Our Birth Story + Newborn Photography by Christin Lange
This is a post that comes from a very deep spot in my heart and though most of my friends advised me not to write this, I can't listen to them. I have to listen to me. Yes, I had a few moments when I thought it may not be a good idea so I've slept on it for the past three weeks... But then I thought about what it means to be a good writer and blogger, one who writes from the heart and seeks to encourage, heal and even transform others through their voice - that's how I would define one anyway. Some of the best pieces I've ever written or read from others were those that didn't aspire to be something fluffy or superficial, showing only the "best", but were those that shared how coal was made into a diamond. The birth story of my son brings an inspiring message of hope that anyone can draw strength from, with or without children. That is why I've decided to share the story of how my little diamond came to be. But first, meet my son who is shown throughout this post as photographed by the talented photographer Christin Lange during our newborn photoshoot at my home when he was only 10 days old. This is little Aidan Benjamin Becker and the story of how he came to be on February 9, 2014.
Background: I wanted a family for as long as I can remember. Raised an only child, I often dreamt of having a brother and carried that dream into my adult life as I contemplated marriage and family reasoning since I didn't have a brother that I could always have a baby boy since I'd always wanted a boy in the house. Years rolled on. I got married, worked really hard, held down a corporate job for nearly ten years, went back to college, changed my career, relocated from Boston to Germany, traveled extensively, wrote books, went on book tours, and time just ticked on. Time is a funny thing, isn't it? You think you have all the time in the world and then one day you realize that for some things, you're actually running out of it...
Wakeup Call (that I answered): A few years ago, as I was writing my second book, I shared a meal with three good friends, all from three different parts of the world and on three separate occasions. In fact, none of these ladies have met but all are an important part of my story. With each, I shared deep parts of my heart, those that I don't share freely, and each asked what was the most important thing to me and I said, "Family - I want to have a child". These ladies have children themselves so they understood what was involved in parenting. They asked what I plan to do to have a family and encouraged me to really consider it because time is limited for women - the longer you wait, the harder is becomes. It's tough when friends deliver the message that you're "running out of time", but they were right! I needed to MAKE time to include a baby in my life. I wouldn't be able to have a baby forever, but career stuff can be easily put on hold because you can have a successful career at any age. So I thought about my friends and our lengthy yet loving conversations, and I spoke from my heart to my husband about it later on. We both felt that if it was "to be", it would "be" but we vowed not to stress over getting pregnant or bother with fertility tests or anything that books tell you to do when you're over 35 and want a baby. Instead, we simply stopped using birth control in January 2013 let nature take its course. Getting Help - A few months later in March, I had another birthday and I suddenly felt like I really needed to take control of my desire to have a baby. I started to feel stressed and second guess myself as a result of the control I sought. Honestly though, I was stressed for a long time but didn't fess up to it - in fact, I was stressed since talking to my friends the summer before about baby making and family planning (and even before that). I began to wonder if I needed to talk to someone and seek professional help from a therapist who deals with anxiety and stress disorders. I decided to call my life coach, who is also a therapist, and we spoke about my anxiety issues. During our sessions it was revealed that my anxiety issues were rooted to something much deeper than I thought and together, we worked it out like a splinter exiting the skin. It was painful, but once pulled the healing began. Anxiety is a bit like a weed, you can't keep clipping the top expecting it not to grow back again. You have to grab it from its root. And so with this issue that I had, I finally extracted it from my mind and heart through a few sessions, and this was after living with it (unknown to me) for most of my life. I identified and dealt with it and felt ready to finally move forward with my plans to have a baby... Minus the splinter.
Pregnant! - In April, Leslie (one of the ladies who helped me so much to realize that I needed to get started on having a baby) and I started working non-stop on our book, Decorate With Flowers. She was planning a trip to Europe to work with me in my studio. We went out each night after shoots talking about my desire to get pregnant, she gave me some great advice, but unknown to either of us - I was already pregnant! In fact, after my final "session" with my life coach, I was pregnant within a month! Seems after pulling out that emotional "weed" inside of me, pregnancy came fast. From this I learned the power of letting go of what we cannot control and the power of positive thinking. Often our bodies don't work right because we aren't allowing them to work, we aren't willing them to work, we are somehow blocking them and the energy moving around within us. I know that sounds a bit zen mama/hippie chic, but it's really true! Mind over body. When it comes to stress hormones and the female reproductive system, there is scientific research to support how connected both are and how vital it is for women to keep their stress levels low and to drop the whole quest for perfection and the need to be super human. After the sessions with my life coach, I began to work on letting go and putting aside my quest for perfection. I also weeded my garden by getting rid of negative people in my life and also others with whom I was in contact with online who gave me stress that I didn't need. Removing stress triggers helped! I got pregnant for the first time in my life!
5 Months of Vomit + Doctor Issues - Once I found out I was pregnant, I got very, very ill quite quickly. In fact, I was vomiting as much as 4-5 times daily for the first 5 months. It wasn't simply morning sickness, I lost 20lbs and couldn't even hold down water. As a result, I became dehydrated and bed ridden. On top of all of that, I had the worst ob/gyn ever. She was insulting and with each visit she'd ask me how old I was and would talk about genetic defects and go on and on about how women over 35 have such a great risk as having babies with down's syndrome. In fact, the day I had my first ultrasound and saw my baby, she started telling me about down's syndrome as we were looking at the fetus! I cried and cried. She talked to me at every visit about genetic problems and put so much fear into me that I was a nervous wreck whenever I had to see her. I eventually caved and went for a genetic screening per her suggestion - non-invasive - and everything was fine and I showed her my paperwork and she still was not convinced and tried scaring me again even after the genetic tests (I went on two separate occasions and they told me our son was just fine). I was too ill to even bother looking for a new ob/gyn (big mistake) so I stuck with her nearly the entire term of my pregnancy. In November, she was changing offices and since her new one was far away, I made the switch and found a new doctor who is encouraging, loving and supportive and never once insulted me or my decision to have a baby being over 35. She also said that my previous doctor was known to be "against" older women having babies and is tries to make it hard on them when they do get pregnant. How horrible!
Months 6-9: So yes, the first five months were horrible. Thankfully, during month six, I started to feel great so I was able to finish our book on time and then I taught an e-course for a month. We also decided to move to a new place where we'd have room for the baby, but this move required planning, packing, renovating the new space and unpacking all before the baby was due, which we were told would be either Jan 25 or Jan 31 since my original doctor seemed to have messed up the due date. Despite the first 5 months being hard, it was smooth sailing for the rest of the time - for the most part. I did fall down the stairs in my house in early December and had to be hospitalized for several days, but the baby wasn't affected and I was just fine.
Due Date: We finished renovations (we hired contractors since I was pregnant after all) and moved on January 9 and had everything, including the nursery for our son, unpacked and decorated by Jan 25. We were determined to have a peaceful, chaos-free home when he arrived. But January 25 came and went. Then the final due date, January 31, came and went. This is when worry and anxiety kicked in. I spoke to my doctor about being induced and asked her about the risks. She told me I should be induced 7 days later, so on February 7, I would be admitted to a local hospital to be induced and then stay until I delivered my son. I was happy and terrified at the same time. I never imagined being "induced". I felt like I had failed somehow not being able to do it all myself. Like something was wrong with me. I felt defeated. But I also had this glimmer of hope inside that everything would be okay. I didn't want to take drugs to get my baby out. Even if they are so-called safe I never feel like drugs are the answer and should always be the last resort. During my pregnancy I was so careful to, I didn't drink a single cup of coffee, no alcohol, no sushi or lunch meat or anything on those lists you get online when you're meal planning... I was super careful and very in tune with my baby and my body during pregnancy. I even went for 7 or 8 acupuncture sessions in December and January to help relax me. I walked outside at least 20 minutes daily until my due date. So to have to be induced was emotionally hard for me to face. I wanted to do everything right and perfect though I had just been through counseling to help me ditch those unfair expectations!
Hello, hospital. On Friday morning, February 7, I was admitted to the hospital and the induction process began. Then, I was immediately hooked up to a scanner to monitor my heart and the baby's while I began to have contractions. Before this, I had a few contractions when I was out walking each day, but nothing earth shattering. My ob/gyn stripped my membranes (painful!) before I went to the hospital, which gave me some contractions, but the ones I began to feel in the hospital felt like the real deal. Thing is, they were few and far and my cervix was only 1cm. ONE. I stayed up all night having contractions and in total pain. The next morning, the inducing process continued and so did my contractions. Later than day, I was only 2cm. TWO. You need to be around 10cm to deliver a baby, at least that was what they told me, and the hospital would only induce me until Monday morning and then we'd need to discuss the alternative - an emergency c-section. Several women in my maternity ward were having c-sections because inducing didn't work for them, so my anxiety came back full force knowing it was already Saturday night and no baby yet. I cried all weekend off and on. My husband stayed by my side constantly and was so encouraging and positive - he kept telling me how great I was doing and how proud he was of me. His loving eyes, those words, it all helped tremendously. But it wasn't just him who helped...
Power of Positive People: One particular midwife was my guardian angel, you know, that one person we often feel was sent to us and we don't know how or from where, but it was that single person who made a powerful difference. The other nurses and midwives were stern, cold and overly professional yet she was loving, kind, gentle and good-spirited. She was also young and energetic - her energy was absolutely contagious and since I'm a very intuitive type sensitive to others' moods, her vibes gave me total girl power fuel. She visited me on Saturday in the late afternoon and encouraged me to walk around the hospital grounds with my husband no matter how much pain I was in - to just do it - since movement and gravity would help the baby to come out. She was super positive and kept telling me everything would be fine. After my walk, she saw that my cervix was still only 2cm, so she gave me a bath in a huge tub with special herbs and she did a few other things to relax me which I won't detail but they were super helpful and very natural - drug free. I was embarrassed to bare all because I'm such a modest person, but she was so cute and funny as she explained to me how important relaxation was and that the things we were doing were absolutely necessary. And she was right. Once her shift ended, I went to bed but I couldn't sleep. I cried so much from feeling overwhelmed and out of control and had very painful contractions all night long. The pain was so bad at one point that I felt something burst and then I started bleeding heavily... I ran to the emergency station at the labor ward to be examined, fearing the worse because I never associated bleeding while pregnant with anything positive. Thankfully, the midwife said I was fine, this was positive news, and she gave me a low dose muscle relaxer to get me through the rest of the night. She also checked my cervix - still only 2cm.
Holly Power: Sunday came and I felt really down-hearted because my cervix wasn't opening. The positive and lovely midwife wasn't due back until the afternoon so I was stuck with the midwives who clearly hated their jobs. I remembered the words of the lovely midwife and visualized that she was still there coaching me along. I imagined she'd tell me to go back outside and to walk, so I went outside again with my husband who had been nudging me all day to go outside, and we walked and walked and walked. I grabbed the walls of many buildings as contractions moved through me, gripping brick and stone, crying into them as I thought my abdomen would rip in two. The contractions were coming faster and stronger. Upon returning to the ward, I was hooked up to a scanner for quite awhile. As the day turned into late afternoon, and my cervix was still only 2cm, I felt like my body wasn't working and I was began to feel depressed. What was wrong? Something had to happen because I wanted to meet my little boy and I realized that if I really WANTED this to have a happy ending, that I needed to give myself some power and get this boy out! Around this time when my Holly Power began coming back, one of the tough nurses hooked me up for my usual 40 minute scan. She was as cold as ice at a time when I needed total girl power and love the most. I felt so desperate for love, a pat on the shoulder, a little tenderness from another woman. Thankfully, my husband gave me plenty of love non-stop but I needed a woman's love to help get this baby out - someone to ease my mind and lighten my mood - to make things fun and not feel so heavy and overwhelming. As I laid their having my scan, something scary happened...
The Mistake: The nurse told me that something was wrong with my son as she reviewed my scan. She said his heart rate was dropping when I had contractions and that this never happened before during my other scans. This was dangerous so she quickly went to get a doctor. They told me to go immediately to the labor ward and with knees shaking, I obeyed. My anxiety kicked in full throttle. I was terrified. I entered a labor room, a peaceful space decorated so nicely with a hand-painted ceilings and relaxing mood lights, and saw that my bed had been brought from my room and I was immediately told to lay down so they could scan me again on a more robust machine that the doctor would monitor. My husband was by my side and remained a rock, but wow, I was starting to really fall apart. The inducement wasn't working so well and now my son was having heart problems? In walked the lovely midwife who had spent time with me the day before. The positive, happy one. She instantly rubbed my arm and told me to relax. My heart was racing. All I could think about was the baby I had felt kick and hiccup inside of me for the past 9 months. All I could think about was giving him life and happiness. And now this. I was hooked to the scanner and the doctor said that the nurse must have not hooked me up properly before because the scans she was reading showed no issues and that the baby was doing great. WHAT? This was wonderful news. I mean, wonderful, wonderful news. Then my cervix was checked -- I was only around 2.5 cm. It was nearly 5pm, so the midwife suggested that I have dinner and take another walk outside with my husband so I did that. When I returned, she decided to keep me in the room to monitor me, gave me another hot bath for an hour, Then, she told me to dance. DANCE?
Heyyyy, Macarena! Yes, Dance. I totally could do that because I love to dance so I stood in this giant bathroom with my midwife, half naked after my bath, and danced with her. We did the Macarena. Seriously. She said it's good for loosening the hips and encouraging the baby out. We laughed and laughed. My mood lifted from zero to a thousand the moment I started to move and laugh and smile. Then I was brought back to my bed in the labor ward and she checked my cervix. I was at 3cm - THREE - so she congratulated me (so cute!). About an hour later, as I laid relaxing and listening to music, something funny happened. There's this song that I love that has the lyrics, "I see fire over the mountain" and it came on the radio. My son's name means, "fiery", so this song spoke to me as I laid there feeling like every obstacle was in my path. I saw fire over the mountain! The song moved me and I suddenly started to visualize my son and how I needed to get him out and as I visualized him and what he may look like - while listening to this song - I felt my water break. I knew something had happened because suddenly I was laying in a pool of water. My midwife took a sample to the lab, and confirmed that yes, my water broke. Yeah! Progress! Then I immediately vomited, because of the contractions being so strong, and after she cleaned me up and gave me another pep talk, she told me she had to leave, her shift was ending, and my heart sunk. I was terrified to be under the care of the others in the labor ward with their icy faces. I was starting to make such progress and now she was leaving? I felt hopeful and positive yet worried about who would be caring for me until the morning. I needed strong, positive vibes, no energy vampires!
Weak Yet Strong: As I waited for the next midwife to arrive, I didn't break eye contact with my husband, who sat near to me. My tears rolled fast and furious, I whimpered a bit between contractions, I said very little, and he kept his eyes locked on me. He fed me and gave me tea. Then the vomiting came back, over and over again. I felt weaker and weaker. I kept thinking, "What happened to you Holly, you are such a strong women for everyone else but for yourself, at this moment, you are weak? Why are you giving up?". My husband kept telling me I was doing great and that he was so proud of me. I tried hard to tap into the side of my personality that I NEEDED to support MYSELF. The same side that I usually give out so freely to others.
Another Ray of Light: The next midwife arrived and I was terrified of her. She was the same one I had spent time with on Friday night whom I thought was a little condescending and rude because she was pretty upset with me initially for ringing her bell repeatedly when I had started to bleed days prior. To see her face again, in the final hour, was stressful. But a magical thing happened. She suddenly was loving and sweet. She stroked my arm, was encouraging, made a lot of eye contact with me and told me that everything would be okay. I didn't know what was going to happen next but I knew he'd be born and we would make it through. But I was still very worried. I was now in the hospital for three days and was only at 3cm. How could I change this? I was told to just relax. The scanner was on the entire time and the baby was fine and so was I. In fact, I had no medical problems the entire time of my pregnancy - not even water retention! Other than the first five months of vomiting, the final four months were absolute bliss! But the inducement part blew my mind. It was so long and painful and I hated being trapped in a hospital speaking only German for three days and feeling so helpless. I kept making eye contact with my husband, my midwife kept coaching me through the contractions which were coming more regularly, and I listened to music and prayed a lot. I kept practicing my breathing. I meditated, prayed, everything I could do to calm down.
Delivery Time: Now is when this story takes flight! The midwife told me that my cervix was now around 4cm so she told me that I should go lay on the labor table. I did as I was told, feeling hopeful because I knew this was the final place I'd be before having my son. She said I'd be here for 4-5 hours so to just relax and she hooked me up to the scanner. The stereo was on, the mood lights twinkled overhead and I felt a wave of peace. My husband sat by my side holding my hand with a bottled water in the other. I could hear the "Happy" song playing and I remember telling my husband to keep the stereo on very happy and lighthearted pop music. It cheered me and made everything feel less serious. My contractions were growing stronger. My midwife asked me if I wanted pain killers and I told her just something very mild to take the edge off so she gave me a drip of something equivalent to tylenol ibuprofen. She told me she was leaving the room and would come back in about 45 minutes. I suddenly felt different. I felt like this baby needed to come out NOW and that I wasn't going to wait any longer, that I was his mother, I was in charge, I was going to do this.
It's a boy! So... I looked at her and said, "No. Don't leave. The baby is coming, let's do this!". She smiled and said, "No it will be many hours, just relax, I'll be back", and to that I replied, "No, I'm ready to push!". She smiled gently and stroked my head and said, "Not yet, you are only 4cm", and I said, "You should check me again because I'm ready to push." She checked me and looked up, shocked, and said, "Okkkkayyyy, it is unbelievable, yeah you're right, you are around 8cm!" and she asked me to lay on my right side so I got into position and she ran down the hallway to get the doctor. In they came, as I was pushing! My mood became really light and happy - I started joking around with the doctor and midwife, and laughing, and I pushed will all of my might. My husband held my left leg at every push and in 6 contractions, around 30 minutes later, my son was born and was the most beautiful boy I'd ever seen. We call him the "movie baby" because he looked like one of those babies from a film - perfectly clean, glowing, crying and just so perfectly formed. They instantly put him on my chest and I held him crying and I remember how I kept saying, "He is really MY baby, this is really my son?" as tears ran down my cheeks. My husband was delighted and he cut the cord as I watched. Aidan laid on my chest as I delivered the placenta, which was so quick that I don't even remember it, and then I had to be stitched up because I was cut a bit when the midwife had to use a scalpel to further rupture the water. As they stitched me up, which YES it did hurt, I laid there cuddling my son crying and happy and enjoying the moments together with him and his father. I still remember everything about the birth and how I felt. I remember the music that played, the dim lighting, the way the air felt from the nearby window as it circled in and around us holding one another at 9:48 pm on a Sunday night.
So that... Well that is the birth story of my dear little son. He was born 10 days late but perfectly formed and happy. Between February 7-9, I learned:
1/the value of finding and working with positive people and how badly I need positive people in my life.
2/I learned that, though I felt I had no control, I had a lot of control - and when I tapped into my strength everything worked out.
3/I also learned how music and dance really relaxes me more than I realized and to use it way more often in my daily life than I had before.
4/I learned to love and rely on my husband more than ever and that he loves me way more than I ever even imagined and that I loved him more than I thought, too. Sounds strange to say that, but it's true.
5/I learned to listen to my body and obey it.
6/ I learned that when I really want something to happen, when I will it to be, I can do it.
7/I learned just how women can make or break your spirit, so as a woman, always stick to other women who are truly on your team.
8/I learned that the only thing that matters in life, truly matters, is my family.
Thank you all for sharing our birth story with us. I left out some of the more personal bits but shared as much as my heart allowed me to share so publicly which I hope has inspired you a little bit.
NOTE: I must add that here in Germany, everyone (at any income level) gets a midwife in their home for the first 10 days after the baby arrives. BUT, sadly, German insurance companies want to do away with this program and no longer cover midwives. There is a big protest in my city, Hannover, tomorrow at Kröpke at 11:55am (please go if you can) and more information online in case you want to get involved in trying to save our midwives in Germany!
(images: of our son aidan as photographed by christin lange who does the most beautiful newborn photography in your home.)