The Evolution Of A Mother: My Five Birth Stories
I believe the purpose of life is to learn lessons (hopefully not too many the hard way), grow, and evolve into the very best version of myself. Today, mommy culture often pits mothers against one another, comparing how superior we are to each other while living very different lives, and yet expecting each of us to conform to the same way of thinking and parenting. Becoming a mother at the ripe old age of 18 taught me some valuable lessons––including learning early that I should only be comparing myself as a mother to who I was yesterday.
Each of my five birth stories has shown me what I’m capable of, and what I want for myself and my children as our relationships continue throughout our lives. What I wish for those relationships is similar to what I wanted for those births––peace, knowledge, autonomy, respect for nature, and unconditional love and support. Just like life, birth doesn’t always go as planned yet you find so much wisdom on the other side of the unknown. Because here I am, a mother who has come into her own and become the mom I was most definitely meant to be.
My first experience was your typical 2003 birth story. I got the epidural. I thought everyone did. This was before the age of Facebook mom groups, and I did not grow up in a culture that indulged in doing things like this the “natural way.”
Honestly, I was still growing up. With that came knowledge, and my birth experiences and the way I raised my children would reflect that. Given that my reputation today is that of a woman who promotes natural childbirth, some of my followers struggle to believe that my first birth is no less special to me.
I truly lucked out. Living in a new city, I picked a doctor right out of the yellow pages. Showing my age: some of today’s new mothers might not even know what those are. My OBGYN was more natural-minded than I was. At the time, I didn’t know anyone entertained birthing in any way but what I’d seen in the movies or from family members.
Believe it or not, my water broke in bed while “doing the deed.” We would be at the mattress store a week later. Since I heard that first borns are usually late to the party, I was surprised that it was already time at 38 weeks + 3 days. I showered and got ready to go to the hospital, trusting my body to let me know when it was time.
I got an epidural by the time I reached 6cm. (Btw I highly recommend writing down your birth story while it’s fresh because almost two decades later, it’s not exactly a crisp memory.) Thank goodness for those hormones! I didn’t sleep much; the strongest parts of my labor happened in the wee hours of the morning. I was tired and all that adrenaline showed up to carry me through.
Pushing lasted for maybe an hour. My mom didn’t live close by, but she was on the phone the whole time as my aunt snapped pictures from the bedside and my partner waited anxiously. I remember talking to my mom on the phone while I was pushing, and saying I couldn’t do it. She told me this was the part that was supposed to feel good. Five babies later, I can assure her crowning has never felt good for me. That’s the only part of my first birth that I still physically felt with an epidural. Looking back, I do wonder if the epidural slowed things down. It took just over 24 hours for my first––and so far only––daughter to make her grand entrance. Savannah Rose weighed 7lbs 2oz, born at 38 weeks + 4 days, and she was the cure-all for two prior miscarriages my heart still ached from.
My second birth was my semi-pro birth. I’m half kidding. This was the birth that inspired me to tap into myself more. It was the birth that showed me my body knew what it was doing. I woke up with contractions at 2 AM. I left my partner to sleep and sat in disbelief of my regular contractions––timing one after another––on my sofa. Alone. In the middle of the night.
When we finally made our way to the hospital, the triage nurse told me I wasn’t likely in labor—I was probably just having cramps. Except that a few hours later, a baby did indeed emerge from my cervix.
Back then, I didn’t know cervical exams aren’t a predictor of when labor will begin. So I allowed it, and the nurse said I was 3cm. I knew I was more uncomfortable with early labor than I had been with my daughter, and my doctor came in not fifteen minutes after the nurse had checked me. He said my cervix was about 9cm dilated.
At that point, I felt sure I wanted the epidural, and they were sure it would be “too late” for it. I opted for it anyway (I wasn’t mentally prepared for natural birth the way I am today), and then after just a few short pushes, Jackson Maguire joined the room at 7lbs 4 oz at 40 weeks + 5 days.
third time's a charm
I endured more miscarriages after my second birth that took a toll on me. Who I was as a mother, a partner, and a spiritual person changed drastically. I knew if I was ever given the chance to give birth again, I wanted to feel more a part of the whole experience. It wasn’t that my first two births felt less than, or that I felt I wasn’t present for them. But something in me craved a deeper connection to nature as part of my healing. My third birth experience was the most emotional birth for me thus far. I planned everything perfectly––except for induction.
With less than a day between my midwife telling me I needed to be induced and having it happen, I tried all the things! Power pumping, Thai red curry, clary sage, and castor oil were officially on the table. Regular contractions wore on for about 12 hours before fizzling out. Medical induction was the way this story was going to go, and to some extent, I’m grateful for the personal knowledge it imparted now because I can relate to my BIRTH Circle members going through it far better.
I was fortunate my entire birth plan wasn’t derailed; the birth center was affiliated with the hospital and midwife I would birth with. Nonetheless, Pitocin wasn’t a part of my dream. I cried that morning on the way to the birth center, trying to make peace with letting go of how I thought I would go into labor.
Despite the artificially induced contractions that brought more intense pain, I was mentally prepared. I’d spent a few weeks already on my birth ball and knew it was my happy place. So it was no surprise that I found myself at peace and comfortable on it for the first few hours of labor. I remember pacing the halls with my partner, Brock, in the nursing gown and slippers I’d bought specifically for labor. I have done that with all of my births. I think crafting a birth environment and being able to look forward to deploying all the tools and goodies you’ve prepared for yourself and baby is a much better way to expend nervous energy than trying to induce labor at home in those final days that riddle many of us with “when will this baby come” anxiety.
I labored in the water but it wasn’t convenient with an IV, and even waterproof wireless monitors were bulky and took away from the experience. I gave birth in a bed, and it was my choice. My midwife was everything I needed her to be at that point in my motherhood journey, and I know she would’ve caught my sweet baby on the floor if that’s where I squatted.
When I look back on this birth, I see so much growth in myself, and some humor––like asking my mom to fix my ponytail because my fiancé, bless him, was a trainwreck at it. I spent most of what felt like active labor leaning against the upright bed on my hands and knees, allowing my pelvic outlet to widen as best I could. But before it was time to push, I laid down. That’s not what I had planned either, but it’s what felt best to me at the time. I went with it. I’m glad I did. At 39 weeks + 6 days, we welcomed Kelley Bodhi, a 9lb even strawberry blonde boy in perfect health.
why stop now? Number four
Birth number four was my first home birth experience and my first water birth. I felt like I was starting over again because this experience was just that much different. The whole pregnancy felt so uplifting and supportive because I got to develop new friendships with my midwife and her students. It’s hard to explain the joy that brought into my life—I imagine it’s just a sliver of what it felt like for women when we still had a village supporting us in our communities.
I was due just days before Christmas, and wouldn’t you know on Christmas Eve––when tending to food prep and baking––the sporadic contractions I’d been having for weeks started amping up, and I began to feel pressure down below. Fortunately, baby let me squeeze in just enough cooking, and I rested in between batches of cookies.
To my surprise, I woke up Christmas morning feeling rested. The contractions had spread farther apart. I was able to enjoy the day in my pajamas with my kids as planned. I remember falling asleep feeling content with baby coming any time, and I supposed that’s often how it happens. At 4 AM I woke up to cramping. Unsure whether there was any regularity to what was happening, I decided to slip into the bathtub and let everyone sleep. And I stayed there for over two hours.
I enjoy a little alone time at the end of pregnancy to welcome the next chapter and get my head in the right space, sans the sounds of playing children or an anxious partner. By 6 AM, I was still submerged in the tub––and hopping out every 20 to 30 minutes to go to the bathroom. I convinced myself to get out of the bathtub at 7 AM and wake my fiancé. I called my midwife and felt like she knew from the way I sounded that it was time. Yes, I have that “wise beyond her years” kind of midwife, and I love her.
By 8 AM, my contractions were five minutes apart and one minute long, but quite bearable. I was grateful for the leftovers from Christmas dinner. There was no need to go anywhere and best of all, there was no noise. No cars out on the road. No busyness happening anywhere. It was as though the world really did come to a halt for our baby to enter it.
We woke our two teenagers around 8 AM so they could start helping set up the birth pool. It was filling, and my dad was on the way to help with our then 3-year-old son. I knew I didn’t want to get into the water too early and wondered whether I would dislike a lot of heat in the thick of labor. I’m pleased to say a warm water birth was just as indulgent to me as warm baths were all pregnancy long.
An hour later I was bouncing on my birth ball and rolling my hips in a circle as the pool finished filling. Our teenage daughter was texting my mom back and forth, who was asking questions about centimeters in dilation. By 10:30 AM, I was definitely “going inward.” I tend to be more introverted during birth and while I’m aware of what’s around me, I don’t engage with it much because I’m hyper focused on my body at that time.
Brock was being comical without even trying, but obviously felt a bit useless and started tending to projects around the house. My midwife, her student, and I still joke to this day about Brock taking time while I was in labor to go outside and install a new cast iron sign in our flower bed that had our address embossed on it.
The contractions started coming closer together, and that didn’t bother me nearly as much as their intensity. I kept focusing on those waves of intensity and trying to keep my body relaxed, and my jaw and mouth loose and open while I breathed. Sometime before noon I got into the birthing pool. After being disappointed with the immobility I had in the bathtub during my third birth, I tried not to have high expectations for a water birth this time around—but the water helped so much.
I didn’t talk much as labor grew more intense. I remember wishing I could communicate with my midwife telepathically; in some ways, I think we do. She’s that good. All of my energy needed to go toward coping at the end. I was sitting on my bottom in the pool with my legs stretched out in front of me and slightly bent when a contraction came along with the first sign of the fetal ejection reflex––commonly referred to in mom groups as FER. After that point, I felt such an uncontrollable urge to push coming on with contractions that followed.
I moved onto my hands and knees and rested against the side of the pool while holding Brock’s hand as he tried to keep a cool rag on my forehead and neck. I screamed during those contractions toward the end––something new for me. Looking back, I wonder if it was just that I was so comfortable in my own home that I felt I could wail.
I pushed furiously one after the next––feeling I had to. My bag of waters seemed to rupture only just before baby was born. His grand entrance was swift. I was on my knees and had my arms on the edge of the birth pool. He floated backward a bit out of my reach; it made the most sense for my midwife to scoop him up even though I had wanted to catch him myself. I remember thinking “I will next time.”
Born the day after Christmas in the water next to a twinkling tree emitting an amber glow, Wiley Harlowe weighed 9lbs 6oz and arrived at 40 weeks + 5 days, just like my second baby.
fifth and last?
My fifth birth was another home birth. Expected? Perhaps, but so few women ever go back once they’ve birthed at home, in my experience. I love the time that is carved out just to sit with one another when you’re working with a home birth midwife. That sacredness is irreplaceable and absolutely carries over into your birth and beyond.
Following weeks of contractions commonly called prodromal labor, I woke up on February 20th, 2022 around 5:30 AM with cramping that wasn’t regular but was much stronger than the previous few weeks had been. I didn’t feel as rested the fifth time around. Two teenagers and two little ones while pregnant probably isn’t a recipe for fewer wrinkles.
I went to bed around 9:30 PM that night and I might’ve clocked twenty minutes of sleep before I was up with contractions and unable to stay too far from the toilet. I did what I knew how to do best and climbed into the bathtub around 1 AM. I stayed there in the light of the waning gibbous moon and reflected on the conversations my midwife and I had shared about more babies coming when the moon is pulling away than when it is full, contrary to popular myth. By 1:30 AM I called and woke her up, and proceeded to do the same with Brock and our two teenagers.
They started filling the birth pool. I can still remember the peaceful sound of it filling and that being the only sound in the still of the wee AM hours. I called my dad to enlist his help once again, and he was so excited that he answered sounding as though he was already up and waiting. My contractions were strong but only 8-10 minutes apart at that point.
By 2:30 AM the waves of intensity were much stronger as my midwife and her student arrived. That was the point when I started positive self-talk, reminding myself of the real purpose of what I was going through, and how much I couldn’t wait to meet my baby. I slipped into the same lilac-colored nursing nightie I had labored in for my fourth birth and planted myself on my birthing ball. Little did I know I would spend almost all of my labor there. It was so quiet, dark, and peaceful with the littles fast asleep. My dad arrived by 3 AM. As he, the midwives, Brock, and the kids socialized in a low whisper, I remember feeling like I was there but not there, because I was again receding so far into my mind and body. At times, I’d liken it to an out of body experience.
By that point, I was nearing 24 hours without sleep. My midwife and I both curled up at opposite ends of our sofa to try to rest. There was something comforting about it that I didn’t notice until reflecting upon it. Perhaps it was that she was so comfortable just chilling and waiting that it rubbed off on me. Resting between contractions for 40 minutes did help, but I hopped back on my birth ball at that point as my midwife’s other student arrived. In between contractions, I felt like I was just socializing with my girlfriends…my village. In reality, I was. That’s what they’ve become to me.
I think Brock sent our oldest to get donuts and coffee around 6 AM. Everyone was filling the birth pool with pots of boiling water after we’d realized the heating element wasn’t working––when it was full. Thankfully, I was too far into the throes of labor for that to worry me at the time. The pots of water worked like they always have. To be honest, it was sweet seeing everyone tend to it, even my dad. It’s not often we moms are truly taken care of that way. Our six-year-old son even joined us toward the end of labor and wanted to hold my hand and support me.
As I breathed my fifth baby down and out, it worked amazingly well. Much less yelling like a banshee this time around. While it was still painful, it was easier than my fourth birth. I didn’t push for long at all. I felt FER much the same as the last time and knew it was go-time.
Feeling him come through with my hand was so encouraging. The perineum stretches across baby’s head like a smooth sheath. Once his head was almost out, I panted a bit to see it all the way through, and then the last push was easier getting his shoulders out. I scooped him out of the water and we noticed right away he was born en caul. This is quite rare and is said to happen in only about 1 in every 80,000 births where the baby is still in their intact amniotic sac. After manually rupturing the sac and bringing him up to my chest, his cord snapped. I’m grateful that my midwife sprang into action to clamp it while remaining calm. I later handed him to Brock, and he immediately released alllll the meconium onto Daddy’s favorite tee. Brock kept it—stain and all. #meconiummemories
As soon as I saw him, I said, “he’s so small!” After my third baby being 9lbs and my fourth baby being 9lbs 6oz, I was expecting a 10lb baby. Dimitri Rhys arrived weighing 8lbs 3oz on… drumroll… 40 weeks + 5 days. I’m starting to think my boys have a required cooking time.
here's to more growth
In case you’re wondering, no, I’ve never torn. I’ve never been disappointed by any of my births either. Each one came with its own surprises. That’s why each is so deserving of its own story, right? My growth as a mother has helped me gain something I have great respect for: maternal wisdom.
I want women to know that even when you’re a natural childbirth educator, you cannot control your birth. That’s not the objective anyway. Each of my birth experiences have expanded my worldview and the way I view my role as a woman and as a mother. I encourage you to do the same. Let go of fear and control. Give into your body, and let it show you what it's capable of doing––what you are capable of doing.
Dani Lasher is a childbirth educator, writer, women’s health advocate, and mother living in Western Maryland––just outside of Washington, DC––with her fiance and five children. After earning her bachelor’s degree in Psychology at Penn State, Danielle made good use of her writing talent and went to work as a copywriter, providing broken-down content on healthcare and drug research to enterprises around the globe. But her true love––the world of mothers and babies––was lying in wait. Dani cut the only career cord she’d ever known and spontaneously changed gears, and she hasn’t looked back since, contributing to several online publications, such as BabyGaga, Moms.com, and more. Dani now runs The BIRTH Circle––an online childbirth education membership that focuses solely on preparing and supporting mothers in succeeding at natural childbirth, as well as hosting the largest natural childbirth network on Facebook as its companion community.
Disclaimer: Home births should only be considered for very low risk uncomplicated pregnancies and be attended by a certified nurse midwife. It's important to talk to your health care provider before you make a decision about a planned home birth. For some people with certain health conditions, as well as those who have not given birth before, the risks of a planned home birth