I’ve been writing this letter in my head for a year. The day you were born, I left the hospital and bought a giant cup of coffee. I didn’t go straight home like I usually do after a birth, but instead I took my coffee for a walk. It was a perfect October morning, golden, crisp, and full of promise. I made my way down the trail holding my coffee close and I passed so many people. There were old ladies power walking and young men out running their miles and it boggled my mind that they were going on with their lives as normal, not knowing that everything was different that day because you were here.
You were born and everything changed.
I watched your mom and dad fight for you through hours and hours of Chopped reruns and even more hours of pushing. I watched them make their way across the bridge that leads from “childless couple” to “parents.” It’s a really long bridge, Levi. It feels like it stretches forever and when you finally see the other side, you realize you’re close, but you’ve still got obstacles to overcome before you’re across. Levi, they overcame so much to bring you here. I hope someday you get the chance to walk over that bridge yourself so you can really understand how much they offered up for you.
I will never forget how long you took to get here. Buddy, you put us through the ringer. Your sweet mama was incredible. I’ve seen a lot of women have babies, but I’ve never seen someone so polite, so thankful, so considerate of everyone around her while she was working her hardest to have a baby. Your dad was precious to her. He was steady and comforting. He never stopped believing in her, not once.
When your mom got especially weary, there was one moment when she doubted herself. She had been pushing for hours, working desperately to bring you into the world, clawing her way across that bridge, and she asked us what she was doing wrong.
Levi, there may come a day when you feel the same way. There might be a time when you’ll be doing all the right things, but they’re not achieving the effect you’re working toward and you’ll end up feeling discouraged and you’ll start doubting yourself and your abilities. I want you to remember what your dad said to your mom when she was in that place.
When your mama asked us what she was doing wrong, your father replied,
Nothing. You are perfect.
And he was right. She was, in that broken and beautiful moment, completely perfect. So, when you feel lost and hopeless, I hope you remember the words spoken over your mother and over you in the moments before you were born. I hope you remember the deepest truth of all: that when there’s struggle, radical love is always the answer. Radical love is always the truth.
After your dad spoke those words, your mama mustered her strength. She accepted all of the help and love offered her, dug deep, let go of expectations and control, and delivered you into the world.
I see a lot of babies born, Levi. I don’t usually cry because I’m so busy taking pictures, getting cool cloths, and assuring moms and dads that yes, babies are normally that blue. But I cried when you were born. It might be because you’re my nephew, but I kind of think that it’s because your mom and dad showed me what it looks like to partner together to get over that bridge. Honestly, I’m crying now as I remember it. It was one of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever had the privilege of witnessing and I’ll never stop being grateful that I got to be there when you entered this wild world.
Levi, you are a light. You are important, loved, and wanted. You are prayed for and adored. You are here for a reason. My wish for you on your first birthday is that you would be strong like your mama, gentle like your dad, and always remember the power of loving people right where they are.
Happy birthday, my sweet friend. I’m so glad you’re here.
This letter to one of my doula babies is a little snapshot of my doula heart and mind. It shows how I see my clients, how much I value the privilege of being at their births, and how much I treasure the little moments I get to experience. This letter is shared with permission from my clients who are part of the Bright Birth family and also happen to be members of my actual family. Levi turned one right before Halloween and I’m so grateful to share my experience of his birth.
Dana has been featured before in the Bright Birth Story Collection. You can read all about her first birth experience here. Dana and her husband, who live in Texas, reached out to me during their second pregnancy for some Distance Doula support and I was so excited to support them from Cleveland. Distance Doula services sound odd at first, but having a doula in your pocket has proven to be such an asset to many of my clients. I hope you enjoy Dana’s story of sweet Margo’s entrance into the world!
After several long months of a very physically difficult pregnancy, I was more than ready to give birth. I’d had Braxton Hicks contractions since about 20 weeks, and they had intensified to prodromal or “false” labor on three occasions in the three weeks leading up to my due date. The last time was in the wee hours of Saturday, November 2, when I called a friend to come stay with Frankie because my contractions—while not extremely intense— had gone on for hours and came every 5-8 minutes. When I checked into triage and said as much to the nurse walking me back, she replied, “Oh, well if they’re not super painful you don’t need to come in.” Thanks, lady. When they checked my progress, I was 1.5cm dilated—the same as I’d been since my 36-week appointment. The feeling of defeat, exhaustion, and embarrassment washed over me and I spent the rest of the time before being discharged ugly-crying. I so badly wanted to be in labor. I very much was not.
Through all this, I was so glad to have a doula. I never had false labor with my first; I had contractions that started and never stopped, slowly intensifying over 40-some hours until I gave birth. This pregnancy had been so different, and I felt betrayed and let down by my body again and again. Mary Susan kept reminding me: Every contraction was preparing my body for labor. It might not be dilating my cervix, but it is all preparation to bring my baby into the world. Her support to trust and work with a body that I felt had failed me over and over throughout my pregnancy—when I felt weak; when I felt scared—was invaluable.
With her encouragement, I had my membranes stripped at my 40-week appointment on the morning of November 5th. Mary Susan described it as the least-invasive form of induction, reassuring me that it would not work if my body wasn’t ready. An hour before my appointment, I began to lose what I was pretty sure was my mucous plug—so I thought it might be. The NP who took my appointment that day said she had probably a 90% success rate of inducing labor with membrane strips, so we were hopeful, but we scheduled an induction for the following Monday, November 11 (my husband’s birthday, by his request) just in case. Later that afternoon, I started feeling pretty crampy, but I wasn’t willing to believe it was labor quite yet.
My first big contractions started around 12:45am (my babies really like to get things going in the middle of the night) and were coming every 5 minutes when I was up and moving around—but they’d slow to every 8-10… sometimes 12 or even 15 minutes if I was sitting or lying down. All the advice from my birthing class saying to sit down, have a glass of water, and see if contractions continue kept echoing in my brain. I still wasn’t willing to believe my baby was coming. But a little after 5am, without having been able to sleep at all, I woke my husband. We went through our morning, taking breaks for contractions… I went ahead and asked my on-call friend to pick up Frankie from preschool. Contractions were painful, but still: Close together while up and moving; pretty spaced out while resting. Terrified of returning to the hospital only to be sent home again, I wasn’t willing to go. Finally around 10:30am I decided to try to take a nap. If I wasn’t in labor, I might as well get some rest.
I woke around 11:40 and immediately began to cry in frustration. If I were in labor, surely I wouldn’t have been able to sleep! I got up and went into the living room where my husband was.
“I slept a little.”
“I’m in so much pain when I’m standing, but it slows to nothing when I’m sitting.”
“Well, sit down.”
“No!” I shouted at him (poor guy), “I don’t WANT the pain to go away. I WANT to be in labor!”
“Will you take a walk with me?”
We went outside; it was a beautiful day. We got halfway down our block and I had stopped every three minutes to hold on to Michael and breathe through a contraction. I could not move or talk through them. “Let’s turn around,” he said.
“We can keep walking without getting so far away from the car.” By the time we made it back to our driveway, my contractions were two minutes apart. “Okay, let’s go to the hospital,” Michael said, a little panicky.
On the 17- minute drive, I was grateful my contractions had such an odd pattern—I only had one in the car. But the walk up to triage was a different story. When I finally made it to triage waiting, two women were ahead of me. The nurse came in to get one of them, and as soon as she saw my face, she said “I’ll be right back for you.” I breathed through two contractions on the short walk from the waiting room to the triage room.
Michael met me in the triage room, where I was answering the questionnaire. When they finally checked my dilation: “Whoo, you’re at six and a half… seven!” I’ve never loved pain more. It was about 2:45pm when I was admitted.
My wonderful labor and delivery nurse, Rhonda, came in shortly later to bring me to the delivery room. She’d been told I wanted to labor naturally, when my actual plan was to eventually get an epidural, but to exhaust other methods of pain relief before doing so. I was so far along already, though, that Rhonda said I needed to ask for the epidural right away if I wanted one, or it may be too late. I had planned on an epidural and by that point needed relief, and the thought of pushing through my exhaustion was scary. So I didn’t have a chance to try nitrous oxide as I’d hoped, but when my contractions continued to intensify, I was grateful relief was coming. The epidural was in place by about 3:30, and I was administered the first dose of penicillin (I was Group B strep positive) shortly thereafter.
My main desire in laboring so long without an epidural was to prevent labor from slowing, which happened with my first. My contractions did not slow, and as with my first, I was grateful to be able to feel each one (though they weren’t painful) and to move my legs. But at the next check, I was still at seven centimeters. I was able to rest for a little bit, updating friends and family. When the OB came in to check on me, she felt the catheter bulb was in a funny place, kind of buoying my uterus. She pushed it out of the way. The nurse with her advised me that if I felt pressure, like an urge to have a bowel movement that wouldn’t go away, to call. I was so glad she’d said that, because not long after I felt that urge—Rhonda couldn’t believe it; I’d JUST been at a seven, but when she checked: “Yep, no cervix.”
The urge to push was nearly unbearable, but they wanted me to wait because it had only been three hours since my first dose of penicillin, and you’re supposed to have four hours before you deliver. The OB was also extremely busy that night—my nurse had paged her, but with each contraction I felt I’d burst if I didn’t push this baby out. I’d never felt that sensation with my first, but it was just as that nurse had described: Like I was trying to hold back a giant poo (sorry)– not exactly painful, but extremely uncomfortable. Finally Rhonda called the room the OB was in and told her to come to me right away. And when that didn’t work, she went into the hallway to flag someone down to go get her and bring her to me bodily.
When the OB FINALLY showed up a little after 7pm and got set up, I got in position and was given the all clear to push. After the first push, Michael confirmed what we’d known all along: “She has lots of dark hair!” The OB said she’d been face up, but she could feel her turning as she came down the canal—as babies should. An affirmation my doula sent earlier came back to me: “Your baby knows how to be born.” With those words in mind, I pushed again. Margo turned as she moved down—what a good girl. One more push and a primal yell, and I was looking at my baby girl, and immediately crying. Margaret Jean was born at 7:15pm; I got to hold her for the first hour after she was born, and I felt euphoric.
All my false labors had prepared me to have the labor I’d wanted—one where I could get my baby and my body most of the way there. The pain was scary, but I also relished it because I had waited for it so long. After a pregnancy where my body felt alien to me, making it difficult to function and hard to feel connected to my baby, I now recognize what a gift my labor and delivery were. I’m so grateful for the immediate connection I felt with Margo as soon as she was born, and (though I still wouldn’t wish false labor on anyone) for the time I had to lean into the process of giving birth.
Congratulations, again to Dana, Michael, and big sister Frankie! You are such a strong, special family and so, so loved!
About You – Brittney Melton. Mom of 2. This will be about my second child. A much different birthing experience. This time I wanted a VBAC.
How did you find out you were pregnant? It was a surprise. I planned. We went on a vacation and I suspected we were. Took a test along and everything. Negative… came back from trip still thinking I may be. Waited and knew my cycle should’ve surely started. Took a test. Positive. I didn’t know if was quite ready for another. My first was only 19-20 months old. God had other plans. And I’m so glad.
What was your birth philosophy before you gave birth? How were you expecting it to be? I knew I wanted different this go around. Having had an emergency csection – completely unaware about csection and thought I’d never have one – I was determined for a VBAC.
How did you approach planning your birth? Did you take classes, read books, meditate, or seek out guidance from someone in particular? We actually took a class! We hadn’t the first time because my doctor told me we’d prob not need it because she’s be there telling me what to do. Well, she wasn’t there and baby wasn’t doing well so c-section it was. This time I asked to try for a VBAC and it was denied by my doctor who said her practice wouldn’t perform one. So, I sought out a new doctor. Bye old doctor. Changing doctors was scary but in the end such the right choice! He listened to what I wanted. Gave me the risks, looked over previous medical history from my first birth and said I’d be a great candidate. I trusted him fully with the plan. I wouldn’t have changed a thing and loved my second doctor.
How did you plan to deliver? VBAC with my OB. For precaution we would have an epidural in case things went south quickly. Otherwise they’d have to be me out to perform [a c-section] and I did not want that.
What were the most important goals or areas of focus for you in respect to your birth? I just wanted the vaginal birth I’d dreamed of. I wanted to actually experience and “do it” myself. I felt that was taken away from me. And I am in no way saying it’s not real birth… c-section IS birth – with scars to prove. I just wanted a chance at what my heart desired. This doctor gave me that chance.
And now for the good stuff…Here’s Brittney’s second birth story! Just like my firstborn… my secondborn was late. Her due date was 2/12. I had one false labor on 2/8. Doctor even though it was go time and admited me overnight. Being a VBAC patient he wanted to insure that we were super cautious. So any intense contractions for longer than a few hours he wanted me in to be checked in case of an emergency.
They were strong alright. Strong enough to not talk, shhh, close my eyes strong. And I couldn’t walk. Sometime from being admitted at 5, eating dinner with friends and watching the super bowl… the high intensity wore off around 3 in the morning. I was no longer struggling through them, and by morning they weren’t there. I was so sad. I thought this was it. My doctor did too. But I also hadn’t progressed any.
My doctor gave me three options. 1. Stay, hope they came back (highly unlikely), 2. Have a c-section (not ready for that yet) 3. Go home ( and I was slightly scared to because I was afraid something bad may happen. We chose 3. And the following day had a check up. My doctor said to go ahead and schedule the c-section. He wouldn’t let me go a week past being a VBAC patient. I respected that protocol. So we scheduled for 2/18. He joked that sometimes when you give the baby an eviction date – they’ll choose to come on their own.
2/14, false labor #2. Intense contractions but something I now realize I could’ve probably labored at home with. I mean geez, I’d labored for like a week already. But I was anxious and DID not want 2/18 to come. I think I was mentally trying to will it – again – just like my firstborn. We were admitted for safety reasons and … sent home again.
12/15 evening it changed. There was some strong ones but this was something else. I was hunched over the couch and my mom was like uhhhh yea it’s time – go. Such a painful car ride to the hospital. We get there and I’m at a 4! Praise Jesus. They gave me a medication to wear off the top end of the contractions to which I was so grateful for. Anesthesiologist came in to administer epidural and MISSED 3x…. urregggh. 4th time finally. And I felt relief. I’m thankful to my doctor that he asked to have a certain dosage administered so I could still feel low end of contractions. I could still feel and labor along with them.
We went into the next day. 2/16. When I was at an 8 they broke my water. Talk about a weird relief. I got to a 9 and stalled. Checking baby with both hand and u/s they determined her head was turned into my hip. Stubborn thing. The nurse went in and flipped baby’s head – owwwwwwwww. She said you’ll immediately start to feel pressure on this next contraction. Ummmm yes ma’am you are correct. She said, well, it’s time, I’ll call the doctor back in. And I’m like REALLY!?!!! The VBAC is gonna work!? And she said yea, baby is already passed the scar line. She’s coming. BEST news ever.
Doctor came in. Told me push when I felt contraction… I led the whole way. I felt all the stretching. I don’t know what I was thinking but I honestly thought – isn’t the epidural supposed to help me feel ummm nothing? So yea, I felt it all. They said it was too late for the epidural to do anything… so didn’t feel full contraction but felt everything else. Which now, looking back, I’m glad to have had that experience. Feeling it all felt so miraculous. And that my body was working. An hour of pushing and she was finally here!!! Such an amazing feeling that I will never ever forget.
What was the advice that you found to be most helpful in preparing to give birth? Keep asking questions. Always get a second opinion.
What was the most surprising thing about birth for you? That it worked! I thought it wouldn’t have! I was proud to have a VBAC.
What was the most challenging part of birth for you? Waiting and the unknown. Would the VBAC work or was I head for another c-section?
What was your favorite part of your birth? Feeling it all. Strangely enough if I ever have another that’s what I’d desire. Pain – yes. But an amazing experience. Feeling her head and shoulders and hips all coming. My baby placed on me. Miracle.
What do you wish someone had told you before you gave birth? Honestly I felt more prepared this time around than ever. And it was a whole new experience. And also – someone to tell me my babies just like to be stubborn and late. (This one 4 days late)
How did your perception of birth change after you experienced this birth? I desire more kiddos. I hope that happens someday. A prayer of mine. But also not to fear the pain. The pain helps you know what to do.