Our March Mom of the Month is Alice Dunn. The following was written to share with our Brookhaven community. We hope you enjoy reading her and her families story as much as we did.
“It’s a daunting task to write about Cedar’s birth. I think that’s because my ideas surrounding birth have changed so drastically now that I’ve been through it. Birth for me was just as much a culmination as it was a catalyst. Birth concluded ten months of preparation, discomfort, and waiting. At the same time that it brought a close to pregnancy, birth paved the way for emotions and experiences that I never imagined or could have anticipated. It’s incredibly difficult to write about this nine-hour event without considering the ten months leading up to it and the eight weeks that have followed.
Steele and I met in high school, were married two years later, and for the past four years of our married life have been missionaries in Ukraine. Most of our work involves mentoring teenagers by praying and reading the Bible together, but we also participate in various community-oriented efforts. In October of 2014 we experienced an early pregnancy loss that was confusing and painful. The very day I found out I was pregnant, I learned that I was miscarrying. Six months later, a few days before Easter, I discovered that I was pregnant. We spent the first two trimesters in Ukraine and travelled back to the Harrisonburg area for the last trimester and birth. This pregnancy itself was fairly uneventful until the last three weeks.
During pregnancy it was challenging for me to connect with Cedar. I think in large part this was due to our miscarriage, but also because there were multiple stressful situations going on unrelated to my pregnancy. While I was pregnant I loved reading birth stories and noticed that many of them were full of euphoric language and descriptions. I feared my experience wouldn’t be the same because I recognized that I loved my baby, but it didn’t seem to be in the same way I heard other pregnant women talk about.
The few weeks leading up to Cedar’s birth were horrible. I had been mentally preparing myself for the possibility of passing my “due date,” but nothing prepared me to go all the way to forty-two weeks and four days. I knew it was impossible, but I was sure that I WOULD be the first woman to be pregnant forever. By the time I left for Brookhaven to have Cedar, I had been going on walks every evening for two weeks, eaten multiple pineapples, baked Eggplant Parmigiana on two separate occasions, tried nipple stimulation with a breast pump, sat exclusively on my yoga ball, eaten figs, taken homeopathics, drank blue and black cohosh for days, and taken castor oil three times. Castor oil was my last resort, and even that didn’t seem to do anything.
The night after Christmas we decided to give up on inducing labor. It was too emotionally exhausting to constantly be thinking about what we could do to kickstart labor and to hope that every contraction would lead to active labor. We went to some friends’ home and played games for most of the evening. That night I woke up to a few light contractions and decided I would sit on the ground to wiggle my hips through them, but I wasn’t very hopeful. Like I said, I was genuinely convinced I would just be pregnant until I died. When I felt a slight gush through two contractions, I stood up to grab a towel in case my water broke. Sure enough, just as I stood, my water broke completely and the towels were soaked. Steele and I left for the birth center quickly after that because my contractions were roughly 3 minutes apart and lasting half a minute to a full minute.
When we arrived at Brookhaven, Maya and Zazi quickly set us up in the Willow suite. I spent most of my labor rocking on a birth ball. Laboring was honestly a blur, but I do remember a few moments. Getting up to use the bathroom was awful because that’s when I had the most intense contractions, all I could do was get down on my hands and knees. When I vomited a few times, I reassured myself that I must be approaching or experiencing the beginning of transition. At some point during transition I tried to labor on the bed and in the tub, but both times I quickly returned to the faithful birth ball. I know a lot of women love the tub, but to me it just felt like I couldn’t get any control. Sometime in this space Maya applied counter pressure on my lower back, but I really didn’t want to be touched. I said something along the lines of “No, that’s not helping.” There were a few contractions that were so intense I just shook my hands and tried to breathe. I told Steele I wasn’t sure how many more of those I could handle, and he reminded me that that just means I CAN handle it because it’s only a few more. It was during these contractions that I asked Jesus to give me strength and then kept asking Steele to just tell me I could get through this.
Everyone was right about the worst part being almost over because soon I felt the urge to push. Pushing was still hard work, but it was relieving at the same time. During this stage I moved around much more. I squatted through some pushes, used the hammock, and finally Maya or Zazi suggested that I give the tub another try. Getting in the tub to push was so helpful. My body had taken over at that point and I didn’t feel like I needed to control the situation as much. I was finally able to relax. After three hours of pushing, our sweet babe was born in the water. Maya placed him on my chest and he had such a strong cry. It was surreal to hold this little person that had been growing inside of me and to finally meet him.
At forty-one weeks, we had a biophysical profile for Cedar to make sure everything was okay and we didn’t need to rush this birth. The doctor estimated that Cedar would be eight to eight and a quarter pounds. When Cedar arrived, Maya said her guess was much closer to nine. Both Maya and the doctor were wrong though, Cedar was ten pounds four ounces and 21 inches long! It’s no wonder I pushed so long, had second degree tearing and needed stitches. Our son’s name was inspired by Psalm 92:12 “The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree, like a cedar in Lebanon.” as well as Solomon’s temple which was built with cedars of Lebanon. Uriah means flame of light of Yahweh and we also loved the loyalty that the man Uriah shows in the Old Testament. While I was being stitched up, Steele sang a hymn to Cedar and held him.
In the beginning of this birth story I mentioned that birth paved the way to new emotions and experiences, and I mean that. The birth itself only lead to these things and I didn’t experience them during birth. When Cedar was born I didn’t have an immediate rush of love, I didn’t feel like my life was instantly complete. Yes, my son is without question the most beautiful thing I’ve laid eyes on. Yes, my life is drastically improved now that he’s here. Yes, I love him with a love I couldn’t have expected, but it came over me gradually. So far, Cedar is living up to the legacy of the tree he’s named after. The cedars of Lebanon are known for being extremely tall and strong. Cedar held up his head from the day he was born and a few days later he lifted and turned his head while laying on his stomach! When he did that I had tears in my eyes and realized that I
love this determined little boy more than anything. That was the moment I finally understood the rush I had heard so much about. I imagine that I’ll continue to be surprised by just how much I love him.
I’d like to encourage other new or expecting mothers. One of the birth blogs I loved to read was titled Birth Without Fear and I strived to adopt a fearless mentality for my birth. Going into birth, I didn’t have fear related to the physical act of birth. The fear I had was in regard to the emotional aspect of birth because of how unattached I felt throughout the pregnancy, but I shouldn’t have been afraid because I did feel that attachment soon enough. So for any new or expecting mother, please give yourself grace. Take your time. It’s a huge adjustment to go from carrying your babe inside of you to feeling his weight in your arms. For me it’s been far more challenging to breastfeed him every hour than to have him automatically receive nutrients from the placenta. It’s okay to feel the gravity of those changes. Know that by allowing yourself to process those things you ARE loving your child, but have no doubt that you will also experience love in the warm way everyone shares. It may or may not happen the very moment your child is born. The timing of when you recognize that incredible love doesn’t make your love for your child any more or less valid.
In closing, Steele and I are so enthralled with this person we have the privilege of loving. We look forward to getting to know him more and learning from him for the rest of our lives. We are so grateful to everyone at Brookhaven for providing a safe and loving place to meet our little man as well as the care that led up to meeting him.”