My Birth Testimony - A Doula's Story
"I used the app ALL throughout my pregnancy AND in many of those early labor days, I would just soak in all of the guided affirmations and scriptures. The first picture I share of me being in the tub, is actually a photo of me using the tracks from the app to meditate on His words. It was a huge blessing and encouragement to me - and truly guided my heart."
Early in 2019, I began praying for our next baby. I found out, where I was in that season, was amidst a whole lot of gunk with regards to the thought of another child. I was afraid and doubtful despite God continuing to grow this idea for us in my heart. I worried that my pregnancy would be hard- that I would feel sick, that I would miss out on many parts of life I had felt I had finally gotten into the rhythm of, and that my postpartum time would be lonely and difficult.
In my walk with the Lord, it took lots of time in the Word and with Him for me to realize that these were all notions that were making God small and incapable in my life. Was this really, truly what I believed about God? No! I wanted to believe differently, and live by faith and trust. If Jesus was met with good on the other side of the crucifix, then I could be met with good on the other side of my deepest fears. In May of 2019, my husband and I celebrated over the two lines we saw appear on a pregnancy test. It was positive and a direct answer from God. I had asked Him, Lord, will you guide me through this? And He was saying, "yes". The first few weeks of my pregnancy was elation over what I knew God was doing in our lives. While there was so much up in the air at the time, the pregnancy felt right and there was such joy that was literally growing inside me.
As the weeks pressed on, the initial excitement began to fade as the pregnancy symptoms kicked in. It was hard to be nauseous all day long with a toddler- to feel sick and tired while trying to cling to what God was saying. I grew fearful again and doubted my ability to be able to be joyful through this pregnancy, birth, and postpartum time if I was having trouble seeing the light in just the first few weeks! Yet, in this, God met me and spoke over my fears. In a way, I was bombarded by His word and by other women of faith. I learned to lean into Him in this, and found a hope that allowed me to see through and trust that even when things weren't going my way, it didn't make God any less capable or present.
In August, my husband and I revealed our expecting news to our families at our son's second birthday celebration. It was such a thrilling moment and I will never forget watching as my mom opened her arms up to the heavens and clasped her hands into prayer. The air changed that day, and the news of excitement and love that was once only between my husband, God, and me, grew exponentially wider. It felt like my testimony of hope was shared and felt with our loved ones. In September, I got to spend my mom's birthday with her, doing what we loved- watching poignant movies on books that we'd read, having tea, and eating yummy food. It was the most beautiful weather with the sun shining down that day, and I remember this particularly because in years past, it was always raining. She looked stunning and so happy. When my dad called me on November 2nd, my family had just pulled into our neighborhood after spending the day in the Shenandoah. Something had happened to mom. We had considered staying the weekend in Charlottesville, but after some thought (and what I now know to be God), we decided we would return home. It made me available to drop off my husband and son at the house and rush over to my parent's home. My mom spent a week in the ICU and she passed away on Friday, November 8th. I was 28 weeks pregnant and during the period of time that my mom was in the hospital, I had been experiencing preterm contractions. That Friday though, like everything else in the world, they stopped. Thanksgiving came and went. So did Christmas. I had never felt more relieved after the new year...and after January 7 - my parent's anniversary. Grief never subsides, but part of anticipating our new baby's birth put it to use in a way. I was my mother's second child, about to have my own second child. I was born at home, preparing for a home birth. It felt as though I was being forced to exercise my grief, despite how reluctant I was.
In the weeks leading up to the birth, I grew fearful. I was afraid of going through all of this without my mom- to have to do life, and continue forward, let alone motherhood, without my mother. I wasn't sleeping well and anxiety ruled over me. I remained busy with distractions during the day, but when I went to bed, I felt haunted. That's when the Lord met me with a dream. In the place of fear and uncertainty, He blessed me. In my dream, my mother and I were in her kitchen, having tea together as we so often did. Normally, she would be doing all of the talking, telling me of the latest book she was on, and what had happened that week... but in my dream, it was me, describing the latest family news, and strangely enough, all that had happened since she died. I remember crying out to her, not in anger, but in sadness over all the things over which she would know what do, but I was struggling over for answers. She nodded at me, reacting, and listening. Then the moment I will never forget. She looked directly into my eyes and said, “Oh Darian, I know”. I woke up and wept. For all of the things that have happened and will happen without her, I had been so wrapped up and bonded in by fear. And yet, I felt that Jesus knew of it all, and would be with me every step of the way until I would see her, and hear those words said to me when God calls me home.
I relate much in life to birth and labor, and the grief I have felt envelops me the same way a woman's contractions do in childbirth-- fully, and what I know now to be, purposefully. It is exhausting to be in labor, to be grieving, but it is to be experienced and felt, not escaped or run away from. In September 2019, I began asking God if He had another unmedicated birth in mind for me. At that time, I was reading a passage in Acts (Acts 16) that tells the story of Paul and Silas in prison. It tells of how God brought an earthquake and the foundations of the prison were disrupted and the doors flew open! God had provided a way out! Then, the jailer who was about to commit suicide (because the prisoners on his watch, escaped) is stopped by both Paul and Silas who tell him that they are not leaving. They stay with him and the jailer becomes saved, and Paul and Silas are invited back to his household where the whole family is baptized. Often times, I have looked at hard situations, and asked God to make a way out or to take them away from me. Yet, I was so shocked with this passage, because to me, it meant staying in the hard place because of the fulfillment God will provide when we wait and trust in Him. I know that Paul and Silas had every means to run and flee from prison and STILL consider it a miracle of God... but, for the love of Jesus and for Him to be known and experienced more, they remained. This validated an unmedicated birth for me.
While my first birth with my son was nothing less than beautiful on the outside, it was also very difficult emotionally, and I had a challenging time processing the pain of an unmedicated childbirth. I struggled in finding God in his birth story, and my whole first year of motherhood. With this second baby on the way, I decided I was ready to seek God's will and His idea for this baby's birth, fully. After all, this baby was His in the first place. I asked God, no matter how it happened, I wanted to bring Him glory through this birth, just like Paul and Silas with the jailer in that story, even if it meant remaining in a hard place. I kept asking what it would look like to have a God-filled birth experience, and in doing so, I continued to picture it in my own space, with people who could also support this image. As I dove into how all of this might happen logistically, including an interview with a private midwife along the way, the birth center we used for our son's birth declared their in-network coverage with our insurance! Our homebirth could now be completely covered! That was huge. Not only had I felt that God was clear with an unmedicated birth for me, He was saying "yes" to a homebirth for us once again. My husband and I didn't find out the gender for many reasons. For me, I loved the fact that God had already thought up this child for our family long ago, and in a way, that was another major tool for me to press into God's heart for this baby and birth. He knows all things and He knows what's best. I was ready to sit back, and watch it unfold. My due date was January 28, but on Monday night, January 19, I had a bit of a reality check. I don’t know why I felt this, but in my pregnancy I had a hunch that this baby was going to come before the due date. There I was though, a week before, and this baby had not yet come. I spent a good portion of the last week in doubt.
Maybe everything I trusted God with wasn’t real.
Maybe all of this was way above my faith.
That particular Monday evening, I came face to face with more fears I had kept bottled up for some time. I got the bathtub water running, and some time to myself to have a little heart talk with me, my baby, and most importantly, God. I recognized how scared I was to go through childbirth again. I was listening to the lies that said, you will be alone and it will be too much for you to handle. I felt especially grieved over my mom not being there. I pressed firmly into the birth affirmations and scriptures I had written out during my pregnancy and reflected on God’s promises. My favorites were, and still are: - Isaiah 46:3: You whom I have upheld since your own birth, and have carried you since you were born... I am He. I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. - Isaiah 40:31: But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not grow faint. - Exodus 14:14: The Lord will fight for you; you only need to be still. I reflected on all that God had already done and brought me through and I knew I could trust Him through this. It was only minutes after this heart to heart that I began experiencing my first contractions! It seemed as if God was waiting for me to surrender my control and rush in to answer my doubt with His truth. I'm pretty sure I blurted out, "THANK YOU, JESUS!!"
My husband and I went to bed shortly after, and I'm sure he felt me tossing and turning all night, because at one point, he asked, “is this it!?” I remember rolling over, saying I didn't think it was... Morning came and my contractions hit a wall. Both my husband and I got a bit revved up and excited the night before, so for it to fizzle out, was a bit of bummer ... BUT! I still had hope and thanked God over His way of meeting me that Monday night. That was seriously so cool.
We continued our week as planned and since we were planning a home-birth, there were just a few more odds n' ends I wanted in place before baby's birthday. We wanted to make sure we had food and drinks to set out for the birth team when they came, and make a welcoming environment so they could be comfortable if the birth ended up being long.
Luckily, we had already arranged earlier that week for my dad to do a “test run” with our son, to make sure he would be fine sleeping away from us when the time came. So, we took our son to be with my dad and then headed to target for our shopping. I started having contractions again at that point, but we tried to not get overly excited this time, and to take it as it came. We even had a dinner date and I loved every moment of that night. It was filled with so much laughter and we reminisced on our parenthood and how quickly it seemed we were about to welcome this new baby! While we were preparing for our new addition, we were closing a beautiful chapter as a family of three. I continued to have contractions all through that Tuesday night, but it was still rather sporadic. I would have contractions every 10 minutes for a few hours and then they would space out to every 20 minutes, and then a really long, intense one every once in a while. Still, it seemed like early labor to me, and at this point, going into day 3, I knew it was prodromal labor- the kind that starts and stops.
Wednesday morning arrived, and I had a prenatal appointment! I was anticipating seeing our midwife and talking about all that I was experiencing. I was also afraid that this could keep going on for another week or two, as I’ve heard some prodromal labor stories go.
My midwife confirmed that this was definitely labor and we would just wait until it "sticks"! We only did a little doppler heart check and position check. Baby sounded wonderful and was all lined up for birthday! Another answer to my prayers. I left that appointment feeling very encouraged and confident that my body was doing good work even though it didn't exactly look like it. I also held on to her experience that she shared and most prodromal labors tend to be speedy births once it kicks into gear. I was praying that was the case for me! We brought our son back home and that evening, we had my in-laws over for dinner. That whole day, in my prayers, I asked God to give me rest. I knew the work of childbirth, and I was afraid that I would not have the strength to get through a long birth if it kept on like this.
Again though, I was reminded that His plans for us are good plans ("For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord; plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" Jeremiah 29:11") trusted that every part of this and the story He was unfolding, He would see through in His perfect way. Help me to rest, had a deeper meaning.
Around 8pm, I decided I needed to call in early. I told the family I was heading up to bed. And, you know what? I woke up the next day at 8 in the morning! I couldn’t believe it. Thank you, God! I felt so refreshed and rested that morning, and went about my day as usual with my toddler. We were doing laundry (washing some baby clothes!) and having lunch, when the contractions picked back up again. They still weren't very intense, but I felt that things had changed and that God had given my body rest for a reason. My son and I were baking a birthday cake (baking is always a great early labor activity!) and because it felt different, I told my brother to come pick up my little guy so I could do as I felt needed.
Since Monday, I was in communication with my doula. Even though I am a doula myself, I didn’t want to have that “job” while I was in labor. There is your “thinking brain” and then there is your “labor brain”, and from my own experience, I wanted to leave my thinking brain to my doula! This gave me the liberty to not have to stress over the physical side of things, but to really be able to hone in on all my emotions. What a blessing she was! She gave me good reminders and encouragements, like staying well-hydrated, particular exercises, and to get rest. I had prayed for her in my pregnancy, and that she, and my friend could be there for the birth of this baby. I knew that having the additional physical and emotional support would be so necessary for me this time around ("For where two or three gather in my name, I am with them..." Matt. 18:20). My doula, since she is in midwifery school, was to have a presentation that Thursday evening, from 7-8pm. I told her I wasn’t worried about it because this baby didn’t seem like it would come until a good while after that!
Once my son was picked up, I was able to go through the miles circuit (I will link to that at the bottom) and then get a little bit of a nap. My husband was still working, but around 4pm, called off, so he could be present with me. I also talked to my friend, and my husband told her it might be a good idea to come after she was finished with work, too.
My contractions were still very irregular, so I was pretty adamant that it wasn’t active labor yet. I was a bit frustrated and a little embarrassed, especially if my friend came and nothing were to happen. But, my husband reassured me that it would be just like hanging out with friends, casually, and not to stress. I liked that idea! At 6pm, my sweet friend arrived. My husband showed her how to use the cameras, so she was able to capture some photos and video, bless her heart! She told me that her husband would be leaving tomorrow for a trip, but that she had all night to be with me if needed. I think we both secretly prayed that this baby would come before then. While I had been experiencing God's hand working so evidently, it was at this point after my friend arrived, that makes me cry when I think over it now. Up until that time, it felt almost as though I was holding back. My contractions were irregular, I was doing what I could to kick myself into something active, but was really having trouble spiritually in simply letting it all go, each and every moment. I kid you not, not 30 minutes into my friend being there with me, did my contractions suddenly turn very serious. It was as though I needed the support of her presence to fully rest in God's plan over me, and once I did, my labor really began. Suddenly, I was requiring help with my contractions and my husband and friend took turns in giving me counter pressure on my hips. We spent some time in the living room before we headed upstairs to our bedroom, so I could get more comfortable. I am crying thinking about it as I write, because I was in labor, but I was laughing and smiling through contractions! I was blessing God for this experience and praising Him for bringing me to this place. My worship music was on and I was swaying and dancing in between every surge. It felt like the birthday party it truly was! My husband called our midwife who said she would be on the way, and my doula would be arriving soon as well. My friend and my husband went ahead and began filling our birth tub, which, with my first baby, I labored in, practically the whole time. In the pool, I began to feel nervous. While it brought me great comfort to be in the water during my first birth, I felt alone and scared this time. Before getting in the pool, my husband and friend were so actively supporting me, both physically and verbally, but in the water, I felt unreachable and far. I had maybe one contraction there before I decided, nope, not for me this time! I truly valued and felt tangible strength with them by my side and close to me. In a way, I was still in denial labor was actually happening. I talked to God and I talked to my baby. I praised the Lord for the work He was doing in my body, and I welcomed the contractions in amazement. Another answer to prayer.
It was close to 8pm when my midwife came up the stairs to greet me and get set up. I was on my knees leaning on our bed, just rocking back and forth and singing to my music. Again, it felt like she was simply coming to join our birthday celebration! My husband had his head close to me and was holding my hand. What surprised me most, was that I didn't consider these contractions painful. I kept saying out loud, "That was so big!" or "So intense!". This was not scary- this was birth, and with all of this amazing support, it really was happening! I kept talking to my baby and one thing I kept saying was, "Good job, baby" and "Thank you, baby". I couldn't believe how those words put everything into perspective. We were working together with God, and verbally acknowledging this, filled me with so much joy and reverence for the work He was doing. A hard experience I would normally want to escape from, I was suddenly welcoming and encouraging.
Everyone was in the bedroom at one point, and I had just come down from having two contractions in a row. I had a bit of a breather and because they were so intense, I felt fear creep in when anticipating the next contraction. I remember thinking, it's coming, but before I even had time to fight it, I shouted into the face of fear and cried out, "THIS IS HARD, BUUUUUUT I CAN DO IT!!!" and everyone in the room voiced their validation with a resounding "yes!!" and "that's right, Darian!!" It makes me cry to think about because it felt like an army of angels surrounding me. (Psalm 125: As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people both now and forever more). That contraction may or may not have broken my water, it all happened so quickly after that! The midwife encouraged me to get into a position I wanted to deliver our baby in, because I had already been spontaneously pushing with the last few contractions. I still think about that sensation of my body actually guiding my baby down and I will never forget it. I tried the assisted squat position, which I thought would be familiar and comfortable, since that is how I delivered my son, but as soon as I got into that position, I wanted out of it! It was proving that this birth was just different from the start!
I actually stood up and crawled into my bed and told my husband to hold me, but even as I was doing that, I felt a contraction coming ... and baby's head!!! In one push, our baby was delivered, and my midwife said, "Darian, reach down and catch your baby!" And I did.
Tears of joy as we held this child- an accumulation of tears for all that I had gone through... God was seeing through. It felt like His Kingdom was on my shoulders.
And, as if all of this wasn't enough, we glanced down and saw we had a baby GIRL!
How faithful God was. I learned that He cares about the small prayers and to pray the big ones, because you never know how He wants to meet you and reveal Himself.
-Before I even became pregnant, there was a week straight that I kept waking up at 4am. I couldn't understand why (because I am a hardcore sleeper!), so I eventually I would spend those minutes awake as quiet time with the Lord. I wanted to know if He meant something out of this number 4, so for reasons unknown at the time, I chose to start praying for a 4hr labor! I wasn't even pregnant yet, but I wanted to trust that God could do this, and felt it strongly in my spirit. I was in prodromal labor for 4 days, but once my labor kicked in at 6:30 Thursday evening, she was born at 10:23pm. That is almost EXACTLY 4 hours!!
-That birthday cake I mentioned me and my son baking in the story? That is actually a cake that my mom would make for every single one of our birthdays growing up. How amazing it was to have had the time to bake that special cake the day my daughter was born.
-Not only did I pray for a fast birth, but I prayed specifically for no tearing. My doula brain said that this was a silly prayer because most babies that come fast, tend to blow right through without giving mom the time she needs to stretch out, but I prayed this anyway... and you know what? I didn't tear a bit. I got up after birth, feeling as though I didn’t just have a baby!
-That prayer of a God-filled birth experience came to be in ten-fold. And, it's not that it was without tears. Losing my mom was and still is devastating every day. But, I do know that had that not happened, I'm not sure I would have sought after God so earnestly. Every moment was a challenge to fight doubt and fear, but I learned to rest in the Lord and let Him fight for me.
-My doula AND my friend were able to be there for the birth! It was such a short window of time that this could even be possible, and God did it.
-I had prayed for a gentle birth. Wow, how that had come to be. God had my body do all the hard work, little by little, spread out over the course of 4 days.
When I look back, I am in awe. From trusting God with another child, to holding this sweet, delightful baby girl today, I can’t help but have tears in my eyes over God’s goodness and faithfulness to His daughter.
I know now that God does not promise us a painless journey or always a way to escape the difficulties in life, but He does promise to be with us every step of the way. I know I can't do it all, but I know a God who can. Some of my days are filled with sorrow, and the place and season I am in is still hard, but I know to whom I turn. For the days I don’t feel like running, I am met by Jesus walking by my side.
And, one last thing. Before my mom passed- she wrote a verse up on her kitchen cabinet. It was Luke 17:20.
by Darian Saenz --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- This is my birth testimony but if you are interested in the logistics of home birth or birth and what is available to you in general, please reach out! I have included information regarding our personal decisions in the pregnancy and birth so as to see what kind of options and resources there are for your own birth experience in, or out-of-home, that you can ask me about.
*As a doula, I am very conscious of baby positioning. Everyone likes to think of labor progress in terms of dilation, but WHERE baby is in the pelvis is so crucial! I spent a lot of my pregnancy doing spinning babies- the exercises and information can be found here
*I love movement in labor and some particular exercises like the miles circuit (to help align baby in the pelvis) can be found here *With my first pregnancy I did a lot of herbal labor prep, like drink red raspberry leaf tea, take Dr. Christopher's birth prep supplements, evening primrose oil, and ate 2 whole pineapples on my due date and a bajillion dates ... but this time, I didn't do any of it, except maybe have a cup of tea when I felt like it, but feel free to ask me about that because I know you hear those words circulating all over the interwebs. *We delayed the cord clamp and cut for a whole 2 hours! *Baby girl was able to snuggle up with me skin-to-skin right away and stay there for an unlimited amount of time. Initial newborn exams were performed on me. *I got to do the breastcrawl with this baby! We placed her on my belly, belly down, and gave her unlimited time to crawl up my body and latch on her own, and she totally did it! I attribute her success in breastfeeding and latch to this. * I did not get cervical checks. It's a personal decision, and something that I've always felt discourages me. It's crazy, but a simple number is a great way to completely shut my confidence down (again, personally) *I did not receive an IV and because of this, it was important that my husband and doula reminded me to keep sipping water to keep me hydrated, during labor and postpartum. There are some awesome "laboraide" recipes online if you want something more spritzy with additional electrolytes. *I did not receive the antibiotics even though I was GBS positive. This was a heavily weighed decision at the time, but I came to this conclusion after a lot of research (evidencebasedbirth.com) and in talking it through with our midwife. It turns out, my labor was too fast anyway to get the appropriate dose. *I DID eat while I was in labor, but once it got more intense, I resolved to just honey sticks. Either way, I know it gave me energy. *At one point, probably during my quick transition, I felt nauseous. We used peppermint oil on a washcloth for me to smell in between contractions and it helped tremendously. I also like to use citrus oils, like orange or lemon with my clients. *We turned our hot water heater up, so as to have enough hot water for the tub if needed. *I used Christmas lights and hung up birth affirmations, and really just tried to create a space that made me comfortable and peaceful. *While our first birth was a homebirth as well, that was probably the ONLY similarity between these two births. A story for another time! ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- For those interested in the homebirth supplies, this is what we purchased outside of what our birth center provided for us:
The Birth Kit from In His Hands Birth Supplies
A bunch of towels
A waterproof mattress cover from Walmart
A shower curtains to place under our birth tub from Target
A sink hose and sink adapter from Amazon
A water pump from Amazon
(And as for filling the pool with air, I used a hairdryer on the cool setting!)