Saturday, September 17, 2011

the birth of baby Shelby

We all know that birth requires a certain degree of open mindedness. We can "plan" all we want, but at the end of the day these little babies come into this world on their own clock, without any specified plans in tow.  Flexibility is a must, and the following events were a great example of just that.  Usually they unfold calmly.. often even slowly, but I have to say that parts of this story started to feel a bit like Lucy and Ethel!  :) 

Meet Ami and baby Shelby.  Born September 9, 2011 at 6:15pm with the cutest little nose a girl could ask for!  This is their story.  
Back in January a “Military Mom”, named Ami, met with me to see if we'd make a good fit as her birth team.  At this time I learned that she was only 6 weeks pregnant, already had 3 other children, her 3rd was only 4 months old (yep, I said 4 months old), she held an active status in the air force and her husband was being deployed to South Korea in a few short months. SERIOUSLY?! Needless to say she was a bit shocked to be pregnant again and a bit overwhelmed with the journey ahead! 

This birth was going to be different than any other I’d taken on so far.  I would need clearance to get onto the base, would labor with her at her home, I was to be her transportation to the hospital, would need clearance to get into the naval hospital, I would be her primary birth partner... wowza!  I had no problem with all of this... in fact I was excited about it.  I just knew that my role was going to be a lot more specific and a little harder to juggle than the more common mom-partner-doula trio that I'd grown used to.  Needless to say, I was thrilled to work with Ami and couldn't wait to be of service to her!  During this initial meeting, we also discussed birth photography as an option for her husband to be able to see as much of the birth as possible. (Skype was also discussed but depending on time of day, lack of internet connection at the hospital etc., we hoped for something more concrete). This is where Ali enters the picture.  My friend, Ali Caudill of  Ali Caudill Photography had mentioned to me a while back that she would love to get involved in birth photography.  So I told Ami about her and as a photographer/photography-lover herself, she was thrilled with the idea!  I contacted Ali and soon everyone was on board for the upcoming fall birth. 

Many months came and went... we kept in touch throughout Ami's entire pregnancy but we didn't meet again until she was quite visibly pregnant!  We plotted and planned all that we could for the big day, doing our best to make the transitions smooth for everyone involved.  One of the "plans"  that we discussed was how she wanted to have this baby.  She had medicated births for all of her 3 previous babies, but was curious to see if she could have this one (the last according to her!) unmedicated.  "Curious" usually means (in her words): that the idea sounds really good right now, but I have a good feeling that once I'm actually in labor I'm going to say, "screw it!  Give me an epidural!"  I explained to her that if that was what she decided then of course I would support her, but that if she wanted an unmedicated birth then she could almost certainly have one! Coming from a mom who literally ran 3 miles a day until the week before she delivered, I had no doubt that this mama could push herself if she wanted to!  

Cut to Sept 8th 2011.  Ami was 38 weeks pregnant and really beginning to walk with that "baby is LOW waddle".  I met her out at the base to get a month pass so that no one would have to check me in during her labor.  Everything was squared away and we parted ways.  The very next day Ami called me and said she was having contractions and that they were definitely NOT Braxton Hicks.  She said that they were coming pretty close together, but that she wasn't timing them and was headed out to her baby shower at work :)  (Now THAT'S the mark of a 4th timer!!!)  So she said that she would call me afterward to update me.  Meanwhile I contacted Ali to let her know that Ami’s time had come (seemed like FOREVER since that first meeting back in January!) and to make sure she was available to come and shoot the birth.  Ali was indeed available and after taking care of some things at home was headed in my direction. 

When Ami called after her baby shower she said that she still had to get things squared away at home: get the kids from daycare, pack their bags to spend the night at a neighbors house, etc. etc.  I told her that Ali was on her way to my home and that we would drive together so that no one would have to check Ali into the base.   During this phone conversation, Ami was having to stop and breathe during contractions, but still seemed to be chipping away at her to-do list.  She did say that her contractions were getting MUCH closer together... to the point that if she moved at all, another contraction would start. This began to make me antsy… as a fourth time mom, I wondered just how long Ali and I had to get there… not to mention we were entering the 4pm window of Friday traffic in DC.  {Gulp}.

At about 4:15pm I sat waiting in the car devouring a granola bar (hey you never know how long these births will last!) while waiting for Ali to arrive.  Within seconds of pulling into my parking lot she literally jumped into my car and we were off.  About 10 minutes later we got a text from Ami that read, "I can't wait any longer... I'm getting a ride to the hospital from a friend."...  WOAH!!!, I thought, Change of plans!  She must REALLY be moving quickly! I was grateful Ami had someone nearby to give her a ride and just as grateful to have Ali in the car with me who was able to navigate our sudden change of route. I would have been one seriously nervous doula, trying to drive and get a new map on my iphone, if she hadn't been there! (Ok, I was STILL one nervous doula driving as fast as I could with white knuckles.. but Ali was a lifesaver in our seemingly frantic navigation!).  

When we pulled into the naval hospital, I thought, DARN IT!  Ami was supposed to be IN the car to get us through the gate!!!  How the heck are we gonna get into this place???  We pulled up to the gate where we gave the officer our ID's.  Then we gave him Ami's name and he checked the in-patient list.  Nothing.  Then he called up to labor and delivery.  Nothing.  Then I called Ami's cell.  Nothing.  Called one more time.  Nothing.  I looked at Ali as my stomach dropped... "you don't think we're at the wrong hospital do you?????". (I wish I could have taken a photo of Ali’s face at that moment... insert Lucy and Ethel). 
Now mind you, I ALWAYS pre-plan where I'm headed, have my map laid out on my phone etc., but it's amazing what fear based ideas will bubble up when trying to figure out what on EARTH is going on!   At that moment, I looked at the officer with WIDE eyes:
me-- um... this IS the naval hospital right?? THE ONLY naval hospital in the area???? 
me-- {breathing a huge sigh of granola breath all over his face} THANK GOD.  
officer-- I dunno if you can reach her on her phone though.  I never can get cell service in the hospital.
me-- {thinking} so how the heck is she to know we’re here to let us in???  
officer-- heyI just bought those same UGGs for my girlfriend.  
me- Oh!  haha {courtesy laugh} great choice! {aka DO YOU REALIZE THIS WOMAN IS PUSHING OUT HER BABY AND I'M HER ONLY PARTNER??? let us IN PA-LEASE!}!!!!!!  *I would have tried the ol' bat-my-eyelashes-at-the-strapping-young-officer-trick, but sadly that just doesn't work the same way it did 10 years ago.*
Finally he told us to pull through the gate and over to the side of the road. He said that as soon as he received word of Ami's arrival that he'd let us through.  ARGH!  Ali took out her phone and called the hospital directly to see if Ami was on the in-patient list.  NOTHING.  Our hearts raced impatiently. 

After what felt like an eternity, Ami finally called us back...
Ami— {through laboring breaths} we're ALMOST there!  
me—wait WHAT??? You're not here yet????   
Ami-- HOLD ON I'M BREATHING... and i'm sh-sh-shayyyyy-k-k-k-kiiinnngg.  
me— {attempting to calm us both} you're doing SO great... it sounds like you're in transition!!! 
Ali-- {big eyes; loud whisper} TRANSITION?!  WOAH SHE’S ALMOST DONE!!!  

After 9 minutes of talking Ami through contractions over the phone, her friend flew through the entrance gate and the young officer came running up to the car, throwing our ID's through the window (literally), and yelling 'GO GO SHE'S HERE GO GO GO GO!".  And we were off!  Both cars raced into the drop-off circle at the hospital’s entrance.  After kindly barking some orders at a pack of military types (let me tell ya, that felt kinda odd) we quickly got a wheelchair, left our cars parked smack in the middle of the fire lane, and quickly headed upstairs stopping for each contraction on the way.  

Triage was interesting to say the least.  A tiny room, some slightly cold nurses, and a chilly young resident Dr. crowded together to determine whether she was ready to have her baby.  The resident announced that Ami was 8cm dilated with a bulging bag and ready to push as soon as he could break her water.  She quickly asked when he could make that happen... he said, as soon as we get you in the room... and that's NOW.  He said that if she wanted her epidural then he needed to order it immediately.   She took one look at me and said, can I do this without the drugs??  I said, OH MY GOSH OF COURSE YOU CAN!!! YOU’RE SO CLOSE NOW… MOST OF THE WORK IS DONE!  She immediately turned to the doctor and said, let's go... I wanna have this baby NOW.
  We all stumbled into suite 20: Ali was snapping pictures, Ami's AWESOME neighbor/friend/driver was carrying bags and helping fill in the details of their car ride,  nurses were poking and prodding to get monitors on Ami and an IV inserted, and Ami and I were holding hands and just focusing on each individual breath. 
I offered Ami water and ice to cool her down, but she was only interested in one thing.  Her strength was amazing!  Ami’s mind was set and there was NOTHING stopping her from having her baby NOW!  Finally after a bit of fumbling on the part of multiple residents, her membranes had been ruptured and her cervix was complete. It was time to push! 

 As a fourth time mama, she was nothing short of a pro and within only 30-45 minutes of setting foot in the hospital and a few short pushes, her sweet baby girl was gently placed on her chest! 
A few minutes after Shelby was born, Ami squealed, WOW… I FEEL LIKE A ROCK STAR!  NOW I KNOW I CAN DO ANYTHING!  And holy moly was she right!  Less than an hour after Shelby was born Ami was walking around the room like nothing had even happened!

For the next few hours we enjoyed the calm as we sat snapping pictures and cuddling with her new sweet button-nosed-bundle and laughing like old friends about the frenzy that had unfolded just a few hours before. 

 As suspected, Ami’s husband was still sleeping in South Korea when his daughter entered the world.  For him, these pictures will forever allow him to see his daughter’s first breaths.  For me, they will forever remind me of what it’s like to be in the presence of a real rock star.
Thank you Ami and Shelby for sharing your special journey with us!  

Photos: Compliments of Ali Caudill Photography.   


  1. that picture of you holding the baby is totally amazing. It perfectly captures your kindness and care and LOVE.
    Great story. xox