Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Why I don't cry it out (anymore)



Recently, a book about infant sleep was released telling parents that allowing their babies to cry it out was the right way to encourage healthy sleep patterns. This isn't a new occurrence. Books advocating cry it out are published often. This particular book though caught my attention because it included a tip about parents needing to be ready to change the sheets because children left to cry it out often get so upset they vomit all over themselves. When I read that excerpt I literally felt sick to my stomach. Who would leave their baby to cry so long and so hard that they vomited?

                                                                    Oh, wait. I did that.
                                                          My sweet baby didn't deserve that.
                                                      But, once upon a time, I did it anyways.
                                             Because I didn't know better. Because I was exhausted.
                                               Because I didn't realize that I was causing her harm.

There is a reason our babies cry. Always. Sometimes it's a need for food or a clean bottom. Often it's a need for touch. A need for security. A need for warmth from another human being. We all need these things. As adults we have the skills to find ways to meet these needs. Babies don't. So they communicate with the people they trust to meet those needs, by crying.  Sleep training "works." It will train a child not to communicate their needs. It will teach them not to trust. But it doesn't get rid of those needs. Studies have shown that babies remain in distress during times of unmet needs even if they aren't communicating them because they've been trained not to. The brain goes through enormous growth in the first year of life. Ignoring our babies needs changes that growth. We seem to want our babies to fit seamlessly into our lives. Nothing has to change because we are in charge of when they eat, sleep and play. When did we become too busy for babies?

We live in a society that pushes independence. One that tells us that if our children aren't independent by some arbitrary age they never will be. Science though, tells us this isn't so.
Writing for Psychology Today, Darcia Narvaez says,

                     "The fact is that caregivers who habitually respond to the needs of the baby before the baby gets distressed, preventing crying, are more likely to have children who are independent than the opposite (e.g., Stein & Newcomb, 1994) Soothing care is best from the outset. Once patterns of distress get established, it's much harder to change them."

I didn't do that with my sweet Cianna. I was so tired at the beginning of my pregnancy with Rowen that for about two months right after she turned a year I let her cry herself to sleep. I'd get her in the morning and see sheets still stained with tears. I hadn't done this with Jameson. It went completely against my instincts. Everything in my being was telling me to get get her. But I was afraid she'd always need me. And I was so dang tired. She learned during that time that I couldn't be trusted to meet her needs. She became very defiant and withdrawn. I work everyday to undo the damage that I caused her. Parenting doesn't end when I get tired. Her needs didn't stop because I was tired. She is/was biologically wired to need to be close to me at night. I wish I knew then what I knew now. Some of the issues she deals with now might not exist. The great thing about parenting though is that every moment is a chance to make a new decision. I know better now. And I'm so grateful for the mama tribe I have that reminds me when things get tough.

I'm so grateful I have this opportunity to do hard things. To love my babies. To follow my instincts.

















Stein, J. A., & Newcomb, M. D. (1994). Children's internalizing and externalizing behaviors and maternal health problems. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 19(5), 571-593.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Mother's Blessing

As a woman you are powerful. Birth is of course only one of many amazing pieces of being female, but it is unique in some very key ways...it is a time in a woman's life that requires physical, spiritual and emotional strength. It tests the foundation of who we believe we are as women, and challenges our beliefs about our own power.--
 Marcie Macari in She Births

This weekend I was privileged to attend a Mother Blessing for a sweet friend soon to become mama for a second time. A Mother Blessing is a beautiful ceremony that gave us the opportunity to express our love and encouragement for mama to be and her baby and her birth ahead. 

We each brought a flower to be made into an arrangement for her to focus on while birthing. To remind her how much she and her family are loved. To remind her how much we all believed in her body and its capacity to give birth. We also brought a bead or charm that represented what we wanted for her from her birth. 


I brought a sunflower. I used to grow sunflowers in Oklahoma. I'd stand at the kitchen window, my hands soapy from the dishes and watch them grow taller, waiting for the flower to finally unfold. It was kind of like birth. The height of pain of the contractions keep growing until finally you've put enough work in for the reward of the flower. The charm I chose for her was the infinity symbol. Birth is messy. Birth is unpredictable. I wanted to represent that no matter how her birth unfolded, at the end she'd have a new love that would never end. 

The charms were used to string a bracelet for mama to wear during her birth if she wishes. So that with every glance at it she could remember the community of women standing behind her. Loving her. Believing in her. Supporting her not only in her birth but in all the days ahead of motherhood. 

I wish I could describe the feeling in the room. So much love. It was such a throwback to the days of a different community than those we live in now. Days when mothers and grandmothers and daughters and sisters weren't usually separated by thousands of miles. Where birth is seen as a natural event. Not a disease that needs managing. Where we all care about one another's families. I didn't know this mama particularly well before the mother blessing. It doesn't matter though. She's part of my village. My group of people I turn to when I need help in this messy journey of parenting. 


If you ever have the opportunity to have a Mothers Blessing for yourself or to throw one for a friend, I cannot recommend it enough. Baby showers are wonderful, but there is something so much deeper about this. Its so much more about the humans and less about the things. I think we could all use some of that in our lives. 

So, congratulations soon to be mama of two. You will rock this, no doubt in my mind. 



Thursday, May 29, 2014

Therapy



Since Rowen was around eight weeks old I've known something was "different" about her. She was a much less vigorous nurser than her sister and seemed to be startled incredibly easily. She was slower about meeting milestones while still technically being in the "normal" range. At 6 months her Moro reflex was still very much present. When she hit eight months and wasn't trying to crawl, I listened to my mama gut and had her evaluated by an occupational therapist and a physical therapist. They were impressed with many things about her; her ability to eat chunks of whole food at her age, bringing them to her mouth on her own with ease for one. But something was amiss. A sensory processing issue, they said. She qualifies for services, here is your list of rights and responsibilities. We'll be back in a week.

So like any parent I took to the internet. What could I find about this sensory processing disorder? A lot. A lot of conflicting information. A lot about its correlation to autism. Rowen has a sensory processing disorder but is not autistic.  Most of what I found was reassuring. A list of things to look for. Trouble feeding. Trouble sleeping. Trouble riding in the car. Check, check, check. Wow. For an infant, those three events make up a significant part of the day. And a significant part of her day had been incredibly stressful. It can be difficult to bond with a baby who spends a majority of the time unhappy. Especially when you can't figure out what is wrong. Many nights I'd nurse her and rock her and walk with her for hours until Will came home and I finally had to hand her off because I couldn't take the constant crying anymore. We'd switch off and on the really bad nights. I was thankful to have an answer as to why life seemed to be so difficult for her.

Her first therapy session was a world of help for me. Maryse, her OT is from Canada and is just adorable. She walked in the house and immediately asked me what I had read about SPD on the internet. I'll never forget her saying, "I have tools that can help you help her not become so overwhelmed, your days will start getting better. They aren't all going to be easy, but they will be better." Sensory processing issues are best explained with a spectrum. We all have little quirks, sensory things that bother us. Some people can't stand to feel the tags on their shirts, or the feel of ankle socks. It often shows in texture issues with food. These quirks are on one end of the spectrum. For some though, sensory issues disrupt every day life. Some have incredibly intense reactions to everyday stimuli. This would be on the other end of the spectrum. Rowen appears to be somewhere in the middle.  Uneven touch bothers Rowen. Support over one part of her back and not the whole thing is a huge trigger. Loud noises and fast movement she isn't expecting are also triggers. At her age stranger fear is not uncommon, but her reaction is incredibly intense.  Because she becomes scared and overwhelmed quickly trying out new things like crawling becomes more difficult. She of course started crawling right after she was evaluated. Girl is already meeting goals. 

We use tools like soft brushing of her skin and vibration to help distract her while she is going through sensory overload. The only consistency with a neurological issue like SPD is that it isn't consistent. The same exact stimuli doesn't always bother her. Riding in the car will probably never be her favorite thing. She may wean earlier than her sister because the constant touch while nursing isn't always enjoyable for her. Some days she absolutely loves to be worn on my back, some days she hates it.

Hearing that your child needs therapy can be a scary moment. What will her life look like? We all talk about how proud we are of our children when they develop typically and follow the pattern that all other children follow. What happens when they don't? How do we feel then?  I've had several people tell me, "I'm so glad my baby doesn't/didn't have that." Ouch. We feel blessed beyond measure to be chosen to be Rowen's parents. Undeserving, even. I actually told Maryse that I felt bad that Rowen was born into this family. Not sad for us. But for her. She has two older siblings who embody the word rambunctous. Our home is always loud. Our home always has a lot of movement. No wonder she is stressed so much. Maryse though, said it was the perfect place for her. Perfect preparation for every day life stressors that will come her way, with the addition of a lot of love. And a mama who listened to her instincts when something was "off."



Friday, November 1, 2013

She did what?!


This past week I shared a photo of me nursing my girls on the Badass Breastfeeder, an attachment parenting and breastfeeding support page. When I first posted it I figured that very few of my actual Facebook friends would see it. I forget sometimes about that handy little bar on the right hand side that shows what everyone is doing every second. When people I actually know were liking it, I started to get a little worried.

Whose feathers is this going to ruffle?

Which brought me to another thought. Why am I more comfortable sharing this photo with a bunch of strangers than with people who are my "friends?"

Within minutes I had several friend requests and was surprised to see a lot of positive comments from my friends and a couple negative ones, too.

We live in a world where stars of pornography have Facebook fan pages full of pictures in suggestive poses with little or no clothing. I can see when my friends like these images, just like they can see when I share a photo of me feeding my children. Facebook rarely bans the pornographic images but is routinely banning images of mothers nursing their children from pages like the Badass Breastfeeder and others. Is this a Facebook issue? Maybe. Probably. But its also an issue of our culture. The culture we live in shows sexually suggestive scenes on television and in movies so often its impossible to count.

Just today this photo came across my newsfeed:

 
We see things of this nature ALL the time.
Facebook has deemed it appropriate for posting.
While banning photos of mothers feeding their children.
 
 
 


When is the last time you saw a mother breastfeeding her baby in prime time?

I never have.

Which is why the breastfeeding rates in this country are abysmally low. When women don't see other women breastfeeding, breastfeeding can't be seen as the norm. When I got pregnant with my first child I never would have even known about breastfeeding if I hadn't known that my youth minister at the time was pumping milk for her little guy. I'd never seen a mom nursing in public, covered or otherwise. I literally had no knowledge. We can't keep living in a culture like this and expect that babies will be breastfed. We can't keep shaming women for not breastfeeding their children when we work so hard to hide our own breastfeeding. Its not an issue of modesty. There is nothing to be modest about. I wouldn't cover myself while handing my child a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, so why would I when I'm feeding my child from the breast? By the way, that's what they were put there for, in case you were wondering.

We're all mature enough to know that they are pretty dual purpose. But if you can't look at a woman breastfeeding her child without thinking about sex, its time to start thinking about what images you're filling your brain with.

There are a bunch of blogs and news articles about this right now. You may be really tired of hearing about it, actually. I think the poo has hit the fan so to speak. There is so much information out now about the benefits of breastfeeding. Studies show that most new moms initiate breastfeeding with their babies because they know of the health benefits. Unfortunately, that's where it stops. Lack of support causes moms to give up on nursing sooner than they planned. In part because our society tells us its something that needs to be hidden.

 Maybe you don't think it belongs on Facebook. If not, then where? Until we see breastfeeding as a normal, everyday part of life, it won't become normal. We need it to become normal again so we can have healthier babies.

I won't hide the fact that I'm a mother who is making a great choice for her kids. Yes, my breasts are involved. Yes, they are being used for something other than the gratification (or not) of a man. These are good things, great things. We can teach our sons and daughters that our bodies were made for more than the gratification of others.



Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Home



I got to go home. Home to the sea.
 
 
 
When I was a little girl my parents ran a boat rental at Chena Lakes.
We lived in a little camper on the lake and during the summer I could usually be found running around in my ever so fashionable Little Mermaid life jacket.
 
Maybe that's why being near the sea feels like going home for me.
Maybe its why the closer I get to the water the more clear my mind gets.
Maybe I've watched The Little Mermaid one too many times but every time I go I feel like I could walk into those waves and just keep walking forever.
 
 
 
.
I don't miss the irony of the fact that I married a man who hates the beach.
I don't understand it.
But, I also haven't learned to equate sand with war.
I'm also not a fair skinned red head, so I deal with his discontent when we go.
Sometimes I just know that I need to go.

So I booked a hotel room and begged for forgiveness later.
Not really, he is used to me being completely impulsive and just thinks I'm nuts.
We drove five hours to spend one hour near the ocean.
Completely worth it.
 
 
 
Somebody once told me that home is where you feel the closest to God.
For me, that used to be a church.
Now, its here.
 
 
 
 
I hear the waves rush against the shore and know that He is in the midst of this chaos of life.
Being here is like being free.
I can't explain what it is, but when I'm near the water I'm exactly who I need to be.
Exactly who I need to be, right where I need to be.
Not striving to be better or to look differently or to learn more.
 
Just there.
Peaceful.
Joyful.
 
 
 
Maybe the best part was seeing my own children enjoy it like I have.
 
 
As a graduation gift I was given a book called, Gift From The Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
It reads in part,
"The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient.
To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith.
 Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith.
One should lie empty, open choiceless as a beach--waiting for a gift from the sea."
 
 
I think we all have a place that makes us feel that we're exactly where we need to be.
Remember to take time to go there.
 
 
 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Postpartum pretty much sucks


 
If you've had a baby, chances are you know what I'm saying.
 
When the birth high ends.
 
When the adrenaline winds down.
 
 When the company leaves (if you're lucky)
 
I'm almost six weeks out from having Rowen. Technically she's an infant now instead of a newborn. And goodness is she a doll.

 

 
 A fussy, spitting-up, still-sweet-as-can-be, doll.
 
I'm one of the lucky ones.
Her birth was completely uncomplicated.
I had no medical issues, not a stitch, nothing.
 
I'm just gonna say right now that if you had a c-section and managed to take care of your baby in those days afterwards, you are my hero.
 
She took to breastfeeding right away. Thanks to having nursed through my pregnancy I had no soreness whatsoever.
 
I'm just gonna say right now if you had a hard time breastfeeding at first (most of us do) and you stuck with it anyways, you are my hero.
I've been there and it sucks.
 
Even as lucky as I was, postpartum still sucks.
There is still seemingly incessant crying.
Feeling like you are the only one that can pacify your baby is frustrating at times.
 
Our culture isn't great about taking care of moms postpartum.
Our culture seems to have this attitude that moms are supposed to be back up and running in record time.
Magazines show us images of celebrity moms, who thanks to trainers and nannies and dieticians are back to their pre baby bodies in less time than it takes the rest of us to even think about exercising again.
 
Standard maternity leave in this country is six weeks. Unpaid.
 
There is no standard paternity leave.
 
We are one of a very few countries of our size and economic status where this is the case.
 
I'm just gonna say right now if you had to take your baby to childcare at six weeks so you could work to put food on the table, you are my hero.
 
There are these expectations that life is supposed to go back to exactly like it was before birth, and the shorter the time that takes the better.
We feed these expectations and we don't even know it.
We get on Facebook and see statuses and photos of new moms adoring their sweet babies.
New moms out and about with styled hair and perfect after maternity wardrobes.
And then we feel like we need to do the same.
 
I'm guilty of it. I went to a birth rally when Rowen was eight days old.
Even managed to get on the news.
The truth is, I had no business being there that day. And the next day I barely got out of bed.
Except you didn't see that on Facebook.
 
What I really should have posted was that I was tired, sore and needed some help.
What I really should have posted was that as lucky as we were for Will to have ten days off, I needed him to take some more time to help with our older kids.
What I should have posted was that I was scared to death to take care of all three by myself everyday.
 
But I didn't. And I had a week from hell a couple of weeks ago because of it.
I was completely overwhelmed before I finally asked him for some help.
I didn't do it in the most graceful way, either. I'm sure you're shocked.
He got the following week off. I informed him I would be laying in bed nursing Rowen and letting my body recover like it needed to.
And then we found out his Dad was sick. And we planned a quick trip to Oklahoma.
15 hours away with a 3 year old, 1 year old, a newborn and two dogs.
And people thought we were nuts.
Except that it wasn't bad. I got to just sit for several hours at once.
I got to talk to my husband.
My body and mind did more healing in that 15 hours than it had in the five weeks since Rowen was born.
 
With all the expectations we have its hard to let go of this blissful newborn stage image in our heads.
The truth is though, my house is still a wreck.
Rowen still nurses very frequently and it feels like I will never get anything done.
I still hate looking at my body and seem to find a new strechmark every day.
My older children are still adjusting and we deal with jealous behavior every day.
I'm not any nicer during three a.m. feedings than I was with my first two babies.
We're still rarely on time to anything.
I still feel like Will and I get no time together and miss him like crazy even though we live in the same house.
I still feel isolated at times.
Our bed and my clothing still constantly smell of spit up.

I'd do it all again, because they are oh so worth it.
But its hard.
And its okay to say that.
 
So, if you're a new mom and things aren't going like you pictured, try not to stress.
It never does. I promise.
I'm on my third baby and I still need that reassurance sometimes.
 
If you know a new mom, help her out.
Offer to take her older kids for a few hours.
Bring a meal, if you can.
Offer to help with chores.
 
It can make all the difference.
 
 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The birth of Rowen Kate

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Have you ever had an event you were anticipating turn out so perfectly that you can't stop thanking God for it? This story was one of those times.

 It started with a miscommunication. Not a surprise around here. I had told Jameson the day before that we would take him to the Wildlife Festival they hold here in Conyers once a year. Then I mentioned it to Will who let me know he was going to have to work. I didn't want to disappoint Jameson so even though I was super pregnant and contracting on and off, we went. It turned out to be just what we needed. Its hard to get one on one time with each child and I knew shortly it was going to be even more difficult. We had a great time but by 4:45 I was getting uncomfortable. Jameson used the last of his tickets on the rides and after a couple of refused pleas for more we were on our way home. My grandparents were still here visiting and Grandma had made chicken and dumplings for dinner. I was still contracting on and off and was kind of uncomfortable and wasn't really hungry but decided to sit down with everyone and eat anyways. I wasn't worried about the contractions. I can't even describe how many days I had been having them. My midwife informed me that its called prodromal labor. The contractions were working, I was dilating, but actual labor just wasn't starting yet. As excited as I was for a non-induced water birth, I have to say I was getting worried. I was afraid that maybe my body didn't know how to go into labor on its own. I'd spent my pregnancy reading books by midwives like Ina May Gaskin (if you've never read anything by her, I highly recommend it) that encouraged me to believe that my body knew what it was doing. In the back of my mind I knew that was true, too. But when you birth your other babies 3 and 4 weeks early, by the time forty weeks rolls around its kind of a mind game not to psych yourself out about when its
finally going to happen.

I read a lot during this pregnancy. Ina May's Guide to Childbirth. Spiritual Midwifery. Orgasmic Birth. Yep, you read that last one right. Interesting book, but I wouldn't describe any of my children's birth as orgasmic. One of my sweet friends, Aryn, sent me two books in early August. I started reading A Lineage of Grace by Francine Rivers a few days before actual labor began. Its a book based on stories of women in the Bible who changed the course of history. I had a feeling that I needed to finish that book before I could go into labor. I'm not sure why, one of those silly things I guess. It is also an excellent read. So, after dinner I took a bath and finished the last story in it.

Around eight o clock the contractions got more intense.
 I was really uncomfortable and asked Will to ask my grandparents to take Jameson and Cianna somewhere. The nice thing about natural contractions is that especially in early labor, you get breaks in between. During a contraction, Will would put counterpressure on my back and when it was over I went back to watching an episode of How I Met Your Mother and messaging with Misty on Facebook. Poor Misty. She endured every, "Oh my gosh, I'm having contractions, I wonder if this is it?!??" message for the last month. I don't remember much of what I watched or our conversation because the contractions just kept getting stronger. At about 8:45 I decided it was time to call the midwife. Of course Will didn't know their number or how to operate my phone to get to it. I was in pain and getting frustrated that we'd had nine months to get ready for this moment and here we were still panicking. He finally got it figured out and the midwife could hear me moaning in the background and said to get to the hospital.
 
The car ride wasn't as bad as I was fearing. My contractions were still regular and I couldn't talk during them. A good sign that it really was go time. We pulled up to the hospital just after 9 p.m. which meant we had to enter through the emergency room doors. They asked if I needed a wheel chair and I stupidly said yes. I had several contractions in the emergency room while waiting for a wheel chair that was evidently wheeling its way there from China. In a not very nice fashion I informed the security member that they could forget it and I'd walk. She then told me that I couldn't because if I delivered my baby on the elevator, they were liable. I don't remember exactly what I said next but it was something to the effect that I'd be birthing my baby right their on the floor if they didn't get their umm, "stuff" together. I traveled in the wheel chair to labor and delivery without Will because he needed to get a visitor pass. What a joke. I was really, really mad. They were continuing to write passes for a family whose daughter was waiting to be induced because of people like me already in actual labor. He finally managed to make his way up to the room. I had been checked by the midwife and was pretty bummed to only be four centimeters dilated. I had been three the week before. I should have known better. Dilation is unpredictable. In natural births there is no rhyme or reason, other than that every woman's body is different in how long it takes. There are no mathematical formulas to determine how long it will take to fully dilate, no matter where your active labor begins. I asked Will to call our photographer (she is AMAZING, look for her site below) and tell her to take her time because I thought it would be a while. She decided though to head on up, and its a good thing she did.

My contractions were coming right on top of one another. My previous two labors were fifteen hours each and I remember thinking that if my contractions were this intense and this close together for the next fifteen hours I wasn't sure I could do it. I had planned on a water birth but didn't want to get into the tub too early. I got into the shower and contracted while Will sprayed water on my back. It helped but it was still the most intense thing I had experienced so far. My midwife was in there almost the entire time. She was listening to my vocalizations and could tell that things were really progressing. I had learned from reading that visualizations were a great way not to "fight" the contractions and with each one I imagined my cervix opening a little more. It didn't get rid of the pain but it gave me something else to focus on and I really believed it was working to make my contractions more effective.  I decided that it was time to get into the tub. It had to be filled with the shower head so I got out of the shower and labored on all fours on the bed. A big pop and my water broke. All I could say was, "that was gross." It wasn't really gross, it was pretty cool, but in the moment it was all I could think of. All of a sudden I got really hot. My doula reminded me that this was a sign of entering transition. Transition is the phase of labor usually between 8 and 10 centimeters dilated that many women regard as the toughest part. I had only been at the hospital a little over an hour and didn't think there was anyway I was already in transition.
 
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Almost immediately after getting in the tub, I felt the urge to push. My midwife and doula were so great during this time. They didn't make a big deal about it being time, I didn't have to be checked for dilation again. My midwife watched my body language and my doula placed cold rags on my head while Will squeezed my hands.


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The pushing was so incredibly intense. I had also birthed Jameson without any drugs but I didn't remember the pushing being so painful with him. I think in most natural labors, a wall gets hit.
 I had hit my wall.

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I was saying things like, "Thank God I never have to do this again."
and "I'm not sure I can do this."
 and "Why do people do this?"
And then, at the height of the pain, relief. The hard works turns to

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This.



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And this.




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It was difficult. They don't call it labor for no reason.
 But my body was capable.
 God knew what he was doing when he made women to have babies. A nine pound baby, no less.
 I birthed Rowen.
 My midwife was there to guard the safety. Will was there to love and support me. My doula was there to remind me that I could do this.
But I birthed her.
 I reached down and pulled our baby out of the water and onto my chest.
The last two hours of hard work disappeared. Replaced with intense love. Replaced with awe at my own body. Replaced with the confidence that comes in knowing that my body worked the way it was intended to.
We all want a healthy baby. You can have a healthy baby and an incredible birth experience.

Incredible birth experiences aren't just water births.
 Its hospital birth. Its home birth. Its induced labors. Its Ceasearan sections.
Any birth in which women do research about their options for birth and make their own choices for the well being of themselves and their baby is an incredible birth experience.
 
Doing something you weren't sure you could do is one of the best feelings in the world.
There is a lot to be said for having to go through a difficult time to get what you most want.
 Its really a metaphor for life.
Hard work leads to amazing things.
And then when the work is done:

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All photos are courtesy and copyright of katey.elliot.photography.
You can find more information about her on her blog at http://kateyelliottphotography.blogspot.com/