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Redemptive birth after loss

I want to share a very personal birth story that has taken just about two years to find the words from the mother who is proudly sharing her birth story. These words and emotions will resonate with so many mothers who have experienced loss and or birth trauma and then went on to find peace with birth after birthing with an Auburn OBGYN Midwife at Dekalb Family Birthing Center.

Phylicia writes

I haven't known quite the right words to explain how I've felt since hearing that Parkview is closing Dekalb Family Birthing Center. Today, I'm going to try my best to convey the hurt that this news brings me. As many know, Benjamin was born sleeping at PRMC on May 2nd, 2019. My birth experience there was peaceful considering the circumstances and I did have supportive nurses including Betsy Edmonds, as well as an incredibly loving and gentle OBGYN, Dr. Angela Beale Martin.

Mother cradeling her full term stillborn son.

But my birth there was marked by the death of my baby boy and I didn't realize how much until it was time for our sweet girl to arrive the next year. When I found out that I was expecting Elby Mae in 2020, I learned that FMCC was no longer going to be delivering babies at Parkview. And around the same time that Dr. Martin would be leaving the area and moving forward delivering babies in a different city. My heart was hurting at that time and I didn't know where my pregnancy journey was going to lead.

Stephanie VanderHorst CNM was recommended to me by several women that I hold dear in my heart including Michelle Dunn. I reached out to her office and she had already heard of Benjamin's birth story through Michelle and her labor of love, Loving Benjamin Remembrance Photography. She wasn't accepting new patients at that time, but she knew the impact of a pregnancy after loss from her experience and made space for me and unborn Elby Mae in her care. From the moment I met Stephanie, I felt safe. Pregnancy after the death of a baby feels painful and fearful and silent hope. I immediately felt heard by her and she helped me navigate being pregnant and trusting the body that betrayed me before, and learning to love it again while entrusting it to care for my baby girl.

I'm sharing Elby's birth story that I wrote after she was born. Without Stephanie and the nurses and staff at Dekalb FBC, I'm quite sure that my birth experience wouldn't have been nearly as healing as it was. I was heard, respected, and supported in a sacred space there. I went from having two epidurals in my previous pregnancies, to having a natural water birth without pain medications. It was incredibly healing and the thought of not having that same experience with our baby boy coming in February, it honestly feels too heavy to think about most of the time. And I'm sad that the choice to close has the potential for greater maternal and fetal death to those in the rural communities who are now forced to seek options that are farther away. I keep praying that the women in this area will be heard, and that the decision to close Dekalb FBC will fall through.

Elby's Birth Story: It was a Thursday evening on my induction date and it was time to head to the hospital. We took a family photo before Zach headed to his grandparents with his overnight bag. I thought to myself, "please let this time be different." A silent prayer, a plead sent upward. I could see it on his sweet face: worry. We shared a family hug and I reassured him that everything would be okay. Something that I wasn't even sure of myself, but I had to fill his mind with good thoughts. He took his Benjamin Bear with him for some extra comfort and I packed mine in the diaper bag. I watched him walk across the yard to grandma and grandpa's house and I was taken back briefly to the spring night that he walked across the yard with excitement for his little brother's arrival. I sent another plea as tears welled in my eyes. Please let my baby come home this time. Let Zach have this. He has waited so long. Shortly after, we headed to the hospital. Josh was telling his typical jokes on the drive over and I thought about how much I appreciate his laughter and ability to make me smile and laugh often. The drive to the hospital before we knew Benjamin had died was filled with the same laughter. And in the months after his death, that gentle laughter lifted me up and carried me through. I noticed every similarity and every difference all at once as we headed to the hospital to welcome our little girl to this world. The evening started with an easy induction. Elby and I were both being monitored; this was a welcomed medical intervention for me despite it limiting my ability to move around freely. We slept through the night and the contractions were mild. By morning, I had finished all of the oral medication that I could take to induce. I decided to spend the afternoon/evening walking around in attempt to progress labor without IV pitocin. I walked. I sat on the birthing ball. I listened to the music playlist that I made just for Elby. I read the scriptures and birth affirmations that I spent hours writing and praying over. By late evening, I decided to have an IV placed and start the IV pitocin to augment labor because I remained at 4cm. The nurse came in every 30 minutes to increase the rate of pitocin. I could feel some mild contractions, but nothing that I recognized as true labor.

I had been keeping in touch with Michelle throughout those past two evenings. I told her I would let her know when I needed her there for doula support. Since my contractions were mild and I wasn't in much pain, I didn't feel that I needed the labor support yet. This was Friday night. Around 1:30am Saturday morning, I messaged her and asked her to come in. I was maxed out on pitocin and still wasn't feeling the contractions. I felt like she was not in a good position and that's why I wasn't progressing. I had been at 4cm for the majority of the induction and remained there. I felt she was not centered and was more towards the right side of my pelvis. Michelle came right in and we got to work. She used her knowledge to help get Elby into a better position. She both instructed and assisted with different positioning techniques. We did this for about 45 minutes I would say and I started feeling more contractions.

Table with book of affermations, a wooden rainbow, a stone cross and fan for support during birth

At this point, Michelle and my night shift nurse assisted me with the peanut ball and I laid on my left side. I laid there for less than ten minutes when I started having the strongest contractions I've ever experienced. I felt and heard a familiar *snap* and I knew my water broke. Until that point, I was calm. When my water broke, internally I was in a panic although I don't think anyone could tell. It brought me back to when my water broke at home with Benjamin. Trauma response. I could hear my heartbeat in my ears and beating in my chest. I immediately remember asking if her heartbeat was good. I relaxed some as soon as Michelle showed me the monitor and I could hear her heartbeat.

My contractions were intense now. I couldn't sit still. I was standing, walking, and leaning on Josh. He was my safe space. Eyes closed, swaying, and breathing through each wave. After about 20 minutes, the nurse rechecked because of how intense things were progressing and in that short amount of time I dilated from 4cm to 8cm. She stopped the pitocin and immediately left the room and called Stephanie, my midwife. I had desired a natural water birth this entire pregnancy. I had to be off of pitocin and on the monitor for at least 30 minutes before I would be allowed in the birthing tub. At this point I wasn't sure if I would end up making it that 30 minutes before having to deliver. And I think my nurse was concerned that I wasn't going to wait for Stephanie to arrive before having to push.

Within 15 minutes maybe less, Stephanie was there. I labored for the last 15 minutes and asked what felt like five times if it was time to get in the tub yet. At the 30 minute mark, Stephanie checked Elby on the monitor and she was doing wonderful. I remember feeling some relief from the contractions after being in the warm waters of the birthing tub. Things were intense as I felt wave after wave of contractions. I kept my eyes closed and I focused on making it through each one. In my mind I felt like I needed to change positions, but I was in too much pain to make myself move.

After about an hour, I heard Stephanie's gentle but steady voice suggesting that I change positions. Michelle's voice saying I was doing such a beautiful job. Josh kneeling beside me, a silent constant support. Elby's heart rate was still strong at each check on the portable monitor and I slowly changed positions in between contractions. I felt an almost immediate need to push. Everything was intense, but I felt very safe and supported. There was no time for fear at this point. I was about to meet my little girl. I heard Stephanie ask Josh if he would like to help deliver Elby.

Midwife holding baby and mother looking back at baby behind her in a birth tub

Three pushes and I hear her strong and mighty cry. I laid my head down on my arms and exhaled. I immediately let all of the feelings of the last nine months and the last year and a half wash over me and I released them with another breath. As she was placed into my arms, I was left in awe of her sweet demeanor and the likeness of the brother that came before her but didn't get to stay. I became washed in peace and immense love for this little girl who healed so many broken parts of me. I experienced a birth that I desired with the support that I needed, but the most important part was her safe arrival. Every day since then has been a blessing. I'll always long for Benjamin and that'll never change. And I'll always know how blessed I am to bring my second rainbow home.

Mother in birth tub holding baby and midwife holding placenta

Thank you Phylicia for sharing your beautiful birth. It has been an honor to walk with you during both of these births. I knew Dekalb with Stephanie as your midwife you would have a healing experience.

It is stories like these that are shared all over that bring the name of Dekalb Hospital up. But it is the care from the Auburn Midwives and the unit nurses that make the difference.

You can help save this beautiful birthing location with your voices!

Please speak up and start sharing your stories. On social media, to the legislative parties, to those who can and will rise above this decision to close the doors of Dekalb Birthing Center. It is what it is today only because of the Auburn Midwives! You can help by signing our petition and sharing!!


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