Update: In August 2011, The Family Maternity Center of the Northern Neck, where Bennett was born, closed due to financial struggles. I have left the description of the FMCNN in Bennett’s birth story to illustrate characteristics of a great birth center.
For those wanting to move straight to the birth story details, scroll on down to Part 2 and Part 3.
Part 1: About the Family Maternity Center of the Northern Neck
My pregnancy was a journey, and I ultimately chose to give birth at the Family Maternity Center of the Northern Neck (FMCNN). My experience there was wonderful, and I cannot recommend the FMCNN highly enough! (I am not affiliated with the FMCNN — I am just a very satisfied mama who gave birth there.) The center is a perfect match for healthy women who desire natural, unmedicated childbirth in an out-of-hospital setting, and who plan to breastfeed their babies.
Overview. The FMCNN is a free-standing birth center 1.25 to 1.5 hours from Williamsburg in Lancaster, VA. If you are interested in birthing there, do not let the distance discourage you — it’s a lovely drive through rural Virginia, and the staff can make special accommodations for laboring women coming from a distance, so that they can make the drive early in their labor when contractions are manageable, rather than later in their labor. The FMCNN offers prenatal care in the form of Centering Pregnancy groups or traditional prenatal appointments, and accepts new clients up to 36 weeks along in their pregnancies.
Birthing Suites. A beautiful new facility, the FMCNN opened in summer 2010, with two lovely, homey birthing suites with large showers, jacuzzi tubs, queen beds, and private waiting rooms with kitchens for family and friends. (We put many of those facilities to good use in our labor!)
Medical System. The FMCNN is well-integrated into a larger medical system. A local hospital is within a 7-minute drive in the rare event that an emergency C-section would be needed. For other complications that may arise, the FMCNN has contracted with a transport service to safely convey clients to MCV in Richmond for labor and delivery. The receiving staff at MCV are encouraging and supportive of birth center patients who do transfer. But transfers are very rare!
Midwives. The certified nurse midwives (CNMs) who run the center are phenomenal — impressively trained and incredibly talented — and follow the midwives model of care. Their clients’ physical and emotional health is of utmost importance to them, and they are accessible 24 hours a day by cell phone (an amazing plus!) or e-mail/text. Wonderfully, for the first postpartum visit, the midwives visit new moms at home, rather than requiring them to come into the center. I can’t express how fantastic this was for me after the birth! The midwives went to great lengths to help me have the birth that I had hoped for — essentially, a home birth in the birth center — and for that effort, care, and support, I will be forever grateful!
Freedoms. At the FMCNN, laboring women have freedoms that they likely would not have — or would likely have to struggle for — at a hospital or hospital-based midwifery center. For example, the FMCNN requires no hospital check-in process, no electronic fetal monitoring, and has no restrictions on photographing or videotaping births (although in certain situations, they may ask that video cameras be turned off). Women are free to labor in whatever position they wish. If they want dimmed lights, candlelight, quiet, music, privacy, water birth, delayed cord cutting, or uninterrupted skin-to-skin for the first hours, they may have them! The care FMCNN women receive is very personalized — no blanket hospital policies apply. During labor, the midwife is supported by a birth assistant who specializes in natural, out-of-hospital birth, unlike at a hospital where the OB is supported by labor and delivery nurses whose birth philosophies may vary significantly and may differ greatly from one’s own.
In short, the FMCNN is a fantastic place to give birth! If you are interested in birthing there and have further questions for a FMCNN mama, please do not hesitate to contact me!
And now, without further ado: Bennett’s birth story.
Part 2: The Leadup
My birth story begins two years before Bennett was born. I was experiencing many health issues, wanting to get pregnant, and knowing that my body was in no shape to make a baby. The story of overcoming those health issues is a long one in and of itself, and is a story for another day. For now, suffice it to say, during that time, I saw many doctors and learned some important lessons.
First, I learned — the hard way! — that health care providers differ greatly in their approaches to medicine and their philosophies about how best to achieve and maintain health. Knowing your own health philosophy and researching providers before choosing one is important. In my experience, the best outcomes come from choosing a provider who shares the same ideas about health and treatment as you do.
Second, I learned the value of taking charge of my own health. Doctors care about you, but no one will pay closer attention to you and your well-being than you! In the beginning, I wanted doctors to do all the work of figuring out how to solve my health issues. I wanted them to make my health care decisions for me. By the end, I took charge of my health and became active in my own healing. Being in charge of yourself, and feeling able to help yourself, is incredibly powerful medicine. Ultimately, it wasn’t doctors who solved my health issues. It was me, by doing a lot of reading, research, and reflection, and by making many changes to my diet, activity and stress levels, and relationships.
During that time, a friend of mine suggested I watch The Business of Being Born, the Ricki Lake documentary about modern maternity care in the U.S. I watched it, and from that point forward, I was hooked on birth! I couldn’t read or learn enough, and I am still obsessed. An official birth junkie! I spent many hours over that year reprogramming my mental images of birth by reading positive birth stories, watching positive birth videos on You Tube, and watching other positive birth films. Doing so made the birth process more familiar and erased so many fears!
It took a year for me to bring my body to a place where it was ready to conceive. We conceived the first time we tried, and I miscarried that baby six weeks later. It was so sad, and so difficult. Three months later, we decided to try again, and once more, we got pregnant on the first try. We were ecstatic!
At that point, I knew that I wanted midwifery care for the pregnancy. My first choice was for a home birth with a home birth midwife. But in Williamsburg, the local hospital is not friendly to homebirth moms who need to transfer. I knew that my anxiety about the possibility of transferring to an unsupportive environment would interfere with the progress of my labor at home. So, for maternity care, we first chose the Midwifery Center at DePaul in Norfolk and loved it!
For the first seven months of the pregnancy, we received prenatal care from the wonderful DePaul midwives. I love the midwifery model of care. I love that midwives believe in your body’s ability to grow and birth a baby, rather than emphasize the ways it could be failing. I love that midwives empower you by placing your care decisions largely within your hands (e.g., which tests and procedures to have done). While they can educate you, YOU are responsible for calling most shots. I love how much time midwives spend with you at appointments – a half hour to forty-five minutes, rather than the ten to fifteen minutes at the OB’s office — talking, answering questions, getting to know you. I love that by the time the midwife catches your baby, you will know her well. It was so important to me that I know, as friends, the women who would be in the room with me while I was in labor.
Throughout my second and third trimesters, I did prenatal yoga. It was a great way to meet other pregnant mothers and prepare my body and mind for birth — the deep breathing and labor positions we practiced in class were so helpful in labor.
During my second trimester, the Family Maternity Center of the Northern Neck opened its doors. As Jacqueline Starkey and I worked together organizing Birth Matters Williamsburg, I thought, “I should really go tour the FMCNN, just to know more about it, so that I can share what I know with Williamsburg women.” My husband and I were so happy with our care at DePaul, we had no intention of switching providers. Even on the drive to tour the FMCNN, we said, “We’re just learning about the facility – we’re not going to switch!”
But then we toured the center, and had our (extensive) list of questions answered by one of the midwives. Instantly and deeply, I felt that the FMCNN was the very place that this baby needed to be born. I was thrilled to learn that giving birth there would combine the freedoms of a home birth with the availability of friendly hospital support if needed.
Though my heart had made the decision right away, it took me a month to make the transfer of my maternity care to the FMCNN official. Making such a big change so late in pregnancy can be daunting. But placing yourself in the place you feel is right for your birth, and surrounding yourself with the people you feel are right for your birth support, is so important! So, at eight months pregnant, we switched maternity care providers.
At my first prenatal appointment at the FMCNN, the midwife asked me, “So, what do you want for your birth?” And the words that came out of my mouth surprised me. I said, “I want to be left alone!” And it was true. I wanted to be undisturbed as I labored. I wanted privacy, quiet, and calm, but also a caring circle of competent women present — not necessarily in the same room with me while I labored, but there for support and help when I needed them.
In my 36th week of pregnancy, one of the midwives led my husband and me through a birth visualization in the birthing suite in which we would deliver. This was an amazing experience that taught me just where my fears about my labor lay (so that I could face them before the birth). And it familiarized me with my birth setting and how the birth was likely to go — invaluable during the actual birth! If you have the opportunity to have a birth visualization, too, do it, do it!
At 36 weeks, the week before Bennett was born, within a 24 hour period, three different people mentioned to my husband and me, independently, that their babies had been born early, and that we had better prepare ourselves for the possibility of an early baby, too. Up until that point, I hadn’t really been considering that the baby might be early. Instead, I had been preparing myself for the possibility that he might be late, as first babies so often are (8 days, on average)! These warnings felt like some kind of sign, and thus, my husband and I threw ourselves into nesting activities. In our 37th week, we were unstoppable. The office that had been a mess for months – cleaned! The car that needed repairs – to the shop! The carseat – installed! All those thank you notes for baby shower gifts – written! The last of the baby essentials — bought and ordered! And so on.
Part 3: The Birth
Throughout the pregnancy, I had been doing exercises off and on to help the baby be in a good position for birth, from spinningbabies.com (such a great website!). In the 36th and 37th weeks, he’d been head down but not in an ideal position, so I’d been doing the exercises in earnest – and not sitting too much, and not slouching, and spending a lot of time on the birth ball. The morning of the day he was born, I had woken up and felt that he had turned into the ideal position – LOA – and my husband and I patted my belly and said to the baby aloud, “Good job baby! Now you are ready to be born!” Little did we know!
At 3:00 PM that day, I went to the bathroom and heard a distinct POP and a gush of fluid. A storm was coming in, and the barometric pressure was changing. I thought, “Oh my God. Did my water really just break? Isn’t there a wives’ tale that that happens more often in storms?” The fluid was pinkish at first, and then clear. I stood up, and more and more fluid kept coming. I called the midwife, and she said that it wasn’t an emergency, but that I should get our things together and come in soon.
My husband and I hadn’t yet packed our birth center bag, so he started packing while I sat on towels and reviewed our packing list. We thought we might be in for a long labor, so we packed all sorts of things – enough food for an army, many yoga props for different labor positions, my birth ball. We filled two giant Rubbermaid tubs and a cooler — it was like we were moving into the birth center! Pretty funny in retrospect. Later our midwife said, “The amount of food a couple brings is in inverse proportion to the length of the labor.” For us, at least, this was true!
We started the drive to the Family Maternity Center around 4:30 PM. It takes an hour and a half from our house, and I had only three very mild contractions – like easy menstrual cramps – during the drive. I was so incredibly thankful for this situation, because I had been anxious about a long drive in advanced labor.
We arrived at the center around 6:00 PM. My contractions were starting to pick up a little. We talked with the midwife about options for getting labor started, including an enema and nipple stimulation. (Neither of which we ended up needing, though we didn’t know that would be the case.)
By chance, the midwife’s sister happened to be present, and she is a Reiki practitioner. She asked if I would like to have a session, and I said yes. Around 7:00 PM, she worked on me, and her effort put me in such a good, calm, positive mindset for the birth. I had been feeling happy, but the Reiki really centered me. It was great!
After that, as I had requested, the midwife left me and my husband alone in the room. I was filled with a strong feeling of, “Okay, let’s birth this baby!”
At 7:30 PM, my husband made me some dinner – the foods I tolerated best when I had morning sickness: scrambled eggs and almond butter toast – and we ate. Thankfully, I was never nauseated or sick in labor.
At 8:15, I had the first contraction that I felt strongly in my back. The contractions continued to grow stronger, quickly. I didn’t realize how quickly they were progressing, and I thought to myself, “If this is just early labor, what is active labor going to be like? Oy!”
From early in the pregnancy, my husband and I had known that we wanted a doula. (For the benefits of a doula during labor, here is a helpful article!) At 8:30 PM, our doula arrived. She realized how far I had progressed in such a short time. She tried to get me in the shower on the birth ball, but my birth ball was too big, and we flooded the bathroom. Not having the shower was actually fine with me, because I’d known for a long time that I wanted to labor and birth on land. Water is such wonderful pain relief to so many women! But for this birth, I did not want it. (Perhaps next time around!)
I spent most of the labor on my knees on the bed, leaning over the birth ball, rocking and swaying back and forth and side to side, while my husband did the double hip squeeze, which was amazing — it provided wonderful counter-pressure and made the contractions manageable. My husband was a natural at labor support, and having him participate in the labor in that way was incredible for both of us.
Our doula offered soothing encouragement and help near my head. She provided many comforts, such as putting cool washcloths on my forehead and across my eyes, applying lip balm, and giving me water, and it was WONDERFUL. I had thought I would not want to be touched in labor, but my husband’s and my doula’s touch felt so great. Having both of them support me was so special.
Our doula helped me breathe through contractions, and vocalize, too. I had hoped I would make lovely low om-like noises, but found myself making higher-pitched groans that did not sound lovely, at least to me. Still, they got the job done, especially when my doula helped me remember to lower the pitch, and to breathe IN, not just out. And whenever I started to lose focus, she helped me refocus if I could not help myself. I remember saying out loud several times to myself, “No whining!”
Around 9:40 PM, the midwife checked my dilation, and I was fully dilated. The midwife said, “You can have the baby anytime you want!” And my body started pushing. Somehow, it was very controlled. If I wanted my body to push, I just breathed in a deep breath, and it would push. If I needed a break, I would breathe shallow breaths, and it would not push. All that practice at deep breathing — in yoga class and at home — really helped!
My midwife applied warm washcloths to my perineum, to provide counter-pressure and help the muscles relax and open, and to catch any poo. It felt so good!
At some point, I was overcome with the need for a dark room. I asked that the lights be turned out, and they were.
I pushed and pushed, in the darkness. Slowly, the baby’s head emerged. I reached back and felt it, and doing so centered me and gave me a focal point. I knew I had to push the baby out. My perineum had been stretching nicely, but I also knew that to birth the baby, I would need to tear, and I said so aloud.
At 10:53 PM, less than 5 hours from the time contractions began, I pushed the baby out, and my husband announced that we had a boy! That he was a boy was a total surprise – I had been convinced that we were having a girl. Bennett was small (one ounce shy of 6 pounds) but beautiful and perfect with excellent color. The cord had been wrapped around his neck twice (which is common and not necessarily a concern) but quickly unwound, and he cried right away. The midwife handed me the baby. With my husband at my side, I placed Bennett on my tummy, and he took to the breast right away.
I did have a third-degree tear, but I did not feel it as it happened. It required stitches by the consulting physician, but did not upset me. My doula sat near my shoulder and helped me with breastfeeding positioning while the stitches were being completed.
That night, the midwife’s birth assistant wore a shirt emblazoned with the saying, Birth Without Fear. That is exactly the birth I had, and the birth that I wish for every woman! For my labor and delivery, I was surrounded by women I knew and trusted, in an environment where my voice and opinion mattered. I was safe, supported, and well taken care of. I never had to be afraid. I could relax, surrender myself to the process, and birth my baby, undisturbed. It was the best night of my life!
FMCNN Midwife for Prenatal Care and Delivery: Jessica Jordan, CNM (now at the Complete Care Birthing Center in Richmond)
FMCNN Midwife for Prenatal Care and Birth Visualization: Amber Price, CNM (now at the VCU Midwifery Program in Richmond)
Doula: Jacqueline Starkey, CD (DONA)
Midwife’s Birth Assistant: Bettie Sheets, CPM
Consulting Physician: Dr. James Hamilton, MD
- Bennett at 7 Weeks: smiling, healthy, and over 9 pounds!