The Home Water Birth of Neelam Manning, Cheney Birth Photographer and Doula

If you follow my Facebook page, you have probably seen glimpses of this beautiful birth story, and I am honored to share with you the whole story. Colette and I met earlier this year, and both felt we were a good fit for her October birth; I served as Doula and Birth Photographer for the birth of their son, Neelam.  Below is a video-slideshow fusion of their birth story, followed by Colette’s story in words with a few more highlights from their birth. Enjoy! {And please feel free to share and/or leave a comment.}

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{for best quality, please watch full-screen with “quality” set to 1080p}
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“Having had three previous children, including an induction, an unmedicated hospital birth and a homebirth to hospital transfer, each birth left me feeling like I missed out on the positive, peaceful birth I wanted. With my fourth child, I had my heart set on a having successful homebirth. With this, I began looking for the best support team for the birth of my son Neelam. I found Esther Edith online, and after our first meeting I decided to hire her for not only doula services, but birth photography as well. First of all, Esther is calming. More than that she is caring, kind and compassionate, attentive, unassuming, and of course captures the precious moments of birth beautifully. She sees the beauty in all aspects of the birthing process, which is so important in a birth photographer and it shows in her work. Esther overflows with passion for birth, the bond between mother and child, and the love and unity that a new life brings to family. We were very pleased with the service Esther provided our family at such an intimate time. As for the birth photography, Esther’s presence made me feel completely safe and unashamed in the midst of the vulnerability (i.e. nakedness) of birth and the afterbirth. We are so grateful for the memories Esther captured for us – photos we will treasure a lifetime!”

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The Birth of Neelam Manning Smith, written by his mother, Colette
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The Backstory:

Having had four previous hospital births, I had experienced enough of the medicalized system of birth to know that I never wanted it again. I actually knew that after the first (induced stillborn, D&C) and the second (induced early for doctor’s vacation, unnecessary episiotomy). By my third birth, I was determined to take a different route. Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out as planned. In short, I had to leave an unhealthy and damaging relationship at 7 months pregnant. Having moved to a woman’s shelter, I gave birth in a hospital, unmedicated (at least I got that part) and alone. My fourth pregnancy came along years later in my new marriage, and we both stood firm against a hospital birth having endured so much mistreatment from hospital staff and doctors and the system in general. At the last hour of labor, however, we transferred due to thick meconium flooding out with the release of the brown waters. (Not sure if that was a true emergency, as we were free-birthing at home, but it was to me, so we went to the hospital – another sad experience of maternal/newborn separation – in this case, isolation and hospital protocol that interfered with all bonding for days.) Fast forward to this baby…

Our last baby. (Snip-snip…we made sure of that. Our blended family makes this baby #8!) We were having a girl! I had multiple dreams before getting pregnant of a special child and of an 8th child being a girl. The dreams revealed her name even: Hope Shekinah. I told my husband I felt we were being offered a chance to raise another child, but didn’t have to accept it. (Our youngest was only 11.5 months.) We both felt a strong sense of purpose in accepting this special child. So, we agreed to try once and if I conceived fine, if not, well then, snip-snip away because I wanted some sort of we are moving on from kids now and can rest assured of that guarantee. (Honestly, I was tired.) I felt myself ovulate and told my husband it’s now or never. Low and behold – I conceived. (Did I mention my maiden name means fertile soil? No, I’m not joking.)

Now, about the baby’s name. The day after I told my husband I was in fact pregnant (we both knew the backstory of the dreams, etc.) I went to volunteer at a church doing audio/visual stuff and stuck to the computer screen was a sticky note with a beautifully handwritten word – HOPE. I gasped, wide-eyed, and, then I stole it to show my husband, of course. (It was just a piece of paper!) Not an hour later, a person from the meeting walks up to me, not knowing anything, and hands me a necklace saying he felt it was “for me.” The necklace was a key with the word HOPE stamped into it. What the?! Of course, I show my husband in awe…Okay God, so this is legit. I’m not crazy. (Well, maybe just a little.) Two weeks later, at my daughter’s foreign language lesson, the teacher – not knowing anything – hands me a t-shirt, a plain ol’ gray man’s t-shirt with a foreign word on the front. She proceeds to tell me that she felt strongly that the Lord told her to give it to me. The word meant – yes, you guessed it: HOPE. Okay God, all this is overwhelming me because I feel like a crazy person – pleeeaassee let this baby be a girl so that I don’t have to commit myself (jesting).

Now, we were planning to do this thing el naturel so we opted for the blood test to reveal the gender over the sonogram. (From what I researched, it is said to be almost 100% accurate, whereas the sonogram is best case close to 80%.) The day came to reveal the gender, so we did the whole cake thing, you know…

Now all this time, I thought my husband was tracking with me. I mean, I told him before I even conceived that it was a girl and her name was Hope, and then all the confirmations… But, he was secretly working against me. It was a battle of the sexes! You would have thought the knife just cut the cake, but to him it was straight to the heart – pink! I win, I win!!! I wasn’t at all thinking it was me against him, I just won my personal battle of faith. He didn’t see it that way though. And later told me (way later) that he cried himself to sleep. His reaction – clearly upset – confused me. He shared that he had wanted our last child to be a boy (the previous was a girl). He had dreamed of raising a son from birth to manhood (his older boys had been separated from him due to custody for a good many years of their childhood). He wanted to teach him to fish and hunt and whatever else men do…what do I know, I had all girls

8 months into this pregnancy I was told the baby may be head up. Now, research shows this is not a big deal at all at this age of gestation, but I’m a bit of a planner – I wanted a home birth and preferably a straightforward one, so if this baby was head up, I was determined to change that. But, I needed to know for sure before I started ice packing my belly to get that head down. Now, we were not originally wanting a sonogram, as mentioned, but I needed peace of mind, so I told my out of town husband that I needed to have it done. I just couldn’t shake the feeling. (Side Note: My husband was right in the midst of an impossible business transaction that he was believing for a ridiculous miracle to turn things around – pun intended. And, he was starting to lose hope – I love puns!) I told the sonographer I just wanted to make this quick, you know reduce the exposure time and all. Show me the head! I rambled, “I don’t need to know the gender or get measurements or anything. We already know it’s a girl. We had the blood test done…”

Baby was in perfect position! Head down (I had prayed all night and all morning.) “One thing you may want to know,” he slipped in casually, “you see this there, this baby is definitely a boy.” Insert record screech sound – “Wait, what?!” I told him how my first child was a boy and how he had passed away and every pregnancy afterwards I had wanted a boy and got girls and this time I wanted a girl and…

So, I called my husband and told him that he would have his son after all. It turns out he had been praying and believing for a boy still, albeit secretly. God restored hope to him by showing him no matter how sure and set a situation looks, nothing is impossible with God! It is my firm belief that we were both hearing from the Lord and that God changed the outcome of this child for my husband’s sake, simply so he would know that he is heard and loved by a miracle working God. I was reminded of a dream I had about a week prior. This dream was exquisite. In short, I was presented a powerful jewel that had the ability to transcend time, space, and location whether past, present or future. The jewel was in an ancient looking antique gold encasement with a silver tag. On the tag was stamped my husband’s name. I knew the jewel was meant for him. It was a blue sapphire. Now, I understood that the treasure represented this child that was given to me, but was meant for me to give to my husband – a son. Neelam means blue sapphire.

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The Birth Story:

Now for the birth, I have contractions with all my pregnancies from 6 months onwards, so annoying. As the due date approaches it is even more annoying. Is this it or what?! Ignore, ignore, ignore. Anyone who has had this understands the physical and emotional exhaustion that comes with constantly being in prodromal labor – for months! My last baby was 2.5 weeks late (and 9.9lbs people!) Please God, not again. I’m T-I-R-E-D of being pregnant. My due date passes. Sigh…Thursday night, I woke up hungry. Now, I’m always hungry – I’m pregnant with a man child! I usually ignore the middle of the night hunger pains. It’s sleep or eat, and I have a one year old the size of a three year old to contend with in the early AM, so I always opt for sleep. But, this time was different. The thought passed through my mind, What if I am going to start labor and need the energy from it? So I stumble to the kitchen and eat the meal of labor champions: peanut butter and jelly. Don’t worry, it was all organic, sprouted wheat toast, nothing added PB and fruit only jelly.

– Insert TMI warning – Then, I have to go to the bathroom, for like 30 minutes to an hour. Great, there goes my sleep – and my dignity – this is a public blog post after all! Maybe this is the flushing out they talk about? Friday morning at 41 weeks, I woke up to strong contractions, not unusual for me, yet it was. I got this feeling that something was different. I call for my husband to setup the birth tub. He says, “When…like now?” Really? Yes, like now! Contractions started out strong and fast (every 2ish minutes) with no build up. I doubted it was labor though because I always have contractions.

I didn’t want to call the birth team over and it be a false alarm. But, I decided to text my doula and birth photographer, Esther, and just let her know. She sweetly told me that she would come over and if it was false labor, no big deal. Pressure’s off. I decide to check things out myself (another TMI insert). What the heck is that?! The bag of waters is hanging out of my cervix. I tell my husband to call the midwife (still doubting I was in true labor) and to casually mention with no sense of urgency that I was having contractions 2 minutes apart that I had to squat to get through and that I could feel my bag of waters. She told him she was heading over NOW. Now?! What if I’m not in labor – everyone is coming over!  

My husband didn’t believe I was in labor either, so he asked the midwife when she arrived. “You’re having a baby today,” she promptly told him followed by, “We need water in the tub!” So then, of course, my contractions stop. Tick tock. Tick tock. I guess it’s normal to get stage fright or something. After I started to relax again they picked back up.

Labor went like this: 6:30 am woke up with contractions. 9:30 am birth team was all here. Somewhere around 10:30/11:00 am contractions started back up. They were strong (a lot of pressure) so I had to squat to manage each one, but in between I was doing dishes and cleaning up the house and making sure everyone had what they needed because I needed to stay busy – Okay, okay, I’m a clean freak…

Eventually I got in the birth tub and it made things even easier. I was surprised how water really does reduce the sensation of pressure significantly. My contractions were spaced out maybe 5 minutes apart, and my cervix felt the same as it had before (I self checked). I kept feeling like nothing was even happening – it was too easy. The pressure did eventually start to build with a couple contractions to the point of requiring 100% of my mental focus to get through them.

During pregnancy, I had envisioned myself having the perfect home birth as seen on YouTube – you know, those super-women who just “breathe the baby out” and have painless births. I definitely didn’t want to morph into the Hollywood birth mom turn exorcism. I think I landed somewhere in between, which for a perfectionist in recovery was an opportunity to offer myself grace because I felt I was somehow less than those women who seemed to birth without fear.

I didn’t. When my water suddenly broke and my son’s head was simultaneously now pressing out, I was afraid. It took me by surprise because I had such simple labor in the water up to that point and I didn’t think I was making any progress at all. And, I wasn’t quiet either. The now super intense downward pressure caused simultaneous upward moans. (It actually felt good to make those sounds and it helped.)

At that moment, I basically hit the internal pause button and started having an inward dialogue about the pressure, the potential pain and how in the world do I push the baby out while trying to hold everything else in, if you know what I mean. I couldn’t figure it out and was sort of frozen in the thought of not wanting to embarrass myself. This is the point where my husband saved the day. He said the sweetest thing he’s ever said to me, “It’s okay if you go to the bathroom.” A wave of relief washed over me and the fear of shame lifted. I was able to get back to the task at hand and push the head out, which didn’t really hurt. (I didn’t end up going to the bathroom after all.) The shoulders did cause the well-known burning sensation as the tissues stretched. It was the worst part because I didn’t see how all that pain could happen without me tearing. (I didn’t tear.) I had originally imagined catching my own baby, but knew at this point I was going to push this baby OUT and someone else would have to catch him. I honestly didn’t care at that moment, I just wanted him out of me and this birth over with! Immediately after he was born, I went back into my head and thought about how glad I was that my husband had been snipped so I wouldn’t have to do that EVER again! (About a week after I gave birth I was already thinking too bad we weren’t going to have more kids because now after 5 births I finally knew what the heck I was doing.) Neelam was caught by his dad, as he should have been. 8.0 lbs 22.5” at 3:27pm on 10/27/2017.

 

 

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    As a Professional Photographer and Doula, I am blessed to serve Spokane, WA, and the surrounding areas. My goal is to capture organic, intimate, and meaningful moments for your family to treasure. I value relationship with my clients; I would love to get to know you, and to help you tell your story.

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