Leah’s Birth Story, Part 1
Coming up on Leah’s second birthday and I reminiscing the weeks and months leading up to her birth. My pregnancy with Leah forever changed me in so many ways. Really it’s what lead to me start my own practice and focusing on pregnancy and postpartum nutrition. So before I tell you the story of Leah’s birth, I have to back up to the beginning of my pregnancy. My faith is foundation to my life and while some may find it weird or offensive to mix my faith with my business, it’s impossible for me to separate the two. This story is a testament to the goodness, faithfulness, kindness, provision and love of my Lord.
Ever since high school, I dreamed I would have my babies at home. If you don’t know me well, let me give you a quick crash course on myself. I’m a that “crunchy, granola-y, earthy” type of gal (in the words others have used to describe me lol). Anyway, everything about home birth excites me and just feels right. Being in the care of a Midwife with a holistic approach to pregnancy and who supports the amazing, normal physiological process of birth. The belief that woman’s bodies are beautifully designed to birth her babies when given the education, confidence and support she needs through a birth team she trusts. That is what midwifery is and what I always knew I wanted.
Yet, after having a miscarriage in fall of 2018, I was really hesitant to ask, believe, or even hope that I would be a mama some day. Let alone have the home birth I dreamed of and all the other things in between. I longed to be a Mom. In August 2019 amidst one of my tear storm waves of grief my husband Jeremy said, “ok we can start trying!” In that moment the ticking clock stopped in my head. Suddenly, I was free from this intense, all consuming feeling that becoming a Mom had to happen NOW! I found myself even pumping the breaks and saying we should probably wait. Jeremy was applying to schools in Texas and we would likely move at the end of the year. So we agreed that the realistic and responsible thing to do wait until summer of 2020 to start trying, when life was “more settled.”
I have to stop and say I haven’t walked the road of infertility and I don’t begin to compare with anyone who is or has. I feel the burden and offer prayers for peace and strength if that is the journey you are on. While I definitely don’t have all the answers I have seen and experienced how functional nutrition can give insight and bring healing to fertility struggles.
Fast forward to December 2019. Jeremy was accepted to two schools in Texas and we decided on the University of Houston (UH). We were busy packing, wrapping up our lives in NY, getting wisdom teeth pulled (me), and saying our goodbyes. Trying to find a job and a place to live in Houston without knowing the area or where said jobs would be was a bit nerve wracking. Texas seemed like a fresh start and yet a big leap of faith. Every detail was up in the air until what felt like the last minute. With each step, we were reminded our needs were in God’s hands and His timing was not our timing. He knew our needs and would provide nothing less. Two weeks before we were set to move He provided an apartment in the northwest part of Houston.
A few days after Christmas, we packed our moving truck and started the long drive to Texas. Jeremy drove the moving truck and I followed behind in my car. Driving 8 to 12 hours, three days straight is taxing. By the third day I felt what seemed like an abnormal level of exhaustion, but then again I had never driven from NY to TX before! New Years Eve, December 31, 2019 we arrived just outside of Houston, stayed with extended family and celebrated the new decade through our eyelids.
The next week was filled with unpacking, Jeremy trying to finalize details for school, and me trying to land a job without coming across desperate. Finally, Monday January 6th I had an interview for a Clinical Dietitian position at a hospital in Pasadena, an hour from where we lived. I drove to the interview and then spent the entire interview trying to keep my eyes open – I felt beyond exhausted! That was when I finally realized my period was late.
Although I was certain my late period was all due to the stress of moving, I was no stranger to erratic and late periods. Eating a plant based Vegan diet most of my 20s had wreaked havoc on my hormones. Prior to moving I had started adding animal foods back into my diet, because I was starting to see the connection between my lack of animal protein and poor metabolic/hormone health. I did notice a significant difference in my cervical fluid in December, but didn’t give much thought to it at the time. But I digress. So on my way back from the interview I decided I would take a test the next morning just to be sure.
Tuesday morning January 7, 2020, I was trying to take a pregnancy test without Jeremy knowing what I was doing. He was heading out the door to UH to straighten out his transfer of college credits. He walked out the door and the next thing I knew I was staring at a positive pregnancy test!! The first words that flew out of my mouth were “Thank you Jesus!” over and over again. I really regret not cuing up my camera and recording that moment, but it is forever etched in my memory. I was simultaneously shaking with disbelief and excitement. After having a miscarriage, I had no idea if I would ever see a positive pregnancy test again. I was so happy and thankful!! I prayed and surrendered that positive test and the baby growing inside me. I prayed for direction, provision, and wisdom.
This was a lot sooner than the agreed on timeline of “summer 2020”. Despite numerous job applications and a handful of job interviews, I still did not have a job. So we would be living off of our savings until further notice. I was so excited for this baby, but it was the worst timing possible from a practical standpoint. Yet, I knew God was in the timing and the details. After experiencing God’s provision repeatedly throughout our move to TX and my whole life, I knew he wouldn’t flake on us now. God gave me Psalm 28:6-9 right then and I claimed those verses over my pregnancy, the baby, our lives. I went back to this verse throughout my pregnancy.
“Praise be to the LORD, for he has heard my cry for mercy. The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song. The LORD is the strength of his people, a fortress of salvation for his anointed one. Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever.”
I placed the positive pregnancy test and a baby outfit I happened to have (don’t remember how I even found it) on Jeremy’s side of our bed. I couldn’t wait to see his reaction, but I was simultaneously afraid of what he would think. This was finally his chance to go back to school and now I was pregnant.
Before Jeremy got home, I ran some errands, which took longer than planned – thank you Houston traffic. Around 6 pm he called me two times and I missed both his calls initially. I called him back and he said “umm where are you and when are you coming home?” I told him I would be home soon. He didn’t say anything about the pregnancy test, but I knew by his voice he had seen it. But when I got home he was gone running an errand! Finally, he came home, walked into the laundry room where I was unpacking and said, “Anything exciting happen today?” Me: “yeah did you happen to look at your side of the bed?” Jeremy: “Yah I did… how did that happen??” Me: “LOL The same way all other babies are made!” In the midst of moving, we lost track of our otherwise very effective fertility awareness method of family planning. He was happy, but concerned and hesitant as we both were. There were just so many unknowns, would this pregnancy end in a miscarriage as well? If the baby were healthy, how would we provide for this baby?
We shared the news with my parents and siblings soon after as well as a few close friends. Since we lived so far from friends & family, I needed people to know about the baby. I needed the support of others from the beginning, especially if I were to have a miscarriage again. When I shared the news with my best friend from college she was also expecting and due in September!! God knew how much I needed her throughout my pregnancy and I am so thankful for the blessing of sharing the experience with such a like-minded friend! Seriously, don’t know what I would have done without her.
I spent the next week searching out all my options as far as providers and places to give birth. I knew it was still very early in my pregnancy, but I didn’t have a job. I wanted to use the time I had and settle the details before I was locked into a work schedule. I met with midwives at several birth centers, a midwife practice at a hospital, and a few home birth midwives. After seeing all the options, it was clear to me that I felt most comfortable giving birth at home. I instantly felt a connection with one midwife Nanci and she agreed to take me on as her client. Jeremy was comfortable and supportive of this arrangement as well.
Home birth meant I would have hour long visits with my midwife throughout my pregnancy. I could labor how I wanted and in the positions that felt most comfortable. I wouldn’t have to combat the 30-48% c-section rate of hospitals in Houston. The Department of Health and Human Resources’ National Target for c-sections is 23%. Of course, there are emergency situations when a c-section is necessary! However, it is estimated only 10-15% of c-sections are necessary. Many are often out of convenience for a OB’s schedule or due to hospital policies that do not support physiological birth. Another normal part of home and birth center births is delayed cord cutting until the cord stops pulsating. This has significant benefits for baby as it allows the baby to receive all the blood from the placenta. This increases baby’s iron stores, which is beneficial for brain development, decreasing iron deficiency anemia, and promotes healing of bruises or injuries incurred during birth. In a hospital setting I was told by providers the longest they would delay cord clamping was 60 seconds. There are so many other benefits to home birth, I could write a whole separate post, but I digress!
By this time, I was set to start a job at an athletic club [as that was the only job offer I had received] and it felt as though details were kind of falling into place. Then the nausea set-in. Whoever came up with the term “morning sickness” had obviously never been pregnant. I don’t know why I was so oblivious to reality of the nausea that 75% of women experience in pregnancy. I honestly thought I would grow a baby while life (eating, working out, work, etc.) went on as normal. Turns out growing a baby is far more all consuming than I ever thought, at least in my experience!
By the beginning of February I was extremely nauseous from the moment I woke up until the moment I went to bed and frequently in my sleep. I had intense food aversions to everything that I normally ate. Speaking or even thinking about food made me feel more nauseous. The few foods I could manage to eat changed from week to week, some times even day-to-day. I was surviving on eggs, toast, crackers, pickles, salt and vinegar potato chips, chocolate covered almonds, tuna fish smothered in lots and lots of mayonnaise, and take-out Thai red curry. Oh and I could smell EVERYTHING from miles away. The constant onslaught of smells alone was overwhelming.
The job at the athletic club was a major source of stress. It was basically a sales position. Holding a job that required talking to people all day when I was just trying to not hurl all over the place was not a good combination for success. I continued looking and applying for jobs elsewhere, but nothing was turning out. The nausea seemed to get worse as time went on rather than easing up like everyone said it would. My midwife said some women just get really nauseous. Deep down I had this feeling that something was off though and I needed to eventually find answers. Over the past year through functional testing that I complete with all my clients, I’ve uncovered a lot of the contributing factors to the intense nausea I experienced. Let me know if you want to hear more about these tests in the comments!
By the end of February our savings was drying up faster than my minimum wage job could keep up with. Both of our cars suddenly decided they needed major repairs. It quickly became apparent that we couldn’t afford the home birth I was dreaming and planning. Home birth is not covered by insurance in majority of states and is around $5,000 out of pocket (which is still cheap compared to the average hospital birth). Due to the job situation, we didn’t have health insurance or the money to pay out of pocket. So, I applied for Medicaid and WIC and qualified for both. I had to switch to a different provider covered by Medicaid. Then I was let go from my job that fateful week in March 2020 due to Covid lockdowns. I surrendered my hope and dreams of home birth to God and found a birth center in Houston that was covered by Medicaid. I was grateful for this option as I felt even less comfortable with giving birth in a hospital as Covid restrictions became worse and worse. Most of my career as a Dietitian I primarily worked with individuals receiving Medicaid and Medicare. Suddenly, I was a patient/client with Medicaid and it was very eye opening to be on the other side of care.
I went into my first appointment at the birth center with an open mind. However it quickly became apparent that the midwife/owner of the birth center was nothing like the home birth midwife I left. I was treated like a child and spoken to in a condescending manner repeatedly by several staff members. I left each appointment on the verge of tears. I felt increasingly concerned that if something went wrong with my baby during pregnancy or birth it would not be appropriately handled. I think the only thing that helped me stay calm and keep a level head about the situation was the birth class I was taking to prepare for labor.
The birth class was more than an education on the physical & physiological process of birth. It incorporated meditation on scriptures about God’s love, goodness, protection and faithfulness. The class also emphasized praying for my pregnancy and birth, positive affirmations about God’s design of the female body and birth, and relaxation techniques. This combination is not only an excellent way to prepare mentally and spiritually for labor, but a good prescription for handling stressful and disappointing life circumstances. Interestingly, the word God gave me at the beginning of my pregnancy was surrender. So, I continued to pray about and surrender my desires, plans, fears, worries, and every possible detail to the Lord. Throughout those nine months, the Lord also repeatedly spoke to me through sermons, scripture, and songs about having crazy faith and being bold in my prayers and requests to Him. Jeremy and I did a study on Galatians during this time and the Lord kept telling me, “The same faith Abraham had in my promise to him for a son is the faith you need to have, Bekah, that I will provide for you and your child”.
In May 2020, God provided a part-time, 20 hours per week job at as the Dietitian for a small dialysis facility an hour from where we lived. While dialysis had been the one area of healthcare I previously swore off, I was beyond grateful to have a job within my field. God also graciously provided Jeremy with a summer research job at UH. Then in July, God provided me with another part-time 10 hours per week position at a small dialysis facility in Alvin, TX. Both employers were flexible with scheduling and were agreeable to giving me time off after the baby was born. I was still struggling with nausea and food aversions at this point. However, they had subsided enough that I could get through a four day work week and hour commute each way.
Our financial situation was still tight, but better than it had been the first half of the year. We didn’t feel it was right to continue using Medicaid. Additionally, my gut instinct was now screaming that I had to seek care elsewhere, even if it meant giving birth in a hospital.
At this point, I was at the tail end of my second trimester and the time to switch providers was now or never. We met Rachel Stonebrook of Radlove Doula who ended up being our birth Doula. Rachel empathized with our situation and shared several options to look into. After reviewing all of our options, we ended up contacting Nanci my original Midwife and she was still available for my due date!
My first appointment back with Nanci felt like a homecoming and sigh of relief. During that appointment, Nanci informed me that my 20-week ultrasound results indicated my placenta was low lying and posterior. A low-lying placenta can make vaginal birth risky if it is too close to or covering the cervix. The midwife at the birth center had never informed me of this finding. While I was anxious about the potential risks of a low-lying placenta, I finally understood why I had such a strong gut feeling to change providers. God had clearly spoken to Jeremy and I about the need to seek a different provider and He provided the finances to do so! I had a follow-up ultrasound a few days later and thankfully the position of my placenta had improved as my uterus grew. All looked healthy and clear for home birth!!
I would have never chosen many of the circumstances we found ourselves in throughout my pregnancy. My faith and trust in the Lord stretched to the point of breaking at times. Yet, my prayer life and relationship with the Lord had an immense depth that previously I had not experienced. My pregnancy not only changed me personally it significantly challenged my professional views and the way I practice nutrition. The nausea and everything else left me with nowhere else to turn, but Jesus. Amidst all of these challenges, I saw the Lord answer many prayers for our needs through others in ways I could not ask or imagine! Random financial gifts from various friends & family. One employer offering to pay me a salary while I was on maternity leave, even though I was a new, part-time employee. My other employer offering me the option to work remotely during my maternity leave. Most surprising, I surrendered my desire for a home birth and the Lord kindly, lovingly gave it back to me.
Stay tuned for part two!