Melissa Schnurr’s Birth Story

The birth story of my second daughter (Cora) begins with the birth of my first daughter (Ainsley) in 2010. I was studying to become a doula, so was well educated on the risks and benefits of common birth interventions and was planning a midwife and doula assisted natural hospital birth. As 41 weeks of pregnancy approached, I was being gently pressured into an induction “because we don’t want anything to happen to baby because you are past your due date.” After days of emotional conversations with my husband (Andy), we decided that induction was best at 41 weeks 5 days. Though we were the ones to make the decision, it was after gentle pressure from my hospital-based midwives – the decision came from a place of fear. Ultimately, my first daughter was born after several interventions that, I believe (and research supports), resulted from being unnecessarily induced (the non-stress tests and ultrasounds we had at 41 weeks and 41 weeks 4 days showed baby was healthy). I knew from this point that I wanted a different birth experience with my second.

Fast forward to 2014 – I was pregnant again! I had several friends who had home births with the Willowsong midwives at Healing Passages and they raved about their care and birth experiences. There was no question in our mind that we would birth with Willowsong this time. I knew that I would not have to “fight” for the birth that I wanted in their care. I wanted a pregnancy and birth that came from a place of confidence in the female body, not a place of fear of what might go wrong. I did not want to be pressured, unnecessarily, to birth my baby before she was ready to join us earth side. I wanted to be in the comfort of my own home in labor and to lie in my bed with my baby after she was born.

I took incredible care of myself during Cora’s pregnancy. In addition to the holistic care I received from Willowsong (mental and emotional wellness in pregnancy is just as important as physical wellness), I received regular chiropractic care (from Dr. Tammy Watkins at Birthwell, formerly Livewell) and prenatal massages (from Melodie Polansky at The Family Tree). I followed the Brewer diet (focused on eating 80-100 g of protein/day, a variety of fruits and veggies, and healthy fats), and maintained my regular yoga practice (and modified as my baby grew).

In addition, I worked throughout my pregnancy to build confidence and trust in my body – I had to work hard to get over the belief that my body didn’t know how to go into labor or birth a baby without medical intervention. I used breathing and yoga to keep my body and mind relaxed throughout pregnancy (and later in labor). I was able to get to a place of trust with the help of the amazing midwives at Willowsong, my doula Mandi Hillman, my husband, and the women who built me up at my Blessingway ceremony (by Sarah Norman, Alternative Artistry). Aside from a lot of soul searching, one strategy that worked very well was not telling anyone my estimated due date (EDD)! Through the entire pregnancy, I told people my EDD was actually my 42 week date (not the traditional 40 week date). I was mentally prepared to be pregnant at least 42 weeks, and in fact, had a feeling throughout the pregnancy that baby would join us earth side on November 4, 2014 (at 42 weeks 1 day).

On November 3, 2014 (42 weeks), my confidence in my body’s ability to go into labor was wavering when I went through the day with no new “signs” of impending labor. I decided it was time to hang up all of the index cards that I accumulated at my Blessingway – each card had a positive birth affirmation – I hung them everywhere! They hung on my bathroom mirror, on my dresser, in my car, at the office – “Trust your body and your baby”, “Your baby will come when she is ready”, “Your body grew your baby, your body can birth your baby”. These index cards got me through the next two days!

Early on the morning of November 4, I woke up with mild cramping so had a twinge of hope that today might be the day. I went through the day and back to bed that night with no signs of impending labor. Bummer!

I woke up at 5:30am on November 5 with mild cramping again. Because I had a feeling throughout pregnancy that baby would be born on Nov. 4, I knew that if I were still pregnant on Nov. 5, it would be a hard day to get through! I went back to bed and got up for the day at 7. I went to the bathroom and bloody show! WOO HOO! I have never been so happy to see blood in the toilet! My spirits were instantly lifted!

Andy took Ainsley to childcare that morning and I will forever remember giving her a hug before they left (thinking that this might be the last hug I give her before she becomes a big sister) and telling her that she might be a big sister later that day! I told Andy to go to work as usual (3 minutes from home) and that I was planning to attend my work meeting that day (thankfully, the meeting was only 10 minutes from home). I was not experiencing contractions other than the Braxton-Hicks contractions that I had most of the pregnancy prior to leaving for my meeting, but was convinced by the bloody show that I may be in early labor so I brought my birth ball with me to the meeting – I did NOT want to be sitting still in a chair all day!

I walked into the meeting just before 9am and the first thing my co-worker said was, “Are you in labor!?” I was not convinced at this point that I was in labor, but my intuitive co-worker knew more than me! Shortly after the meeting started, I felt my first non-Braxton-Hicks contraction! It started in my lower back and radiated around to my lower abdomen. This was a good thing! Several minutes later I felt another one and another, so I decided to record the time with each one. All morning during the meeting, I recorded my irregular contractions (I still have the Word document that I recorded them in). They varied from 3-4 minutes apart to 7-10 minutes apart and I was still mentally engaged in the meeting. When we broke for lunch, I called my midwife and doula. I had a prenatal appointment scheduled for later that afternoon so was curious if she wanted me to come in or not – she said not to worry about coming because likely she would be seeing me at home later that night. My doula was on high alert, but nowhere near needing to come yet.

At around 2pm, contractions were getting stronger and I felt the emotional shift that comes with the transition to active labor – I didn’t care about that meeting anymore! I was in labor (though I still believed I was in early labor because contractions were still not evenly spaced)! I still had a couple of items on the agenda, so I requested that we do my items next because I felt like I needed to head home soon. We got through my agenda items and around 2:30, a co-worker drove me home (looking back, I am glad she did – in the moment, I thought I could do it, but I was really out of my head by this point). I called Andy on the way home and I remember saying, “It just got real!” I also called my doula again to tell her that things were picking up, but that I still didn’t feel like I needed her to come. Finally, I called my mom to drive the hour she needed to come to pick-up Ainsley from childcare and stay with us the first few days postpartum. Ainsley was planning to be at the birth and my mom was planning to be her support person.

I met Andy at home and my sister, who was living with us at the time, greeted me when I walked in the door just before 3pm. I remember her talking to me, but I was too interested in having a conversation. I told her I wanted to go upstairs to get out of my clothes and get “comfortable”, but I followed that up with, “well, get as comfortable as I can at this point.” When I got home, it was like my body knew that I could have a baby now – my contractions went from noticeable to intense in less than 30 minutes! I was able to get out of my clothes and got a black tank top on, but nothing else (I wanted to be covered for photos/video). I was “stuck” in the bathroom – I felt like I needed to go to the bathroom so wanted to sit on the toilet, but my body was also wanting to move so I was doing an awkward hip/squat rotation over the toilet for some time. While I was doing this, I was trying to coach Andy to put the old sheets on the bed in case that is where I was when it was time for baby to be born.

He kept asking me if I wanted him to call Mandi (doula) and the midwife (Cosette) and I kept saying, “I don’t know, I don’t want them to just come and watch me labor!” (Classic laboring doula mistake!) Thankfully, somewhere along the lines, Andy decided to time my contractions because he could see (and hear) how uncomfortable I was! They were 2 minutes apart lasting 90 seconds! No wonder I felt like I couldn’t relax! I knew that I needed to relax and I was struggling to find time between contractions to catch my breath. Because Andy lives with a doula, he knows more than the average dad about labor and decided it was time to call Mandi and Cosette! About 30 minutes later (around 3:50pm), they arrived at our house. I was extremely restless and frustrated that I couldn’t just lay down and relax. We made a nest of blankets for me on the bathroom floor that looked so comfortable and all I wanted to do was lay down and relax, but my body did not allow that. My body wanted to be moving so I laid over the birth ball and swayed during contractions.

I remember distinct moments in my head – I kept trying to “doula” myself by thinking, “Focus on your breath”, “Relax your muscles” but it was extremely ineffective! So I started saying my thoughts and asking Mandi to say them to me – thankfully this was effective! I also remember telling Mandi that I was debating having Cosette check my cervix because, “If I was only 3 cm dilated, I needed to calm down!” I was still thinking I was in early labor! Shortly after expressing this dilemma, Cosette checked baby’s heart tones and I remember (as I was leaning over the birth ball) she had to put the Doppler really, really low. I was not in my thinking mind so this didn’t tell me that the baby was super low and about to be born. Shortly after, I asked Andy to start filling our Jacuzzi tub because things had gotten strong enough for water (I wanted to leave water for the last moment because I knew nothing would make me feel better than water, other than birth!)

I had two contractions before getting into the tub that felt different; they felt like I was pushing a little bit! Still in total denial, I remember asking if that was OK. Cosette encouraged me to listen to my body. I got into the tub and more of these pushy contractions happened – I never had the chance to lay back and relax in the tub – I was about to birth a baby! After two more contractions, I was compelled to reach my hand down and I felt Cora’s head! This was a moment I will remember forever! I was in complete denial that I was about to have a baby until I felt her head coming out! One more contraction and her head was out. It seemed like an eternity between contractions. Her cord was around her neck once, so Cosette slipped the loop over Cora’s head and with the next contraction, she was born at 4:24pm (about 90 minutes after I got home from the meeting!)! I distinctly remember saying out loud, “I just had a baby!” I was shocked! There was a bit of meconium in the fluid when the amniotic sac broke (in the tub, as she was born) so we held her at a slight decline so the fluids would run out of her throat/mouth. She let out a cry and had her eyes wide open.

She was covered in vernix, which isn’t typical for a 42 week baby. Throughout my pregnancy, Cosette and I disagreed about my EDD. I knew when I got pregnant, so I knew how pregnant I was, but Cosette always reminded me that all babies grow at different rates, just as they do after birth, so my baby at 42 week 2 days actually looked like a baby who was closer to 38 weeks (according to Cosette). More evidence for the need for a due month instead of a due date! All babies develop at different rates, before birth too, so it is crazy to expect all babies to be born by 40 or 41 weeks!

We sat in the bathtub for about 20 minutes – Andy and I held her in front of me in the water, she was so calm! We just stared at each other and tried to catch up to reality. I began feeling contractions again so we clamped and cut her cord and gave her to Andy for some skin-to-skin snuggles in our bed and I birthed the placenta (which I encapsulated). I dried off and climbed into our bed. I lay in my bed naked with my naked babe for the next 52 hours (I only got up to shower and use the bathroom). It was amazing! My mom, sister, and husband cooked and even fed me during this time – the only care I had was nursing my fresh 9 pound squish.

My mom was on her way to pick-up Ainsley from childcare thinking that I was still in labor. She arrived home with Ainsley about an hour after Cora was born and was SHOCKED to find me holding a baby in bed. I will always remember the moment that Ainsley met her baby sister for the first time. Something I had been dreaming of was finally a reality. Our family is complete and I have confidence in my body to grow and birth a baby (and beyond!).

My postpartum recovery was completely different after a home birth – I had no tearing, no infections (I had an advanced urinary tract infection from the catheter after my first birth), and no drugs to get out of my system. I had breastfeeding support who came to my home and a midwife and a nurse who came to my home several times in the days and weeks following the birth to check-up on Cora and me – no trips to germy clinics! Hands down, if I had to make the decision about where to birth again, I would choose a home birth with the Willowsong midwives! I would also take care of myself during pregnancy the same way – regular chiropractic adjustments, massages, yoga, and a healthy diet. I firmly believe that my pregnancy, birth, and postpartum were as enjoyable as they were because of the village of practitioners and supporters that surrounded me.