Makeup Doula

My Birth

A lot of it I don’t quite remember. Looking back, I think I had blinders on throughout my pregnancy and that’s why my birth surprised me so much. Minutes after we strolled casually into the hospital I was being prepped for an emergency cesarean. I had no emotions; I stared blankly into my husband’s eyes and he looked as dumbfounded as I felt.

We didn’t doubt the medical team for a second; they made the right call. We were just…shocked. Shocked to find ourselves in that OR, to be so close to meeting our baby, to feel so unprepared for birth after months of, well, preparing for birth. We did all the “right” things  (whatever that means) but it was a rare complication that we couldn’t have seen coming. It was no one’s fault and I’m grateful for that doctor. 

I only saw my son for a few seconds. I can still hear myself whispering, “He looks like my sister.” Soon after, we heard he needed some extra attention and that he would be taken to the Special Care Nursery.

Without hesitation, I told my husband to go and be with our son. I couldn’t find my words; all I could get out was, “You go.” I wanted to say, “Give him my love. Let him know it’s not because I don’t want to be with him, it’s because I can’t.” The memory of my newborn baby being escorted away from me is…hard. Again, I’ve never doubted the medical team’s decision. Still, it was unbearable.

My Doula

The recovery room was cold and quiet. Our doula, who we’d called on our way to the hospital, had arrived during the cesarean and was waiting for me there with the bags we’d left behind in the triage room. I was incredibly relieved to see her familiar face and warm eyes.

She pulled a chair up to the side of my bed and took my shaky hand in hers. It was just the two of us in there. She didn’t say much; she just held the space, as they say. Without a word she let me know that however I felt was okay. That it was okay to be both gutted and grateful. Or numb, or confused, or angry.

After a few minutes of silence I wiped my tears, cleared my nose, and asked her to grab my makeup pouch from my overnight bag. She didn’t ask why, she just passed it over. I fumbled a bit until she reached out to hold it steady. Then I touched up my blotchy red skin, wiped my mascara-smudged eyes, and combed my hair.

I said to her, “I don’t want him to know I’ve been crying”…and later, “I just want to make a good first impression.”

She knew what I was really saying. What I meant was, “I want to be strong for him. Even though I’m devastated, I don’t want him to think I’m disappointed in him.”

I put myself back together on the outside because I was falling apart on the inside.

Our doula didn’t “save” us from going down an unwanted path; she reacted right along with us as we spun in a new direction. She met me where I was: anxious, disappointed, stunned. Doulas have a gift that is so much bigger than just helping people “achieve” their birth plan; the gift of a doula is unwavering, unconditional, non-judgmental support. On so many levels, she was exactly what I needed. I truly cannot imagine what it would have been like to be alone in that recovery room.

She didn’t question me or minimize my feelings. She didn’t bat an eyelash when I reached for my mascara. Supporting me as I quietly fixed my makeup, normalizing my unusual reaction to a stressful situation, I believe she kept me from going to a very dark place. 

She never left my side that morning. A few hours later, she was right there with me when I met my perfect baby boy. The photos she took of that moment are my most treasured possessions.

It was all very unexpected, the way my doula supported me and my little family. When I eventually emerged from the haze of what happened, one thing was crystal clear: I knew I wanted to be a doula. I wanted to shout from rooftops about all the many ways in which doulas provide support. Years later, here I am blogging in a coffee shop so I guess I got it half-right.

For what it’s worth, we were lucky to have our doula come back on with our family and support us through our second birth which was, happily, quite uneventful. Again, she was invaluable. Again, she taught me so much about what doulas do.

I’ll always be grateful to my Makeup Doula for influencing my life in countless ways. I’m a proud doula partially because of the quiet moments we spent together in that room, highlighting my cheeks and waiting to exhale.

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4 Things That Happen When You Stop Judging Other Parents

This Just In: Parenting Is Hard

Parenting is HARD. It’s worth it, but it’s hard. I could spam you with memes but I think you understand.

“I thought I was a perfect parent until I became one”…have you heard that expression? Before becoming parents, we assess parenting in a vacuum. The “best” or most correct choices seem obvious when we lack context. Before we have kids of our own we don’t know what it feels like to be bombarded with advertisements, headlines, constantly changing guidelines and safety requirements, abundant misinformation (hello, Dr. Google!), unsolicited advice, skyrocketing costs, and contrasting philosophies about raising children. Above all this, we don’t realize the emotions that are tied up in our approximately one trillion parenting choices.

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So many choices. Decision burnout, am I right? The sheer volume of decisions we need to make for our families, the weight of it all…no book or childbirth class could prepare you for the intense and constant process of making decisions for your children. The overwhelming love you have for them can make every choice feel that much more heavy.

In Spite of This, Parents Judge Each Other

Mommy Wars, Parenting Police…you’ve seen the headlines and the viral videos.

*Hops on soapbox*

People! This is a tragic waste of energy! There are only 24 hours in a day. Our babies are small for a very short time. Life is simply too precious to waste time worrying about and commenting on other parents’ parenting.

Let that s*** go! Keep your eyes on your own paper and radiate positive vibes. Moms, Dads: lift each other up. We are all in this together.

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4 Things That Happen When You Stop Judging Other Parents

If somehow that three sentence motivational speech didn’t blow your mind, let me do what good marketers do and shift the focus to you. Let’s be real about how nixing the judgement can benefit YOU, both as a person and as a parent.

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You feel more confident about your own parenting

When you stop judging other parents you also feel more confident and less defensive about your own parenting. It’s a beautiful thing! You assume the best in other people. As in…”I’m not judging them, they’re not judging me, we’re all just doing the best we can.” Isn’t that how it should be?

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You feel happier

When you allow your mind to be clouded by negative feelings, thoughts, and energies about other people, it’s harder to be happy with yourself. There’s a whole community of academics devoted to the science of happiness and this is one of the key tenets. Judgmental thoughts actually weigh us down. Letting go of your concerns about other parents and focusing on your own stuff is a truly life-changing shift.

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People like you more

Listen, Judgy McJudgerson. You’re not fooling anyone. You might think you’re keeping your opinions to yourself but the people around you can feel when you’re looking down on them and it’s icky and unlikable. It’s that simple.

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You have more authentic friendships

This is an extension of #3. When you practice non-judgement, people like you more and you’re able to form deeper connections and more authentic friendships. I’ve shared before that my awesome mommy Facebook group has been a transformative experience for me that also made me a better doula.  You can make a totally different choice from the one I made and I’ll still fully support you because our relationship is my priority. It’s the #realtalk revolution; increasingly, we seek communities in which we can let our guard down and be honest, unplugged, vulnerable. Unshowered, disorganized, exhausted. Foundational qualities of enduring mom-friendships 😉

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For all these reasons and more: less judgement, more love.

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Annie’s Birth Story

Welcome Annie to the Oakville Family Birth blog! I was thrilled when Annie expressed interest in our #REALTALK Birth Stories series. What a great voice and a great story 🙂

How labour began

‘Twas the day before Jack’s birth and I was over being pregnant.  The mental and physical exhaustion that came with a difficult pregnancy including many weeks of bed rest had finally caught up with me. My husband decided to lift my spirits by treating me to what would be our last date night as just us two. After dinner we headed to Canadian Tire to stock up on some things before Jack arrived.  As I stepped out of our car I felt a pop in my abdomen and fluid began to gush out of me. “Well, it happened” I thought to myself “my bladder finally exploded.”

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My husband came running around the car as a traumatized buggy boy watched me stand in a puddle of amniotic fluid, my mucous plug sitting dead center. I began to laugh uncontrollably as shock came over my husband’s face. He quickly lined the front seat and loaded me into the car. Off to the hospital we went!

Hospital, round 1

When we arrived at the hospital at 7:45 p.m. I was on cloud nine. Grinning from ear-to-ear, my husband wheeled me to the maternity ward. I had yet to experience a contraction and thought this whole ordeal was a piece of cake – HA!

The doctor examined me and decided to send me home until my contractions were regular – lasting one minute, every four minutes, for one hour. Well, within one hour of being home my contractions were four minutes apart and let me tell you, they lasted longer than that magical minute. I laboured at home in the bath for six hours before heading to the hospital.

Hospital, round 2

When we arrived at the hospital shortly after 4:30 a.m I was 7 centimetres dilated and the doctors anticipated my son would arrive before lunch. Although I’d hoped to have a natural birth, the contractions were exhausting and I opted in for the epidural. By 9 a.m. I was 9 centimetres…then contractions slowed and dilating stopped. We opted for Pitocin to help things progress and it took until 4 p.m. to dilate that last centimetre .

The birth of Baby Jack

After 17 hours of labour it was finally time to push. The nurse placed a mirror at the base of the bed which allowed me to see EVERYTHING and motivated me while I pushed. After an hour of pushing, Jack was born at 4:59 p.m.

My husband was a great support: he kept me hydrated, lathered my lips with chap stick, and cheered me on as I pushed. The birth of our son a sacred moment for us to share. After everything we had been through during our pregnancy, we were so relieved when our healthy baby boy was placed on my chest and cried his first tears.

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How would you describe your pregnancy? Looking back, how do you feel about it?

In short, my pregnancy was heartbreaking and draining.

Only a few days after we announced our pregnancy we received some difficult news: we were initially told our son had a soft marker for Down Syndrome and later we were told it was possible he that he had a chromosomal micro-deletion. Eventually we made the difficult decision to undergo amniocentesis (a test of the amniotic fluid). After eight weeks, six ultrasounds, one round of amniocentesis and many visits to the children’s hospital, we received the all clear that our son was healthy and not at risk for any chromosomal conditions. Only a few weeks after receiving that good news, at 31 weeks a non-symptomatic bladder infection caused me to begin dilating and resulted two weeks of bedrest and five weeks of restricted activity at home.  For my first pregnancy, this one was certainly a doozy.

Looking back, I wish I knew what a wonderful little boy would be joining our family. I wish I enjoyed my pregnancy rather than feared it. Going through that pregnancy has made me question whether or not I’d like to ever become pregnant again. There were times I faced depression and times I faced a tremendous amount of guilt. However, it made my husband and I grow even closer together, and it made me realize that from conception your child becomes your entire world. It humbled us, made us appreciate life that much more, and even though it was the hardest thing I’ve ever lived through, it made me value life in a way I couldn’t before.

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What did your contractions feel like? Was there a certain point when you felt like things were getting REAL?

I got my first real contraction at 11 that night while trying to pee – and let me tell you – they HURT. I couldn’t talk so I banged on the wall to get my husband to help me off the toilet (pregnancy – bringing the ultimate romance to your relationship). As soon as my contractions started they were 4 minutes apart, lasting as long as 2 minutes. I tried to labour at home as long as I could. Sitting in a warm bath helped but it got to the point where I couldn’t handle them any longer. At 4 a.m. we decided to head to the hospital – after I threw up all over our front lawn from pain.

Were there any particular people or things you found especially comforting during labour?

The nurses and doctors were amazing. It was a very comfortable experience. My husband was a rockstar. Also, the epidural was heaven. It helped me get some much-needed rest before it came time to push (and you know, be a mom and take care of a newborn).

What was the process of finding out/deciding it was time to push? How did you feel about it? How long did you push for?

I really wanted to be able to feel enough to push quickly and effectively. It ended up taking six hours to dilate the last centimetre so as time went on I stopped “topping up” the epidural medication so I could feel a little more. In the end, it only took me only an hour to get my little man out.

How did you feel immediately after your baby was born?

I feel almost guilty saying this out loud but I didn’t feel any rush of emotion, other than exhaustion. Pregnancy was emotionally exhausting and I was just relieved it was over.

What about your birth surprised you?

This may sound silly…I was surprised how the baby’s head went in and out of my vagina. You push with all your might, the head crowns and then you stop, and right back in he goes! It was a little bit discouraging. Once you get going though, the head eventually sticks around!

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If you could go back in time to when you were pregnant, what would you tell yourself?

Hey there, mama! Hang in there. It may seem like your world is falling apart now but my goodness, just wait until you see the beautiful little boy you get to have! Embrace your new curves and embrace your gorgeous hair (it’s all going to fall out soon enough).

What were the first couple weeks like with your new baby?

Tiring and overwhelming. My husband took a week off of work after the baby was born to adjust to our new life as parents but we ended up having visitors every day that week. Knowing what I’d know now, I’d kindly decline visitors and spend time snuggling my baby with my husband. You only get those precious moments once, and for most of it you’re in a complete daze. Everything was new for us and honestly, we weren’t exactly sure what we were doing. Knowing what I know now I’ll appreciate the newborn phase the next time around rather than just survive it.

Thank you Annie for submitting your incredible and well-written story!

If you’re reading this and you’re interested in sharing your experience with others, check out our #REALTALK Birth Stories main page.

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What She Said: Motherhood and Mental Health

I’m a doula and a mother. I live in the world of motherhood. Increasingly over the last few years, we’ve been having conversations about mental health and mental illness. I see it in my mom groups, in my prenatal classes, in my social media feeds. It is so important that we talk about mental health; I’m deeply grateful to the mothers who have shared with me their challenges and their triumphs and for the mothers who have lifted me up when I myself was lost in the darkness.

They say 10 to 20 per cent of mothers are affected by mental health issues in the prenatal or postpartum period but I know the number is much bigger. In light of all the conversations we’ve been having, I asked dozens of young mothers about their mental health struggles and this is what they said.

What I struggled the most with was…

“Accepting my new identity as “mother” – or rather, letting go of the me I had been. This wasn’t just a job or role or thing applied to my former self – it was an identity shift that included how others now perceived me.”

Being at home alone with my baby. It was a big shift from working 50-70 hours a week.”

“My feelings of unhappiness around the pregnancy, when it was something that we wanted and had been trying for for awhile. My changing body was also a struggle – my prior 2 pregnancies were active, healthy ones. I felt so miserable and ill this time that my physical activity and healthy eating habits went out the window. I felt sluggish and yucky and unattractive.”

“The guilt. With my first, I felt guilty that I was so frustrated with my baby! He cried a lot and I didn’t have a lot of support. I felt like a failure and worried I would never be good enough. I missed time to myself and I didn’t ask for help or take me-time enough. With my second, I struggled with guilt over not having an instant bond (there was definitely instant love but there’s a difference). With my third, I struggled with postpartum anxiety. I felt guilty and ashamed, and to be perfectly honest, afraid.”

“The changes to my body…I lost everything I loved about feeling pretty/sexy after I had my first baby.”

“Meeting my daughter’s needs as best as I could without being too hard on myself. I had never loved anyone so much nor did I feel capable of doing right by her. I was so hard on myself. I had so much anxiety related to how I thought others were viewing me. It’s like I was 13 years old all over again! The constant advice and opinions from complete strangers only filled me with more self doubt. It was so hard to leave the house and I ended up isolating myself.”

“I struggled with postpartum depression after having my first. It took a few months for it to sink in. I really struggled with my feelings because I had struggled to become a Mom and I imagined it would just be this fairy tale. When in reality, it’s a HUGE adjustment and change.”

“Understanding my new role in life. I didn’t feel like myself anymore and wondered where I fit in now. I was also clueless and could have sworn I would fail. I actually believed this.”

“Our journey was complex and looking back I put a lot of pressure on myself, and felt like something was wrong with me because I was in pain.

Unresolved issues from my first birth bubbled to the surface pretty much within days of becoming pregnant again. It was like I woke up one day an anxious, sobbing mess. It hit me like a tonne of bricks.”

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What held me back was…

Admitting it wasn’t as easy as I thought or made it looked.”

Society makes you feel as though you must be happy and in love with your new baby, and while I was, there was another darker side that I never anticipated.”

My anxiety told me I didn’t need to get professional help. That if I just got a good sleep, just went to yoga, etc that I would feel better. That I would feel better once I got out of the first trimester, or after the first ultrasound, or after the winter had passed.”

“Not just trusting myself, I was nervous about lots of stuff! And just needed to relax a bit.”

What people would think of me if they knew.”

“My inability to ask for help from loved ones and caring too much about what others thought of me.”

“I was afraid to admit that I couldn’t do things perfectly.

Fear of asking for help because I’ve always been so independent.”

“All the challenges. Seeing others succeed and only focusing on my failures.”

I was afraid to admit…

“That the birth was traumatic. I was separated from my son at birth. Everything that could have gone wrong, did. And I don’t even remember meeting him for the first time.”

“That maybe I didn’t want this…maybe I don’t want to be a mother.

“Many things. The biggest being that I had depression. I am ashamed to be perpetuating the stigma that we see all too often surrounding mental illness and mood disorders. I couldn’t be one of ‘those’ people. Through the careful curation of online pictures and posts I appeared to be a woman who had it all together (I used to have it mostly together which was why I felt the pressure to keep it up). When at the time, the reality couldn’t have been further from that. that I didn’t have it all together. I felt like a fraud.”

I was unhappy and depressed during the first 6 months when I should have been in the happiest moment of my life, especially after being told for so many years I may never ever even have children.”

“That I couldn’t do it all on my own.”

“I was struggling. I thought something was seriously wrong with me and I wasn’t meant to be a mother. Turns out, it’s way more common than I thought! I feel like no one talks about it but we should. There is this stigma that shouldn’t be there.”

I knew I needed help when…

I cried when no one was looking.

I met other moms and they were like ‘Whoah, you’ve been through a lot.'”

“I was afraid to leave the house. I started crying in the shower so my kids wouldn’t hear. I knew it should be the happiest time of my life but I was so scared and sad. So I spoke with my mum, my midwife and my Dr. I started to open up to my friends.”

I cried. All the time.

“I would cry at work multiple times a week, in front of clients. For any or no reason at all. But I think my breaking point came on a family vacation, where we were supposed to be having fun and enjoying our kids and the company of our friends and I couldn’t do those things. I knew I couldn’t continue on the path I was on alone. With help from my midwife I got connected with the help I needed later that week.”

“I started having fantasies about getting hit by cars or getting sick. Having suffered from depression and anxiety in the past, I could see the warning signs only this time I wasn’t having suicidal thoughts since I could never abandon my daughter. I didn’t recognize myself anymore and I was beyond exhausted.”

I felt like all other aspects of me was slipping away, that I was obsessed with figuring out the problem and fixing it. Luckily had supportive family and I got to a point where I needed one final medical opinion which helped to resolve our issues.”

“I was constantly in tears and just felt like I couldn’t handle it anymore, even when things were good.”

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The most helpful person in my life was…

My husband. He would have done anything for us, despite challenges in life (sick parent, new job). He was our biggest cheerleader and still is!”

“A friend with a med degree. I’m not an emotional person and I don’t like sharing my feelings with friends and family. She kept things real and straightforward.”

“I couldn’t have gotten through it without my husband’s support. He never made me feel bad about my feelings and always told me how amazing he thought I was. He was a huge help and my rock.”

My dad for taking the baby out every afternoon for two hour walks and my husband’s support getting through the evening hours.”

“My husband for telling me how strong and brave I was for facing the issue and asking for help. A couple friends for their love and support. My counselor for helping me identify all of my emotions and mainly for being a good unbiased listener.”

“My sister, who understood anxiety. My husband, who might not have understood but listened without judgement and supported me 24/7. My midwife, who encouraged me to get help.”

“My husband and sister and mom group.”

My fiancé. He shared the madness with me and understood me when I shared my fears and doubts.”

The best resource I found was…

“The help from my family and my OB-GYN.”

Mom support groups!

“The family counselling centre. Talking to a person who didn’t know me or have any preconceived ideas about the person that I was helped tremendously. I didn’t have to pretend while I was there. I let my walls down and talked openly and honestly about everything. And it felt good, to spew out my thoughts, feelings and worries to this neutral third party listener.”

“Talking to other moms. It is SO common and NORMAL to experience a whole array of emotions after your baby is born. The worst part for me was the guilt and shame I felt for having these emotions but I SHOULDN’T. Almost everyone I’ve opened up to has a similar story. We’ve all been there and we all need to support each other.”

My intuition.

“My social worker.”

The Public Health Unit.”

My Mama group. It made me realize I wasn’t alone and my fears and doubts were NOT irrational.”

The hardest part was…

“When people said, ‘At least you have a healthy baby’…it cut me like a knife. I’m sure they were trying to make me feel better but to me it felt like they were shutting down what I was going through.

Taking time for myself without feeling guilty.”

“Accepting that it wasn’t as peachy and moving forward in a positive direction.

Opening up to family to tell them I was anxious and stressed.”

“Making time in our busy schedule for the actual appointments was the most challenging. Between work, my kids soccer, my husbands hockey and the busy life of my own mom and mother-in-law I found it hard to arrange for someone to look after the kids while I took the 2-3 hours needed to attend my counselling sessions. to be out of the house and then getting to the appointments with my counselor. I always felt guilty asking for someone to take time out of their busy life to watch my kids so that I could attend my appointments. But the truth is you need to care for yourself first in order to care for the ones you love. It’s like they say, you can never give more than you have.

Having to work through the difficult emotions to get to the other side. It was like that song, ‘You can’t go over it, can’t go under it, gotta go through it.'”

“Trusting my intuition and letting go of being scared of being judged. Everyone is on their own journey and us mamas have to stop the criticism!”

I started to feel better when…

I sought help from my doctor and went on some medication.”

“I accepted getting a break and asking for help was okay. Accepting I was not failing. Accepting that even though I am the mom I’m also human. And getting outside more and doing more activities outside the house either one on one or with other moms.”

I slept and took time for myself to exercise.

“I started to feel better when I finally connected with other mothers who had been through the same experiences as me, being separated from their babies after birth. Just hearing someone else put it in their own words helped me to heal.”

I asked for help. My mum was with me every day for almost two weeks. I started anti-anxiety medication (I had taken this before my pregnancy). I started to get outside and tackle things one small step at a time – a walk to the park, a short drive to the gas station, etc. I made sure I was getting enough sleep and started going to be at 9 pm every night. I made myself eat regular, healthy meals. I slowly got my life back to normal and felt a little better each day. It can be so hard but just take each day at a time. It will get better.”

I cut myself some slack!

“I started going to counselling, eating better, and exercising again.”

“I opened up to others about my feelings, realizing I’m not alone, and understanding that it was all very very normal...then I could finally realize how lucky and truly fortunate I was.”

I was able to have some time away from my daughter in order to focus on work or self care. I needed a break.”

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What I wish I knew then was…

It gets better. Bear through it all and know that it really does get better. And not to be afraid to open up to those going through the same things…I found great solace in this.”

“Being disappointed in and/or traumatized by your birth experience does not make you ungrateful for your baby.”

Life lessons are coming your way!

“It’s better to work through your feelings than to bury them That it gets better, patience is key and accept your faults. Let the normal things go like dinner, laundry, etc… but never sacrifice your showers or sleep.

“That we are all fumbling along and perfection is a myth.”

“That being a mom is hard. It’s hard to comprehend until you actually become one. But, once you do all these fears pop up that you never knew you had. And you’ll ALWAYS second guess yourself.”

I could’ve felt better sooner had I talked to someone instead of waiting for so long.

“It’s okay to ask for help! And it’s okay to not be okay.

My advice for pregnant and new mothers is…

Ask for help. Talk to other new moms. Reach out to your new mom friends to let them know you are there. Give yourself a break!”

“Everyone has a unique birth story. While yours is different, listen and respect the thoughts and feelings of others. Simply saying ‘That must have been difficult for you’ or ‘How are you doing now?’ is enough to give comfort to a mom recovering from a stressful event.”

“You won’t know it all and you will suck at so many things…this isn’t a reflection of you or your ability as a mother. Love your child, that’s all you can do and once you do that you’re already doing everything perfectly.”

“Be kind to yourself, let go of your expectations, follow your instincts, ask for help, allow yourself to feel; it truly takes a village.”

“To ask for help and don’t isolate yourself. Practice guilt-free self-care and reach out when you need it.”

“I guess I’d say just follow your heart and do what you feel is right. There are a million answers for one question, only you’ll really know what works for you and your baby. And try not to stress about what others are doing. It’s soooo easy to compare but you’re the momma and you know best.

Don’t be scared if things aren’t perfect. Don’t put pressure on yourself. Enjoy your time with your baby…I feel like I missed some precious moments with my first born because I didn’t embrace it. And if you’re feeling blue ask for help. Even ‘stay at home moms’ who are supposed to handle it all need help.”

My advice for spouses and other supporters is…

“Be patient, understanding and on standby. Look for signs of unhappiness and ask what you can do to help. Take the baby out for walks, take your pregnant wife out for drives. Tell her she’s beautiful and keep the compliments coming. Confidence is everything. Just being told you’re doing a great job goes a long way.”

“For people like me, we keep things bottled up because we want to achieve everything on or own. Sometimes we are afraid to ask for help, so instead ask ‘Can I help?’ And hugs…lots of hugs for those tough days!”

“To hold space for those going through difficult times. Listen, sit with them, let them know you love them and you care and you will not judge them for their feelings. It should not change how you see them as a person.”

To listen.

“Just be there. Notice the warning signs and just be present. It will make all the difference.”

Offer help and keep offering even if it’s refused the first time.

“Support. It’s hard, and sometimes it may seem like your partner has disappeared and been replaced by a sleep-deprived monster. But love them, support them when they need it, even when they don’t ask. And don’t give your opinion always (more for families not spouses).”

“Listen and support. Sometimes you just need to hold a crying baby while new mama showers or pees. Just give love.

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I’m in awe of the mothers who shared their stories. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart! Every time you talk about your struggles, you might be helping someone else.

Check out my other posts to learn more about prenatal and postpartum mood disorders and to find local resources if you’re in the Halton, Hamilton or Peel Regions.

What She Said: Motherhood and Mental Health Read More »

Fear of Childbirth and How to Cope

If you have a fear of childbirth, you’re not alone. I often talk with parents who are scared for one or more reasons and I always tell them it’s okay to be afraid and that there’s lots they can do to feel more confident and less worried. Here are some of my suggestions:

Talk to yourself. Journal, meditate, think out loud, be creative, exercise, drive…do whatever it is that helps you to tune out the rest of the world and listen to your own thoughts and feelings. Find out what you’re afraid of. Not having control? Not making it to the hospital? Hospitals? Pain? Tearing? Cesarean birth? Loss? Simply addressing your specific fear(s) can help you cope.

Learn about the signs of prenatal anxiety. 10 to 20 per cent of pregnant women experience mood disorders including prenatal anxiety. Anxiety is more than just worrying; it can interfere with your daily life and if left untreated, prenatal anxiety can increase risks for you and your baby during your pregnancy, birth, and postpartum period. Fear of childbirth might not cause you to have symptoms of anxiety but if it does, please know that you don’t have to fight it alone.

Talk with loved ones. Trusted loved ones are the experts on you, and loving you. Friends or relatives who won’t judge you, invalidate your concerns, or inundate you with advice are usually the best supporters. It can help immensely just to share your feelings and I often hear that after a good conversation with a loved one, moms are more ready to accept help.

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Talk with your prenatal care provider. Discussing your concerns with your midwife or obstetrician can help you to cope with and even sometimes to overcome your childbirth-related fears. This is someone who has attended hundreds or maybe even thousands of births! They can help to normalize your feelings, give you a better idea of what to expect, break down all of your options and consider back-up plans for if things don’t go according to plan. Your care provider might even be able to refer you to local resources for more support options.

Get professional support. There are several types of professionals with training and expertise around fear of childbirth and/or prenatal anxiety. You just have to know where to look. If you’re not sure, speak with your prenatal care provider or your family doctor about whether a psychotherapist, a psychiatrist, or another type of professional is the best fit for you. These care professionals can help you to work through your thoughts, avoid triggers, and cope with fear reactions. They can also if you’re experiencing severe anxiety and need a bit more clinical help.

Tune out what doesn’t serve you.  There’s a tendency for expectant parents to be inundated with childbirth “horror stories”; everywhere they look there’s another friend, relative or stranger ready to share their difficult experience without prompting. I do believe in the importance of working through our birth experiences but pregnant women are not the right audience for these tough stories. It’s okay to make it known that you’re surrounding yourself with good vibes only.

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Boost your confidence.  Find a safe pregnancy support group (if you’re in or around Halton Region, join us here!), hire a doula, take a prenatal class, read positive birth stories, find a mantra or affirmation that speaks to you, exercise great self-care. One foot in front of the other, you will get through this.

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Cat’s Birth Story

Today we welcome Cat to the blog. Cat’s birth story is both heartbreaking and profoundly beautiful so brace yourself for some #REALTALK. Cat’s story is a lesson in trust, surrender, adaptation and love. THANK YOU Cat for sharing.

If you’re reading this and you’re interested in sharing your experience with others, check out our #REALTALK Birth Stories main page.

Pregnancy and my father’s diagnosis

When I was two months pregnant my parents moved home after living in the UK for five years. Not long after that, very close to Christmas time, my father was diagnosed with stage 3 throat cancer. For the next seven months I endured the most intense emotional roller coaster of my life. I was one of my father’s main caregivers. We would spend hours together in waiting rooms and at home by the fire. He promised me he would fight as hard as he could to meet my firstborn child.

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It was my little sprout who gave my father hope. It was my little sprout who kept me grounded and healthy. Every ultrasound photo was quickly copied and dropped off to my father. He was the first to feel her kick from the outside. He was so frail and so sad but at that moment, with his hand on my belly, he looked at me with such joy in his face, it brought me to tears. My little sprout gave us all joy in a time of great distress. As my belly grew, my father shrank. As my skin glowed, he aged at a terrifying pace. We were all staring at the circle of life in plain sight. Love can be so excruciating.

My father died ten days before my daughter was born. His funeral was on her due date. Even now, typing this brings me to tears. The fact that he missed meeting her by only days is impossible for my heart to process.

My birth experience

On July 11th I was one week overdue and I went in for an ultrasound. I had been having what some call “false labour” for days. I had contractions that would increase in intensity and become closer together, then suddenly disappear. During the ultrasound I could sense that something was not right. The sonographer told me to go to labour and delivery right away; my baby was not moving well. Still mourning the loss of my father, I thought to myself, “Awwww hell no! Not sprout. Not my rainbow, my light. There’s no way I’m losing her too. Whatever you need to do to make sure she is okay, do whatever they advise you to do!”

I grew up with the knowledge that my mother, her mother and her grandmother all had trouble dilating and all had to have c-sections. I grew up thinking it must be genetic, I must be destined to have the same “malfunction” and a c-section would be the only option in the end. After meeting with my midwives, I changed my mind. The more I learned about how greatly labour is affected by your state of mind, the more determined I was than ever to break the cycle.

Throughout my pregnancy I read all the books about natural birth and I was obsessed with watching births on YouTube. I meditated, I did prenatal yoga, I practiced mindfulness. I planned for a hospital birth just in case but I carted a huge box into the hospital with supplies to create a “homey” atmosphere. To counterbalance what was happening with my father I was preparing for the most peaceful birth. I wanted to do right by my little sprout while also going with the flow since I knew going with the flow would help me dilate!

But…I wasn’t dilating, at least not yet at one week past my due date. I felt at war with fate. I lost my father, I wasn’t dilating after doing all the “right” things and now my daughter wasn’t moving well. It was at that moment on the way to labour and delivery that I realized I had to learn to accept my situation. I had to let go of any sense of control. Lo and behold, by the time my midwives arrived to check on me at the hospital, I’d started to dilate and it was determined that I was in early labour and my little sprout was okay. We were sent off to labour at home for a while.

On the way home from the hospital, my husband and I decided to go get brunch – our last date before parenthood. Brunch was interesting: my labour increased in intensity but I practiced my breathing and we were able to enjoy a lovely meal. Outside our brunch spot I noticed a sidewalk sign that said, “Inhale confidence, exhale doubt.”

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We got home, my sister came to join us and I managed to get myself into that trance-like state of mind I’d read all about, listening to soothing music while bent over my birthing ball, breathing deeply through waves of contractions. I surrendered and it stopped feeling painful. I learned that it is possible! It was such a profound experience. When my labour got very intense my midwives said it was time to go to the hospital.

When we got settled in there I got into the same position with a birthing ball and back into that beautiful trance-like state. I stood up to take a bite of my dinner and suddenly I felt dizzy. I was hit with an overwhelming sense that something was not right. My midwife suggested I walk around a bit to help me dilate more but I couldn’t walk! She checked to listen to sprout’s heart rate and it had dropped.

Things got frantic. Fear kicked in and my contractions hit me so hard. I got scared and the pain was suddenly unbearable! Decisions had to be made quickly. My care was transferred from the midwife to the OB-GYN. Epidural was recommended. The doctor broke my water and there was meconium (baby’s first poop) in the fluid and the next thing I knew I was signing consent forms because it was c-section time. That c-section I tried so hard to avoid ended up happening despite all my hard work. Why? Because it turned out that my little sprout got stuck in my pelvis and was not tolerating it very well. All the while, my perfect little cervix was dilating like a champ.

By the time they wheeled me into the operating room I was making jokes and laughing at the situation. It was all too ridiculous, I couldn’t help it! My sister said at one point while she was waiting outside the operating room, a roar of laughter came from inside and she just knew it was me making jokes. Making light of a stressful situation. I was eager to meet my daughter and hold her in my arms.

My midwife told me she felt a presence in the operating room; her hair stood up on her arms when she felt it. I felt something too, and I know in my heart that my father was there to witness the birth of my daughter. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before. He was there when my daughter Diana came into the world.

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Watching my husband’s face change as he saw our baby for the first time was so beautiful. It was love! She let out strong, healthy, glorious scream. The feeling of holding her in my arms and the relief of hearing that she was as healthy as can be was profound. My heart ached with intense love as I watched every single perfect movement of her tiny little body.

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I wouldn’t ask for a different experience. Was it the birth I planned? No, not at all. Was it perfect and incredible and beautiful? Yes. It was the most powerful experience of my entire life and I wouldn’t change a single thing. Through birth and death I know how deeply we can love. I learned to finally surrender; to trust and to accept things that are beyond my control.

 

Cat’s Birth Story Read More »

When Should I Call My Doctor or Midwife in Labour?

Something we talk about a lot in prenatal classes is what to expect in early labour. This is totally understandable! Especially if it’s your first birth there can be a lot of questions, a lot of excitement and sometimes a bit of anxiety.

One thing you can do to prepare is to come up with your plan for calling your care provider and going into the hospital during labour.

Chat With Your Doctor or Midwife

In the weeks leading up to your due date, your care provider – your doctor or midwife – will probably give you guidelines about when to call or page during labour.

It’s common in early labour for contractions to be sporadic (e.g. 15 minutes apart, then 10 minutes, then 20 minutes…or to stop altogether and pick up again later). You might be advised to notify your provider when you’re experiencing this sporadic pattern of early labour. As you move into real deal (active) labour, contractions will probably fall into a consistent and measurable pattern as they become longer, stronger and closer together.

If you’re having an uncomplicated pregnancy and contractions are your first noticeable sign of labour, your care provider will likely advise you to use a guideline of 4-1-1 or 5-1-1. This would mean it’s time to go to the hospital when your contractions are four or five minutes apart (your provider will tell you which one), each lasting about one minute, for one hour straight. You’ll likely be advised to call the doctor/midwife and/or hospital before heading in. Your personal plan might vary a bit if you’re located farther from your birthing location.

Timing Contractions

In the smartphone age, we no longer have use a pen and paper or do mental math to time contractions. There’s an app for that! Search “contraction timer” in your app store and you’ll have lots of options.

If you’re using an app to time contractions, all you’ll have to do is tap at the beginning of the contraction and again at the end of the contraction and the app will do the math for you, updating you as you go about average length and frequency. You might prefer that your partner or doula do the timing so that you don’t get caught up in scrutinizing the numbers but it’s totally your call.

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It can be nice to have your partner time contractions so you can relax.

The Basics

The length of one contraction is from the time it begins to the time it ends.

The time from the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next contraction is how “far apart” they are (frequency).

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Contractions about 30-6o seconds long and about 9 minutes apart.

Practical Example: What 4-1-1 Looks Like

At 4-1-1 contractions begin, last for one minute, and then there is a three minute break from the end of one contraction to the beginning of the next. When this is happening consistently for one hour, you’ve reached 4-1-1.

Side note: if you time contractions for a while and you don’t see a pattern, take a break! Come back later if you sense that things are changing. 

What’s The Number?

Here’s how to get in touch with Labour and Delivery at our Halton, Hamilton and Mississauga Hospitals:

Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital:  905-338-4688

Milton District Hospital: 905-878-2383 ext.7030

Georgetown Hospital: 905-873-0111 ext. 8245

Joseph Brant Hospital: 905-632-3737 x 4109

McMaster Hospital: 905-521-5050

St. Joseph’s Hospital Hamilton: 905-522-1155 x 33251

Credit Valley Hospital: 905-813-3950

If you’re with one of the local midwife groups (Community Midwives of Halton, Midwifery Care of Peel and Halton Hills. Burlington and Area Midwives, Midwives of Mississauga, East Mississauga Midwives, Access Midwives, Community Midwives of Hamilton, Hamilton Midwives, or Mountain Midwifery Care), you will have been given a pager number to request a call from your primary midwife when you are in labour. 

 

What To Expect When You Call

When you call your doctor/midwife/hospital, you’ll be asked to describe your contractions and answer a few other questions. If you have your partner make the call, don’t be surprised if they’re asked to hand you the phone so your provider can talk through a few contractions with you to see how you’re managing.

Your provider will advise you about next steps. If you’re not in active labour, you might be asked to check in again later.

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You may or may not look this happy in active labour.

Exceptions to Note

Rupture of membranes (water breaking) is more likely to happen when you’re already in labour but for some women, the waters break before labour contractions begin. If your water breaks, whether it’s before contractions begin or after contractions begin but before you go to the hospital, your provider will want to know and will advise you from there. You’ll be asked to describe the appearance of the fluid and answer some other questions.

Depending on the circumstances, you might need to go in to the hospital or clinic to be assessed or you might be asked to check in again by phone after a period of time. The reason for monitoring closely after the waters break is because the amniotic fluid (the “water”) protects your baby from outside bacteria. Once the amniotic membranes (the “bag of waters”) rupture, there is a small risk of infection that increases over time. Your care provider will discuss next steps with you if labour contractions don’t begin after your water breaks. It’s a great idea to discuss this during your prenatal visits.

If you’re not sure if your water has broken, you’re not alone! Toward the end of pregnancy some women experience an increase in vaginal discharge and some women experience urinary incontinence (lose control of their bladder), all of which can be a bit confusing. If you’re not sure if your water has broken you can try using the toilet, then lying down on your side for 10 to 15 minutes, then standing back up. If fluid has pooled in your vagina and comes out when you stand up, your water has probably broken. If you’re still not sure, check in with your provider.

Other Red Flags

There are some other “red flags” that warrant calling your doctor or midwife right away:

  • If you notice vaginal bleeding
  • If you have pain or pressure in your lower back that won’t go away
  • If you see or feel your umbilical cord slip through the cervix or vagina after your water breaks. This is a rare condition called cord prolapse that can be dangerous for your baby because it can cut off blood supply. If this happens, get down on your knees and brace yourself with your arms while lowering your chest to the ground, then call 9-1-1.

A final note: it’s ALWAYS best to listen to your intuition if it’s telling you to call.
I know your care provider will agree!

When Should I Call My Doctor or Midwife in Labour? Read More »

Alex’s Birth Story

Finding out I was pregnant

I have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and irregular cycles and I was told I might have difficulty conceiving so I tried to prepare myself for the possibility of never having a baby (I never really came to terms with it). After a tonne of research, I found out about a drug called Metformin. Women with varying degrees of PCOS have had success getting pregnant while taking it so I talked to my doctor and without hesitation she prescribed it to me. Around that time, my boyfriend proposed! I started taking the Metformin about two months before our wedding date because we didn’t want to wait long after the wedding to start trying. Secretly, I hoped for a honeymoon baby!

I forgot to refill my prescription before we went away for our destination wedding. I got by with half-doses so that I had enough to take the medicine daily but by the end of two weeks, my body seemed to adjust to the lower dose and I missed my period. When we came home I went right back up to my regular dose but I missed my period again. I could swear it was coming because of the tell-tale signs (sore boobs, tender tummy, spotting) but two weeks went by and still no period. I went to my doctor and she suggested I wait one more week then take a pregnancy test. I thought she was crazy. I’d already taken a test at that point (it was negative) and I ended up waiting a full two weeks before taking another. Meanwhile, my boobs were becoming more sore and starting to feeling quite full and heavy but I didn’t think much of it.

The day I took the test I joked about it with my husband, saying “Gotta go take another test, we both know it’ll be negative!” Looking back, I think this was more of a defense mechanism. Well…I peed on the stick and within seconds there was the faintest second pink line. I rubbed my eyes, squinted and stared for what felt like hours. I waited to see if the line would appear darker and said out loud, “This is inconclusive. Maybe I didn’t have enough pee?”

I had some water and waited to pee again. Second test: another faint second pink line! I still wasn’t convinced so I went to the dollar store and bought six more tests. There was no doubt – I saw a prominent second pink line. OMG I’m pregnant!

I screamed, I cried, I skipped and danced around my apartment. I texted my hubby, “I think I’m pregnant!” He called right away and I told him about the eight positive tests. My hubby didn’t want to believe the news until the doctor confirmed it so we made an appointment but when she found out I took eight tests she just looked at him and said, “She’s pregnant! Don’t take anymore tests” and that was that.

My pregnancy

I spent months researching everything about pregnancy, labour and birth – all the Dos and Don’ts – but with that came a lot of anxiety. Fear of the unknown is a very real thing. I heard about tearing, the ring of fire, the pain of contractions. There was no shortage of women who’d already gone through it telling me it was the most painful thing they had ever endured. This was really freaking me out!

(Side note: now when I meet a woman expecting her first child and she asks me about labour, my response is so much more encouraging. I tell her when it’s go time to trust her body and that she will feel a natural calm come over her, as if she already knows what to do.)

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My dream was a natural water birth at the beautiful Toronto Birth Centre, under the care of midwives. Unfortunately, when I found out I was pregnant I was about six weeks along and even though that very day I started applying at every midwife clinic in my area, none were accepting July patients. It wasn’t until I was 24 weeks along that I got the call that brought tears to my eyes: I got accepted!

After months of watching birthing videos on YouTube – water births, bed births, floor births, hospital births, c-sections, medicated, unmedicated – I knew what I wanted: a pool of warm water, with my husband and midwives and mother by my side, coaching and encouraging me. I even bought my hubby the book “The Birth Partner” (highly recommend!) to help him prepare.

As it turned out, I didn’t get the birth I dreamed of. I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes and told that I needed to have the baby in hospital. This was very upsetting to me but in time I accepted it and tried to see the silver lining. I needed to do what was best for my child, and I found solace in that.

Our birth experience

As my due date approached, there were several times I thought I was in labour. Those Braxton Hicks can play some serious mind games. I never saw a mucous plug and my water didn’t break. As I approached 41 weeks I was beginning to think the baby would never come but on a beautiful Sunday morning, I woke up to what I just knew was the real thing. I turned to my sleeping husband and said something he’d heard many times before: “I think I’m in labour.”

I pulled out my phone and started my contraction counter app, got in the shower and things were definitely progressing. When I got out of the shower I told my husband that these were real contractions as they were already 4 minutes apart and 2 minutes long. The fear and anxiety I was expecting to feel were nowhere to be found! Instead, my husband got out of bed, put on some Bob Marley, and we hugged and began to get ourselves ready to go to the hospital. I was unbelievably calm and had this feeling like I was about to do something amazing. This is consistent with many times throughout my pregnancy as my baby developed; I knew something truly amazing was happening inside of me.

By the time our midwives arrived at my house my contractions were getting stronger and closer together. When we got to the hospital I was in full on labour. We went directly to the labouring tub and I got in and started breathing through contractions. I laboured as long as I could before I finally broke down and begged for an epidural. To my surprise, it didn’t work! I was lying flat on the hospital bed, writhing in pain for an hour hoping that the damn drugs would kick in and they never did. I tried nitrous (laughing gas), which was a disaster because I was already vomiting throughout my labour and the gas made it worse. The anesthesiologist finally returned to try a different medication and after another 30 minutes I finally started to feel better. I wasn’t completely numb and could still feel quite a bit of pain, but it was far more manageable.

Less than an hour later, my cervix was at 10 cm and my water finally broke. There was meconium (baby’s first poop) in the water, which instantly worried me. My midwives were very calm about it as I was ready to push. They asked if I wanted to watch and I asked “How?” They positioned a mirror in front of my bed and I got to watch myself give birth. After 30 minutes of pushing surrounded by my husband, my mother, my sister, my sister-in-law, the OB and my midwives, my gorgeous child came into the world at 6:15 pm with the most amazing cry. That was the cry we all needed and wanted to hear. My baby was okay!

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I had no idea if I had a boy or a girl; I didn’t even occur to me to check. All I wanted was to hold my baby and feel the warmth and softness of that fresh new skin against mine. It wasn’t until my midwife asked, “Is it a boy or a girl?” that I realized I didn’t even know. Esmé, my beautiful baby girl, has changed my life. She came into this world in a room so full of love and excitement just for her! Life hasn’t been the same and it never will be, for it has been enriched in ways I never thought possible. And as it turns out, she is indeed our honeymoon baby.

 

Thank you Alex for submitting your beautiful story! If you’re reading this and you’re interested in sharing your experience with others, check out our #REALTALK Birth Stories main page.

Alex’s Birth Story Read More »

Introducing: #REALTALK Birth Stories

I’m thrilled to be introducing a new blog series that we’re calling #REALTALK Birth Stories. I’ve welcomed friends, clients and colleagues to contribute to this project and already the level of interest has been incredible!

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I truly believe in the value of sharing our childbirth experiences. These stories inspire, comfort, inform and encourage readers. They connect us to each other as mothers, as fathers, as parents. They prompt us to consider our goals for birth and for our transition to parenting; they also prompt us to consider how we might adapt to an unexpected change of plans.

Non-judgmental support for all kinds of births and all kinds of families is the cornerstone of my doula practice so featuring a wide variety of birth stories really fills up my cup. Every birth is beautiful in its own way and what better way to multiply that joy than to hear it described by parents themselves?

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THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart to those who have already decided to participate in this series. If you’re reading this and you think you might be interested in sharing your story, don’t be a stranger! Stories can be submitted in their most raw form or you can use a template of interview-style prompts and questions I’ve written up if that suits your style.

Contact me here to chat about sharing your birth story

Ready to read the first in our series of #REALTALK Birth Stories?

1. Alex’s story

2. Cat’s story 

3. Annie’s story

4. Becky’s story

Introducing: #REALTALK Birth Stories Read More »