy, unlike so many other pregnant women. I had wondered if it was because I'm tall and I had more room in my torso.

Nope. He was breech and a foot had been pushed out of me. I couldn't bring myself to look at or touch it, but once my doula said that, I could feel there was something between my legs. A poor, little black-and-blue leg and foot. Apparently, it was even kicking! The baby's heart beat was still strong. I was scared, and said so. I said this was all wrong. I said I was sorry. I said it to my baby and my husband and my body. I was so angry at every woman who had ever had an easy labor. I can laugh about that now.  But every contraction was so painful, and the pain in my back continued like the worst backache/kidney infection ever -- even in between contractions. To this day, I get annoyed when people talk about "the break between contractions" as being lovely, peaceful and restful. I'm not annoyed with them, just with the idea. I didn't get a break!

My midwife made it to our place (crossing 2 rivers and the island of Manhattan) in about 25 minutes, which is amazing. She double-parked and left her emergency blinkers on and a "medical emergency" sign on her windshield in the hopes she wouldn't get towed (I found this out later, and she didn't get towed). She told us that we needed to decide whether we were going to go to the hospital for an emergency breech delivery. She said it would certainly be a C-Section. Now, I didn't want a C-Section, but what I really didn't want was to get up, make my way down 3 flights of stairs (naked), get into a car, and be driven to a hospital!! And what I really, REALLY didn't want was to make the decision. I felt crazed and unprepared. I told her I'd do what she advised. My husband said later he'd felt the same way -- completely unready to make that call. We both wanted her to make it, and she did. I can see now that she knew our reluctance to say "let's go" was us wanting to stay home -- us trusting in her years of expertise to know if we needed to transfer. She said she thought we could attempt to see this breech homebirth through. She, like me, didn't know how I'd make it out of the house. She thought I'd probably end up having the baby in the car, I was progressing so quickly. And she knew that breech births are possible vaginally. She had a good success rate turning babies, and she didn't attend planned breech vaginal births, so she hadn't done more than two emergency breech deliveries, but she knew it could be done.

As it turns out, my midwife and the doula had just recently watched three vaginal breech births (on video), so the knowledge that it IS possible was fresh in their minds. They also knew when to be hands-off and let the baby's body shift into the best position, which is what had to happen next. He needed to get into position without them tugging on him, and he did it himself. My body helped, so I guess we did it ourselves. Pretty miraculous, thinking back on it now. In fact, after the birth, my midwife and doula even got down on the floor and acted out how his orientation changed as his body twisted and turned through the birth canal!

Now, they settled in to coach me through the remaining contractions, and they were so patient and kind. I made terrible, low noises and tried to breathe. I felt so awful and thought it would never end. I didn't want to do it. I wanted it to stop. But I knew I had to let my body take over. Oh, it hurt. I kept saying, "I'm so scared." Maybe not the best mantra, but I was being honest with myself. I told my husband I was sorry if I was scaring him, too. I couldn't see anyone, so I couldn't read their faces. I was bent forward over the toilet (which had a pillow on the closed seat by now), kneeling on towels and tile. My knees felt quite bruised! And I was embarrassed and angry about how dirty our toilet looked.  I hadn't cleaned it well enough before going into labor, I discovered, and now I didn't want to touch it, but I had to. I was just along for the ride. My husband breathed along with me hoping it would help me be less embarrassed about the noises I was making -- and I was embarrassed. I thought the downstairs neighbors would call the cops, thinking I was being murdered. I can't believe (my husband saw them the next day) they said they were home during the whole thing and didn't even hear me!!

The first time I felt any relief was when the second leg came out. Oh! I let myself believe MAYBE this would end, but the contractions still hurt terribly. Some of the back pain let up, and my midwife told me later that she thought the second foot/leg had been inside scraping along my sacrum and causing the pain. Birthing the butt also hurt badly. I kept feeling like I'd push and make progress, and then everything would slip back in (though, of course, not everything was slipping back in). My midwife told me, "We can see testicles! We know it's definitely a boy!" I didn't care. After the butt came out, he pooped meconium, but when it first came out the fluid (I felt like water just poured out of me at several points during labor, though it was hours after my water had broken) had not had  meconium in it, so they felt sure he hadn't aspirated meconium inside of me. Since they still couldn't get to his head, this reassured them somewhat.

After the butt, the chest came out in another painful contraction or series of contractions -- I'm not sure how long it took. I guess I was pushing for 30 minutes? I was out of the shower trying NOT to push for 15-30 minutes before that? And in the shower trying NOT to push for 15 minutes before that? That's roughly the timeline.  I wish I knew exactly.

Now only the head remained inside my body. They couldn't get a heartbeat reading on the doppler anymore because of his position (which didn't mean he was in distress; it just meant we couldn't hear that reassuring sound) and the cord didn't seem to be pulsing as well as she wanted, so my midwife said, "I'm sorry, I'm going to have to put my hand inside you." I think I said, "Oh no..." There was a terrible pressure and I had to push. It turns out, she had put fingers into the baby's mouth to tip his head (chin) down so that he could come out right away. The cord was wrapped twice around his neck, so she unwrapped it. He came out into a pile of towels between my legs. I was still on all fours.

I heard him crying right away. My husband said he doesn't even think they had to suction him. I felt like I couldn't look. I was shocked. I couldn't believe it was over. I couldn't believe it. It was around 12:20pm. I sent another email to my coworkers about 20 minutes later, to say I'd had the baby, and they thought I was joking.

I finally realized he was there, between my legs, in a towel, and I could barely touch him. It was a dream. He couldn't be real! But then I was able to get my breath back and move with him out of the bathroom (and off of my knees) onto our couch, which was covered with old sheets and shower curtains and absorbent pads and things. I birthed the placenta there in two painful pushes (I was so annoyed at having to push again!) and everyone said it looked great. I didn't even glance at the placenta.  I could only look at my baby in shock. The midwife and the doula and my husband and I were all sort of in shock, I think. We kept talking about all the details, running over everything that had happened. We couldn't quite believe we had done it -- I had done it. I still sort of can't believe it.

In short, my son was born 4 days before his "due date" on my bathroom floor after 8-9 hours of labor (from first contraction to last push). He weighed 8lbs 9 oz. He was apparently a footling breech (surprise!), or a complete breech with one foot popping out first. He was 20 1/2 inches long and his head measured 37 cm. His APGAR scores were 9/10. 

It was amazing to get that "golden hour" (and more) of skin-to-skin contact after the birth. He was on my chest pretty much constantly, except when he was weighed (and when my husband held him, of course). What a privilege to get to figure out those early hours of breastfeeding as a team. He had some jaundice the first week, and I was quite nervous about the idea of having to take him to the hospital if he needed phototherapy, after all that, but it was nothing our midwife or pediatrician ended up being concerned about. We worked through it.

I can't believe we did this at home. I can't believe I didn't end up in the hospital emergency room. I'm so glad everyone is safe and content today. I did not tear, though I was pretty sore (especially while walking) for a few weeks. My knees were tender for 3 or 4 days. The baby's leg gradually pinked up (the one that was hanging out of me the longest) and was perfectly fine. He had no hip/leg issues.

I just can't believe it.  And I'm so happy.

p.s. I never got into the filled birth tub, of course. There went my dreamy (so I'd dared to wish) ideal water birth!! I always had doubts about renting it (because of the cost), but I'm not pretending I saw this coming! My husband joked that he should've put his suit on and just sat in it for a while, after all the trouble to rent and fill it. Oh well!

p.s.2. When I talked to someone about the birth later, she said, "Did you ever wish you had painkillers available to you?" And, you know, I never once wished I did EXCEPT for a silly, fleeting moment when I thought, "Oh, man, my back hurts so much. But maybe if I took a few Tylenol from the medicine cabinet behind me they might take the edge off." Even as I thought it, I laughed at myself and then transitioned back into another incredibly painful contraction.

p.s.3 After the birth, my husband ordered Thai food for us all for lunch. I remember that I was hungry, but also that I was annoyed that he hadn't ordered any of my favorite dishes! I think he was trying to get a wide variety of things, since we didn't know our birth team's preferences. That night, however, after the midwife and doula had gone, our closest friends brought us fried chicken and biscuits and mashed potatoes. This turned out to be exactly what I wanted. Heavenly!

Update: My son is three now. I wrote this story the day after my son was born, but time reshapes the edges of the story, both concealing and revealing, and I've added some memories/thoughts since then. Birth stories are tricky! I know that I was in a lot of pain and frightened during the labor, but I also can't deny how much I adore the outcome -- my beautiful, amazing son. The fear and pain have faded a lot, leaving a proud, empowered feeling of competency, but there's still some trauma behind those good feelings. I certainly haven't rushed to get pregnant again, though I love being a mom! 

Still, the bottom line I cling to is: I did it! He did it! We did it! Others can do it! Not everyone will get the chance to do exactly what I did, of course, given how rare a surprise breech baby is (and how hard it is to find a breech-birth-friendly provider if you know in advance your baby is breech), and I hope that my story doesn't cause others pain. Sometimes it's hard for me to share my story, because I worry people will think I'm bragging -- especially in the face of mothers who've experienced breech pregnancies that have ended up in cesarean births the mothers may not have wanted. Still, I also think my story, like so many of the birth stories I devoured while I was pregnant (and since!), is a testament to what a woman's body can do, and how we can heal afterwards. Thanks for reading it.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Birth Story Project: Kimberly

Here's another terrific entry into the ongoing A Birth Story Project. With this project, I provide a public space for birth stories that want to be shared. Please contact me if you'd like to submit your own (anonymous or not, as you prefer). The spectrum of birth experiences is wide, and I'm hoping to be able to post an equally broad variety of stories.

Photos and stories are shared with permission. Stories may be reformatted and edited for clarity, but they are not censored. This is meant to be a safe space, so please read with compassion. Comments may be moderated.
Kimberly's First Birth (NY):

I had an amazingly healthy pregnancy, doing yoga, swimming & walking til the end,  so I foolishly thought I'd have this blissful Ina May Gaskin-esque experience - it was the polar opposite!

I was 5 days past my due date and had gone for acupuncture to avoid being induced. Not sure that was the best idea - I think it forced G out before she was ready. I'd been having early labor off & on for more than a week, but finally went into "real" labor on a Sunday around 4pm. Immediately, took a nap & during that nap (around 6pm) felt a "pop" and the bed got wet underneath me. I was GBS+ and didn't want to go to the hospital & get hooked up to an IV right away, so I stayed home for another 11-12 hours (!) having contractions that were painful, but manageable, taking showers, eating small meals, took another nap. Had a nice brisk midnight walk w/ my sister-in-law Ruth Ann, who's a homebirth midwife in WV (and had been camping out in NJ at her in-laws, waiting for me to have a baby!).

A little meconium showed up and contractions were getting much closer together, so we decided to head to the hospital at 5am on Monday, before speaking to the midwife on call (at Beth Israel). I lied & told the doctor in triage my water had JUST broken like 2 hours before (not 12!), was disappointed to find that I was only 1cm dilated after all that time/contractions. Had an icky exchange w/ the head resident (who coincidentally is the name listed on G's birth certificate as having delivered her!). Had to do a little fighting w/ a nurse or two about my staying mobile & sticking up for my rights, telling them that I was a midwife patient and they should call her if there were any questions.

Brian was sneaking me food & juice. Ruth Ann went to Whole Foods & got me some castor oil & herbs to hasten things. I kept hearing other women enter the room next door, labor for a bit, scream, move out, next woman, etc. Finally saw Susan, the midwife around 11am. Was glad it was her: she was funny, loving & a tough cookie. She determined I had a "forebag" when your water breaks up high on the sac, so basically the body doesn't know it's broken, and there's not downward pressure from the baby to move things along. Tried to use the amnio hook, but I wasn't dilated enough, so it was Pitocin for me. My heart sank - there goes everything, I thought! Ruth Ann assured me that she's seen women labor on Pitocin, and since I'd already been having contractions I'd have the endorphins to counteract it. I had this idea that I’d get a little Pitocin, it would kick things into gear, and then I could get off it. In reality, about every 1/2 hour or hour, as no progress was made, they'd up it. Bam! I would literally BEG the nurse NOT to up it when she'd come in. “Please, I need a break.” I labored on Pitocin for 8+ hours (in addition to the 20 hours of labor pre-Pitocin). At some point I remember hearing "Always Love" by Nada Surf (listening to the Birth Playlist via ipod) and I hugged Brian, swaying to the music, and cried, I felt so emotional.

It got to the point that I had no break in between contractions. I had smaller contractions, in between the big ones, that were as intense as my previous contractions had been. I had been active the whole time: bouncing on a ball, pacing, swaying, rocking in a rocker (and had started involuntarily banging my head against the back of the rocking chair during contractions trying to make myself lose consciousness). The whole time, Ruth Ann & Brian (and Susan) were very encouraging that I could do it. Susan was the only midwife that day, so I didn't see a ton of her, which was actually nice - we spent a lot of time just the three of us in the room. They kept giving me little milestones to reach to get me through the pain, "Susan will be back in an hour to check you, you just need to make it til then" or "just 20 more minutes til X happens."

At one point, I was on the toilet & Susan told me to stay there for a while (where I was unconnected to monitors) and I recall not being able to sit down any more - I couldn't have any part of my body touching anything due to intense pain. She eventually put me in bed to rest because I was so exhausted & she said I needed to have energy to push. That bed is a thing of my nightmares, like a torture device. This is when the most intense contractions occurred - the ones w/ no downtime. According to Brian, during this time I would pass out cold between contractions & start snoring! For several weeks after, every time I'd lay down in a bed to sleep, I'd be transported to THAT bed and relive the trauma. Every big contraction, I'd climb the bed rails. I felt very alone at that point (even though surrounded by people) as I realized that I WAS alone - I was the only one that could do it and no one could help me. I begged someone to help me, "I can't do it!" “You can! You're doing it,” they said. At some point during labor, my sister showed up, which was really great - I'd thought of inviting her, but hadn't. It's all pretty blurry. I was hinting at pain relief & kept getting talked out of it, because they knew that's what I wanted. Weeks later, I felt like, "why was it OK (from a midwifery standpoint) for me to have Pitocin, but not to have my pain taken away?"

After 8 Pitocin-hours (and 28 hours total), I was 5cm. “I don't have another 5cm in me!” I thought. I asked for an epidural - it was very nerve wracking getting it, staying still during contractions so they don't puncture your spinal cord. Ugh. Brian (& everyone but the anesthesiologist) had to leave the room. My sister whispered to me "you're amazing. You didn't fail! You're only doing what 95% of women do." It was very hard for me to get drugs administered in front of Ruth Ann, who is a total bad ass (40 hour horrendous drug free labor with her 1st kid). She said to me, "when I said I've seen women labor on Pitocin, I meant like for 2 hours, not 8! Holy Shit girl!" I then slept & Brian & Ruth Ann basically watched my monitor, in which both the baby's & my heart rates would take turns skyrocketing & plummeting due to the Pitocin. Now that I had the epidural, they could jack it - still not making progress.

At some point in the middle of the night, I was awoken by the nurse, who sat me up to get the benefit of gravity, as Susan explained I was being examined in one more hour and if there wasn't sufficient progress, I'd likely end up w/ a c-section. So, I actually had this amazing hour to myself while Brian & Ruth Ann slept in the corner & I channeled my inner Ina May, speaking to the baby, meditating & guiding her down & out. And then Susan came in, spread my legs and said "Oh shit! It looks like someone has spilled a can of split pea soup between your legs." Literally like 2 cups of meconium on the bed. And only 7cm. Game over. C-section, it is! I had about 10 mins to talk it over w/ Brian, and the attending surgeon came in to explain everything to me about the procedure. I recall her describing how they double-suture the incision, so that I can have another baby in the future w/out fear of rupture. I thought, "Is she crazy? I'm never doing this again!"

The surgery was very stressful to me, psychologically, because I feel like it was sprung on me and I hadn't had time to get used to the idea. I had considered doing a home birth w/ Ruth Ann & she said to me on the way to the OR, "If we'd attempted a home birth, we'd have ended up in the same place." And she also said, "I've transferred many women to hospitals who've gotten totally bogus c-sections & I've had to make up lies as to why they needed them (because the dr. wanted it), so as not to make them feel robbed of their birth experience. I don't have to lie to you - you legitimately need this. This is why they exist."

Brian held my hand & I was very cold, arms splayed on the operating table, like I was on a cross.There were roughly 10 people in the room, 2 of them NICU pediatricians just in case, as G had been very distressed during my super-medicated labor (and the ass-load of meconium). I heard, "She has so much hair!" and "She looks just like Daddy!" & then I heard what sounded like a cat in the room & I asked if the baby was crying. She was! Brian was alternating between comforting me -- "Everything's fine, Sweetie! She's perfect" -- and giving permission to the peds to intubate her! She was grunting & not breathing at first & poor Brian thought she was dying!

Before whisking her to NICU (she'd swallowed a ton of meconium, which they'd sucked out of her lungs, and she was running a fever), I saw her for like 30 seconds. I got to touch her cheek. I think I said, "Hi!" No holding, but Brian got to hold her. What no one tells you about c-section is that it takes maybe 10 minutes to get the baby out and about 45 mins to put you back together. I heard the surgeons & nurses counting: every piece of equipment and gauze had to be accounted for. Then I had this feeling that there was a metal clamp on my lower abdomen - I thought that was something from the surgery that they'd remove. Then they said, "OK, you're done!" What about the metal clamp? Nope, that's your new abdomen! Oh, that was Tuesday, December 21, 2010, 6:23am - 38 hours after my labor started. Whew!

I didn't officially get to "meet" Georgia until more than a day after she was born (and we didn't name her until then). I couldn't go to NICU because I couldn't sit up & get there via wheelchair (on a different floor from maternity). As hard as that was (between bouts of being passed out cold on morphine), it was actually an amazing bonding experience for her & Brian. He went to NICU and took off his shirt, doing skin-to-skin contact (the nurses thought he was a rock star!) and feeding her. One of the nurses woke Brian from a nap in our room the day of her birth and begged him to come down and give her formula, as she'd been screaming in hunger. I didn't want her to have formula, but I didn't want her to be hungry and feel abandoned either.

Not being able to breastfeed right away made it difficult, but I had to say that while my birth experience was WAY less than ideal, the nursing staff & lactation consultants were very helpful & supportive of breastfeeding. Also, the NICU staff was great. G spent 40 hours there total & was the pinkest, chubbiest baby in NICU (7 lbs, 10z, 20 inches). I felt very grateful that she got sprung so quickly & felt sad for parents who's babies were in there for weeks. And I remember feeling a bit nervous when at 9pm Weds night the NICU ped said, “You can take her back to your room.” "Right now?" We had a dehydration scare while in the hospital (before my milk came in), but eventually got the hang of feeding.

We brought her home on Christmas day. I was hallucinating in the car; I was so exhausted. My friend/neighbor David was walking down our block when our car pulled up. He took a picture of the three of us in front of the car. Later, he sent me an email saying that seeing Brian and I walk up the stairs to our building, carrying our new baby on Christmas Day, put him in mind of Mary, Jesus and Joseph.

 Mother and daughter officially "meeting" in the NICU