What follows is the beautiful Sacramento VBAC water birth story of baby Seneca, told in her mother’s own words. Her birth story is accompanied by raw photographs from Sacramento birth photographer, Azara Images. This eloquently written account of a mother’s pregnancy and birth experience touches on her personal story around teen pregnancy, adoption, education, personal truth & the differences between her cesarean birth 11 years ago & her recent VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) birth story at Welcome Home Birth Center in Sacramento.
Here is Katie, on the birth of her daughter:
“I have always felt that a mother is a selfless, loving human who must sacrifice many of their wants and needs for the wants and needs of their children. A mother works hard to make sure their child is equipped with the knowledge, skills and abilities to make it as a competent human being. Regardless of my relationship with my own mother, which was not an exemplary performance of divine motherhood, I instinctively felt the above to be true. Life has so far granted me two opportunities to play such a role, and I am honored and proud of each one of them.
Eleven years separate the births of my two children, and in that time the world around me and in me changed. I’ve always wanted children, but however strong my desire for children was, it never overwhelmed the understanding that I wanted more for my children than I had experienced. My mother was a teen mom, raising her children alone.
At nineteen I found myself pregnant and on track to follow in my own mother’s footsteps, and while my life was seemingly tumultuous at the time I knew one thing instantaneously: that I would bring forth this life I had created and place the child for adoption. If I had to title that chapter in my life, it would be titled Relinquishment. Giving over my body, my rights, my child, and temporarily suspending my own endeavors in order to follow through with what I knew to be the right choice. Adoption was (and still is) a sensitive concept to work around. Society still reacts with a melancholic and apologetic tone towards the subject.
As the birth mother I was proud, and oftentimes had to defend my choice not just to family but to strangers (especially in the latter months when I was showing). Majority of my family felt a strong resistance to “giving away” a family member, even if the outcome benefited all involved. There was no baby shower or excitement about the birth and with all my friends being my own age, there was no one to share or mirror my experience with. Not to say I was alone, I had a LOT of support and love, and there was so much anticipation for the arrival of the baby that the night he was born -there were about twenty people in the waiting room. Friends and family from both biological and adopting parents were present and eager. Myself and the adoptive parents were on the same page surrounding the terms of the adoption, and with the adopting mother working at the hospital we received excellent care.It was for all intents and purposes, a grand experience that warms my heart and others who shared in our journey. However, the only aspect of that experience that I deeply regret is not the one people usually suspect. It was the approach to birth and entire birth experience that I can only retrospectively say I feel I regret.
The world was different eleven years ago & access to information was limited. I was young, inexperienced, and with so much transition I entrusted my care completely to those around me. I was still a teen and with so much of myself being relinquished, I never thought about what aspects of the experience I could have for myself (or how this experience would dictate future births).
So, in 2008, the tenth day of the tenth month arrived and at ten at night, my son was born, arriving perfectly on his due date. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well it was…for only 2-5% of babies are born on their due date, and my babe came at the behest of many drugs pumped into me to ensure that I was part of that small percent. In short, my birth story went like this: a Foley Bulb induction until I hit 3cm, followed closely with Pitocin getting me to 5cm, artificially breaking my waters which got me to 6cm, but by this time I was in so much pain from the Pitocin that an anesthesiologist showed up to administer an epidural so that I could endure.
Following that was a drop in the heart rate of the baby with every contraction (yea… too much pit plus slowing my labor with the epidural), so. if you haven’t guessed, I was finally whisked away to receive a cesarean for the safety of the baby. I thought this was a normal birth. Of course once he was born, he was quickly taken away to begin bonding with his new parents, all the while my entire body was paralyzed except for weak movements in my right arm, shivering in the recovery room from the shock and meds, and later was so sick and itchy from the morphine I spent the evening clawing at myself in a haze of morphine induced sleep while simultaneously throwing up every so often. I believe that due to the unique situation, not a single person came to me and asked how I wanted by birth story to go, or informed me or advised me to question the process.
No one had told me otherwise and no one intervened at any point. I never knew what I was missing, or that I even had missed anything at all for this was what I believed the ‘birth experience’ to be. I was grateful then and now for the care I received, the constant stream of friends and family who stayed by my side during the days of recovery in the hospital, and even to the hospital itself for allowing all the chaos and revolving door of people for our huge blended family.
As the years went by and the world opened up technologically and I expanded my knowledge of the world around me, I began to notice gaps in my understanding of that day. I was a very healthy and athletic young woman, so why was my experience like that of a high- risk pregnancy? What was the rush for him to come ON my due date? Why was he only 6lbs 5oz at birth, was he even ready to come out? Did I feel that I was given information regarding what was to happen vs. what I wanted to do…??
These questions circled my brain and I began educating myself, and watching home videos of women giving birth naturally. As social media picked up steam I followed the accounts of birth photographers, birth workers and mothers, and read testimonials of amazing VBAC birth stories. Then I watched the film “The Business of Being Born” and I felt like a veil had been lifted and all my questions answered. I realized exactly why my experience played out the way it did, and that I wasn’t alone. I was part of the majority and a small part of me mourned the experience, but I vowed then to ensure that I stayed as far away from anything that resembled that series of events in 2008.
As the years ticked on and I grew older and more settled in my own life I began to look forward to the day when I would again carry and bring forth life for myself. My partner and I educated ourselves on the American medical system’s approach to birthing. We were insistent that when we had a child it would take place under the watchful eye of a midwife in the comfort of our own home or that of a birth center. I would watch hours and hours of home births or solo births, amazed at the strength and transformative bodies of the women birthing babies everywhere from their living rooms, bedrooms, bathtubs & even in a freshwater stream in the tropics.
It was with this mindset of strength that in 2019 we got pregnant and sought out the partnership of a midwife, the care of a doula and the artistic skill of a birth photographer. Sacramento’s “Welcome Home Birth Center & Midwifery” and its progenitor, Madeleine , became our lighthouse in the proverbial neonatal sea. She was a guiding light, but did not overpower or dictate our experience. Only a text or phone call away, she would ease any fears, and was quick to offer a homeopathic solution to any issue that came up. I was no piece of cake expectant mother either. I was to be a VBAC attempt, and during the course of my pregnancy I worked two jobs, attended grad school full time, and left the country twice, one of which to spend the better part of three weeks in South Africa (and due to my pregnancy wasn’t able to receive any vaccinations whatsoever), but she took my lifestyle and adventures in stride. We spent hours together for appointments, chatting about how I’m feeling, eating, sleeping, and everything in between. She and her team respectfully asked for my consent before ever touching my body.
When comparing my recent birth with a midwife to that of my first in a traditional hospital setting, there really is no comparison. Every minute detail was different from the onset. For one I was keeping this baby, I had a partner, we were in a stable and opportune moment in our lives to accept the responsibility and I had long awaited this moment.
The very best moments of my pregnancy came in the form of feeling the life inside of me moving and sharing that with my partner. There is nothing more beautiful to me than seeing emotion, wonder, and love reflected in the eyes of the person I love most. Knowing that they too are experiencing a love for the same person that is deeper than we have words for. When I felt the baby move during my first pregnancy I had no one to share that with, and I would snatch my hand away from my belly with my first pregnancy, not wanting to allow too much emotional attachment. Whereas this time around, I would indulge in stroking, singing, and talking to my belly. I allowed myself to sink into the maternal role in a way that I might say I was never capable of before and not due to the adoption, but due to my own maturation into womanhood.
Returning to the birth of Seneca. I was prepared for the long haul if need be. I had prepped for possibly hours and hours of home laboring before needing to go to the birth center, utilizing the American River trail that is just outside my home for bringing her lower in my body and getting through contractions… well there were other plans. My VBAC birth story began with my water breaking in bed at three a.m. on the hour, and within a matter of hours my contractions were so intense we were calling our midwife, doula, and birth photographer. Once we were ready to leave our home I was contracting so intensely that I couldn’t walk, talk, and was entering into a more vocal stage of labor.
Once I arrived to Welcome Home Birth Center, my eyes were completely closed as each contraction came within 1 to 2 minutes of each other and I honestly barely recall opening my eyes as I navigated my way from the vehicle to the living room. I could feel my midwife in training, Desiree Leal, taking my vitals and I could hear the tub in the next room being filled. Once in the tub my partner climbed in and I tried to find a position in which pressure was on my bottom and vulva and would rock back and forth using that pressure to counter each contraction.
This is where time really becomes a concept rather than a defining reality. I can’t say for how long I was in this position but I recall moments more so.. Continued feeding of raspberry popsicle by our doula & midwife in training, Chloe Girot. The reassurance of her voice and small giggles and voices of people in the room, hearing our birth photographer Cathlene arrive and knowing now that the birth team was fully assembled and all we needed to do was work and wait. At some point I was asked to turn onto all fours. I know that throughout all of this I was extremely tired, and I would lapse into sleep in a matter of milliseconds given the chance. Instead I kept saying to myself, “be here”, so that I could own each moment awake with intention.
Sidebar on partner support while birthing… I really thought, I mean REALLY thought that I would have this bonding experience with my partner, that we would do all kinds of maneuvers that we had learned at our birthing classes, and that I would really be leaning on him for a lot of help throughout the process. Well I was dead wrong. Ha! I didn’t really want to be touched. I think a part of me deep down was comforted by his presence and strength, but not once did we use any of the partner holds. In all, it was so much more independent of an experience. I was so carnal, primal, and removed, using my own strength and energy that I didn’t have the space in my world to incorporate anyone else’s. Just a very unexpected, but altogether empowering aspect of the birth.
The final stage of birth was upon us, and the overwhelming urge to push was not an urge but an uncontrollable contraction my body was already participating in. I felt like I was attempting to push out a melon, and push it from where I couldn’t tell. Even though I was unsure that with every contraction I wasn’t going to just rip my body into two, the baby was suddenly crowning. I only knew as I felt a burning sensation and reached down and felt the skin of something that didn’t belong to me.
I was this at this place of pure burning for about three contractions and just telling myself to gently bear down but do so with strength (to resist tearing). I then arrived at the stage of the birth that I’d seen time and time again, where you just need the baby OUT. So, I beared down and gave into the burning… and suddenly the release… I could hear the exclamations of my birth team and knew that my partner had caught our baby. In seconds, I was turning around as the baby was handed below the water to me, and as I brought the baby up I instinctually checked the cord and began to pull it from around the neck. Once down we just stared at this little being in our arms and realized we didn’t yet know whether we had a boy or girl.
So, with lots of anticipation, I looked between the legs and found that I had birthed my daughter. That’s right a GIRL! I was so smitten in that moment for my first child was a boy and most children in my life were boys, that I felt honored to have given birth to a girl. I just threw back my head and laughed, in joy and surprise!
The rest is typical afterbirth stuff, bonding time in the tub, birthing the placenta, getting out of the tub, stitches, checking the baby, rinsing off, dressing, nursing… a whirlwind of checks and love and smiles and staring at this little person. Plus feeling proud that I had achieved the VBAC water birth I wanted!
I am ever-so-grateful for the experience I had. I am grateful for how in control I was allowed to be, how hands off my team was so that my partner and I could own the birth of our child in a way that bonded and empowered us. I am grateful to every person in the room that day-and that we knew in our heart of hearts that they believed in us and the process.
While my birth was actually quick in comparison, the time warp of pain, love, and transformation locks that experience in my memory in a dreamlike way. I can’t even begin to thank our photographer, Cathlene for her work that day. I wanted a birth photographer because I myself became educated and empowered on birth via other people documenting their birth stories and sharing them. I knew from my previous birth how out of touch one becomes during labor, and I knew that I wanted this birth photographed not just for myself, but my own children. It’s so incredible and raw and seeing it from an outside perspective. I can now tell my own VBAC birth story through those images, reminding myself and my partner of the incredible act of strength and love we endured.
Thank you to Azara Images, Welcome Home Birth Center, and all the women who stood, crouched, kneeled, stretched, and endured alongside me that morning to bring my daughter into this world.”
Through Katie’s VBAC birth story she affirmed her body’s inner strength and wisdom and she reclaimed her narrative of birth itself. I am extremely proud of her and deeply honored to have been by her side during one of the most ecstatic moments of her life. Here are some images from Katie’s affirming VBAC birth story at the beautiful Welcome Home Birth Center in Sacramento, California.
If you are interested in reading the story of another mother accomplishing her dream birth, check out the “Sacramento Home Birth Photography Story of Baby Blakley” here. If you are searching for a birth photographer for your own birth or the birth of a dear friend, I would love to hear from you, and I would be honored to serve you as a part of your birth team.
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Really beautiful. Katie’s words moved me to tears and I am certain these images will be treasured for generations. Well done, Cathlene!
Ahhh thank you so much Roseann! That means a lot coming from you. I so appreciate your words, dear.