The Birth Part IV - The Baby

Kimberly's eyes were closed tightly, her hair matted across her face, her body trembling with fatigue. I had no idea what was going on inside her head but as the minutes ticked by I could tell that her confidence was starting to fade. I wanted to tell her how strong she was and how everything was going to be ok, but the words seemed hollow somehow, and so they remained frozen in my throat as her struggle continued. 

My mind raced to find ways to relate to what she was going through while still honoring the singular experience of childbirth as uniquely female. It is not an easy task for a man, and for those of us who have dedicated our lives to protecting the innocent, it is excruciating to be so powerless when your wife is hurting. In the end I simply squeezed her hand, kissed her on the shoulder, and told her I loved her. 

If life were a movie Kimberly would have gazed into my eyes and shared a perfect moment with me in the eye of the storm, but in reality just after I kissed her shoulder she was slammed with the biggest contraction of the night. Her head snapped back, her eyes clamped shut, and she let out a scream of pain and fear that gripped my soul and flooded my eyes with tears. I bowed my head and whispered a silent prayer that God would give her the strength to carry on. His answer was immediate. 

"Reach down Kimberly, you can touch your baby." The midwife whispered. Kimberly looked confused, but she reached down anyway, her fingers touching the top of her baby girl's head for the first time, and instantly the most incredible transformation swept across my wife's face. Kimberly's eyes cleared, her face relaxed, her breathing slowed, and a powerful feeling of calm pervaded her body that I could feel through my own skin as it pressed against hers. The next time it came to pushing the pain was still there, but it had been replaced with a sense of purpose so powerful that fear and doubt were banished forever...and within three minutes our baby girl took her first breath of earthly air.

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Epilogue: I sit here now, looking down at perfectly innocent eyes as they blink up at me. I curse my inability to adequately express the emotion that threatens to burst from my chest like a fountain. A singular thought bounces around my head: I finally understand the meaning of unconditional love.

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The Birth Part III - Fireworks 🎉

We held hands and bowed our heads, silently asking God for guidance and grace as we waited to take whatever steps were next. Kimberly was beyond nervousness and fear of the unknown, so exhausted that she would have fallen asleep on her feet if not for the adrenaline coursing through her body. All we were waiting on was someone to tell us what to do. As it turns out, the midwife's idea was as simple as it was brilliant: Push Really Hard And See What Happens. 😲

I glanced at Kimberly's face, and saw a look that few get to see. It only comes out when my never-ending sarcasm has pushed her too far or when Charlie gets into her closet and chews up all of her shoes: Kimberly was pissed off. 😈 I could hear her thoughts: "That's the brilliant idea?" She laid down on the bed on her side as I nestled in behind her, trembling with excitement as I was certain the fireworks were about to begin. 

The midwife looked at both of us, "On the count of three I need you to push really hard, and we are going to try to rupture the amniotic sac. If it doesn't work then we may need to go to the hospital and seek medical intervention." I knew what Kimberly was thinking, after almost 18 hours of labor it would be crushing to not be able to bring her baby into the world naturally. Her face screwed up with a mixture of fear and determination, and her hand reached back and grabbed mine, pulling it to her side. Her head tilted back, her eyes closed, and the count began..."one, two, THREE!!" 

Her fingers clamped down on my hand like a vice, squeezing my fingers together and trapping my wedding ring in between the knuckles. 😕 I let out a silent scream, biting my tongue as Kimberly held her breath and pushed with everything she had. ⏰Time lost its grip on us as our entire world collapsed around that small bed, our minds focusing in on just the two of us, holding on to each other for dear life as Kimberly descended into the unknown. All of a sudden we heard an audible pop, followed by exclamations by the staff. Her water had broken! Pure joy shot through my body like I had just mainlined adrenaline, "Are we almost finished?!?" The midwife smiled a knowing smile at me, "We still have some work to do." 

The next 50 minutes can only be described as the most intense experience I have ever been a part of outside of combat operations in Afghanistan. Kimberly dove headfirst into pushing, her face and voice full of excitement and confidence, until the pressure became so intense that her grunts turned to screams, and her sweat began to mix with tears. I had no clue what to do, so I just leaned in and whispered in her ear, "count to five, push for five, rest for five, push for five" saying and doing anything I could think of. It seemed to help...until it didn't. Soon the pressure became so intense that her pushes became less enthusiastic, and you could tell that the pain was starting to make her lose hope. Then something magical happened. 

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The Birth Part II - The Transition

by Buddy Rushing, Tree of Life dad

I always imagined driving while your wife is in labor to be a cross between Mad Max and the Indy 500, where you blast through stoplights, scream at the cars to get out of the way, and screech into the parking lot with six cop cars hot on your tail. In reality your heart is beating like your are about to be dropped into a cage fight but you do everything you can to act calm and not wreck the car during the drive, your top priority being to protect the precious cargo inside. 🚗

Once we arrived at the birthing center we walked inside the "sun room" ☉ which was a lot like a small hotel room with a bed, hot tub, bathroom, shower and windows facing the ocean with the curtains drawn over them for privacy. The walls were decorated with bright, soothing artwork that complemented the various green plants strategically placed around the room. We set our things down and proceeded into the adjacent room so the attending midwife could check her dilation. "This is going way faster than I expected!" I thought to myself as Kimberly climbed up on the exam table. The midwife's eyes brightened as she finished her exam, "well everything looks good and guess are already at nine centimeters!"

Kimberly and I looked at each other with disbelief, and then I muttered what would be one of many clueless sentences to follow, "Isn't that close to being finished?" The midwive smiled knowingly at me and simply stated, "We still have some work to do." Little did she know the prophesy in her words...

Kimberly would stay at nine centimeters for the next eight hours, her contractions continuing to increase in frequency and intensity with each three minute interval. We would transition from the hot tub to the shower, to lying on the bed, to walking around on the veranda, to sitting in the chair, to squatting on the Bosu Ball, and then back through it all again. 

Sweat poured down my face as I ground my fingers into Kimberly's lower back every three minutes, like clockwork. My hands were cramping but I didn't dare complain for overwhelmingly obvious reasons: my discomfort paled in comparison to the crucible my wife was enduring. She alternated between frustration and anxiety, between breathing deeply and grinding her teeth to control her whimpers...between courage and despair. The heaviest weight of it all was that it seemed like we were making no progress. As the hours ticked by her water still had not broken, and she was no more dilated than when we had arrived. 😔

The lowest point came when it seemed like we had tried everything there was to try, and it looked like we might need to go to the hospital and induce medical intervention. Kimberly and I walked outside and stood in the sun after 17 straight hours of her body laboring to bring forth our beautiful child, and I asked her point blank: "If this goes another 20 hours, how much gas do you have left in the tank?" 

She gave me a long look, with tear-filled eyes and said in a tone that sent chills through my body, "As much as I need." 

Kimberly has always been impressive to me but I'm going to share a secret with you guys: she is a girly girl. As much as she likes to say she's a tomboy, there are times when she's a complete wuss (ask literally any type of spider) and I make fun of her constantly for being wimpy. But on that bright Sunday morning, drenched in sweat, dehydrated, delirious from lack of sleep, and frustrated to the point of tears, her resolve remained ironclad. It instantly became the single proudest moment of my marriage. 

We headed back inside and found the entire staff of the birthing center waiting for us. The lead midwife smiled at us, "We've got an idea."

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The Birth Part I - Labor Begins

by Buddy Rushing, Tree of Life dad

"Baby, it's starting." I glanced at the clock: Midnight. Kimberly grabbed her stomach and doubled over in pain as the first of what would be more than 350 contractions over the next 18 hours seized her body. I doubled up my fists and ground them into her lower back as I'd been taught, bringing her relief as the pain subsided, only to be replaced 5 minutes later with another, more intense contraction. We looked into each other's eyes and laughed with a mixture of excitement and nervousness. It was going to be a very long night...

When we realized Kimberly was pregnant with our first baby we were jubilant. 🎉 She'd been told her whole life that her body would never be able to sustain a healthy pregnancy, and after an early miscarriage we had already braced ourselves for the fact that we may never have children of our own. But God had other plans, so when we got the wonderful news we started doing research! After consulting with tons of doctors, nurses, midwives, doulas and friends, we decided a natural birth in a certified birthing center was the healthiest option for Kimberly and for our baby girl. 👨‍👩‍👧 So that would be the eventual destination, but the first stage of labor we knew would take place in the comfort of our home, so we lit a fire, put on some music and began timing the contractions. 

"Here we go!" I snapped out of my four minute nap, instinctively jammed my finger into the button on my phone that started the contraction timer, and I noticed the clock staring back at me - 5:43am. It had already been almost six hours of constant labor. I couldn't believe what Kimberly did next...after the contraction she sat back down on the couch and smiled a tired smile. "Take another nap, we've got about four or five minutes until the next one" she said. 

I laid my head back against the couch and marveled at her physical stamina, but also the powerful sense of control she seemed to exude. I vividly remember closing my eyes and thinking to myself, "this isn't going to be so bad after all. I don't know what all the fuss is about."

I had no idea that three hours later a 9-minute trip to the birthing center would change everything.

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A Girl Walks into a Bar and Says, "Ouch"

by Joni Hargrave, Tree of Life mama

Ok, so it wasn’t exactly a bar, but it had kombucha on tap, the girl was me, and the “ouch” was more of a series of ouches 3 minutes apart, but we’ll get to that later. 

The morning is January 17th, 2017. I’m exactly one week past my due date, swollen, anxious and making all sorts of irrational interior decor decisions for our house. Driving to Vista (twice) in a rain storm for a freaking cactus is just one example. 

Conner, my husband decided to stay home for whatever reason that day and join me on a standard check up at the birthing center. When we arrived, we were greeted with loud and long birthing groans. Not exactly what you want to hear when you've never given birth and could pop any day. For anyone familiar with Hypnobirthing, I turned on my Rainbow Relaxation (the British version!) and tuned out the sound of new life. We decided we'd come back later and let the midwives and the soon-to-be mom do their thing. I was in no rush.

Fast forward a couple hours and we were back at the birthing center. The building was quiet, rooms were empty and I had to use the John for the thousandth time. It was here I witnessed what a mucus plug looked like. I had done my google prep of labor signs, but just to confirm I called my midwife, Ashley in to take a gander. Got the thumbs up, then parlayed that with a little membrane sweep to get the party started. Mid sweep, Conner asked if that could potentially break my water. Her response? “In my 9 years of membrane sweeping, I’ve never broken… GOOOOOSH... 
As I was saying, in my 9 years of experience, I’ve only seen the water break once:)”

At this point, I’m a human waterfall, scared, excited, game on! Ashley sent us off to get some food and directed us to come back when contractions were close and I was ready to meet our little boy.

Back to the bar I was telling you about earlier. The “bar” was Eve, an organic, vegan, typical granola spot in Encinitas. Diaper was on, hair a mess, my walk was more of a waddle—I was lookin’ pret-ty good. Long story short, contractions hit 3 minutes apart when we reached the front of the line. Hunched over, head shaking and speechless was mistaken as a painful debate over which budha bowl to choose. The friendly employee empathized with the tough decision but assured me I really couldn’t go wrong with either bowl. "And bonus! If you like us on Facebook, we’ll give ya a buck off!" As Conner is timing my contraction, friendly employee attempts to take over his phone and direct him to their Facebook page to secure his discount. I’ll never forget that order or the friendly employee that made it so memorable.
In case you were wondering, I went with the Machu Picchu bowl. 

It’s about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I’ve “labored” as much as I could at home and by now Rainbow Relaxation has been chucked across the room. I was ready to hand it over to the pros at Tree of Life. I could not have asked for a better setting to have my baby. The oversized bath was drawn and the Sun Room was all ready for an intimate birth with my husband, my midwife… my mom, two sisters and my sister’s 9 week old. 
We’re close:) 
My husband joked he was surprised the neighbors didn’t get an invite.

Alright, I promise this birthing story is almost over. From here it goes fast. Did I mention Ashley was amazing? She kept me calm along with my entourage, when I/we had no idea what was going on. I moved from tub, to shower to bed to ball—even fit in a few rounds of arm wrestle with my sister (read somewhere that it would help with contraction pain). If anything, it just made me feel good to finally beat my sister at the dumb game. I digress. 

It’s almost 9pm. For the past 5 hours, my husband has been by my side, breathing just as loud and as deeply with me, holding me, encouraging me, confidently taking me through this incredible ride. I’m back in the tub now, my one sister is fanning me from above, the other, scooping up floating, miscellaneous objects in the tub (use your imagination), and mom is ever-so-calmly rocking the baby to sleep.

Breaths are getting deeper. I can feel my baby make his way down. So close! After 30 minutes of pushing, I got a little frustrated at my bundle-of-joy and finally let out one last phrase “Just. Get. Out!”
And so he did. Good boy.

Just like that, we were parents. Forever caring and loving for this 8lb.11 oz. precious baby boy. I’ll never forget the moment Sullivan’s little body was placed on my chest. His bright eyes locked with his daddy's and then to mine. 

Reagan’s Birth Story

It was August 1, 2014 and I was 2 weeks overdue. We were just getting home from celebrating my dear friend's birthday and needed rest, I was scheduled to have my baby in the morning. Each of my 4 previous pregnancies were late, my third was 2 weeks overdue as well, but that didn’t change how frustrated I was with my body. Susan (the mid wife for my second birth 12 years earlier) was so good at encouraging me to be patient! She has a calming nature and it was the perfect balance for my anxious state of mind. You would think that with all of the practice I had in this area I would find it easier to be understanding, but I was dying to hold my baby! Once I hit full term, Susan supported my requests to spur on labor. I had my membranes stripped and took lots of long walks, all in the hopes that I could give it a little nudge. In the end nothing worked, and after 14 long days I had no choice but to be induced. It had never come to this before and I needed to find peace in my situation. After getting home that evening and getting settled into bed, I locked myself in the bathroom and cried, a good hard cry. In that moment I let everything go that I had bottled up over the last two weeks! Trying to be patient, trying to be strong and trusting my body to do what it was designed to do, I surrendered and went to bed.

It was 4:30 the next morning when I woke to a sharp jolting pain. My first thought was, “That’s a contraction!”. Still doubtful, I decided not to wake my husband until I was absolutely sure. Less than 5 minutes later I felt another surge and I knew! I reached over, shook him gently and said, “Babe, I’m in labor”.

My first three births were what I considered “average” lasting 8 hours or so. Each one grew slowly with intensity allowing me to transition at a tolerable pace. There was even a time during my second birth that I was able to lay still with my eyes closed and absorb the contractions. I rested peacefully while letting them ripple through my body. Susan later explained to me that this was referred to as “birthing from within”. I immediately knew that given the right circumstances I would try this method again. My fourth birth was a completely different experience altogether. He came so fast and so furious that I found myself using more of a war cry with every contraction. His birth was 4 short hours of labor, only one of which was actually spent at the hospital. Because of this, I had no idea what to expect. But when I felt my palms get clammy and was having to squat and breath through each contraction, I knew that this experience would be just like the last. We were still at home with a 45 min drive to the hospital and labor was coming on strong. However, this didn’t seem to concern my husband in the same way. He showered, picked out just the right shirt and made the perfect cup of coffee. After all, this wasn’t our first!

By now we had woken our daughter Madison (she was 15 at the time and had had attended all 3 of her brother’s births. The sitter for the boys had arrived and I called Susan to let her know that it was time and we would be there shortly. Finally we were on our way to the hospital. It was around 7am when my husband pulled up to the front to drop my daughter and me off at the door so he could park the car. Since it was still early in the morning, I had to be buzzed in. As I was standing at the hospital entrance waiting for the doors to open, I had a contraction so powerful that I felt the baby literally drop into my birth canal. The feeling was so incredible that I instinctually grabbed myself, almost as if I were expecting her to come in that very moment. In retrospect I had a similar contraction during our near hour long drive that had made me think many times since then that she could have easily been delivered right there on the shoulder of I5 in our minivan. Eventually I was let in and checked in and as

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the nurse escorted me to my room, Laura my other midwife was walking in. It was in that moment I knew that I could relax and just birth! As soon as we entered the room I immediately stripped down to nothing, I had to be free. Laura didn’t miss a beat, she was massaging my lower back each time my abdomen painfully compressed. As each contraction would diminish she would gently wipe them away, almost as if to give them a blessing as they passed. Susan showed up shortly after we arrived. We hadn’t even been there for 15 minutes and I couldn’t move around the room anymore. I was frozen, sitting on the edge of a chair when I began to bear down with such intensity that my water burst and shot across the room. My husband was so shocked that he jumped! With Susan by my side she leaned in and quietly said, “Baby is coming, how would you like to deliver?” I remember thinking, “Right here!” I honestly couldn’t fathom moving. She eventually persuaded me to get off the edge of the chair and onto the bed, where I was stuck in place on my hands and knees. It was all I could manage to do before I was hit with another gripping surge, tearing through my back and around to my waistline. I realized I was becoming more vocal with each contraction, howling as if to say, “I am woman! Hear me roar!” It was simply primal. By this time we had been at the hospital for only 30 minutes and it was time to push. Although my husband had caught all 3 of our boys (even with the 4th delivery, when the baby was stuck and gave us all a good scare) it just naturally worked out that Susan and Laura were perfectly in place on either side of me and more experienced to assist my delivery in this position. That is the beauty of birth, it never goes as planned and I was lucky to have an understanding partner. The urge to push was unbelievably difficult to control. Maybe it was the speed and intensity of this particular delivery, but I knew how important it was to pace myself. That was completely overshadowed by my overwhelming desire and it felt so good! I could hear Susan ask me to slow down and breath through the next one. I wanted to, but it was almost out of my control. I will never forget the moment she crowned, I yelled, “SUSAN, it BURNS!”. This line has become an inside joke between my daughter, who was videotaping the birth, and myself. We still get a good laugh about it.

She came in one of the most gloriously relieving moments I’ve ever experienced. An epic gush with instant relief! It was 7:30am, 3 short hours after I woke with my first contraction and only 30 minutes after arriving at the hospital. Seconds after her birth I had managed to switch positions and lay on my back, where she was immediately placed on my chest. It was euphoric, I was instantly high. It was such an incredible feeling and I kept getting waves of euphoria for the next two days. After Reagan was born, I had to go through a process of filtering through all that had happened during my speedy labor. It was ferocious in nature but beautiful by design; for me the journey of this birth from start to finish was a preverbal labor of love. Love for myself, for my unborn baby and a love for the natural birthing process. I knew what I wanted, I surrounded myself with a circle of people who trusted and supported me, and despite my previous experience leaving me with fear and trauma, I fought for what I knew in my heart was right and for what I was capable of. This was my birth. 

Gwyneth's Birth Story

Nature has a way of prepping your body for childbirth. About 10 days prior to my due date, I started experiencing pre-labor symptoms. Nausea, cramping, soft stools and a burst of energy to clean and nest, then moments of exhaustion. I’d wake up in the middle of the night anticipating the labor, with nerves and excitement. I called all my support people letting them know it might be happening soon, but then it didn’t. A week passed and Friday, June 3rd rolled around. My due date was June 7th, but I had a feeling I wouldn’t make it. I started feeling those symptoms again, but didn’t get too excited this time. I went to bed thinking, maybe tonight or tomorrow knowing the new moon was happening on Saturday, June 4th. I remember going into labor with Barrett, our first, on a full moon and was curious if Emelia was born around a full or new moon. I looked back and sure enough, I went into labor with her the night of a new moon so my mama intuition said things would start getting into motion on Saturday. This particular new moon was supposed to be the strongest of the year as four planets were all intersecting simultaneously.

On Saturday, I woke up with more intense, regular cramping, although they were mild. We went about our day cleaning the house with Lorraine, I treated myself to a reflexology massage while Ryan entertained the kids and I relaxed a bit while listening to my birth affirmations and reading in bed.

We decided to get out of the house and venture down to Ortega’s, our favorite Mexican restaurant in Hillcrest. I had dinner at Ortega’s the night I went into labor with Barrett so I thought we should follow the craving and maybe we’d have a repeat performance. I felt several sensations during dinner but nothing too serious or regular.

We took the kids to the beach at Fletcher Cove and walked for an hour around sunset. It was a beautiful evening, it felt great to be by the water, playing and being silly with the kids. I kept thinking about the ebb and flow of the tide and how the waves rushing in and out reminded me of being in labor. I held this vision of the ocean during surges in my previous labors and it helped keep me grounded, connected to source and the energetic flow of the whole birthing process. I remember telling the baby that I can’t wait to meet him/her soon. I knew it would be that night.

After we got home and put the kids to bed, we thought it would be a good idea to get all of our things together for the birth center. I talked to my mom and sister so they would know it’s happening soon. My sister had her grand opening for her new restaurant, Nourish, the next day and we joked a few weeks back that our babies would be born on the same day. Then I texted Susan around 9pm to her know things were in motion as my cramping (starting to refer to them as actual contractions), were about 10-15 minutes apart and lasting around 45 seconds. I told them to stay put and I would call them when we are about to leave for the birth center.

Around 11pm, I knew it was game time. Contractions were still fairly mild, although they were coming every 3 minutes and I was experiencing a lot of body shaking. Kristin came over around 11:30pm to stay with the kids. I let Robin and Lauren, our photographers, know we were about to leave. We got loaded up in the car and headed to Tree of Life in Encinitas. It took us only 12 minutes to get there and the car ride was easy and enjoyable. We were both calm and relaxed, yet brimming with excitement at the thought of meeting our precious baby soon. I told Ryan how happy I was to be driving to the birth center instead of a hospital. How nice the transition will be to go into a peaceful environment instead of the stark contrast of the hospital. I felt so grateful to have made the decision to birth at Tree of Life late in my pregnancy, around 34 weeks, instead of holding on to any fear of what could be, and staying with the hospital plan.

We arrived at 12:30am and Susan, the head midwife, was already there to greet us. Lauren pulled up at the same time. I went back into the exam room and Susan checked me. I was fully effaced but only 3 centimeters dilated. I felt slightly discouraged, although I knew things were moving fast and my body was doing the work. Based on my last two labors, I had a feeling the baby would come within hours. I worried more about disappointing Susan and her thinking we came to early. However, she gave me a warm smile and reassured me that things were just as they should be and I was progressing perfectly.

While Susan checked me, the rest of the crew arrived. Leslie, the other nurse midwife, Shannon, the nurse, Annely, our doula and Robin our videographer showed up. I felt such love and support from all the people present and so happy they were all there. I worried about feeling observed by having the photographers (who are close friends) there, but I didn't at all.

We decided to take a walk around the birth center with Annely. We did a couple of laps and stopped during contractions. I would lean on Ryan’s shoulders and he would massage my shoulders. It was so nice to be outside, enjoying the cool coastal air and taking in the scents and sounds of nature surrounding us. After about 30 minutes or so, we decided to go inside. I hung out on the birth ball for a while with the heating pad around my shoulders, listening to the music from my birth playlist. We chatting and joked around in between contractions which at that point were around 1-1.5 minutes apart. I remember being very present in the room and with everyone throughout the entire labor, instead of checking out into a faraway land like I did in the other previous labors.

I suddenly felt the urge to go to the bathroom (all that darn Mexican food!). I sat on the toilet for 20 minutes or so then got into the shower. The hot water felt so good on my back while Ryan stood with me, supporting and encouraging me. Annely came in and checked on us quite a bit too. The midwives and nurse monitored the baby’s heart rate at 20 minute intervals and it was always perfect. I loved not having the saline drip or having to be tied to the bed 20 minutes of every hour which is what I had to do at the hospital.

I felt ready to relax in the tub but worried it might slow down my labor since I wouldn’t be upright letting gravity do it’s job. Annely eased my concern and said that if I felt like laboring in the tub, I should get in. It felt great to slide into the warm deep water, especially with Ryan there rubbing my shoulders. I leaned forward a lot until Ryan talked me into leaning back on him. It was more challenging to lean back as it meant surrendering further to the contractions, making me feel more vulnerable. I think the back leaning position helped open the pathway for the baby to move down because shortly after I had the most intense contraction yet. I literally felt the baby engage into my birth canal and the pressure and intensity was mind blowing. I got through it and rested before the next one came upon me.

I think it was around 12:10am when I first felt the urge to push which felt like such a relief. I had been doing some low, soft and deep moaning which eased the intensity a bit during the transition period. But when I had the urge to push, I started making those grunting sounds, which triggered Leslie to get the baby cart in the room and ready. Ryan told me he could see my thighs literally separating making room for the baby to come through. He said it was an amazing thing to witness. I watched Leslie rush to put her gloves on and I thought wow, I am about to meet my baby! I felt powerful and brave and called on all the women that have birthed before me to give me strength. After a few contractions of pushing, I felt a bulging and intense fire sensation around my perineum. I heard Leslie say excitedly, “baby is crowning!” I knew the next one would be it so I geared up to push, with the guidance of my body and breath. I bared down during the next wave and followed the overwhelming urge to push. I felt the baby emerge, although in my mind it was the whole baby, but then I heard Leslie tell me to just breathe because the shoulders need to come through. I waited for the next contraction, and pushed the rest of the baby’s body through. I felt like my mind couldn't comprehend the intensity of those few minutes so I tried to stay present in my body because there was nothing my mind could do to improve the situation.

At 12:32am, I brought the baby right up to my chest and remember thinking, wow all that hair! It was the biggest mixture of pure blissful joy, relief it was over and deep love. It was as though heaven had descended down onto earth when our baby arrived. Time seemed to stand still. This moment was ours to savor, one we knew we would never forget.

I felt down to try to determine if the baby’s gender and thought, “Is that a little penis or swollen lady parts??” My instincts told me she was a girl, but I held her up to confirm. We had a baby girl! Our sweet little Gwyneth had joined our family. I looked back at Ryan and we locked eyes and kissed one another as we thought, “wow look what we did!”

We stayed in the tub for about 15 minutes and Leslie pushed on my tummy a bit. After the cord pulsed out, daddy cut it. A few minutes later, I handed our baby girl to Leslie and she gave her to Ryan when he stepped out of the tub so they could do some skin to skin. I stood in the tub and easily birthed my placenta into a metal bowl. When I got into the bed, Susan checked my perineum and I only had a small skid mark around 6 o’clock, and she said it would grow back together so no stitches were needed. I laid with our baby and she latched on about 30 minutes after her birth. We admired her and enjoyed the first few hours of her life. It felt beautiful, surreal and so magical.

Around 4:30am, they did a short exam, measured and weighed her. She was 8 lbs, 13.5 oz and 21 inches long. The midwives anticipated her weight to be around 6.5-7 lbs based on how I carried her, so everyone was surprised at how big she actually was.

It’s hard to find the words to express the sensations of childbirth. It is so many sensations wrapped into one. You feel the most love and support from everyone in the room. You are overflowing with anticipation and excitement at the thought of meeting your baby soon. You are nervous about the pain. But then you remind yourself to surrender, become a vessel for your baby to enter the world as easily as possible. Reframe the intensity in your body from pain to necessity, remembering this is all for a purpose and to welcome, not fight, the sensations. I stayed in my body more this labor instead of trying to check out and go to another place. This helped me because I was in a state of acceptance versus resistance. I think that is what helped my labor progress so quickly and made the whole process more enjoyable.

This birth was better than anything I could have hoped for. When I was around 32 weeks, I was in acupuncture and got into a deep meditative state. I had a vision of delivering our baby at Tree of Life, which I had toured several months earlier but put making a decision on the back burner. I felt during this meditation, our baby was guiding me. I knew after this experience, delivering at Tree of Life was the right decision for our family, and I had nothing to fear.

As I write this, our little Gwynie is 3 days old sleeping soundly just a few feet away. I admire her beautiful features and can’t get enough of her heavenly soft, deliciously scented skin. I thank God for this gift and promise to be the best mama to all three of our beautiful children.       

The Gate of Great Doubt

by Joely Rese, Tree of Life mama

It was 5 am on Sunday morning. My contractions had started almost exactly 24 hours ago. I knew, though, that my husband, Jacob, and I still had a ways to go before we were going to meet our son. Earlier that night while laboring at home, the frequency of my contractions had picked up and it seemed like things were moving quickly towards baby. Our midwife told us to come to the birth center. By the time we arrived at Tree of Life Birth Center, the contractions had slowed in frequency, though not in intensity. After several more hours of early labor at the birth center, I was throwing up from the pain, Jacob had barely slept since my contractions had started 24 hours ago and my cervix was almost completely thinned, but still only about 3cm dilated. 

In our Birthing from Within birth class, we talked about the multiple “great” gates that one must pass through in the labor process. In that predawn light, Jacob and I had come upon the "gate of great doubt", that voice that says: "I don’t think I can do this." I’m not sure the image of a gate does it justice. It’s really more like the Wall in Game of Thrones. A seemingly impenetrable blockade with no clear way under, over, or through. I knew there was no way back, but I also could not see the path forward.

Our midwives made the brilliant, and perhaps unexpected, suggestion that Jacob and I leave the birth center and go down to the beach to watch the sun rise. Without a better alternative, we ventured to the coast and sat in our car watching the waves catch first light. Jacob knew he needed to sleep to recharge. I knew I had to change my inner monologue. I was judging myself and my labor—or, as my doula put it, I was “should-ing all over myself.” I should be coping with my contractions better, I should be progressing faster, etc. Something had to change in order for us to move forward.

As we drove back to the birth center, a subtle shift occurred. The gate of great doubt still stood before us, but instead of looking like an icy, impassable wall, it started to look like a gate that one could pass through with the right key.

When we returned, Jacob slept for a few hours and I labored outside with my doula and midwives. The contractions started to pick up again both in intensity and frequency. After a relatively short stretch of time (in comparison to the previous 27 hours!), it was clear that I had transitioned into active labor. We moved inside; I got in the tub for a while before ultimately welcoming our son, Solomon, on a birthing stool surrounded by Jacob and the most phenomenal birth team a person could ask for.

I have no hesitation stating that labor was hands down the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, by a seemingly incalculable magnitude. Encountering the “gate of great doubt" challenged me, my body and my spirit in ways I never could have anticipated. I also realized that there was no one right way to move through that gate. In that moment, my path was laboring outside with some awesome, supportive women while my partner got some sleep to continue to support me in the process. For others, it may have meant going to the hospital for medication to provide some much needed rest. For some, it may have been having faith in a higher power. Whatever the path, the key was connecting to a deep intuition that I knew what was right for me and trusting those around me to support me through that gate. I can think of no better way to begin the journey into parenthood.

Your Birth Story: You Have Arrived

by Cara Cadwallader, a Tree of Life mama.

Perfection Embodied, you remind me that we are all born this way ~ Innocent. Pure. BeeUtiful.

You arrived in the nick of time, just as I knew you would. You did not, however, arrive on the 21st. Although I hoped that you would beecause there was so much energy swirling across the planet on this International Day of Peace with thousands of people meditating and hundreds of thousands marching in the name of climate justice, you were just too content to budge. We understood as we kept moving to the beat of time, allowing you your own natural process of unfolding.

The days leading up to your arrival were a buzz with people to see (and celebrate) and things to do. On 09/20, while celebrating brother Skeet's birthday while under a cool Leucadia sky, I was enveloped in a circle of Mamas who sang to you in my womb, filling my body with the vibrations of their sound as well as of the drum. 

When we knew you were not heading out on 09/21, we headed south to join San Diego's March for Climate Justice. You are a born activist, attending your first protest while in utero. ;) That week, I continued to nanny for the girls, unafraid of my water breaking. I felt powerful to bee so full of life on the inside while tending to so much life here on the outside. 

Sunday rolled around again and, this time, I found myself at Dance Church embodying the intention I had set. I had envisioned myself dancing to the beat of the drum as our community cheered on your arrival and that is exactly what happened. It was, as your Aunt Devi infers, the ceremony to end all of your soon-to-bee ceremonies. I was again circled by women who chanted and breathed and bared down, soles into the Earth, as they grunted and motioned, down down down, with their hands to their abdomens. 

I danced and shimmied, I shook and rattled and rolled conjuring you "out" with the mantra "open, open, open" playing itself over and over again throughout my Body Mind. I moved clockwise in the circle looking at my sisters - your Aunt Jenn and I gazing deep into each other's eyes - at the drummers and then at the rest of dance church filling the studio with their pulsing bodies and witnessing eyes. It was pure magic. 

On this day, there was a new couple at dance church, also pregnant and just two weeks beehind you. Mama Jana and I connected while at Swami's Park with our burgeoning bellies spilling onto the grass. It was a glorious day of sunshine and music, community and love. Your father and I continued to revel in the beeuty upon our return home that night as we made LOVE, staring into the expanse of each other's dark eyes, while intuiting that it would bee a last for many weeks to come. There was also a profound, unspoken knowing of what we had created together ~ YOU, who would very soon bee joining us.

After intercourse, and around 1:30am on 09/29, my mucous plug came out. Light contractions beegan shortly thereafter. They remained consistent throughout the day, at 5 minutes apart for one minute, and only taking place in my lower abdomen. Breathing through these early twinges, I followed Gran Leslee's advice (who was also our Doula) and went to sleep. In the early morning, after your father had dropped your sister off at school, your Poopa and I went down to Moonlight Beach.

Throughout my pregnancy, I could very easily envision my moving through the preterm stages of labor as I beecame fully effaced both here at home and on walks at the beach. Thus, this is what we did. At the beach, your father and I would stroll along the sand, hand in hand, together. Then, when the contractions overtook me, I would wade into the ocean and move with the searing energy enveloping my whole beeing.

It was lovely to bee in public doing this, especially when a few women inquired if "it had beegun yet," to which I would joyfully, with a smile on my lips, nod my head. At one point, I marched up to your dad and exclaimed, "This is the most exciting day of my life!" In the exact, same moment, I also stepped with my right foot upon a dying honeybee in the sand, receiving a slight sting of Bee Medicine. I immediately responded "Ow!" and then we all - me, your father and I imagine the Universe - simply laughed, hard and loud.

Upon our return home and while laying on the bed resting, my water broke. It was simply like one cup of water gushed out of me, then I went to the bathroom and another cup spilled out. The bathroom, and more specifically the toilet, was my most comfortable place to bee, so your father made a little nest in ours for me to bed down in between contractions.

My contractions beecame a bit stronger after that, with Gran Leslee joining us at home at 2pm. Around 4pm, she checked my cervex and I was halfway there, at about 4-5 centimeters dilated. She was quite impressed. ;)

Your sister came home from school and helped to chart my contractions as I writhed in labor. Close to 7:30pm, we decided that I was nearly fully effaced and ready to go to the Birth Center. By this point, I was long in a deep trance where I had pulled into a quiet, internal place. My gaze had contracted and I was communicating solely by hand signs, or whispers. 

Early on, I recognized that I had fear where pushing you through my birth canal was concerned (and it is easy to trace this thread of fear to other parts of my life, like work, as well) but I decided that I would simply deal with my block head on.At the Birth Center, I immediately climbed into the birthing pool for some relief. However, the bathroom was my most comfortable place and that was where I went when the pushing urge came upon me. Unfortunately, I had hours of moving through my fear to go through, as I struggled to connect to my root, and bare down through my rectum. I wanted an easy out and for someone to do it for me, as we also recognized and discussed my deep fear of success.

I knew I could do this yet something wasn't working.

I moved through position after position as I was lovingly tended to, but you were stuck at station #2 for five hours and I grew exhausted. By the time Aunties Jamie, bearing bottles of Coca Cola for help, and Devi arrived, I was on my back. They insisted on getting me back up, on my feet and into my birthing dance. At this point, though, we had already been discussing transferring to the hospital but then we noticed a dark meconium in my amniotic fluid. It was 2am on September 30th and it was time to go.

I wasn't disappointed that I didn't give birth to you at the Birth Center. It was simply what was happening and I was fully surrendered to the process. Your head felt like it was between my legs as I walked to the car, rode to the hospital and then walked into my hospital room. At Scripps Encinitas, we experienced something similar to what had happened at Tree of Life ~ a non-intrusive approach to birth that allowed for trusting the process.

Our MidWife Susan was openly discussing other options, such as administering Pitocin to create greater contractions as well as an Epidural for pain relief and, even, an Emergency C-Section. With each contraction, however, I felt your desire to arrive as I simply gave in to it. I wasn't afraid of what was to come, no matter what came. I was fully present and absorbed in the Shamanic vortex of birth that has forever been a woman's rite of passage.

With Aunt Jenn and Uncle Paul's arrival, our scene was set. Discovering a reserve of energy, inspired by my Beeloved Community at my side, I finally gave in to my overwhelming desires to push. Beeing cheered on and sweetly offered other ways of feeling my body move through labor, I was galvanized by my loved ones who chanted, "Yes, you can do this!" "We see him, your baby, he's almost here!" "You got this, you can do it!" "Push, Cara, PUSH!!!"   

And, at 3:21am, you slid out of my vagina and into our lives.(First, Susan had to unwrap the cord from around your neck. She, too, worked hard at helping you out of my vagina. She even gave me an episiotomy - my first time receiving stitches!) I cried my eyes out as your Dad attended to you while the doctors suctioned the poop out of your belly. "My baby," I bawled as tears of joy slid down my face. "I'm a Mama!" I cried to my sister friends who are already mothers themselves and understand this deeply primordial experience of life giving birth to itself.

Then, you were placed in my arms as your dark eyes and little lips looked for my nipples. You latched on immediately and life hasn't been the same ever since. 

Cahlo Re Moon, 09/30/14 7 lbs, 9 ozs. 20"

Cahlo Re Moon, 09/30/14 7 lbs, 9 ozs. 20"

The long wait....

by Laura Mann, CNM.

As a midwife and a mother, I understand waiting. 

I get it. The moon waxes and the moon wanes. The tides roll in and roll out.

And still we wait. 

We wait for the first contraction. And then for the next. We wait for the cervix to ripen and open and for the mama to drop into her vortex and for her baby to drop into and then through the pelvis. And the placenta to follow. and the family to form.

We are used to waiting, us midwives and mothers, and we are comfortable in the silent pause of precious vigilance. In fact, we are happy to wait because we understand that each baby knows the right moment to be born.  And we trust our mamas and our babies. And we Trust Birth. And we are prepared for the unexpected.

And then sometimes we tire of waiting. Our ankles have had enough. Our hips and tailbones and lower backs have had enough.  Our phones have stopped ringing and dinging with messages asking us if we are still pregnant and where is this baby of ours.  and we reach for our remedies and we talk to the moon and we monitor the baby and we plan for the unknown.

And then he or she arrives. However he or she chooses. all that waiting and watching and monitoring and talking -- whoosh! We are once again, striped down and vulnerable, estatic and exhausted, mother and midwives. done waiting. ready to serve.

~Laura Mann, CNM.

One week and many naps later...

Krystal and co. 1 week old.jpg

by Laura Mann, CNM.

One week and many naps later, she arrives. The strong, vibrant mother of 2 that she now is. You watch in awe and amazement how she calmly snuggles her newborn while firmly and lovingly directing her elder child. You understand because you have been in this moment not too long ago. It is palpable under your mothering skin -- the excitement, the ease, the adjustment, the faint feeling of overwhelmedness balanced by tiny, infinite successes.

and you take a deep breath for her, and for them, and for your own. This moment is only just that, a moment.  and it goes so swiftly. from under our feet and between our fingers.  

Until one day, you are watching them both on the beach, playing into the autumn sunset. An elder woman strolls up and tells you how precious your children are. She shares that she too has 2 boys who are grown now. And she offers you that age-old bit of maternal wisdom... it goes so fast, enjoy this moment. they never last.

Babies just know....

by ~Laura Mann, CNM.

... where they need to be born that is.

One of our young, powerful Tree of Life clients delivered a thriving baby boy at Scripps Encinitas Hospital on Sunday morning after a swift and calm labor.

She was 36 weeks gestation and the cut off for delivering at the birth center is 37-42 weeks.  Tree of Life midwives are able to maintain full care for uncomplicated labor and delivery of our patients at Scripps Encinitas where we are all credentialed as staff members in the OB department. We are thrilled to be able to offer the continuity of care to our patients and keep Tree of Life mamas under midwifery care even if they do not birth at the birth center.

Mama and baby are settling in, getting the support that Scripps has to offer and enjoying the bonding period in a safe and supportive environment. 

One Humble Midwife.

by Laura Mann, CNM.

I am still pinching myself that I get to be this woman.... who listens to women... who travels with them to and through the birth vortex, and out the other side.

Once again, I am humbled by birth.... by the tiniest and most fierce little beings... and their courageous mamas..... and their calm fathers.... and their intuitive siblings.... and the midwife who teaches me and the lessons learned from inside out. 

Who goes to the sea and washes birth off, and comes home to her own babies whose passages cemented my path, changed my body and forever lift my spirit.

Come along friends. This is going to be an amazing journey.