Design Mom » thoughts on pregnancy The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Mon, 03 Aug 2015 20:55:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Growing A Family: The Tale Of A Tiny Hero Wed, 05 Feb 2014 17:32:30 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Natural Bamboo Knottie on Big Cartel.

I’ve read Kelly’s birth story so many times, and my reaction is always the same: How in the world did she do it? There was her grueling process to become pregnant, the out-of-this-world reward, a low so devastating it’s difficult to even imagine, a fight to go on and stay strong, and an ending so sad yet so wonderful at the very same time.

Yes, it’s difficult to even imagine, but I know hers is one of those stories that makes us better afterwards. Kelly and her husband and their babies all remind me that life is so fragile, so achingly beautiful, and doesn’t make sense some of the time. Friends, please take time with Kelly’s story. I hope it nudges you to view your day a little differently, as it did mine. Welcome, Kelly.

Q: Tell us a little about you pre-pregnancy: what your life was like pre-Zoe and a little about the struggles you endured in conceiving.

A: Pre-pregnancy life was great until my husband Jeff and I started trying to get pregnant. We traveled, flipped a house, built a house, saw concerts, got engaged in our favorite city of New Orleans, worked for the same company, and were happy. I even wondered if I wanted children because things were great as it was!

After a year of loosely trying to conceive, I started to get frustrated and really wanted to get pregnant. I started working with OB/Gyn who immediately put me on a fertility drug to help me ovulate more eggs. This drug made me feel crazy! I did some very uncharacteristic things like throwing a temper tantrum when my husband would not stop playing the guitar one night?! Nothing happened. We then began some tests with no conclusive evidence of what might be the problem.

This was nearly two years of trying with no baby, and depression, anger, and jealousy set in around this time. Everyone was having babies but us. I isolated myself from everyone but my husband. Jealously is a horrible feeling to have towards people you love, but I could not seem to help it, no matter how I tried. I found an infertility support group that made me feel less alone.

If that is one piece of advice I could give to couples struggling with infertility is to see a specialist right away. I know we wasted precious time working with my OB; they just are not experts in infertility. With our new doctor I was so optimistic we would get pregnant right away. I remember our doctor going over a list options on a piece of paper for treatments and I was sure we would only need to try the least expensive, least invasive and I would be pregnant! But I was diagnosed with unexplained infertility, which was so frustrating.  I just wanted an answer even if it was bad one!

We spent two years with this doctor trying many different treatments while taking time off every now and then. During this trying and failing time period I had an adverse reaction to my first IVF cycle and was hospitalized for six days. My infertility support group, an infertility counselor, and my husband really helped me get through this dark time. I eventually got pregnant with IVF on our second frozen transfer. This means they transferred our embryo from a frozen state into me. My first pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage. The second IVF we found out on February 14, 2011 that we were pregnant!

Q: Did you have pre-conceived notions about how your pregnancy would progress? Were you disappointed in your struggle? Disappointed in your body? 

A: I was so angry at my body and so envious of those around me who got pregnant so easily – so jealous I could sometimes not think clearly! I wanted people to feel pain like me. I was so confused because my fertility counselor and support group told me what I was feeling was normal, but those closest to me kept telling me to get over the jealously and and bitterness. They could not understand me. I felt alone even from my husband at times.

Q: Describe the moment you learned you were pregnant. Twins! What were your dreams like for two babies?

A: I learned I was pregnant on Valentine’s Day! I could not bear to hear more bad news so I asked my husband to call for my blood test results. We were working for the same company at the time and he came to my desk with a piece of paper which he had taken notes on from the nurse. He told me we were pregnant and my numbers from my blood work were high enough to be supporting multiples. What?! We did put three embryos in, which made us nervous, but we knew there would be a higher chance for success of getting pregnant this way.

We went and had lunch and could not stop smiling. It was finally our turn to be parents! After two weeks of waiting for our first ultrasound, the day came to find out how many babies we were having. Our fertility doctor confirmed there were two separate embryos with heartbeats. To hear that sound of those heartbeats was one of the most joyous moments of my life. I was crying and laughing so hard at the same time. I remember the doctor telling me to stop laughing because my uterus was bouncing all around and she could not do her work accurately.

We felt like having twins was our reward for all those years of suffering. I felt like I had won the lottery!

Q: What were your favorite cravings? What part of being pregnant just made you thrilled in those early days?

A: My early days of pregnancy were filled with horrible morning and all day sickness. Apparently, having twins means having double the pregnancy hormones. So I spent a lot of time throwing up in the first trimester! My husband could not even cook in the house because any kind of smell made me sick. My doctors even put me on medication to help with the vomiting. But I was so happy to be pregnant!

Q: Tell us about the moment you learned that one of your babies would not live. Had you told family and friends already? How did you deal with sharing this devastating news with everyone who knew?

A: We were monitored more with our twins than a singleton pregnancy. I was having an ultrasound at seventeen weeks, and the technician started with Baby A, who was doing great! When the technician moved on to Baby B, I sensed that something was wrong immediately. I absolutely knew that we were in trouble.

The doctor said the fluid was low in the sac around Baby B. He said it was concerning but could not or would not offer any reasons why, and recommended us getting seen by the High Risk Perinatal Clinic right away. Our new doctors confirmed that the fluid was extremely low but did not know why yet, and at twenty weeks they would be able to see more on an ultrasound. Twenty weeks came and it was confirmed that Baby B had a condition called Bilateral Renal Agenesis. This means that our baby did not develop renal arteries which develop kidneys, which then develop the bladder.

And then they mentioned that this condition is not compatible with life.

Hearing that my child would not survive outside the womb was an out of body experience. I was hysterically crying. It was a hot day and I had just come from a successful meeting at work and now my one of my babies was going to die. It was the worst moment of my life to date. I know you might be thinking the moment my baby died was worse, but this day was the worst.

We called our parents. We asked a few close friends to spread the word so we did not have to. My first reactionary emotions were that I did not want to name this baby, meet the baby, or have any connection. Maybe it was to protect myself or because I did not want to believe it. After all that we had been through to get pregnant, how could the universe be so cruel?

Q: Was there ever a moment when you forgot you were pregnant with twins? I mean, did your mind try to protect you by focusing on your healthy baby? Or, were you always aware of the loss even with the knowledge of the joy? How did you juggle those emotions? 

A: Being twenty weeks pregnant meant I had to carry on with this pregnancy because we had a healthy twin baby girl. I began to operate in a fight mode of getting through this pregnancy. There were many risks to overcome. One of them was that our Baby B needed to stay alive in the womb so that it did not jeopardize our daughter arriving too early.

In order to work towards this we spent so much time creating a birth plan that included neonatologists, genetic counselors, social workers, and so on. I started to learn more about what the birth might entail, and I started to become calmer and not as angry. I was able to have some control over some things like the birth plan, when so much was out of my control. My thoughts and emotions always felt bittersweet. I never forgot what was happening to my precious baby and how I had to fight for my healthy baby. I really stuffed away much of the sadness and anger because I just had to survive.

Q: What do you remember most about delivery? That moment that still feels clear today? How different was your actual delivery from than the one you imagined you would experience?

A: I made it to 36.5 weeks when my water broke. I was so calm. I knew I would have to have a C-Section at this point because the babies were breach. This was disappointing to me and our team of doctors, because having a C-section meant that I would be medicated and not fully aware of what was going on.

We had a plan and wonderful nurse by our side that spent so much time with us during the pregnancy. We also had an organization called Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep to take pictures of our babies. Family was on their way to the hospital. The babies were born at 11:11am, and all at once our healthy daughter Zoe and our son Judah were here. They were rushed off because Judah needed to be administered some medication to assure he would not suffer, and Zoe was early so they had to assess that she was okay. It did not feel intimate at all. It was cold, loud, and noisy.

I finally got to hold them lying on a table with my arms restrained. So many nurses were crying. This is not what I had imagined. I knew time with Judah was going to be short because we were warned throughout the pregnancy, but I didn’t realize how sad the moment would be. It is an unimagined pain and joy.

My priority was to spend time with Judah, yet Zoe needed me; I had to start nursing and bonding with her, but I felt so guilty when Judah was alone at times. Much of it is a blur because I was so foggy from all the medications, and this is really something I still cannot let go. I feel cheated of those memories. Sure I have videos and photos, but I don’t really remember.

Q: Afterwards, you experienced PTSD. Tell us how that felt, and how you healed. Two years out, has the sadness eased?   

A: Within about five days of returning home, I began having feelings I had never felt before. I could not sleep, and was actually afraid of when nighttime came around. I could not shake this panicked feeling and irrational fears. I did not feel safe, but could not explain why. My husband always had made me feel safe, and even he could not help. No one could calm me down. I would ask my mom to come over to lay with me until I fell asleep, but I could not sleep. I asked to go back to the hospital. I wanted to go back there so badly. I tried convincing my husband I needed to go back. I was so scared because I did not know what was wrong with me.

I got access to a psychiatrist very quickly who diagnosed me with PSTD. It made sense, as I had just went through something so brutally traumatic. The psychiatrist explained what was happening to me and put words to my feelings. I was prescribed medication to take to calm me down if I felt these feelings coming on, and we also had to create a plan to get sleep: sleeplessness perpetuates the PTSD.

It was a long first few months. I honestly think back and wonder who that woman was that just went through that experience because it could really be me? Time has really helped the intensity subside. We have some family rituals to honor our son and celebrate him. He is a hero in our eyes by helping Zoe get to our arms safely.

And being a mom to Zoe is the best healing…

Q: What’s the one piece of comfort you received during your birth process that stuck with you? 

A: One piece of comfort I hold is that I feel like I have a new set of lenses looking at life. I am less judgmental and very present. I feel that is a gift.

Q: Please finish the sentence: To me, the best thing about becoming and being a mom is…

A: …fulfilling every dream I had about becoming a mother during those years of trying to conceive. I read this after having our babies and it resonates with me every day that being a parent is “deciding forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” I love Zoe so much that is like an extension of me living outside of me.


Oh, Kelly. Judah is a hero. A guardian of the highest order. Zoe is lucky to have had him, you were fortunate to know him if only too briefly, and we’re grateful to you for sharing his story with us. I can’t fathom the fighting emotions of grieving and loving so profoundly at the same time. I think you’re a hero, too. Thank you from my heart for sharing yourself with us.

P.S. – Find all the stories in this series here. Do you have a story about birth, pregnancy, adoption or infertility? Send your story to me, will you please?

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Growing a Family: An Adoption Story of Love & Loss Wed, 15 Jan 2014 14:00:24 +0000 Design Mom

turquoise angel wing necklace

By Gabrielle. Necklace by Lake Shore Creations on Etsy.

Today, I’m pleased as can be to be re-launching the Growing a Family Series. When I asked about this column several weeks ago, your response was overwhelmingly: Yes, Please! And it’s no surprise to me. The stories in this column are about joy and pain, about growth and loss, about life and death. It doesn’t really get more universal than that, right?

For now, I plan to share a new story in this series twice a month, or maybe every third week. We’ll see how it goes. And for those of you who aren’t connecting with stories like this at the moment, please I know I plan to publish a second post on the days I share a piece in the Growing a Family series — so you’ll still have something fresh and new to read.

Now, to the first story in the relaunch. You’re about to meet Melissa. Her birth story isn’t the fairy tale that exists in most hopeful mothers’ dreams. There were no ultrasound photos with that “Hi Mom!” caption drawn on by the sonologist, no cute belly shots posted to Instagram, no nursery mood boards in varying shades of blues and pinks on Pinterest, and no joyfully anticipatory baby showers. Honestly, there were no real assurances that the ending would be happy for anyone involved. Especially not their first time around.

But that’s the way with adoption, isn’t it? As Melissa so aptly describes it, “I can’t ignore the reality that adoption is always about both loss and gain.” Such a glorious gift when you look at the process from an adoptive mother’s standpoint, but such a heart-crushing act of goodness when you consider what the birth mother is giving up.

Friends, I hope you enjoy Melissa’s story. More than that, I hope it inspires you to see things a little differently today – maybe from someone else’s perspective. Welcome, Melissa!

Melissa’s Story

The experience of meeting my son for the first time is not the typical birth story. My story began on a cold winter afternoon when I watched a young woman, who I had met only a week earlier, take her son in her arms and tell him all of the reasons why she was choosing adoption and why she chose me to be his mother. She said goodbye to her child and placed him in my arms. It was a moment I’ll never forget: beautiful and gut-wrenching and soul shaking all at the same time.

My son’s birthmother was a single woman living in an impoverished city, raising a six year old child, and struggling to maintain a full time job while going to school. Her mother and grandmother passed away unexpectedly before the birth of her second child, and she found herself alone in so many ways.

Without a steady income or a support network, she was overwhelmed by the responsibilities of raising and caring for a second child. She didn’t have a place for her and her daughter to sleep every night, let alone the nursery she envisioned for her newborn. Despite circumstances that would have paralyzed most of us with fear and frustration, she decided to reach out to an adoption agency and learn what it meant to make an adoption plan. While I will forever be thankful that she gave us the gift of our son, I can’t ignore the reality that adoption is always about both loss and gain.

She was not the first birthmother I met and fell in love with during our adoption journey.

A month before the birth of my son, a different woman chose us to be the adoptive parents to her unborn daughter. We met twice in a Starbucks to share life stories, discuss dreams for her child, shed some tears over the circumstances that brought us together, and talk about names that had special meaning to her. She loved the name Angelica because her daughter was going to be her guardian angel that would watch over her even if another family were raising her.

In preparation for the birth, I purchased a delicate gold necklace with the letter ‘A’ and an angel wing to give to the birthmother. It represented our decision to honor her name choice and use Angelica as the baby girl’s middle name. When her daughter was born, she called me three hours after the birth and invited my husband and I to come and meet the baby.

In the hospital room she stroked Angelica’s head and told her daughter that she was lucky to have two mommies. I watched her proudly introduce Angelica to two of her other children, and I saw firsthand how wonderful of a mother she was.

The following day, when the baby was ready to be discharged from the hospital, I sat anxiously in the waiting room as the birthmother prepared for our adoption ceremony, which would include the signing of the legal adoption documents. It was soon explained to us that the birthmother could not say goodbye to her child, even in the face of fully realized financial burden. I felt so ashamed as I walked out of the hospital with an empty car seat, avoiding the excited glances and congratulatory wishes from hospital staff who assumed we were proud new parents.

Throughout our adoption journey I always knew we would meet the child we were meant to raise. If you don’t believe that in your core, I am not sure how you endure the emotional roller-coaster that adoption journeys inevitably are. We embarked on our journey when we both realized that adoption was our first choice for growing our family.

Perhaps it was because of this that the adoption experience always felt refreshingly uncertain. As painful as the change of heart with the first birthmother was, my husband and I were so empowered by the depth of love we discovered we could feel for a stranger and her child, that it reaffirmed our belief in the beauty of adoption. We couldn’t wait to meet the beautiful baby that was actually meant for us, and we were so thankful for getting to know and love Angelica even if just for a few days.

I guess I feel like my experience is similar to that of a biological mom. I find spit-up stains on my work clothes when I finally arrive and sit down at my desk. I hide away my jewelry and cleaning products to protect them from prying hands. I have permanent dark circles under my eyes from nights spent soothing a restless little peanut. My son is an extension of myself the same way that a biological parent’s child is a representation of who they are. When he laughs, I see my sense of humor. When he focuses on a task, I see my husband’s knack for detail. But we don’t forget that there is another mother who loves him as deeply as we do, and we tell this to our son often.

We talk about his ‘tummy mommy’ and how lucky we are to have her as a part of our life. We tell him that he is strong and determined like his ‘tummy mommy’ and I hope as he gets older we can continue to give him an understanding of who she is and the choice she made…and one day I hope she will tell them these things as well.


Oh, Melissa. Congratulations on your son. I so admire your resolution to keep his birth mother’s memory so vivid in his mind. Assigning some of his best qualities as traits directly from her seems to be a wonderful way to keep the thought alive that he was a gift, from her to you. So, so sweet.

P.S. – Find all the stories in this series here. Do you have a story about birth, pregnancy, adoption or infertility? Send your story to me, will you please?

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Birth & Adoption Stories Wed, 06 Nov 2013 19:25:57 +0000 Design Mom

Gabrielle Blair

By Gabrielle. Image of me by Tracey Clark.

Did you know it was baby central over here at Design Mom? In the summer, our lovely Raleigh-Elizabeth became a mom when Hunter arrived, our wonderful Amy Hackworth is also expecting an addition to her family, and just recently, our delightful Koseli Cummings gave birth to her second child. His name is Sondre Christian and he is a joy to behold. Congratulations to the Cummings Family!

And it’s not just Design Mom contributors. My sis-in-law, Liz of Say Yes to Hoboken, is due this weekend — but the baby could arrive any day now!

All this wonderful baby news has me wondering if it’s time to bring back our Growing a Family Series. Do you remember it? All through my pregnancy with Flora June, and for a couple of years after she was born, we would regularly share birth stories, IVF stories, pregnancy stories and adoption stories sent in from readers. There are over 120 posts in the series! You can find them all here.

I’d love your thoughts. Would you like to see the series return? Any suggestions? How about frequency? Once per week, or maybe twice per month? And I’m wondering if it would be fun to change up the format a bit and make it more of an interview — like the Living With Kids home tours. I’d really appreciate any feedback!

P.S. — You can read my story of June’s birth here.

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Hungry Monkey Thu, 25 Apr 2013 13:00:06 +0000 Raleigh-Elizabeth

By Raleigh-Elizabeth. Image via Mila’s Daydreams.

Because I am a writer and I work from home, I’m afforded some great luxuries. Chief among these is that I get to define my hours to a certain extent, and lately, because I’m 32 weeks pregnant with our first child and have no reason not to, I’ve taken to eating breakfast in a warm bath with Morning Edition in the background, a cup of tea, and a good book at my side.

If you want to really hate me, I’ll elaborate that I’ve been eating fresh berries with croissants made by my mother, and I have two every morning — chocolate and almond. I figure this is going to be the last time in my life where I have some peace of mind in the morning, and I’m going to make the most of it.

(Since we’re friends, I’ll admit: my work schedule does make un-luxurious demands in other, cruel ways. I just don’t like to think about them when things are still peachy-keen in the morning.)

But for the last few days, this sleepy little ritual has been interrupted by the high-pitched sound of snorting. A very unladylike, ungracious snort, and one or two times there has even been some tea coming out of my nose while I erupt in hyena-like laughter. I can’t help it. I’m reading Hungry Monkey.

Given to me by my stepmother (my sole inspiration and role-model when it comes to all things food and whose great wedding present of a curated cookbook collection you read about here) this past weekend at my baby shower, Hungry Monkey is sub-titled “A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater.” I accepted the present greedily, like a recovering addict would take to their formerly beloved drug, because all through this pregnancy, I’ve eaten like a stereotypical four year old. I like things that are white and yellow. I want nothing to do with green. Chicken fingers and plain white cupcakes with plain white frosting (or Funfetti, if we’re feeling really adventurous) have constituted their own food groups.

As someone who has lived her whole adult life on spicy curry soups, brussels sprouts tossed with mustard and capers, and Ethiopian injera, this has been moderately terrifying on a good day and depression-making on the worst. Is this kid so picky I can’t even tolerate any decent food pregnant? Are we going to be resigned to dinners of plain cheese pizza and pasta-with-butter-no-sauce for the next 18 years and eight weeks?

Is it okay to start crying now?

Matthew Amster-Burton, Hungry Monkey‘s author and resident foodie dad, reacted the same way when he found out they were having a baby. Don’t get me wrong, I was elated. We want this baby more than I can ever remember wanting anything in my whole life. But the second most-wanted thing in my life is a really good salami sandwich made with some stinky salami and even more stinky unpasteurized cheese, and I’ve been craving it for 32 weeks. At this point, I’m going to be merely surviving the next eight weeks until I can have it. (We aren’t talking “push presents” in our house. We are talking “push sandwiches.”)

I got to tell my husband, Bill, about our little miracle one Sunday this fall via Skype. He was doing pre-deployment training out in Twentynine Palms, California, where there is miraculously a Starbucks and it miraculously had free Wi-Fi that was miraculously working and he miraculously had some time off to be able to Skype home. (See the miracles happening here?) He was enjoying something Venti Delicious when I relayed the good news, and as soon as we signed off, I found myself on the back porch, head in my hands and recovering from my first bout of morning sickness because my mother had just opened a bottle of V8 juice in the next room. And with that, food miracles in our house came to a screeching halt.

I have had to cook some during this pregnancy (including a very festive and very ambitious Thanksgiving-Christmas mashup with all of Bill’s favorite holiday foods made by me and feeding a crowd of 15), but the last time I attempted to cook anything ended with me calling my mom at work and begging her to come home and turn off the soup I started on the stove, because I didn’t think I could even make it back into the kitchen to turn off the burner without getting violently ill again. Our bun-in-the-oven son, Hunter, wanted nothing to do with soup. Especially with the previously delicious pasta e fagioli I was trying to make. He’s absolutely fine with Chic-Fil-A, white bread, and cream cheese though. And oatmeal, as long as there’s nothing too complicated or colorful in it.

Cue the hysteria of someone who writes about food for a living: How are we going to survive the next two decades? Let alone make a small human who also loves food like we do? Or maybe just loves food that isn’t white and yellow?

It’s this wisdom I’ve been peppering friends and family for over the last few months. My mother reminded me dinner didn’t come with choices, just forks. My stepmother said our only options were what was on our plates or a yogurt. My dad remembers giving us a big helping of Doritos on the sly, but driving a hard bargain when it came to the actual table: there were no bargains. (My dad’s approach to child-rearing, I should explain, is that all children are terrorists. And you do not negotiate with terrorists. Take from that what you will.) I don’t recall dinner being very dramatic, and I do recall having to taste almost everything. I remember falling in love with leg of lamb, broccolini, and steak tartare as a child. I regularly attribute my love of food today to the food put before me growing up. But the mystery remains: How do I do this for my own kid?

In the event I felt alone in this, it’s clear from the body of works available on Amazon that everybody has worried about feeding their brood at one point or another. I will be honest and tell you nearly all of these books intimidate me. But Hungry Monkey (and a few other notable exceptions) isn’t one of them. It makes me laugh. It makes me cry (out of laughter). It makes me snort my tea in my otherwise very ladylike morning bathtub routine. And most of all, it gives me hope.

His big secret? There are no big secrets. Kids are picky. Adults still want adult food. These things all happen and kids survive and become eaters all the same. (He was apparently among the pickiest eaters out there growing up and now writes about food for a living. Hope!) But he’s also pretty fearless with what he gives his daughter to try — everything from the Szechuan staple Ants on a Tree (a fairly spicy noodle dish) to Pad Thai to shrimp and grits with bacon. He keeps cooking, she keeps resisting or stops eating or stops resisting or starts eating, and the world continues to turn on its axis.

This foodie — the one who is thinking it’s chicken fingers for lunch, yet again — sighs with relief.

So I turn to you: You’ve been there, done that. What tricks do you have for getting your kids to eat? Or for at least staying sane while they didn’t?

And if you’re like me, and you need a laugh over how stressful all of that can be (or how stressful it seems to this newbie mama), pick up a copy of Hungry Monkey. You will laugh. You will cry. You will consider moving to Seattle just to go to his local pizza place (they make a pie with sliced pears, walnuts, and blue cheese). You might lose tea through your nose. And if nothing else, you will find camaraderie with the sheer knowledge that if you, too, are serving up another slice of cheese pizza for dinner, you’re not alone. And really, it’s not that bad after all.

Share your wisdom. And if nothing else, please, tell me: Will my kid ever eat brussels sprouts and love them like I do? (Maybe if I cut them into really cute shapes there’s some hope.)

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Birth Photos Mon, 08 Oct 2012 16:00:45 +0000 Design Mom

By Whitney.

Some of my favorite posts to read on Design Mom are the birth stories. I am always so moved by the emotion and beauty inherent throughout the birthing process.

I’ve been photographing births for a few years, so I was very interested in what this article had to say about birth photography becoming more popular. For many women, photos of their child entering the world are an absolute treasure, while others cringe at the thought of a camera present during such a personal moment.

Have any of you had a birth photographed…or desperately wish you had? Did the presence of a photographer make you feel at all uncomfortable or as though you had to remain somewhat photogenic through the entire birth? (That would be impossible, wouldn’t it?) I’m so curious to hear your thoughts!

Photos by Hardie Photography.

P.S. — Have you seen sweet Erin‘s home birth photos captured by Betsy King? I was in tears by the end! And remember Baby June’s birth? So fast, the photographer arrived just after the baby!

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A Birth Memory from Shelley Abreu Wed, 25 Apr 2012 11:11:53 +0000 Design Mom

Julia has developed mucositis — a painful inflammation of the mucous membranes. Basically it means she has sores all along her digestive tract from her mouth to her bum. She’s on a morphine pump, and I can tell she’s miserable.

Martin Luther said “If you could understand a single grain of wheat, you would die of wonder.” I thought of this quote yesterday, and it made me think about my first time giving birth. It was such a brutal and magnificent experience all in one. I pushed for four hours with Julia. I was in agony.

When she crowned, the pain felt like fire moving through me. I was not focused on the delivery room. I was outside of myself. Then, with the final push, she arrived. And that surge of energy that moved through me was holy. God was everywhere. There was all this commotion and raw earthy energy, but when she came out all the noise in my head stopped and all the pain in my body vanished and for a second I felt like I glimpsed inside “a single grain of wheat.”

I think this is what T.S. Eliot described as “the still point of the turning world,” the moment when you experience the kingdom of God within yourself. It’s the moment when you see that God is the universe, and the universe goes on forever, and it’s also bundled up inside of each of us.

I was thinking about all of this last night as my first born was sleeping. I was thinking about her pain and how hard her journey is right now. I remembered that moment when she arrived — how there was a single second of time where I thought I understood everything.

Then I thought about right now – how none of this makes sense. The whole thing is painful and wrong and terrible. But maybe the sorrow and grief is in the single grain of wheat as well. Because all of it is connected to the way we love. Maybe I didn’t understand everything that day. Maybe you have to walk through sorrow to really understand how the universe works.

From Shelley Abreu of A Story About Faith. Shelley’s oldest child was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, then 16 months later she relapsed. This year she received a bone marrow transplant from a non-relative. You can read more of her story here.

P.S. — Here’s the story of Rachel Olsen’s 4th baby and 3rd unplanned c-section.

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A Birth Story in Pictures from Miranda Wed, 04 Apr 2012 11:32:29 +0000 Design Mom

In lieu of a traditional growing-a-family story, I thought it would be fun to share this video today. Miranda of One Little Minute spent 9 months on Project Baby, and then another 9 months editing the results into a lovely video.

Miranda says, “I have been excited about making this little video of outtakes since day one of Project Baby. Looking back to those pregnant days makes me appreciate some of the little things that are easy to take for granted. Like my ankles. And tying my shoes. And sleeping on my belly. The little man was worth every ache and pound, though. He is gentle, curious, and happy.”

I love seeing the little onesie at the end!

P.S. — Here’s another birth video from Shannon.

Note from Design Mom: throughout my 6th pregnancy, I posted reader-submitted advice, memories and stories about pregnancy, childbirth, adoption and growing a family. My baby is hardly a baby anymore — here’s her birth story and her newborn photos — but the series has been so popular that I’m continuing it indefinitely. You can find all the stories in this series by clicking here. Have a story you’d like to share? I’d love to read it. You can send it to me at

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A Surrogacy Story from Adrienne Arieff Wed, 21 Mar 2012 10:16:47 +0000 Design Mom

In 2008, I traveled nine thousand miles to northern India to make my dream of having a baby come true. There, at the world renowned Akansha clinic in Anana, I under went IVF and met Vaina, the woman who would bring my husband and my twins girls into this world through surrogacy. It was a wild and wonderful experience, one that I undertook after three heartbreaking miscarriages.

I had been exploring all the options from adoption to surrogacy to remaining childless, when my husband read an article about the Akansha clinic run by the fertility specialist Dr. Patel in the New York Times. I was very familiar with India after having traveled extensively in the country after my mother died a few years prior. There was something beautiful about going back and trying to find life after the loss I had experienced. I spoke with Dr. Patel on the phone and decided to go. There, in the 107 degree heat of Indian summer, I discovered that parenthood was possible, but it would require a gift from a perfect stranger.

Vaina was already a parent when she decided to help me become one. A woman who becomes a surrogate at Akansha moves into the clinic and lives there for the duration of fertility treatment and pregnancy. This is as much to ensure the good health of the babies as it is to protect Vaina from a culture that considers surrogacy a form of adultery. For 26-year-old Vaina, this was a path to a better life for her family. Her surrogate’s fee was the equivalent of ten year’s salary and allowed her husband to launch his own business.

In Anand, I formed a deep bond with Vaina  and her family that I maintain today. I travel once a year to see her and keep her up to date about “our” girls, Emma and India. What she did for me is the most generous act I could have ever imagined.

Originally, I was writing a journal for the girls to have a document for them so they knew how much we went through to have them. I soon realized a book might be a good idea as many women started to contact me about foreign adoption and surrogacy. I turned my journal into a book titled The Sacred Thread. I hope my book offers inspiration and help to those who may be considering alternative – and extremely fulfilling – ways to have a child.

From Adrienne Arieff.

P.S. — Here’s a VBAC story from Stephanie.

Note from Design Mom: throughout my 6th pregnancy, I posted reader-submitted advice, memories and stories about pregnancy, childbirth, adoption and growing a family. My baby is hardly a baby anymore — here’s her birth story and her newborn photos — but the series has been so popular that I’m continuing it indefinitely. You can find all the stories in this series by clicking here. Have a story you’d like to share? I’d love to read it. You can send it to me at

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A Birth Story from Amy Julia Becker Wed, 07 Mar 2012 11:01:59 +0000 Design Mom

image here

I woke up with a stomachache. After two hours curled in a chair reading, I padded down the long hallway from the living room to our bedroom, shaking my head. I had seen my doctor the day before, and I could still hear her words: “You aren’t dilated at all. You haven’t dropped. It will be another week or two at least.”

I reached the bedroom and nudged Peter’s shoulder. “I might be having contractions.” He rolled toward me and squinted into the light. “Really?”

“It’s probably false labor,” I said, trying to sound calm. I glanced at the clock. Six a.m. “But I want to get the nursery ready. Just in case.”

It took about three hours to get the clothes washed and folded and to fill the walls of Penny’s room. “I guess I should call the doctor,” I said, once there was nothing left to do. Another hour and three contractions later, we arrived at the hospital, just to check on my progress. Dr. Mayer examined me and said, “I can feel your baby’s head. You’re here to stay.” I found myself attended to by two nurses at once, my clothes in a heap and a hospital gown over my head and a strap around my middle to monitor the strength of the contractions along with Penny’s heart rate. A prick in the vein on top of my hand and an IV dripping fluid into my bloodstream.

They moved me into a private room—big and bright, with picture windows spanning the horizon. An anesthesiologist arrived to start the epidural, and soon it had numbed my body from the waist down. Now all I had to do was wait.

My mother and sisters arrived, and about an hour later Dr. Mayer checked in again. “It’s time to push,” she said. “We’re a little short-staffed, since this is a holiday weekend.” She turned to my mother. “Mom, think you can help?”

Mom pushed up the sleeves of her white turtleneck and took her position holding my left leg. Peter, on the right, was my coach. He never stopped looking at me, and his voice held a mixture of gravitas and pride as he said again and again, “You can do this. Push.”

But I couldn’t figure it out. I couldn’t feel anything. I was doing something wrong. I was failing. Failing. A monitor started to beep.

“The baby’s heart rate is dropping,” Dr. Mayer said. She turned to a nurse. “Page the neonatologist.” And then she looked at me, equally stern. “When the next contraction comes, you have to push. You have got to get this baby out.”

Somehow, my body knew what to do. With the next contraction, Dr. Mayer cheered. “You’re on your way. Okay. Okay.”

Two pushes later, Penny shot into the world. I caught a glimpse of her wriggling body and heard squawks from her little lungs.

“Eight out of ten on her Apgar,” someone said.

I turned my head, following my daughter. Penny had a full head of black hair and pouty lips, and she opened her eyes just long enough for me to see that they were deep blue, the color of a lake on a cloudy day. And then she was gone.

It was all action and congratulations from there—Peter announcing the good news, my body starting to respond to the intensity of what it had just experienced, shaking, teeth chattering, my sisters exclaiming how cute Penny looked when they saw her through the glass walls of the nursery.

Amidst the euphoria, amidst the doctor’s report that Penny was a little cold and they would bring her in when she had warmed up, a nurse called Peter out of the room. In the back of my brain, a warning signal flashed. I felt more attuned to my own body than anything else—this mushy midsection that hours before held a baby, these shaky limbs, the ache that began to creep into my back.

When Peter returned, my eyes were drawn to a speck of blood on the collar of his red-and-white checked shirt. It took me a minute to realize the blood was mine. Only then did I notice that his eyes were brimming. He grasped my hand. “The doctors think Penny has Down syndrome.”

I kept staring at that speck of blood, trying to differentiate it from the red of the shirt, wondering whether it would come out in the wash or whether it would be a permanent reminder of Penny’s birth. That speck of blood.

Peter said, “Age?” using his nickname for me.

I shook my head. The only word that came to mind was No.

The lines in his face were soft and his tone was gentle, careful. “She has some of the features of a Down’s baby, I guess. The doctors said they can come talk to you if you have any questions.”

“Okay,” I said with a nod.

The world began to break into pieces, as if I had been looking at a scene through a plate-glass window that suddenly cracked, jagged lines distorting my vision. I had a flash of anger—How dare they talk to Peter without me? And then a flash of concern—Is Penny okay? And soon they were standing there, the neonatologist, a woman with thin brown hair who never smiled, and the pediatrician, a round-faced man with sweaty palms. I thought, They don’t know what to say. My voice clenched, but I didn’t cry. I argued with them a little, as if I could convince them to take back their pronouncement. But I couldn’t register their words, with their grim faces and somber tones. Whatever it was couldn’t overcome the narrative inside my head. The lines that began with No and concluded with I want to run away. Far away. Now.

They brought Penny into the room, swaddled tight, her head covered in a blue-and-pink striped hat. All we could see was her little round face. She felt so light as she gazed up at me with those big blue eyes. Her cheeks looked splotchy. When Peter held her, his long arms enveloped her body. He rocked her and stroked her cheek.

As I looked at them together, questions flooded my mind, stealing me from the sweetness of seeing Peter become a father. How could this happen? What does this mean for her? Will I be able to be proud of her? Will I be able to love her?

But then he handed her to me, and by the time Penny had finished nursing, I heard a whisper of peace. I sat there without words, without tears, looking at her and wondering what lay ahead.

By midnight I had been awake for almost twenty-four hours. My sisters said their good-byes. Penny nursed again, and Peter curled up to sleep in the fold-out cot next to my bed, his hand resting upon my thigh.

A nurse came in. She recorded my temperature and my blood pressure and asked about my pain. She turned to walk out of the room. Almost as an afterthought, she stepped toward me and said, “I had a special child, too.”

I couldn’t see her face in the dim light. I was lying down, on the edge of sleep. “How old is your child now?” I asked.

Her tone stayed the same—even and soothing—when she said, “He died a long time ago.” I closed my eyes for a moment. I didn’t want it to be true. I said, “I’m sorry.”

She looked past me and shook her head, as if I didn’t understand. Before she took her leave, she said, “He was a gift.”

From Amy Julia Becker of Thin Places. This story is actually an excerpt from Amy’s book, A Good and Perfect Gift.

P.S. — Katie has a beautiful story too. She adopted a daughter with down syndrome from Bulgaria.

Note from Design Mom: throughout my 6th pregnancy, I posted reader-submitted advice, memories and stories about pregnancy, childbirth, adoption and growing a family. My baby is hardly a baby anymore — here’s her birth story and her newborn photos — but the series has been so popular that I’m continuing it indefinitely. You can find all the stories in this series by clicking here. Have a story you’d like to share? I’d love to read it. You can send it to me at

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A Birth Story from Nikki Moran Wed, 22 Feb 2012 09:57:15 +0000 Design Mom

Mini-calendar by Monkey Mind.

Friday May 7th. I am 38 weeks and 1 day pregnant. I am not really enjoying pregnancy like I previously was. The baby is not fitting as well as he used to and every move he makes is getting to be more and more uncomfortable to me. I want him to come out now.

I head to my regularly scheduled doctor appointment. I whine a bit to my doctor. She checks me and I am 2 cm dilated, starting to efface, and the baby’s head is quite low. She asks, “Would you like me to sweep your membranes?”. I enthusiastically reply yes. This is exactly how I got my first baby out — my dear doctor swept my membranes, at which point my water broke, and then 12 hours later I was holding Seth in my arms.

Anyway, membranes are swept. She tells me to head home, go for a long walk, eat some spicy food and a pineapple, and partake in other activities that will not be mentioned at this time. I head home and finish sewing the camera bag I had started that morning. I figure I will need it soon. Plus sewing seems like more fun than that other stuff. I finish the bag, have a long walk, and go to bed, where I sleep all night.

Saturday, May 8th. I wake up. I don’t feel super great. I know the baby will be here soon, even though nothing official is happening. We all have a long walk in the morning. I try to have a nap, unsuccessfully. I get up and decide to clean the basement, which is a terrible disaster. At least 357 toys are strewn across the floor. I start cleaning. I pee my pants. I go to the bathroom. I go back to cleaning. I pee my pants again. I go back to cleaning. I pee my pants again. “Neil, I think my water might have broke. Or I peed my pants?” Sometimes I do that. Neil continues with yard work. I continue trying to clean the basement, but I go to the bathroom at least every 90 seconds where I continue peeing my pants. It dawns on me that my water probably really did break. I didn’t drink THAT much today to be peeing that often. And I don’t USUALLY pee my pants. I keep cleaning the basement. It takes me pretty much three hours because of the frequent bathroom trips. At one point my pants are completely soaked and it is at this point I am 99% sure  my water broke. I call Neil’s mom and ask her to come over and let her know she’ll probably be staying awhile.

Neil’s mom, grandma, and sister arrive at 4:30. I am starting to have contractions every once and awhile. I have a shower. I’m starving so I eat some hot dogs and a salad. Then Neil and I go for a drive to get a coffee. Neil wants me to try a London Fog. Sounds good except that I am having contractions every five minutes or so. Still not terrible, but the memories of what labor is really like are coming back, and I am afraid! We aren’t gone for long but the truck ride is enough to convince me we should maybe go to the hospital soon.

When I get home the contractions are still about 5 minutes apart so I decide to try to relax on the couch and watch tv while Neil’s mom puts the kids to bed. By this time labor is really starting to suck. I had always told myself I would stay at home as long as possible, but I already want the hospital and a nurse to help me and a shower and the close-by-ness of drugs. When the kids are in bed, we leave.

We  get to triage at about 8:15 pm. My contractions are still every 5 minutes, but sometimes every 2 or 3. We get into triage. I am still fairly “happy” and can cope with contractions.

Still, I am ready for it to just be over already. The nurse checks me at about 8:30 pm and I am 4 cm. That was not what I wanted to hear. I was hoping for 7 and wanted at least a 5. 4 was not reassuring to me. Anyway, I was admitted to the low risk labor ward, to room 26- the same room Ben was born in!
I get to my room and get in the shower. I sit on the birthing ball and yell a lot and eat ice chips. After about 20 minutes I need something better than a shower and a ball. I’ll try the gas. The gas is good but my whole body turns to pins and needles and I may fall off the ball in the shower so I get into bed. The nurse checks me. I am only 4-5 cm. Okay, that’s enough. Give me the good drugs. I don’t care if I need an IV, just pull out the big drugs NOW. She starts and IV, calls the anesthesiologist, and asks me if I want to try Fentanyl. Sure, why not. The Fentanyl is great. Narcotics are my friend and for at least two contractions I feel a lot better. But that’s about the most it does for me, besides making me feel totally drugged, which I don’t mind. My Dr.  is there now, and she comes to examine me. It is 10 pm and I am now 7 cm. Thank goodness. She leaves and on her way out I say thank you and then I almost say, “I love you!”. Don’t get me wrong, I DO love my Dr. but I’m not sure if that would be appropriate timing for telling her. It was the Fentanyl talking. I am still waiting for my epidural and I tell Neil that the nurse must have lied to me telling me the anesthesiologist is coming soon. I say, “Sometimes we do that”. You know, lie to patients and tell them the drugs are coming soon when really there are two patients ahead of them in line for the epidural (I’m a labor and delivery nurse).

Anyway, wow, labor is SO terrible right now. I am yelling a lot and a lot of curse words are running through my head. I am not normally a swearer, but this is bad. For some reason I keep wanting to say “Holy Mother of God!”. I don’t know why, I have NEVER said this in my life. I think maybe it’s because subconsciously I am wondering how dear sweet Mary possibly survived laboring and delivering in a barn.

At about 10:15 I am starting to feel pressure. Like a baby’s head is coming soon. My nurse checks me. NINE cm. Almost there.

Next contraction, yes, a baby’s head IS coming. NINE AND A HALF cm.

Next contraction, push. TEN cm.

Next contraction, OLIVER!!!

It is 10:25 pm and Oliver is here! What a relief! The Dr. puts him on my chest and I hold him and rub all the vernix off him and I cry and feel so happy and so relieved.  He is so beautiful and so tiny and looks so much like his biggest brother to me.
The Dr. checks him over and checks me over and gives us the okay to go home the next day if we want. Sadly about 30 minutes later Oliver is still grunting and working a little too hard to breathe so he is whisked off to the NICU for observation and is later admitted where he spends the next 36 hours. Deja vu as this is exactly what happened with the middle brother in the very same room. Remind me to request a different room next time. Oh never mind, remind me that three children are plenty and I will not be doing that again.

I guess someone forgot to remind me, because our fourth is due in 5 1/2 weeks!

From Nikki Moran of Outnumbered.

P.S. — Sarah has started a website collecting birth stories, too! She welcomes your submissions.

Note from Design Mom: throughout my 6th pregnancy, I posted reader-submitted advice, memories and stories about pregnancy, childbirth, adoption and growing a family. My baby is hardly a baby anymore — here’s her birth story and her newborn photos — but the series has been so popular that I’m continuing it indefinitely. You can find all the stories in this series by clicking here. Have a story you’d like to share? I’d love to read it. You can send it to me at

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An After-The-Birth Story from Colette Sanborn Wed, 08 Feb 2012 10:56:34 +0000 Design Mom

Crocheted hearts by Sabahnur.

I have read countless birth stories and spoken to plenty of new mothers and each time, I am scanning the page or scanning their eyes in hopes of finding a story like mine. One that isn’t beautiful or precious or ends with a picture of a blissful mother cradling her child. And not one where the child is unhealthy or, God forbid, doesn’t survive. I am looking for the one where the baby is perfect, the delivery was textbook and yet the mother holds her new baby in her arms and feels…nothing.

Let me back up. I struggled for over a year to get pregnant, finally turning to IVF. I was very lucky and got pregnant on my first try. My pregnancy was the absolute best time of my life. I was healthy the whole time, rarely tired and stayed active. Years of struggling with my body image and appearance gave way to a feeling of absolute peace with myself. I felt beautiful for the first time in my life. A life where I often hated even looking at myself in the mirror was replaced with one where strangers were complimenting me on the street!

The world just rose up to greet me, in so many ways. I loved having my belly touched (I know so many don’t!), I loved discussing my due date, baby’s gender, name choices…you name it, there wasn’t any intrusion into my personal life that I resented. I was so proud, so excited to bring a baby into this world that was so full of loving people.

At 2am on December 15th, I started having contractions. I had been working a night shift the evening before, so I had only gone to bed a couple hours before. What I didn’t realize at the time was that that was the last time I would so much as shut my eyes for the next 48 hours, a fact that I think played a major part in what was to follow. I labored at home for a little more than a day (after being sent home on my first attempt to be admitted) but I was blindsided by back labor, which made it impossible to even get out of bed. Any loss of counter pressure on my back was excruciating and even with it, the pain was constant. My partner finally convinced the hospital to take me the next day. They started an epidural and I had immediate and complete relief. My desire to have a natural childbirth faded when given the option to end the excruciating pain! The next 12 hours were a return to my blissful pregnancy. I felt no pain. I loved the kind attention of the staff and the excitement that we would soon get to meet our baby.

At 11:33 on the night of the 16th, my son was born. When my partner placed him on my chest, my first thought was that his nose was huge. Really, that’s it. I felt no connection to him, through a bit sad that he was no longer a part of me. It felt perhaps like a bad arranged marriage…you are supposed to build your life with someone who you just met and you’re having reservations. Everything leading up to this moment had convinced me that there would be an instant connection with my baby and a part of me immediately sensed something was very wrong.

We finally got to our room around 2am on the 17th. At this point, I had been awake for a full 48 hours or, since I had only been asleep for a couple hours when my labor started, I’d had two hours of sleep in the last 56 hours. Looking back, I was clearly somewhat delirious from sleep deprivation but I didn’t know enough to take care of myself. My world as I knew it had ended and the idea of putting me first to heal before I gave my whole self to my baby was so contrary to everything I thought was appropriate. This theme would continue for months.

I spent the first night in the hospital plotting my escape. My son was a horrible sleeper initially and couldn’t be put down for more than about 20 minutes before he’d wake up crying. This theme would also continue for months! But having only been a mother for mere hours, I was too afraid to sleep while he slept in my arms so I continued my sleepless stretch. When my partner was holding him, I was in the dark, crying, wondering how I could leave, whether my friends and family and partner would forgive me for leaving my own child. I cried most of the remainder of my hospital stay. The nurses chalked it up to the “baby blues” so I did as well. I had read somewhere that they usually last for about two weeks, so I was secretly holding onto that timeframe. It’ll just last a couple weeks and then it will be better.

Things didn’t get any better when we returned home. I cried more often than I didn’t. My son refused to be put down so we held him in our arms all night and day. I was afraid all the time. I dreaded the long, scary, lonely nights and the fear would set in every day at dusk. Considering this was the middle of December, dusk came way too early every day. I dreaded the long lonely days after my partner returned to work. I had no appetite and barely ate. I continued to wonder how I could leave, desperately wanting to fall down the stairs or contract some horrible illness that would force someone to take care of me, to fix me and to give me a break. But I wouldn’t allow myself any breaks. My mom and sister came to visit after about three weeks and, while they did allow up a couple nights of blissful sleep, I insisted on always being with my son. I really believed that I might never want to take him back if I allowed someone else to care for him without me. The idea of not taking care of him was so tempting; I was convinced that I had to be there all the time. I didn’t trust myself. I honestly believe I would have given him up if I hadn’t been so afraid that my friends and family would ostracize me. The idea of this now is so horrific and shameful to me, but it truly is how I felt.

I knew about postpartum depression but it seemed too convenient an excuse. Having a diagnosis would mean this wasn’t my fault and I was convinced I was a monster. I was convinced I was too selfish to want this baby and that I was not the good person I always thought I was. But a part of me hope, desperately hoped, that it was PPD, which meant I could do something about it. That part of me reached out for help, thankfully fairly early on. I started seeing a therapist who specialized in PPD and went on medication. I was hoping for immediate relief but that wasn’t to be. The medication actually made my anxiety worse initially. But I was too desperate to stop so, with help from my therapist, my dosage was adjusted until things began to improve. I’d have a string of really good days, only to be unable to get out of bed on others. But slowly, things began to shift for me. I was absolutely convinced I would never be able to love my baby but gradually, it began to happen. Within four months of giving birth, I was feeling joy again and the overwhelming love for my son that I expected in the beginning.

Post partum depression took so much from me and my son and my partner. What should have been a time of celebration was a time of such darkness. My son was formula fed because the stress of breastfeeding was crushing me, pushing me further from him. And while I am pro-feeding-choice, I would have loved to have that time back to make my decision about breastfeeding with a clearer head. I’ll never know what my son felt in those early days, whether he knew on some level that my love wasn’t there and whether he carries any of that with him today. On most days, I feel confident I masked my feelings enough to provide him with everything he needed in those early days but on others, I can’t help but question each thing he does and wonder if it is a reflection of some disconnect created right after he was born. That doubt is my depression’s darkest legacy.

My experience did have some positives, however. I do believe I see the world differently. I will never know what kind of mother I would have been had a not been depressed; however, I do know that I really don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. Once I made it through the darkness, things in the light just don’t look that bad. I have also developed great empathy for others and a better awareness that none of us really know what anyone else is going through. I don’t know if I would go so far as to say that if I could go back and do it over again, I wouldn’t change a thing, but I have definitely squeezed as much good out of it as I can. Take that, depression.

So that’s my birth story. I just reread my first paragraph and I realize that my birth story does end with a blissful mother holding her child! It took a lot longer than expected but here I am!

From Colette Sanborn.

P.S. — Here’s a beautiful birth story by Lindsey Cheek, with gorgeous photos shot by Millie Holloman.

Note from Design Mom: throughout my 6th pregnancy, I posted reader-submitted advice, memories and stories about pregnancy, childbirth, adoption and growing a family. My baby is hardly a baby anymore — here’s her birth story and her newborn photos — but the series has been so popular that I’m continuing it indefinitely. You can find all the stories in this series by clicking here. Have a story you’d like to share? I’d love to read it. You can send it to me at

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MAMA Wed, 01 Feb 2012 11:30:57 +0000 Design Mom

You probably know by now how I feel about mothers and their babies! I can’t help but marvel at the miracle of life, and every story surprises me more than the last. My smart friend Emily recently shared the all-virtual International Museum of Women‘s newest project with me, and I’m already hooked. I can’t wait to see what it becomes.

It’s called MAMA: Motherhood around the Globe, a collection of compelling stories, policy-changing ideas, and gorgeous artwork from more than 60 countries. It’s incredibly eye-opening to hear from mothers of all ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, and drastically different cultures talk about motherhood.

I’m curious. How did motherhood happen to you? For those who aren’t there yet, how will you determine the right time — if ever — to bring a baby into your life? I’d love to hear your stories and opinions!

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A View of Birth from an Infertile Womb by Mariah Wickham Wed, 25 Jan 2012 16:35:26 +0000 Design Mom

Heart-in-hand gloves by Yastik izi.

I gave birth 7 1/2 years ago. It was an ordinary labor and delivery, free of complications. Because it was my first, the 10 hours it took from start to finish felt average and acceptable. My boy came screaming into this world weighing 8 lbs. 7 oz at 10:14 am. My husband and I beamed from ear to ear, but no different than other first time parents I’m sure. It was a Wednesday and the last day of March. The weather was typical of early spring in these parts: overcast with a few beams of sunshine.

As he grew we desired to add to our family and see him become a big brother. In fact, we wanted lots of children. We would discover along our journey many painful reports of infertility. We went through in-vitro fertilization 4 times. The third time we became pregnant but then had an early miscarriage. We also prepared for a year for an adoption trip to Russia that ended in failure. Our hearts broke over and over as we struggled to understand why nothing seemed to work out for us. And yet, we had a son who was growing before our eyes. At one time we were able to create life which gave us so much hope for the future, but now life felt replete with heartbreak and discouragement.

In correlation with this discouragement and the setbacks of our efforts, the day of my son’s birth has morphed into the miracle it was always meant to be. Viewing it as a long ways from typical at this point, I see his birth much differently. I embrace him and offer thanks each day for I am more acquainted now with the odds of us conceiving. I also realize that we could go bankrupt trying and still be where we started so I should be content with what we’ve been given. But most of all, I feel grateful because what once felt average now feels awe-inspiring. What once was ordinary is now anything but — we were given a gift that day. A gift so special it would never be repeated or imitated. A miraculous gift that I plan on celebrating for the rest of my life.

From Mariah Wickham.

P.S. — Here’s a wonderful VBAC story from Kasia.

Note from Design Mom: throughout my 6th pregnancy, I posted reader-submitted advice, memories and stories about pregnancy, childbirth, adoption and growing a family. My baby is hardly a baby anymore — here’s her birth story and her newborn photos — but the series has been so popular that I’m continuing it indefinitely. You can find all the stories in this series by clicking here. Have a story you’d like to share? I’d love to read it. You can send it to me at

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Unconventional Family Story by Lacey King Wed, 11 Jan 2012 10:00:56 +0000 Design Mom

Happy Family artwork by Spunky Fluff. (I adore it!)

After being married for a few years, my husband and I were living across the country while he attended graduate school. On February 2, 2004 I found out I was pregnant. We were so excited, we had always wanted a big family, and this was the start! On February 4th, my dad’s birthday, I called home to let our families know that I was having a miscarriage. It was very early on, and just one of those things. But, it was at that moment we both realized that the second you see the positive sign on the pregnancy test… you become a parent.

On February 4th, we cried, and we shared a bag of powdered donuts and a kit kat. As ridiculous as it sounds, I can’t eat a powdered donut and not think of that dreary afternoon. Two more miscarriages later (total now 3), I went to the doctor to begin the process of determining why I could not stay pregnant, only to discover that I was pregnant again! We were now in our second, and final year of school. It was touch and go the entire 9 months. The doctor watched me like a hawk. But, we made it back to Texas — our home — in early June.

On July 21st I went into labor, and after 27 1/2 hours of agony, the doctor decided I needed an emergency c-section. Baby C was grinding into my pelvic bone and there was no where for him to go. Our precious baby boy was born in July 2005. He had air outside of his lungs and was taken to the NICU where he spent most of our stay in the hospital. The pain medication never really worked right on me and I was able to feel most of what happened on the surgery table. I don’t remember much of that now, but hubby sure does! We brought home our 9 lb beautiful baby boy. Our world changed that day, and I am so thankful.

After C was born we waited a while and started trying again. I had a few more miscarriages, and a D&C. Each one was traumatic. They were all early on, and many people feel that is fortunate. I haven’t experienced the alternative, so I don’t know. What I do know is that a miscarriage is a loss. Each of those babies already had a name. Already had a secure place in our hearts, minds, and in our family. And then they were gone. It happens so fast. But your body still needs time to readjust to normal after a miscarriage. You just can’t forget it. It’s a loss, and you must mourn.

We met with a fertility specialist who told us if we didn’t have a 2 year old sitting next to us, he would tell us we could not have children on our own. He wasn’t sure how we had C. His suggestion was in vitro, but by this point, hubby and I had already decided to adopt. There was no guarantee with fertility treatments, but there is a guarantee with adoption. You may have to wait a while, but you know the process ends with a baby. That was all we wanted, a baby.

In November 2007 we told our families that we were starting the adoption process and we hoped for their support. They gave much support freely, though I know each had their own concerns. Every adoptive family is required to attend an orientation with the private agency that we used. It’s affiliated with the Church of Christ, which we are members of, and we wanted a domestic adoption. Our orientation was February 1st and 2nd. As luck would have it, we ate lunch across from the VP of the agency. He is still handling cases, and we were able to get to know him a little bit.

Then, the President invited all of the couples to dinner that night at a local restaurant. We were the only ones that attended. We were able to ask questions we didn’t feel comfortable asking in a group, and get a clearer picture of how adoption really worked. On the drive home the next day, we finished the rest of the paperwork and mailed it off the following Tuesday.

On February 18th we received a call from Bob, the VP. A baby had been born in another Texas town, the mother said she didn’t know she was pregnant (she already had a 1 yr old), the mother and father were babies themselves, and she wanted to place her new son for adoption. Bob asked permission to present us along with 3 other families to the birth mother. He assured us that this was not typical and to not get our hopes up, but he had been doing this for so long and sometimes you just “get a feeling.” Of course we agreed. The other 3 families, however, did not. And we were the only couple interested.

They wanted to meet us. So, on February 23rd we drove to meet the birth parents. After a long evening, we met the precious baby. He was crying. No one could calm him. They asked if I wanted to hold him. I agreed… and he stopped crying immediately. The tears flowed. The next day we brought home our Baby S.

On S’s first birthday, I realized that I was late. I was never late -EVER! We weren’t trying to get pregnant, that ship had sailed! But, sure enough, I was pregnant, again. Ok, so, here we go again. It was exciting, yet, we knew how it would end. I would have a miscarriage. It was only a matter of time and we should prepare ourselves for it. Every miscarriage had been a little different. Some happened within days of a positive test. Others lasted a few weeks only to find an empty sack at a routine visit. Each one was different, each baby was different, so we could only wonder how this one would happen. We prayed for the best, but prepared for the worst.

Things were going fine. On February 26th we had mexican food for dinner, and I thought that it wasn’t settling right. I thought my stomach was just in knots and I really wasn’t feeling too well. As the night went on, it got worse. In the middle of the night I woke hubby, I was bleeding and could hardly stand. We went to the closest hospital, but they took forever. He decided we should leave and go to the medical center. He had to carry me to the car. They saw me immediately, did an ultrasound, and determined I was having an ectopic preganancy and needed emergency surgery. I was whisked away. My tube had ruptured. The doctor talked with us and said we were done…no more kids.

We were fine with that. We weren’t even trying to get pregnant, adoption was good for us.

I felt awful. Another loss to mourn. Alec was devastated too, the dr had told him that we were dangerously close and he could lose me that day. How would we really recover from this? I don’t know how we did. Looking back, I didn’t get to mourn properly. I had 2 other children to care for. I threw myself into being a mom. I was already a stay at home mom, but it was like I couldn’t keep my kids close enough. No one would take them from me. They were my little blessings, and I would protect them.

In the spring of 2008 we decided to start the adoption process again. After a short 3 month period we got a phone call from Bob again! A 18 yr old mother of 1 was pregnant again. She wanted to place her baby and walk away. She didn’t want to meet us, but her parents did. So they were asking for a visit. We met the birth mother, her parents, aunt, and minister. It was an interesting visit, but we walked away somewhat confident that she would choose us. She was due in a 2 weeks.

Things went well, and she was induced. We drove to another Texas town and waited for the call to come to the hospital. Finally, we heard from one of the case workers. She had changed her mind. She was keeping the baby. the nurses did not respect her wishes and made her nurse the baby and keep him in her room. At 18, giving birth, and dealing with drama you would not believe from friends and family at the hospital, how can she be expected to then argue with the nurses? I cried and and cried.

The case worker asked us to stay in town the next day and give her a chance to talk with the mother. We did, but it was a long day with no signs of change. We loaded up the car and began to head out of town when the phone rang. She wanted to know what name we would want on the birth certificate. We brought home our 3rd son. It was insanity!

In October, after Baby A’s arrival, we decided that 3 was a good number! We felt like we were done with adding to our number. To our surprise in late October, I was pregnant for the 9th time. You have got to be kidding me? The dr’s have no idea how it happened. I’m a walking medical miracle!

After 9 months which included bedrest and 2 stays in the hospital. We had our baby girl. It was unbelievable. Truly a miracle. The entire practice of doctors was involved in our pregnancy. They took such good care of us. The bedrest enlisted our friends and family that cared for us with such love. We could never repay them. But they wouldn’t want us too, because we all share in our family. Our fourth miracle, and it’s a girl!

Did I mention the 2 brothers and sister we added as well? Oh right…well, my husband and I work with the youth group at our church and we got to know one of the families pretty well. The mother moved herself and the kids here from Mexico when her husband was put in prison. She was over her head and it spiraled into a mess. They boys moved in with us when Baby C was about a year old, they just moved out last October as young college students.

Their sister stayed with mom until 2 summers ago when mom pretty much left her. She has been with us since. They are my children too. They have a mother they see from time to time, and I am not trying to replace her. I have my own place in their lives. I love them just as I love my little ones. They are yet, 3 more miracles.

So, you see, our family is a little unconventional. Nothing about our life is normal or typical, but we like it that way. It is ours, and it is a gift from God. Each of our babies came to us in their own unique way with their own unique personalities. We can’t wait to see what adventures our children will take us on. It’s been a bumpy ride with lots of ups and downs, but it’s all been worth it.

From Lacey King.

P.S. — Here’s another sweet birth story from a Colorado girl.

Note from Design Mom: throughout my 6th pregnancy, I posted reader-submitted advice, memories and stories about pregnancy, childbirth, adoption and growing a family. My baby is hardly a baby anymore — here’s her birth story and her newborn photos — but the series has been so popular that I’m continuing it indefinitely. You can find all the stories in this series by clicking here. Have a story you’d like to share? I’d love to read it. You can send it to me at

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A Birth Story from Aya Amurjuev Wed, 21 Dec 2011 14:00:43 +0000 Design Mom

My husband and I celebrated our one year wedding anniversary when I was 37 weeks pregnant. I was fatigued and nauseous and huge, but in spite of my condition I wanted to get out and do something. It was a wintry March evening and the chill kept us from venturing too far from home. The night before our anniversary, we visited a tiny Middle Eastern eatery, where we consumed the greasiest plate of shawarma and fries ever made. Afterwards, our families gathered in our one-room apartment, where we shared a double fudge chocolate torte and toasted our marriage with sparkling grape juice.

The next morning, I awoke at six am with the worst stomach pain I had ever experienced. I shook my husband awake and told him I felt ill. He said that he didn’t feel too great either, and we would never eat at that restaurant again. He dressed for work while I writhed and moaned under the covers.  Before he left, he turned on some music for me to listen to (“Rock Me Gently” by Andy Kim) and joked, “If you feel like having the baby today, try to hold it in till Sunday.” It was Friday morning. We are Jewish and neither of us felt like spending Shabbat in the hospital. I laughed and said that I would try. I was not worried in the least. I was certain that my discomfort had been brought on by the unwise combination of grease and chocolate I had consumed the night before. Nothing I was experiencing felt remotely labour-like, and besides, it was three weeks before my due date.

My cavalier behaviour reflected my general attitude to this pregnancy, which was something between ignorance and denial. According to our religious tradition, I did not get an ultrasound to confirm the baby’s gender, nor did we buy a single item of baby gear in advance. I did not make a birth plan or hire a doula. I did not have a hospital bag packed. I didn’t even look up the directions to get to the hospital. I was under the misguided impression that all first babies are born at or after 40 weeks gestation, and after at least 15 hours of labour. I was woefully unprepared, but I thought I still had plenty of time.

I bravely hauled myself out of bed, got dressed, and started cooking in preparation for Shabbat. After about ten minutes, I collapsed back into bed in tears and called my mother. I told her I had food poisoning and I needed her help. She came straight over, and by the time she got there, I was firmly ensconced in the bathroom, vomiting. She stroked my hair and rubbed my back and raced to clean up the bathroom while I rested. Immediately she realized there was no way that she would be able to cook anything for me, so she called my mother-in-law and told her that I was sick, and could she please bring some food over because I wouldn’t be able to make dinner. She also called 911, explained the situation, and asked them what to do. They asked if my water had broken or if I was having contractions. When my mother said no, they told her to make me drink water when I wasn’t vomiting and stay home.

Meanwhile my mother-in-law had arrived. She and my mother discussed how to transport me to the hospital. I was still utterly unaware that I was in labour. The sole conscious thought overwhelmingly dominating my brain was that I would never leave that bathroom. The abdominal pain was excruciating and the only position that afforded me some relief was sitting on the toilet. I announced that I would not get into a motor vehicle under any circumstances and I was planning to stay in the bathroom forever. My vision was blurry and my hearing was almost gone. I could sort of hear myself screaming as my mother-in-law massaged my back and my mother knelt in front of me, telling me to breathe in and breathe out.

The breathing helped a lot. The pain lessened slightly and I focused the sum total of my consciousness on my mother. “What are you saying?” I shrieked. “I can’t hear you!” I could barely hear her as she coached me through my breathing while calling 911 again. The dispatcher told her to get me onto a bed. I refused to leave the bathroom. My mother-in-law ran out to meet the paramedics and somehow my mother wrestled me onto the bed.  I heard my mother yell, “I can see the head!” Over the speaker-phone, the dispatcher told my mother to push the baby back in. My mother panicked and threw the phone to the floor. I could hear the dispatcher shouting for my mother to pick up the phone as my mother was telling me to push. I screamed louder and longer than I have ever screamed in my life, a theatrical echoing scream like the heroine of a horror movie. I felt a liquid gush and as I geared up to scream again my mother told me it was a girl.

I started laughing. At that moment the firefighters burst into the room. They cut the cord and covered my trembling legs with blankets and did a lot of other medical stuff that I didn’t look at. The paramedics came soon after that and everyone bustled around trying to look busy and heroic but there wasn’t much to do since my mother had caught the baby all by herself. I’m told that I was handed my daughter immediately for skin-to-skin contact and I nursed her, but I have no recollection of that whatsoever. The paramedics marked down the time of her birth as 2:30 pm.

My husband stumbled into the bedroom in a daze. He rushed to my side and kept asking me if I was okay. I was laughing with tears running down my cheeks, shouting, “I did it! I had the baby!” He nodded solemnly. The firefighters asked him if he was ready to hold his daughter. He sank into an armchair and gently gathered our baby girl into his arms.  Later we would joke that she enjoyed the previous evening’s double fudge chocolate torte so much,  she couldn’t wait to be born and get some more. My darling Dora, the sweetest 6 pound 7 ounce anniversary present ever.

Story from Aya Amurjuev. Print found here.

P.S. — Here’s a story of a baby arriving during a camping trip.

Note from Design Mom: throughout my 6th pregnancy, I posted reader-submitted advice, memories and stories about pregnancy, childbirth, adoption and growing a family. My baby is hardly a baby anymore — here’s her birth story and her newborn photos — but the series has been so popular that I’m continuing it indefinitely. You can find all the stories in this series by clicking here. Have a story you’d like to share? I’d love to read it. You can send it to me at

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A Birth Story from Helen Burridge Thu, 08 Dec 2011 09:03:17 +0000 Design Mom

My birth story ought to start with a bit of an introduction. My husband is a paediatrician and for the last two years has been working with the very small and very ill babies resulting from premature and traumatic (or problematic) births. Having braced ourselves for a long period of attempting to conceive, we were overjoyed and slightly taken aback when success came in the form of a peed-on-stick after only four months post-wedding and 5 weeks off the pill!

Since then, his experiences (and medical knowledge generally) have impacted considerably on my pregnancy and the decisions we made leading up to the birth. In some cases, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. With my husband, a large amount of knowledge was very dangerous indeed: he was anxious and over-informed for most of the nine months. With my artistic background (and general unease around most things medical and sanitised) we were clearly going to be approaching the delivery of our first child from very different directions!

The midwife-led birthing centre at our local hospital was the obvious choice. Unlike other birthing centres in the country, the paediatricians (and general medical intervention in the event of emergencies) were on hand, on site, rather than in other buildings, or worse, other towns. I wanted to try for as ‘natural’ a birth as possible, but having heard about (and in his case been present at) all the various scenarios and potential risks, in truth my birth plan was ‘Get the baby out safely’ and the rest was ‘wait and see’. And so December arrived and with it, our due date…

Three days before our little girl was due, I took a walk with a friend to a local café for lunch. As I tucked into my jacket potato, a wave of discomfort and cramping across my abdomen took my breath away for a good couple of minutes. The sight of a heavily pregnant woman clutching the table with closed eyes and concentrated breath did cause rather a stir and once it passed, we finished our food and staggered home. Nothing more happened that day or evening, but the next morning, ‘just to be on the safe side’, I rang my mother and suggested she bring forward her trip to us forward by a couple of days to start ‘babywatch’ early… just in case. I continued to plan for mince pie baking, Christmas tree purchasing and so forth, convinced that I’d cried wolf. She arrived, we had dinner and retired to bed, ready for shopping and general mum-fun the next day.

Sitting in bed, baby book in hand, a small gush emitted onto the sheets, of course widely missing the maternity sheet we’d sensibly laid out earlier that evening! I went to the loo, and the leaking continued. For the next hour. Telephoning the birthing centre, we all dutifully re-dressed and drove over to the hospital to be checked and confirmed unstained and in order. Returning home at 1am, we settled in for the night, waiting for the contractions to start. They obliged and for the rest of the night, my husband and I sat, knelt, stood and squatted with the pains, increasing in frequency until they were two every ten minutes by 6am.

The city ring road traffic is renowned and I was anxious not to give birth in the shopping centre park. We telephoned the hospital again, and were given the all clear to make our way back to the ward and see how far I had progressed. I hoped to use the birthing pool and had to be at least 6cm dilated before I was allowed to get in and enjoy its warm comfort and ‘pain relief’ (ha ha)… Upon arrival at 8am, after 6 hours of contracting, I was measured a mere 1cm. A bath, some tea, more contractions and by 2pm it finally came around to seeing how much further I had progressed. By this point, I had been having a contraction every three minutes for the most part of 12 hours and was horrified to discover I was only 2cm dilated. The lovely midwife comforted me as I turned the air blue and sobbed. The ‘sweep’ was wildly uncomfortable and I was exhausted, bruised and scared. Although we knew dilation and contractions were not on a linear scale, only a further centimetre in 6 hours was dispiriting at best, but at worst, it meant that I would not make the 24hour, post-water-breaking window and would need intervention to move things along.

A shot of pethidine calmed me down from near-hysteria and hopeless gloom and the midwife helped me better control the unending wave of contractions. Rather than leaping from one yogic position to the next in the hope of diminishing the pain (and failing!), I was set up on the bed with a beanbag and stayed kneeling, falling into it every two minutes for the next three hours. The contractions didn’t hurt less, but I was now armed with the ability to survive each one more effectively.

We were finally progressing: it was time for the pool. We progressed some more: they started filling the pool. We progressed some more: I was allowed to undress and get into the pool. The latent phase had lasted nearly 20 hours and we were now in active labour. The midwives were excellent at considering my contractions, me, my husband and my mum, simultaneously ensuring that I was sufficiently medically and holistically cared for and managing all our expectations.

The lights were turned down, the water was warm, the gas and air was coming thick and fast and so were the contractions. I gripped the sides of the tub and thrashed in the water through each one. I was told it was time to get out the pool and start pushing but the effort and energy required to get out evaded me. I turned to my husband. ‘Will you divorce me if I give birth in a pool?’ He confirmed that our marriage would not be at risk if I temporarily took on the role of earth mother and the pushing began. The low ‘moo’ noise that we had been encouraged to practice in yoga (and which I had then been too embarrassed to emit beyond a peaceful ‘ommmm’) bellowed from the depths of my abdomen. There was a high-pitched sting down below and I panted the question, ‘Is it crowning?’… To which the rather bemusing reply came: ‘Almost, she’s just around the corner.’  What corner?? It continued…

With a rush of sting, hurt, groans, gripping, clenching and pushing, my daughter came swimming into the world at 8.45pm, nearly 23 hours after the waters broke, and in perfect health and fitness. She was immediately placed on my chest, and stayed there for fifteen minutes of warmth, cuddles and exhaustion while her cord was cut and my husband and mum looked on in awe. After such a long labour, we opted to deliver the placenta with syntocnon and, a few stitches and a hot shower later, was in bed with toast and tea and my little girl.

I can’t thank enough the splendorous calm and control shown by the ever-patient and thoughtful midwives throughout our labour. My husband remains in awe at his first experience of a complication-free and entirely un-medicalised birth. Six weeks on, the seemingly endless contractions along with the fear and anxiety are lost in a blur of breastfeeding and nappies. Six weeks on, though, I also have my daughter. And she is beautiful, calm and healthy. And we got the baby out safely.

Matilda Molly Anne was born at 20.45pm (three hours before her due date) weighing in at 7lbs3½oz. The records show labour as lasting 3½ hours. Her family begs to differ.

From Helen Burridge of UK blog, Countryside Wedding.

P.S. — A beautiful home birth in 3 parts.

Note from Design Mom: throughout my 6th pregnancy, I posted reader-submitted advice, memories and stories about pregnancy, childbirth, adoption and growing a family. My baby is hardly a baby anymore — here’s her birth story and her newborn photos — but the series has been so popular that I’m continuing it indefinitely. You can find all the stories in this series by clicking here. Have a story you’d like to share? I’d love to read it. You can send it to me at

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A Birth Story from Jenny Post Wed, 16 Nov 2011 15:43:12 +0000 Design Mom

I learned I was pregnant on September 1, 2010. After being out to lunch with a friend, I arrived home and scooted upstairs past my husband Matt to take (yet another) pregnancy test. At that point I had been disappointed a few months in a row and when I glanced at the test on the sink, I was initially let down: A single bright pink line. But then I looked more closely and my heart started racing. There was also a faint pink line.

I double-checked the instructions to confirm that any second line, no matter how light, was a positive result. I stood there smiling uncontrollably for a few minutes before I made my way downstairs to tell Matt. It took every muscle in my face to not smile and give it away. I wish I could say I had some clever and creative way that I told him the news, but I don’t. I just sat down next to him on the couch and said, “Hi. So…I’m pregnant.” Smiles, laughs, hugs, kisses. A lot of, “Wow. Like, wow. We’re going to have a baby.” Then I went to Barnes and Noble and bought What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Apparently pregnancy had made me a walking cliché.

My pregnancy was pretty great. A few weeks of morning sickness. A few weeks of headaches. One terrible virus in January when I lost every pound I had gained because I couldn’t keep food down. Oh, and the bursitis in my hip – ouch! But even with all that, I’m lucky and grateful that I didn’t have any real health problems. Everything seemed to go smoothly and Matt told me he had a good feeling my birth would go the same way.

Having a natural, un-medicated birth was important to me, and Matt and I took a Bradley course to help prepare us for that.  The message we took from the class was that birth is normal, birth is natural and I could do this! Leading up to Nolan’s birth, I comforted my nerves by focusing on the mantra, “It’s one day.” Whenever I worried I wouldn’t be able to get through labor and delivery, I concentrated on the fact that in all likelihood, from start to finish, labor would be over and the baby would be here in one day.

On Tuesday, April 27th I had my weekly appointment with my midwife Melanie. Although I wasn’t dilated at all, she said the baby was very low in my pelvis and she suspected that I would be the first of her May deliveries. The following day I had a lovely pre-natal massage at Nordstrom and garnered more than a few looks at my monstrous self, waddling around in a spa robe.  Later that day I had an unsettled stomach and thought, Hmm, this could mean something…

At 2a.m. on Thursday morning, I woke up with mild but sharp cramping. I got up to pee (no surprise there) and noticed that I had some light bleeding. About ten minutes later the cramping happened again and I knew, THIS IS IT! I woke up Matt and said, “I think you need to call for a sub.” (My husband and I are both teachers.) Over the next hour we both lay in bed trying to rest but too excited to fall back to sleep. I quietly kept track of my contractions and noted that they were consistently ten minutes apart. After a while we decided to just get up and head downstairs. Matt grabbed the birth ball for me to sit on when I had contractions and we relaxed in the living room.

My contractions were still mild and were coming anywhere from eight to thirty minutes apart. Even though I wanted Matt to take off work, I was nervous that this was a false alarm and that he would be taking a day off for nothing. By five or six we agreed that he needed to stay home, but throughout the morning I worried that he was calling in for nothing. Looking back I can’t believe that I was having contractions and rolling around on a birth ball, but Matt taking off of work is what I was anxious about. I’m a crazy person!

We each called our parents to give them the heads up that labor had started but was moving along slowly. When I had painful contractions, Matt would rub or push on my lower back as I sat on the birth ball or leaned over the arm of a chair. Throughout the day I sipped watered down lemon-lime Gatorade and tried to wrap my brain around what the next few hours would bring. We decided to watch a movie to help pass the time. All we had from Netflix was the new Robin Hood with Russel Crowe. Ugh. I don’t know if it really was terrible or I just think it was because I associate it with labor pains, but the thought of watching that movie again makes me feel sick. Seriously, I think I just gagged a little.

The afternoon moved along and at 5:30 my mom came by with dinner and ice cream.  During dinner my contractions really started to pick up. I managed a few bites and then I spent the next hour writhing around while she hung valances in Nolan’s room. (Doesn’t everyone finish decorating her nursery during labor?) Through gritted teeth I managed, “Yeah, that looks level” and “Wow! They’re really cute!”

The next few hours are really a blur. My mom headed home and Matt and I worked through my contractions. They were coming faster and a lot stronger than they had been all day. We kept track of them on an iPhone app I downloaded (Nerd Alert!) and before I knew it, they were five minutes apart. We called our midwife Melanie and she told us to call her back when they were three minutes apart since we were all within minutes of the hospital. I took a quick shower and by the time I got out, the contractions were three minutes apart.

My bags were already packed and Matt set to loading up the car.  Fast forward two days and it turns out I didn’t use the majority of what I brought. iPod and iPod player? Nope. The thought of music in the delivery room made me want to vomit.  I wore about 20% of the clothes I brought and instead lived in one pair of sweatpants and one of Matt’s old button-down shirts (great for nursing but hideous in pictures).

Walking from the street to the labor and delivery wing was interesting. I had to stop a few times and hang on Matt while I dealt with contractions. Melanie met us in the lobby and walked us in. The young woman at the check-in desk was not suited to her job and mumbled, “Ok, why are you here?” Um, to have a baby? As I could barely form sentences, Matt handled checking in. While I got changed and ready for my initial examination, I prayed that Melanie wasn’t going to say I was only dilated two centimeters.

The examination was more painful than I expected and Melanie announced that I was five centimeters. I was definitely disappointed (don’t we all hope the doctor or midwife is going to say, “Wow, you’re already ten centimeters!”), but still hopeful that I would deliver in the next few hours. It was about 10:00 when I arrived at the hospital and she said I probably wouldn’t deliver before midnight, but she expected he would be here pretty soon after. So much for that estimate!

The contractions started coming back to back and I had virtually no break between them. Matt did what he could to comfort me but I’m sure I was pretty unbearable to be around. My mom came into the room briefly but I found talking or having company too distracting and I needed to focus. I found out later that my mom was so upset by it all that she nearly fainted and a nurse had to help her out in the hallway! Fortunately, working with a midwife afforded me a little more freedom in the delivery room. I was able (and encouraged) to drink and I didn’t need to be on constant fetal monitoring so I had much more mobility than some other people.

At some point Melanie decided it would be best to break my water. Holy flood waters! During my pregnancy so many people reassured me, “When your water breaks it’s no big deal! It’s like a trickle.” Uh no. If that had happened in my house I would have needed FEMA.

I progressed slower than expected and at around 4:00 I finally felt the urge to push. In my head I thought, “Best case scenario, a few pushes and he’s out. Worst case, I push for an hour.” I didn’t even consider that I would have to push for over two hours! As it turns out, Nolan’s left arm was draped up over his head. This made it difficult for him to make his way under my pubic bone.  After pushing for so long it was incredibly frustrating to hear Melanie say that his head still hadn’t dipped under the bone. It took so long that at one point Melanie went next door, delivered another baby, and then came back to me with plenty of time to spare.

Even with all the pain and pushing, getting an epidural never crossed my mind. It was as if it didn’t even exist. What did keep running through my mind was, “Now I know why people opt for c-sections!” I know that’s a totally illogical thought because a c-section is major surgery but at that moment I couldn’t imagine pushing for even another second. But push I did! Going into the birth I told myself I was not going to be one of those moaning, groaning, screamers you see on TV. Let’s just say that at one point Melanie told me, “Less screaming, more pushing,” and soon after that the nurse closed the door to the delivery room even though we were told on our hospital tour that doors were always kept open for safety reasons.

The obstetrician who practices with my midwife popped in at 6:30 and Melanie enlisted his help in pushing down on my abdomen to move things along.  Finally, after two and a half hours, Nolan’s head made its way out. Melanie called out, “Look down! His head is out!” At first I didn’t because I wanted to keep pushing and just get him out, but I took a peek and wow, there was my baby’s head! Another big push or two and he was out. Nolan arrived at 6:37 am weighing 6 lbs 15oz.

Relief. Awe. Exhaustion. Amazement. Holding Nolan on my chest just seconds after delivering him was otherworldly. He latched on to breastfeed quickly and I lay and marvel at my body’s capabilities. My brief hospital stay also included stitches (bummer), a catheter (nightmare), the nurse corralling my parents and in-laws into the delivery room moments after I delivered to my obvious horror (I needed a few minutes!), and what a friend described as, “a scene out of Dexter.” And it was!

I am so grateful for the 38 weeks I carried Nolan around and I know I’m lucky to have experienced pregnancy and childbirth. Months later, I’m sometimes paralyzed with wonder at birth’s ability to happen all on its own and be purely amazing.

From Jenny Post of The Reluctant Long Islander.

P.S. Here’s a birth story that happened at super speed.

Note from Design Mom: throughout my 6th pregnancy, I posted advice, memories and stories about pregnancy, childbirth, adoption and growing a family. My baby is hardly a baby anymore — here’s her birth story and her newborn photos — but the series has been so popular that I’m continuing it indefinitely. You can find all the stories in this series by clicking here. Have a story you’d like to share? I’d love to read it. You can send it to me at

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A Birth Story from Molly Winn Wed, 02 Nov 2011 16:42:37 +0000 Design Mom

Image by Hazel Leggatt.

I was starting to blow up like a balloon and could no longer really see ankles. All my shoes were too tight and each day when I walked into work (I worked for an insurance company at the time, in the medical management department, so my boss was a nurse) my boss would say to me, “I sure wish I knew what your blood pressure was!”

I was retaining fluid with each second and getting frequent headaches. I went to the pharmacy to pick up some Tylenol and while I was there I decided to stick my arm in one of those blood pressure taking machines. My blood pressure was in fact through the roof so I called my doctor’s office.

No one answered the phone (it was a Saturday) so I left a message for the on-call doctor explaining that I had just taken my blood pressure and it was pretty high, and since my sister had pre-eclampisa and two 3lbs babies I was a bit concerned. Within minutes the doctor called me back, told me to get right to the hospital.

So, my husband and I hopped in the car, drove to the hospital where they continued to monitor me for several hours. At this point I was a little over 31 weeks along. After watching my blood pressure rise and fall over the next several hours they admitted me. Sigh.

I was in the hospital for almost a week while they monitored my blood pressure, urine, and blood several times daily. After several days I just didn’t feel right, my gut told me something was wrong. I expressed to the nurse that I knew something wasn’t right, I couldn’t explain it very well, I just knew. They decided to do some more tests, took me for an ultrasound and deduced that yes, something was in fact very wrong and they couldn’t wait any longer to take the baby out.

I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia, toxemia, and the HELLP syndrome. My doctor had been out of town and when she walked into my room and saw me she did a double take, I had gained so much weight (fluid retention) since my previous appointment nearly 4 weeks before that it was astounding and I didn’t even look like me any more!

The doctor told me to get ready, that I would have a baby in the next couple of hours!

My husband was teaching a class and came to the hospital when it was over, (per his usual routine that whole week), when he walked in I said “we’re going to have a baby soon!!” He was a bit stunned but rallied quickly and we both made some calls to family and a few close friends. It was nearly midnight at this time and a couple of my dear friends came to the hospital to sit in the waiting room and just be a support.

I was wheeled into surgery a little before midnight for my emergency c-section. At 12:09am at exactly 32 weeks pregnant at 3lbs 6oz my baby girl was born. It was the most amazing, beautiful moment of my life. Even in the midst of all the chaos and urgency I had a peace that washed over me, God is so good that way!

They held her up for about 1 second for me to see her face and then whisked her off to the NICU where she stayed for 26 days. My beautiful, perfect baby girl was here, totally healthy, just tiny. I practically lived in the NICU for the next month until I could bring my sweet girl home where she belonged.

My birth story wasn’t what I thought it would be but it was how it was meant to be and I got the most perfect reward.

From Molly Winn.

P.S. — Here’s another early delivery story with lots of stunning images.

Note from Design Mom: throughout my 6th pregnancy, I posted advice, memories and stories about pregnancy, childbirth, adoption and growing a family. My baby is hardly a baby anymore — here’s her birth story and her newborn photos — but the series has been so popular that I’m continuing it indefinitely. You can find all the stories in this series by clicking here. Have a story you’d like to share? I’d love to read it. You can send it to me at

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Jack’s Birth Story from Alie Jones Thu, 20 Oct 2011 10:20:28 +0000 Design Mom

Want to know (every detail of) how baby Jack made his long-awaited arrival into this world? Read on.

Jack Dalton’s birth story simplified into ten (easy, painless) steps:

Step one: Complain about how much you want labor to start already. This will annoy your husband and everyone around you. Oddly enough, this also will be the only time in your life when you actually have a strong desire to feel excruciating pain. Go to bed already and forget about it. The baby’s never coming out and you’re going to be pregnant forever.

Step two: Wake up at 3am and feel a little crampier than usual. You probably just have to pee, but just in case, silently sneak out of bed to go sit on the couch and start reading every pregnancy book you own. Time what you suspect may be contractions. When they don’t subside by 4:15, wake your husband up. He’ll be a little difficult to stir and may be a bit cranky and confused, but when you say the word “labor” his eyes will open right away.

Step three: Realize that you may have packed your hospital bag too soon and now have no idea what is in there. Take everything out and make your husband repack the bag. Hop in the shower and scrub up — this may be the last time you feel genuinely clean for a while. When you are finished with your shower, you’ll realize it takes you five times as long to get anything done because you have to stop every two minutes for a contraction. This is quite frustrating indeed. Your husband will try to make you eat something, but chances are the last thing on your mind will be food. (Typical of the male gender, wanting food at a crucial time such as this!) Finally everything is packed and ready. Between contractions, make a dash for the car. Unfortunately, you probably won’t make it and will awkwardly bend over, breathing through your crampiness as you make it to the parking lot. Good thing it’s 5:30 in the morning and nobody’s up yet.

Step four: Drive to the hospital. Contractions really suck in the car, so the hospital better be close. Park at the hospital. Get a strong contraction on your way from the car to the entrance, and awkwardly lean on your husband (who happens to have his hands full with all of the hospital bags and thus can barely support you). Luckily they expect peculiar things like this to happen on the Labor and Delivery floor. Ride the elevator up, praying you won’t get stuck riding it up and down, unable to exit on the correct floor because you’re in the middle of a contraction. Check in around 6am, and finally get settled in your room.

Step five: Plan to bare it all. Change into an ugly hospital gown which frequently flies open in the back, exposing your right or left butt cheek to the world. Plan to be strapped down to the bed for what seems like an endless forty minutes of poking and prodding. When you tell the nurse you plan to birth naturally without an epidural, she may raise her eyebrows a bit. When she checks your dilation, you are 4.5cm along. It won’t be long now! Then several nurses will be in your room, strapping too-tight fetal monitors to your belly and poking your arm in three different places to find blood. And this all happens while you are stuck in bed battling semi-painful contractions.

Step six: It’s time to roam around the labor and delivery floor and let gravity work wonders. This can be a bit inconvenient when you have an IV pole attached to your arm, but luckily dragging the darn thing around can be your supportive husband’s job. You do three or four laps, passing the ice cube machine and the blanket warmer on the way. The contractions will finally start to pick up and they feel stronger and stronger, but it’s disappointing that in the past three hours you’ve only progressed to 5.5cm. But relax. You can do this.

Step seven: 9:00 am already. Your doctor drops by to say hello. Your bag of waters is “bulging” and ready to pop at any second. She breaks your water to speed things along, and the gush of fluid spilling out of you is unbelievably warm. It feels like you just wet your pants…times ten. Ew…don’t want to feel that again for a while. But luckily labor finally starts to pick up. A routine is established: walk, sit on the exercise ball, and lay in bed for monitoring. Repeat. You lose all sense of modesty. You’ve got nothing no one in the room hasn’t seen before. But suddenly, you are stuck naked in the lukewarm shower when a really, really hard contraction hits. They’re coming closer and closer together, and it’s getting harder and harder to relax. While he is attempting to dress you, your husband tells you to calm down and breathe slowly. You give him a dirty look and probably tell him to shut up. Three more contractions send you doubling over while you make your way to the bed.

Step eight: Breathe deep. Now deeper. Contractions will come barreling at you. Three on top of one another, followed by a thirty-second break. When did this all of a sudden get so hard? Make strange grunting and wailing noises that you never thought would come out of you, and your husband may tell you to keep the noise down. You want to punch him in the face. Calming down is no longer and option at this point. You have lost your sanity. You feel the irresistible urge to push, yet you are only 6cm dilated. Yes, the nurse just checked you again for the umpteenth time. It’s really loud and bright and hard to concentrate on anything but the pain. You’ve completely checked out of the world. You cry and beg for the relief of an epidural, and your husband fights against you. He has good reason to…you’ve worked too hard and come too far to give up now. But luckily the nurse lets you sign the paper anyway. The anesthesiologist comes in, bright and cheerful, and the nurse announces you’re dilated to a 7. No, wait. Now you’re at an 8. You literally don’t even feel the needles in your back at this point. Holy cow. You’re dilated to 8.5cm. (Yes, the nurse checked you again). The pain in your pelvis is much to strong to worry about anything else. Then BAM! Relief. The beautiful, heavenly “walking” epidural kicks in. It is light, and you can still feel contractions. But oh, you can breathe again.

Step nine: Smile and relax. You made it 8.5cm naturally. Way to go, sistah! Say, “Hello, world. I’m here again. I’ve checked back in. See the big smile on my face? I’m ready to birth this baby.” There’s no smile on your husband’s face. He is clearly disappointed in you. Luckily this doesn’t last long. Smile again, and sing in your head, this is the final countdown! while picturing Gob from Arrested Development perform magic tricks with a dead dove. Giggle a bit. Feel pressure as the baby moves further and further down. There is absolutely no self control at this point. Your body is pushing with or without you on board.

Step ten: Let out loud, uncontrollable grunts. Embarrassing, loud grunts. Again, your body has taken over and this baby is coming whether you’re ready or not. No, nurse, I cannot wait an hour to “rest and descend” until I start pushing. Call the doctor. This baby is coming now. 10cm. Hallelujah, complete dilation at last. She thinks delivery will take at least an hour, so we will start pushing and call the doctor later. Wrong. Fifteen minutes into pushing (you are an excellent pusher, by the way) the baby is crowning and ready to meet his parents at last. Your instructions: “Don’t push for the next few contractions while I call the doctor.” Ha! As if you can even control that. Run, nurse, run! The doctor arrives (luckily her clinic is just minutes away) and in three contractions your beautiful baby is born at 12:08pm. You did it! Say hello to the world, baby Jack!

Sidenote: Tyler pointed out that I make it seem like he wasn’t at all supportive. He was wonderful, I promise! I couldn’t have done it without him there. He was constantly holding me up during contractions, rubbing my back, cleaning me up, etc. His back and hands were probably just as sore as I was after labor!

Tyler and I planned on a drug-free childbirth. We took a twelve-week childbirth class together, studying The Bradley Method. I really was confident I could do it. But I learned you have to be flexible. Your first baby is by far the most difficult (and longest) labor. Even though labor was nine hours for me, it came on hard and strong. The point when I really lost control was when my contractions peaked three on top of one another. Three minutes of hard contractions with no break in between really did it for me. That was my breaking point. But in the end, I made it 8.5cm naturally, and I am so grateful I did! I feel like my body has healed quickly (I’m writing this six days after birth and I feel fantastic) because I allowed it to labor drug-free. Being able to walk around and switch positions (instead of laying in bed for hours on end with no feeling) makes all the difference. It allowed my body to adjust naturally to the changes happening to it during labor.

Looking back, I am glad I got the light epidural when I did. It allowed me to check back into reality, and really be “there” for the birth of our first child. Without it, I’m sure the baby would have come out just fine, but I think I would have been hysterical to say the least. It gave me the opportunity to be calm and rational for the most important part of the birth – the end. I’m not at all disappointed. I feel like a rockstar! Tyler and I did a fantastic job handling labor and now have a beautiful son to show for it. :)

From Alie of Double Jones.

P.S. — Did you know October is National Down Syndrome Awareness month? I hope you’ll read this beautiful birth story by Cynthia Smith.

Note from Design Mom: throughout my 6th pregnancy, I posted advice, memories and stories about pregnancy, childbirth, adoption and growing a family. My baby is hardly a baby anymore — here’s her birth story and her newborn photos — but the series has been so popular that I’m continuing it indefinitely. You can find all the stories in this series by clicking here. Have a story you’d like to share? I’d love to read it. You can send it to me at

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An Adoption Story from Mary McBride Wed, 05 Oct 2011 09:47:39 +0000 Design Mom

Where our family story begins is hard to figure. There are dates we can point to as significant — a discussion on a coffee shop patio, our acceptance into an Ethiopian adoption program, the day we finished our paperwork and were put on the wait list officially. There was a dream I had that I am sure was connected to my daughter. And then there was the day we saw her face and knew that if we would be allowed to adopt her, we most certainly wanted to.

We knew before we got married that we wanted to adopt. We talked about having one child by pregnancy first and then adopting one or two more. Then I got pregnant, and miscarried shortly after I took the first positive pregnancy test. While some families might have mourned the loss deeply, I instead suddenly realized that I had never cared as much about being pregnant as I had about being a family to a child who needed one. It took a long time for my body to heal and return to normal, and in the end I felt that it just wasn’t important to me to try again. It was, however, deeply important to me to adopt. On a beautiful spring day, my husband and I discussed and decided that we would proceed with adopting our first child.

From there to the exciting part of our story, it was just a giant mess of paperwork for months on end, then a sigh of relief when it was finally all done right and submitted. We requested to be matched with a baby girl and stated that we were open to a variety of special needs. Because there are so many needs that we couldn’t possibly anticipate to add to our list, but which we would feel comfortable with, I kept a close eye on our agency’s waiting child list. At one point, we requested information on a baby, but another family had requested her information first, and so she became their daughter. For that, we are so grateful. Seeing a baby there whose needs fit what we felt prepared to handle made me vigilant at checking the list. And then, one Friday, there she was.

I was at work as a nanny, and the children were napping. I took a peek at the waiting child list and saw her face. I proceeded to text my husband about how cute this little girl was, and how I felt that our process for our second child might go quickly, as we knew we would be open to an older child the next time around. Of course this wasn’t our child because we were requesting a baby, and this little girl was three years old! But the more I looked at her and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I very much wanted her to be our daughter. I texted my husband a few more times, a little feverishly at the end. “Look at her!” I kept saying, but he was having a busy, frustrating day at work, so he never did. By the time he was home and venting about his terrible day, I was about to lose it. I waited a few minutes before blurting out, “Will you please just look at this little girl now?”

I expected him to say no to requesting more information about her. I expected him to remind me that our plan was to adopt a baby first and then adopt an older child later. But he didn’t say anything of the sort. He said, “Let’s see what happens.” And perhaps that right there was it, was the moment that our family story began. It wasn’t just me being a bleeding heart looney. It was both of us, in it together.

By the time we received her file the next Tuesday we had told far too many people about her and gotten our hopes up terribly high. We had no idea between requesting her file on Friday and receiving it on Tuesday that we would actually be allowed to view her information at all. Something just felt right about it. About her. Standing in Target on Saturday morning, I felt a strong urge to buy her coming home outfit. It flew in the face of logic, but I bought it. She wore it on our last flight home four and a half months later.

The wait between finding out who our daughter was and being able to go to her was the hardest time of my life. While we waited to receive a court date, we received photos from other families and descriptions of her personality. She was fragile, she was funny, she clearly did not want to remove her lollipop from her mouth to have her photo taken. She grew two inches and gained five pounds over the summer, and we received the update on our anniversary, then proceeded to cry over our fancy dinner. We mourned when we got a court date that was much later than we had hoped. We put together her room and packed our bags and finally boarded our flight to Ethiopia.

When we got to her at last, nearly sixteen weeks after we had first seen her face, it was pure magic. She was standing in the courtyard alone when our van pulled up, dressed the same dress she wore in the first photo we saw of her. When I knelt before her and said, “Selam, Zinash,” she looked up and away, as if to make it clear that she was ignoring me. And then I said, “Zinash, nay [come],” and she was there in my arms before I knew what was happening. I picked her up, and the back of her dress was wet. I knew I was her mom when I realized that I didn’t care if it was pee; she was my baby, and it just didn’t matter. She was three years old, and she was my baby, my very first baby.

I still look back with wonder and awe at the moment that she walked into my arms and let me pick her up. From then on, we never had to let her go. We had been told that we would possibly be able to see her from time to time if we stayed in country between the court date we had traveled for and the embassy date later, and so that is what I planned, while my husband planned to return to the US between our court and embassy dates to work. When we were told that we could have her with us, everything was upended. I changed my lodging arrangements to accommodate three people instead of one. We rescheduled Jarod’s flight to a date that would give us a reasonable amount of time to get through the embassy process yet still allow him to get home to work if it didn’t happen that fast. We found out later that we had unwittingly booked his return flight for one hour and forty-five minutes before his visa expired. When we received our embassy date, we were able to book seats on that same flight for Zinashi and me so we could all go home together. It was a series of miracles to be sure.

September 27 marks one year since the day she walked into my arms and we became a family. It has been a heartbreaking and beautiful year, and our hearts are full. It feels like this first year has flown while at the same time it feels like she has been with us forever. She is the delight of our lives, and I cannot wait to see what each new year with her will bring.

By Mary McBride of Finding Magnolia.

P.S. — Here’s a birth story in images.

Note from Design Mom: throughout my 6th pregnancy, I posted advice, memories and stories about pregnancy, childbirth, adoption and growing a family. My baby is hardly a baby anymore — here’s her birth story and her newborn photos — but the series has been so popular that I’m continuing it indefinitely. You can find all the stories in this series by clicking here. Have a story you’d like to share? I’d love to read it. You can send it to me at

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