My Birth Story, My Heart

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Soleil will be a year old this Friday and I have to admit that reflecting on this time last year, all I can think of is myself.  All I can think about is the two day journey I took to another planet and came back with a lion cub baby on my chest.  My heart beats faster when I think of this.  It is a story I will never forget, just like all women who cross over into Motherdom.  How can we forget the day a baby came out of our bodies and minds and hearts? Up until this point a year ago (June 9th to be precise) I had heard the stories about how natural childbirth goes.  You hear a lot of the same repeating stories.  I’ll never forget at my 20 week check up, my midwife giving me her synopsis of what child birth is like: “You feel like you are going to die.  You feel like you are going to die!!!!!!!”  You hear that a woman goes to another planet, outer space.  You hear that it is hard and brutal and everything in between.  You hear that at the end you get a reward that makes it all worth while.

Most of the stories of natural childbirth are real.  And at this point last year, I had heard all the stories.  But nothing could ever prepare me for what was to come the following day, Tuesday June 10th, 2014.

Tuesday morning I woke up at 5 and had this crazy urgent feeling to clean, just like the mythology I had heard before about signs of approaching labor.  And when I say clean, I mean, I am cleaning the trim in every single room of my house.  I am a freakazoid cleaning every crack and crevice of my home until about 9 or 10 in the morning.  My baby daddy, my 8 year long lover who is a captain at sea, had decided to stay home that day and kept asking me to come back to bed and cuddle with him since he decided to stay home and spend the day with me waiting (we were 5 days passed our due date).   I began to feel super light headed.  I felt odd.  Like something was churning.  It wasn’t nausea. Then I felt this urge to walk.  So we walked around town and then it all went away.  We stopped at the farm cart across the street from my house and we loaded up on veggies because I had a craving for a huge veggie sandwich.  I had a feeling this might be my last meal.

We went home, made that huge veggie sandwich and then the feeling never continued.  We went on a walk to the beach to try to bring back the “feeling.”  It didn’t come back.  Made a veggie chili dinner that night, with another night walk, Sons of Anarchy, and then I felt my first mellow contractions ease their way into my psyche.  That night, I had contractions every 10-20 minutes.  Mellow, I could sleep in between each one, but I still awakened every 10-20 minutes to breathe strong against my contractions.  The next morning they continued, progressing to 5-10 minutes apart.  We let our midwives know the report of the timing in between contractions.  I told my sister that labor had started, and that Wednesday morning, she blew the whistle and let all my women from my blessing way to cut their ribbons around their wrists and that labor had started.  I moved from the huge tub in my living room, to the couch next to it, and to my bedroom.  When it comes to dealing with natural childbirth, it is a total head game.  Your head has to be in the game to overcome the crazy awakening and emerging and movement that is going on in your body.  So this day I spent moving and breathing and pulsating through contractions 2-5 minutes apart.  They continued on that night and into the morning.  No sleep, no food, exhaustion.  But there is still that need to preserver, continue on, mind over matter, telling yourself," Open, open... move the baby down... open cervix.”  My baby daddy Captain gave me those mantras.  They were something to concentrate on while he walked me around the house and labored with me in the tub.”

I was now going on almost 40 hours of labor contractions at my house.  The midwives became worried that I would not have the energy to have the baby once I finally opened to 10 cm.  After 2 nights and now going on 2 days, I was only open to 6 cm.  I was working so hard!  It was crushing.  My midwife and her doula began pulling out all their midwifery tricks to open me.  All of a sudden I felt this pain that was not contraction pains.  I learned it was my hips flexing open to allow the baby to move down the birth control.  I actually felt my F$%^& hips open!  It was a force I have never known.  While this was going on, my midwives were pulling out their tricks: we pumped my breasts, I lunged up and down my stairs, I did some yoga stretches to push the head down onto my cervix.  Then she checked me an hour later and I was only open to 7 cm.  It was at this point, my team decided to  transfer me to the hospital.  I had never packed my hospital bag, the number one rule when having a home birth.  My partner was begging them not to transfer us, he knew how important it was to me to do this at home, how important it was for me to not have anyone interrupt my goal to give birth naturally.  But the decision had been made and they were going to drive me to a new facility.  I knew my house had become stale for me, however, as everyone was rushing around to pack our bags to leave, I had transitioned by myself on the couch.  We got to the hospital about 20 minutes away, they rolled me up to my room, got me in a bed, and all of a sudden, my body started pushing.  I had opened completely during the drive to 10 cm.  It was an outer body experience, I had no control over it, I didn’t do it at all.  My body took over, and left me to watch it in all of its glory.  My whole body sent a pushing wave from the top of my head and out my toes.  And in 17 minutes and a few lion power pushes, a little girl came wiggling out.  And she was our sun.  Our lion cub.  Soleil Brightyn Perry, born on Thursday June 12th, 2014, 1:45 in the afternoon.

My mom told me that when you give birth naturally, you get this power that you never felt before.  This is true.  Oh yes it is.  And no matter what kind of birth you have, we all get that feeling of crossing over and joining our grandmothers and all ancient warrior women.  We have joined the ranks.  We will never be the same person we were before.  We become a new human.  A more refined human.  A softer, more patient human.  An unstoppable human.  A mother.

Celebrating Adoptive Motherhood

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On Mother's Day, I would like to honor the adoptive mamas of the world. They, too, deserve recognition for their tender nurturing and selfless giving. This story was sent to me by a beautiful woman named Denise Andrade-Kroon, who reached out to me and expressed how although she did not physically birth her son Cedar, she gave birth in an intensely emotional and spiritual way: "I believe it is so empowering for adoptive mamas to embrace that they too have been through a birthing process, albeit different than those that carry and birth their babies physically, but an emotional birthing that holds deep connection and meaning. Throughout the years of documenting my fertility and adoption story online, hundreds reached out to me going through a similar journey because at the time I was writing about it, not many were and it seemed to draw a plethora of women that needed to not feel alone.  Many were expressing to me shame they carried or the ache of not feeling whole as women or part of a tribe of women that were able to do what our bodies were designed for.  I too at times felt this way.  I waited 5 years for the baby whose soul I felt so close to me and I would have never imagined another beautiful woman would eventually carry my child and bravely let go of him into my arms with such compassion and permission.

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Denise & K

My husband and I held our birth mama's hands while she pushed and brought him into our world.  I was the first to hold, bathe, feed and sleep with him skin to skin. My son Cedar and I bonded instantly and I never once felt less connected just because the first day I physically felt him was on his (birth)day. Throughout our (in)fertility journey &  adoption, I needed visualizations to stay hopeful, breath to stay grounded and focused and my soul had to bear down to manifest my dream of being a mama despite the grief and loss that comes with (in)fertility. My labor pains were emotional and not physical but labor pains, nonetheless. I know deep in my heart that with this perspective, I have indeed birthed in a spiritual sense. I am grateful to be part of an evolution of embracing and holding tender all the ways families are created and as with anything, there is not one way."

{You can read more about Denise's journey through adoption on her personal blog, http://bohemiangirldesigns.blogspot.com/. Her current website is http://www.faesoul.com/. Photography by tarawhitney.com. All content and images © by Denise Andrade-Kroon.}

A Morning With Jade: Part II

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As I sat with my baby in front of Jade's camera, my heart was pounding in my chest. My mind went through my checklist of insecurities one by one. My skin is too white. She's going to notice that ugly mole. My hair is so boring. I wish I had natural breasts.  Deep breath. Pause. Eyes open. Fully present. This is me, and I am not ashamed. I love my body. I remember why I came here.

Jade's chorus of "Oh my god, this is epic!" and "What a perfect scar!" and "Love, love, love!" echoed across the beautiful outdoor studio, set in the backyard of a home in Los Angeles. The sun was shining. Small birds danced over the glistening pool. By all accounts, this moment was absolutely perfect.

My brief bout of insecurity passed. And amazingly, I felt so comfortable. More comfortable then I'd ever felt in front of a camera. My baby and I were just doing what we normally do. Breastfeeding, giggling, snuggling, playing, breathing, and living. There was nothing shameful. There was nothing obscene or worthy of anything but praise.

I was sick that day. In fact, I had barely made it out the door thanks to a nasty intestinal bug and a lingering respiratory infection. My son was under the weather too, and we were both struggling with breastfeeding as my supply was lagging thanks to being sick. But there we were, surviving and making it through together. Just like we survived a 43-week pregnancy, a maternal infection, and an emergency cesarean. I held my son close to my breast and blinked away the tears. If there was any reason to be shooting with Jade, it was to give thanks simply for having made it this far, for being alive at this very moment.

But there were other reasons too. Growing up, I felt terribly insecure and ashamed of my own body. Nudity carried a strong negative stigma, and I never felt comfortable looking at myself in a mirror. And so I was also taking these photos to celebrate a metamorphosis of self love and acceptance, and the ability to release the shame that plagued me for far too long. From the first moment I saw these photos, all my insecurities became insignificant to me. I literally fell in love with my own skin, and what an ecstatic moment that was.

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(All content and images © by the author)

Hello, Welcome to Empowered Birth Project!

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Recent times have seen a surge of new followers on my Instagram page, and I just want to say, Welcome! I'm glad you're here! Thank you for bringing your beautiful presence to this project. Let me introduce myself, for those of you who are new to this community. My name is Katie. I love life and humanity and I'm mildly (totally) obsessed with the process of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood. Alongside my husband of nine years, I've taken part in this glorious rite of passage three times, and we have three beautiful, thriving boys. During days off from my career as an RN, I pick up Legos and sneak in some yoga in between breastfeeding and diaper changes. Life is chaotic and messy and busy in the best possible way.

Empowered Birth Project was born just a few hours after our second child joined us Earth side in the comfort of our home. In the wee hours of that morning, after the midwives had gone and with a newborn asleep at my breast, I resolved to have another child, again at home and this time medically unassisted and on camera to make a beautiful film to share with the world. Even then, my heart fluttered with excitement as I envisioned that perfect, triumphant moment, much like the one I had just experienced, which was the one of the most empowering experiences of my life.

A third pregnancy followed three years later, and I found Carlo Alberto Orecchia, an Emmy award nominated cinematographer, to direct and produce the film with us. I began documenting my journey on Instagram, not really expecting it to amount to much at first. I thought, "Well, this is better than no documentation at all." I had no idea the incredible community that awaited me there and which became my virtual village of support throughout a most unexpected journey.

Nothing went as planned. My son required an emergency cesarean to be safely born, and although my dream of another home birth had vanished, a much broader vision of Empowered Birth Project became clear. I realized this project extends far beyond the production of a film and into the vast reaches of the birth world, which is really the entire world. Amidst the much-needed natural/home birth movement we are currently experiencing, I have discovered that my true passion is to encourage and promote self-actualization through birth and motherhood. To reclaim, to own, and to embrace this rite of passage as our own. To discover within the raw depths of childbirth our greatest potential as human beings, and to feel empowered every step of the way. That through the gates of heaven and hell, loss and life, we might discover everything we are capable of becoming.

As the vision continues to expand, I now understand how this platform will be used to create social change. The normalization of breastfeeding (and bottle feeding), the love and acceptance of self and others, the very real struggles of childbearing in a country that does not support its birthing women... Change is needed and it is needed now. Together we can achieve this. The sharing of traditions, wisdom ancient and new, and the aesthetic beauty of the human body throughout the life cycle will also be explored through this project. And it's just getting started. There's much more to come.

Again I thank you for joining me here. Empowered Birth Project is an incredible global community, and I am honored to stand with you as we bring birth to light.

-Katie

(all content and images are subject to copyright by the author)

Fed Is Best: Formula Substitute Recipe

Thankfully, human breastmilk is recognized around the world as the best source of nourishment for a baby. What a relief to put that debate to rest, after decades of marketing tactics by formula companies that led many women to believe their goddess-given, life-sustaining nectar is inferior. Now, as a whole, we can recognize and validate the art of breastfeeding for the gorgeous, miraculous act that it is. But for the women who don't produce enough milk, who struggle for whatever reason to breastfeed, or who simply choose the bottle, I would say this: "Fed is best." Your giving and loving is good. Thank you for feeding your child. You are doing a great job. I've been there. My first two children self-weaned at four and three months. It was devastating. Now currently breastfeeding my third child nine months after his birth, I feel victorious in having made it this far. It wasn't easy. No, not at all. From the moment he was cut out of my body we had to fight for it. I've lost track of how many times I've googled "how to increase breastmilk supply." I've pumped in bathrooms, offices, and freeways. We've nursed on demand, anywhere and everywhere. I've guzzled gallons of tea and swallowed countless capsules of herbs and supplements. (I'll write more on boosting supply another time.) We have a beautiful breastfeeding relationship, and I'm damn proud of us.

But yesterday, after a month of struggling with a lagging supply and dwindling freezer stash, he was just too hungry. Unable to nap or be soothed, I realized the time had come for supplementing. Instead of succumbing to feelings of failure as I did with my first two children, I went to the market with joy in my heart and purchased some raw, grass-fed cow's milk. With yet another gallon of Mother's Milk tea brewing on the stove, I assembled a delicious formula substitute for my son. He loved it! I rejoiced! We did it! It's all okay. He is fed, that is what matters. So with no further ado, here is the recipe I used, with a few helpful tips and links.

Cow's Milk Formula Substitute

  • 2 C raw, grass-fed cow's milk (it can be tricky to find, but start your search here. I found it at Sprouts. If you are unable to find raw milk, then try goat's milk, organic pasteurized milk, etc.)
  • 1/4 C homemade liquid whey (it's so easy! I used a nut milk bag and it worked beautifully. I made the whey from plain, organic whole milk yogurt from Trader Joe's.)
  • 4 T lactose (try Amazon. I couldn't find it anywhere else.)
  • 1/4 tsp bifodobacterium infantis (I used Udo's Choice Infant Probiotic, which is carried at many whole food stores)
  • 2 T organic cream, not ultra-pasteurized (this was also tricky to find, as nearly all creams these days are ultra-pasteurized. I finally found some at Sprouts and Whole Foods.)
  • 1 tsp Udo's Oil 3-6-9 Blend (I found it at Whole Foods, but you can also buy it online. Other formula substitute recipes call for the use of the individual oils found in this blend. I found it more cost effective to buy this high quality blend rather than each oil separately.)
  • 1 tsp organic extra virgin olive oil (in my experience, Trader Joe's has the best prices for this. You can also buy it online here.)
  • 2 tsp organic coconut oil (Trader Joe's sells 16 oz. for $5.99, which is the best deal I've found. You can also buy it online here.)
  • 1/2 tsp. nonflavored fermented cod liver oil (find it here)
  • 2 tsp nutritional yeast (carried by many whole food stores, or you can buy it online here.)
  • 2 tsp bovine gelatin (no luck at any stores here in LA, so I bought it online. Adds protein and a slight thickening to the formula.)
  • 1/4 tsp acerola powder (I searched at multiple health food stores but to no avail. Finally bought it here.)
  • 1 7/8 C water (just remove 2 T water from 2 C. Be sure to use either filtered or distilled!)

Combine water and gelatin in saucepan and heat just until gelatin has dissolved. Then add all ingredients in blender and mix well. I used a low setting on my Vitamix for about 30 seconds.

You can find the original recipe here. I made a few changes to my recipe... I use the Udo's Oil 3-6-9 blend instead of purchasing individual oils that various recipes I researched call for. I also did not include the optional high vitamin butter oil, because it's expensive and I am still giving my son breastmilk anyway, so I excluded it.

You might notice that guilt, shame, and failure are not included in this recipe. So long as you are doing your best to nourish and love your child (and yourself), then you have succeeded. Give yourself a hug, pour yourself a glass of wine, and remember that in the end, it's the love you have for your child that matters the most.

Making liquid whey is easy! And then you have fresh cream cheese leftover! Yum.

The final product!

Happy baby, happy mama. A bottle full of love. Success.

(This is not intended to provide medical advice. Please do your own research and consult with your pediatrician for what is best for your baby.)

If you are breastfeeding and/or pumping, check out my favorite hands-free pump bra by PumpEase and my go-to breastmilk boosting herbal supplements Euphoric Herbals. Using code EBP at checkout gives you a 15% discount off your total order. 

Disclosure: many of the active links in this post are Amazon Affiliate links. When you purchase through these links, Empowered Birth Project receives a small commission and there is no difference in cost for you. It helps support us and every little bit counts. Thank you!!