My Birth Story | UF Birth Center | Jacksonville Birth Photography
Photography & Story by Dallas Arthur Photography
Birth Place: UF Birth Center
City: Jacksonville, Florida
Alexis Lucille Arthur. My sweet, silly girl was quickly approaching her first birthday in this image, but her story begins four years earlier. That when I was diagnosed by a fertility specialist with a condition called polycystic ovarian disease. In the words of our tender, brilliant doctor who had given this hard news to so many other couples, "I'm not saying you can't have babies. Don't let anyone tell you that. I am saying that it's not going to happen without medical intervention."
We were devastated. We weren't ready to start our family at the time, but the diagnosis was still crushing. Should we start trying earlier than we had planned? Would it hurt our chances to wait? Would I be at a higher risk of miscarrying? We Googled, we worried, we prayed. But we ultimately fell back on the same principles that had guided our entire lives up to that point; God is good, and He has a plan for our lives. So from then on, we trusted God and left our fertility up to Him. And for two and a half years of not-really-trying-but-not-really-preventing, we had all sorts of adventures. We changed careers and states, and in December of 2015, we found ourselves living in Florida and making plans to settle in.
I hadn't been feeling well, and I had so many random symptoms that didn't seem to add up to anything. I was exhausted, had no appetite, and my breasts were crazy sore. I finally decided to take a pregnancy test (well, 5!), and what do you know, all of those symptoms suddenly made sense. We were shocked and grateful and nervous all in one. But mostly just relieved and excited!
I was so blessed to have an easy pregnancy without any complications. I LOVED the way that I looked pregnant, and my worst symptoms were limited to carpal tunnel and a ridiculous appetite for apples. My mom and husband and I took in every bit of information about natural birth that we could. We took a Hypnobirthing class with doula Vonda Bartlett. We took a general childbirth class at the UF Birth Center. I took an information-packed birth ball class with doula Emily Wannenburg. I regularly received adjustments from Align Chiropractic who specializes in pregnancy and helped contribute to the easy pregnancy that I had. I met the wonderful ladies at North Florida Doulas and lined up newborn photography with my friend Diana Weldon. My entire pregnancy became a crash-course on all things birth and babies in Jacksonville and I couldn't have been happier about it! (There are SO MANY amazing birth workers here in northeast Florida!)
Everyone says that first time moms will go past their due date. So the thought never even crossed my mind that my little girl would make her grand entrance before 41 weeks. When I was 38 weeks and 5 days along, I was working at my computer when I realized that I was having timeable Braxton-Hicks contractions. The came every seven minutes for several hours in the evenings, but went away when I went to bed. I didn't have any labor signs the next day, but like clockwork, when I sat down to work in the evening, the Braxton-Hicks started up again, every seven minutes for at least three or four hours.
When I crawled in bed that night, I felt a sensation that was completely different from those timeable Braxton-Hicks. I felt a pain spread across my lower abdomen, like an intense period cramp. It happened again a few minutes later, so I hopped in the shower to see if that would get them to stop. After about half an hour, I realized that this might be the real thing, and I woke up David and we started packing and cleaning the house.
We briefly reviewed what we had learned from all of the wise women we had interacted with in the previous months. I quickly found my rhythm and started breathing and focusing through my contractions. Suddenly, I ran to the bathroom and threw up, only the second time that I had done so in my whole pregnancy. In front of the toilet, I started giggling and David thought I was losing my mind. I was giggling because I knew vomiting was a sign of labor, and that this was really happening!
Since we lived so far away from the birth center, in Middleburg, we had decided that I would labor at my parents' house, so we started packing up. We were giggly and excited, but both wishing we had the chance to get more sleep before this roller coaster began!
We zipped across the Buckman into Jacksonville, wondering at how the rest of the world could be sleeping while our whole lives were changing! I labored at my parents' house with the close help of David and my mom, who stroked my arms and knees through each contraction. In all of our classes, I hadn't really connected with any of the visualizations that we had read about or practiced. But there in active labor, it all came together. I was on a dark beach with big crashing waves. I had to walk towards the waves, and meet the pain. There at the edge of the water was my baby. I could see her toes, her sweet lips, her tiny hands. And as my contraction ended, I would come back to the real world. It might sound weird, but it worked beautifully for me!
When they were 2-3 minutes apart, we headed to the birth center. We hauled all of our stuff out of the car and I took a wheelchair to the birth suite. The security guard said a cheery, "Congratulations! Good luck!" I was ready to meet my baby!
Much to my surprise, I was less than 1 cm dilated when I arrived. Less than one measly centimeter.
My contractions were powerful and so close together. I was 100% effaced, so we knew things were progressing, but it might be a while before we got to meet our baby. The midwives encouraged me to try to go home and get some sleep. If this wasn't really labor, then resting might make the contractions stop, and if it was the real thing, I would need my rest for a long day ahead.
The drive back was hard. I tensed up and panicked through a few contractions before I found my rhythm again. The sun was coming up and I really thought at this point I’d be at the birth center ready to have my sweet baby girl. When we got home, we turned off all of the lights and I just weathered my contractions and tried to process my emotions. David and I got in the shower for a while, but standing didn't feel great. I got in bed and tried to sleep, and at the point, I needed both my husband's and my mom's hands rubbing me. It was the only thing that brought me relief. I was able to doze off in between contractions, but they got more and more powerful. At one point in bed, I had a really bad contraction. As soon as it was mostly ended, I groaned, “I need to get out of this bed,” The moment my feet hit the floor, I felt a pop and a gush and my water broke!
So off to the birth center we headed again. But this time, as we were walking to the car, I walked a few laps around the driveway. Whereas earlier in my labor I wanted to sit, I now had the urge to move my hips. I was GBS+ so I knew that once my water had broken, I had planned to head in for a round of IV antibiotics. We arrived at the birth center, and I wasn't expecting to stay there long. Instead of a wheel chair, this time I walked all the way to the elevator and all the way down the hallway to the birth center. As I was about to walk through the waiting room, I had a contraction and a felt deep pressure building. I resisted an urge to push, but didn't really think much about it. I mentioned this to my midwife, who asked if I'd like to be checked. Since I had just been at 1 cm a few hours earlier, I figured that I wasn't much further along and declined. But at the same time, I knew I was feeling the urge to push, and so I changed my mind and had a cervical check. Ashley checked me, smiled, and said my very favorite words, "I can't even feel your cervix, you're there! Her head is here!"
I couldn't believe it! I asked for confirmation; “So I’m 10 centimeters?” And she said, “Yes! If you’d like to push, you’re welcome to push!”
She quickly changed into her scrubs and another midwife, Jane, rubbed my back in the most heavenly way. I rested in bed for a few minutes, then squatted at the edge of the bed and pushed for a while. Pushing felt so satisfying, and it was exactly what my body wanted to do. I don't really remember feeling any pain after that point, just power. I asked if I could get in the tub, or if that would slow my labor down. The midwives assured me that nothing would slow things down at this point and that I was free to do whatever I wanted. I walked over the the tub and squatted and pushed some more at the edge of it. My arms and legs were tired from squatting and holding on, so I finally got in the tub.
I wish I had gotten in the tub sooner! I felt weightless. In between contractions, I remembered feeling like I wasn't even in labor! As I pushed, I made, what I called "monster truck noises!" I was self-conscious about it and even mentioned it out loud, but since then I have heard so many mamas roar their babies out. Women make all sorts of sounds during labor; and just because those sounds might not be normal in everyday life, they are completely normal and natural during birth!
With the aid of a mirror, I was able to see what I was doing, and that helped me to push effectively. We saw a little hair, then a round head! She had her cord wrapped around her neck tightly, so the midwife wasn't able to loop it off of her head. She quietly said this out loud, but was completely calm. David didn't even realize that she was born with the cord around her neck until he saw the video later! Nuchal cords are very rarely an emergency and it certainly wasn't a problem here. I just waited for another contraction and pushed her body out!
My beautiful girl was born. She was so tiny and so calm. She didn’t cry out or scream; she just kind of gurgled and sputtered a bit as she got used to breathing. She was just gorgeous. I kept looking up at David with this silly look on my face, in total disbelief that it was over and she was here. I praised God and thanked Him for my beautiful girl and I heard my mom start to cry. This perfect little girl stared right up at me, locked eyes, and didn’t look away. I was so excited that she had dark blue eyes! We looked at her little fingers and toes, confirmed that she was indeed a girl, and just loved on her.
Unfortunately, my little girl decided to make her entrance with her hand on her head, so I ended up with some tearing and stitches. But having that baby on my chest was powerful pain relief, and my skilled midwife made me feel so at ease. Over the next few hours, we had a few close friends and family come in and meet our daughter. I ate a Moe's quesadilla, took the most glorious shower I had ever taken in my life!
We named her Alexis Lucille, a combination of her parents' middle names (Alexander and Lucille). She weighed 8 pounds and 3 ounces, and had a dusting of curly hair whose color we couldn't quite identify. (Blonde? Red? Light brown? It took months before it was clear that she has bright blonde hair like her dad!)
Although I initially felt great after her birth, within about an hour I started hemorrhaging. I got light-headed and woozy, but I chose to try to eat and drink to try and combat it a little. When the bleeding didn't stop, I was encouraged to have a shot of pitocin to help slow things down, and then an IV of fluids to help re-hydrate me. At no time was I made to feel like this was an emergency, and I was treated with quick care, while still being informed about what was happening. This helped tremendously, and I snuggled into a warm bed, closed my eyes, and listened to the happy sounds around me. Within about an hour, I was feeling much better, and we headed home shortly after that. And the rest, as they say, was history!
I adore all of the wonderful midwives at the UF Birth Center, but midwife Ashley will always hold a special place in my heart for catching my sweet girl and treating us with such love!
My only regret? I didn't invest in birth photography. (Here's why!) I had grand plans for a tripod, teaching my husband how to use my camera, even borrowing a Go-Pro from a friend. But in the end, the camera was still in the car (we didn't think we were staying long, after all!), my husband still doesn't know how to use it, and since Alexis came a week earlier than I expected, the Go-Pro was a no-go. I'm forever grateful that my mom took a beautiful cell phone video, and I was able to get some still frames from it, and that eventually, someone went to the car and got my birth bag, so I was able to take a few of my own images before we went home.
Even though I'd been doing newborn and family photography for years, my daughter's birth sparked something in me. I felt led to support other strong, passionate women in their own births and help tell their stories. And it's been an incredible journey!