A Little Background…
My story started thirteen years ago, in highschool, when I was told I wouldn’t be able to have children without the help of advanced fertility treatments. I was diagnosed with the most severe case of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) my doctor had ever seen and spent my college years in pain with symptoms most closely resembling MS. I am so thankful that my eyes were opened to the body’s powerful ability to heal given a healthy diet and environment, as this alone completely reversed all of my issues. In fear of this sounding like I made a few changes and – voila! – was healed, I went to great lengths (and still do) to ensure what I eat, drink, breathe and put on my body is as pure as possible. My fertility journey outlines some high-level steps I went through to enable my body to heal naturally. But every sacrifice and choice was worth it, as just last year I naturally conceived and gave birth to my baby girl, Sloane. With infertility rates higher than ever, my utmost desire in sharing my story is that it can encourage, teach and/or help others avoid suffering.
Will and I both worked with Dr. Dittmann, a natural fertility specialist who uses Food as Medicine, food-based supplements and Quinton to correct vitamin and mineral deficiencies. At 27 years old, I had my second natural period, fifteen years after my first. We were ecstatic, as we had already decided that – while a huge blessing for many – fertility treatments were not part of our plan. We knew that with time, my reproductive system would “wake up” as my body had, given I continue to make healthy dietary and lifestyle choices. (Interestingly, in chronic illness, the reproductive system sometimes shuts down so that the energy given to menstrual cycles and reproduction is shifted to healing. The cycle resumes after health is restored.)
Once my cycle started, Will and I wanted to make sure we were in tip-top shape before conceiving. We knew that our choices in this perinatal period, more than any other time, would directly affect the fetal brain development and the overall health of our baby. Given the exponential rise in allergies, autism, ADD and birth defects – coupled with my health history – we wanted my cycle to normalize and address any vitamin and mineral deficiencies before getting pregnant. (We realize there are many factors – genetic and environmental – that are beyond our control, but through watching my body heal, we believe that our lifestyle choices make a huge difference.) We didn’t just want a baby, complete with ten fingers and toes…we wanted a thriving, healthy baby!
The Plus Sign
By the end of 2015, we decided to try getting pregnant in the New Year. But Branch Basics went through a tumultuous time in January, and we didn’t want to conceive under stress. We put off actively trying until summer, but given so many friends and family who had struggled getting pregnant, we’d welcome the blessing starting in the Spring. Despite Dr. Dittman jokingly warning us that our bodies were ripe and ready for conception, we were shocked (and thrilled!) when it took just a few weeks to see a plus sign!
From the moment we knew there was life inside me, Will and I became parents. We were ever mindful of the precious baby working hard each day to grow. If I had been careful about my diet and environment before, I was naturally even more aware. Being pregnant was an excuse to treat my body to fresh juice, lots of veggies, grass-fed meats and good-quality fats. Instead of spending money on eating out and new maternity clothes, I bought another air purifier, fresh bone broth, and the best supplements available to support our growing baby. Will was always quick to fill up my gas tank and run errands that involved stores with strong fragrances so our little one would have as few toxic exposures as possible in utero. I had lived this way since the beginning of my healing journey, so it had become second nature and habit versus done out of restriction or fear. We found that making healthy choices was easier than ever since we were doing it for our baby.
The Birth Plan
We immediately dove headfirst into researching our baby’s birthplace and team, which can be overwhelming. Will and I see birth as a natural process, not a medical event, and this drove most of our decisions. After all, the hardest part was over – I had gotten pregnant against all odds! We knew we wanted to be under the care of a midwife since their model is in line with this belief and minimizes unnecessary interventions. I loved their attention to the mom’s emotional state and lifestyle, hands-on assistance through labor and birth, and postpartum support including infant care and breastfeeding (many are lactation consultants).
There should never be any judgment concerning birth – it comes down to what works for each person. Thankfully I was low-risk and had the option to birth outside a hospital, either at a birthing center or home. Throughout my pregnancy, I was asked why we chose an out-of-hospital birth, so I want to share what drove our decision. (I’d like to note that while it is possible to achieve the following in a hospital, they weren’t choices we wanted to fight for, but rather feel supported in.)
- Minimal Intervention: For low-risk women, a hospital birth greatly increases the risk of unnecessary intervention, which can raise the risk of infections, prolapsed cord, C-section, etc. (The U.S. C-section rate is over 33% in a hospital versus only 6% in out-of-hospital births.)
- Un-medicated: Many people have successful unmedicated births in a hospital, but the rate of intervention is much higher than out-of-hospital, where it’s not even a possibility. I have avoided drugs and antibiotics for almost ten years and also didn’t want to chance not being fully present during the delivery.
- Move Freely: In order to get this baby out without drugs, I needed to be able to get in any position my body wanted! While laying on the back is necessary if you have an epidural and gives the doctor easy access, the freedom to move can decrease the risk of shoulder dystocia and takes pressure off the vena cava to increase oxygen to the baby if necessary.
- Intermittent Monitoring: I read several studies on electronic fetal monitoring, or EFM, where an ultrasound transducer is strapped to the mother’s stomach. I was glad to find there is no less risk associated with using a fetoscope or hand-held Doppler between contractions. (Interestingly, EFM – recently advised against by the American Academy of Nursing – is associated with a higher rate of C-section and has no effect on illness or death of infants or mothers.) I also didn’t want to be inhibited by the belt or expose the baby and me to constant electromagnetic fields (EMFs).
- Relaxed Environment: This is very subjective. When Will and I toured the hospital, we were really impressed, but in the end it was hustling and bustling, shift changes, monitoring, hospital gowns, fluorescent lights and sanitizers. In an emergency, it’s the place to be, but given the low-risk nature of my pregnancy, we chose to believe all would go well. Being able to relax was critical since anxiety releases adrenalin and other adrenergic neurotransmitters that can slow down or even stop the birth process. Should my labor “fail to progress” (the number one cause of hospital intervention), a birthing center or home birth would allow me to labor as long as baby and I were ok.
- No Hepatitis B Vaccine: Hep B is transferred through unprotected sex, unsafe needles or prenatally if mom is infected (and I tested negative), so we saw no reason for Sloane to get this aluminum-containing vaccine just minutes after birth. While hospitals accept a waiver, it’s usually met with resistance. (We also wanted to use a botanical form of Vitamin K (drops) versus the shot that is given at the hospital which contain ingredients we try to avoid.)
- No Eye Ointment: It’s Texas State law that within two hours of birth, every newborn receive erythromycin eye ointment to protect against chlamydia or gonorrhea passed from the mom. I don’t have an STD and antibiotics are always a last resort for us, especially if unnecessary. In Texas, CPS is typically notified if the parents do decline the ointment.
- Delayed Umbilical Cord Clamp: This is one I became super passionate about during pregnancy. Delaying the cord cut allows more blood to transfer from the placenta to the baby, increasing blood volume by up to a third and allowing baby to receive more iron, essential for healthy brain development. Without ample blood, organs are weakened during this vulnerable time when the immune system isn’t fully developed. Umbilical cords, throughout history, have been allowed to stay on until they fall off; we started clamping in the mid 60s when Pitocin was introduced because of potential complications, but we now know drugs can still be given with no problem. The good news is that many hospitals are starting to honor the delayed clamp, however it’s usually limited to a few minutes. I wanted to allow as much time needed for the cord to not only stop pulsating, but turn completely white (all blood had transferred to the baby).
- Water Birth: I had read a lot about how birthing in the water could greatly ease the pressure and pain. Also, the baby has been in water the entire pregnancy, so until it hits air, its lungs remain collapsed, making waterbirths perfectly safe. While I found hospitals that encouraged laboring in the tub, I surprisingly couldn’t find one that allowed you to birth there as well.
At just seven weeks, we had a scare. A simple blood test showed my HCGc (growth hormone) was taking almost six days to double. In the beginning of pregnancy, it usually doubles every day. We were devastated as this was a typical sign of miscarriage. I barely slept for two weeks, actively fighting fear and thoughts that this pregnancy wasn’t viable. (In fact, I listened to Bethel Music’s “It is Well” over and over so many times that Sloane undoubtedly recognized it when she was just a few days old!) At nine weeks, I went in for a second test. Before she drew blood, my midwife asked if I wanted to check for a heartbeat. While it’s usually too early to hear anything, I found myself saying “YES!”. Sure enough, at just nine weeks, my midwife found that steady thump, the most beautiful sound I had ever heard. She and I both cried. It was truly a miracle and a victory I carried with me throughout my pregnancy should doubt ever creep in.
Overall, my pregnancy was great, which isn’t something I take for granted. My heart goes out to women who suffer through each month. My first trimester was met with sore breasts and lots of naps, second with headaches, constipation and shortness of breath (before baby dropped lower!), and third with painless Braxton-Hicks, some low back pain and hemorrhoids. Towards the end (when it’s most important), my hemoglobin (iron) level was steadily dropping (got to 10.5), and had it continued, my midwife wouldn’t have felt comfortable with a homebirth. I tried it all: spinach, meat, beets, egg yolks, Floradix, Vitamin C supplements, methyl-B12, etc.. It wasn’t until I started drinking weekly liver smoothies (yes, raw grass-fed calf liver!) and taking Yellow Dock supplements that it spiked up. My midwife was very impressed and I know Sloane benefited!
At twelve weeks, I took an at-home gender test (blood prick) and had the results sent to Kelly who arranged for either blueberries or strawberries to be placed in the homemade cake I had made. I now have a newfound love for strawberries! From that point on, Baby became “Sloane”, a name we always loved, and it felt so real.
In terms of the typical prenatal procedures, less was more. After doing research, we decided against extra Dopplers and Ultrasounds (only one 20-week Ultrasound) and opted for a fetoscope instead. As for the “orange drink”, I hadn’t had sugar or artificial dyes in years, and wasn’t going to start now with a baby inside me! I pricked my finger regularly for a few weeks to monitor my glucose levels and was surprised to find I was borderline for gestational diabetes. I continued taking my blood until the end of pregnancy and learned that as long as I had enough protein, I could keep my levels within a healthy range. I also declined genetic testing, cervical exams until the last month of pregnancy and early stripping of membranes to induce labor.
Bringing it Home
At six months pregnant, Will was offered a job in Houston. I was devastated to leave Austin, especially my friends and family there, but we were excited to be back at home with both sets of parents. Needless to say, it threw our birth plan for a loop!
After touring Houston birthing centers with my mom, we just weren’t feeling it and my favorite ones were too far away from a good hospital. I contacted Pat Jones, arguably one of the best and most experienced midwives in the country, who had assisted over 2,000 births, yet she wasn’t available during my due date. Pat called on her dear friend, Jackie Griggs, owner of Bay Area Birth Center who typically requires first-time moms to birth at her center versus home (first labors can be very long!) and she readily agreed to attend my home birth and oversee the rest of my pregnancy. Jackie and Pat both recommended Debbie Hull, an unbelievable doula who’s famous for her amazing six-week birth class that more than prepared us (especially Will!) for the entire experienced. (She and Pat Jones also co-host The Whole Mother radio show that I highly recommend listening to; it has become invaluable to me as a mom!)
Had someone told me in my first trimester that I’d birth my first baby at home, I would have said they were crazy. But at this point, we felt so confident about our team as well as Sloane’s being in the ideal position for delivery and growing right on track (a good midwife has a sixth sense and can tell a lot from external exams!) that it just seemed right to bring the experience home. (While we planned to birth at my parent’s house since we had yet to move into our own, we only wanted our birth team in the house…except for my mom who dutifully stayed downstairs!)
In the Zone
I spent my last few weeks mentally preparing myself for the birth. I found that, while well-intentioned, people were quick to share their (or their neighbor’s, aunt’s, friend’s sister-in-law’s…) scary birth story. Maybe they thought I’d get cold feet and end up in a hospital gown, but I was set. Just as I had with my hCG scare, I had to actively shut out negative talk and fill my time taking long walks and reading/listening to positive birth stories. Some of my favorites were from Birth Without Fear and Birth in God’s Presence. Before bed each night, I re-read the stories from my favorite book, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, and with each one, I was more and more excited to meet my baby girl! Kelly had also just given birth and had a wonderful experience, so I was inspired and encouraged by that as well.
At 36 weeks I told Pat I could be pregnant forever (see first pic). Despite being 2 cm dilated and 50% effaced, I felt better than I had most of my pregnancy, was walking three miles per day and had a ton of energy. She said if I felt this way, Baby wasn’t ready. At 38 weeks, I texted her and said I was DONE (see second pic). My back hurt, she was kicking through the night and I was over it. She said Baby would likely come soon. No one believed I would make it to my due date as my belly was HUGE, Sloane was measuring big and I was already dilated and effaced.
At this point, my parent’s home had been transformed into my own little birthing center. The birth pool I borrowed from Jackie was set up and just needed water, the birthing kit with all the items needed for a home birth had been delivered and and there were plastic tarps leading to my bed where I planned on delivering the placenta. The nearest hospital was routed and emergency back-up plan in place! I was ready.
I barely slept the day before my due date. Sloane kicked all night and I was officially uncomfortable. I had a prenatal appointment scheduled for that day and Jackie confirmed I was further effaced and it would be soon. That afternoon, I started having gas-like pains. I had been told contractions would be organized and follow a pattern and these definitely did not. I drew a bath and tried to forget about them as long as possible. As Pat had taught, “Just keep living your life as long as you can.” Looking back, I took that pretty literally.
Around 5 pm, in denial that I was likely in pre-labor, I headed to a chiropractor appointment I had scheduled. My mother-in-law insisted on driving me. My chiropractor had a home birth herself, had seen me throughout my pregnancy and is very in tuned with the body. As we wrapped up, she followed me to Will’s car and told us to go straight to my parent’s house – this baby was coming! But I still wasn’t having typical contractions and my pain was manageable, so went to Will’s parents to gather last-minute things. When we arrived, we chatted with his parents, and Will answered work emails while I went upstairs to pack.
Around 8 pm, I was in my closet and had another sharp pain in my side, only it lingered. After a few minutes and no relief, I got on all fours and called Kelly. There was no pattern to my pain and even my trusty track-your-contractions app was confused. So was she. I called Jackie who said things were definitely getting started and that she’d stand by. Debbie, my doula, said without any organized pattern to my pain, go ahead and head to my parent’s house, but try to “keep living your life as long as possible”.
I texted Will to come upstairs and when he saw me on all fours, he said, “Maybe I could put a movie on for us, to distract you?” (He later explained he was applying what we’d learned in the birth class about “ignoring” the contractions as long as possible in early labor, as they can drag on for a while before it really hits, especially for first-time pregnancies). But I’d had it. The pain was more intense and I could barely get off the floor. He realized it was go-time and escorted me to the car. I told my parents we were headed their way and to fill up the birth pool. My contractions were coming quickly and strongly at this point, but being a first-time mom, I figured I had plenty of time and told Jackie there wasn’t a huge rush. Thankfully she could judge by my voice that I was further along and headed straight to my parent’s.
We pulled up just after 9 pm, and I managed to make it up the stairs before another contraction hit. The birth pool was taking too long to fill up, so Jackie (over the phone) told me to get in a bathtub. My contractions were getting closer together and I was groaning loudly through each one. While Will never left my side, I was so relieved to see Jackie whisk in during the next contraction, grabbing both of my hands in hers. “It’s okay, Allison, it’s all okay. You’re doing great, that’s right, keep breathing.” About 30 seconds later, another one hit. I could tell Jackie was shocked – I was further along than she expected. I kept saying, “Why can’t I get a break?! I thought there would be breaks!” Let’s just say the worship playlist and dim lights weren’t part of my story as I had envisioned.
You’re at 9!!
After about 20 minutes, Jackie and Will escorted me from the bathtub to the birth pool. She wanted to do a cervical check, and the angle was too difficult in the bathtub. Jackie’s nurse assistant and Debbie arrived and everyone quickly took their respective roles: Jackie, ever calm, checked my dilation and Sloane’s heart tones between contractions, closely watching my breathing and positioning and continuously voicing times, numbers, stages of labor and general updates to her nurse assistant who dutifully entered them into her iPad. She never took her eyes off of me. Debbie was there to ensure I was as comfortable as possible, tweaking my positioning, reminding me of breathing techniques, and walking me through each contraction with her music-like voice. Will was a rock and despite my screams and feeling completely out of control, has said he was never anxious or alarmed. Looking back at the pictures Debbie took, it’s clear he was in a prayer zone throughout the event.
When Jackie was finally able to check me around 10 pm, I remember thinking, “Please be over 6 cm!!” I was shocked when she said I was at 9! That gave me a much-needed burst of strength as I tried to fight the pain with thoughts of holding my baby. I spent most of labor in a squatting position with the middle of a rebozo (long scarf) around my low back. Debbie and Will, standing outside the birth pool, switched off holding each end, bearing my entire weight as I fell back into the cloth with each contraction. The pain grabbed my hips and seemed to shoot down my legs and I yelled loudly, which helped counteract the pain. At one point, Sloane’s heart tones dropped a bit and Jackie told me to lower my voice and drop my chin to my chest versus throwing it back, which was constricting oxygen to my body. I’ve never taken orders more quickly! Within seconds, her little heart steadied.
Am I Pushing??
Around 11 pm, I entered the second stage of labor, my body instinctively starting to push. (I remember being surprised when Jackie told me I was pushing!) I could feel Sloane dropping, but this stage seemed to drag on and Jackie finally asked if I wanted her to break my bag of waters, which was still intact. While there are some risks involved in artificially rupturing the sack, I could feel it would be okay and gave the go-ahead. I felt a hard poke, followed by a rush and forty minutes into the pushing stage, I could reach down and feel Sloane’s head. After months of rubbing my belly, I was finally skin-to-skin with my baby and the surge of emotion was all I needed to cross the finish line.
Jackie guided me back to a kneeling position in the water and a big push brought out the rest of her head. Jackie skillfully unwrapped the umbilical cord from around Sloane’s neck while I gathered strength for my next contraction. (Nuchal cords are extremely common and I didn’t even realize Sloane had one until reading my birth notes months later.)
That Time I Held My Baby
Everyone was encouraging me, “One last push!! Reach down and touch your baby!”” And what followed was the most amazing, rewarding, life-changing moment of my entire life. I reached down, Jackie behind me guiding Sloane into my hands, and pulled her out of the water onto my chest. My whole mind and body seemed to melt into this moment I had anticipated and prepared for the past ten years, and it felt as if a heavy weight had been replaced with an outpouring of pure love and joy. As cliche as it sounds, it was as if the whole world was holding its breath as my baby took her first little cries. I joined her. It was 12:15 a.m. on December 29, 2016, my due date.
Jackie determined Sloane’s APGAR readings (a 10!) and recorded in my birth notes that she was “an alert and vigorous infant”. (Still is!) After ten minutes, I climbed out and walked the 20 feet to my bed, holding Sloane, her placenta still intact. She was covered in vernix which has great antimicrobial and skin-hydrating benefits so instead of rubbing it off, we rubbed it in. Jackie assured me it would dry and flake off and sure enough, her skin was clean and soft by morning. Sloane latched and began nursing immediately as I watched in awe at her forceful, instinctive little sucks. She had worked so hard and was hungry and I was so proud of her.
It must be true that we have our highest rush of of oxytocin (the “happy hormone”) after giving birth, because I barely remember delivering the placenta at 12:50 a.m. or being told by Jackie to go to my “happy place” as she stitched up my small tear. Finally, about an hour after delivery, Will cut the cord and handed Sloane to Jackie to be weighed and measured. No wonder I was so uncomfortable, our “little” girl was 8lbs 6oz and 22 inches!
By 2 am, our four parents were on the scene. As the birth team cleaned everything, filled out Sloane’s birth certificate, etc., We all celebrated her safe (and quick!) arrival and our amazing birth team. My father-in-law, who was always supportive, yet likely thought we were crazy, was blown away by their professionalism and attentiveness, commenting that I had “ a concierge birth!”
The rest of our families came to meet Sloane when we woke up and by evening, we were back at home, just 24 hours after we had left. It was a great birthday!
One of my favorite things about the midwives was their attentiveness to Sloane and me for several weeks after the birth. To avoid exposing the baby to germs and in efforts to help me rest, Jackie did the baby’s and my check-ups at home. As a lactation consultant, she answered my millions of questions (!!) regarding breastfeeding. Sloane ate constantly at first and my let-down is slow, so her encouragement to avoid sleep schedules and always feed on demand has turned breastfeeding into a beautiful, amazing experience that I hope to do until Sloane and I agree we’re done!
Jackie, Pat and Debbie drilled into my head the importance of rest (five days in, five days on and five days around the bed!) and I wish I had heeded that advice. Because I felt so good and wasn’t in a hospital where it’s not as tempting to resume life, I did too much and ended up extending my healing time. I did continue to have home-cooked meals (thank you, family!) so that I could avoid as many pesticides as possible during breastfeeding. I also had my placenta encapsulated and delivered in a glass jar with “happy pills” on the front, and definitely don’t think it hurt my positive postpartum mood and speedy uterine healing time.
We are so grateful for our experience and do not take it for granted. I know there are many factors at play and I hope my next birth(s) are similar. Although, Pat said if we could write the next story, she’d double my labor time and therefore lessen the intensity of the pain! (Perhaps I’ll cut out my daily date-eating routine that’s supposed to shorten labor!?) But I can honestly say it was the best experience of my life. So much so that four days postpartum, I broke down crying (hormones!?) because I was sad it was over. And that leads me to…
My birth team! I want to give a wholehearted thank you to my midwives and doula. Sloane was ready to come with or without y’all, but I personally enjoyed having you there. 😉 Your knowledge, experience and compassion were unparalleled and I couldn’t have done it without you. Our parents and siblings were also amazing. They all supported us and we’re overwhelmed by their love for our baby girl.
Finally, thank you for taking the time to read my story. It’s an extremely personal and sensitive topic, and I hesitate a bit in sharing it in light of many women having contrasting experiences. But given the benefits I received from hearing positive ones, I wanted to encourage others through telling mine. In the end, every birth is beautiful and unique and what really matters is a healthy mom and baby.
Sources and More Information:
- Electronic Fetal Monitoring:
- Cord Clamping:
- Hep-B Vaccine:
- Eye Ointment